Author Topic: First Chapter/ THE MESSENGER/Literary fiction  (Read 327 times)

Offline Navin

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First Chapter/ THE MESSENGER/Literary fiction
« on: October 30, 2021, 01:13:10 AM »
The book is complete. I Will be grateful for any help that you provide me by way of critique/opinion. Thanks


THE MESSENGER
A Novel
BY NAVIN UPADHYAY
 
 
CHAPTER ONE
 
The dying baby fluttered in Miguel’s arms and settled in a fitful repose. A pair of glassy eyes stared at him. It was a gaze of death, seeking nothing—neither life nor heaven.
Panic gripped  Miguel, and his legs trembled. He staggered to the altar and placed the child on a length of pale velvet damask like a sacrificial offering,
 “I can’t carry this burden anymore, God. Take her life if that’s what you want. But remember, it’s not about a life alone, it’s about my faith and your forgiveness.”
The sentinels of the heavens fumed at such pre-Aurorean clamor by a fallen savior. Clouds roared, and lightning skipped on the cathedral’s windowpanes. A warning to Miguel: Don’t dare to summon God after wallowing in sin.
Startled by this abrupt turn of nature, a pair of pigeons darted out of their coops in the lofts and joined a bevy of roosters and parrots in raising a cacophony of supplications outside the cathedral to wake up God. The child’s mother also tried to stir God into action, dragging herself to the side altar and lighting up a row of candles.
Then she turned to Miguel. “If you revived Lazarus once, why not a second time? Are you not the chosen Son of God? Or are you an impostor?”
Stung by his reproach, Miguel shattered the silence of Bom Jesus Basilica with another piercing outcry. “Father in heaven, your son needs you—he needs you more than ever. Don’t punish her for my folly, Father. Come on… Give back the healing touch of my fingers, if you don’t want the world to lose faith in both you and me for all time to come.” 
 His wailing lingered in every nook and corner of the empty cathedral. In the cobwebbed screen and kneeler of the confessional; in the semi-dark niches; in the fuming eyes of Father Rodriguez; and on the smudged face of the infant’s mother.
When the baby showed no sign of life, Miguel moved his fingers over her head and resumed his plaintive cantillation.
 “Listen, God—you’ve got to listen. Remember, if this baby dies, a part of me will die, too. I’ll perform your task until my last breath, but let me do it with love and joy. Don’t condemn me, Father, for being in love with a woman who is your own creation. Forgive me, God — forgive me for asking it: Can’t you and Tamari live together in my life?”
The woman stared at him with wide eyes, not able to grasp the source of his desultory ramblings. Then she stood face to face with him, as if to confront him with the task on hand.
"Doctors can’t cure the evil eye, Master. So, I banged my head on the walls of temples, gurdwaras, and mosques. I touched the feet of tantriks and sadhus. On Sundays, I fed rotis to cows and jaggery to monkeys. I tied sacred threads around pipal trunks and hung lemons and green chilies in the doorway of my house. Nothing worked. Then I heard about you and your miracles. And here I am, begging for the life of my little child, my little Lazarus… You’re my last hope, Master...”
Master!
A slave of God, he could be Master of none. He wished people called him by his name. Miguel Arcanjo. Like God and Archangel in the language of his Portuguese ancestors, who ruled Hindu Goa for close to 400 years.
“Do something quick, she’s sinking,” the woman said.
Her wavering voice reminded him of his Ma.
He gritted his teeth and fought a wave of tears.
His mother battled with death, and his Father…
Every time he summoned his Father in heaven, he heard a gentle footfall and felt a strange vibration in the air. “My son, I’m with you.” A voice would whisper in his ears and a current run through his body. His fingers would come alive to faith-heal the sick.
But in that pre-dawn hour, eyed by dusty chandeliers that dangled from the rooftop like tentacles of God, Miguel sensed no sign of the Divine presence. Only a powerful vibe of fear, guilt, sin, and confession swirled through the aging altars, pulpits, and cenotaphs. After he discovered the joy of human bondage in Tamari’s arms, the laterite-and-marble behemoth metamorphosized into a dreadful penitentiary patrolled by a hoary God wielding whiplash in his gnarled hands.
Father Rodriguez stared at him with the close-set, predatory eyes of a hungry wolf. “If you let down God, you’ll suffer more than even heathens, son.” His howl defied his toothless gums and ripe old age.
Heathens kept the priest going. He dreamt of converting every one of those wretched creatures living in and around Goa. Miguel may not play any role in the priest’s pursuit anymore. Without his healing power, he would be like Tamari without her crystal ball. What did he lose that numbed his fingers? His faith, or still bigger, his divinity? Was God the culprit, or ma and the priest?
The woman lit more candles, and their flames drew wavering shadows on Father Rodriguez’s robe as if he were a magnet to both light and darkness.
“If you cannot uphold your duty, be ready for madness and mayhem. They will ransack your house, burn the town, and throw us into the fire.” The priest howled again.
The wolf may be right.
Hindus hated him, and Christians hated impostors more than heretics. Even if they spared his life, who would bring grandma back from her world of unceasing lamentation and Ma ‘s from the realms of eternal silence?
 What about good old grandpa?
 He might shake a bottle of feni to hail his fall from grace, hoping to find in him someone to share his lonely hours, drinks, and cigars.
 “That won’t ever happen.” He shook his head. “Never… never.”
Lugging the baby on his shoulders and holding a candle in his free hand, Miguel plodded to the expansive chancel and halted under the elevated life-size statue of St Loyola cradling the infant Jesus in his arms. Above the Saint and the Savior, a lavish Christogram beckoned him from the peak of the floor-to-ceiling reredos. Father Rodriguez claimed that praying before the Christogram evoked the divine blessing like nothing else.
“Why do you put your son on trial when he’s ready to carry your cross? Pity this sweet angel in my arms. Where’re you lost, God? I want to hear your voice and feel your touch on my shoulders. Ease my burden and lead me to a green pasture and a swift-flowing river. Even the most rugged of the sheep needs rest and peace and love. Don’t you know this much, Father?”
No sound, no touch; his soul lay dormant, and no life flowed into his worthless fingers. God ignored him as he ignored the infant’s mother—her prayers and tears, her candles and camphor.
Miguel drew the baby close to check her eyes. The peculiar smell of approaching death never misled him. He had little time. Images of arson and looting danced before him, and Ma’s scream blasted in his ears. He shut his eyes and pushed Tamari out of his mind, vowing never to go back to her.
Hot lava of wax trickled down his palms. But he stood there with arms outstretched, eyes shut, and lips moving in silent prayers. A divine peace filled his mind, and beat by beat, breath by breath he slipped into a state of meditational trance. A powerful light dazzled between his eyes, flaring a rupture in his soul that spread across his body. The light engulfed all his senses and left him with just the image of his Ma. Then she too vanished. His lips stopped moving, breaths slowed down, and his fingers came alive as if a pianist had stumbled upon the strings of his lost instrument in the darkness. Did the cold bundle of flesh and bone warm up to his touch? His heart rocked and swayed like a ravaged wharf at the site of a sapient shore.
 “Son!” Father Rodriguez’s voice broke the pre-healing spell. “I warned you not to allow that mistress of the Devil to taint your soul.”
The sledgehammer almost knocked him down. He could shun Tamari, but never condemn her or allow anyone else to condemn her. She alone realized that along with the Bible and beads, he also needed the joy of human bondage, care, and, love. No one else ever walked down the beach with him, holding his hands, laughing and smiling.
The priest lumbered towards Miguel, tapping the floor with his cane. Amazingly, this eighty-plus warrior of Christianity possessed such strength of purpose when Miguel’s young body and soul were so fragile.
“Don’t you stand like a statue, Miguel? Time is running out.”
The clock above the side pulpit showed five-fifty. Tamari would come any minute.
He drew the baby close to blow breaths of life into her mouth, but once again the stench of death pushed him back.
The woman pointed to a framed picture of Christ and tried to remind him of his magical prowess.
 “Look at Jesus, Master. You’re so much like him. Didn’t he gift life to Lazarus?”
Miguel winced.
Why did they see you in me, Jesus? Anyone can grow shoulder-length hair and have your height and profile. Wait! Am I not a little taller and fairer than you, my crucified brother? Do I share the curve and shape of your sharp nose and long ears? Maybe or maybe not. I’m so confused, Jesus. If I’m indeed the chosen one, then why can’t I gift even a few breaths of life to a dying child? Look, Jesus, look at her mother–see how she shivers like a wilted reed in the wind-whipped desert of Sinai.
Silence.
Before the priest and Ma incapacitated the savior in him by inflicting on him spiritual blows, he saw himself as a worthy sibling of Christ—separated by life and death and time. His healing sessions drew vast crowds. Newspapers front-paged his pictures—arms outstretched and tears flowing down the face. Swept by the frenzy of faith, people prostrated before him and kissed his garments.
All that changed when Tamari waltzed into his life.
“I tell you it’s the evil eye, Master. See, how she flutters like a trapped mullet,” the woman said.
“Have faith, mother,” Miguel said, hoping that God will finally wake up from His slumber and see his plight. For, however hard Miguel scoured his mind, he found no trace of sin in his limerence for Tamari in whose arms he felt a rapture that surpassed even the most fervent passion he experienced in his evangelic life.
Ah, that first kiss. Was it yesterday evening, or the first hour of the night? How Tamari snuggled up in his arms and offered her trembling lips. “No… No.” At first, he backed away, but unable to resist her inviting smile, he hugged her tight and kissed her wildly–-so wildly that even the roar of the sea and the fury of the waves could not pull them apart. Then, nudged by the moon and watched by her twinkling angels, he lifted her and waded into the sea, and kissed her again... Again... Again... Again… Until she escaped from his grasp and sprinted to the shore… laughing… smiling.
When Ma and Father Rodriguez learned the reason behind his flushed face, they lashed out at him. Little did they realize that someone with a wounded soul can only feel the pain of others, but not heal it.
“That bar girl—you kissed her? God will need a separate Hell for you and her,” the priest said.
“How can you be such a Judas?” Ma said, struggling to hold up her crumbling body in the shabby bed.
He didn’t agree with them. If salvation lay in surrendering to God, then he did not sin by submitting to the charm of a celestial angel.
Five fifty-five. Just five minutes more.
The tug of a palm-sized cross snaring his neck like a convict’s noose shook him like a leaf. Father Rodriguez said the cross should forever remind him that time kept racing towards the approaching Day of judgment. 
“Pray, son… for God’s sake, pray. Fear His wrath… His lightning can strike even the darkest cavern of Sheol.”
“Well, if I’m the chosen Son of God, why sould He punish me for loving His own creation?”
“What you call love is the worst sin in the eyes of God, you fool. Love is nothing but a spell of the Devil. You must exorcise it and think you were born to serve God and His children. Steel your mind and heart and convince yourself that the touch of your fingers can deliver your spiritual energy to the sick. The power of your thoughts will change the chemistry of your cells—and this baby will play and prance again. Act now… Act.”
Nature also reminded him of the urgency of the task: clouds roared, and lightning flicked across the door of the cathedral-like the tongue of a fiery dragon. A hesitant rain mizzled down the sky and tapped the wall and terrace of the cathedral… tup… tup… up.
He rubbed the infant’s forehead and reached out to God: “If my passion and desire are sinful, why didn’t you ring-fence me from these? Why did you send me on the earth with a heart that hungers for love and a mind that craves for knowledge? Will you close your eyes and let them burn me? You know it well. If I don’t perform miracles, they’ll call me a traitor and hang me on the cross. Can you witness such barbarity a second time? Answer me, God—answer me.”
He waited for God’s answer.  The signal that the priest and ma were wrong, and the go-ahead to perform his divine mission with Tamari discounting their toxic catechisms.
 But God ignored him again. The baby gripped his hand as if some unseen power tried to pull her away from him.
Time ran out; his legs trembled, and the pendulum at his chest swung. 
Ton... Ton... Ton... Ton... Ton... Ton.
 “Master! Look, Master… look at her… look at her…”
The infant’s neck fell on one side.
 A thick wall of darkness engulfed him, in the center of which he stood all alone—a helpless creature, desperate to escape from the cruel world of God and his sentinels. His breath choked and his head spun. The demon of darkness locked him in a cage that teemed with scorpions and snakes. God patrolled outside wielding his whiplash even as His soldiers frog-marched a weeping Tamari to a nail-embedded stone cross.
 “I’m sorry, mother; I tried my best.”
“No, Master—” The woman’s heart-rending cry stabbed his heart.
“Calm down,” the priest said. “Learn to respect the wish of the Lord.”
The woman kissed her dead baby. Nose, lips, forehead, cheeks, eyes. She kissed them all as if her maternal love would make up for Miguel’s devotional failure. Then she turned to Miguel, grabbed him by the collar of his alb, and screamed: “Impostor.”
“Have you gone mad?” The priest raised his cane.
The next second, he got a large goblet of spit on his shriveled nose.
“Woman!” The priest slammed the cane at the altar.
She toppled the altar, kicked at the candelabrums, and stamped the candles under her bare feet. “God will never forgive you... You’ll suffer my agony... You’re cursed.” 
Frothing at the corner of her mouth, she breezed out of the cathedral-like an angel of fury.
Wax sputtered, and a wispy trickle of smoke spiraled in the air. A broken bangle lay at Miguel’s feet.
“We missed a chance to convert them.”
“Are you not sad for her baby, Father?”
“Not at all.”
“What?”
“God will care for her. He sent you as a medium to help you reclaim your divinity, but you failed Him.”
“I can’t go on with this, Father.”
“And an old man can’t change a divine destiny, son.”
“If I have a destiny, will God fail me like this?”
“Not if you keep to his path and shun that temptress and every form of human bondage.”
“And suffer forever?” A convulsion shook him cap-a-pie.
A familiar muffled sound of approaching Divine feet came from the doorway. His eyes turned moist. He closed them in anticipation.
***
A powerful aroma of rain and fresh earth breezed into the cathedral, and every cell of his body came alive with the ecstasy that came only from the presence of God. Miguel’s heart raced and fireworks exploded in his chest. If God accepted him the way he was, gaining back the healing touch of his fingers would be a mere child’s play. Faith-healing was all about faith, that’s what Ma always said.
The footfall drew closer and the aroma sharper, but the wolf’s howl acted like the Devil’s spanner.  “How dare you come here? Didn’t I ask you to keep away from him?” Father Rodriguez screamed.
Jolted out of reverie, Miguel opened his eyes. In place of God stood His angel, dusting off raindrops from her flowing hairs.
“My father is dying,” Tamari said.
“You got to be cured first,” the priest said.
She ignored the priest and turned to Miguel. “You promised to come with me, Master.”
“God has shunned me, Tamari. I can’t heal anymore.”
“What?”
“A girl died in my arms.” He said without looking at her.
“Stop this rambling. No loving father will ever abandon his son. It’s always the other way round,” the priest said.
“Loving father! I know what a loving father He’s been. A father who never speaks to his son, nor does he try to understand his feelings and wants. Of course, He cares—that’s why He left me at birth itself, right? That’s why He left his other son to die on the cross!”
“Don’t blame God for it. “It’ll be O.K., you’re just confused, Master.” Tamari said. A sun-shaped ring swung in her right ear and the moon in her left one. In between those bronze planets snuggled an oval face.
“Keep your sermons for your bar mates,” the priest yelled. “Miguel doesn’t need them.”
“Father!”
” I’m not deaf, son.”
“Then don’t shout at her,” Miguel said.
“You may fret and fume, but I won’t let this snake poison your soul!”
“Well, some snakes are less venomous  than humans, Father, isn’t it?” he said.
“Yes, better than those wretched creatures who stray from God’s path.” The priest hissed. “If you’ve decided to go your way, then don’t waste my time. Get out — and never show your face again. Let the daughter of the Devil lead you to your doom.”
The spite in the priest’s voice ignited a rebellious conflagration in her. The fire showed in the gleam of her black eyes, in the tilt of her eyebrows, in the flutter of her sweeping eyelashes, and in the quiver of her pert nose. A set of angel white teeth glittered through the gap in her full lips, confirming her celestial origin. If the afterlife existed, then pre-birth, too — and in that pre-birth, she must have been a queen angel of heaven. But when she spoke, she sounded like an Amazonian warrior princess, full of authority and scorn.
“You didn’t answer me, Father where did you catch it? It has affected you so badly. You must look for a cure—if there’s any,” she said, touching a black thread that clung to her neck like a protective talisman from the evil of the world.
“Catch what, stupid woman?”
“Never mind. You don’t even know what sickness you suffer from.”
“Shut up.”
Miguel disliked that authoritarian tone. His soul rebelled. If God and his priest hated him for loving an angel, so be it. He did his best to reach out to them. Now, it was for God to realize His mistake and accept Miguel into His fold.
Before Miguel could say anything, Tamari came up to the priest “Don’t be so harsh on him, Father Rodriguez. Together we can serve both God and his children, can’t we?”
 “You’d better serve your Gods. I suppose you’ve got six hundred million of them, right?”
Her eyes flashed. “Are Christ and Krishna any different, Father? I serve liquor in a bar, so I’m untouchable. Any thief, killer, or rapist can confess and become worthy of your holy sacraments. Fine. Great. Don’t forget; Jesus kept Mary Magdalene always by his side, so what if the world called her a sinner? You know how well that sinner served him–how well!”
“Don’t lecture me,” the priest said. “Go, take a dip in the baptism pond, admit you’re a sinner, and accept Christ as your savior.”
“That I’ll never do, Father, never. It’s not my trial alone; Your God is on trial, too. Can he forgive a fanatic like you? I’ll wait for Miguel’s verdict; I can wait for years.”
” But I can’t stand you a minute more,” the priest said.” Get out of here, you gypsy.”
She turned to Miguel and placed an arm around his shoulder. “Don’t listen to him, Master. If intimacy were a sin, God would’ve grown us on trees.”
Then turning to the priest, she said, “The Devil alone wouldn’t want us to rejoice and multiply.”
“Don’t listen to her, son. Betray God at your peril. Think of your Ma and grandma. Do you want them to suffer the torture of hell for an eternity?” The priest attacked his weak spot again.
 “Why them?”
“Even the most virtuous of us carry the stain of original sin,” the priest said. “That’s why we should forever penance.”
“Well, then I’m also a sinner?”
“No, you’re a savior of sinners.”
“Don’t fall into the trap, Miguel,” Tamari said. “The savior this sadist man wants you to become will live without love and care, and bleed and die on the cross of suffering.”
“Ignore her, son. Think again, will you submit us to Hell?”
Hell or heaven? For all these years, the priest stockpiled his mind with catechisms of afterlife abodes: the everlasting furnace of fire, the burning lake of sulfur, the weeping, and the gnashing of teeth. Heaven and Hell were as real to him as the earth he walked on.
Fear gripped him. The reredos and the assembly of St Loyola, infant Jesus, and Holy Trinity looked all set to punish him. His legs wobbled, and he crashed in the pews like a shattered scaffolding of fragile bones and a broken heart. A cry escaped from his mouth. “No... No... No...”
She offered him her hands. His gaze fell on her cleavage above her low-cut blouse and traveled down to her bare feet. He shivered. “Leave me, Tamari. Go away. I’m burning.”
Her eyes dazzled like the glare of a tigress in the dark. “Don’t allow him to trap you, Miguel. Not for heaven or hell. Think of your life here, on the earth, in my arms. Come with me…”
He wished he could go with her, cure her father, and then take refuge somewhere on a lonely island with her, away from God and the priest, from virtue and vice where no one again confronted him with the dread of sin and Hell.
But the priest’s unleashed yet another vituperative offensive. “You’re born to be a Savior of the mankind. How can you let down millions of believers? I say again, don’t listen to this serpent.”
She stared at the priest; head cocked to the side, and her gaze aflame with rage. Then she grasped Miguel’s hand and said, “Leave this cobra, Master. In the disguise of a priest, he serves the Devil’s agenda on the earth. But for the likes of him, God wouldn’t have exiled us from Eden. This sadist wretch wants us to suffer forever—for he’s experienced no joy in his life.”
Her thumb caressed his lunar mount, churning little waves of ecstasy. The conflict became unbearable. God or Tamari? Heaven or Hell?
She kissed his fingers, one by one. “Come out of his clutch, Master, or you’ll fail again. I know the secret of healing.”
The sun and the moon swung in confirmation.
Goosebumps crawled up Miguel’s arms and chest.
“I’ll wait for you. Come back, Miguel, if you want to regain your healing touch.”
Miguel’s heart raced. He closed his eyes. He could not see her go.
Back in his room, Miguel collapsed on the bed and cried like a child. He had to make a choice.
Between his life and destiny.
Between Tamari and God.
« Last Edit: October 30, 2021, 11:40:05 AM by Navin »

Offline susan-louise

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Re: First Chapter/ THE MESSENGER/Literary fiction
« Reply #1 on: November 07, 2021, 07:30:22 AM »
The book is complete. I Will be grateful for any help that you provide me by way of critique/opinion. Thanks

I'm happy to critique although it is not a genre that I would normally read.  It's a shame to post a chapter and not receive feedback, although others on the Forum extensively critiqued your first 5 pp.   The story sounds very interesting but I must tell you that I was not drawn in.  I found it hard to follow and sometimes you seem to be trying too hard to "write" , with the multiple similes and complex syntax. You have a rich repertoire of language at your fingertips but  need to rein it in: less is always more. I struck through what impeded flow for me as a reader.   You do a lot of telling, when showing is needed.   The static dialogue was a problem and the interior monologues  tended to interrupt the opening scene.   All this resulted in reader confusion and a desire to stop reading.  Once you tighten this all up, things will be clearer and the scenario you paint will be more apparent.  I only really grasped the significance of Miguel's quasi divinity towards the end.   And really, that should have hit me from the beginning.  Hope my comments help.

E MESSENGER
A Novel
BY NAVIN UPADHYAY
 
 
CHAPTER ONE
 
The dying baby fluttered in Miguel’s arms and settled in a fitful repose.   Oxymoron here impedes flow. A pair of glassy eyes stared at him. It was a gaze of death, seeking nothing—neither life nor heaven.  A dying baby would find it hard to "stare"  I think you convey the drama with the first half of the sentence.

Panic gripped  Miguel, and his legs trembled. He staggered to the altar.  He placed the child on a length of pale velvet damask like a sacrificial offering,
 “I can’t carry this burden anymore, God. Take her life if that’s what you want. But remember, it’s not about a life alone, it’s about my faith and your forgiveness.”
The sentinels of the heavens fumed at such pre-Aurorean clamor by a fallen savior.   (What does this mean?  Aurora is the dawn.  So you are setting the scene for a pre-dawn drama.  Then use "pre-dawn!!!  The verbosity immediately interrupts my reading ) Clouds roared (clouds can't roar.  Thunder can, perhaps this is what you mean), and lightning skipped hit the cathedral’s windowpanes. A warning to Miguel: Don’t dare to summon God after wallowing in sin.
Startled by this abrupt turn of nature, a pair of pigeons darted out of their coops in from the lofts and joined a bevy of roosters and parrots in raising a cacophony of supplications outside the cathedral to wake up God.   (Are the birds reacting to a secret command from the character to awaken God?  If not, this is word heavy and really needs pruning)

The child’s mother also tried to stir God into action, dragging herself to the side altar and lighting up a row of candles.
Then she turned to Miguel. “If you revived Lazarus once, why not a second time? Are you not the chosen Son of God? Or are you an impostor?” (So he is the son of God.  Interesting)
Stung by his reproach, Miguel shattered the silence of Bom Jesus Basilica with another a piercing outcry.  (Isn't this the first time he has spoken?  So you don't need "another ") “Father in heaven, your son needs you—he needs you more than ever. Don’t punish her for my folly, Father. Come on… Give back the healing touch of my fingers, if you don’t want the world to lose faith in both you and me for all time to come.”
 His wailing lingered in every nook and corner of the empty cathedral. In the cobwebbed screen and kneeler of the confessional; in the semi-dark niches; in the fuming eyes of Father Rodriguez; and on the smudged face of the infant’s mother.  (How can wailing linger in the eyes of Father R?  Or on the face of the mother??  This needs to be rephrased.  Perhaps you mean the wailing made them cringe??
When the baby showed no sign of life, Miguel moved his fingers over her head and resumed his plaintive cantillation.  (Can we just have chanting??)
 “Listen, God—you’ve got to listen. Remember, if this baby dies, a part of me will die, too. I’ll perform your task until my last breath, but let me do it with love and joy. Don’t condemn me, Father, for being in love with a woman who is your own creation. Forgive me, God — forgive me for asking it: Can’t you and Tamari live together in my life?”
The woman stared at him with wide eyes, not able to grasp the source of his desultory ramblings.  (Is he communing with God silently?  It must be obvious he is talking...or do you mean she is unable to decipher his chants??)
 Then she stood face to face with him, as if to confront him with the task on hand. 
"Doctors can’t cure the evil eye, Master. So, I banged my head on the walls of temples, gurdwaras, and mosques. I touched the feet of tantriks and sadhus. On Sundays, I fed rotis to cows and jaggery to monkeys. I tied sacred threads around pipal trunks and hung lemons and green chilies in the doorway of my house. Nothing worked. Then I heard about you and your miracles. And here I am, begging for the life of my little child, my little Lazarus… You’re my last hope, Master...”   
Master!
A slave of God, he could be Master of none. He wished people called him by his name. Miguel Arcanjo. Like God and Archangel in the language of his Portuguese ancestors, who ruled Hindu Goa for close to 400 years.
“Do something quick, she’s sinking,” the woman said. pleaded/implored   
Her wavering voice reminded him of his Ma.
He gritted his teeth and fought a wave of tears.
His mother battled with death, and his Father… (lower case father, because you refer to the heavenly father with Upper case. )
Every time he summoned his Father in heaven, he heard a gentle footfall and felt a strange vibration in the air.

New line needed as he recalls a dialogue with God “My son, I’m with you.” A voice would whisper in his ears and a current  would ripple run through his body. His fingers would come alive to faith-heal the sick.
But in that pre-dawn hour, eyed by dusty chandeliers that dangled from the rooftop like tentacles of God, Miguel sensed no sign of the Divine presence. Only a powerful vibe of fear, guilt, sin, and confession swirled through the aging altars, pulpits, and cenotaphs. (Are you saying that he feels the centuries-old supplications that have been made in the cathedral??)After he discovered the joy of human bondage ]love in Tamari’s arms, the laterite-and-marble behemoth metamorphosized into a dreadful penitentiary patrolled by a hoary God wielding whiplash in his gnarled hands.  Sorry but this really put me off.  I couldn't decipher it.  I wanted to stopping reading... fatal because an agent might have the same response. You are trying too hard to write well.  And I know you can!!!)
Father Rodriguez stared at him with the close-set, predatory eyes of a hungry wolf.   “If you let down (betray is stronger) God, you’ll suffer more than even heathens, son.” His howl defied (belied??) his toothless gums and ripe old age.  (I would delete this)
Heathens kept the priest going. He dreamt of converting every one of those wretched creatures living in and around Goa. Miguel may not play any role in the priest’s pursuit anymore. Without his healing power, he would be like Tamari without her crystal ball. What did he lose that numbed his fingers? This sentence didn't make sense.  "What did he lose that numbed his fingers?"  Do you mean "What he lost with those now numbed fingers was his faith.  Or worse, his divinity.  Might not be right but it gives some clarity - His faith, or still bigger, his divinity? Was God the culprit, or ma and the priest?
The woman lit more candles, and their flames drew wavering shadows on Father Rodriguez’s robe as if he were a magnet to both light and darkness.   (nice language)
“If you cannot (use contractions for more natural dialogue  "can't) uphold your duty, be ready for madness and mayhem. They will ransack your house, burn the town, and throw us into the fire.” The priest howled again.  He's doing a lot of howling and it's beginning to grate.  Can you find another verb?  He commanded....etc
The wolf may be right. (who is the wolf?  Confused)
Hindus hated him, and Christians hated impostors more than heretics. Even if they spared his life, who would bring grandma back from her world of unceasing lamentation and Ma's  from the realms of eternal silence?
 What about good old grandpa?
 He might shake a bottle of feni to hail his fall from grace, hoping to find in him someone to share his lonely hours, drinks, and cigars.
 “That won’t ever happen.” He shook his head. “Never… never.”
Lugging (Nursing?  Would he lug a dying baby??) the baby on his shoulders and holding a candle in his free hand, Miguel plodded to the expansive chancel and halted under the elevated life-size statue of St Loyola cradling the infant Jesus in his arms. (Nice juxtaposition of concepts here) Above the Saint and the Savior, a lavish Christogram beckoned him from the peak of the floor-to-ceiling reredos. Father Rodriguez claimed that praying before the Christogram evoked the divine blessing like nothing else.
You need to indicate this is now Miguel speaking...)
EG  Miguel cleared his throat.
“Why do you put your son on trial when he’s ready to carry your cross? Pity this sweet angel in my arms. Where’re you lost, God? I want to hear your voice and feel your touch on my shoulders. Ease my burden and lead me to a green pasture and a swift-flowing river. Even the most rugged of the sheep needs rest and peace and love.  Don’t you know this much, Father?”
No sound, no touch; his soul lay dormant, and no life flowed into his worthless fingers. God ignored him as he ignored the infant’s mother—her prayers and tears, her candles and camphor.
Miguel drew the baby close to check her eyes. The peculiar smell of approaching death never misled him. He had little time. Images of arson and looting danced before him, and Ma’s scream blasted in his ears. He shut his eyes and pushed Tamari out of his mind, vowing never to go back to her.  (Why do we have the mini digression of visions of arson and looting, and ma?  This interrupted flow and the paragraph was working quite well...)
Hot lava of wax trickled down his palms. But he stood there with arms outstretched, eyes shut, and lips moving in silent prayers. A divine peace filled his mind, and beat by beat, breath by breath he slipped into a state of meditational trance. A powerful light dazzled between his eyes, flaring a rupture in his soul that spread across his body. The light engulfed all his senses and left him with just the an image of his Ma. Then she too vanished. His lips stopped moving, his breathing slowed down, and his fingers came alive as if a like those of a pianist ] fumbling (better than stumbling )in darkness on the strings keys of his lost instrument in the darkness. Did the cold bundle of flesh and bone warm up to his touch? His heart rocked and swayed like a ravaged wharf at the site of a sapient shore.   (distracting simile)
 “Son!” Father Rodriguez’s  (harsh?  give us a sense of his malice and power )voice broke the pre-healing spell. “I warned you not to allow that mistress of the Devil to taint your soul.”
The sledgehammer almost knocked him down. (Does this refer to the priest's voice? It is confusing.) He could shun Tamari, but never condemn her or allow anyone else to condemn her. She alone realized that along with the Bible and beads, he also needed the joy of human bondage, care, and, love. No one else ever walked down the beach with him, holding his hands, laughing and smiling.
The priest lumbered towards Miguel, tapping the floor with his cane. Amazingly Cut out the adverbs!  This eighty-plus warrior of Christianity possessed such strength of purpose when Miguel’s young body and soul were so fragile.
“Don’t you stand like a statue, Miguel? Time's running out.”   (use contractions to achieve more natural dialogue)
The clock above the side pulpit showed five-fifty. Tamari would come arrive? any minute.  (So he has summoned her?  She is expected??)
He drew the baby close to blow breaths of life into her mouth, but once again the stench of death pushed him back.
The woman pointed to a framed picture of Christ and tried to remind him of his magical prowess.
 “Look at Jesus, Master. You’re so much like him. Didn’t he gift life to Lazarus?”
Miguel winced.
Why did they see you in me, Jesus? Anyone can grow shoulder-length hair and have your height and profile. Wait! Am I not a little taller and fairer than you, my crucified brother? Do I share the curve and shape of your sharp nose and long ears? Maybe or maybe not. I’m so confused, Jesus. If I’m indeed the chosen one, then why can’t I gift even a few breaths of life to a dying child? Look, Jesus, look at her mother–see how she shivers like a wilted reed in the wind-whipped desert of Sinai. ( Warning : the double similes are clunky & kill the flow you had going..)
Before the priest and Ma had incapacitated the savior within him by inflicting on him using spiritual blows, he had seen himself  as a worthy sibling of Christ—separated by life and death and time. His healing sessions drew vast crowds. Newspapers front-paged his pictures—arms outstretched and tears flowing down the face. Swept by the frenzy of faith, people prostrated themselves before him and kissed his garments.  (Nice writing here.  You need to do more like this.)

Silence.
All that changed when Tamari waltzed into his life.   
“I tell you it’s the evil eye, Master. See, how she flutters like a trapped mullet,” the woman said.  (she would probably be sobbing with grief.  "said" sounds too remote.  Show us the emotional tensions...
“Have faith, mother,” Miguel said, hoping that God willl (would...it's a hope you need the conditional tense here) finally wake up from His slumber and see his plight. For, however hard Miguel scoured his mind, he found no trace of sin in his limerence (can we not just have "love?  it's easier on the reader's eye and makes this dilemma more human.) for Tamari in whose arms he felt a rapture that surpassed even the most fervent passion he experienced in his evangelic life.
So here you digress into his first sight of Tamari and their love.  I understand it is important but you risk losing focus on the cathedral drama.  Can you shorten/abbreviate it?  Or perhaps refer to it in a later part of the chapter.   The reader becomes distracted/confused)
Ah, that first kiss. Was it yesterday evening, or the first hour of the night? How Tamari snuggled up in his arms and offered her trembling lips. “No… No.” At first, he  had backed away, but unable to resist her inviting smile, he hugged her tight and kissed her wildly–-so wildly that even the roar of the sea and the fury of the waves could not pull them apart. Then, nudged by the moon and watched by her twinkling angels, he lifted her and waded into the sea, and kissed her again... Again... Again... Again… Until she escaped from his grasp and sprinted to the shore… laughing… smiling.

(This is clunky.  You are describing the impact their meeting had....why not just write "nothing could keep them apart??)
When Ma and Father Rodriguez learned the reason behind his flushed face, they lashed out at him. Little did they realize that someone with a wounded soul can only feel the pain of others, but not heal it.
“That bar girl—you kissed her? God will need a separate Hell for you and her,” warned the priest said.
“How can you be such a Judas?” Ma said, struggling to hold up her crumbling body in the shabby bed.
He didn’t agree with them. If salvation lay in surrendering to God, then he did not sin by submitting to the charm of a celestial angel.
And now you are back in the cathedral...
Five fifty-five. Just five minutes more.
The tug of a palm-sized cross snaring his neck like a convict’s noose shook him like a leaf. The first image is more powerful. Father Rodriguez said the cross should forever remind him that time kept racing towards the approaching Day of judgment.
“Pray, son… for God’s sake, pray. Fear His wrath… His lightning can strike even the darkest cavern of Sheol.”
“Well, if I’m the chosen Son of God, why should He punish me for loving His own creation?”
“Fool! What you call love is the worst sin in the eyes of God, you fool. Love is nothing but a spell of the Devil. You must exorcise it and think you were born to serve God and His children. Steel your mind and heart and convince yourselfbelieve  that the touch of your fingers can deliver your spiritual energy to the sick. The power of your thoughts will change the chemistry of your cells—and this baby will live play and prance again. Act now… Act.”
Nature also reminded him of the urgency of the task: clouds roared,  (clouds can't roar; thunder can, I suppose.  So you need to correct this. and lightning flicked across the door of the cathedral-like the tongue of a fiery dragon. A hesitant rain (gentle rain?  Rain can't be hesitant) mizzled down the sky and tapped (if it is hesitant or gentle, it won't be tapping.  It will be barely audible.   the wall and terrace of the cathedral… tup… tup… up.
He rubbed the infant’s forehead and reached out to God: “If my passion and desire are sinful, why didn’t you protect me ring-fence from these? Why did you send me on the to earth with a heart that hungers for love and a mind that craves for knowledge? Will you close your eyes and let them burn me? You know it well. If I don’t perform miracles, they’ll call me a traitor and hang me on the cross. Can you witness such barbarity a second time? Answer me, God—answer me.”   (This dialogue is really static.  It's telling us a lot, but not showing.  He is begging God to save him, but returning the power of healing.  Wouldn't he postrate himself before the altar...or throw himself to his knees?  Need a bit more life in this)
He waited for God’s answer.  The signal that the priest and ma were wrong, and for permission the go-ahead to perform his divine mission with Tamari.  To discount (To disprove??  I don't think discount is the right word) their toxic catechisms.
 But God ignored him again. The baby gripped his hand as if some unseen power tried to pull her away from him.  (A dying baby would not have the strength to grip anyone's hand)
Time ran out; his legs trembled, and the pendulum at his chest swung.   (He is wearing a pendulum?  You need to reference this earlier, imo.  It is a signpost of his divinity?  His power??)
Ton... Ton... Ton... Ton... Ton... Ton.
 “Master! Look, Master… look at her… look at her…”
The infant’s neck fell on one side. (Babies don't have any control of the neck movements...so you will need to show the moment of death...pallor, stillness etc.
 A thick wall of darkness engulfed him, in the center of which he and he stood all alone—a helpless creature, desperate to escape from the cruel world of God and his sentinels. His breath choked and his head spun. The demon of darkness locked him in a cage that teemed with scorpions and snakes. God patrolled outside wielding his whiplash even as His soldiers frog-marched a weeping Tamari to a nail-embedded stone cross.   (powerful writing.  You need to do more like this!!!)
You need a transition from the reflection to dialogue. EG  He placed his hand on the woman's shoulder. “I’m sorry, mother; I tried my best.”
“No, Master—” The woman’s heart-rending cry stabbed his heart.
“Calm down,” the priest said hissed the priest. “Learn to respect the wish of the Lord.”
The woman kissed her dead baby. Nose, lips, forehead, cheeks, eyes. She kissed them all as if her maternal love would make up for Miguel’s devotional failure. Then she turned to Miguel, grabbed him by the collar of his alb, and screamed:
She grabbed him by the collar of his alb and screamed, “Impostor.”
“Woman, have you gone mad?” The priest raised his cane and slammed it on the altar.
The next second, he got a large goblet of spit on his shriveled nose.
“Woman!” The priest slammed the cane at the altar.
She toppled the altar, kicked at the candelabrums, and stamped the candles underwith  her bare feet. “God will never forgive you... You’ll suffer my agony... You’re I curse you both.”
Frothing at the corner of her mouth, she breezed out of  the cathedral-like an angel of fury.  (She wouldn't breeze out if she is mad with fury and grief. "Frothing at the corners of her mouth, she ran screaming from the cathedral, like an angel of fury" (I give you this simile...but were it me, I would remove it. Too predictable)
Wax sputteredpooled and a wispy trickle of smoke spiraled in the air. A broken bangle lay at Miguel’s feet.
“We missed a chance to convert them.”  (Who is speaking?  I guess the priest, but after the drama above, we need some guidance)
“Are you not sad for her baby, Father?”
“Not at all.”
“What?”
“God will care for of her. He sent you as a medium to help you reclaim your divinity, but you failed Him.”
“I can’t go on with this, Father.”
“And an old man can’t change a divine destiny, son.”
“If I have a destiny, will God fail me like this?”
“Not if you keep to his path and shun that temptress and every form of human bondage.”
“And suffer forever?” A convulsion shook him cap-a-pie.   (What is "cap-a-pie?)
A familiar muffled sound of approaching Divine feet came from the doorway. His (Miguel's??) eyes turned moist. He closed them in anticipation.

So the dialogue above is a little static.  Can you inject some emotion/action so that we can see this conversation happening, rather than reading it as a list of he said/ he said/ etc)
***
A powerful aroma of rain and fresh earth breezed into the cathedral, and every cell of his Miguel's body came alive with the ecstasy that came only from the presence of God. Miguel’s His  heart raced and fireworks exploded in his chest. If God accepted him the way he was, regaining back the healing touch of his fingers would be a mere child’s play. Faith-healing was all about faith, that’s what Ma always said.
The footfall drew closer and the aroma sharper, ("more pungent") but the wolf’s howl acted like the Devil’s spanner.   (Who is the wolf??  And in what way is its howl is like the Devil's spanner?  Is he the voice of the devil perhaps??) “How dare you come here? Didn’t I ask you to keep away from him?” screamed  Father Rodriguez screamed.
Jolted out of reverie, Miguel opened his eyes. In place of God stood His angel, dusting off raindrops from her flowing hairs.
“My father is dying,” Tamari said replied   
(So is Tamari the wolf?  Has she taken wolf shape because she led Miguel into temptation?  I am very confused as a reader by her sudden appearance even though you alluded to her arrival somewhere above)
“You got to be cured first,” the priest said.
She ignored the priest him and turned to Miguel. “You promised to come with me, Master.”
“God has shunned me, Tamari. I can’t heal anymore.”
“What?”
“A girl died in my arms.” He said without looking at her.
“Stop this rambling. No loving father will ever abandon his son. It’s always the other way round,” the priest said.
“Loving father! I know what a loving father He’s been. A father who never speaks to his son, nor does he try to understand his feelings and wants. Of course, He cares—that’s why He left me at birth itself, right? That’s why He left his other son to die on the cross!”
“Don’t blame God for it. “It’ll be O.K., you’re just confused, Master.” Tamari said. A sun-shaped ring swung in her right ear and the moon in her left one. In between those bronze planets snuggled an oval face. 
“Keep your sermons for your bar mates,” the priest yelled. “Miguel doesn’t need them.”
“Father!”
” I’m not deaf, son.”
“Then don’t shout at her,” Miguel said.
“You may fret and fume, but I won’t let this snake poison your soul!”
“Well, some snakes are less venomous  than humans, Father, isn’t it?” he said.
“Yes, better than those wretched creatures who stray from God’s path," hissed the priest hissed. “If you’ve decided to go your way, then don’t waste my time. Get out — and never show your face again. Let the daughter of the Devil lead you to your doom.”
The spite in the priest’s voice ignited a rebellious conflagration in her. rage The fire showed in the gleam of her black eyes, in the tilt of her eyebrows, in the flutter of her sweeping eyelashes, and in the quiver of her pert nose. A set of angel white teeth glittered through the gap in her full lips, confirming her celestial origin. If the afterlife existed, then pre-birth, too — and in that pre-birth, she must have been a queen angel of heaven. But when she spoke, she sounded like an Amazonian warrior princess, full of authority and scorn.  (I like this!!!)
“You didn’t answer me, Father where did you catch it? It has affected you so badly. You must look for a cure—if there’s any,” she said, touching a black thread that clung to her neck like a protective talisman from the evil of the world.
“Catch what, stupid woman?”
“Never mind. You don’t even know what sickness you suffer from.”
“Shut up.”
Miguel disliked that authoritarian tone. His soul rebelled. If God and his priest hated him for loving an angel, so be it. He did his best to reach out to them. Now, it was for God to realize His mistake and accept Miguel into His fold.
Before Miguel could say anything, Tamari came up to the priest “Don’t be so harsh on him, Father Rodriguez. Together we can serve both God and his children, can’t we?”
 “You’d better serve your Gods. I suppose you’ve got six hundred million of them, right?”
Her eyes flashed. “Are Christ and Krishna any different, Father? I serve liquor in a bar, so I’m untouchable. Any thief, killer, or rapist can confess and become worthy of your holy sacraments. Fine. Great. Don’t forget; Jesus kept Mary Magdalene always by his side, so what if the world called her a sinner? You know how well that sinner served him–how well!”
“Don’t lecture me,” the priest said. “Go, take a dip in the baptism pond, admit you’re a sinner, and accept Christ as your savior.”
“That I’ll never do, Father, never. It’s not my trial alone; Your God is on trial, too. Can he forgive a fanatic like you? I’ll wait for Miguel’s verdict; I can wait for years.”
” But I can’t stand you a minute more,” the priest said (roared!!  He is furious, no?).” Get out of here, go away, you gypsy.

She turned and placed an arm around his Miguel's shoulder. (You have her turning to the priest in next bit so need to avoid repeating the verb)

“Don’t listen to him, Master. If intimacy were a sin, God would’ve grown us on trees.”  (Lost the reference here)
Then turning to the priest, she said, “The Devil alone wouldn’t want us to rejoice and multiply.”
“Don’t listen to her, son. Betray God at your peril. Think of your Ma and grandma. Do you want them to suffer the torture of hell for an eternity?” The priest attacked his weak spot again.
 “Why them?”  (Is this Miguel?  We need some emotion or action to enhance impact here.  it is all very static)
“Even the most virtuous of us carry the stain of original sin,” the priest said. “That’s why we should forever penance.”
“Well, then I’m also a sinner?”
“No, you’re a savior of sinners.”
“Don’t fall into the trap, Miguel,” Tamari said. “The savior this sadistic man wants you to become will live without love and care, and bleed and die on the cross of suffering.”
“Ignore her, son. Think again, will you submit (wrong word) commit?  sentence? us to Hell?”
Hell or heaven? For all these years, the priest had stockpiled (filled?) his mind with catechisms of afterlife abodes: the everlasting furnace of fire, the burning lake of sulphur, (spelling) the weeping, and the gnashing of teeth. Heaven and Hell were as real to him as the earth he walked on.
Fear gripped him. The reredos and the assembly of St Loyola, infant Jesus, and Holy Trinity looked all set to punish him. His legs wobbled, and he crashed into the pews like a shattered scaffolding of fragile bones and a broken heart. A cry escaped from his mouth. “No... No... No...”
She offered him her hands. His gaze fell on her cleavage above her low-cut blouse and traveled down to her bare feet. He shivered. “Leave me, Tamari. Go away. I’m burning.”
Her eyes dazzled like the glare of a tigress in the dark. “Don’t allow him to trap you, Miguel. Not for heaven or hell. Think of your life here, on the earth, in my arms. Come with me…”
He wished he could go with her, cure her father, and then take refuge somewhere on a lonely island with her, away from God and the priest, from virtue and vice where no one again confronted him with the dread of sin and Hell.
But the priest unleashed yet another vituperative offensive . “You’re born to be a Savior of the mankind. How can you let down millions of believers? I say again, don’t listen to this serpent.”
SheTamari  gazed at the priest with loathing; head cocked to the side, and her gaze aflame with rage. Then she grasped She urgently gripped Miguel’s hand and said. “Leave this cobra, Master. In the disguise of a priest, he serves the Devil’s agenda on the earth. But for the likes of him, God wouldn’t have exiled us from Eden. This sadistic wretch wants us to suffer forever—for he’s experienced no joy in his life.”
Her thumb caressed his lunar mount, churning little waves of ecstasy.  (Not sure what his lunar mount is....but I am guessing an erogenous zone?) The conflict became unbearable. God or Tamari? Heaven or Hell?
She kissed his fingers, one by one. “Come out of his clutch, Master, or you’ll fail again. I know the secret of healing.”
The sun and the moon swung in confirmation.
Goosebumps crawled up Miguel’s arms and chest.
“I’ll wait for you. Come back, Miguel, if you want to regain your healing touch.”
Miguel’s heart raced. He closed his eyes. He couldn't see her go.
Back in his room, Miguel collapsed on the bed and cried like a child. He had to make a choice.
Between his life and destiny.
Between Tamari and God.
« Last Edit: November 07, 2021, 05:04:06 PM by susan-louise »