On Culture
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When you preach to a cow

It can’t tell you whether your sermon is good or not.

Those are the words that shout into my ear as I duck down into the back pew. My spot. Again. Reserved for the late comers, the new comers and the island timers.

Forty years in the wilderness. Day and night. A dry desert like the cracked heels of the lady in front of me. Dry like my heavy eyelids failing to stay awake. For the next forty minutes shadows of more island timers slip into the gaps behind me. We are here but we’re not really there.

As the Minister talks proudly about being humble, a child’s sticky hand gripping a broken blue toy car speeds it along his mother’s cheeks. The blue stands out against her hot angry face.

God never abandoned you in the wilderness.  He has mana and Manna kept them alive.  It was white like my new puletasi now glowing in the sun piercing through the yellow stained glass windows. The one my mum brought from Samoa last week during her brother’s unveiling.

Mothers watch their offspring like hawks. Every sound and squeal would raise their eyebrows, enlarge their eyes, and tighten their lips. The feathers on their hats bounce and shake to their frightening facial rhythm. Silent venomous threats pounce onto their victims. Out of the corner of my eye a toddler in an oversized grey suit races up the aisle defiantly crossing the Jordan.  Out of nowhere the hawk swoops down to snatch him up. Day and night, families fight. Talofa e i tamaiti. Woe unto the children.

The coin collector approaches. Everyone scrambles to scrape their smallest change to make a change.  Chinks chime in time with the hymn as people dunk their large but largely empty hands into the bowl.

As the mouth of the Minister spreads conviction, the lady with the silver foil ribbon folds on her hat scrapes away at her wet face. Her long scarlet fingernails take me back to the time I would lock myself in my aunt’s room to splodge the same coloured nail polish on my small but panicking hands.

The scarlet sacrifice I now hold in a tiny cup. Of rememberance. A baptism. A celebration. A new life.

An hour and forty minutes later the last song booms out from the high tech organ of the old school choir blazing out a resurrected Elvis tune. The bass singers get the heads nodding, uneven toes tapping, and jandals flapping.

Flocks of people start to move out swiftly.  Doors swing open and close while the man that delivers the notices that no one notices drones on and on about thank yous and more thank yous.

The plans for the lunch are mimed out to each other.  KFC the traditional treat is at the top of the list. Not steak like the cows who can’t tell you whether your sermon is good or not.

Elisabeth Alani

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