Father Paolo Sebastian strolled along the boardwalk, taking in the warm night air. To his left, the sea folded onto the beach in a soft, soothing tempo. It was a calm summer night in Salvador, the jewel of Bahía, Brazil. Even so, the city was bustling with activity. A few straggling vendors still lingered, hoping for one last sale before they called it a night. Groups of young men and women passed by, making their way to and from clubs that stayed open till dawn. Some recognized and called out to the Monsignor, but Paolo was oblivious to their salutations. His attention was focused instead on a small sparrow hopping in front of him, carrying an enormous cockroach.
The bird should be fast asleep at this late hour, but the bright streetlights that illuminated the sidewalk had fooled the poor thing into thinking it was day. However, it wasn’t just the creature’s unusual nocturnal behavior that held Paolo’s interest. The weight of the cockroach prevented it from taking off, yet the bird stubbornly refused to let go of its prize. Every ten feet or so, it paused to get a better grip on the struggling insect, then tried to fly away as the priest approached. Each time, it failed to stay airborne and was forced to hop until it was far enough in front of Paolo to try again. This had been going on now for the better part of a city block.
Paolo wondered; would the sparrow’s greed and stubbornness prevail? Or would it finally surrender the cockroach and fly away to safety? He considered this as he followed the bird. Perhaps this was a good topic for Sunday’s sermon.
Captivated by the small drama playing out in front of him, Paolo barely registered the woman who fell in step with him.
“Paolo da Silva…”
He paused. Nobody had addressed him by his given name in years. As he looked up, he was suddenly aware of vanilla blending with the smell of sea. The vision next to him took his breath away, and he knew who she was in an instant. Ni’ihsu, the goddess of the river, appeared differently to each man, taking on whatever form would be most attractive as part of her seductive nature. Tonight she appeared with the exotic pale skin and golden hair that reminded Paolo of his first love, a girl who kindled feelings in him so strong that she had hastened his entry into the service of the Lord.
“My lady.” He addressed Ni’ihsu with the courtesy and respect due a goddess of her standing, but nothing more. He wondered about her motive. She rarely tempted men of the cloth, generally preferring to seduce men more susceptible to her charms. But in Paolo’s experience, rules always had exceptions, so he proceeded with caution. He started walking again, as if her appearance was no more surprising than a chance meeting with an old acquaintance. “Why have you sought me out this evening?”
Paolo stopped in his tracks. For a moment, he toyed with the idea that perhaps she was talking about someone else, but in his heart he knew only one person by that name who might interest Ni’ihsu enough to make an appearance.
“What about Gabriel?”
“He needs you.”