Harold tried to get past them, but they were standing right in the doorway. They snatched every warm body that passed and then planted a couple of kisses, and gave a long, drawn out hug. It felt strange to him to be greeted by strangers this way, but Felecia, his girlfriend, didn't mind at all. She grabbed onto any living thing in a two-foot radius and hung on for dear life. Then they gravitated towards the lines of pews that lined the inside of the church they were attending that Sunday morning. After about two rows, Harold plopped down in the first empty seat.
"Not there," Felecia said. "We have to sit up towards the front."
"That matters?" Harry asked.
"You can't sit this far back babe. How are you going to get the full message of the sermon?"
Harold pleaded ignorance and then walked up to the second row with Felecia. As they sat there waiting for the worship service to start, she leaned over and placed a small peck on the side of Harold's jaw.
"It's sweet of you to come here with me Harold," she whispered. "I haven't been to a church since I was about fourteen."
"There's no need for thanks honey. I can't even remember the last time I came to church. Maybe it'll do me some good."
That was a lie actually. Harry did remember the last time he attended a service. It was when he was a freshman at USC, and the girl he had been pursuing for the past six months finally gave him the time of day, but only on the condition that he would go to church with her the whole time they dated. So Harold would go and sit stone faced while the preacher went on about Simon Peter, and how close he was to Jesus. Or maybe about King David and all 150 psalms that he wrote. One week he even learned about Paul of Tarsus writing some letters to the Corinthians. Harold endured this for about a month and a half before he decided to move on to more unsoundly, and promiscuous, women.
Felecia was one of those women, in the beginning. They had sex for the first time after their second date, and Felecia rarely got on him for his behavior. She didn't even object to him and his friends smoking an occasional joint in her car, providing they roll down the windows and not burn holes in the seat. These were a few of the main reasons that Harry had stayed with Felecia the six months they had been together. It was like this until Harold moved in. That was when she got this strange urge to go back to church. It didn't have to be her old church, just a church. She would tell Harold that she felt empty inside, and it was a feeling that only the Holy Ghost could heal. Harry agreed, mostly thinking that religion was just a phase and she would grow out of it like any normal person.
While the band set up to start, Harry fidgeted in his seat and then began thumbing through the bibles that were placed on the back of the pews. After the band was all tuned and ready, he was surprised to see everybody stand up and begin to clap their hands and belt out the lyrics at the top of their lungs. Even Felecia stood and began to raise her arms and wail out "praise the lord" every couple of minutes. She felt joyous and rid of her emptiness almost instantly. After the second song, Harold noticed that he was the only person in the entire church still sitting. This made him feel awkward, so he stood up. At first he stood there motionless, but after a couple more tunes, he felt his body swaying slightly to the beat and after a while he was clapping his hands and enjoying himself. It was easy to see why Felecia liked going to church so much now, he thought. All they did was sing and dance! That's when the music stopped, and everyone remained standing while the pastor walked up to his podium to address the multitude.
"Praise God!" he screamed.
"PRAISE GOD!" the masses said.
"What a lovely day God has given us?"
"Amen!" Felecia shouted.
"Now for those of you who aren't our regular crowd," the pastor went on, "we usually put aside this time of the service to welcome any new faces that might have graced our presence today. Do we have any first time visitors?"
Felecia's tiny, brown arm shot into the air and waved back and forth. As Harold looked around, he noticed about six other hands being raised.
"Could everybody besides our visitors please take a seat? I'd like to get a good look at these gifts from God."
One by one the preacher asked what their names were, where they were from, and if they belonged to a regular church. Four of them were from out of state, visiting family that attended the church. Two others seemed like winos that had just came in off the street, though no one seemed to mind. That's when it was Harold and Felecia's turn.
"Good morning brothers and sisters of the Lord," Felecia said. "My name is Felecia Morgan; this is my boyfriend Harold Anderson. We don't belong to a church right now, but we are both excited to be in the presence of the savior Jesus Christ this morning!"
Speak for yourself, Harry thought when he heard what she said.
"Hallelujah!" was the answer that they got from the congregation.
"Amen," Harry said.
Both began to take their seats, but the pastor interrupted before they were situated.
"Excuse me young man," he said. "We didn't hear from you, brother."
"Me?" Harry asked.
"Yes you. Brother Harold, please stand up and tell us something about yourself."
Harold rolled his tongue around his mouth, searching for the right thing to say.
"Well, I've enjoyed myself so far."
Everyone began to clap after that. A grin flashed across the pastor's face as he waited for the ovation to die down. Harry just stood there with a dumb look plastered on his face. Felecia was just proud of her love Harold and was mostly glad that he was at church at all, getting the good word.
"Well that's good to hear my brother. My name is Pastor Solomon Lemour, and I'm very happy that you are enjoying your visit here."
After that the whole church rose up and began to greet one another. People lined up in the aisles, kissing and embracing one another as if they hadn't seen them in ages, although it had only been a week at the most. Harold felt the awkwardness come back while he was greeting everyone, but he hid it well under a fake smile and a firm handshake. Felecia on the other hand was the happiest that she had been since she first starting to date Harold. She didn't feel the usual melancholy and strife that sat on her shoulders everyday. She felt uplifted, like she could take on the world all by her lonesome.
After that was over, everyone took his or her seats and Pastor Lemour opened his bible. He began his lesson on suffering, and how Job had to endure countless atrocities to test his faith in God. Felecia had brought along a notepad in her purse, and she jotted down everything that Pastor Solomon said that seemed relevant to her. While she was doing this, Harry was reenacting the UFC pay per view he had watched the night before in his head. When the preacher had gotten to the part about Job finally complaining about his misery, he had been through two fights on the card, the first one by decision, and the second match won by an armbar in the first round. By the time the main event was rolling around, he noticed that the sermon was over, and that people were standing in a huge circle around the pews in order to leave the service with one final prayer.
"Can't we just leave now?" he asked Felecia quietly.
"Harold!" she scolded back. "What if we crash and die on the way home? Do you really want to die without speaking to the Lord one more time?"
Harold agreed, even though he had never had the fear of not being able to speak to God one last time before his demise. It seemed pointless really, seeing as God knows all. If there was anything that Harry needed to get off his chest before he died, he figured an all-powerful being like Jesus or whatever would know what it was anyways.
They joined hands with the people of the church and then bowed their heads and closed their eyes. Harold listened to the first part of the prayer, but after the first five minutes he realized that this wasn't going to be along the lines of saying grace before Thanksgiving dinner. Pastor Lemour was going all over the place with this one. He prayed for all those kids in Iraq fighting for our country. Then he started on about giving the President the wisdom to know how to run the country. After that, he began to pray for all the AIDS victims, the cancer patients, and the people that filled the prisons. He began to pray for every minority group that he could think of, and by the time he had gotten to the gang members, Harry had finally gotten through the third fight, a knockout in the first. He felt it was definitely worth the sixty dollars he shelled out in order to buy it.
That's when he heard it. At first he thought it was some foreign language that he had never heard before. It sounded Middle-Eastern, or something along those lines. Then, when he looked up to see what it was that was making the strange noise, he noticed that it was a woman talking. She was shaking from head to toe, eyes planted firmly on the floor. Spit started to fly out of her open mouth, and she began to wobble back and forth. It was then he realized that the woman was speaking in tongues, something that Felecia had explained to him a couple weeks ago when she had started to talk about going back to church. It was a way for people to speak to God in a more spiritual sense, or something along those lines.
"So you're saying that God teaches people how to speak in a different language?" he had asked her.
"Well, not exactly." Felecia had said. "It's not a language you and I would be able to understand. It's something that people speak when they get overtaken by the spirit."
When she had explained it then, it confused him. Now that he was witnessing it with his own eyes and ears, it seemed ridiculous. It sounded as if the woman was speaking gibberish, and he felt himself start to smile and then, to his surprise, a faint snicker rose up from inside his chest. Soon after that, he felt his chest rising up in down with laughter that he couldn't stop. That was when he felt the sudden pain in his hand. Felecia had noticed his sniggering and began to squeeze his hand with all her might. She wanted to twist and wrench his hand right off his wrist for being so damned malicious and ignorant, but all she could do was pinch as hard as she could. She did this so hard that it started to make his knuckles rub against each other. When Harold locked eyes with her, he saw tiny pools of tears building up under them. Then she let go of his hand and made her way towards the exit.
He followed suit, cursing himself for not waiting until he was with his friends later on to laugh about the utter insanity that he saw that morning. A few people noticed that the chain of hands had been broken and looked up to see what was going on. He tried to avoid their faces, keeping his view set onto the burgundy carpet while he tried to hurry his steps in order to catch Felecia before she got to the door. When he grabbed her arm, she jerked it away and burst outside into the parking lot. He followed and got into the car, not saying anything to her the whole fifteen-minute ride home. When they arrived there, she flopped onto the bed and sobbed quietly for some time before falling asleep. Harold sat in the living room, not really sure how to go about fixing things.