Bible, hymn book, Holy Communion booklet and I was set for Christmas service. I hadn’t been to church for a couple of Sundays now but there was no way I doing that with Christmas service too.
By 9:15, I was in the church compound. Seeing no parked cars around, I realized I had either being misinformed about the 9:15 time or service was going to start late as usual or maybe Mary was still in labour. That didn’t put me off in any way. I somehow knew Christmas service was gonna rock. Something kept telling me that and I wasn’t gonna stop ‘faithing’ just yet.
Well, church service finally started at 10:00. And I left at eleven after a few good and sweet hymns have been sung in the most boring way. This was the most boring Christmas service ever.
But as I was leaving, I was smiling. Now the smile didn’t have anything to do with what had happened between 10 and 11. The smile was because of what happened between 9:15 and 10:00.
I had entered the church building not really expecting to see anyone. But there she was. Someone I had loved since I was a child. Beautiful as always. A little fairer now. There was a period in my life I loved her more than anybody else. That was how much I was crazy about her. I stood at the door admiring her like I had always done in the years. I wouldn’t have stopped if the children hadn’t chorused ‘Mary’. She noticed me and stopped for a while. That smile again. I went over and whispered to her that I would just sit and listen to her.
She is more than seventy now. She has new set of children now. In fact, she has had a few sets of children since I stopped Sunday School about twelve years ago. I didn’t stop actually. I had remained after most of my mates and even those younger than me hadleft. I had become one of the Sunday School teachers. Then along came a university admission and I left. Up till that point, she and a few family members had thought I was going to be a priest. I even thought so too. (Maybe my crush a priest’s daughter had something to do with me thinking that way.)
As I sat down and listened to her, fond memories of the singing competitions, Boy’s and Girl’s Brigade and children’s harvest all came back. And the girls too. Back then the girls made church much more interesting. It was the same story we heard every year but somehow still enjoyed listening to it each year. The pregnant virgin. John the Baptist. Angel Gabriel. The three wise men. Herod. The manger. Simeon. The stars. The shepherds.
Everything seemed the same. Just that now, she was much older and slower. She didn’t talk too much too. But she still ‘talked’. She still had the same love for children. The same love she had loved us for thirty four years.
I shifted my attention to the children for a while. Things hadn’t changed for them too. They still wore the bright new Christmas dresses. New rubber watches and rubber glasses. Their moods were still the same – joyful. Even the dusty heads that had big round patches dandruffs and ringworms were still shaking very happily. Looking at the children, you would have this feeling that nothing could change that joyful mood. What mattered to them most was that they had new clothes and shoes. A lot were not even paying attention. But that didn’t stop them from chanting ‘Mary’, ‘Emmanuel’ and other answers to questions she would ask them from time to time.
As the children’s Christmas service drew to an end, I realized she actually taught me a lot of things. Traveling had made me realize I was a better person because of all those years I spent with her. I remember her telling me she was disappointed that I was the ‘poet’ behind a particular ‘popular’ love letter. The letter was actually written by me but a friend had employed me to write it. We didn’t really consider rewriting the letter. Probably because they thought I had a good writing. Somehow the girls knew my writing then. I was that ‘popular’ then. She told me she wasn’t going to take any further actions on that letter but warned me very seriously not to try it again. She got more letters written by me but never my handwriting again.
As we said the grace, I kept looking at her wondering if she still had that letter. If she ever read it again.
Then I walked home from church on 25th December 2010 smiling and realizing that I’ve really missed those days… and the girls… and the love letters.