The scriptures say, my temple is a place of prayer
It was one of those glorious summer Saturday mornings. Holiday makers were mingling with the locals as they enjoyed the festival atmosphere of the city. Mobile food outlets were already doing good business; masses of colourful, gas filled balloons were adorning the precinct; a guitarist was playing Rodrigo, beautifully; people sat around and soaked in the free entertainment, and the warmth of the day.
In the Cathedral square, the Cardman`s work was in full swing. The cards, this day, bore an appropriate photograph of a clear blue, early morning sky with a fading moon, still visible. He was pleased with it.
They were handed out with the picture facing; a deliberate ploy to make them interesting and accessible. He realised that he only had a brief moment in which to capture the imagination of those to whom he gave a card. And yet, it was the reverse side that really mattered, and he wanted them to turn it over and read the few words given to them; hopefully, they would receive the message he offered.
He suddenly became aware of a rumpus coming from an adjacent street; the source of the shouting was soon apparent. A young boy came running towards him, chased by an angry man.
`Help me, please, help me,` the boy cried out as he reached the Cardman. The lad, about 12 years old and wearing a multi-coloured tee shirt and dark grey shorts, looked up at him with pleading eyes.
`He`s going to hurt me, I know he`s going to hurt me.`
The man, overweight and out of breath, explained, `this kid has just stolen that banana in his hand. I want the money for it.`
`I haven`t got any money,` the boy shouted back.
The Cardman put his right arm around the lad to protect him. It had the immediate effect of calming him and defusing the situation. The boy looked up at the Cardman`s friendly face and said, `I`m hungry, sir. I haven`t had any breakfast this morning. Please stop him from hurting me.`
`That banana doesn`t belong to you until it`s paid for,` the Cardman said, reprovingly. He reached into his trouser pocket and sorted a pound coin from some loose change he had. He passed it to the boy. `Now, take this to the shop and pay for it. Then bring me back the change.`
`Thank you, sir,` the boy replied, `I knew you`d help me.`
The Cardman looked at the man. `Go with the boy, he knows he`s done wrong.`
`He`s a thief. Okay, it `s only a banana … but it was stolen,` he objected strongly. `You`re encouraging him by letting him off so lightly!` He looked at the Cardman judgementally expecting some defensive response; he would have liked an argument and felt quite positive about the outcome. However, the Cardman said nothing. He just looked at the man, his eyes searching him. This made the man feel strangely uncomfortable.
`Where have you parked your car this morning?` the Cardman eventually asked him.
`By the viaduct, as I always do,` he replied, puzzled. `Why?`
`If I went to your car now, there wouldn`t be a parking receipt showing. Am I right?` the Cardman asked.
`What`s that got to do with you?`
`As long as your car stays in the car park without a ticket, you are stealing. What do you think is the bigger crime, to park all day and just hope that no-one checks up on you, or, in full view of the shopkeeper, to take a banana because you`re a hungry child and have no money?`
The man did not answer. He turned and shuffled back to his shop, wondering how that `man with the cards` knew. He had been parking, without paying, for months and had not been caught. And no-one knew; or so he thought.
The boy returned, happily, to the Cardman with the change in his hand. `Thank you, that was really kind of you,` he said passing the money back.
`What`s your name?` the Cardman asked.
`Well, Jack, why are you so hungry?`
`Mum and dad wanted to get into town early, so I wasn`t given any breakfast.`
The Cardman immediately returned the change to the boy, and added another pound. `A bread roll or a cake will help you,` he said, and added with a smile, `but, this time, pay for it.`
The boy walked off in the direction of Warrens and the Cardman watched him, remembering the time when he was just 12 years old and hungry … he wondered whether Jack`s parents might come and search for him, as his parents had.
It was about an hour later when a young couple – in their thirties – drew attention to themselves as they argued, bitterly, at the bottom of the steps to the Cathedral. Jack, their son, sobbed as, first, his father yelled and, then, his mother. Abuse flew from one to the other like a verbal tennis match and, whatever had fuelled the disagreement, however innocuous, had escalated into a full blown war of words.
The Cardman rushed to the scene, noticeably angry, himself. He put a hand on the man`s shoulder, who instantly ceased shouting. Reaching out, he rested his other hand on the young woman, which had the same calming effect.
`What on earth do you think you`re doing? Look at Jack; see how upset he is. And how could you fight each other right outside this holy place?`
The couple turned and looked up at the Cathedral entrance; they had been so absorbed in their own world of fighting that they had no idea where they actually were. The Cardman released his hands from their shoulders and, instead, placed them protectively around their son.
`We`re sorry,` the man said, shyly, now embarrassed by the size of the crowd that had gathered looking for cheap entertainment.
`There`s One who you both need to say sorry to … up through those doors,` the Cardman insisted, pointing up the steps. `Jack can stay here with me – we`ve met already this morning – you two need to be alone. Now, go on!` he instructed them with an authority they did not question. They sheepishly entered the Cathedral and the doors closed behind them.
The Cardman knelt down so his eyes were level with those of the young lad. Removing a handkerchief from his trouser pocket, he said, kindly, `let me wipe those tears from your eyes. It`ll be alright now … you`ll see. When your mum and dad come back they`ll be friends again.`
Together they looked up at the beautiful building in front of them.
`How do you think this was built, Jack?`
`I don`t know, sir.` The Cardman was momentarily struck by the boy`s politeness, an indication that family love was not lacking.
`Well, do you think they began at the top or the bottom?`
Jack laughed. `From the bottom, of course,` he replied, earnestly. `Did you see them build it, sir?`
`Well, yes, but …` the Cardman stopped. `Do you know how long ago this was built?`
`Over 120 years ago. Now, do I look that old?`
The boy laughed again, then watched as his parents reappeared from the Cathedral, hand in hand. The father collected Jack from the Cardman and quietly said, `Thank you` to him.
`You have a lovely son; you must be very proud of him,` the Cardman enthused with a smile.
`We are. Thank you, again.`
The young family walked across the square and then stopped, aware of, yet unbothered by, the many pairs of gossiping eyes watching them. The young woman looked back at the Cardman, now in deep conversation with an elderly couple.
`How did he know this is Jack?` she asked, bewildered. `I didn`t tell him.`
`I did,` Jack said, `he bought me a banana.`
His father shrugged his shoulders, with disinterest. `Anyway, what right had he to tell us what to do?`
His wife, however, just stared back and calmly admitted, `I`ve never met anyone like him before.` Then they turned away and went home; but the mother could not get the Cardman out of her mind. What was it about him?
Indeed, what was it?
Later that day, she pondered upon the word `reconciliation` that mysteriously entered her thoughts ….