An older man helping lost souls in his town
The older man in the green Volvo smiles at the woman turning left in the Subaru. It was his smile, he thinks, not for the first time, that finally led to his success in his liberation ministry. He had been unaware that as a young man, he scowled constantly. His face always projected a smug look of condescension; he rubbed people the wrong way, and he had to resort to less than ethical methods to practice his ministry in those days. He remembers his first efforts with shame.
All of that is behind him now. Now he smiles at everyone. He has grown into a nice old man. And there is nothing more disarming than a smile.
The brunette waves as she passes by Henry.
He checks his intuition, reads the landscape for clues that she might be a lost soul. He sees no signals.
“Au revoir mon cheri,” he whispers to the departing taillights in his mirror.
Then he sees the Olsen twins. But they are only seventeen, and he knows them personally; it is always problematic to practice his craft on the young or the familiar.
But maybe, in a few years?
As he drives past them, they raise their hands in front of their mouths. No doubt they are saying something cruel or derogatory about him. He sighs with sadness when he sees their masked heads shaking with laughter.
“Those girls are turning into a couple of snoots,” he sighs.
He decides he will return to them in a few years, help guide them away from their worldly arrogance. He will show them the error of their ways. Oh, how his heart will swell when they transform.
He takes no offense at their rudeness, for he has transcended his ego. Henry is no hypocrite. He practices what he preaches. Henry learned early on that the ego that made his lost sheep reject the physical sensations his brand of preaching evoked.
When the heart was pure, there was no pain, only sensation.
He believes the sheep he’s ministered to, in their final private moments, reach this glorious state of ego transcendence. He knows they finally get it. His heart fills to bursting with happiness when he leaves them. He tries to leave before the light goes out, so they might enjoy a final minute of divine unsurpassable peace.
He pats his leather case. He sees the old stain on the aged leather attaché. Dried now, it looks like oil or wine. But it is not from a sheep; It was his. The day before a mission trip three years ago, he had been having a rare attack of doubts, and so he had opened his case and went to work practicing his discipline on his naked thighs.
The sheep had struggled; a row of hastily, self-administered butterfly stitches came loose, his tan slacks turned an alarming shade of purple. The case came in contact with the pants, and voila, instant stain. He supposes he should replace the case, but Henry has used it in over 300 ministry trips; he would have difficulty letting it go.
Henry continued to drive. He was forever reading the signs. When some attractive sign pointed, Henry followed. When he read the landscape and read portents of negativity, he would redirect his path or, in a few instances, abort the mission trip entirely.
He is on foot now. A flashing walk sign at Parker caught his eye, so he pulled into a cafe parking lot and began walking.
For miles, he appears to meander, but he is not; he is following a series of unknowable, inaudible prompts.
Turn left here.
Turn right in four blocks.
Cross to the other side of the street.
There is a security camera there; turn your face ninety degrees to the right as you pass by it.
A block later, he sees another sign.
A high-pitched squeal from the tires, the owner seemingly unaware the belts in three of her tires are breaking down. The sound is grating on his nerves. He wants to recoil from it, walk the other way, but he senses this is the one. He has found a lost soul.
Sure enough, the Toyota turns into a driveway and enters the garage.
Henry pats his heavy leather case and rechecks that the side with the telltale drops is facing his leg. He opens the attache and peeks inside. He sees his gloves, the plastic drop cloth, and the leather tool roll of shiny surgical-steel tools, each precisely manufactured and perfectly balanced to his hand.
Smiling his biggest smile, he follows the sidewalk to the front door and prepares to return another lost sheep to the fold.