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Robin's Way 06

by Pixiehoff 09/19/23

I found myself a minor celebrity.

It had been a slow news day, so the interview appeared on the national news, while the story in the Mail prompted others to phone me. In the end I asked Miriam, who ran the Retreat, to tell people I was busy.

I had only done what any decent person would have done; if that made me a hero, then there were millions of those; I was simply no longer in the "unsung hero" category.

"Mother Robin," Miriam asked, " shouldn't we be trying the save these women from the wicked trade they are involved in?"

"Yes, and we are."

"But why do you hear their confessions? I thought that people who confessed had to, what's the phrase, "amend their lives," and try to live a better life after."

"They do," I confirmed, not bothering to try to stop Miriam calling me "Mother Robin:" whatever made her comfortable. "But think for a moment, if I stopped being an outlet for them, what would happen?"

"Maybe they would reflect on their evil deeds and reform."

"In an ideal world, but what about in this one?"

"But as Christians we have a duty to redeem them."

"God, the only just judge, redeems, Miriam, we are called to love our neighbour as we love ourselves. These women get enough judgement for others, all of it adverse. If I can be there to help, I must do that; it is what I am called to do."

"Oh, Mother Robin, you are a good woman, too good for this world. You don't know such women and what they are like."

I let it go. Miriam had done what we all do at times. She had begun by seeing the women as victims, then moved through to calling their actions "evil," before ending by blaming them. But of course, while not knowing "such women" herself, she may had had a point.

Perhaps I was being naive. I was an upper middle-class woman from a good background with the social capital that went with all of that. It was easy to judge others who had none of those advantages. I was not stupid. I was not blind. But I had talked with these women, and while one or two, like Darnya, had clearly decided that on balance, this life offered them more than the alternatives, most of them felt trapped. They did drugs. They needed money to support their habit. Prostituting themselves was the simplest option. But, of course, they were being exploited.

It was a vicious circle. They had been led into it by their pimps. But until, and unless, they could see a viable alternative (and that was something I could try to help with) they would remain where they were. I could go into "saviour" mode and work with the agencies to try to pull them out, but the evidence suggested that unless the decision to leave was owned by them, they would slip back, and in this town, Dimitri was the lesser of two evils. That, as I told Bishop Jane at our Monday meeting, did not mean I thought that what Dimitri did was not evil.

Jane smiled at me.

"I see your dilemma, Robin, I really do. But what worries me is the idea that someone in the Border Force is aiding and abetting all of this. I talked with my contact in the Home Office and discreet enquiries are being made. You might expect some contact soon, I am told."

As to what sort of "contact," Jane could not tell me that, as she did not know.

Jane was happy with the reports on the Mission. All of my three Rescue Houses were, she said, doing a good job, and, happily, the number of women opting out of prostitution was increasing.

"I am told that some of the women have said that your non-judgemental attitude has helped them. Two said that they felt they could not carry on confessing and going back to their old ways."

"If that was the Spirit moving in their hearts, then it is to God, not me, that the credit is due."

"True, Robin, but he has only your hands to work with and your mouth through which to speak, so take credit. This Mission is still somewhat controversial, and there are many, perhaps a large majority, who would take Miriam's point of view. By the way, she says you are wonderful."

"Bless her," I smiled, "she is a good woman, and I could not do what I do without her and the small team."

"You're a good team leader, Robin, and I am hopeful that the success will help defuse some of the criticism. Your early morning swimming heroics have helped."

"Oh, Jane, it is much exaggerated."

"I am sure."

I noticed a look in her eyes, which left me a little tongue-tied.

"Sorry, Robin, I was distracted by the idea of you in your swim wear."

Jane let the words lie there.

"So, lunch?"

"Please," I said, leaving the words when they had lain.

Lunch was pleasant, and we discussed various church issues, but of course, ended up back on the "Living in Love and Faith" question.

For some years the Church had been encouraging an open discussion, called "Living in Love and Faith" about how it should behave towards gay people, especially gay clergy. Anything short of the usual Anglican genius for fudging would already have broken the Church. As it was, traditional conservatives thought that even considering blessing gay couples went a chasm too far. Gay rights activists thought the Church had gone nowhere near far enough. The former ignored the feelings of millions, whilst the latter ignored Canon Law and the views of millions of others. I felt for the Archbishops; damned if they did; damned if they didn't. I was glad I was a humble vicar.

"The Archbishop is in a dilemma, Robin. What would you do?"

"He is, and what I do is thank God I am not an archbishop - or to be honest, even a bishop."

"Ah," Jane sighed from the heart, "a wish I have often had."

"I am sorry not to be of more use, Jane, but for me, the Spirit is the same one of love that I show to the prostitutes."

"You think lesbians are like prostitutes?"

"I think that in the eyes of the Church and of many, that is the case. That does not mean I agree, it simply means that as I refrain from judging the one, I do the same with the other. I know there are differences, big ones, but in the eyes of many Christians, a woman with my feelings is as big a sinner as a prostitute."

Jane looked at me, searchingly.

"You know, I believe you. But then you have never been a prostitute; you have been a lesbian."

"True," I said, sighing.

"Is the past tense correct?" Jane asked.

"In the sense that I am celibate, yes, in the sense that I am attracted to women, no."

"Do you have a girlfriend, Robin?"

I felt Jane's hand on mine. My heart beat faster. Her eyes met mine. Our gazes locked.

"Do I?" I smiled at her, leaving so many words unspoken, but hoping that her heart would know what I meant."

"I am sure, my dear, that you could easily acquire one, so much easier in your later twenties than twenty years on."

There was a note of sadness in her voice which I found unbearable.

"It depends," I said, despairing of anything meaningful to say.

Was she really coming on to me, or was this me misreading her?

"On what?"

There was a tone in Jane's voice I did not recognise. I wished I had some experience on which to draw, but I might as well have wished for the moon.

"On circumstances and, yes, Canon Law in our case."

"Our case?"

She smiled suddenly, her laugh lines creasing, making her look even more beautiful.

"Robin, either you are blind, or you don't want to see."

"It's, well, it's just... "

"That you aren't gay? That I am not your type? That you don't feel anything?"

I felt so flustered that all I could do was to blurt out what was in my head, seldom a good idea, as like most of us, I'm better when I have time to process what my brain spins out.

"No, no and no!"

The laugh lines deepened. She looked so beautiful at that moment. Her almost white hair framed that smile, and her eyes seemed lit up like the sky at dawn. She did not look beautiful, she was beautiful. How had I not seen it properly before? Her hand touched mine.

"Is this all too much, too soon?"

"Yes and no," I said, going with this sudden 'speak your mind' fashion I had adopted.

"Yes, it's too much and no, not too soon?"

There was almost an impishness in that smile. I felt her squeeze my hand slightly, as though to reassure me. I felt reassured.

"Would it be better to continue this after lunch?"

"I hope we are not going to break Canon Law?"

"That forbids marriage, darling, which would, perhaps, be too much and too soon, to quote someone I have fallen in love with."

She'd said it.

My head did an 'oh my goodness!' thing. I know, not the most articulate was of putting it, but that reflects where my mind was at that moment. The word "love" and "fallen," in the same sentence, directed at me? No one had ever said that to me, not in this way.

I giggled, feeling nervous and emotionally naked.

"You have a nice giggle, darling. Would you like to take a stroll, I have nothing except you in the diary for the next two hours."

So we did just that. On a cool late summer's afternoon we strolled down to Westminster Bridge and talked - and talked.

Jane could hardly have been sweeter or more considerate.

"We need to take care. Usually, I would report to my immediate superior that I was involved romantically with one of my priests to avoid any perceived conflict of interests so that any appraisals, for example, would not be done by me. But since, officially, the Church does not approve of us, I can't do that. But I will make sure that one of the Archdeacons deals with you. I shall say that as your mission is special, that would be better. She will understand."

"Is the 'she' one of those in the network you mentioned?"

"She is, and you should not worry. But I hate that we cannot be open."

We both agreed that it was ridiculous. In what other walk of life would two professional women have to hide their love for each other?

"Maybe," I said, "that is one of the reasons I can't find it in me to condemn or judge the sex workers. So many of those who would condemn them, would also condemn us as sinners, despite the fact that there are almost no passages in Scripture condemning lesbianism."

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