“Ya mentioned a name baack aat the gairthering place,” said Pastor.
“Teyata,” said Brad.
“Who was she?”
Brad paused, unsure how to answer.
“Strange trarvelling comparnion to huv.”
“When we first met, she saved my life. She taught me how to live out there,” he said, nodding beyond the blue bars.
“Tell me aboot her.”
Brad had mixed feelings. Half of him wanted to say something brief and get it out of the way, but the other half of him wanted someone to hear his account of the past year. He told of the rats and the training, the long kilometres they ran together, and the dangers.
Pastor stared, unspeaking, as if expecting more.
“We made a deal together,” said Brad. “She trained me to live as a manine if I taught her how to read.”
“Did she lairn?” Pastor said, with pipe hanging from the corner of his mouth.
“She was so smart, Pastor. I only had my Bible to teach her. She learned to read quicker than anyone I knew. Then she started reading anything she could get her hands on. And I never knew anyone more beautiful than her; inside and out.” He laughed. “She used to make me laugh too. Sometimes because she just didn’t know about things. For all of her intelligence she sometimes used to act like a little kid. In the early days…”
Brad trailed off.
“I’m sorry. I’m just rambling now. It’s just that I’ve had no one to tell about her.”
Pastor smiled warmly, taking the pipe from his mouth.
“You carry on, son.”
“I loved her, Pastor.”
“I figured thaat.”
“Well, like I was trying to say; in the early days she always tried to…”
Pastor stared expectantly.
“I never slept with her or anything.
The older man shrugged.
“I’ve got to admit I wanted to.”
“You’re human, Brard, liike the rest of us.”
“We planned to get married. You see, she became a Christian. The only thing is…”
Tears began to flow as he remembered Teyata’s final plaintive question.
“She asked me “if she had a soul” as she was dying. I told her “I didn’t know.” I mean the word says, that “Christ died for all men,” but she was half feline. I didn’t want to lie to her, otherwise I would’ve been treating God’s gift of salvation as a joke.”
He began to weep, no longer holding back his tears as he spoke.
“I loved her, Pastor, and she died trying to protect me, but the worst part is, I don’t even know where she is now.”
Pastor handed him a handkerchief. Brad gratefully accepted the cloth and dried his eyes. He went to hand it back, only to have Pastor dismiss the gesture with a shake of his head.
The older man puffed twice on his pipe.
“Ya saay she was a Christian?”
“Then,” Pastor said softly, “Ii beliieve Jesus died for the human siide of her.”
Brad looked hopeful.
“Not to worry, son. Ya’ll see her again.”
A smiled etched itself on Brad’s lips. Pastor hugged him tightly, drawing away the last of Brad’s pain.
“Come on,” said Pastor, placing a hand on Brad’s back.
He began to lead them back into the cornstalks.
“Tomorrow we’ll talk aboot mending whaat’s left of ya liife.”