(Reprinted from Telicom X, 20: 44, Apr, 1992.)
"Your faith?" demanded the armed man.
The unarmed man gasped, terror-stricken, mute.
"Your faith, I said!"
"P . . . P . . . Protestant," finally.
"Prepare then to die! 'Tis a glorious day for our side!"
Just as the armed man braced himself to slice the throat beneath his knife, an old woman materialized. "Hold, Shamus!"
Both men froze, startled. Then the dominant man spoke. "State your business, woman."
"I've long feared this day, but now I must tell all," she confessed, dropping her head. Then she looked up at the men.
"Twenty long years ago, I was a nurse in the Belfast Hospital, working in the newborn nursery. One evening, two baby boys were born--one of Catholic parents, the other of protestants."
Both men stiffened with her next comment.
"Each was named Shamus O'Toole. The two of you are those boys."
The men listened for more, but the old woman was silent. After a pause, the armed Shamus prompted, "So?"
"Three days later, I asked a charwoman to watch over the nursery while I went to supper. While I was eating, the protestant parents came to the door of the nursery. They asked the charwoman to fetch Shamus O'Toole so they could take him home.
"The charwoman agreed. On the first basket she approached, she read the name tag. It said Shamus O'Toole. So she gave them the baby."
The old woman searched the eyes of the men. Then she inhaled deeply and pointed to the armed man. "That baby was you, Shamus. You were born to be protestant! Oh! 'Twas was fate that brought me here tonight."
The old woman's body shook in fear. Then she pointed at the unarmed man. "The other baby, the Catholic baby, was you, Shamus."
The men held their positions as if frozen, contemplating what they had heard. Then the old woman said, "Each of you received your faith because an ignorant charwoman made a careless mistake. Now think what that means!"
The next minute passed in silence on the street. Suddenly the unarmed Shamus broke the silence, appearing enlightened and relieved.
"I know what it means. We must trade places, Shamus. I must have the knife."
The armed Shamus hesitated only a second. "No. I know what it means. Prepare then to die!" Again he braced himself, and this time he sliced the throat beneath his knife.
"Tis a glorious day for our side!" he sang as the body slumped to the ground. "And it matters not which side it is!"