The Black Gardener

Father Alan’s wife Catherine dropped the men off at half past eight on Monday morning. Jane and her husband saw them coming and went out to meet them. Naturally they had seen foreigners before, but Jane couldn’t help wondering if she had ever actually talked to one. The first thing she noticed was that one of the Syrians had a beard and for a moment she wondered if he could be a terrorist, but then she remembered that they were Christians. The other Syrian was a stocky man with a hard face, but he walked over to them straight away and when he spoke, Jane was struck by the softness of his voice. He introduced himself and thanked them for this opportunity. He also told them that back in Syria he had owned a construction company. Jane saw the relief on her husband’s face as he said: ‘So very nice to meet you, Joseph. And you too, Rohan.’
Catherine joined them and said: ‘Good morning, may I also introduce you to Nelson?’
Behind Joseph, towering above him, Jane saw the third man who had just got out of the car. The African, she thought. Joseph stepped aside and there he was now. Dear God, she thought, he was huge! Probably six foot five with wide shoulders and muscular arms. He had a toothpick in the corner of his mouth and he didn’t take it out when he extended his hand to shake George’s hand and then hers. Bad manners, she thought and she knew that George would be thinking the same. Then he did take out the toothpick and said in a very deep voice that he too was pleased to meet them. He smiled and looked them straight in the eye. Now Jane didn’t know what George was making of him, this time she could only speak for herself. Something about the man unsettled her. Not because he was a Muslim, though she was certain that George would bring that up at some point. No, it was the relaxed way in which he seemed to carry himself. That and his whole appearance really. He was so big and his teeth were so white, so much in contrast with his dark skin. She told herself that she wouldn’t be the only one who would be in awe of him. Probably everybody in the village was going to stare at this man. They had never had a visitor who even remotely looked like him. Having said that, George was already talking to Joseph and Rohan about Christianity in Syria, so perhaps he wasn’t as blown away by the black man as she was.
Obviously Catherine didn’t want Nelson to feel left out, so she stepped forward and told Jane that this very brave man had fled his country and traveled all the way through the Sahara to make it to Europe.
She made it sound as if he had made the journey on foot and for a second that’s what Jane imagined. She could see him do it too, walk thousands of miles through the sand and not even get tired. Look at him, look at that massive, muscular body. She had thought of one of the Syrians as stocky, but compared to this man Joseph had the body of a boy. And now the black man was smiling at her too, the toothpick back in its place, a spark in his eyes that made her wonder if he knew what she was thinking.
‘It’s so nice to meet you, Nelson,’ she said, but now Catherine and Nelson glanced at each other, clearly amused by her and then she realized that she had said the same thing just thirty seconds ago. God, she was nervous. This man was making her nervous. It annoyed her too, because hadn’t she been the courageous one in this household? If it weren’t for her, these men wouldn’t be here now. But now that they were, she was the one acting weird, while her husband was nodding in agreement with the Syrians and began to quote from the Bible:
‘Do not gloat over me, my enemy! Though I have fallen, I will rise. Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light.’
The Syrians shook his hand again, saying thank you Father, for understanding the trouble our country is in.
Jane looked back at Catherine, who was clearly happy that Father George and the Syrians were hitting it off. The African man however seemed less interested in Bible quotes. He wasn’t looking at George and the Syrians, no, he was looking straight at her with those big, brown eyes. It gave her such a funny feeling that she clapped her hands way too hard and asked in a shrill voice: ‘Tea anyone?

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