We met in churches. That's how we used to meet. It wasn't sexual, so I don’t mean to say that we made love inside the confession box or behind the altar. There were times when I may have wanted that, and in a few churches in southern Portugal we may have come close, filled as we were with laidback vibes and Mateus, sparkling and sweet, but there was never any physical sin.
She was Christian, too. At least, I think she was. Sometimes, as we were walking by the frayed frescoes of Catedral de Santa Maria or hiding in the smallest chapels of Siena, she would tell me stories about El Greco and Caravaggio. 'Can you imagine that El Greco would do a completely naked figure of Christ for a Spanish sacristy? In the mentality of those days?' I would think about the mentality of those days, and the image of disrobed Christ would almost send me into a fit of anguish. Such travesty, such desecration.
We couldn't meet in one church all the time, so we picked spots all over Europe. Expansive Anglican cathedrals of Wales and tiny Orthodox churches of Moscow, they were the places of romance and discovery. And there were stories, too. Stories of madness and stories of cruelty.
For instance, there was one time in Vienna that I would never forget. She called me at night, two or three weeks before we were supposed to meet, and told me there was a nice little place off Felberstrasse that could be good for us. 'A place of worship', as she put it, way before we were forced to introduce passwords and codes. 'But we have to hurry', she said and switched off. So we did, to set up a meeting two days later within the walls of a small Katholische Kirche in Vienna. The place, however, was shut down literally in front of our eyes, as we were hurrying towards the steps and each other.
Much more dramatic was the day I was wandering through Bath, the true Sussex beauty filled with hungry seagulls patrolling the city during the night time, and then stumbled upon a desolated little place that almost looked like it belonged to the world’s most ancient religion. I texted her, and she was with me two days later, inside St. Tomas à Becket in Bath, and hours later we noticed someone's presence nearby. At first it seemed like a bad dream, something you shake off when your lover takes you by the hand, but our fingers were heavily linked, and still there was a feeling we were hounded from all sides. And, indeed, we saw them pulling from the corners and even from under the dome. We ran outside, to the sound of crushing walls and shattered stained glass windows. We ran outside, to not see each other for three months.
Which was when we figured they must have been on to our mobile phones and e-mail accounts. So that we were forced to invent passwords and codes that got us through another autumn, and then winter, and then spring. In summer, however, we had to invent a new set of passwords and codes to have a chance to meet in peace and quiet.
And when we did meet in peace and quiet, which was about once or twice a year, it was like that old song by Robert Smith, only when you can actually feel Heaven in your bones and in your blood. She told me stories, and later on, I did too. About the tears of Peter or else the weight of the monstrance and the origin of those paintings covering the walls of another church. And when somehow, somewhere, there was a feeling they might be upon us, we closed our eyes and it passed. For now, it passed. Even if she did put her hand in mine and someone was watching us from the farthest pew.
You might be wondering, reading all this, why we didn't meet inside Il Duomo di Firenze since there was no way anything could happen to a place of that stature. Well, you are being naive if you think we didn't try, and you are being silly if you think it was easy. Because it was hell. People might think a big place is an insurance as they would simply not have the guts, but wait until you see them approach from both sides. Whispering something unintelligible yet horrible, filling us with the dread of the centuries. So that she screams and you try to appear calm. Shaking all over, shaking like a leaf.
Which is how it happened in a Trinity Presbyterian Church in Cork. We hadn't seen each other for a year, our meetings were scarce now (this was last June), and we had all the world to talk about. She was telling me about this Irish monastery that helped the deaf and the blind. A group of nuns living in a huge tower, never seeing the light of day and only communicating with the outside world through one narrow door and one narrow window that allowed them to get their requests from the poor and from the sick. Once there was a woman who came to ask for her little boy who couldn't walk and the doctors told her he had no chance.
'And did he?' I asked her.
But she couldn't answer, because suddenly they appeared and took her away from me. 'And did he?' I kept crying into the dome but there was no one to tell me.
I haven't heard from her since, though someone has told me she has joined those nuns in the convent in Ireland. I hear it's closed and we can’t meet inside, but if I agree to join then we could spend a lifetime together. Which is something I'm afraid I can't do, and instead, I'm going to be there next month to ask for something through the narrow porthole they use to communicate with the outside world. Using passwords and using codes, I'm going to whisper something that will in no time fill them with the most profound feeling of dread.