From a young age, Miriam always knew she was different. She sensed things others could not. The kids at school thought she was odd, and consequently didn't have many friends. Now aged thirteen she felt this “intuition” of hers growing stronger. She had learned to manage it, but was desperate to share her fears and anxieties with someone. The one person she wished she could talk to was her mother. However, Miriam was well aware what the ramifications would be opening up to her mother. Her pious mother would probably drop dead on the spot if she knew her own flesh and blood was afflicted in some way with an extra sensory sixth sense, and was able to read others thoughts.
Miriam was born into a stable family, she was the youngest of three. The age gap between her siblings was significant, at times she almost felt like an only child . Some would describe her arrival into the world as has a happy miracle, others as a New Year's mistake. Her mother was brought up a Roman Catholic, and practised her faith with such dedication. Her father was also brought up a Catholic, but he had grown tired of following an organised religion. Almost overnight he had become agnostic, much to his wife's disgust. As far as she was concerned there was no other religion on the planet except Catholicism. Protestants, Evangelists or Jehovah's Witnesses stood at the back of the religious queue.
It amused Miriam listening to her parents constant bickering about religion. Without fail, each and every Sunday they would have an argument or as her mother like to describe it “ a differing of words.” He had strayed from the Church and that was that. Miriam always admired her mother's conviction and determination. Unlike her brother and sister, she had no option but to attend Mass each week. Each Sunday she was up and dressed by 9am, wearing her Sunday best; black shoes, white socks, and a navy blue pinafore dress. Not only was Miriam tired at this time of a morning, but she was also very hungry. It was customary not to eat anything prior to receiving Holy Communion. If her mother couldn't eat, then neither could she. She was convinced that this was a form of child abuse. Starving a child of their breakfast must be an abominable sin in God's eyes? She knew full well that most of the people who stood in Church had eaten beforehand, they weren't so stupid.
The interior of a Church always fascinated Miriam. The echo of voices, and secret conversations between parishioner and Priest intrigued her. What a burden it must be for a Priest having to listen to everyone's confessions and secrets. It always amused Miriam to see the serious look on the parishioners faces as they entered the Church. Some looked like they were going to the gaol, not Mass. No matter how hard she tried, Miriam always felt at odds in Church, she knew she belonged there, yet at the same time also felt out of place there. The size of the alter, the smell of incense. Failure to comply could result in eternal hell and damnation. There was one particular part of the Mass which she didn't particularly enjoy; offering each other the “sign of peace”, which involved shaking the hand of those nearest to you.
Whenever she held their hands, an overwhelming feeling took over her body. The feeling was of such intensity, and shock. Once she touched someone's hand, she could sense their pain, fear and anxiety, just though the touch of a hand. Whether she wanted to or not, she could also read their future. This had been occurring for some time now, and she was slowly becoming exhausted by it. Miriam knew foretelling of futures was the Devil's work, and she had no idea what to do about it. Was it wrong to be religious and have such a gift? Her mother would disown her if she ever found out that she knew all about the money problems Mrs Kinsella had, or about the affair Mr Walsh was keeping from his wife, or the guilt that Kirsten O'Dowd felt towards her husband due to her recent miscarriage. At times it was all so suffocating.
She was torn between right and wrong, but which was which? She believed in God and the teachings of the Bible, yet she felt compelled to help others with this affliction God had obviously blessed her with, or did he? Learning to manage this gift came with its responsibilities, something she was slowly learning to deal with. There was the odd occasion when she would look at the Priest with a desperate look, but he just never seemed to acknowledge her plea for help. She felt quite isolated, and alone. However, on this particular Sunday there was a new face in Church. There was something quite different about this boy, but without touching his hand she didn't know what it was. It was his stare, the way he smiled at others, everyone seemed to warm to him, except her. He was possibly a few years older than her, she was intrigued with him.
A few weeks had passed, daily life continued for Miriam and her family, her mother and father still bickered over religion. When alone with her thoughts, Miriam would often ponder about what she knew, and the thoughts she has stolen from them. The following Sunday Miriam dutifully followed her mother to Church, and in attendance were the usual crowd. Those with their pious attitudes, who looked like butter wouldn't melt in their mouths. He was also present again! She caught him staring at her from the corner of her eye, how unbelievably rude she thought. Those surrounding him seemed to warm to him straight away. He evidently had some magnetic charm surrounding him. Miriam wasn't very good at predicting a persons age, but she would have put his age at around nineteen or twenty.
Once Mass had ended, Miriam and her mother walked alongside each other towards the exit. Once they had said their goodbyes, Miriam couldn't help but notice this boy stood on his own outside. What was he doing just standing there watching everyone? Whilst her mother was engrossed in conversation with some busy body; she quietly slipped away and approached this boy. As she approached him, she noticed his poise change, and started to look rather surprised. “Hi there, I noticed that you are new here and I just wanted to welcome you to our Church." At first he hesitated to shake her hand. Miriam was keen to grab his hand, knowing what information she could obtain from touching it. Her patience got the better of her, so she just grabbed hold of it. Once their hands joined, the electricity that pulsated through her was enormous. She had never felt such power from anyone. Unusually she could not decipher any information about him, he was almost inhuman. Miriam stood there gripping his left hand, his eyes staring through her soul. Suddenly she realised the force of his grip on her hand; he was holding it so tight. Suddenly she became aware that he was the one looking into her soul, a complete role reversal. With some force, she pulled her hand from his grip, and scurried off, not daring to look back.
A few months had passed following her strange encounter outside the Church. Still she was non the wiser as to who this boy was, or where he came from. She made a few enquiries at Church. However, it seemed he had successfully charmed enough people, and no one seemed to know a thing about him. He hadn't attended Church since that day it was like he had just vanished into thin air.
One day whilst she was waiting to catch the bus home from school, she noticed a man across the road staring at her. At first she tried to ignore him; thinking he was one of those weird men you hear about in the news who liked to prey on young girls. However, upon closer inspection she realised she recognised him as the boy from Church! She froze, she couldn't move. Why was he staring at her? What did he want? She knew there was something very peculiar about him, her instinct told her to just ignore him.
However, he started to walk toward her. Before she had a chance to run, he was stood right in front of her. “Hello Miriam, we meet again”. The only words she could utter were “ Yes so it seems." There was another person stood at the same bus stop stuffing her face with the largest prawn sandwich Miriam had ever seen. She tried to just keep her focus on the prawn sandwich, instead of having to look at him. “Just look at the prawns, keep your eyes on the prawns” she thought. “You dashed off so quickly the last time we met, I never got a chance to introduce myself to you. I've been wanting to speak to you for some time." In a split second, the blood drained from her face, and her complexion became whiter than snow. “Wait a minute, how do you know my name, and what do you mean, you've been wanting to talk to me for some time, who are you?"
“I'm a messenger, and I know about your special gift. I've come to tell you that you are abusing that gift, you do know that don't you?” Each and every week you walk into the house of God with your mother; and each week you steal someone's private thoughts.” Miriam stood there motionless feeling very exposed and embarrassed. She knew what he was saying was true, but yet could not fathom how he knew all this.
“You have a unique gift Miriam, one that is given to very few in any lifetime. One day people will call upon you for that gift and want your help. I know it's been a burden that you have carried round with you for many years. However, please trust me when I say, that one day you will do great things with your gift; so please be patient. If you continue to abuse it, evil forces will take over, and will want to control you. These forces are very powerful Miriam, so that is why I have been sent to warn you. Great things behold you, so don't let Him down. I have to leave now, but just remember you are not alone, God is always watching his flock." Miriam stood there with her head down, as the boy started to walk away. Miriam was curious to know about these evil forces, what did he mean? No sooner had she turned her head to question him further, he was gone. He had literally just disappeared into thin air. She stood there motionless, not even noticing that her bus had driven past her. All that was left, was the empty prawn sandwich wrapping that the woman had carelessly thrown on the floor.
She decided to walk home, despite forty five minute walk, she needed to clear her head. Had she been approached by an angel? Did they really exist? He knew so much about her, who else could he have been? On the way home, she bumped into her local Priest, Father Michael. This was the one man who she so desperately wanted to confess all to, but couldn't. Confessing all on a street corner seemed really inappropriate. He dutifully said hello to her, and asked about her welfare. She looked at him with a desperate plea. That boy was right she had been stealing private thoughts from these people, and only now did she feel utter shame. She couldn't control herself, she had to say something. Just as she was about to open her mouth and confess all, Father Michael looked at her and uttered in a soft dulcet voice, “I know Miriam, it's ok, I know," and gave her a wink. See you at Mass on Sunday?” All she could manage was a faint nod in agreement. For the first time in her life, Miriam felt at ease with God and with her religion. Evidently she wasn't alone after all, and clearly never had been.