Return to Hilltop Church

I remembered Mara’s Hilltop church in all its faded glory.

The imposing gray Romanesque façade rising above the busy, dirty street—the broad, shallow steps leading up to the impressive portico and a trio of wooden doors —the pigeons flying out of the unused bell tower—the terraced grounds bordered on all sides by wrought-iron fencing—it was familiar and alien to me at the same time. I wondered at Mara—would she not have liked to attend a smaller church—maybe like Zuri’s? I could not account for why she chose to drive all the way to the inner city to Hilltop church full of people and a sea of faces, when there were smaller churches—of her denomination too—much closer to home. But I figured Mara’s subconscious thing for cathedral-like places of worship was a remnant of her shameful Catholic past.

It was raining and crowded in the portico, so I could not wait for Tony outside, and as Mara and I shared an umbrella, I had no choice but to follow her up the steps and into the church.

There were greeters at the door and at the lobby. They were the deaconesses. They wore name badges on their sober navy-blue suit ensemble. All of them wore flat shoes, flesh-toned nylons, and the hem of their pencil skirts fell below the knee. They greeted me warmly and handed me a church bulletin.

I’d not been shot down—yet.

Despite myself, I glanced around me curiously, stealing glances at people’s faces seeking out any familiar features while I waited around for Mara to finish speaking with this or that church sister. Once she was done, she looked at me, and I could see she was surprised that I was still sticking around, “Where is your friend?”

I had not seen him, “I don’t know. Maybe he is running late.”

“Sabbath school is about to start.”

“Can I wait for him here? I’ll join you once he gets here.”

“Don’t you want to go with the young people?”

I bristled at the thought, “Do I have to?”

“No. But there’s only older people where I’m at.”

“I don’t mind,” I shrugged, thinking back to the Monday night study group—they were all old.

“As you wish, then. Fifth pew from the front, left side.” Mara said, as if I could forget the spot we’d sat at for years. There we’d sat when, decked in our best, we had first come to this church–back then father had been holding my hand as well as Mara’s. There we endured the pity and inquisitiveness of our brethren some years later when Mara and I came in by ourselves with scandal trailing behind us. There I’d writhed and suffered agonies pretending that life was OK and growing increasingly angry at seeing Mara’s enormous efforts to keep up the act. All this, and Mara still wanted to know why I had left the church? I shook my head, and tried to clear my mind of things from the past. I was trying to give myself a second chance. I had to let things go…right?

So we parted; Mara went in through the doors to the sanctuary and I went to the far left, to a little hidden bench next to a fake palm tree where I could see the people who stepped in through the main door. I sat and I waited and waited for Tony to arrive.

But he didn’t come.


Part 20 – If You Only Knew

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