Little Darlings at Church

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More than thirty years ago, England offered Hector Lee an opportunity to become a nursing assistant. After a few years of residence, he also became a performance poet. He was extremely successful especially in areas where Caribbean people lived. In subsequent years, his poetry was not accepted and it forced him to think again. As a musician of little merit, he retrained himself to play the pan instrument and this was what he did successfully with the help of a few people.

    Later, a few incidents of a discriminating nature, disturbed him and his family, and at this point in his life and as a Caribbean person, he could tolerate discrimination no more. He was sixty, and too old to battle forces disrupting his life.

     One morning while having coffee, he told Betty, his wife, ’We’re leaving here.’

     ‘Leaving here? And going where?’

     ‘Back home, ’he said. ‘Back to sweet Trinidad.’

     ‘Okay,’ she smiled. ‘So you did eat the cascadura then? I knew it would happen one day.’

     He remembered the story and laughed. ‘Maybe two. I ate my bellyful. Curry cassadura. ’

     The city was crowded but he managed to access an old colonial building. And that house suited him well; more importantly, it was close to an active panyard.

      After a few months of settling, he said to Betty, ‘I want my children to get back into church-going habits.’

    ‘Church habits! What do you mean?’

    ‘Since their last days in England, they stopped going to church. And that is not good.’

     ‘Oh, yes. You are right. We must look into that.’

    To add to their education and adjustment, Betty located a nearby church and this found great favour with Hector. He thought his children would tremendously benefit from attending the services. He did not tell Betty but he himself did not like getting up early to go to church. The Church of the True Worshippers lay on Baker Street. It was originally part of the compound of the Robinson Sugar Factory.  The sugar lands were passed on from generation to generation and so Kim Frederick, great grand-daughter of slave owner, Lord Frederick, donated one acre of lands to build the church. It was a well patronized church but with the rush for urban dwelling houses, the complexion of the church changed.

     And so driven by necessity, Hector thought, Cole, Edgar and Laura began attending church on Sunday mornings.  Betty stayed at home to prepare lunch at this time. As Hector worked it out, he could sleep late, just laze around or listen to music with the hope of creating a new original piece. And to him and Betty, their Sundays would be well-spent.

     The service at the church usually started punctually at eight o’ clock in the morning.

    Betty said to the trio on their first day, ‘Hurry, will you?  I don’t want you reaching late. It’s not a good habit.’

    ‘Yes, Mom,’ Gail said.

   ‘And Cole and Edgar, did you hear me? I don’t want you all to be late.’

     ‘Yes, Mom.’

    Gail was the eldest and was in charge of the others. ‘And Cole and Edgar, I hope you listen to me or else I will tell when I come back home.’ Cole and Edgar both agreed with a wicked smile to listen to her. ‘And remember when they are serving refreshments to take only a little.’

    ‘Yes, Gail,’ Edgar said.

    Cole said, ‘And if I hungry, what to do? Stay hungry.’ He looked at Edgar and winked his eye.

    Gail said, ‘Mom say not to play greedy and that is what you have to do. Take only one.’

   On this morning, the trio fully dressed, trekked across to the church. They walked one behind the other and crossed the street when there was a break in the traffic.  

     Gail repeated the words of their mother.’ Remember what Mom said to do. Remember?’ They were standing in front of the church, following a line that was entering through a side door.

         ‘What?’ Cole said.

       ‘Yea. What Mom said?’ Edgar said.

      Gail stared at the two. ‘You forgetting already? Well. I’ll remind you.’ Cole and Edgar looked directly at her mouth.  Gail whispered softly and hoped they would follow their mother’s instruction.

     ‘Oh, yes. Oh, yes,’ they said together.

     At the table after the service, Cole was eating a mini-sized muffin and was about to get another when Gail said, ‘What you going to do?’

    ‘To get a muffin.’

    ‘Forget it. Mom said don’t be greedy. it’s bad manners.’

    ‘But am hungry…’

    Gail said shaking her head sideways, ‘Mom made breakfast. So wait till you reach home.’

     Cole’s eyes burned into Gail. ‘But home so far away and I hungry now. My belly’s grumbling.’

     Gail glanced around her. ‘You have to wait. You can’t be that hungry.’

     ‘But my belly is still grumbling,’ Cole said. ‘And it have plenty food around.’

     Gail repeated her point, dismissed his suggestion and was speaking to Edgar, when in a split second, Cole sprinted to the table with the light refreshments. He returned as quickly as he left with two slices of a swiss roll in one hand and a donut in the other. At lightning speed, he bit from one, swallowed, bit from the other and swallowed while looking at his siblings, daring them to stop him.

     At this same time, a tall gentleman elbowed his way to Gail and Edgar and in a harsh voice asked, ‘Who is this boy? This greedy boy.’

    ‘My brother, sir,’ Gail said. ‘He just hungry.’

    ‘Your brother? Too greedy.’ The man shook his head from side to side in obvious disappointment. ‘And where do you come from?’

    ‘Home, sir.’

    ‘Home?’ The man stared at the trio. ‘I can’t imagine. From Trinidad?’

    ‘Yes, sir. From Trinidad.’

    The man shook his head, bit his lips and walked away. ‘ Behaviour. Behaviour. Behaviour. Can’t imagine. These slum children.’

    Fifteen minutes later, Gail said, ‘Mom, Cole took three more items than he should.’

    ‘What? Stole them?’ She looked harshly at Cole.’ You stole them?’

   Gail explained to her mother.  ‘No, Mom. Took more than he should. He dashed to the table, snatched and ran back.’

     ‘Anybody gave you?’ She again stared at him ready to give him a few belts.’ No. Then that’s stealing.’

    Cole said, ‘Not steal, Mom. Take it. Everybody was watching. I wouldn’t steal, Mom.’

    Betty was angry but added nothing more.

     Cole took a few seconds to explain what he did.  He said that others were taking items to their hearts’ desire. He saw them take more than one item and when the pangs of hunger hit him, he grabbed the three items and decided to eat all simultaneously before Edgar or Gail asked him for one. It was at this exact time, minute and second, that the persons discovered ‘the theft.’ Edgar and Gail saw him and Gail did say in whispering tones, ‘I’ll deal with you especially when she saw how the elders were eying his snatch-and-run victory.

    In a soft trembling voice, Cole explained to the man from where he came and with whom he came but the words were lost for the gentleman was bent on making his next statement, ‘Just you behave yourself when next you come here.’ Betty had heard all this before but wanted to hear it from Cole and he did so faithfully. He did not tell a lie.

    This enquiring man really forced Gail to think when she heard his remark and saw his angry expression,’ You come here this minute. You come here.’ Gail remembered his exact words.  The gentleman made it clear he should not take so many and followed this up by asking, ‘And where are you from?’ Finally, he said, ‘These slum children.’ Gail told her mother the full conversation.

     It was Hector who added another view to the story. He asked Gail, ‘And how did the service go?’’

    ‘Fine, Daddy. Fine.’

     ‘Good. Very good. And what did Father say in his sermon today?’

     Gail could not recall and her failure forced him to ask Cole and Edgar but his question got him no  answers. Frustrated, he said, ‘You three went to church and none could say a word of what the Father said. It seemed that you three did not attend the service or you were in an inattentive mood. Which one?’ No answer was forthcoming and to him it was not a happy situation. Hector was angry and when this strange thought surfaced in his mind, he articulated, ‘And where did you all sit? I mean sit while Father was preaching.’

     And the answer came directly, ‘In the back, Daddy. The last pew.’

    ‘In the back?’

     ‘Yes, Daddy. Far in the back,’ Gail said. ‘Behind everybody. And they blocked us from seeing.’

     ‘Behind everybody?’ He shook his head from side to side, ‘And why you’re not sitting at the front? ‘    

       Gail said, ‘A mister wearing a gown asked us to sit at the back. A tall mister.’

     Hector, his voice a near shout, ‘But didn’t you reach to church early?’

     ‘Yes, Daddy,’ Cole said.

   ‘True, Daddy,’ Edgar said. ’Very early.’

    Gail nodded her head in agreement. ‘They’re right, Daddy. We reach early but the tell man put us in the back and give other people our place.’

     Hector looked at Betty who was going to add to the narrative but a wave of the hand stopped her contribution. To this day no one knew what she was going to say. Perhaps she was going to question why the man labelled the children ‘slum children.’ One of the reasons why he stopped her was he didn’t want to discuss the phrase ‘slum people.’

   That incident took place on the first day. However, the leaders there continued to send his children to the back. After a time, Hector decided he had too much of it and decided to look at it seriously.     In the days and weeks that followed, Hector sought out information incidentally about Sunday activities at the church. Strange conflicting information came to him that the grand and great grand children of slave owners no longer attended though they continued to live within the area. So essentially the church was run and controlled by the great grand-children of former slaves, Caribbean people.

     The churchgoers were everyday people, who grew up in the neighbourhood as far as he was aware.

    And Hector asked again to conform what he knew,’ And tell me where did you sit again?’

   ‘In the last row, Daddy.’

   ‘And from there do you hear what Father say? I mean clearly’.

    ‘No. Daddy,’ the three answered simultaneously.’ Not at all.’

   ‘And tell me again, who ask you to sit at the back?’

    ‘The priest, Daddy. The man in the long gown. The tall tall man.’

     Confused Hector asked this last question. At least he hoped it would be the last question. ‘And even though you are early someone always ask you to sit at the back?’

     ‘Yes, Daddy,’ Gail said. ‘The Father, Daddy The tall tall man.’

    ‘You’re not lying though?’ he said. ‘Because if you do and I find out, I’ll ground you. All three.’

    Gail said, ‘No, Daddy. Is the truth.’

    ‘And tell me this. ‘He smiled when he asked this question. ‘And tell me again. What happen when   you reach late?’

   Gail, Cole and Edgar looked at one another. Gail said,’ We always early, Daddy.  Is only five minutes walk to the church, Daddy. And we walk fast so we bound to be early.’

     Hector was not pleased at the answers he received and they cast deep doubts in his mind. He could not understand why they were sent at the back. But was he missing something? Were the kids concealing something important even though he always knew they spoke the truth? At least he brought them up in that way. Unable to fully comprehend the situation, he decided to chat with Betty.

     ‘I just don’t understand why our kids are pushed at the back. I just don’t understand.’

     ‘Just leave it there. Nobody touch them. Nobody hit them. They okay.’

    Betty smiled because she did not see why he was creating an issue over something of little value. That something, Betty thought, would soon be forgotten.  She was willing to dismiss the story and end the discussion there but not Hector. He wanted the truth. He looked at her puzzled. What was she driving at? What? Exactly what? Drop the issue? Never. This is my home. I must find out what’s going on here.

    And to his wife, he said, ‘Exactly what you mean, Betty?’

    ‘So,’ she said, and followed it up with a statement explaining why she thought they were placed at the back regularly.’ Maybe they prattling while the priest talking. Is just that. Very simple. And a church is a place to be silent. I would leave it there. If you know children, you’ll leave it there. They’re a bunch of chatterbox.’

    It was an admission that her children could be disruptive although they taught them good manners and behaviour. Hector simply could not override the feeling that something was amiss. In his mind and he did not tell Betty at this point in time but one day soon, he was going to present himself at the service. And he began to think of it. Yes. A visit should settle the issue once and for all. Should he walk to church with the kids or should he drive his Royal Saloon, a car which shouted your status in society. Another hurdle? No. Not really. He would decide on the chosen day how he would make the trip.  

    He thought again of what Betty told him, ‘You never quarrel with anybody. So keep your cool.’ And he intended to do this once no one got him uncontrollably angry. He set out for the church with the word ‘cool’ in his mind but the nearer he got, he found himself thinking that his children forced the authorities to place them at the back for disrupting the service. And this was wrong.  In this way, they would lose what teachings the priest was imparting. He didn’t want that but if his kids were interrupting, what could the authorities do? And perhaps they were right in their action.

    Suddenly this occurred to him. They were obedient children so couldn’t the authorities scold them instead of placing them outside hearing distance? Couldn’t they? Just why they did not? he wanted to know the truth so his kids could grow up into law abiding citizens, God-fearing people.

     He reached the building at exactly five minutes to eight and saw a few church-goers milling around outside. It was a welcoming sight for him because it meant no one would look upon him as a late comer. He smiled to himself. Ha. Me a late comer. Never late to reach anywhere for all my years in England.  Those people know about punctuality.

      Hector walked around the building and entered the church through the back door, where a quick view informed him that on this day, Good Friday, the church would have an overflow of worshippers. Now he knew he could not be easily recognized in the huge congregation. It gave him an advantage. He could observe without interruption. Hector smiled, thinking that all these ladies and gentlemen came to worship on this day. He was shaking his head, acknowledging a bit of truth. His thoughts were on worshippers and the few who by their smile recognized him

   As far as he could see there was no empty seat anywhere. He looked for Gail, Cole and Edgar but did not see them.  Then it dawned upon him that they might be dwarfed in some remote corner.

    Hector was drifting away when the voice of the officiating priest broke the silence.’ Mr. Duncan. Mr. Maingot. Mr. Patterson. Come please.’ There were some quick movements as the trio met the priest and made long strides to the back. Quickly they brought an expensive chair at the front, a chair reserved for special visitors.

     ‘Hello, Mr. Hector,’ Maingot said. ‘Hello, sir. And how are you today? Please follow me. ‘A few church members now recognized Hector as the famous musician and now the famous painter. Hector himself turned around and smiled with them, saying Good Morning. Good Morning. And how  are you?  How do you do?’

    ‘And sir,’ a little boy rushed up to him.’ Could I get your autograph please, sir?’  And three others quickly followed, one even adding, ‘My Miss say you are also a great painter.’

    ‘And a musician.’

    ‘And you won the panorama championship.’

    Hector smiled.  ‘Tell your, Miss, thank you for telling you all about me. Can we talk after. Father wants to begin the service and we’re keeping him back.’

    ‘Come, Mr. Hector. Come, sir. There’s a seat at the front for you.’

     Hector offered a mild resistance but eventually allowed the gentleman to lead him.

    ‘Follow me, sir. Please, sir.’

     Maingot ushered Hector to sit in an honoured chair in the front row reserved for dignitaries as he discovered later. However, he was every second looking around for his children.

     Maingot was waiting on Hector to sit comfortably before he gave the priest the all clear to begin the service. Hector was more concerned about his children. Where were they? He was beginning to understand why the kids were thrown at the back somewhere but where were they at this time? Or were they playing truant? Although he wanted no fight with the management of the church, he wanted all to know that these children were his. If they arrived late for a service, and were given a seat far behind as the only available ones, he would go along with that. If it were otherwise, he would break with the church.

    It was while several thoughts were rushing through his mind, that he heard, ‘Daddy, you come. I’m now seeing you.’

     ‘Oh, Cole. I was looking for you all the time. Where are the others?’

    ‘In the back, Daddy,’ Cole looked down the aisle. ‘Look them there.’ Hector looked down the aisle to see Gail and Edgar running forward to meet him, broad smiles on their faces.

     Hector said, ‘I was looking for you. I could not see you.’

     ‘We were standing up,’ Gail said. ‘We were sitting and a tall tall man ask us to give other people the seat.  And before we could say yes, he pull us off the bench and so we had to remain standing.   

     ‘Oh. Oh. Really?’

     And then a voice interrupted the conversation.  ‘Your children, Mr. Hector?’

     Oh yes. My three little ones.’

    The man continued, ‘So cute. Lovely little darlings. Somebody is naughty to have them stand. ‘He called two of the men who helped with the seating arrangement. ‘Come. Get me three soft chairs  for these lovely darlings. Such lovely kids.’

    Hector heard, digested and said nothing.

    ‘So, Daddy, we’ll get to sit in the front then? Eh, Daddy. And no one will put us in the back again. Will they, Daddy?’ Gail said.

       Edgar said, ‘Eh, Daddy. I always like to sit in front, Daddy. Always. Always. And that is why we always come early.’

      Gail said, ‘You think from today we’ll get to sit regular in front, Daddy?’

     Hector said, ‘I don’t know. I not sure.’ He paused. ‘Mr. Maingot here will see about that.’

     ‘Oh, yes. Oh yes,’ Maingot said. ‘You’ll be at the front from now on. I promise you that. Mr. Hector’s children will be at the front.’

    ‘See,’ Hector said. ‘It’s all fixed.’  Hector took a deep breath. He just could not believe what he heard. He simply could not.

    Maingot said,’ Come little darlings. Come. Sit.  Father wants to begin.’

     Hector, understanding a bit,  said, ‘Let’s all sit together and enjoy everything about this place. It’s such a lovely place. isn’t it so, Mr. Maingot.’

    Maingot nodded and smiled and Father began the service immediately.

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Vishnu Gosine
Vishnu Gosine

A retired teacher. His short fiction appeared in newspapers, magazines (The Caribbean Writer, BIM) and anthologies and broadcast on the local radio stations and on the BBC. He has authored three works of fiction, including The 'Twelve o’ Clock Man'. His latest novel, 'SONIA', will be published by JAV Publishing House in 2023.

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