A woman sat in front of me in church yesterday. I remember her because, for the entire mass, she was the one thing that distracted me from that uncomfortable pew. It painfully dug into my spine, the pew, and it made my bum numb and I couldn’t even squeeze a brief nap.
She had a red sleeveless top, and earrings shaped like the crucifix and you could see that she was very catholic. And a long black skirt, she had a black skirt with a slit that climbed at the back. And she was carrying a baby who looked terribly bored, like he’d rather pop out for a cigarette. But, what caught me first was the tattoo. On her upper left arm, she had a tattoo of a flock of birds.
It was cute, it really was. I remember wanting to be one of those birds, if only so I could stay embedded on her chocolate colored skin
Anyway, needless to say, I wasn’t giving the priest much of my daylight. You take an idle mind like mine and you put it in church and you’re going to have an attention problem.
Talking of which, there was a time I used to go for Catechism classes. Being a catholic inside BM’s house you couldn’t dispute to them, no matter how much you wanted to stay home and play Need For Speed. I was in class 4, and my weekend afternoons were spent in a small corner of the church building reciting prayers and being told what Jesus expected of us.
They even taught us how to walk when receiving the Holy Communion. You couldn’t just walk with your arms all over the place, no, you had to be humble. You had to interlock your fingers in front of your chest and your bony little elbows would flare out and you’d feel like a very humble chicken.
Catechism, they’d teach us Catholic hymns and we were regaled with stories from the Bible, which was best part really, because all I had to do was sit there and pick my nose.
Kwanza there was a story we were told, ati sijui there was a girl who once stole some church wine and took it home with her. And then at night, when she was going to drink it, the wine had turned into blood. The priest had to be called to the house. It was total hogwash, of course, but I was damn scared of wine. Still am.
Our catechist was a thin old lady that, not once did I see without a head wrap. She was strict as hell and she would pull out your ear if you didn’t do the chicken thing. And, when you couldn’t cram those prayers, she’d ask you to remain behind while the rest went home. Then she would proceed to lean close to your mouth so you could mumble the lines in her ear.
After that I graduated to serving at the altar. Me and a bunch of other boys, we would put on robes and help the priest to some wine during mass. I usually got the laborious duty of holding up the crucifix, and, to this day, if I concentrate long enough I can still feel the pain in my shoulders. It was nice though, because after mass we were handed biscuits and some orange juice.
And then I got shipped off to boarding school and all that catholic jazz fizzled out. In high school there was only a handful of Catholics, most times we held our own little mass. No priest, no nothing. Why call a priest anyway? There were only ten of us.
Ever since, church has felt strange. It has warped into this thing that intrudes into my Sunday mornings and forces me to take a shower. It’s become this place where I go to observe the congregation –which is also generally lazy- and think about chicken, a place where I put some money in the basket and spend the rest of the time thinking about a Monday deadline that never seems to go away. And I feel bad about, I really do.
At some point, I was tempted to try out a different church; maybe it would bring back my enthusiasm. Preferably one that I won’t be forced to cry to some slow hymns after a bit of energetic dancing.
But the truth is that I wouldn’t survive in another church. I don’t know how to. Sure, Catholics have that whole –stand up sit down and stand up- thing going on but it’s really not that bad. Plus I like the hymns.
Unioshe nitakase, niwe mweupe kabisa…
Come on. How can you not like catholic hymns?
You take a choir with functioning lungs inside them and they can make music with those hymns.
So, even though I never participate in the clapping and pay any attention, catholic still has some appeal to me. Like how, sometimes, you could get a funny priest with unkempt hair who talks about his story with the bottle. Or how, an old woman with a CWA ribbon pinned to her chest would nudge you awake if you tried to doze off. You could even get to hear one bored looking kid say to another, “Got a light?”