The excitement in the room was contagious. Three rows behind us was the Queen’s Hallelujah Quartet – four women whooping, and hollering, and screaming “AMEN!” every time there was mention of the Fragrance Protector’s accomplishments. Finally, she came to the tiny stage. I strained my neck to get a better look her. As she prepared to speak, the room crackled with electricity. A man in the front row shinnied his shoulders as though passing the wave from his arms to the next congregant. The Quartet broke into raucous tongues of praise.
“Eee yayaya e BOW sha ba!”
Ah. Was this woman the Queen?
She was my height; no more than 5’4” tall, and she was elderly. She wore priestly robes, with vestments of royal blue and shimmering white. The jet black wig that settled precariously upon her head reminded me of Marla Gibbs, circa The Jeffersons. Her voice was not strong and clear, but there was an explanation for this. She had been ill.
“When I was laying on my back and couldn’t ascend the top of my stairs, I told God ‘If ya get me to the top, I’ll praise You Lord!’ There wasn’t much I could do in my state, but I could still praise the Lord!”
At the mention of “praise” the church broke into yet another praise break. The Hallelujah Quartet, all women of no less than 60 years old, rushed to the front of the tiny church, jigging, and jiving and holy twerking. One particularly rambunctious woman – covered from head to toe in Pepto Purple and a shoulder length synthetic weave – shuffled down the narrow aisle, eyes wide and intent. At any moment I expected Michael Jackson to blow into the room screaming “This is thriller!!”
He didn’t, however.
True to her word, the Protector did not speak long. I am ashamed to say that I can’t recall anything that was particularly stirring in my spirit. That’s probably because I’m probably ankle deep in sin myself. Who am to judge the godliness of others?
There were two other speakers who came on stage. A bishop and an Overseer. They exhorted those who were about to take the oath of ministry to preach the “whole Bible, not just the parts that made people comfortable.” I looked about the room and wondered if that method would really be received in this ministry.
I was beginning to get weary. It was Sunday night after all, and M5X and I had to wake up the next morning to get our kids to school. Her cousin had not yet been ordained. We waited another 45 minutes to no avail. Another praise break had broken out, and the three of us slipped out of the building into the rain. It was going to be a long drive back up north.
“There is so much to discuss,” muttered Elder B as we approached her car. I couldn’t wait to hear her take. She shushed me when I began the conversation.
“No, no! We have to wait until we get into the car!”
When the doors were shut, I let out the guffaw I’d been holding in all night.
“Ok. How about when Elias Cotton said ‘Stand on your feet if your ankles can support your own weight’?”
“Right! He would say stuff, and then act like he didn’t say it!”
“My favorite part is when he said ‘I don’t have time to tell you what to do. You know what to do! Rebuke your own spirit!’”
As we discussed the night’s shenanigans, I discovered I was alone in my assessment. Elder B and M5X both felt as though the presence of the Lord was in that place. I guess I was wrong. They are both leaders in our church, and they would recognize God’s presence better than I would.
Soon we make it off the back roads and were speeding up I-285. In the darkness, a cloud of red break lights appeared. Why on earth was there traffic at this hour? Surely it wasn’t because of the rain?
We stopped and waited for our lane to move along. Soon, blue and red lights were flashing beside our car. There had been a horrible accident involving a tractor/trailer. We were stuck. Elder B flipped through her smart phone and discovered that we were looking at an estimated three hours before crews had the mess cleaned up.
“11:30 pm? Are you sure?” asked M5X.
“That’s what it says.”
She shut off her engine and we prepared to while away the time, noting that if we had known we were going to be sitting in traffic until almost midnight, we could have just waited at the church!
We chatted about any number of current events until I realized something terrible 30 minutes later: I had to pee.
I made the announcement to my companions, who asked me what I planned to do about it. Since none of us had a phone that was completely charged (mine had died while I was on Facebook and M5X hadn’t charged hers all day), my walking to the next exit was out of the question.
“It’s raining, it’s dark and you’re in heels, Malaka. How far do you really think you’re going to get?”
They were right, of course…but I had to do something. We were in the middle lane, so peeing in the middle of the road was out of the question. If only we were closer to the median! My bladder was straining against my abdominal walls. Soon, I recalled something my sister had told me just a week before. In a similar, desperate situation, she had peed into her son’s diaper while at a train station. Luckily, I had one of Liya’s pull-ups lingering in my purse. I told my companions about my plan and prepared to execute it.
“I’m going to put on this pull-up, step outside, and pee into it,” I announced boldly, unzipping my skirt.
I’ll spare you the remaining mechanical details and skip to the results. Suffice to say that toddler pull-ups are not possess the structural capacity to support the full weight and fluid contents of an adult sized bladder. In the end, I essentially peed all over myself, and all over Elder B’s back seat by extension. The car reeked of my hot urine, and B had very little in her survival kit. Somehow, she unearthed three towels of various sizes, some wet wipes and some hand sanitizer. I cleaned myself as best as possible. I would have been ashamed, had it not been for the intense hunger I was experiencing.
I offered again to walk to the exit to get us some chicken.
“Aren’t you guys hungry?” I asked.
“Well, yeah, but you can’t walk to the exit to get food!” they objected in near unison. “It’s a mile away!”
We battled about the merits of my walking to the exit until I finally gave in. My skirt was stained anyway, and I couldn’t convincingly blame it on the drizzle outside. We diverted ourselves by dreaming up the contents of the emergency car kits we were going to build when we got home.
“What are you going to put in yours?”
“A blanket,” said M5X.
“Some flares,” said Elder B.
“An empty can to pee in,” I answered.
And then a miracle happened – we began to move! We cheered jubilantly. The ordeal was over. We had only been stalled for an hour and a half, not three! As we drove home, I re-read the exit sign I imagined myself walking towards an hour before.
Oh, Lord. God was truly smiling on me that night. Hollowell used to be Bankhead Highway, before it was renamed. It is arguably the most deadly street in all of Atlanta. My urinating on myself would have been the least of my issues, had I ventured up to Hollowell in search of chicken in my state of dress!
And that concludes this tale about the first time I think I went to a gay church. Happy Friday to you, one and all!