8. 23 A.M
Amara had heard so much about the Pope. She knew that he is a powerful leader of billions of Christians all over the world and had seen him only on few occasions on TV. But as she sat down on an Italian leather couch, opposite the Pope, she couldn’t get herself to be comfortable with him dressed in just a black and brown striped shirt, black trousers and a carpet slipper.
She took her time to look round the magnificent sitting room. She estimated that all the structures in the Holy See alone put together must really cost a fortune. The co-pilot of the helicopter had pointed out different prominent structures to her. She had sighted the Academy of Sciences, the Sistine Chapel, the St. Martha’s Palace, Belvedere Palace, the Church of St. Anne and the famed Vatican Library/Secret archives. The layout of the city is breathtaking in a well-defined architectural design.
Despite the current situation, she was beginning to really like the small country.
A clergy clad in a black robe sat on another couch, she later learnt that he is the Carmelengo and an older priest in full regalia sat beside the Pope while a Swiss Guard evidently high-ranking, reclined on a high mahogany table.
“You’re welcome once again, Signorina. We hope you had a wonderful journey,” the Pope said, extending his hands. Amara nervously grabbed the gloved hand.
“Yeah I did, thank you” she said, smiling and studying him.
“We were made to understand that you are the reporter sent by the international news agency we contacted. Is your crew somewhere so we can pick them up?” he asked.
“Actually they couldn’t make it here yet because of the current security situation in Italy but they are planning on coming over in a private flight.”
She found his inappropriate use of the plural “we” very unsettling. Either way, she didn’t come to start up an English lecture.
“Oh these are trying times. Thanks for coming at such a short notice Lorenzo, mio fratello. Sorry to disturb you so early but great many things have been going on in the holy church,” the Pope said.
“It’s an honor to serve you, your holiness. What are brothers for?” he said.
The Carmelengo, Bademosi glanced at the Pope as if confirming whether he should go ahead with what he wanted to say.
He clears his throat, “we were just discussing the current security situation before you came in. From what I heard, you’re a Nigerian?”
She smiled “Yeah, I’m from Nigeria.”
“I see. I happen to have my roots in Nigeria as well. I’m half-caste.”
“Wow, it’s nice to meet you. Even though I have seen some Nigerians, I haven’t met much of them since I arrived,” she said extending her hand and smiling.
“Pietro Francesco Bademosi, Camerlengo to the Pope; a kind of personal assistant and secretary to the Pope,” he added, seeing her confusion. He pecks her hand.
“I’m Giovanni Lorenzo, President of the Amministrazione del Patrimonio Della Sede Apostolica. I’m the Pope’s merchant banker,” the older cleric also shook her hands while introducing himself.
“And brother too,” the Holy Father added and they all chuckled. It was a well-known fact that he so much trusted Giovanni Lorenzo and treated him like his brother.
“It’s nice to meet you,” she said. The young cleric looked handsome and athletic, she couldn’t help stealing a few glances at him.
“Joseph Cardinal Franzio, Cardinal Dean of the College of Cardinals,” the Cardinal introduced himself.
“Signoré Monte Pique, Commander-in-chief of the Swiss Guards, you’re highly welcome, my lady.”
“Thank you, it’s really an honor to be in the same room with you all.” she said, beaming.
The Pope’s telephone on the middle of the table rang and he tapped the answer button.
“Hello. With whom are we speaking?” he paused and listened.
“What can we going to do about that?” he asked, a frown crossing his face.
“Okay!” he said and ended the call.
“What was that, Your Holiness?” Pique asked.
“It’s from Nigeria.”
“The terrorist called you?” the Cardinal Dean asked, an alarmed look on his face.
“No. It was from the CTAN, the counter-terrorist organization in Nigeria that is helping with the situation,”
“What did they say papa?”
“They said that they couldn’t get their men to the Holy See because of the lockdown that has been imposed in Italy,”
“Did you say CTAN?” Amara asked.
“Yes, is there a problem, Signorina?”
“Actually, I’m a retired CTAN agent,” she said.
“Oh really?” the Pope said, his face lightening up.
“Yeah, I quit two years ago pursuing my career as a reporter. The media has always been my passion. The media has always been my passion since I was a child.”
The telephone rang again.
“Let me get that,” she reached for the phone and put it on speaker, “hello, this is Amarachi Bradley, who am I speaking with?”
“Amara is that you?” Adams said.
“Yes, Agent Adams CTAN right?”
“Yeah, you still remember me, awesome. I was a bit surprised when I found your name on the list of travellers to Rome yesterday.”
“I’m fine. It’s been a long time, Adams. I’m here on a special assignment to cover the…” she waved her hands, signaling help from the others.
“Easter rituals and celebrations,” the Camerlengo obliged.
“Yes, the Easter celebrations and get an exclusive interview from the Pope.”
“I’ve tried to convert you but you’re persistent. I just hope your experience tonight would convince you of how fascinating Catholicism is.”
“We’ll see about that. I don’t have my crew with me yet though,” she said, ignoring his comment.
“Is it a one-man show?”
“No, of course not. They were supposed to arrive in the afternoon in view of the celebrations that would take place tonight, but Rome is having a temporary lockdown; all points of entry and exit from the country including seaports and airports.”
“We’re experiencing the same problem.”
“So I heard.”
“Could you do me a favor, Amara?” he said, lowering his voice.
“I’m all ears.” She said.
“Elroy just made a suggestion and I’m considering the possibility because you are the only one I can trust over there.”
“Oh nice to know. So what do you want me to do?”
“Could you cover for us as a CTAN agent for a while?”
“What? Me?” She least expected this.
“Yeah, we need someone on the inside to enable us assist the Vatican City.”
“I’m not sure I can handle the two,” she
“You mean reporter and agent?” Adams asked.
“Yes of course,” she said, hoping he had changed his mind.
“Not entirely. I know you can do this. We would keep in touch with you and send in reinforcement as soon as possible” he paused. All eyes in the room was fixated on her,
“Amara, just think about the number of lives involved. The Vatican might go down tonight and there’s nothing we can do about it if we don’t have an agent over there. The Vatican authority has refused to ask for help from powerful countries like the US and Germany. It’s just us. As I’m speaking right now, I believe the Malibu is already planting time bombs at those places he mentioned and these guys are not bluff. Please, you could do a service not just to your country but to the world’s most revered holy city. I wouldn’t have asked, if it were preventable.”
“I hope you’re not bludgeoning me,” she said.
“No, not at all!” he said.
She hesitates, thinking for a while. “I’m in. You understand that I’m not a pro and I can’t assure you of anything.”
“Thank you so much. Everyone at CTAN would be relieved to hear that you are on board.”
“So, how do we keep in touch?” she asked.
“You know how we did it back in the days,” he said.
She smiled and ends the call.