By Michael G. Glab
— Forty-nine —
A young woman clears her throat and the dozen or so other women sitting in folding chairs in a circle with her fall silent. She smiles beatifically, looking right and left.
“Welcome, sisters,” she says. “My name is Hagar. It’s a slave name.”
Anna tries to check Tami’s reaction out of the corner of her eye. Nothing. Tami, the only black person in the room, is busy scribbling on a notepad on her knee. The young woman continues.
“Like our Afro-American sisters, I found it necessary to change my name. I chose not to be branded by the label put on me by the oppressive hierarchy. I was baptized Mary Pat,” she says. Two or three of the sisters in the circle titter.
“I decided that my life wouldn’t be pat.” More titters.
“I also decided I didn’t want my name to honor a woman whose only accomplishment in life was to be a virgin.” The titters spread.
Anna’s eyes widen. She’s right, Anna thinks, but she’d better be careful talking that way about the Mother of God.
The young woman goes on. “So I chose the name Hagar. It’s from the Old Testament. Hagar was Sarah’s slave. Sarah was barren so she gave Hagar to her husband Abraham so he could father a child. Can you believe it? She gave this woman to her husband.”
Anna thinks, Hmm, I did not know that. Naturally, she wouldn’t since Catholics long have been forbidden to read the Bible. Grandma Luisa told her that when Anna was a little girl. Every Catholic home must have a Bible in it, preferably on a table near the front door, Grandma instructed. But under no circumstances were they to open and read it. The Bible, the priests always warned, was filled with riddles and mysteries and arcane messages. It was far too easy to become confused by it. Look what happened when all those Lutherans started reading it!
The young woman expounds. “Hagar represents all the oppressed woman of the Bible.” She pauses for effect. “I apologize for being redundant,” she chuckles. “I think we can all agree the every woman in the Bible was oppressed.” She glances from left to right again. “Not much has changed in a few thousand years, I guess,” she says. Titters and nods.
Tami, though, continues to jot furiously in her notebook. Anna pretends to stretch her neck, as if to relieve a kink. In reality, she’s trying to see what Tami’s writing but the angle isn’t quite right.
Little does Anna know but the young woman’s tidbit on Hagar of the Book of Genesis is only the preamble to a lengthy lecture on the sad, sorry lot of women throughout history. Nine of the woman nod in agreement as the young woman drones on. Only the young woman herself, Tami, and Anna are not nodding. The young woman is busy droning. Tami is busy writing notes. And Anna is busy falling asleep.
Now and again, Anna snaps awake. Embarrassed, she looks around to see if anyone has noticed but fortunately the women are engrossed. All, that is, except Tami whose furious note-taking seems to be slowing down. The third time Anna snaps awake, she notices Tami’s pen has stopped moving.
Now Anna is dreaming. Hands caress her bare skin. A pair. Two pairs, then three. Soon she can’t even count the hands anymore. And, sure enough, some of those hands are dark-skinned. Anna has never felt so warm in public, so deliciously bad.
Anna feels is if she’s about to arch her back when — bang! — she’s awakened by a thunderclap, an explosion, the slap of the hand of Mary, the Mother of God, across her cheek.
Even Hagar jumps in her seat. Eleven pairs of eyes turn to the floor in front of Tami. Her notebook has fallen. Tami awakens with a snort. Anna covers her mouth to hide her smile.
Hagar quickly wraps up the final 30 years of female suffering. She asks, “Should we do this again next Sunday? Let’s see a show of hands.” Eleven hands go up.
As the women stand and put on their winter coats, Tami whispers to Anna. “I am so sorry,” she says.
Anna whispers back: “It’s okay, I fell asleep too.” The two giggle.
“I like you,” Tami says. “What are you doing right now? You wanna go sit somewhere and have a cup of coffee?”
Anna says, “I have a better idea. Let’s go sit somewhere and have a drink.”
“I like the way you think,” Tami says, grinning.
The two walk out in the December gray to Tami’s Volkswagen Beetle. “Sorry,” Tami says as she starts it up, “the heater doesn’t work. Where we goin’?”
“Let’s go up to North Avenue. We’ll go to Doc Ryan’s.”
“Point the way, lady,” Tami says.
Doc Ryan’s is fairly crowded for a Sunday afternoon. The Bears are on the black and white TV above the bar. They are playing the last game of the year, manhandling the woebegone New Orleans Saints. The Bears have scored a late touchdown making it 24-3. Anna and Tami can hear the crowd roar inside as they get out of the Beetle. A light snow is beginning to fall.
“Sounds like fun,” Tami says.
Anna says, “It’s not fun. It’s football.”
“I like football. I like Dick Gordon. He’s fine,” Tami says, drawing out the word.
“I don’t really dislike football,” Anna says, although she loathes it. “It’s exciting.”
“So is Dick Gordon,” Tami says.
“Don’t I know it!”
The two enter Doc Ryan’s. The cheering, which had been dying down already, comes to a sudden halt. Several dozen white male heads turn toward them. The tinny blare of the television is the only sound in the place.
Anna thinks, Ooh, this is one big mistake.
To be continued
All fictional characters, descriptions, and situations are the property of the author.