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The Prayer Seeker

steering her back to her room or to the bright, cheerful living area. There he would fetch
her an essential cup of tea and the escape plan would be forgotten, for a while.
In addition to this, Michael found that another of the elderly residents, Mrs
Carpenter, would always come and sit with him with her cup of tea at 10.30 am. No
earlier and no later. He could almost have set the clock by her. She would wish him a
calm good morning and then sit at the window seat whilst she finished her drink.
Occasionally she talked about the war and he found he was more than happy to listen. In
some ways, she reminded him of his grandmother; it was something in the way she held
herself and the accent was also of the north. Mrs Carpenter’s opinions were strongly-
held, but more politely expressed than his grandmother’s had ever been, and the memory
of that made Michael smile.
After a few weeks, when the weather became warmer, Anne-Marie invited him to
join her for lunch in the garden as there’d been a party the previous day for the residents
and the food needed finishing up. So the two of them chatted whilst doing their duty with
chocolate cake and assorted ham and cheese rolls. It felt different meeting the Home
manager outside the office environment, as if the sunlight had eased some of the tensions
of their working relationship away. He asked her about her plans for Thorley over the
summer and heard about the annual fete and the various outings she hoped to run. He
heard also about her previous jobs, both as a nurse and in the marketing industry and how
much more satisfied she felt in the role she played now. Then she talked about her brief
marriage and her daughter, Lisa, just finishing off at university. She was older than he’d
first thought.
After a while, the conversation began to draw to a natural close and she sighed. “You
know, it’s good to stop sometimes, take time out. I think you forget, or at least I do, how
to do that in the world of today. We’re so busy, all of the time. Do you ever think life was
easier when you were younger? Or does even that question show my age?”
Michael finished the mouthful of cheese roll he was working on and considered the
first question whilst dealing, he hoped relatively skilfully, with the second. “I won’t
answer you on the age question, Anne-Marie, as I’d be a fool to do otherwise, but my
answer to the life one certainly shows my age: I think that when I was a boy we had our
own particular set of problems to face. Now, everything’s changed and there’s a whole
set of new ones to take into account. That doesn’t mean life is more difficult now, just
different. The things we’re terrified of and the things that demand our attention have
changed, that’s all.”
“Philosophy corner at lunchtime?” Anne-Marie laughed. “You could well be right
though, I grant you that. Is prayer your time out moment then, Michael?”
He almost choked on his lemonade as her question had come utterly out of left- field.
Since his initial interview with Anne-Marie, Michael had said nothing about his spiritual
life, and certainly nothing about prayer. He’d thought she wasn’t interested and he was
more than happy with that state of affairs; his purpose, whatever it might be, was as far
away from spreading any kind o f message than the east was from the west. That part of
his life was for him alone, and God too.
“Yes,” he said at last when he was able to speak. “Yes, I suppose it is though in
another way, no it’s most definitely not.”
This time she laughed out loud, with an openness and honesty that took him by
surprise, even though she was probably the most open and honest person he knew. “One