On October 7 and 14, we had been reading my latest short story, Star Watch. When we left off, Alexa Rose, who helps young adults in Hong Kong, was short on housing, and is asking friends for a place to stay for the next few weeks. We have also made the acquaintance of Alexa Rose’s mother and the church ministers from her home church, who are hardly supportive of her apostolate. Now we return to Star Watch, where we find Alexa Rose in Hong Kong after a successful fellowship meeting.
Alexa Rose sat in an empty hall. She crossed her legs and leaned sideways onto the back of the folding chair, laying her head on her forearms. More than two hundred seats scattered across the floor, some overturned, all still warm from the end of the meeting. Someone brought a canister of silly string. After they had prayed for him, they sprayed him for his birthday. The remnants of the little celebration were stuck to the chair. Near the front center of the room, a member of the young adults team wound up some wires and continued to put Alexa Rose’s presentation materials away. His guitar lay atop on his case a few feet away. He looked tired. But then, so was she. Looking up, she saw her friend walk up to her, smiling with drooping, blood-shot eyes.
Elizabeth shook her head. “That was quite the meeting.”
“All we did was sing some songs and talk about how to apply God’s love on the street,” Alexa Rose said, smiling.
“But did you see what you did?” Elizabeth asked. “You showed them that God loved them.”
Alexa Rose huffed, satisfied. “It went well, I guess.” She leaned her arms over the back of her seat, leaning her head on her forearms. She looked at her watch. I’ve been up for seventeen hours. She reviewed her day. Early train to Stanley to meet with some benefactors, then went back to Central to have a meeting with one of the bishops about next year’s programming, then a meeting with a member of her young adults group, then two hours of teaching English—Gosh, did I have breakfast today? Why am I feeling so lightheaded….oh. Jordan is not going to like the thought of me not eating….
“Lexi!” Elizabeth exclaimed. “You really don’t understand your impact, do you…?” She leaned into her friend and moved to shake her arms.
Alexa Rose, “I’m just letting God do his thing—”
Another girl cleared her throat.
“Hello-excuse-me?” she blurted. She looked Eurasian, with slanted eyes and a pale, pale skin. She wore a green polo shirt and a pleated skirt. “Are you Alexa?”
“Alexa Rose, yes,” she smiled, standing up. She placed a hand on her side. Wow…didn’t realize how tired I am. “Is everything okay?”
“Well, yes,” she said, looking at the ground.
Alexa Rose looked at Elizabeth. After two years of working with each other, they developed a dictionary of looks. Elizabeth helped clear their equipment. Alexa Rose took the girl to a corner of the room, sitting down.
The girl didn’t want to look up to Alexa Rose. Her black eyes fell to the ground, and a small tear welled up in the corner of her eye. Her pale pink lips looked as though they had wanted to tremble, but were afraid. She clutched her stomach.
She blurted, “I was baptized as a young girl. My mother converted when I was born. So when she taught me about the God and the Church, she taught me all of the regulations, but none of what you talk about.”
Alexa Rose felt confused.
She rubbed her nose and sniffed. “You tell me that God totally cares for me that he wants me to be happy and…and—“
“—flourish,” they said together.
She flushed. “Yes. Flourish. I never heard that before.” She sat taller in her seat, as though being called on by the teacher. Yet, her head still bent towards the floor. She kicked over a piece of silly string, which stuck to her pennyloafers. “All this time…”
Finally, she looked into Alexa Rose’s eyes. “I feel that I’ve been missing something all of my life. Whatever you have, I want it, too.”
Alexa Rose smiled when she saw her friend outside Saint Joseph’s. Ever her aching arm—which had been dragging her luggage all day and night—felt lighter and stronger. Above her, she noticed the stars pierce through the smog and clouds. Elizabeth wore the same pink shirt with dragons that Alexa Rose liked so much. They embraced, Elizabeth placing her hand against Alexa Rose’s head. Alexa Rose sighed, whispering “Thank you.”
“You have a home here, always,” she whispered into her ear.
“We have no home except God,” she responded.
“There too,” Elizabeth smiled, letting her go. “Come. I’ve brought Natalie.”
“She’s still here?”
Elizabeth took the roller luggage from Alexa Rose. “She is waiting.”
A few moments later, Alexa Rose sat across from her friends.
They sat in a café two blocks away from Saint Joseph’s. The main room was large for this part of town, with rough, blackened wooden beams. Coffee colored banners had modern Chinese scribbled onto it. The host looked tired and bored, waiting for his shift to end. She looked at her watch. The place doesn’t close for another five hours. Alexa Rose looked into her tea cup, watching the flowers bloom in front of her eyes as the green fragrance danced towards her face.
Natalie looked tired yet peaceful. She wore a ring with a crucifix on it and played with it absentmindedly, her hands needing something to do. She cleared her throat.
Alexa Rose looked up. “I’m sorry. Just trying to process the events of today,” she explained. “With the housing situation—“
“—No, I need to apologize,” Natalie mentioned. “My cousins—they look at God and religion in a very different way than how you teach. But….no matter, yes? You’ll stay at my place until you leave next month. I don’t have much—“
“—Something to get used to—“ Elizabeth laughed.
“I don’t have much,” Natalie repeated, looking at Elizabeth, “but it’s the very, very, least I can do.”
Alexa Rose smiled, looking at the ground. She remembered when she first met Natalie, with her schoolgirl clothes. What you have, I want it, too. She responded, “That was not all of my doing.”
Natalie responded, “But you were part of it. I would like to offer you my bed till you go back home.”
Home. Alexa Rose nodded. “I am not taking your bed.”
“I will sleep on the couch. You are taking my bed. I even bought new sheets for you.”
Alexa Rose didn’t know whether to assent or to argue. She leaned back against the wall of their booth and nodded, slowly. She sighed, “Thank you.”
Elizabeth smirked as she glanced at Natalie. “There is something else you need to tell her.”
Alexa Rose popped into a different emotion. Joy. She felt her chest swell with nerves. “I know what this is.”
Elizabeth said, “She received a letter from Mother Victoria. From the monastery.”
Natalie glared at Elizabeth. “I wanted to tell her this evening—alone.” Looking at Alexa Rose, she said, “They have given me a date. I will enter on October seventh, the feast of the Rosary.”
Elizabeth sighed, leaning her head on her propped up hand. “My little nun.”
Jordan and Alexa Rose sat across each other the evening after the meeting with the pastor. Jordan clutched the sides of his head, staring at the half-eaten tater tots that lay in front of him. Alexa Rose sipped a glass of lemonade and stared off past the priest and towards her last discussion with Natalie. What you have, I want it, too.
What do I have? This crazy notion of working in Hong Kong, basically, for free? Coming back here to…this? Why don’t I just stay there? Here, I don’t know what I am coming home to. She thought about a story her parents told her. About a man who wandered the countryside and told people that his father loved them so very much. And that he never had a place to stay, and was oftentimes run out of town on a regular basis. Once, the story comforted her. Today—not so much.
She thought of Jordan, who has been so supportive, trying to get her to speak at some neighboring parishes, at the Catholic club at the university, something. Why don’t I just read the writing of the wall, get a one-way plane ticket, and just stay?
“That was awful.”
Alexa Rose looked up, seeing Jordan shake his head between his hands. His food sat, getting colder and colder. He hadn’t touched it in almost ten minutes. She mentioned, “I’ve never seen you this distraught.”
He didn’t respond.
She thought of her sister. “Did I ever tell you about Christmas two years ago?”
Still, he didn’t respond.
She continued, “Zo was just moving into her duplex. She was so happy, Jordan. She hadn’t been this happy in ages. Anyway, this was near the beginning of my ministry in HK. And my credit card was maxed out again, I just came back for the Christmas holidays, and my sister wanted to show me the new place.
“But I remember looking into the fridge before taking the hour-long drive to see my sister. After an hour of showing me pictures of the house, she asked me how the ministry was and…. Anyway, one thing led to another, and I asked her to buy me groceries for Christmas. A month’s worth of groceries.”
Jordan finally looked up. “What was in the fridge?”
“That didn’t belong to my landlord? One soda and a thing of moldy cheese.”
The look on Jordan’s face made her smile. She continued, “I know this sounds crazy, but I’ve been through worse. Maxing my credit card, whittling through my savings—all for this ministry calling thing.”
“It’s not right that you have to do this on your own.”
“It’s not right for a good man to be whipped, stretched out on planks of wood, and asphyxiated to death.”
Jordan looked past his friend and sighed. Alexa Rose recognized the look on his face. He would oftentimes have that look after he reads the Gospel at Mass, as though reviewing his preaching in his mind. Or when he is trying to figure out how to say something. They sat for a while in silence.
Alexa Rose looked outside, past her friend’s shoulder. The sun had long since set. The street lamps shone in a dark yellow grid. There weren’t many cars outside. There weren’t many people inside, either. Above, she noticed the moon was out, but could barely notice the stars. She almost felt alone.
After a while, the priest shook his head. “Why do you do this?”
She smiled. It was a bait. He needed some reassurance, some hope for a better day. Here is this leader of her Church, needing to be told that it was going to be okay. “According to the weather today,” she began, “it should be a clear night. But you wouldn’t know that by looking outside.”
Jordan responded, inquisitive. “Yeah—all of the light pollution.”
She nodded. “Yeah—all of this artificial light blocking out the stars.”
“Would rather see the stars, myself.”
She said, crossing her arms, “I think most of us would seek out the natural light if given a choice.”
“Still don’t understand where you—“
“I think most of us know that natural light is better for us. As good as a lightbulb is, I think most of us would choose a clear night sky.” She sipped her drink. “Jordan—all of this work in Hong Kong? I do it because we are meant for the stars.”
Those with hearts and ears open enough to hear, you may surmise that some of this story is based on real life. Some facts were intentionally distorted, exaggerated, or minimized for overall thematic communication and dramatic effect. Thanks for reading.
On October 18th, the Catholic Church celebrated World Mission Sunday. If you would like to support real life missionaries, or even learn more, you are invited to visit the St. Francis Xavier Lay Missionary Society and the Dominican Mission Foundation.