Shelter from the Storm
by Kim

Arthur sank down onto his cot, grateful that no one else was in the tent. He rested his head in his hands, then jerked them away again. They smelled of rubber gloves and death even though he’d showered - and scrubbed - as soon as he’d finished his shift. He knew it wasn’t really him. The scent of decay hung over Tacloban in a thick miasma just as it had in New Orleans after Katrina. Humidity and rot.

He clasped his hands instead between his knees and stared down at the pavement of this former parking lot where their tent city was pitched. He lost track of how long he sat there trying very hard to think of nothing at all. A noise at the tent flap made him raise his head reluctantly.

“Monica!” He surged to his feet and caught her up in a rib-crushing hug. Her own arms went around him just as tightly.

Tears came to his eyes. She was so solid, so real. He thanked God that she was there, in his arms, in his life. Thanked Him that she would never be, could never be, one of those awful, decaying remnants of humanity he had seen lying in ditches and buried under rubble.

“He says ‘you’re welcome.’” Her head rested against his chest, one ear over his heart.

He pulled away and looked at her, startled. “Hey! That was a private conversation!”

She grinned. “Just passing on the message. That is my job, after all.”

They laughed softly, and he felt his heart lighten a little. “Sorry, I know I smell awful. I washed but -“

“So do I. It doesn’t matter.”

He led her over to the cot and as they sat down, he realized she was dressed in jeans, boots and a red GOAL T-shirt. Her long auburn hair was pulled out of the way in a sensible French braid.

“So you’re a GOALie. Aren’t they based out of Dublin? Sounds like a good fit for you,” he teased.

She smiled. “Yes, I was there when they got started. I spent a lot of time in Ireland in the 70s and 80s in Search and Rescue and a few longer assignments.” Her face clouded as she remembered the violent upheaval in the country she thought of as her own.

“Are you on assignment now?” He felt a spurt of worry and tried to dismiss it. She was safer than he was, at least physically. But had become very familiar with her sensitive heart in the past few weeks. The cynical part of him wondered if she could cope emotionally with the sorts of things he had seen that day.

She shrugged. “Not officially. Disaster Response asked for volunteers…they usually do for something big like this. I didn’t even know you were here exactly until Andrew came by about an hour ago and said he’d seen you.”

“Andrew’s here?” Of course, the angel of death would be, he reminded himself.

“Yes, he and Adam and Henry and Eli. And so many more. They’ve been….very busy.” She leaned her head on his shoulder and sighed.

He wrapped an arm around her, needing her close. “I know. We just got here yesterday. It took longer than we’d planned, because the roads from Manila were pretty much impassable. I helped get things set up, and then Raul - he’s one of our local liaisons - pulled me aside this morning right after breakfast and said they needed some more hands. He didn’t tell me what it was for, just pointed me to a couple of trucks. I only realized when I saw the body bags…” He squeezed his eyes tight shut, trying to block out the memories.

“Part of me wanted to turn around and run, you know? I’d never done anything like that. Building houses, moving debris, organizing things, that’s more my line. I’ve seen corpses, sure. You can’t do this job and not see plenty of death.” He laughed shakily. “Guess Andrew and I should get together and talk shop sometime.”

“But you didn’t run.”

He thought there was a slight emphasis on the “you”, but decided now was not the time to ask. “I couldn’t. There’s always jobs that no one wants to do like filling in the latrine trench….” He wrinkled his nose and she gave a tiny smile. “But they have to be done.” He shook his head. “We found 76 bodies on one street. There’s a couple of mass graves outside of town and we just dumped them in. I tried to pray for them, but….I just couldn’t.”

The tears slipped past his tight control, and he wiped at them angrily. “Sorry, I usually don’t let things get to me….”

“Stop it!” He’d never seen her angry before or even heard her raise her voice. But she was angry now - at him. “You don’t need to apologize for caring about people, for hurting when they do. It’s not unmanly. God loves that you have such a tender heart…and so do I.”

He had no answer to that, and they sat in silence for a while, just enjoying one another’s company.

“So, enough about me,” he said at last, determined to shift the discussion away from himself. “What have you been doing?”

“The neonatal care unit at the main hospital was destroyed. They’re keeping the sickest babies in the chapel, and I’ve been helping out there. Without electricity, the only way to keep the wee ones alive is to pump oxygen by hand.” She flexed the fingers of her right hand and he took it between his own larger ones. He massaged it gently and she sighed. “Thank you.”

He kissed the top of her head. “My pleasure.”

“Anyway, Violeta’s been working there too.”


Monica nodded. “Yes. It’s the first time she’s seen anything like this. Andrew checks in when he can. And of course, knowing the little ones are safe with the Father helps. But it’s still hard for her.”

“And for you.”

She nodded. “Sometimes”. She told him about the three-day-old baby whose parents had taken turns every half hour squeezing the oxygen bag that kept their daughter alive. The mother had leaned down and kissed her child whispering through her tears, “I love you. Whatever happens, I love you so much.”

“Did the baby die?” he asked softly.

She shook her head. “I don’t know. She was still alive when I left, but the doctors didn’t have much hope.”

“Pray with me?” The words came out before he could stop them, but he realized he wasn’t ashamed to ask. If he wasn’t able to speak, maybe she could do it for both of them.

“Of course!” She left his arms and sat facing him on the cot, taking his hands in hers. “Father, it’s Monica and Arthur. Our hearts are hurting for the suffering all around us. We ask your blessings for everyone here. Help us to show your love and compassion as we minister to those in need. Amen.”

“Amen,” he echoed, feeling some peace wash over him at last.

Her stomach rumbled loudly, and they both laughed. “Well, I guess you’re hungry!”

She blushed. “Maybe a wee bit. I skipped lunch because we were so short-handed. Have you had dinner yet?”

He grimaced. “I haven’t eaten since this morning. I’ve thrown up so many times today, I don’t even want to think about food.”

She pressed her lips together as if about to say something and then thought better of it. “Well, will you walk me over to the mess tent and keep me company?”

He stood and pulled her to her feet. “It’s a deal.” The gleam in her eye warned him she’d try to get him to eat something, but he found he didn’t mind.

Hand in hand they left the tent.

Author’s notes: GOAL was founded in Dublin in 1977 by former sports journalist and former Chief Executive, John O’Shea. The website is and they call their people GOALies. So it's kind of a triple joke. The three-day-old baby mentioned in this story, Althea Mustacia, died Saturday evening after this story was written. Please pray for her family and all the people of the Philippines who are suffering right now.

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