A companion story to Ghosts
It seemed only appropriate that the day's activities should be planned as a family and so it was that the nearby Catholic Church was discovered among the many options found in Juraj's travel book over breakfast. As it was pointed out to them both Alenka and Luka exchanged glances, was this another sign? The fact that they owed so much of their lives to their shared faith was a fact neither could deny. Their faith had brought them together, what could be more fitting then making attendance at Mass one of those experiences the children could take home with them as a reminder of the trip?
As they stepped outside the clear sky seemed an even more clear indicator of what the day might hold. "Where to Juraj?" Luka turned to his son even as he offered a hand to his daughter.
The boy studied his book for a moment then glanced up the street before returning his attention to his father. "I think we have to go that way." He dropped his eyes to the book as his mother stepped in to confirm his directions herself, when she nodded he smiled. "It looks like only about 4 streets away."
"We'd better get going then...lead on." He immediately felt the tug on his hand as Maja expressed her impatience at the delay, and as his son started off he followed.
The walk was casual, light conversation sprinkled with comments about this or that they saw along the route. When they reached the church Luka stopped, unable to halt the catch in his breathing at the sight of the massive structure... could he do this? The doubt was something he hadn't expected, he'd been attending church for close to fifteen years without a problem, why was this suddenly different? Yes, it was true he hadn't set foot in a Croatian church since the funerals of his family...he drew a deeper breath in an attempt to quell the rising anxiety before it overtook him fully
"Tata...are we going in?" Maja's voice was enough to break the spell and he looked down at her before realizing that Alenka and Juraj were already starting up the steps.
"What?" Luka pushed the doubts aside as his daughter's grip on his hand tightened, and a smile found him with her smile of reassurance. "Mama and Juraj are already going in." She offered the explanation without commenting on the distancing he had experienced.
"Then we had better catch up to them hadn't we?" How long had she waited him out? How long had she simply stood there watching as he lost himself to thoughts of the past without saying a word? He released her hand as they climbed the steps, allowing her to join her brother near the front doors.
"Are you all right?" His wife's question came quietly as he reached her, concern visible in the tone as well as on her face. When he simply nodded she frowned slightly in response. "Luka, I know you better then that, what is it?"
Glancing towards the Church itself, he released a resigned sigh before bringing his eyes back to her, experience telling him she would have an answer from him to her question. "The last time I attended church here was for the funerals..I swore I would never enter one again...I guess I didn't expect those feelings to come back to me so strongly after all this time."
Alenka took his hand as he spoke, letting him finish before offering more then her closeness. "We don't have to go in...if this is too hard for you..."
He shook his head to stop her before taking her free hand in his. "No, I have to do this." He surprised even himself as he managed a smile of reassurance for her. "If it wasn't for our faith we wouldn't even have found each other, we wouldn't have found any of this." He paused to search out the two children who were investigating the stonework of the church before he continued. "I hate to think where I would be now if it wasn't for you, and them."
"Luka, you don't have to do this for us." Alenka started to interrupt then stopped as he silenced her with a shake of his head.
"We came here to show the children where we come from, but also to put some sort of closure on our pasts, for me this is part of that."
"The music is starting..." Maja's voice silenced whatever else he had intended to say and instead of resuming the conversation he simply raised his wife's hand to his lips before kissing it.
"We should go in." He managed another smile before turning to his daughter. "We're coming, Beba."
Alenka nodded in return, her own smile matching his before she walked with him over to the door. The differences in the strength of their faiths was something she had long ago accepted. While Luka had turned from his, unable to shake the feelings of betrayal, and giving into loneliness, she had done the opposite. After losing her husband and son she had turned fully to her faith, wrapping herself in it as if it were a warm blanket, finding comfort and support among those of the congregation. In a way she still thought of those who had been with her since the first as a family, perhaps she always would, and to know Luka had never known those feelings. It was hard to imagine how empty her life would have been like had it not been for those strangers who accepted her so openly. Worse though was hearing how it had been for Luka, their faith had been a part of them since childhood, as much a part of their upbringing as their education, if not more. To have lost that feeling for all of the years he had been away from it to her was as frightening as it would be to lose a part of herself.
As they stepped inside the church the intensity of the moment flooded over her, the music, the smell of the incense, the warmth, now more then ever she knew she was home.
to be continued...