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Fiction Inspirational Sad

TW: Some sensitive content.


Mentors come in many forms and their influence can last forever. 


I always knew I’d meet him again. So, why am I so nervous?


There’s a bite to the air the day before Halloween. Smoky fumes rising from decaying leaves pressed down by the tramp of countless feet, catch the throat with their pungent odours. Fortunately, the sky is clear and cloud free which is just as well because I’ve left my umbrella at home. It’s a blue and white spotted affair with a dainty handle which I bought specially. I had planned on wearing a navy dress with a ruffled collar and cuffs, as well as a pair of diamanté earrings. But then, at the last minute it seemed like overkill so I replaced it with the standard attire I always wear at this time of year when I’m away from the office. A pair of black leggings, topped off with a long striped jumper and a thick duffle coat with Paddington bear toggles. My only attempt at attractiveness comes in the form of a light shade of pink eyeshadow to offset my hazel eyes. I’ve also applied a little rouge to my cheeks and a matching lipstick, all subtle-toned. My long wavy brown hair has been cut in a stylish bob.


In all likelihood, my efforts will have been wasted as he’s unlikely to recognise me, however I present myself. I do realise that.


Nearly an hour late, my nerves have spiked to a new level. I pace up and down the street, bracing myself for my entrance.


The building itself is imposing with its steep marble pillars and huge stone steps leading to the main doors. An edifice which survived the bombardment of the Blitz, surely a miracle in itself. Outside, two large hoardings advertise upcoming events. 


The fear of the unknown makes my mouth dry. If only I wasn’t so late!

**

It all started when he laid hands on me, and my headaches ceased at the age of thirteen. It wasn’t like me to put myself forward, especially in front of a huge congregation, but some force propelled me. As I walked up the aisle, it was as if I was floating outside my body. His aura stretched out before me, calming my fears.


When I reached him, everyone else melted into the background and we were the only two people in that assembly. I daresay others felt the same way when they encountered him. Up close, his eyes were a deep brown, shining with flecks of gold. As he gently pressed my temples, the power flowed out of him, giving me strength and purpose. And hope.


Whenever he visited my hometown, I always went to the front for the “laying on of hands” session. I took it as an omen that I always got to see him - it could so easily have been one of his helpers. Even more memorable was the sight of Mum who never cried, watching in the aisle, moved to tears.


Many years have passed since I last saw Bruno Mayfield. During that time, I grew up and life moved on, but I was never able to forget him. Now, a single woman of 39, I’ve come to life again! Bruno is back in London! 

**

Earlier, I’d braved endless traffic, streamed past tourist shops, enticing cafes, and quaint museums that are the hallmark of the city, yet spent most of the time bitten by the demon of loneliness. At one point, standing on Westminster bridge, in a dark moment of the soul, I wondered what it would be like to cast my body into the river’s swirling depths and give up the fight. To drown out the sense of worthlessness that has plagued me for so long. But I pulled myself up sharply. What would Bruno say if he knew? I was sure he’d tell me the water would be freezing, and I’d be strangled by debris. I would certainly suffer. I knew he’d tell me life was too precious to waste.


Besides which, my loneliness would soon be a thing of the past. It was a matter of holding my nerve.

**


Time bends and I’m a child clasping mum’s hand. I remember how the floodlit Houses of Parliament reflected ribbons of golden red along this stretch of the river. For me, the tower and clock face have always offered constancy, a background toll in an ever changing world. In the emerging dusk, water sparkled as I waited for Big Ben’s pendulous chimes. When they finally came, I covered my ears and mum laughed at my sensitivity. 


It was the two of us against everyone else. I’d never known my father and after a while stopped asking about him. I gathered he’d left mum stranded, unable to take on the mantle of parenthood. While I studied at school, mum worked hard and got promoted in the city passport office, but she had few friends and never showed any interest in pursuing a relationship. 


Yet when she heard that Bruno’s evangelical crusade was to be held in our town’s biggest church, her face lit up. Although we attended the meetings together, she never went forward for the “laying on of hands” part of the service. However, she never raised any objections to my doing so. Her ecstatic “speaking in tongues” was the only time I saw her really let go. 

**

The embankment smells of charcoal and the froth of human activity as people queue for hotdogs. Jolted by the firing of a distant cannon, I psyche myself up for the big event. But first, I take a ride on the London Eye. Having always had a fear of heights, its not something I’m going to forget in a hurry. Exhilarated, I will have plenty to talk about once the meeting is over. 


The thought keeps me going. 


Somehow, in spite of my preparations, I miscalculate the journey time and that’s how I arrive at the Hall late!


Outside, I take deep breaths, trying not to be daunted by the huge placards advertising the end of the world. The only one that  matters is the one informing me Bruno Mayfield is tonight’s main speaker. 


Since his wife passed (I learnt that from one of mum’s telephone calls), the flame has reignited. His coming to London is too good an opportunity to miss. 

**

With everyone in the auditorium, the reception area is eerily silent. Devoid of distractions, I’m back in panic mode. Why would he remember me, when he must have seen thousands of people over the years? Filled with doubt, I’m about to turn back when a young woman with blonde hair and hooped earrings, emerges from an inner door and takes her place at the reception desk.

“Can I help?” she asks.

“Hi. I’m sorry I’m so late.”

She hands me a blue and white lanyard. 

“You must be Hilary. We weren’t sure if you were going to make it. I hope you had a comfortable trip.”

“Erm, thank you,” I say putting it round my neck. 


I’m flabbergasted. What made me do that? Who the hell is Hilary James and what will happen if she does turn up? I’m about to own up to my folly, when it occurs to me, I might not be allowed in without an invite. 

“There are some empty seats in the balcony if you want to slip in unnoticed. I’ll leave it to you.”

“Thank you.”


At the top of the stairwell, I peer through the window of a panelled swing door. It’s now or never. Easing in, I spot some vacant seats in the back row. Other than a few heads glancing my way, I might as well not exist.

**

Without doing anything, he manages to dominate the row of seats on the platform. A speaker who has just finished talking steps away gracefully. The host steps up to the podium, and introduces Bruno, who listens politely, in a dark suit and gleaming shoes. His hair, now streaked with grey, has remained thick and wavy. 


Sitting on the back row of the first-floor balcony, I try to compose myself. As Bruno rises to his feet, I’m swept along by those deep tones, which are edged with compassion. All these years, I’ve carried them with me, bringing them out during my worst moments. Even when I’d stopped fully believing, I extracted the parts of his message that inspired me. It wasn’t so much what he said, it was the way he said it. He had always been a great speaker, offering encouragement and hope for those in need. I felt he was with me in spirit, offering comfort when a long-term partner breezed off saying he was unable to be with someone who lived in a fantasy world. That I’d never be happy unless I grounded myself in reality. 


Be that as it may, here I am. Listening to Bruno, feeling more alive than I have for ages. 

“It’s great to see so many familiar faces,” he says, beaming.  

**

Flashback to the time I attended one of his meetings, aged eighteen. Perched next to mum, I couldn’t help noticing he was accompanied by a beautifully made-up, exquisitely dressed redhead. 

“Who’s that lady, mum?” I whispered, shocked.

“That’s his wife.”

“Oh!” I hadn’t known he was married. Not that it should have mattered. “You’ve never mentioned it before.” I relied on mum keeping up to date with all the evangelical news. The internet hadn’t taken off yet.

“Hmmm. She tends to keep a low profile. She’s a pretty thing, isn’t she?”

“Yes, I suppose she is.” Of course, he was bound to be married. A man like him would be.

“But no children yet,” mum said grittily. 


Not that it made any difference. 


What was I even thinking? I was far too young for him anyway.

**

Over the next two years before he left the UK to pursue his ministry on the continent, I continued to attend Bruno’s meetings with mum. At the last one, I again went to the front of the hall where he laid hands on me. 

“Don’t worry. You will be alright,” he said confidently.


It only struck me later how everything about the scene was choreographed, even down to the strong arms that were waiting to catch me. Afterwards, I was raised up, calm and restored. 


But then I got the shock of my life when I heard Bruno had left England and was unlikely to return. Mum heard through the evangelical grapevine he was building quite a reputation overseas. At some point, he planned to take his mission to America.


It was a blow, but I told myself it could have been worse. I knew he’d return home eventually. While abroad, he was out of reach, if not out of mind. I quietly got on with living the best way I could. Waiting for something to happen, yet not knowing what. 


A few months ago, something did. I heard Bruno was definitely coming back to England. My mother dropped this bombshell during one of our nightly phone calls. I rarely visited her these days, and she’d grown bitter. I still relied on her for news, rather than searching for it myself. It was a way of being close.


It was good to hear a hint of light breaking through the dark tunnel of recent years. 

“Bruno’s coming back. He’s a widower. It must be more than a year ago since he lost his wife,” mum said.

“I wonder if he’ll continue with his ministry now?” I hadn’t known about his wife and tried not to sound pleased.

“It’s rumoured he’s cutting back, but not giving it up completely.”

**

At the end of the meeting, Bruno shakes hands and engages in conversation with the other speakers. Disappointed there’s to be no laying on of hands, I wrack my brains as to how I’m going to reach him. From my balcony position, I see him rise and walk towards the main door, nodding to his many well-wishers. With no time to lose, I race down the stairs, nearly knocking someone over. This may be the last chance I ever get to speak to him.


Outside the building, I trail him until he steps into a side street café. While I wait outside cooling my heels, I wonder what to do next. I watch him order something at the counter. When I enter the café, he’s sitting at a table sipping a cappuccino, checking his phone. After ordering one myself, I sit at the next table wondering what right I have to disturb a private moment. 


But time is running out and if I don’t speak to him now, I’m going to spend the rest of my life regretting it. I take a deep breath and stand by his table.

“Hi, do you mind if I join you?”

Close up, his face is pale and drawn, not at all charismatic.

“I’m actually waiting for someone.”


It’s like taking a blow to the chest. Or stumbling around endlessly in the dark. 

He checks the message on his phone, comes to a decision. 

“Are you alright?” he asks.

“Please may I join you for a short while? I won’t stay long. I can see you’re waiting to meet someone.”

“Uh. Ok. It turns out my friend has been delayed. But as soon as she gets here, that will have to be it, I’m afraid.” He studies me intently. I probably look desperate. It dawns on me this kind of thing must happen to him a lot. 

“Erm, I heard your talk just now. I wanted to say I found it inspiring.”

“Ah.”

The exhaustion shifts as he dons the role of healer, speaker, mentor, and father figure all rolled into one. Whatever it is, I’m hooked.

“I must admit I was a little surprised the healing part of the service was left out,” I add, for want of something to say.

“Oh…” he looks disappointed. “That’s what everyone wants to see. Drama. People jumping up and throwing away their crutches. Everything else is secondary.” He sighs loudly. “But it comes at a price.”

“You helped stop my headaches when I was a teenager. I used to get awful migraines. I honestly don’t have much in the way of faith these days, but I do know my life has never been the same since meeting you.”


He leans forward, studying me intently. “You do realise it’s not me. I’m merely a vessel chosen to help others.” He draws out his breath. “People always expect the earth from me. I recently decided to give up healing because it takes so much out of me. In a way, it cost me my marriage. I was never really there for my wife when she was alive. When she got ill, it was too late! I don’t want to go and make the same mistake again. Hilary - the friend I’m meeting – has helped me see things differently. She’s not connected to my ministry, though she’d never do anything to stop me. I never thought I’d meet anyone again. I’m actually planning to move to America for good. I need to recuperate.”


For a second, I want to scream. Forget Hilary. Take me to America, or wherever else you want to go. To tell him I’ve always admired him, that he’s been a lifelong mentor, but then he probably already knows that. I have nothing to lose so I continue to speak freely.

“The problem is I’ve never felt I was worth much. You’ve had such an impact. When you took the pain away, it was the best moment of my life. You inspired me. And I doubt you even remember me.”

“I do… remember you.” It was as if a fog had lifted. Once again, it felt like we were the only two people in the room. “You were young, but there was such passion in your eyes. I think you need to find an outlet for that passion; put it to good use. Everything will follow from that.” He rises from his seat leaving half his coffee. “Now, my dear, I really do have to go. Hilary’s waving at me from the window.” He turns, offering a smile of such ambient purity, I’m blown away. “Don’t forget. You’ve got this. Keep moving forward. Don’t look back.”

**

“Jenny.” I instantly know something is wrong. Mum usually calls me Jennifer. She sounds desolate. Then, she drops the biggest bombshell of all.

“Bruno’s died of a massive stroke,” she cries. “I just read it in the newsletter. To think I almost went to see him when I heard he was back, but didn’t feel up to it.  If I’d known it was going to be his last meeting, I’d have gone, however bad I felt. We had such wonderful times hearing him talk when you were a child. Do you remember?”

How can I ever forget?

**

I don’t feel guilty about not telling mum about seeing Bruno again. What happened was a covenant between him and me. Not to be shared. When our call ends, I think of Bruno’s words when he left me at the café table. Whispered on the wind, I will carry them with me for the rest of my life.

”You’ve got this.”





October 30, 2023 21:01

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12 comments

Amanda Lieser
04:34 Nov 30, 2023

Hi Helen! What a great take on the prompt. I loved the way you told this story through memories. It’s not often that we have the foresight to realize that an impactful moment is happening as it occurs. I loved the way this story focused on faith. It certainly begs the question, if the moment heals us enough, then is it truly mere power of suggestion? Or better yet, does it matter?

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Helen A Smith
07:54 Nov 30, 2023

Hi Amanda, I like the way you got that this story was partly about faith. In a way it doesn’t matter whether it’s the power of suggestion, or not. It depends what a person’s beliefs are. The body and mind do sometimes heal and people do have powerful moments or insights that change the whole course of their life. As always, I appreciate your comments.

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Shirley Medhurst
14:02 Nov 10, 2023

An interesting take on this prompt 👍 Quite scary to think that there are people who do actually fixate on ‘healers’ such as this. You develop Jennifer’s character really well. I’m glad that Bruno is firm with her, yet kind enough to leave her with hope for the future and a few words of wisdom.

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Helen A Smith
14:25 Nov 10, 2023

Thanks Shirley. I’m glad you thought I developed Jennifer’s character well. I wanted for her to develop her own strength and develop as a person in her own right.

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Michał Przywara
23:05 Nov 07, 2023

That's a neat take on the prompt! It's lifelong celebrity worship, only in this case they have actually met, and a number of times. Enough times, if Bruno is to be believed, that he even remembers her. But like any celebrity worship, the Bruno she wants isn't the Bruno he is, which she gets a view of in the café. Nevertheless, he still spares time for her, so perhaps he's used to this kind of thing. The spiritual healing is another big feature of this story. It's how he's made his name, but it's come at a cost. His marriage, yes, but bec...

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Helen A Smith
06:54 Nov 08, 2023

Hi Michal, Thank you for your great observations. I think giving out to others to that level is likely to come at a cost. However, it does appear to be Bruno’s fate. I liked to think his act in setting Jenny free was a final act of kindness. He certainly inspired her, that’s for sure. When I wrote it, I wasn’t sure if he remembered Jenny or not, but I liked to think he did and that she stood out for him. Thank you for insights. I really appreciate them.

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Dena Linn
16:03 Nov 05, 2023

Yes very interesting. A bit back and forth that could be smooother in a next version. It is a strong piece with the emotions clearly written

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Helen A Smith
16:16 Nov 05, 2023

Thanks Dena. I’m always working on improving my work. Glad the emotions came through.

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Rebecca Miles
07:36 Nov 02, 2023

Well this is an interesting one! Jenny and Bruno are an unusual pairing and you spin out the power he has over her well. It has a coming of age sense to it; the attraction of the city, almost the compulsion of the bells, the ritualistic laying on of hands, the release when the migraines depart. I like it that this potential repression doesn't culminate in a sexual relationship but rather the older desired figure reminds her to pursue her own passions: she's got this, not him or they two together. These characters will stay with me. Thanks He...

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Helen A Smith
08:14 Nov 02, 2023

I’m so glad you liked the fact it didn’t culminate in a sexual relationship. Perhaps that would have been too obvious. You pick up the coming of age theme well. I only realised that was what had happened after I wrote it. It takes the MC a long time to see life differently. Thanks for reading

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Mary Bendickson
17:36 Nov 01, 2023

Good story, Helen. You've got this.

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Helen A Smith
17:41 Nov 01, 2023

Thanks for reading Mary. Look forward to reading yours on the way to work tomorrow 😊

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