Old Micah: A Short Story

It was a misty morning in the city of N. An elderly nun was getting nervous as she looked at the clock on the wall of the hotel hall. Guests were late. Her eyes were watering from strain but she could hardly see the road through the gray fog. 
- Mother Salomia, why are you so nervous? Your guests will come soon, what else would they do? – Andrew chuckled, as he was chewing his sandwich.
Lida looked at her husband and sighed,
- Why are you pestering Mother Salomia? She worries about others, unlike you. 
A bus came in view round the bend. Nun Salomia ran outside, and the newly-weds looked at the newcomers out of the window with interest. 
Pilgrims entered the hall of The Ancyra in just a couple of minutes. Lida figured out that there were eight of them: an elderly couple, two mums with kids, a dwarfish old man who looked as if he were 100, and a girl wearing a miniskirt and high-heeled shoes. Nun Salomia smiled cheerfully as she was telling the pilgrims about the life at the guesthouse. 
– We are like one big family. The Pilgrim's House has four floors. We almost never have spare rooms. This is understandable because so many people want to visit our convent. I have been on obedience here for five years already. Please feel free to contact me anytime with all your questions! We will find some work for everyone who wishes to take part in the daily life of the convent, so I hope that your stay here will be useful for your soul. Now let me introduce myself. I am Nun Salomia, and they – Nun Salomia pointed at the young couple – are Andrew and Lida. You will get to know the rest of our guests a little bit later.
The guests introduced themselves one by one. The old man was the only one who kept silent. Andrew looked at him closely with growing interest, and soon he was unable to contain his curiosity:
– Well, Grandpa, what's your name?
– Micah, - the pilgrim replied and frowned.
– So you are Michael? – Lida wondered.
- No, I am not Michael. My name is Micah! – the old man retorted, and everyone could see that the old man had a character!
There was a tradition at The Ancyra to read the morning and evening prayers in turn. There was a small iconostasis on every floor, and the pilgrims gathered for prayer at one and the same time. The newcomers joined in the prayer today. Only the old Micah and Ruslan were missing. Ruslan was a so called “deviant youth” who had been forced by his mother to come to the convent. The boy was brought up by the single mother, and by the time he was fourteen, he was absolutely out of control. It was evident that this pilgrimage was unlikely to be beneficial for him. Ruslan did not want to attend the services, he shunned work and skipped the prayer rule most of the time. Frankly speaking, there was only one place where the boy could sit for hours, not thinking about anything, just gazing at the beauty of the sky full of stars. One day, when he was wandering around the building of the guesthouse, he noticed that the door leading to the attic was unlocked. The windows were shut and fastened with planks, making it impossible for anyone to get out onto the roof, but the attic itself was much more interesting than the rest of the guesthouse. Ruslan found a small ramshackle stool in a pile of old stuff and began to use it as a table. He had used to take his dinner into his room, despite his mother’s protests, and then eat it secretly in the attic, gazing out of the window at the black sky, when everyone went to the prayer rule.
However, today the privacy of the youth was violated. The old Micah appeared at the door. He gave the boy a stern look, saw the empty plate and quickly got the grasp of the situation. He grumbled,
– Done?
Ruslan was embarrassed but soon pulled himself up. He rose up from the floor and perked up his head,
– Yeah. So what?
– If you’re done with your meal, get out of here, I’m going to pray.
The boy paused for a moment, searching for the most appropriate answer, and then snorted,
– No way! I was the first to come here.
The old man did not say anything. He approached the window, yanked the curtain and sighed when he figured out that it was closed. Ruslan smirked,
– You wanted to climb onto the roof, didn’t you?
– Yes, I always pray on the roof at home. Okay, dude, stop jabbering. If you don’t want to leave, don’t interrupt me, or else I’ll send you down the ladder.
Ruslan was somehow convinced that the old man wasn’t joking.
The old Micah made the sign of the cross and started mumbling the Our Father. He finished one prayer, took a short breath and started the same prayer all over again. At first, Ruslan thought that the old man forgot what he had prayed about but soon realised that he wouldn’t be hearing any other prayer from the old man. After about forty minutes, Micah stopped, made the sign of the cross and slowly dragged himself to the door. The boy was consumed with curiosity,
– Hey, wait! Why did you read just one prayer?
– I don’t know any other prayer.
– How can that be? Aren’t you Orthodox? 
He saw that he could not expect an explanation from the old man.
– Why do you pray on the roof?
– I am closer to God because of that, – the old man shrugged his shoulders and vanished in darkness.
Ruslan sat by the window for a while and went to his room.
Three days passed. The old man would pray in the attic every day, and the boy would sit in the corner and watch him. It seemed to Ruslan that there was a mystery of some sort. The old man was certainly unusual! A normal believer could never be seriously convinced that the higher you climb, the closer to God you get! Stranger yet was the fact that he did not know any prayers, except for the Our Father.
A sudden blow for the entire guesthouse happened on the fourth day. Someone stole Lida's purse. Not that there was a lot of money, but that was not the case... The woman saw her acquaintance and left the purse on the table in the hall. While they were having a chat, the purse disappeared. Who could have taken it? All the pilgrims were taken aback.
While everyone discussed the theft, the old Micah climbed the stairs to the attic as usual. Ruslan would always be waiting for him there. They did not talk with one another all that time. Each one did his own job — the old man prayed, and the youth watched. However, something was different this time. The old man suddenly ordered the youth:
– Get up, let's pray.
The youth did not raise his eyes.
– Can you hear me? Get up. 
Ruslan rose to his feet obediently, which was surprising even to himself. For some reason, he did not want to show his teeth or argue.
Micah read the Our Father once and was about to leave.
“Are you done with your prayers?” The boy wondered.
“Yes, I am. I have something to do downstairs.” 
Ruslan was curious what the weird and unsociable old man was going to do and followed him. 
The old Micah went to each of the four groups of praying people and said one and the same phrase to each group, “It was me who stole the purse. Forgive me a sinner.” People silently made the sign of the cross and started whispering to one another only after he left them. Ruslan witnessed all that from a distance, and acute pain pierced his heart. The boy could not sleep the following night. In the morning, he went to the church voluntarily for the first time since he came to the convent.
Micah was standing next to him in the queue for confession. They did not utter a single word to one another.
The boy stood in front of the analogion and whispered, “I stole the purse. Lord, forgive me!” Micah came for the confession right after him. The old man sighed heavily and articulated distinctly, “I repent of lying.”  The priest was waiting for the continuation but the old man said dismissively, “I cannot recognise any other sins in my heart.”

The old man would pray in the attic every day, and the boy would sit in the corner and watch him. It seemed to Ruslan that there was a mystery of some sort. The old man was certainly unusual! A normal believer could never be seriously convinced that the higher you climb, the closer to God you get! Stranger yet was the fact that he did not know any prayers, except for the Our Father.
A story by Natallia Klimova