The Missing Statues
One bright Wednesday morning in Rome, a young American diplomat collapsed onto a bench at the edge of St. Peter’s Square.
There, he began to sob.
An old room in his heart had opened because of something he’d seen.
Soon he was weeping so loudly that a young Polish priest parking a yellow Vespa felt inclined to do something. The priest silently placed himself on the bench next to the man.
A dog with gray whiskers limped past and then lay on its side in the shade. Men leaned on their brooms and talked in twos and threes. The priest reached his arm around the man and squeezed his shoulder dutifully. The young diplomat turned his body into the priest and wept into his cloth. The fabric carried a faint odor of wood-smoke. An old woman in black nodded past, fingering her Rosary, and muttering something too quiet to hear.
By the time Max had stopped crying, the priest pictured the place where he was supposed to be. He imagined the empty seat at the table. The untouched glass of water. The heavy sagging curtains and the smell of polish. The meeting would be well underway. He considered the idea that he was always where he was supposed to be, even when he wasn’t.
“You’re okay now?” The priest asked. His Polish accent clipped at the English words like carefully held scissors.
“I’m so embarrassed,” Max said.
Then Max pointed to the row of statues standing along the edge of St. Peter’s Square.
The priest looked up.
“Well they’re beautiful—oh, but look, there is a statue missing,” the priest exclaimed. “How extraordinary.”
The priest turned to Max.
“Why would a missing statue upset you, Senor Americano—you didn’t steal it, did you?”
Max shook his head. “Something from my childhood.”
“I’ve always believed that the future is hung with keys that unlock our true feelings about some past event.” The priest said.
“Isn’t everything something from childhood?” The priest continued, “A scribble that was never hung, an unkind word before bed, a forgotten birthday…”
“Yes, but it doesn’t have to be so negative, Father,” Max interrupted. “There are moments of salvation too, aren’t there?”
“If there aren’t,” the priest said, “then God has wasted my life.”
The two men sat without talking as if they were old friends. The priest hummed a few notes from a Chopin Nocturne and counted clouds.
Then a bird landed in the space where the divine being had once stood—where its eyes had once fallen upon the people who milled about the square, eating sandwiches, taking photographs, feeding babies, birds, and the occasional vagrant who wandered in quietly from the river.
The priest looked at Max and pointed up at the statues again. “They should all be missing,” he joked, but then wasn’t sure if the man beside him understood what he meant.