“He’s got religion,” Henry tiredly told his parents.
“No,” corrected his mother gently, “it’s Charlie all over again. He thinks he’s got religion, but he’s naïve and gullible. Neil’s just the same as your brother was at that age.”
“I know,” Henry agreed, “I know. Except there’s no-one holding out their hand for his money that I can see this time, but I know.”
“So what does his new religion want him to do?” Henry’s father was standing at parade rest, grim determination to cope written on his face.
“His god, his personal god mind you, wants him to go to Africa and build bridges, clean water supplies and sewerage treatment works for places that don’t have them and need them.” Regret and resignation flitted across Henry’s face, “The thing is, if it wasn’t for this religious fixation, it’d be the perfect thing for his training and talents.”
“At least he’s focussing on a constructive goal,” offered Henry’s mother.
“Charlie often thought he was being constructive too,” Henry’s father grunted.
“Neil’s not inclined to violence,” protested Henry.
“Yet. Wait till this group he’s involved in have got him in their clutches without anyone around. They’ll have plenty of opportunity over there.”
“Actually,” Henry explained, “he’s not going to some religious group. He’s signed up with a secular NGO.”
“That’s not like Charlie,” admitted Henry’s mother. “Perhaps this will work out better.”
“And perhaps it won’t,” gloomed her husband.
Four weeks later all three of them were at the airport to see Neil off. After the farewells, as he walked towards the passport control barrier, Neil turned his head back for one last look. At that moment, plain as day, Henry saw the figure urging his son on: the arm the colour of rich, moist soil across his back; the silver gilt hair bent towards his ear; and the red amber eyes that shared the backwards glance. Then all he could see was Neil, happily going to do his god’s bidding.