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Monday, 24 August 2020

A Visit From Jehovah Witnesses

Ever since I could remember, my mother was religious. She was a bible-wielding, song-singing prayerful woman. I assume her pact with God must have started earlier, inspired by my grandfather, who was, and is still is a fervent churchman, in his 90s. And yes, I have seen what teenagers wore in the 1970s, and my mother was no exception.    

My first memory of organized religion could have been forgotten, yet it clings to my mind vividly. Three people were knocking at our high iron gate. It lacked symmetry, and the person outside the gate could see me. And I could see them. The artisan who had made that gate had never been to a geometry class, and I was standing there feeling three sets of eyes looking at me through the gaps.  

The two gentlemen had white shirts, a suit and tie. I remember immediately looking at myself; even a child can be self-conscious. I had been rolling around on the veranda—my dirty brown shirt, dusty shorts and dry, scaly legs told the story. The lady was less inspiring, her dark dress is what I vaguely remember. I immediately put my hands behind my back and assumed proper posture.

The shortest among them spoke, “Are your parents around?”    

He had piercing eyes and a muscular jawline. He must have been the leader, I concluded from my safe patch behind the gate. I looked at them over and decided they were good folk.  

“Yes,” I said. Then wished I had said No.

“Kindly let us in, so that we can talk to them,”

I looked at the men admiring their suits. Then turned the latch on the gate, not entirely, but just enough to let them know I would be back.

I turned around and ran all the way into the house, calling “Mommy, mommy, we have visitors.”

“Can we come in,” they asked.

I turned around surprised. The three were already at the door behind me.

I thought I had been fast.

My mother was knitting. She had few moments to relax as a busy nurse, and when she did knitting was something she loved to do. Back then, it was a cool thing mothers did. She had these sewing books that had complicated Egyptian hieroglyphics. Mom had tried to teach me, but my ‘Dory’ memory, had been bored in record time, and I threw the threads and crochet down in a huff. And went to play with mud and water, which was more primitive and manly for me.    

The short man coughed weakly to get my mother’s attention. She snapped out of a reverie and gave me a look she gave when I often came from playing outside covered in mud. Her eyes seemed to ask why I had not been a good gatekeeper. I smiled weakly.    

The three walked through our veranda, without my specific invite. I felt disrespected and frowned, unresponsive to toothy smiles.

“Hello madam, can we come in,” they asked already taking their shoes off.  My mother wasn’t expecting visitors.

“Please come in,” she said, resigning her day was ruined as one of her plastic smiles materialized.  

The three removed their shoes and got in.

I stood guard at the door, investigating their shoes. All of them were worn to the side. There was also a slight wafting smell from a particular pair. I noticed my mother looking at me, and her mouth cracking in a frown at the corner.

Reading my mother’s face was essential for my survival. I was a weatherman. I could tell whether I would get punished or celebrated by looking at her straight face. A slight variation would be the difference between laughing off a misdemeanor or getting a spanking. For the moment, she was more focused on the visitors. I was safe.

My attention moved to the visitors. One of the men had a torn sock, the tear was on the big toe, and he tried desperately to hide it. The short man was engaged in a passionate diatribe with my mother. The big toe held my attention as it was hidden, below the other foot.

They brought out the magazines and books from their sling bags, and the conversation went up a crescendo. My mother was barely able to steal in a word.  

“Do you know we are in the last days,” asked the short man. My mom smiled innocently.

“Do you know only the select will go to heaven,” he continued.

On and on he went. Finally, my mother had enough. “Do you believe Jesus Christ is God?”

The short man frowned and sat back. And the tone of the conversation changed.

I will be lying If I say I caught anything after that,  but I wondered how the end of the world would look like. The short man had a vivid imagination and painted a scary picture and kept talking about the book of Revelations.  I moved closer to look at the magazines and books they had put on the table. I picked one, ‘Watch Tower’ was written across it, there were painted pictures of people of different colours eating fruits and playing with tigers and lions. Another had white Jesus smiling. They were very confusing for a young boy who had never seen another race, or imagined people playing with dangerous animals.

I tried to concentrate on the argument, but most of it flew over my head.

 I started turning the pages and sat by my mother, watching the adults talk religion.

After what seemed like an hour, the three begged to leave as they had other houses to visit. I walked them out, watching the big toe go back into the shoe, and led them quietly to the gate, and slammed it behind them. I then ran back to have an individual read of the Watch Tower magazine.  

My mother sighed, and walked to the cabinet, picked a bible, and came and sat down beside me. I can honestly say, from that day, my mother became fully immersed in the rigor of religion.

A week later, the three came back and engaged my mother in conversation. But for a strange reason, the more questions she asked, the more they were unable to answer her—the passion they had initially dissipated.

“Madam, can we invite you to come to our shrine on Saturday?”

My mother nodded but didn’t share any response. That evening she sat on the dining table and read some more from her bible. The Jehovah Witness people came twice, but my mother had started attending another church, and her devotion to reading the bible had become a habit.

The Watch Tower magazines stayed with us for many years after and were a reminder for when my mother picked up a bible and started on her journey to organized religion.

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