Chapter Two opens with a quotation from a hymn titled Holy City.
Last night I lay a -sleeping
There came a dream so fair,
I stood in old Jerusalem
Beside the temple there.
In the first verse, the speaker sees children singing outside the second Temple. In the second, Jerusalem is quiet as the crucifixion of Christ takes place outside its walls. In the third and final verse, the speaker sees the New Jerusalem into which all are admitted (as a result of Jesus’ sacrifice).
Kristjana is in Jerusalem. A week has passed since she dropped her mobile phone into the water at St James’s Park and come here.
What has she been doing in the meantime? Laying low, it seems, as the chapter begins ‘Kristjana left her hiding place’.
From whom has she been hiding? To find the answer we must go back to the Prologue.
There, we see Kristjana visit a Jerusalem crypt. No date is given for this visit but the lack of any reference to the work she begins in Chapter Two suggests that it occurs in the week following her arrival. To the point, though – Fiorella de Maria describes Kristjana as ‘a deserter hoping to hide’ though from what specifically she doesn’t know.
Specifically. Kristjana appears to be in the middle of an existential crisis, for she feels ‘desperately frightened… of the future and what might be in store for her’.
Rereading the Prologue, Holy City comes across as an alternative to Kristjana’s fear; Jerusalem is not the city of the lost and refugees but of the found and refugees in their home. Could the song be telling us what is going to happen in We’ll Never Tell Them?
If it is then the story is about to become a great spiritual drama.
After leaving her bolt hole, Kristjana makes her way to a convent hospital where did worked during her gap year four years earlier (assuming that this took place after she left school, that would make Kristjana about 22 years old) where the nuns take her on again.
A convent hospital. The spiritual aspect of the story is getting stronger.
Not longer later, Kristjana is summoned by the matron who asks her if she will give company to an elderly Englishman who is in the last stages of terminal cancer. The matron has a specific reason for making this request; the gentleman concerned, Leo Hampton, is half-Maltese. Kristjana, too, is from Malta.
She accepts. Her first meeting with Leo, however, is not an easy one. She has to help undress him despite having ‘a certain girlish embarrassment’ at the thought of doing so.
The matron says to Leo, “Look, I’ve brought you a nice Maltese girl to look after you.” which, in a lovely comic moment, makes Kristjana think of madams and prostitutes rather than matrons and nurses.
This scene raises a smile but when Kristjana sees herself as a prostitute the location invariably makes me think of Mary Magdalen. There is no evidence in the New Testament that she was a prostitute but that is how she is popularly seen, and of course, a penitent one. This adds a potential new layer to the spiritual dimension of the book. Is Kristjana running because of some wrong in her past? Could that ‘wrong’ be simply a collapsed sense of hope (hence she is not as concerned about the past as she is about the future)? Time will tell, even if ‘we’ don’t.
Once they get talking, Leo has the same embarrassment as Kristjana who at the same time inadvertently patronises him. It’s a rather inauspicious beginning. But patient and nurse hurt too badly to not give each another chance.