Dad was right. If the Sister was working with the Greeters, she'd be perfectly placed to know if Darla Montagne arrived. So, I left Amy with Dad and set out the for train station a few blocks away. The train was one of the city services in Aphter, so anyone could ride it. I'd say it was free, but there's no money in Aphter. People barter goods and services, and everyone manages to have what they need.
I arrived at the station just in time to catch the Inbound train. It wasn't large, just three passenger cars and a couple of empty carrier cars. There weren't many people on it, as usual. The train was only crowded if there was a special event or festival going on somewhere. For the most part, people in Aphter tended to stay put.
I took a seat in the middle car near the front and slid over to the window. There was only one other man on the car, a big African-looking gentleman seated about halfway back on the opposite side. Much to my envy, he was sleeping soundly.
The train wasn't very fast, and it would probably take a couple of hours to reach The Center where the Greeters worked around the Lightstone. I was trying to remember everything my Dad had taught me about the Greeters. The Greeters had been around as long as anyone could remember. They were there to welcome the new dead to Aphter and answer any questions they had. It was quite a job, because people came through with all sorts of notions, anxieties and expectations. The Greeters had a large network of counselors, a directory of families, an array of priests and ministers and a large clothing distribution team (since the new dead come through without clothes.)
When people die, they see a bright light and feel compelled to approach it. That light is the Lightstone. When people enter the light, they enter Aphter. The Greeters wear special glasses to protect their eyes and they take new arrivals from the light and out into the Welcome Park, a large area around the Lightstone that takes up most of The Center. From there, the Greeters deal with whatever the new arrival's needs might be.
Many religious groups thrive in Aphter, having found some way to work the reality if Aphter into the ambiguities of their dogma. One of the chief of these is a large, thriving Catholic Church. The Catholic presence in the service of the Greeters is an order called the Sisters in Waiting, so named because of the Catholic Belief that Aphter is, in fact, Purgatory. According to Dad, the Sister had joined the Sisters in Waiting very quickly after arriving.
Dad met the Sister at a bar in Texas almost thirty-five years ago. To hear Dad tell the tale, she was a beautiful young woman in her late twenties and gave no indication to him that she was, in fact, about to take her final vows to enter a Benedictine order of nuns. They talked and laughed and drank and one thing led to another. When he woke up, she was gone. He figured never to see her again, but then she showed up at his door about a month later distraught because she was pregnant. She had already decided resolutely to dedicate her life to work with orphans in Southeast Asia and was unwilling to change her plans. She said she would hide the pregnancy, put the baby into an adoption home and then forget about it. Dad was furious with her and insisted that she give the baby to him. So, they hid the pregnancy with various schemes, including a "kidnapping" during the final months, and, three days after I was born, she left and never came back.
Dad had taken me to see her four times during my life, but she was always nervous and angry about it and would never see us for more than a few minutes. She successfully hid the breaking of her vow and went on to do important work for children in many parts of the world. She was the model of sacrificial piety and compassion. In a strange way, I was always proud of her. Dad, on the other hand, really hated her. We used to argue about it. "She's given her whole life to help people, Dad," I'd say. "Well, it wasn't all hers to give!" he'd yell.
And now she was here, and I couldn't help but feel a little pang of regret. Some part of me had always imagined that, when she got here, things would be different. I imagined that her life work would be done and that she and I could get to know each other. But instead she joined the Sisters in Waiting. They probably wouldn't be open to the idea of a lifelong nun with a grown son. It was going to be more of the same. For how long? Forever?
"I wonder if she'll even see me?" I thought aloud. I knew, though, that she'd help if I told her about Amy.
She could never turn her back on a child.