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Shortlist Saturdays: Saint Kinga by Zary Fekete

“She’ll appear,” said Tomi. He looked up at the portrait at the front of the sanctuary. “Mother Zsuzsa said she would.”

“Forget it,” said Isti. “They tell us that every year. My brother said they say it every year, and it never happens. Come on. We’ll be late for recitation.”

The boys left the sanctuary, but Tomi still trailed a backwards glance at the picture of the lady above the altar. They hurried through the hallways of the school-building and were just taking their seats when Mother Zsuzsa entered the room and clapped her hands.

“Settle!” she said. “Settle now.” All of the boys turned to the front and forgot their games. Mother Zsuzsa waited until they were all facing forward quietly. Then she said, “Stand, please.”

The students stood and folded their hands without being asked. Soon they were sing-songing the morning prayer in unison and on remote-control for the final phrases.

Only Tomi said the words with real intent. He was looking up at the portrait of Saint Kinga above the blackboard as he carefully enunciated the last words, “…and I’ll not fear for Saint Kinga, whose pleas found the ears of the Lord, has promised unutterable joy to the nations, to those who wait for her blessed appearance again. Amen.”


Later, in the playground, Isti was throwing a ball with the other boys. Tomi was sitting on one of the benches looking up at the sky. It was cloudy, but he couldn’t yet tell if there would be rain.

“Come on,” Isti called to him. “Forget it. She’ll not appear!”

Tomi looked at the boys for a moment, but then fixed his eyes on the sky again.

“What’s he doing?” Domo asked.

Isti caught the ball and walked over to Tomi. The rest of the boys gathered around. Isti hunched his shoulders the way he always did when he wanted to appear bigger.

“Oh, he believes the sisters,” Isti said with a laugh. “That’s why he can’t stop looking up.”

Domo reached down a picked up a pebble and started tossing it back and forth in his hands. “Don’t waste your time,” he said. “My father told me it never rains this time of year.”

This got Tomi’s attention and he looked around at the faces of the boys.

“It will rain,” he said with a smile. “And then she’ll appear.”

“Stop it!” Isti said, louder than he intended. Tomi snapped his mouth shut and looked at the ground. “It never happens. It’s stupid to wait.”

Domo stopped tossing the pebble between his hands and pretended to throw it at Tomi. Tomi flinched and they laughed at him. A few more of them jerked their hands through the air with imaginary pebbles and started to chant. “Where’s Saint Kinga? Where’s Saint Kinga? Not here! Not here!” After a few minutes they tired of their teasing and walked inside for dinner. Domo tossed the pebble on the ground and it bounced and landed next to Tomi’s foot. Tomi stared at the tiny rock for a moment…and then he looked back up at the sky.


Tomi couldn’t sleep that night. All the other boys in the long dormitory were snoring, but his eyes were wide open as he stared out the window. The moon was bright with no clouds in the night sky.

Tomi sighed and tried to close his eyes. They wouldn’t stay closed. He kept thinking about the story Mother Zsuzsa had told them about Saint Kinga:

Princess Kinga remained chaste. She gave herself up to the severest of austerities. She was always walking the halls of the hospitals and looking in on the sick. She was the only one who would enter the dungeons’ of the lepers.

The king wanted to marry her and gave her an engagement ring. She threw the ring into the salt mine. It traveled through the veins of the earth and became a statue of her, carved in salt, 101 meters below the surface of our school. And every April when the rains come she rises…

Tomi’s eyes popped open. He heard a raindrop. He looked at the window. Yes! Clouds studded the sky. The moon was hidden and glowing behind the thick veil of mist. Tomi looked around the room. Everyone was still asleep.

Quietly he crept out of his bed. He pulled on his slippers and trotted to the end of the dormitory. He was just opening the door when Isti grabbed his shoulder.

“What are you doing?”

“Look!” Tomi said, pointing at the window. “Come. If we go down now we can see the blessed saint!!”

The other boys had heard the commotion. They sat up in their beds. Domo hopped off of his mattress and jogged over.

“What’s all this then?”

“Hurry!” Tomi was dancing from foot to foot. By now the rain was spattering against the windows of the dormitory and the roof was rattling with raindrops. “We must go now if we want to see her.”

Domo laughed. “There’s no saint coming,” he said. “It’s just rain. Get back in bed.”

Tomi stamped his foot. “I’m going down!”

Domo turned back and stuck his finger in Tomi’s face. “No, you are not! In fact, let’s find out where we put boys who don’t listen.”

He grabbed Tomi’s arms, pinning them at his sides, and lifted him onto his shoulder. Tomi beat against the larger boy’s back, crying and wailing. “Stop! Stop!!”

By now the rest of the boys had joined the throng. Domo had Tomi above his head and was walking with large steps toward the janitor’s closet in the back corner of the room. The boys all began to chant again. “Where’s Saint Kinga!? Not here! Not here!!”

Domo reached the closet and pushed Tomi inside. He slammed the door shut and triumphantly leaned against it with his back. The rest of the dorm cheered. Tomi’s hands beat against the door and a few of the younger boys began to dance to the sound of his beating fists.

“Children! Stop that!!” Sister Zsuzsa’s words echoed across the dormitory. She stood in the doorway with a lit torch in her hand. The boys jumped in fright and turned. The sister began to walk toward them.

Then it happened. In the center of the dorm, between the rows of beds, a column of white appeared. The salt from the column stung the air and the boys felt their nostrils shrivel against the dry acrid tang which filled the dorm room. Sister Zsuzsa stopped walking and immediately crossed herself twice. Then she dropped to her knees.

“Down! Down!!” she cried to the boys. Everyone dropped to ground, crossing themselves in a fever of hands and fingers.

Above the column, a figure appeared. It was a lady. She was draped in a robe of white. Her hair was white. Her eyes were blue ovals. Her hands were outstretched and light beamed from them, illuminating every corner of the dormitory.

Domo fell on his face. Isti cowered against a bed in the back corner. The rest of the boys stared with slack jaws at the beautiful figure above the column of salt. Sister Zsuzsa was murmuring through the Saint Kinga prayer.

And then, in a flash, the figure and the pillar were gone. The room was dark again, lit only from the moonlight from the sky which had cleared of clouds.

Slowly Sister Zsuzsa stood. The boys crept forward. A few of them touched the ground where the pillar had been. But there was nothing left. Not even a grain of salt.

Isti looked at Sister Zsuzsa. Then he cried, “Oh, no. Tomi!” He turned and ran to the closet. The rest of the boys stood. Isti opened the door. Tomi stepped out. His eyes were red and tears streaked his face. He walked out of the closet. The boys stood aside.

Tomi looked up at the window. The light of the moon shone on his face. He closed his eyes, crossed himself, and whispered a prayer for a moment.

Then he crossed himself again and lay down.

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