A Cup of Tea in Church

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By Mike Hazard

I don’t know if you know how uncomfortable it is to sit in the front pews facing the congregation. I actually don’t know if anyone knows. Otherwise, they wouldn’t put those seats there. There is a piercing gaze from people that can possibly cause a crack in a wall. There weren’t many people in church yet, but this still was not a consolation. It was uncomfortable.

I was in a suit. Well, I had a pair of black shoes, a pair of trousers that barely touched the ankles, and a shirt on at the same time. I guess that counts as a suit. Oh yes, and a coat – purple in color, the buttons couldn’t meet with the button holes, and the arms shied from the wrists by a couple of inches. The suit was uncomfortable. The benches were uncomfortable.

People staring at you was uncomfortable. In front of us was this low Formica table, a favorite in this parts of the world. On it a flask of tea, a favorite in this parts of the world. Someone was either trying to sing or was singing. No one would judge you for not knowing the difference. A hoarse voice came from his mouth like it was being industrially manufactured in the stomach.

Echoes bounced angrily around the walls of the still mostly empty little church, the words of the songs slapping our ears. People, it seemed, only came to church after the offering had been collected. Someone else, an elderly lady, was passing metallic cups around to those of us seated at the front. They made noise, rhythmically by accident. You’d be mistaken to think it was part of the praise and worship. Like they had practiced it. From experience, practice is a strange word here.

The old lady poured tea into our cups. It was only us, those seated in the front pews facing the congregation, who were worthy to drink tea as service continued. As others stared at us jealously. The person singing could have been tired or hungry or both. Perhaps that’s why he turned his head to look back. Either to see whether the Pastor will signal him to stop and move on to the next part of the service. Or maybe he was just confirming whether there was an extra cup of tea for him.Unfortunately there wasn’t!

There was an awkward silence, one that lingered on a second too long. A perfect moment for me to sip on my tea, I thought. So I did. The pastor signaled him to continue. The silence continued. He cleared his throat and asked the less than 15 congregants to clap their hands, and they responded. It seemed like he had run out of songs. I took another sip. The tea could have done with a bit more sugar and milk. It was hot, the tea, not the weather. Amazingly hot considering the amount of time it had spent in the cup.

The metallic cups didn’t help either. Actually, the cups were not metallic, its just that, that’s the closest I can describe cups that were made of iron sheets (if you know, you know) and that doesn’t sit well in the head. I took another sip. And added another cup. He burst out into another song, a song he had sung before but this time with a bit less enthusiasm as we had witnessed earlier.

Two people emerged from the door behind, trying as much as possible not to be seen. One of them, a tall lanky gentleman who you couldn’t tell whether he was old or young, hit his forehead on the door frame as he entered. Everybody turned, causing a stir, distracting the already worn out song leader. Most people missed it, and murmurs flew around as they tried to figure out what just happened. This was the only advantage of sitting at the front, where you had the whole view of the thing. I didn’t have to bend my neck to see just about the only exciting thing, so far, depending on where you see it from, that had happened on that particular Sunday morning.

This could have been any other Sunday where I could have gone to Sunday School, not listened but still somehow managed to answer some questions, but it wasn’t. We were not even in our church. We were at a church across the river, probably an hours walk from home. There was a harambee and we were the guest of honors. Well, my grandmother was but she opted to send us, my uncle and I. My uncle had just cleared high school and I had just been baptized, so this definitely made us guest of honors who are worthy. To be a guest of honor, you had to have a bit of cash. This wasn’t a worry for us, we had just sold the big cockerel. As a guest of honor, you also had to preach. Now, this was a worry. I don’t think my uncle had prepared.

On the walk to the church, he told me I will stand and read the verses in the bible that he will preach from. I don’t know whether you know this but the bible is a pretty huge book with verses and chapters that you have to find before you read them. This isn’t as easy as it sounds for a twelve-year-old. The funny bit ends here. If indeed it was. The verses my uncle told me to read were not there, I couldn’t find them. It’s not like I could have read them anyway, the bible was in vernacular. I was already at the pulpit, flipping through the pages. The stress induced situation somehow caused the several cups of tea I had partook to put more pressure on my bladder.

The kind of pressure that I knew if I did not release soon, I would have something else, other than finding a scripture, to worry about. The only thing working for me at that point was that I was just a fraction taller than the pulpit. This meant no one could see tears building in my eyes and making a home on my lower eyelids. “How did it go?” My grandmother asked when we got home later that evening. She was busy doing something.

She was always busy doing something. There was a lightness in her step as she moved from the kitchen to the main house. There, she sat, legs crossed on the table, waiting to hear all the stories. A curious anticipation in her eyes, a radiant smile on her face like someone who knew the answer to the question she asked. We had been taught that if you go somewhere and they feed you well, it is important to acknowledge that indeed you were fed well. “They fed us quite well.” We responded, almost in unison.Chat Conversation EndType a message…

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