They look satisfied with themselves. They have every reason to. They have done this before and the results are always the same. They get what they want and how they want it. They all wear smugness before they have even begun.
She looks calm. But inside she is more scared that she’d ever admit. This is not something that they need to know. She has decided to be brave for as long as possible.
Nobody knows just how long this will last but each of them agrees that the outcome will be the same. Even she agrees with them, but they don’t know that. She just wants it all to be over and for things to go back to the way they were before. But she knows that won’t happen. Her immediate concern is how things will change now.
There is a long table that splits the room in two and she is the only one on one side. They all enter the room after her and choose seats away from her. Each of them puts a bag or briefcase on the table. Only one man, sat at the far end of the table, brings nothing with him apart from a pen that he presses off and on nervously. He was never any good at confrontation. She thinks that he is only there to make up the numbers.
Seven of them against just her.
Nobody speaks. They all know why they are there. One of the group looks up at her, she catches his eye and he quickly looks away. She is not sure if he gave a look of sympathy or just curiosity. Shaking away the possibility of more deception she looks down at her brief before her. She knows she cannot afford to be sidetracked from her focus by wondering if she has a silent ally in the group.
It has been months now and not one of them has spoken a word to her since they had arranged the meeting. They had taken the time to prepare their case against her. They are convinced that it is a tight case. There have been no more invites to dinner, no casual encounters in the shopping centre or the park. She feels as if she had been living on a different continent since they openly accused her. This was the first time she had seen them in months and she realises that she has missed them.
Thinking about them as adversaries does not diminish the fact that she has memories of happy times with many of them. They had grown up together. They were as close as family. They had been her only family since she had begun her studies at the university.
The tall man speaks first. He has opened his case and taken out two items that he places one on top of the other directly in front of him. His long fingers caress the black leather cover and the gold edges. She watched him press his curved thumb into the middle of the front cover then taking half of the pages in his hand he repeatedly flicks them downwards. It is now she realises that he is nervous.
“Shall we begin?” He looks at his watch, “I know we are all busy people, so I thank you all for taking the time to meet here to discuss a way forward.” He pauses and stares at her across the table. One by one they all look at her, with unblinking eyes.
“We were all disappointed to hear of this … deceit in our midst. But we are here today to follow the correct procedure to resolve this matter.”
“Let’s pray.” He bends his head expecting total compliance.
“I’d rather you didn’t pray for me,” her voice breaks the silence and heads snap back upwards. They all stare at her for a few seconds before looking curiously at their leader.
“It’s for all of us,” he replies and proceeds in his special intoning voice. She is the only one who does not bow her head. She takes the opportunity to listen to his deep smooth voice and looks at the other six heads bowed like a row of ants each side of him. He is sat slightly to one side of her position. She wonders why he didn’t sit opposite her.
The assault begins as soon as the seven of them chorus “Amen!”
“It has been brought to my attention …” he begins. They all nod, murmur and glare at her for the next hour. He leafs through his book and his notepad as he proceeds. She is silent all the way through. He appears more uncomfortable than he should be, everybody notices but nobody knows why.
It is her turn to speak and she does. She refutes every point he made. Some of them look to him for assurance. He says nothing. He didn’t think she’d do this. He thought he knew her better.
“How dare you think you can do this to me and expect I’d have nothing to say. Did you think I’d be the same as all the others you have successfully bulldozed into silent submission?”
“Sorry to disappoint you, but ‘newsflash’, I am different because I have the truth.”
“Truth! Uh?! You disgust me!” One by one they begin to object to her.
“How dare you speak to us like that?”
“You have no idea what truth is, you live in perversion.”
The pastor raises his hand for silence as some of the elders also angrily motion their intention to leave. There is a noisy dragging of wood on wood as the chairs are returned to the table. They all lean on their closed briefcases and glare, with open hostility, across the table at her.
“I know that it’s the people you have been mixing with that have corrupted you in this way.” He shakes his head slowly as he speaks. He seems genuinely saddened by the words that have been shared in anger in the previous hours. “I will pray for you, Mags. You are still a child of God.”
“My name is Magdiel. Only my friends call me Mags.” Her eyes spark with anger. “I’ve told you before not to call me that. You’re not my friend. You’ve never been my friend.”
“I’m still your pastor.” He speaks calmly and the authority and assurance in his voice is soothing to those on the other side of the table. They nod and murmur in the right places. “I am trying to help you.” He looks to his left then to his right with an inclusive glance. “We are all trying to help you. You’d believe if you were also looking for the truth. There is no other way. You know that.”
Nobody spoke for a few seconds. One of the two women who were sat opposite Magdiel shot a look of pure hatred across to her; it hurt. They had been friends for a long time. Magdiel had often stayed at Sylvia’s home and her children had called her ‘Aunty Mags’, they had all loved each other. Then the rumours started and the friends slipped into enemy colours.
“We have no alternative but to inform you that as long as you continue to live a life of sin you are no longer welcome to meet with us.” He closed his bible and pushed his chair back. “This meeting is now closed.” He stood up and walked around the chair.
“I will make your hatred known,” she speaks clearly, looking directly at him. None of them on the other side of the table needed any legal interpreter to explain her promise. Her law career had once been a source of pride for the church as they congratulated her on each milestone she achieved; she was one of them. She specialised in child law, protecting vulnerable children from abusive relationships. “You’re all living the same illusion, you think that detesting me is logical.”
Now they were faced off against the skill they once admired.
Unused to being defeated they started to shuffle away from the table wearing nervous mystified looks.
Magdiel also stood up, “I haven’t finished speaking yet,” she said loudly. “There is something else you should know as you consider the righteousness of your positions and the so-called truth that you think only you have access to.”
Reluctantly some of them turned back. No matter how they despised her they were enthralled by her knowledge and surprised that she had suddenly confounded them. They wondered, as with one mind, what else she had to say.
She didn’t keep them waiting long.
The internal shaking had begun again but Magdiel forced it into one corner of her heart. She remained standing as six of them resumed their seats. The pastor alone stood, opposite her. He didn’t want her to speak any more. He wanted his group to leave.
“Brethren,” he used his preaching voice to project around the room, “I think we have heard enough of this. No more can be gained here.” Again he had their attention, but not completely.
“While you can believe anything you want to about me – and I know you have already formed your opinions with the false information you have made up or heard – know this, I don’t care what you do any more. I am free from your lies and hold on my life. I know my own truth. I don’t need any of you to fulfil my dreams or my destiny. I have a separate purpose.”
She paused to look at each of them. They exuded impatience. What they wanted was to be out of the board room and back in their familiar lives. They knew she would remain misguided while they remained righteous.
“This man who leads you, the new shepherd to your flock, this … man of God,” she could no longer keep the sarcasm at bay as all eyes turned to their pastor. They were prepared to defend him at a moment’s notice. Righteous indignation was already being manufactured in their guts and they were primed to spew it all over her, if only they had permission.
Five of them had already decided that they didn’t need permission to say their piece. Each of them would take the first opportunity to speak to Magdiel without holding back on their true thoughts. It would be the truth, not this watered down politically correct way of speaking at this meeting. They were just biding their time. This meeting first, then their time.
“Several years ago when I was just a child really, I was feeling very low, I was at the beginning of my journey to the truth. I knew I was different so I sought help. I didn’t live around here then, as you know, but I came to the church and pastor, yes this same pastor you see standing before you …”
“We’re done here!” He thundered. “Come on brethren, we can do nothing else for this wicked child. God loves the sinner but not the sin. We must go before she corrupts our minds with her filth.”
Magdiel laughed for the first time that day. His fear had a shape. It was her.
Three people got up again and began to move towards the door. The others lingered, not quite knowing why their loyalty was being tested by her.
Before the pastor reached the door Magdiel continued to speak and several heads turned back to listen.
“Pastor Precious here, has been putting his persuasive skills to what he considers good use.”
“Let’s leave now!” He bellowed from the doorway.
They had many reasons to leave but they stayed. Even those who had stepped out of the room came back and hovered in the doorway. Their curiosity was awake now. He hoped she would stop. Reading their faces Magdiel saw the hope some of them carried was that she would crucify herself with her words. They did not expect the truth.
“Pastor William Johns, this highly educated leader of three churches in this area, used his psychological training to identify the weakness in a vulnerable questioning person and he forced her to have sex with him.”
The gasps were accompanied by cries of “Lies”, “Disgusting” and “Not true”, but when they looked at the pastor their protests fell silent.
“More than once as well.” She shudders and looks at his head because his eyes are downcast.
“His lie to me on those many occasions was ‘I’m doing you a favour’. I’m sure his wife will not look on it in quite the same way when she knows that I was just one of many young girls he’s ‘favoured’. Not one of you can judge me – I’m not perfect but I’m not corrupt. I live the truth, openly. I live for equality and justice, as you all know. Can any of you say the same thing? Can you, Pastor?”
His arrogance has been replaced by shock and shame.
She leaves the room and fluidly closes the door behind her. She knows that now everything has changed for everyone that was in that room.
She does not see how they look now they have her truth.