Some foul-spirited captor had glazed every window with amber-tinted bathroom glass. Sunight filtered through, but you couldn’t see through it. This was intentional.
I longed for the outside. My friends were outside. Playing baseball. Riding five-speeds with banana seats and sissy bars. I could almost taste the outside. But in here, I wasn’t supposed to even think about the outside.
My shirt stuck to my skin. The room was stifling. Muggy. Two ceiling fans twirled too slowly to make a difference. The room smelled like an old book my mom got at the garage sale. I was losing my mind to the boredom.
We stood up. Somebody played music. I figured it was to drown out my impending cries for help. The music made me feel like I did on the day we buried my grandmother. Some of the hostages sang along. The rest of us just stood there, slumped over, beaten down. Music ended. We sat down.
I leaned my head against the hard, wooden back of the seat. There was nothing to do. There were twenty four light bulbs on the ceiling. There were fifty two slats of wood on each side of the peak. I started to count the knots in the wood of the slats but my eyes kept losing place. My neck was sore.
One of the other hostages, a bent-over hairless man in a blue suit, started clipping his nails. We could hear the clicks. He didn’t seem at all perturbed when another man started shouting at us. Why was he angry? What had we done wrong? Why was I here?
“The Shekinah glory!” Click. Click. “The House of the Lord.” Click. “They died in the wilderness.” Click. Click. Click. I had no doubt that the nail clipper man would soon be punished for letting his clippings drop all over the carpet. Much later I understood that he was the head of the whole operation. Chairman of the board, they called him. No one ever yelled at him.
The shouting stopped. Something was happening. A man held out a shiny gold plate in front of my mother. She wasn’t smiling as she dropped in her hard-earned money. Okay, so you got what you wanted… Can we be free now?
I fidgeted. “Mom, when are we getting out of here?” “Shhhhh!” “I wanna go nowwwww!” “Shhhhh!”
Whenever I fidgeted too much in this place, my mom reached over and pinched me hard. Not a big pinch. But an excruciatingly focused mini-pinch. Many years later I was stung by a scorpion. I flashed back to my mom’s church pinch. I feared that pinch. I forced the fidgeting to stay inside my body. I was screaming on the inside.
More shouting. I stretched out on the long wooden bench that had the funniest name I’d ever heard: Pew. That’s what I thought about this whole place. Pew. The shouting-person was telling a joke now. No doubt a technique to soften us up before he hit us hard. People forced themselves to laugh.
I drifted into a state of semi-consciousness. Words floated in and out but they didn’t mean much. Jesus. Judgment. Money isn’t enough. Give him everything. These guys were really demanding. My shoulder was throbbing. My left leg was asleep. The bad kind that feels like electric current. Another sad song. More shouting. Dear Jesus. Amen.
Suddenly the ordeal was over. My mom must have given them enough. I held my breath and looked her way. She nodded.
No slingshot ever fired a projectile faster than my mother’s nod fired me. I dashed down the aisle, deftly dodging old ladies with canes and old men shaking hands. “Don’t run in God’s house!” Auntie Alice scolded. The man who did all the shouting was waiting for me by the door.
“See you next week, Billy.”
Remember that feeling you had on the last day of school? That’s how I felt every Sunday when church was over.
Kind of sad, don’t you think?
What was church like for you as a kid?