My name is Pawlu – Pawlu Abdilla to be exact – born, bred and residing in Valletta; 55 years old; married to Karmena for the last 30 years; father of a boy and a girl named Pietru and Maria respectively; employed as an electrician with Enemalta Corporation; love sipping a glass of red wine with my evening meal and smoke a Rothman afterwards. That’s me in a nutshell. Oh, I forgot, I also act as a sexton at my parish – St Paul’s Church in Valletta – on a voluntary basis, of course. Now you know everything there is to know about me, well practically everything ………..
I love St Paul’s church; it’s where I was baptized, where I had my first Holy Communion and where I was married. It’s my church as well as anybody else’s from this district in downtown Valletta. It was founded in 1570 and its plans were designed by the famous Girolamo Cassar. We celebrate the feast of St Paul’s Shipwreck on February 10 every year. For us parishioners – known as Pawlini – it is the greatest feast in the whole world. In the church there is a relic of the Apostle’s wrist bone and also part of the column on which he was beheaded in Rome in 67 AD.
My parish duties are a well established routine. I open the church door every morning at 4.30 am when it is still dark. I go straight to the Sacristy, lay out the appropriate vestments to be donned by the celebrating priest, arrange the altar settings, light the candles, open the Missal on the appropriate page of the day and then hurry back to the Sacristy to wait for Dun Guzepp who always arrives on the dot to celebrate the 5.00 am mass. We exchange a short ‘buongiorno’, the priest rests a few minutes on a chair reading his breviary, then he puts on the vestments and we go out to the altar to start mass. There are normally about six to ten people in church at that hour.
I have known Dun Guzepp for many years, assisting him regularly on his first early morning mass in our church. He is an old priest, about eighty I reckon, tall, lean and slightly stooped. He lives with his sister in a house just behind the church. He is not a man of many words. It’s not the first time that he did not reply to my early morning salutation. Depending on his mood on the day I suppose. But, despite his reservation, he is known in the parish as being a very religious man.
That particular day, on 26th of January should have been the same as the many days previously. But was it? I will leave that to you to decide. I opened the church doors at the usual time, made the preparations for the early morning mass, Dun Guzepp came a few minutes later, punctual as usual, he didn’t reply to my ‘Buongiorno’ as he sometimes does when he’s in a bad mood, we celebrated mass as usual for the few early risers mostly old women living near the church. Then we returned to the Sacristy where I helped him shed his vestments and attempted to strike a conversation once again. Yet, not a word escaped from the priest’s lips. It seemed that he was averting to look at me.
Dun Guzepp left hurriedly without a word, looking nervous and fidgety. As per my usual routine, I went to the statue of our Patron Saint, knelt in front of him and said some prayers. There is always some favour one has to ask him. Sometimes he obliges but sometimes not, depending maybe on what he thinks is best for us or maybe depending on his mood, who knows! But I have blind faith in him and never missed my prayers to him since I was a child. How the years have flown by!
In any case, after Dun Guzepp left, I prepared for Dun Gwann’s second mass at 6.00am. Dun Gwann is a different character altogether – younger, talkative, jovial and with a mild sense of humour. “Santa Maria, Pawlu, what has befell us!” he exclaimed as soon as he saw me. “What? What’s happened?” I asked. “Don’t you know?” he replied. “Don’t know what?” I again asked, my curiosity now fully aroused. He sat down on his chair, obviously agitated and in shock. “It’s Dun Guzepp, he died last night!” he said like dropping a bombshell. “Last night when?” I asked again. “His sister called me and I went hurriedly to their house to assist him but he died at the stroke of midnight. Poor soul. May God grant him eternal rest which he deserves.” said Dun Gwann mopping his brow. “At midnight you said?” I replied, stupefied and bewildered, feeling a wave of coldness running through my body. “It’s impossible, but how could…………….!!”