The sun had been hung like a brass circle over the fields of grass and snow. A long line of vehicles crawled over the road that Brother Martin had plowed with the garden tractor, a straight road, and flat, like the roads of all prairies and plains and steppes, and one that took people right to the gate of the monastery.
The cars and trucks were dark. In them, Tanks and troop carriers had come the same way through snow and wheat 60 or 70 years before when I lived a different existence in a different century.
But these were not soldiers with guns and bombs and malevolent intent. These were musicians with cellos and violas and trumpets and timpani. These were women and men who wished to recreate and renew and replenish. Yet I could not ignore that they came in that long dark line, pulling the sky down with them. They were bringing more than music. They brought the long night. And of all the hours in the year and in a life, those which were most impenetrable.
The new abbot was very much in favour of my sister Zoya being declared a saint. He had flung open the doors of our chapel, with its perfect acoustics, for works that had been commissioned in her honour. The musicians were here to make official recordings of those works. They knew her brother was at the Trappist monastery. Whether they would recognize him as the one with his hood up and leaning on a snow shovel was another matter. In the hard red granite of the sun’s fall, as they drove towards our gates, drove implacably as fate or divine will, I prayed I would be missed and forgotten in the turbulence of rehearsals, miles of black cord, microphone stands and violins being tuned to perfection.
The Vatican had phoned. There were still some unanswered questions. Some gaps. Would I – Andrii, Brother Nahum – be available for the Holy Father’s personal emissary? Could the abbot place him at Archbishop Frederick’s disposal? They scarcely needed to ask. The new abbot would do whatever was necessary - and more. How opportune, how blessed, that the retinue from Rome would arrive during the celebration of the Holy Nativity, exactly when the recordings of the sacred music written for Zoya were to be done. The abbot saw God’s hand in all of it.
Dom Alexander, the abbot who had died, would have shielded me as much as he could from the prying and probing. The new one simply threw me to the wolves. He did not understand, nor would he support, my reluctance. I had taken a vow of obedience. It was up to me to get on with it.
The cars rolled past where I stood. I saw the faces of the musicians and the sound people and the producers, the long-haired women and sometimes long-haired men, the large black cases that held basses and harps and drums. I expect they thought I looked strange and medieval in my monastic garb, my hood peaked like a steeple. No stranger than God or life itself, I said to them without moving my lips.
The archbishop would come in the same way down the same road. His cars would also be dark. They had been the first time. Perhaps he would be in a foul mood because the devil’s advocate had picked apart his case for my sister’s canonization. Or perhaps he would have made peace with his disappointment and be as calm as a windless prairie. He might even be glad to see me, though that was doubtful. We had not left on the best of terms the summer before.
I walked away from exhaust fumes that rose like river mist in the ice of the evening air. Three, four, five stars had appeared overhead. The shovel was in my right hand and I pushed back my cowl with the left. I welcomed the sting of the night.
Come then, your grace, I whispered to the sky, to the last flash of light, to the white road streaked with the dark stripes of tires, I find I am surprisingly eager to see you, to talk of that other life I knew as a young man, that terrible life. Perhaps it will be a confession that releases me. Perhaps it will be a revelation and I will see what I have never seen before. Perhaps it will be a resurrection and I will live again. Perhaps it will permit me to lay my old bones on my bed one final time and die a good death. I have no idea. But I am not reluctant or obstinate or afraid. Come quickly, your grace. I will not be hard to find. I stand at the great gate of Kyiv.