grabbed Odell’s right hand with his two gloved ones.
“Brother Rawlins,” he said to me.
“Mo’nin’, Jackie,” I said. I didn’t like the man, and one thing I can’t stand is calling a man you don’t like “brother.”
Odell said, “Easy say he wanna do some work fo’ the church, Jackie. I tole’im ’bout Mr. Wenzler, you know how you said Chaim might need a driver.”
It was the first I’d heard of it.
But Jackie said, “Yeah, yeah, that’s right. So you wanna help out, huh, Brother Rawlins?”
“That’s right. I heard that you been doin’ some good work wit’ old people an’ the sick.”
“You got that right! Reverend Towne don’t believe that charity is just a word. He knows what the Lord’s work is, amen on that.”
A couple of the deacons seconded his amen.
Two of the deacons were just boys. I guess they had to join a gang one way or another, and the church won out.
The other two were old men. Gentle, pious men who could hold a jostling, impetuous baby boy in their arms all day and never complain, or even think about complaining. They’d never want Jackie’s senior position, because that was something outside their place.
Jackie was a political man. He wanted power in the church, and being deacon was the way to get it. He might have been thirty but he held himself like a mature man in his forties or fifties. Older men gave him leeway because they could sense his violence and his vitality. The women sensed something else, but they let him get away with his act too.
I said, “I got a lotta free time in the day, Jackie, and I could get my evenings pretty free if I had t’. You know Mofass an’ me got a understandin’ so that I can always make a little time. An’ Odell says that’s what you need, a man who could make some free time.”
“That’s right. Why’ont you come over tomorrow, around four. That’s when we have the meetin’.”
We shook hands and I went away.
Etta was looking for me. She was ready for the word of God.
I could have used a drink.
— 12 —
F IRST AFRICAN WAS A BEAUTIFUL CHURCH on the inside too. A large rectangular room with a thirty-foot ceiling that held two hundred chairs on a gently sloping floor. The rows of seats came down in two tiers toward the pulpit. The podium that stood up front was a light ash stand adorned with fresh yellow lilies and draped with deep purple banners. Behind the minister’s place, slightly off to the left, rose thirty plush velvet chairs, in three rows, for the choir.
There were six stained-glass windows on either side of the room. Jesus at the mountain, John the Baptist baptizing Jesus, Mary and Mary Magdalen prostrate before the Cross. Bright cellophane colors: reds, blues, yellows, browns, and greens. Each window was about fifteen feet high. Giants of the Bible shining down on us mortals.
We might have been poor people but we knew how to build a house of prayer, and how to bury our loved ones.
Etta and I went to seats toward the middle of the room. She sat next to Ethel Marmoset and I sat on the aisle. Odell and Mary sat in front of us. Jackson and Rita stood at the back. People were coming in through the three large doors at the back of the church, and they were all talking, but in hushed tones so that there was a feeling of silence against the hubbub of voices.
When everybody was seated or situated in back, Melvin Pride came down the center aisle with Jackie Orr at his heel. Melvin was what First African called a senior deacon, a man who has paid his dues. While they came in I noticed that the other deacons had spaced themselves evenly along either side of the congregation. The choir, dressed in purple satin gowns, entered from behind the pulpit and stood before the red velvet chairs.
Finally, Winona Fitzpatrick came down the aisle, twenty feet behind Melvin and Jackie. She was the chairwoman of the church council. Winona was large woman in a loose black gown and a wide-brimmed black hat that had a