Pushcart 2012: Tim O’Sullivan, “Father Olufemi” from A Public Space #10

"Snow Storm People" by Oliver Fluck, October 2011

"Snow Storm People" by Oliver Fluck, October 2011

The Catholic Diocese of Toledo had paid for his flight from Abuja to Boston, his surgery, the cost of his monthlong convalescence, the walker, and the bus ticket to Halfestus, Ohio, where he’d agreed to preside for three years over the parish of a Father Krinkle. It was probably unhealthy to imagine what his welcomers would think. He was replacing a priest accused of child molestation. He was as dark as could be and, from the photos he’d found on the Internet, the people of Halfestus wre as white as could be. He’d arrive a cripple.
At least this last bit would improve. He would heal….It would take months, but one day he’d stand at the pulpit and raise his arms – a man upright, his limbs deliriously functional – and proclaim, “This is the day of the Lord.”
But who was this man, proclaiming? He’d never been this man. He’d never been as helpless as he was now, being carted across a foreign continent to a foreign town.

I’m not sure how a story with a setting and situation as rich and intriguing as that could manage to be tedious reading with little payoff. I’m sure there was a payoff – I’m positive – but I missed it. There’s something about the priest taking this bus ride, the people he goes through – the old priest who accompanies him to the bus station in Boston, the driver who is solicitous at first but not so much by the end, the passenger who just got out of prison, the little boy who’s never seen a Bible before, the dream/memory of Mrs. Ogunye’s party, the girl at the bus station who leads him off through the snow into nowhere – there’s something there. There has to be. There’s just too much cool stuff going on, and I wonder what’s wrong with me that it seemed, to me, to add up to nothing but a collection of threads with no warp or weft. As always, I take full blame for my inadequate reading, and welcome direction.

It’s interesting this is the second story I’ve read this week in which disabled limbs feature prominently. But that’s merely coincidence.

I do like the ending, though I wish I could find a way to comprehend it. Usually, with a story that eludes me, yet that dangles something profound just out of my reach, I spend a lot of time, perhaps unfruitfully, pondering, considering. In this case, I’m, well, just not that interested. And that strikes me as bizarre, since, to read how I’ve described it above, it’s fascinating.