Matteo was sitting one morning, with Fr. Romy, in the library. The boy had taken to reading the newspaper more often now, and he went through the editorials and their rage, through news articles and their spotlight on the many characters that made up what would later be a morality play. There was the president, of course, and his first lady; but there were, as well, colonels and police officers who appeared like rabid dogs that knew nothing but destruction, craved nothing but pain, brought nothing but agony to the prisoners who were brought to the military camps and tortured until they could no longer remember their names, could only urinate and sweat and weep with blood.
And yet, there too, were the Cardinal, and the Senator despised by the regime as its staunchest critic, and the many lawmakers and prisoners who were shouting their dissent and battling the many honeyed words that were thrown out from the presidential palace. There was no sweetness in the lies now; they only sounded like pale imitations of some philosopher long gone and struck from history.
Matteo read, slowly, as was his wont. His brain drifted in and out of the trains of his thoughts, for he would often remember how his sister would read sentences from the newspaper out loud, and then rejoin with her own brand of rebellion; then he would remember how his mother and father would cross themselves in fear at the girl’s boldness; then he would remember how Yaya would beam upon Johanna as though watching her favorite actress read out her lines (even as the poor nanny would later tremble in horror at the “boldness of city girls”).
“So, we’ve had the same cases since last week,” a voice flowed through the threads of both words and memory that swam in Matteo’s head that hour. It came from Fr. Romy, who had not removed his eyes from his notes, and who had spoken with a tone devoid of any lifts or drops, as though he had simply been playing a recording that had been repeated day after day, “The priests are overwhelmed and tired, but there has been no change in the little girl, or the young man; but the young woman can now enter a church and hear mass. I only hope it is not some false sign meant to derail us.”
Matteo had hardly said a word to Fr. Romy ever since he had cried in the priest’s arms, but the boy was fully apprised of the man’s work, for the latter would often speak about his cases regardless of whether Matteo was visibly listening or no. Fr. Romy had been driving back and forth from Lipa in the last few months; the cases were not rising, but those that remained were increasingly difficult to resolve, as though the demons were scratching deep into their victims, gaining a foothold with claws, digging their teeth into human souls.
Matteo knew the stories well, and he thought about them, turned over the facts in his imagination even if he did not give any indication that he was doing so. There was the girl who had been cursed by her grandfather, because she was a bastard child, and both her parents had been killed in a car crash. The man had withheld baptism from her, and she seemed to promptly descend into darkness: beheading dolls, trying to poison her grandmother’s pen of chickens, nearly killing her grandparents while brandishing a knife at her tenth birthday party with all the expertise of a swordsman. And when she was finally tied to a bed, she nearly broke it apart with the mere force of her arms. She was manacled to a metal frame, one that had to be adjusted as she grew under the watchful eyes of several exorcists who ministered to her for years.
And then there was the young man who liked going to the beer houses and night clubs of Manila, who spent his early mornings in the company of drugs, then hallucinogens, and then experiments with a Ouija board. He graduated to summoning spells, courtesy of his so-called friends who had procured a tattered copy of the Necronomicon from a book sale. He always came home in the early morning, the maids said, with four dark men in tow; and yet he claimed that he was always alone, walking alone, driving alone, for being alone was best for him. And he ended alone, indeed, a prisoner in his own room with only exorcists, for his parents migrated to the U.S. in fear and left him to the Jesuits as a castaway problem to solve. He had none of the little girl’s superhuman strength, but he peered into the soul of anyone who prayed over him, and spoke viciously and hopelessly about their lives before promising to see them in Hell.
Then there was the young woman, Dr. Horacio Santos’ niece, who was suddenly, inexplicably afraid of the family altar, who tore her scapular from her body because it burned her skin, who could not enter a church without retching up black globules of tar. She was a beautiful girl whose eyes were sullied by darkness that seemed deeper than the black of night, whose soul seemed to be pulled into the depths of a Hell cold and forbidding. And all because a neighbor had spread lies about her, had then cursed her, for she was prettier than the neighbor’s daughter and was therefore not to be trusted. She said nothing during her exorcisms, and could not be fed save intravenously.
“I hope it’s not a false sign, too,” Matteo spoke up, feeling his smile warm his cheeks, “I really hope she’s ok.”
Fr. Romy’s eyes widened at the first few syllables of Matteo’s sentence, but the man cleared his throat quickly, tempered his smile, and nodded.
“We’ll see next time,” he opened his red book, marked out pages with strips of paper, and then returned to his notes, “Deliverance is always good news, but the road to it is always long. I wish exorcisms were easy, but I suppose it is the hardship of the process that molds a victim so that they follow a straighter path later – a path of goodness.”
“But Dr. Santos’ niece wasn’t at fault,” Matteo spoke, setting the newspaper down, “Wouldn’t God take pity on her and make her suffer less?”
Again, Fr. Romy’s eyes sprang open, as though he had been electrocuted; but he quickly settled himself, “Who knows the will of God in cases like this?” he cleared his throat once again, “Sometimes our victims have no sin at all, but we discover that there were weaknesses in their faith that demons exploited, and exorcism is their chance to repair these failings. Sometimes our victims are really, truly innocent, but exorcism is God’s way of purifying them, so that they seek him always.”
“But why would God want to make people suffer at all?” Matteo asked; and the inquiry itself was curiosity rather than the wail of a child. He felt that the question had been lingering in his mind for years, ever since he had realized that he could see angels, could witness their majesty and beauty with the limited eyes and language of a human. No God who created such wonderful creatures could be capable of such evil.
“There are many ways to answer that question, Matteo,” Fr. Romy replied, voice weak, as though he were struggling through a sea of words, “But let me share with you what Fr. Levi used to say: God is not Zeus with a thunderbolt; he is a Father who lets His children learn by allowing things to happen. There will always be something good, something great, even more than your imaginings, even more than your wishes. He allows His plan, because He can see farther and deeper than we can, or ever will.”
Matteo had heard the explanation many times before, and yet the meanings were different on that morning, in the library, with an open newspaper before him that spoke of the sufferings of the world without, with a priest before him who had seen evil and yet sat with all the peace of a man who knew only goodness.
“Hardships are inevitable on our path as exiles of Eden,” Fr. Romy went on, “And we often see these hardships as the stones to trip us, the pebbles designed to make us fall. But once we walk far enough, we can look back on all these so-called blemishes in the way of our lives, and we might see them as part of the pavement that allowed us to keep moving forward. When we recognize the path, we can begin to hope; and that hope is what marks the difference between those who wallow in their suffering, and those who see difficulties as paving stones. All of us will trip on something, but it is our choice whether to remain injured, or to stand up and allow the path to keep leading us, no matter where it goes.”
The words had been spoken slowly, deliberately, but Matteo never felt as though he were being lectured at. The words were a reminder, of something in his childhood that looked vaguely like a necessary step, but that felt like the end of the world at the time. It might have been the abysmal grade on a math quiz that signaled that Matteo was not for finding patterns but exploring depths, or the broken pencil case that had allowed his father’s possession to be resolved early, or the sudden appearance of a demon in a garden that had strengthened his nanny’s faith.
There was a part of him that rebelled against the notion of a God that allowed evil to take its course, rather than stop it outright; and yet that same part of him saw little point in doing so, for what could he accomplish, indeed, if he could not see the future and could only revel or cower in the present?
“Is there something you wish to tell me, Matteo?” Fr. Romy’s voice came into the room once again, and it was only then that Matteo realized that the exorcist had left and returned with his notebooks, a cup of coffee, and a plate of sandwiches, “I told Fr. Genio that you looked like you were going to ask me a lot of questions, and he suggested that I bring you food and a notebook in case you wanted to write anything down.”
The Jesuits, howsoever forbidding their order seemed to be to those who could not rise to its intellectual challenges, were always generous, and often to a fault. Matteo was not aware of how hungry he was, until he took a bite of a sandwich, and found himself eating it with the speed of someone who had never seen sandwiches before.
“Shall I go ask for something to calm your stomach after?” Fr. Romy looked on with the air of an incredulous father, “You haven’t eaten this much in weeks.”
Matteo found himself laughing, though it was more amusement at discovering that he could still chew food, swallow it, and nourish himself. Everything hitherto had been bland; or, to be more precise, everything had been good and flavorful, as Fr. Genio was liberal with spices, but nothing tasted like food. He found even the sweetest cakes bitter, as though he had bathed them in his tears.
Again, the boy sat in silence with the exorcist, for perhaps a few minutes that felt like stretched out years in Matteo’s mind. He did not know why he was smiling, and yet there he was, sharing a laugh with Fr. Romy, opening the notebook that Fr. Genio had asked to be brought, and, soon, drinking a glass of water and sipping coffee. It was as though he had been in the library all his life, had carried out research on all the books there, and was simply sharing a meal with a brother Jesuit.
When anyone asked Matteo when he knew that he could be a priest, it was at that very moment, in the library, as Fr. Romy sat before him and waited for the boy to finally speak.
“Thank you for all that, Father,” was all that Matteo said at first; and yet it cast the room bright, made the empty plate look like triumph, “I’m sorry I didn’t leave anything for you.”
Fr. Romy’s eyes crinkled as his smile seemed to reach all the way to his ears, “It was all for you,” the priest poured the boy another glass of water, “Fr. Genio has been so happy to just feed you. It makes him feel like a father again.”
“Ah,” and here, Fr. Romy shook his head, as though in disbelief at his own carelessness, “I suppose now is as good a time as any to know who your new fathers are. Genio was once married, when he was very young and barely out of school. His little boy and wife didn’t survive the influenza pandemic of 1918. He used to cook for them all the time, so he never stopped; he says it’s the only way he can remember them, celebrate them, now that he has a new life.”
Matteo sipped his coffee, felt it warm his throat. He had always drunk coffee at home, but somehow, whatever Fr. Genio had done, this cup was especially good.
“Fr. Levi has always been a writer – not much excitement there,” Fr. Romy cleared his throat and rubbed something out of one eye, “Fr. Jun was the son of a farmer. We fled to his house during the war. It was in a rice field, hidden from the main road, so we never saw the soldiers or heard any guns or cannons, except when it was very quiet at night and there were no crickets in the trees. Fr. Jun’s parents died before you came to us. We arranged their funeral because no one else knew much about them in their village.”
“But isn’t there anything more about Fr. Levi?” Matteo pressed.
Fr. Romy’s smile faded, but not so much in sadness; it was as though he had been gifted a question that he had not expected, and yet had wanted all the same.
“Well, he’s always been a writer, and he wanted to be a pre-school teacher, but the war changed that,” Fr. Romy’s voice was solemn, “Levi was always on a straight path to the priesthood. Everything about him was ordinary except his writing. Exo’s life is no different: he actually went to the Dominicans first.”
Matteo nearly choked on his coffee.
Fr. Romy laughed out loud, then quickly held a hand to his mouth, “If you can believe it: your Fr. Exo, so anti-Dominican, was actually almost one,” the exorcist lowered his voice, as there were footsteps outside the library, “But he said that the writings of Aquinas, as much as they were illuminating, still left him with questions. And he had all sorts of questions that the Dominicans didn’t like, about the nature of sin, the nature of evil – he said that when he first asked about the ministry of exorcism, the Dominicans told him that it was a battle against Satan. He thought that very overbearing, so he talked to his Jesuit friends, and he found their theology more loving – which he thought was the spirit of exorcism anyway.”
Matteo could not imagine the waddling, hefty Fr. Exo shifting between Dominican and Jesuit orders, and he had to put his cup down lest he spit out all his coffee. And yet he could imagine the priest leaving one order for another, and when he saw that there were nuances in how exorcism was explained and practiced. The boy had always felt an embrace around him whenever Fr. Exo spoke, no matter how silly the man’s words, no matter how the elder mocked the younger’s slowness.
“Exo always knew he would become a priest, and he was excited to be sent to the Philippines,” Fr. Romy went on, “He loves eating, and he heard from the New York Jesuits that there was a lot of food here, and it was cheap. So he took a teaching job, and he’s been eating ever since, even through the war! We thought we would run out of provisions, so Exo helped with the harvesting and planting. He had a lot of vegetables then, so you must understand why he shifted to a candy diet when we came back to Manila.”
“Is he all right?” Matteo asked, “I haven’t seen him in a while.”
Fr. Romy looked down at his notes and shrugged, “He sleeps a lot, but his brain is working – he only has a very hard time getting up to walk,” then, with a smile at Matteo, “He does ask about you, so maybe you can go visit him later. He just thought you needed more time to yourself, and he didn’t want to interrupt you – which is why he felt guilty when he asked the Pope to pay you a visit.”
Matteo felt a blush warm his cheeks, “He – did that for me?”
“In a manner of speaking, yes,” Fr. Romy’s smile seemed weaker, as though he had to scour deeply through his memories to remember what exactly had transpired, “Do you remember when Fr. Genio took you to see Fr. Exo, and there were Dominicans with him? They were part of the organizing committee for the Pope, and they helped bring the Pope over. Fr. Exo requested a visit especially for you because he knew you’d have to face the Pope one day – and of course, because the Pope was already acquainted with your family. The Pope actually admitted that he wanted to see you, regardless of whether Exo had asked him.”
The blush crept into Matteo’s ears, and down his neck. He didn’t know how to thank Fr. Exo. The meeting with the Pope had been the sole event that had sealed all the openings and tears in his heart, that had made him place his feet back onto the path again, that had made him realize that he was safe, that everyone he loved was safe, and that separation was mere distance and not pain.
“I’ll talk to Fr. Exo later,” Matteo struggled to speak. There were tears lingering in his throat and at the corners of his eyes, as though he were seeing the Pope once more and bathing in what seemed to be a celestial light that emanated so effortlessly from the man, “I’m just really thankful for that meeting. I didn’t think I’d see the Pope so soon, and – he’s a good man. He’ll probably be a saint one day.”
The words eventually came true, of course, decades later, when the Pope succumbed to the disease that ate his insides and pulled him from the control of his own movements. But on that afternoon, in the House of the Jesuits, there was neither fear of the Pope’s death nor a sign that Matteo would live to see the Pope’s canonization. There was only a grateful boy, and an exorcist who looked upon him with what seemed to be pride.
“You haven’t told your story, Fr. Romy,” Matteo had been turning the events of the last few weeks over in his head, but Fr. Romy’s life seemed more interesting, “Did you always want to be a priest?”
Fr. Romy seemed aghast at the question, but his surprise quickly changed to a light laugh, “Yes – and I’ve always wanted to be a Jesuit, too,” he paused, as a group of boys passed in the hallways outside, with heavy feet and loud voices in their wake, “I grew up in this school, and I grew up reading. I read all about the saints, and all about the church even when I was young, because I had four older brothers who were all about breaking things and beating up boys, and I thought that I would be safe if I buried my nose in books. Books were a good escape. So I found out that the Jesuits were all about their books and thinking, and I thought that I would find a better set of brothers.”
Matteo found himself smiling at the thought of a smaller version of Fr. Romy running around a house filled with broken vases and scattered toys, holding a book to his chest.
“My mother, God rest her soul, was a saint and a hero,” the priest’s smile was fainter now, almost sad, as though his memories were living in his gaze, “She raised five boys who got into so many brawls, and she had to do it on her own when my father joined a guerilla army to fight the Americans – and died on his first day. She raised four soldiers and a priest.”
“Do you still talk to your brothers?” Matteo felt the question leave him easily, as though there were an invisible thread that tugged at the end of the priest’s stories.
Fr. Romy shook his head, “They all died in the war,” he sighed, releasing a shallow breath, “My oldest brother was shot in the fall of Bataan; the second and fourth died in the camps after the Death March; my third brother and my mother were killed in the bombing of Manila.”
“I’m so sorry for asking.”
“Don’t be – I have memories of them, all of them good. Besides, I have a new set of brothers, and they’ve always taken care of me. I’m still the youngest, there are still four of them, and they all like wrestling with ideas. God always makes unfair trades: he taketh away, and giveth more than anticipated.”
Matteo expected to see tears in the man’s eyes. He saw nothing there, save grief; but it was not the kind that clouded the priest’s gaze, or that made the man withdraw into himself, or that seethed with rage. It simply sat there, like a friend, acknowledged but unspoken to.
The library descended into silence once again. There were birds in the trees outside, and they sounded as though they were cheep-cheeping through the branches, calling for their young to eat lunch. There were demands from the priests in the classrooms, to classmates in theology classes who had forgotten where they had placed their books, to friends on another floor who were rushing to and from classes, to older priests who were perhaps deaf and yet still sharp as they walked the halls with their canes keeping them upright. Matteo could even hear the faraway clattering of forks against plates, cups against wooden tables. He felt that he had never really, truly listened to the sounds of the House of the Jesuits until then, had never really, truly felt at home in the presence of the hundreds of priests that roamed the building like happy shadows in their dark habits.
And he had never, really truly seen his five new fathers until that very moment. He could see the lines in Fr. Genio’s face, where the cheeks met the mouth; could remember how the lines deepened with time. He could remember the increasingly creaky sound of Fr. Levi’s bones every time the man tried to sit down next to his sister to talk to her about her work. He could smell the candy off an increasingly widening Fr. Exo, who always had chocolate in his pocket, and who giggled as he passed it to Matteo with a wink and a whisper of, “Don’t tell Genio.” He could see the furrows running in Fr. Jun’s brow, hear the croak in the man’s voice that crackled more and more each year. And he saw Fr. Romy, the youngest of the exorcists, an old man whose dark hair had been merely salted with white when they had first met, but who now looked as though he were crowned with a silver halo.
He suddenly saw his father in his memories, increasingly slower, as though he had been running a race all his life, and could but watch himself change in the mirror, could only conceal his balding pate with a little comb that looked pitiful, if not ridiculous. He saw his mother, as loving as she had been when he had been a child, when she never hesitated to wrap her arms around him; save that as time passed, her arms felt less and less warm, not so much because she withdrew from her son, but because the child had grown, and the grasp of the mother could no longer sustain its old strength.
There was Johanna, always with the same fire that edged onto brashness, with a face that might otherwise have been plain and unremarkable, but whose glow of both intellect and imagination combined to create a visage that seemed to shout, “I am here! Listen!” Even Yaya was there, mousy and meek, now stronger and bolder, and yet stooped with the weight of pots brimming with stew and pans filled with rice.
“Fr. Romy, what about Dr. Santos?” Matteo asked, the question tumbling out even before he could think of whether it was appropriate to ask, “Is he ok?”
Fr. Romy had been reading through his notes again, and Matteo realized that the silence had gone on for quite a while, long enough for the Jesuits to return to the halls after their lunch hour.
“Horacio and Anita flew out to the U.S. at the same time we were moving your parents,” Fr. Romy answered, “They’re safe there. Their kids are there, and they’re close enough to retirement to hide. I wish they could have seen you awaken. We’ll tell them – when things change. I don’t know if our phones have been tapped or if anyone is watching, so it’s best to wait.”
Matteo felt a lump in his throat at the thought. His entire childhood, from his doctors to one of the brother Jesuits, to his family – everyone seemed to be leaving. Everything seemed to be changing, too fast for him to think through his responses, too quickly for him to ruminate on memories and gather insights, the way that he always had when the world had been simpler.
“If I might ask, Matteo,” Fr. Romy stood up, “Why all these questions?”
Matteo shrugged, but it was the shrug of a grown boy who was telling his companion that it was normal to be inquisitive. “I just wanted to know,” he answered nevertheless, “I was about to ask if my family left me anything.”
At that, Fr. Romy smiled, walked to the desk, opened one of its drawers, and pulled out a piece of paper from beneath what sounded like wooden boxes and metallic balls. Matteo recognized the sheet even from across the room: they were the red and blue lines of Fr. Levi’s notebooks, the ones he used to teach Johanna with, the ones he used for young victims of possession to take notes on. Something jumped in Matteo’s belly, so that his heart stopped, and even his brain sped up with a thousand letters jumbled into random words.
“I waited until you were better,” Fr. Romy walked back to the boy, still holding the sheet of paper up, “I didn’t want to give this to you so soon, because there was much that you were going through, and I believe that you had to discern your place, and your own future, before you could ask the right questions.”
Matteo felt his eyes blur; he knew that he was ready to cry, but something within him said that he need not despair, that the letter that Fr. Romy bore was a mere ellipsis in an unfinished sentence, and that sentence had long to go before it ended. He felt himself lean back in his chair, could not even recognize the hand he reached out when the priest gave him the paper.
The right questions – the notion hit him, as he touched the sheet, and as the world momentarily blossomed into a garden, with overhanging branches and sun-filled sky, with green grass underfoot and an angel waiting. It was not even the issue of the right questions; he had not even asked any sort of question, and the realization had come so deeply, and yet so slowly, from the night that he had met the Pope.
Why hadn’t he, indeed, asked? His angel sent him an image, of him alone in his bed, of him curled into a ball with fists clenched white-knuckled even in sleep, of him sitting alone at meals staring at his food and eating it with chewing that felt mechanical, if not robotic.
No one forcibly alone will ever wish to seek the world. To look beyond oneself is a gift.
He opened the sheet of paper, and found Johanna’s large handwriting. The strokes followed no pre-set lines, and seemingly trembled, as though the writer had poured her tears into the letter.
Not a lot of time, and my head aches so much, so I’ll make this quick.
We love you. We’ll be home soon. Or we’ll see you in Italy. Always hope.
I worry so much about you. We’ll be safe, and we know you’ll be ok, but I still worry because you’re my baby brother. You’re always going to be baby Matt-Matt who points at everything and calls it “angel”.
Don’t blame yourself for anything. If anyone should be blamed, it should be me, because I shouldn’t have been so trusting. Fr. Levi tells me otherwise. He’s a good man, always been my best teacher. Please pray for him.
I’ll miss you. Stay with the Jesuits. They’re wonderful. One day, we’ll see each other again. And it won’t be long. Trust me, the way things are going, it won’t be long.
p.s. the Pope is going to be a saint, I just know it.
On the bottom, after the postscript, were his father’s sharp handwriting, with a quick “I love you” scribbled in. Next to it was his mother’s note, signed with large loops: “I love you, my baby”. And there was Yaya too, in her uncertain script, with, “see you!”
It was simple, and quick, and yet it felt like Matteo had been given a novel of greetings, a litany of promises, a book of love. He folded the letter, put it in the pocket of his shirt, next to his heart. He looked up, and found Fr. Romy looking at him, arms loose, as though the priest were ready to embrace him should he burst into tears again. And yet Matteo found no space for grief, no need for tears; he simply felt that there was to be a true ending to the entire sentence, and he had to rush forward to see it to its end.
He simply smiled at the priest, then bowed to his guardian angel, for their garden had shimmered into being once again.
That same garden would be occupied nightly by Matteo, in all the years that followed.
He ran to it in pain on the night that the Jesuits had cleaned, emptied, and then secured his house as a place for their Dominican friends to stay in if they had to minister to the sick in that part of the city. Matteo had no titles for the land or the house (apparently, those were important, but no one could find them), and had received only suitcases filled with his notebooks, clothes, and shoes. They were his only mementos of the world in which he had once lived, and they made him run into the arms of his guardian angel, made him accept – though tearfully and rather resentfully – that he would have to hide, indeed, for any step outside the gates of the school could cost him his life.
The garden was his home now. The House of the Jesuits and his own little room were indeed his as well; but when he wished to look back on his memories, when he wished to share them with his angel, he spent hours in the garden with her. She would often let him stay, allow him to pray with her, to talk to Jesus, even, when there were prayers that could no longer hold his hopes. And yet there were times when she pushed him out, and laughingly, with the air of his sister, as she showed him that he was growing taller and stronger – and that he was not simply the little boy Matteo who had a gift, and who felt horribly, terribly alone.
He loved the garden, and he loved his angel.
Matteo fled to it in despair on his first day at the university, as a philosophy major, because his classmates all seemed so intelligent, so sharp, and so quick-witted, he felt as though he were a drowning weight in a sea of swimmers. And yet he plodded on during the day, managed average grades (“My God, the Dominicans can take you now!” Fr. Exo remarked when his first semester marks came in), spent sleepless nights poring over texts that made him question why he wanted to even take up philosophy in the first place.
He escaped to his garden, in sobs, in November of that same year, when the film center commissioned by the country’s first lady collapsed as it was built. A little over a hundred workers were buried alive beneath quick-setting concrete, and yet the family that sat in the presidential palace seemed to be more preoccupied with a coming film festival than the lives lost. Years later, there would be rumors of ghosts, restive spirits, hammering and sawing at dawn, whispers and screams at dusk. But on the day that it happened, Matteo heard thousands of angels rushing out in a stream, as though to both rescue and comfort, as though to both encourage and soothe. He could not guess at their aims, only sense the depth of their sadness and the air of mourning that weighed upon his chest, even while he was miles away from where it happened.
His guardian angel embraced him then, embraced him every night for months, for it was also his first Christmas without his family – and though his Jesuit fathers were comforting, Matteo still heard his heart breaking inside his chest every night before he went to sleep.
But when the New Year came, he felt a warmth spread within his heart, and he entered his garden once again, a mixture of sadness and joy, to tell his guardian angel that he felt hope, and knew not why. He alternated between hope and despair for several years, when his class lessons were so clear and when they took on the clarity of mud; when the Jesuit priests were so enlightening and when they sounded like priests who had never set foot outside the seminary; on the night he had learned of the assassination of the senator who had so opposed the president, and on the morning he had learned that his widow would take on the presidency.
In times of both courage and fear, Matteo walked in faith, fled in surrender.
He ran to the garden in gratitude, when one professor told him that he was a perfect fit for philosophy, because he spent time thinking and gathering insights – and that philosophy was not a machine to churn out thoughts, but a river that washed stones clean over millennia. His guardian angel laughed at the insinuation that Matteo would take thousands of years to produce an answer to any question; Matteo shared her laugh, missed his fiery sister, and wondered – albeit without tears – what it would have been like to be in the same university as she.
He walked into the garden with happiness, as he graduated, with no honors, but with a thesis advised under the still brilliant, still sharp Fr. Exo (who was allowed to take on thesis students, and who accepted only Matteo that school year). He felt his angel by his side as he walked onto the stage to accept his diploma, to bow to the auditorium, and to see four Jesuit priests in the audience as evidence that he had a family. Even from the stage, from a far distance, he could glimpse the wrinkled cheeks of Fr. Genio, the bald pate of Fr. Jun, the bent and stooped Fr. Exo, and the bright Fr. Romy, whose remaining hairs glistened in the many lights of the angels that moved through the crowd.
The image that came to Matteo’s head, in that split moment, was of time running out; and in another split moment, an army of angels welcoming the priests to a home where there were kitchens ever clean, libraries ever full, notebooks ever crisp, chocolates neverending.
He smiled, celebrated with the Jesuits; and, that night, embraced them all with force that would only remain constant through the next few years.
Matteo walked into that garden again and again, happiness deepening, as he was accepted for a first year of Jesuit formation; then as a novice; and finally, as a priest.
The garden became his sanctuary, for in between the first year of formation, and his First Vows, there was a revolution on the streets of the Philippines. There were tanks and machine artillery all aimed at crowds whose loyalties had changed from the once powerful dictator, to the good of the people, or at crowds whose love their country finally outweighed their fear for their lives. There were military convoys that grew ever more vicious, police officers that were ever more unmerciful. And yet there were nuns and priests holding the lines of protesters, students who left their classrooms because their lessons had taught them to fight and to no longer fear thinking for themselves, parents who wished for their children to see a tomorrow that was bright with hope and free from the shackles of a family that concealed all its stolen wealth beneath the veneer of “progress”.
Matteo once went to a protest. It was the most dangerous thing he had ever done, but he planned it well: he grew himself a beard over a period of two weeks, brushed his hair over his eyes, wore the white shirt that everyone else wore. For the first time in five years, he left the gates of the school.
For the first time in five years, he felt his lungs expand, felt his imagination grow, felt his guardian angel protect him with a fire that spread outward and swallowed all shadows in its wake.
He stole away with some of his fellow novices, marched as he shouted for freedom, held placards and banners as he dreamed of a world where he could love his family and be with his sister. And when he came to the city’s main thoroughfare, he saw a mixture of praying humanity and tanks that shone dark and rusty in an ocean of promise.
And he saw the angelic battle, with far more soldiers of lower rank, as though the ever so many guardian angels tasked to guard humans for centuries had been called to the fray. There, too, were the warrior Archangels, exhausted in the way that celestial beings could be drained of their energy and life. Behind them were the Thrones, Powers, Virtues, and Dominions, mixed in their ranks and gleaming with armor that sparkled in colors indescribable by frail human speech. There were the Cherubim, fury warm, with weapons drawn, shields raised to reflect an invisible sun. And there were the Seraphs, the highest ranking of the angels; they were but few, but they were the grandest, most glorious beings on the field as they stood guard, and shifted positions swiftly across the sea of fire as though they were in both the beginning and the end of the war.
Matteo thought he recognized one of the Seraphs. He knew, within his heart, that it was the angel he had seen in the battle for Ferdie’s soul. The seraph’s spirit felt old, as though its essence had been in the universe as a speck of dust long before God had thought to call forth his warriors into being. And yet it felt young, joyful, as though it had a ward whose heart was bright.
The seraph acknowledged Matteo; the boy felt his angel bow deep in reply. She sent what sounded like a report about troops on battlefields elsewhere, or a list of events that were occurring at the same time, with implications for millennia to come. Matteo could not understand anything she had said, only felt that it seemed painful, urgent, as though she were speaking of her fears before a superior who was far wiser than she. The seraph, in response, spoke what felt like music, as though he were writing verses that echoed with the gentleness of a sea brushing foam onto sand; the message was one of encouragement, something that said that Matteo could hold himself steady, could keep himself safe now that he was older and knew better.
Matteo was older, and a soldier of Christ. He could see the battle and not lose his own war.
Matteo drew strength from the bow of the seraph, and from his guardian angel’s happiness. He prayed the rosary with the rest of the crowd, sang with them, shouted with them. Down with the dictator. Freedom. Freedom. Freedom. Unity. Unity. Unity.
And a few nights after, he celebrated with his guardian angel as the dictator fled the country, with his family and so-called meager possessions in tow. There were to be true, honest elections. There was to be a leader elected by the people, the very first woman to serve as president of the republic, the widow of the senator who had been shot on the tarmac the moment he arrived home.
The constabulary, home of the most ruthless of the police officers, was disbanded. There were shakeups in ranks, amongst both government offices and the armed forces. And Matteo felt his soul burst in happiness, for it had been five years of silence, five years since he had last seen his family, five years since he had first lived with the Jesuits as their ward, then their brother.
Five years since he had seen the outside world, and what a world of chaos it had been. Still, Johanna’s words had been true: it won’t be long now. From the swords that sang across the battlefield, to the shadows that turned away and fled into the drowning light, Matteo could feel that there was a future. The exorcists eventually found out, much later, that he had gone and put himself at great risk, but they had no response except to embrace Matteo (or hit him on the head with a rolled-up newspaper, thanks to Fr. Exo).
Matteo and his angel both planted rose bushes in the garden, to mark their shared joy. The bushes bloomed as Matteo journeyed through his priesthood – even to the moment he was finally called to Rome.
He had already been asked to visit Rome quite a number of times, as part of his case resolution, but something always delayed him. There were coup d’états launched against the new president, and every time they occurred, international flights had to be called off. And then Matteo had to leave for his Regency, so he too, had to delay his departure. And then there was the earthquake of 1990, and that, too, kept him from leaving, for the Jesuits had taken it upon themselves to help in relief efforts, and Matteo joined them.
He saw ever so many angels then, guiding the living and the dead. He remained quiet, simply helped people, spoke to some, listened to others. He began early in the morning, cooking rice porridge for a particular community that had lost its homes and belongings; he ended late at night, after listening to families talk about their struggles, of the savings they had lost, of how they had to move on and forget their trials, for God was always good and no bad things came from He who made the earth shake.
The Vatican committee heard of all these commitments through Fr. Romy, Matteo’s first spiritual director. All the delays were met with quiet skepticism at first. As one priest put it, “Perhaps the delays are meant to show us that the young man is a good boy, but has no particular gifts, so he is being saved the effort of coming.”
And yet Matteo went beyond good, in those days, as the country rose in and out of rebellions, contended with typhoons and earthquakes, dealt with unrest both in its people and in a volcano long thought to be asleep. The evaluation committee began to see the delay not so much as a hindrance to further investigation, but a means to encourage the fruits of Matteo’s gifts to emerge.
The order, then, was to simply allow the boy to find his way to Rome. No order need have been given, for Matteo himself, in his four years of college, in the year of formation, and two years of Regency – not counting the other years in between that had seen him study and turn mental somersaults in his head – and still not counting the other years that had seen him minister to many in the midst of tragedy – Matteo had cultivated patience. He willingly undertook training and classes, attended minor deliverances with Fr. Romy, slowly worked with the man on the more complicated cases. He could control the visions better, could see beyond grief, could hope.
At last, one day, he strode into the garden on the verge of giggles.
Fr. Romy had given him the news that morning at breakfast: two tickets were ready, and all they needed to do was pack for Rome. He would spend the next four years in Italy studying theology under the mentorship of priests assigned by his evaluation committee.
And his family…
Matteo hardly spoke in the week that passed. He packed his bags, embraced his Jesuit brothers for what they called “a brief farewell”, and accepted his guardian angel’s blessing as he boarded his very first international flight. He could feel her hand in his as the plane lifted off with whirrs and burrs that sounded like thousands of guns firing at once, could sense her wings envelope him as the plane finally touched the runway of Rome with a rough grind.
Next to Matteo, on the plane, was Fr. Romy, completely free of hair even to his eyebrows, and yet with a spark in his eye that spoke of both excitement at the trip, and pride in his ward.
“He’ll remember you,” Fr. Romy mused, gaze far away, and yet on Matteo, as though he were watching the boy’s memories play on the young priest’s skin, “And they’ll remember you.”
It was that last sentence that Matteo feared more, and he felt his heart crumple within him at the thought of memories gone, time pushed away, dark corners of a house of dreams cobwebbed with dread. He had visited their old house again, and yet it was no longer as tall, no longer as foreboding; the gates were no longer as creaky, the garden no longer as filled with strange creatures. He wondered if it would be the same with family, ten years forward, in a gulf of unfinished sentences and untold stories.
The meeting with the Pope was quick, for Fr. Romy had sent notes yearly to the Vatican ever since Matteo had entered Jesuit formation. It likewise did not take the Committee long to validate his case.
The Pope indeed remembered him. The interview did not take long; or at least it took hours, but there was no inquiry on his gift or his work. A good deal of time was therefore spent talking about how the Philippines had changed after the bloodless revolution; what had happened after the earthquake; whether the volcano would erupt (it would, months later); how the university was faring and what the Jesuits were up to; what it might be like for the Pope to visit the country once again. And of course, there were discussions on the family that had left him behind.
Had he been a decade younger, Matteo believed he would have sputtered out his words, turned his sentences into steel that was shiny, but did not cut. Instead, he felt his thoughts leave his mouth as though they were on little, shimmering wings, light as they drifted across the Pope’s office, golden as they caught the light of the afternoon.
“And what do you feel, now that you are with your family at last?” the Pope asked.
“Happy,” was all that Matteo could say, syllables sparkling in the sunset, “I am so happy, Holy Father.”
“You are a new man, Fr. Matteo,” the Pope patted him on the cheek, then laughed, “When I first met you ten years ago, you looked like you were ready to jump out the window and run away. Now, you look like a young man at peace. All praises be to God.”
What could any priest say to that, indeed? Matteo thanked the Pope, knelt, received his blessing.
He ran into the garden that night, laughed, embraced his guardian angel. He thanked her, and God, and said a variety of prayers that made her wings glow and the garden rustle with a gentle wind. She reminded him that there, too, were the priests who had joined him on his journey, and it was through their work that he had been molded.
“I miss them,” Matteo felt the words rest gently upon his heart, as though an invisible hand were comforting him before he could think of tears any further, “I really wish they were all with me.”
His guardian angel smiled. She sent him the images that he had already stored in his memory, of a childhood spent in the House of the Jesuits, of hours in the library, hours in classrooms, hours by bedsides of priests whose eyes looked toward the heaven they had once begged their wards to hope for. Matteo felt his soul weep, and yet felt it warm with gratitude as the sun overhead walked through the trees of the garden, felt his spirit lighten as the breeze enclosed him and his angel in silence.
There was the image of Fr. Exo, who had died of a final heart attack, not long after Matteo had completed his first year of Jesuit formation. Matteo had held the happy priest’s hand in the man’s final moments, as Fr. Jun and Fr. Romy read the prayers, and as Fr. Exo’s guardian angel – a young and sprightly being perhaps from the rank of Dominions – emerged and enveloped his body in light.
There was the image of Fr. Jun, who had died in his sleep after Matteo had returned from his Regency. Matteo remembered that the man had been increasingly weak, and would often ask Matteo to read to him, or to at least talk to him about Mr. and Mrs. Castroverde, who had still not been allowed to communicate with their son. Matteo was with the priest on his final night: Fr. Jun lay in bed, listened as Matteo read from a book on psychology, and then sighed.
“I truly wish I had been stricter with your father, Matteo,” Fr. Jun whispered, in a voice that crackled with an ancient, gentle force, “I wish I had truly told him to watch over your sister, to make sure that she made good decisions, but to also not hold her back from her own dreams.”
Matteo had not even thought of blaming anyone, let alone Fr. Jun! He put the book down and said as much; but he felt his words flatten, as though he had merely read from a speech, and had simply repeated words that he thought any man should hear. He thought for a while, as Fr. Jun’s weak smile came through what appeared to be a struggle to breathe.
“I forgive you, Fr. Jun,” he began, “But I honestly do not think you are at fault. There was no one at fault, because we lived in such a dangerous time then. No one could have predicted that things would happen the way that they happened. Please do not think that you could have stopped or prevented anything. Perhaps it is God’s will that we should all be apart, because the distance helped me grow.”
The elder’s smile became a glow, and the glow became strength, as Fr. Jun lifted a hand to the boy’s forehead, and there, traced a cross.
“I am so happy to have seen you become who you are today,” the man said, crackles both pronounced and yet grand, almost proud, “Tell your parents I wish I had seen them again.”
Matteo called Fr. Genio and Fr. Romy out of their beds immediately. When they arrived, Fr. Jun was asleep, breathing shallowly, with his guardian angel kneeling by his bedside. Matteo knelt on the other side of the bed, bowed to the angel, and saw the flash of light hold up a sword and shackles to fight off a coming swath of black shadows. The angel was of the rank of Powers, Matteo saw, and it fought bravely through that hour of Fr. Jun’s final moments, his ritual of Last Rites, and his breath that brought forth what looked like a burst of sunset that consumed both his body and the angel that watched him.
It was that image that burned into his memory, and that Matteo saw as his guardian angel spoke to him.
Then there was the image of Fr. Genio, who had been taken ill one afternoon while Fr. Romy and he were compiling the man’s notes on Matteo in the library. Matteo had been in theology classes then, he remembered, when Fr. Romy called him to Fr. Genio’s room in the Jesuit hospital. The good cook had simply fallen asleep while reading one of the notes, and had suddenly jolted awake, saying that his wife had visited him, and that his little boy was waiting. Then, he fell asleep and could not be awakened, though he breathed.
Matteo himself helped in the Last Rites. He read through the Ritual, tried not to tremble through the words as Fr. Romy listened to Fr. Genio’s last confession when the man awakened briefly. Matteo knew that the end was near, for there was Fr. Genio’s angel: a bright spirit from the rank of Archangels, with her own gleaming armor and shield sparkling with gems unknown to man. She fought off shadows and sweeps of darkness, swung her sword high and burned through the dimness of the room as Matteo read through litany after litany. And finally, she enveloped the body of her ward, enclosed him with her wings, and took the old soldier home.
For a brief moment, Matteo saw Fr. Genio as a young man, in a kitchen in a country house, stirring a pot filled with soup as his wife carried a rosy-cheeked babe. He remembered it always, and it was that image that the angel passed to him, on that night, when the hundreds of church bells of Rome tolled the hour of nine, and as the sounds played with the breezes in his garden.
There was a final image: his last memory of Fr. Levi. The priest was reading a book by a window in the library, smiling the smile of one who understood the words as though he were conversing with old friends, sometimes looking out at the trees as he committed the ideas to a memory that Matteo knew was failing even then. Matteo knew not to ask his guardian angel if Fr. Levi was still alive, or how Fr. Levi and his family were faring; he had long learned that guardian angels were not to be treated as sages, fortune-tellers, or long-distance call operators.
There is much you already know today, the angel spoke.
Matteo nodded, felt a tear roll down his cheek, felt his heart break. He was to visit Fr. Levi the very next day, and Matteo hoped it would not be too late.
It is neither too late nor too early, the angel whispered the reminder she had always given him whenever he trembled with anxiety of what was yet to come. The world turns and all things come precisely when they must. You must only learn to wait.
Matteo sighed. It was a lesson he was still learning, despite being discerning all his life, and cultivating his patience for a decade. His heart often rebelled, returned to that afternoon when Fr. Romy held him as he sobbed. And yet, always, he would return to the garden, pray with his angel, listen to the images she sent him, sometimes ask questions that verged on the blasphemous and anathema with their persistence – and always receive her reply with as calm a spirit as he could manage. The world turns. Things come precisely when they must. In the language of time, there is neither beginning nor end, past nor present, early nor late; there is only a reality created for a moment, perfected in that breath.
Matteo sat with her for a long while that night, remembered the images, played them over and over in his head, felt himself living in two worlds, breathing two atmospheres, calling forth memories of twenty-seven years of life. He felt both tired and invigorated, as though he had run a race across the galaxy, and had gone so fast, he saw himself running.
Running, perhaps, was not the right word. Plunging would be more accurate: he was plunging deep into the world that the priests had been so afraid to introduce to him, and yet it felt as though he had been destined all his life to learn how to really, truly pray – to really, truly look up to heaven, to beg for mercy for another soul, to see hope even when faced with pure evil. He had never seen exorcism as saving the whole of helpless humanity, nor perceived his gift as something to thwart the apocalypse. There was only another universe hidden beneath the one seen, held, and taken for granted; it was filled with beings of rank upon rank of wisdom, and rank upon rank of hatred.
As Matteo grew into both age and vocation, the visions became both vivid and unclear. He could no longer see the faces of the angels unless they willed it, but he could hear their voices in his heart, could understand what they said if they so wished for him to hear. He saw battles as flashes of light and shadow, saw the whole war only on occasion, when the sky burned gray with a coming storm, or when the streets around him darkened with increasing roars of traffic and smog. He saw the demons much less frequently now, save as a void that a blinding path of light chased out into nothingness; and he saw swords and shields clashing as sparks of electricity and fire, knew the battle would commence if he could sense the angels marching and sending forth orders, knew the battle was over when he could feel the angels sitting down and cleaning their blades.
They were both human and celestial at the same time, and yet Matteo knew that the visions had been fashioned for him to understand his invisible companions; a “baby version” as it were, of the wisdom of heaven, reserved for humans with their limits and boundaries. He was thankful for the gift, for it allowed him to do good things: these good things began with him entering the priesthood, and continued with him taking on a Regency with Fr. Romy in Lipa.
His memories of Fr. Romy were filled with these sessions, which could be as quotidian as looking through files and sorting out sheets into separate folders, and as complex as visiting current cases to talk to the victims. The task would not have been as difficult had there been four other exorcists to help, but as it stood, only Fr. Romy remained as the trainer of a handful of younger exorcists, all of whom had to leave for the provinces constantly.
They were always the two who remained at the table of the Jesuit headquarters, with its garden of white hibiscus and its streets whose quiet often verged on the eerie. The elder of the two was in charge of teaching about the concept of exorcism, until the teaching demanded too much of his voice, so that the younger had to take over. And then the elder of the two would lead discussions about the Roman Ritual, until his eyes were too weak to read the texts in his own tattered copy, so that the younger had to assist him. And then there were the recordings to be transferred to cassette tapes for safekeeping, transcribed by the priests and annotated by the younger of the exorcists, all while the elder strove to listen with his rapidly aging ears. Even when the Regency was over, and even when Matteo had to attend theology classes, Fr. Romy and he would make the drive to Lipa to compile cases and, on occasion, visit with the seer Teresita to counsel her and pray with her.
Matteo saw many angels around her then, all of them seemingly her defense rather than her main guardian. He sensed that they were like sentinels, on a constant shift, while her inner circle of guardian angels tended to her soul and spirit. He never breathed a word of it to Fr. Romy, for he knew that Fr. Romy was a constant reporter to the Vatican regarding the apparition of Lipa, and to broach the topic of angels around a seer might advance the case too fast into another route of investigation, which Fr. Romy was perhaps not ready to undertake.
And yet Fr. Romy never stopped, even when he had to lean on a cane for support, ask Matteo to repeat some of the recordings, even endure strange questions from the exorcists who visited. Was there really such a thing as a devil? Wasn’t he simply a figment of imagination, something to represent all evil, rather than a real spirit that could command forces of darkness to his will? Was possession real or just a psychological disease?
The last one made Fr. Romy’s face sink. He once whispered to Matteo that he wished Fr. Jun were around, to answer the social sciences questions, for Fr. Jun had ever so many notes – all of which were sent to the Vatican – on the psychological side of the illness, and the sociological aspect of it.
And yet they were thankful for the questions, for they signaled that the priests wished to know more, that they were not trapped in a Hollywood movie where there was no salvation, only evil that lingered, preyed, devoured. Not all the priests elsewhere were as receptive: they thought the cities now too cosmopolitan for the supernatural, and exorcism the stuff of scenes on a silver screen where children vomited pea soup, twisted their heads to the point of beheading, screamed obscenities at a priest shouting a dramatic version of the Roman Ritual. Even the Jesuit exorcists saw the film when it was released, hid their laughter as they saw it in the theater; and yet sobered when they spoke of it to the Castroverdes, for though the scenes seemed overblown, there was sense in its message.
Years later, when he entered Jesuit formation, Matteo saw the film and understood what the priests had meant when they said that “it was overdone but it was done.”
There was evil everywhere, and it pounced on those who tried to touch it, hurt those who tried to leave its clutches. Evil disguised itself as a myth, so that studying its nature was becoming outdated; it was avoided in theology classes, brought up only when debates and discussions about seminal texts were in order. The younger priests who had not lived through Martial Law, and had not met the Jesuit exorcists, tended to steer clear of the ministry, as though it were deliberately spreading a demonic scourge by virtue of its mere existence. The priests who did ask about the ministry, on the other hand, were too eager, and had the air of wanting to save the world – a dangerous notion that Satan could latch onto, lover of vanity and vaingloriousness that he was.
And yet in Lipa, on the weekends, there would be the occasional provincial exorcist who would really, truly fear the notion of ignoring evil, and yet not fear evil itself. There would be the occasional newly-minted priest who would beg for help, for he could not understand why he had been chosen, was so afraid of even opening his crisp copy of the Roman Ritual in Latin. The poor man would be half-stooped over in desperation, language almost sputtering as he begged the priests to tell him how he could be better because even the rite of exorcism at baptism seemed so daunting and important now that he knew exactly what it was for. And there were so few, so very few now –
And so you are both on a mission, Matteo’s guardian angel interrupted his thoughts, as the clocks of Rome struck ten, as the bells tolled what felt like a lullaby. There had been so many nights like this, of Matteo sensing that the time was nigh for him to sleep, and to bid his guardian goodnight; and yet there had been no night at all like this, in a room that overlooked a garden from where he could see the dome of St. Peter’s. There had been no night like this when he looked back on his life and saw that he had been tasked to do the unthinkable: a child who could see angels and demons had been thrust into the very grounds on which the two beings fought, and he, too, had been entrusted with weapons for the war.
“Is this my mission?” Matteo asked aloud, to the room, and on impulse, so that he felt himself shrink at his boldness.
His angel laughed, or laughed the way that angels could, for the boughs of the branches of the trees shook and rained down sunlight-kissed dew, and the grass below Matteo’s feet felt as soft as wool. He guessed that she was both amused, and yet shaking her head, the way that a mother would when watching an adult, and yet seeing a child asking the same questions.
You must sleep, for there is much work ahead, was all she said.
Matteo tried not to think too hard of Lipa, for indeed, it was work. There were reports to be written, recordings to be filed, priests to be contacted – Fr. Romy was tireless, and yet Fr. Romy was growing weaker now, more forgetful, more deaf and less articulate. There was so much work, so great a vineyard, so many called, so few to harvest.
You must sleep and pray, came the reminder, with a hint of a celestial being shaking its head and tempted very much to find a newspaper on which to hit its ward on the brow. Matteo sighed, obeyed, and felt the prayer lift the worries off his soul, though it still trembled in the fear he had felt when he had first stepped out into the world, post-revolution, supposedly into safety.
He had seen the demons hiding in the shadows, waiting to be called out. It was not their number that he feared, but the hatred that seemed to seep into the city streets, that cloaked itself in the parties and songs, that disguised itself as hope when everyone called for unity – and then said that to heal, we must never forget, and we must move on.
The demons had laughed at the contrary notion: to discern and yet keep running, to think and yet keep talking. Their laughs felt like nails upon chalk, metal upon concrete, teeth against porcelain; and they echoed sometimes, when Matteo listened long enough to the sounds of the city, when he visited at the sickrooms of Fr. Romy’s wards – and in Lipa, where the cases remained, where the ministry was becoming both a responsibility and a burden. The demons were silent in Rome, and Matteo dreaded returning home, for he would again walk the streets and see the smiles of hope – and yet hear the whispered gnashing of teeth that signaled another storm brewing beneath what felt like joy.
Matteo, his guardian angel seemed to sing, please pray.
And this time, Matteo obeyed with all his heart. He was asleep in minutes.