A Stranger in my Hometown

By Selma

"When you take one step out of your hometown, you're in somebody else's hometown. So the whole world's a hometown"– Sumiko Kimura

This small town houses a big Catholic Church juxtaposed across from the Central Park which is four times its size. The park with its spreading Cohune Palm trees and donated steel benches is a constant hub of excitement for the locals. There are other parks but this is the one that everyone passes through en route to the Farmers Market, to the Public Clinic, to the Post Office, to the Police Station, to the elementary school, to the Town Library, to the Town Hall, to the Bus Terminal, and to Church. All the able-bodied townspeople walk through this park at least once during the week.

There are no strangers in small towns; everyone knows everyone and depending on the day and on the time of the day, everyone knows where everyone is at any given time. Even tourists become small-town dwellers soon; people are always friendly and welcoming in small towns. That was the strange thing about the young girl and her two male companions; no one knew a thing about who they were and when they had arrived. The girl's thin, pale face met mine as I hurried along to Saturday-evening Services.  She sat with her legs spread out and her arms crossed on the far end of the bench while her two older looking male companions seemed to be whispering something to each other.

Perhaps she is the daughter of one of the men, I remember thinking, but why are they whispering as if she wasn't right there? That's not very nice, I told myself.

The last bell had just rang to announce the 6 o'clock hour as I stepped into church.  The congregation stood up and the entrance hymn began. On entering, I dipped my fingers into the marble bowl of holy water, crossed myself slowly and looked around for an empty seat. Everyone stood so this made it hard to know if a pew was full or not. I discreetly walked to the back of the church where empty stools lined the walls. I choose an empty one closest to the door.

It's way too far from the alter so I'll skip communion today, I reasoned with myself.

If I had made it in at least three minutes before the first hymn I would have chosen a seat in the left end of the church; close enough to the alter so that I wouldn't have to endure the stares of the others for too long when I went to receive communion, yet far enough so that I could render them the same service of staring. But had I been there early I wouldn't have been privy to what came next.

“…Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, grant us peace,” we all recited in unison. And then the kneeling Alter-girl rang the little bells and the congregation stood up.

The girl from the park  walked in with an empty coke bottle in her hand. She dipped it into the holy water and held it there until it got half full. She glanced over her right shoulder and nodded and then, with exaggerated lip-gestures, she said 'I know' with her entire face, probably to her father.  Suddenly there were three loud bangs. Glass shattered behind me and the congregation roared loudly. I clasped my fingers behind my head and shielded my ears shut with my arms.  My body contorted into a fetal position on the floor, with my back to the wall.  There I laid, like a cockroach hoping to blend into the wall. I tried hard to keep my eyes open but tears blurred my vision. I don't think that I opened my mouth to utter a sound but I could hear my crying voice loud and clear in my head going Oh my God, Oh my God, Oh my God for a long time.

I stayed in that position for I don't know how long. Then I slowly uncurled and opened my eyes as wide as I could. I immediately thought that I was probably the last one to emerge from the rubble because by the time I straightened up, the noise inside the church had subsided and the siren outside had stopped.  I don't know when it had arrived, but I could see, even without having to look outside, that the lights were flashing.

Glass windows had lined the walls except for the one place where I had been sitting.  The window behind me was boarded up. I turned my attention to it and suddenly remembered the shopkeeper retelling a story to another customer.

Yeah, they broke into the church. Unbelievable, she had said. People have no respect these days. They break into the house of God and what can they take? The Challis, the crucifix, what? And even if they could take that what good would that do them? she had asked rhetorically. I was just too busy to partake in the chatter and went about my business.  I don't recall her mentioning then though, that the window through which the thief had entered was boarded-up with fine Ziricote wood awaiting repairs, but I came to that conclusion on seeing the boarded-up window.

I looked around and saw a young girl sobbing outside directly behind the window where I stood.

No, wait a minute! There are still a lot of people inside and outside.  But they are all very quiet now. I heard myself thinking those words.  They motioned with exaggerated hand gestures and their lips seem to be screaming out, but their words bounced off me without reaching my ears. I clasped my hands behind my head like I had done when I first heard the big blast that almost deafened me. I squeezed both arms close to my ears.  I relaxed my grip and tried it again, but still I could hear nothing.

"Oh my great God, what's happening to me. I can't hear a sound!" I yelled those words. Some people looked in my direction and then some came running towards me.  I looked at my arms that had clenched my ears shut and saw that they were bloodied. My knuckles were bloodied too.  I fainted.

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