Lift Herself Up

“Let us pray,” At the priest’s directive to the congregation, one would have thought noise would fill the the small parish or at least a murmur of voices would be heard. But this was no pentecostal chapel, it was the Mary Our Help Catholic church in Asamankese and over there, prayer meant moments of silence. Maria closed her eyes. She opened her lips slightly. She looked up and then down. Jammed her hands into her pockets and then brought them out and let them touch each other.

“Our Father,” she began. The rest of the words did not make their way out of her mouth because she had opened her eyes and was distracted by the jewelry a woman sitting in the one of the opposite pews was wearing. “Pray for us sinners.” She ended her prayer with a sigh.

“Dreams and prayers must be the same thing.” Mass had ended. She slipped out of the back doors and began walking home with Kookie since Nana and Lina had chosen not to attend that morning. “They never come true. Do they Kookie?”

Kookie smiled sheepishly knowing he was expected to answer but of course having no idea what she meant. He decided to go with the reply, “Yes.” Maria burst out laughing and swooped down to pick him up. She passed by several church members who gave her strange looks, causing her to look down. She could practically feel the despisement in her eyes. She wished she could go to the Priest and tell on them for being bad church members who gossiped about people but frankly she did not know the priest and secondly, she did not know what a good church member was. She hated coming to church for several reasons but it was one of the few places she had permission to take Kookie and she could spend time with her buddy outside the house.

The parish was one of the best-looking buildings in the town. For a small building, its architecture was quite unique. The rectangular structure was painted white with high windows. They were not stained glass windows but the building was beautiful regardless of there being much color on it. It was crowned with a small dome and a cross on top of it. Its appearance did not appeal to Maria however. Church for her was silence and standing and sitting and trying to remember the right words to say at the right time and listening to the drone of the voice of Father Graham, the old white priest always elegantly dressed in white robes. She hated that she never had money for collection. In addition, she wished that they would offer her more food than flaky white bread and tiny cups of wine. She usually came to church with her empty stomach growling since everyone else would be asleep and she had been told to never “cook a meal for herself alone”. Lina had called her several names over these past years, greedy, slutty, difficult, stubborn, evil, wicked. It did not make sense to Maria for her to attend church. Church was for good people and she was by all means far from good. That was why they talked about her behind her back. Everyone knew about her in some way or the other, although she spoke to no one outside of school.

She did not like singing hymns either. The sound of the organ irritated her and so she sat each Sunday staring at the hymn numbers on the board and counting them off as they sang each one. She was pleased when they sang shorter hymns and when Father Graham would say, “first and last verse only.” She tried saying the Lord’s prayer and Hail Mary before she slept each night. At least three Hail Mary’s and one Lord’s prayer would do. She sensed she need protection and help and guidance. However, she never knew who to ask and where to turn. She did own a Bible however. It was given to her at her birth, when she was baptized and given the name Maria. She kept it clean next to the small brown bag in which she kept her clothes and all that she owned and left in beneath the kitchen sink. She was always glad when she remembered she had a copy of the sacred book to herself. She had showed it off to Asabea one time.

“Have you read it though?” Asabea had looked curiously at the black book in Maria’s hand.

“Don’t be silly. Bibles are to be read by priests. We can’t read them on our own. That’s a sin.” Maria had answered with some pride because she felt powerful being able to share with her friend this valuable truth.

“I see.” Asabea put the Bible down gently in order not to damage or offend it in case unbeknownst to her it secretly contained life. “Let’s go see Tim again.” The two girls had chuckled at that suggestion and had began making their way to see their friend, the professional photographer.

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