WORD VIEW: Awakening
THE GAS LAMP EMITTED its sweetish smell as it hung from one of the rafters of the small Mission Hall in Jones Village. Brown hard-backed beetles flew entranced towards the light before several of them landed with a “splat” on the benches where the children sat.
Some youngsters quickly grabbed the insects and threw them as hard as they could on the floor, the familiar scent rising into the air.
This smell was almost indistinguishable from that of the worm-eaten boards at the sides of the church, into which small bored fingers dug from time to time. Added to this was the ever present smell of peppermint as the children bit off small pieces of the sweet to share, forming a thin, glistening link of saliva from mouth to mouth.
From outside the building the wind wafted in other scents. It was crop season and the smell of sugar cane cut during the day still lingered.
Mr Thompson up the road grew a flower-fence hedge at the front of his house and the smell of the flowers mingled with the odour of the sheep pen in the backyard and floated through the windows every now and then.
Through all this came the unmistakable aroma of Aunt Lill’s pink-and-white lilies that grew in her front garden. The smell of these lilies seemed particularly noticeable on moonlight nights.
Outside, the moonlight glinted on the leaves of the breadfruit tree, turning them greeny-black and shiny.
But the light was mainly silver and when the wind rustled through the leaves, Betty felt she heard them whispering that she should come out and play among the branches. She could collect as much of the silver dust as she pleased or, if she wanted, she could climb to the highest branch and pluck any star she chose from the cold, brilliant sky.
“Praise the Lord.”
This signalled the beginning of the service. Pastor Browne stood on the platform welcoming visitors from the sister churches at Todds and Marley Vale.
After a brief prayer, the Song-Service began. This was the part that Betty liked, for a new spirit entered the church at Revival time and the singing was “hot”, especially when Sister Holder was leading in her loud, clear voice: “Everywhere He went, He was doing good;
He’s the mighty healer, He cleansed the leper . . . .”
The wooden building vibrated with the loud singing. Adults and children beat cymbals in flawless rhythm, except for Millicent who must have had some other kind of blood in her veins, since she was always a half-beat behind. Someone would quickly snatch the cymbal away, much to Millicent’s mortification, and continue to beat the instrument correctly.
Children who didn’t have cymbals clapped their hands, experimenting with different patterns of sound but keeping the right beat.
Between the pews and up and down the aisle, “Sisters” danced until the sweat poured down their unsmiling faces and soaked the backs of their bodices. Among these was Sister Lashley, Betty’s grandmother. Even those who did not get up to dance had the old benches rocking, feet tapping and drumming against the floorboards:
“He bought me up from the miry clay
He set my feet on a rock to stay. . . .”
The Song-Service was over and it was time for testimonies. Sister Lewis’ opening line never changed: “From the rising of the sun to the going down of the same, the Lord’s name be praised.”
Soon she would exhort the congregation with the words of the Shunamite woman: “Saddle the ass and go forward!”
Betty always felt uncomfortable when Sister Lewis said this “bad word” in church since the village boys used it to curse one another. Every other member in the congregation would begin their testimony with the words, “I, too, can rise and thank the Lord”.
Words were forever filling Betty’s head and sometimes when she was alone, she would mull over the “I, too”. The words reminded her of children screaming all over the playground: “Me too, me too!”
Some children would get angry when they were not included in the game and she wondered what would happen if some of these grown-ups were not allowed to testify.
She thought of her grandmother’s words: “Some o’ dem should be shame to say they getting up in God house testifying.” But she didn’t dare ask what her grandmother meant.
To be continued.
• Esther Phillips is head of the Division of Liberal Arts of the Barbados Community College.
She is also a poet and editor of BIM: Arts For The 21st Century.