Late in December, C’Tis pounced on his sister when she came home from the city school “Lucy, what is this mass thing we are going to tomorrow morning?”
“Tomorrow is the first day of Christmas. We’ll all go to morning Mass. We’ll walk from here to the Cathedral. You’ll carry Elspeth. She must go, too. Papa Jake insists that all the orphans, staff, employees and residents attend Mass before starting work on the first day of Christmas.”
“But what is mass? What do we do?”
“I’ll explain it to both you and Grandpapa at dinner.”
That evening, Lucy settled herself at the dinner table between Grandpapa and C’Tis with Martha, Nicole and Alan on the other side of the table. Elspeth sat in her high chair beside her papa. Lucy waved her fork for attention and began to explain Mass. “It’s a ritual service in the Cathedral. The priest leads the service in the common language at eight.”
“What’s ritual?” C’Tis asked.
Nicole swallowed. “It means we do and say the exact same thing every time we have Mass.”
“Do you know what to say?” C’Tis asked.
Lucy nodded. “We don’t say much. The Archbishop will do most of the talking, and he’ll give a little talk. It’s different each time, but we stand quiet for that.”
Alan put down his fork. “I have a prayer card with all the things we have to say on it. I’ve memorized it all, so you can have my card.”
Grandpapa sat quiet and took in this whole discussion of Mass while memories of the elders welcoming the turn of the seasons on the hillside played through his brain. His stomach fluttered with the memory of the first time he climbed the hill with his father’s clackers in his small sweaty hand. He nodded to himself, thinking if he survived his first ceremony as the eldest male in his family at age eight, he could survive this thing called Mass.
Orphans, residents, and staff were due to gather in the courtyard of the Compound shortly after seven. C’Tis got up early, dressed, and ran to the nursery to claim Elspeth.
Nicole looked up from Elspeth’s crib and held up a small lacy white dress embroidered with red rose buds for C’Tis’s inspection. “You go on into breakfast. I just finished mending Elspeth’s dress, and Therese will get her ready to go.”
“My Elspeth will wear that? Is it hers? Where did you get it?” C’Tis narrowed his eyes at Nicole. He’d begun to notice his new sisters didn’t always follow The Compound rules about taking things from the clothing bank.
“It was stained and torn when it came into the clothing bank. It would have been thrown in the trash, but Martha saved it and gave it to me to fix. I mended it and hid the stain with this ruffle then sewed the roses on, so I guess that makes it more Elspeth’s than anybody else’s. Better to mend and let her have it than throw it out.” Nicole had discovered her new brother seemed to have an exaggerated sense of right and wrong as compared to expediency.
Nanny Therese took the dress from Nicole. “I’ll see she’s dressed up pretty and bring her out when it is time for us to leave. I have a couple others to get out the door first. You two go get breakfast.”
At long last, students and house parents began to filter into the courtyard, and Lucy’s family began to take their places to leave. Lucy wearing her good suit, and her unruly hair pinned into a bun arrived in the common room long before she’d need to hurry.
Grandpapa turned and reached out his hand toward Lucy. “I’ll walk with my Granddaughter.”
Instead of acknowledging his sister, C’Tis looked about. “Elspeth, where’s Elspeth? I’m supposed to carry Elspeth.”
Nanny Therese arrived from the nursery with Edward on one hip and Elspeth on the other.
C’Tis rushed forward to claim his daughter. “I’m supposed to carry her.” He reached for his daughter then took a good look at her. “Oh she’s beautiful. Look at her hair. Look at her feet. Those sandals have ribbons like her hair.”
Therese smiled up a C’Tis and fluttered her eyelashes. She didn’t notice when U’Kee took Edward from her. “It makes me happy to see a father, who loves his daughter.” Therese leaned toward C’Tis and fluttered her eyelashes again.
C’Tis held his daughter against his shoulder and sniffed at her clean baby smell, then rushed off to find his place beside Alan.
Therese scowled at C’Tis’s retreating back then snapped at E’Wan, “Hold Dau’s hand and get a move on, young man.”
As he walked to the Cathedral, Grandpapa turned this way and that taking in the whole spectacle. The nation’s flag always flew from light posts along the road between the Compound and the Cathedral. Now, bright multi-colored lights adorned the lampposts. Red and green ribbons hanging beside the flags fluttered in the morning breeze. Students stood in groups in the park, singing about Baby Jesus. Grandpapa wanted to stop and stare. He’d never seen so many people in one place before. Did everybody in the whole city come here to go to Mass?
Once inside the Cathedral, Lucy saw C’Tis looking around for her. His eyes opened wide as he took in the crowd of people shuffling around him.
Parishioners stand for Mass in the Cathedral where there are no chairs or pews, so Lucy edged her way through the milling crowd toward him. She took Elspeth who’d started to fuss.
“So many people.” C’Tis moved closer to Lucy.
Elspeth stuffed the end of one of her hair ribbons in her mouth and started to chew, so Lucy lifted the baby over her shoulder and turned toward C’Tis hoping he wouldn’t see his daughter chewing her ribbons. She wondered how many times C’Tis had taken those ribbons out of his daughter’s mouth. They looked well chewed already.
The mass began with a Bach prelude and the parishioners slowed their milling and settled for only minor shuffling as the shorter children moved to stand near the aisle where they could see.
The organist segued into the processional, and Grandpapa watched as the choir then the nuns and priests filed by with their white robes. When the incense bearer passed swinging the thurible with its bells attached to the four chains, Grandpapa sniffed at the wafting incense then nodded. From the sleeve of his embroidered shirt he slid his wooden clackers into his hand and shook them three times in response to the passing incense and ringing bells.
Lucy hadn’t paid much attention to the processional, but she sensed Grandpapa’s movement behind her and heard the clackers. Her eyes darted toward C’Tis who stood pale and trembling as he turned and stared at Grandpapa. She bounced Elspeth and moved closer to C’Tis. She whispered, “Look straight ahead. Grandpapa’s okay, really.” She had no idea if anybody would complain about Grandpapa’s heathen clackers, but since he stood near Papa Jake, she figured nobody would risk offending the president’s bodyguards to reach Grandpapa. Let him clack away. She smiled. This was shaping up to be the best Mass, ever.
The Mass began with the Archbishop giving the invocation followed by three chimes of his small bell. Grandpapa answered with three clacks.
Lucy risked a look over her shoulder at Grandpapa. He stood up straight and turned his head side-to-side, looking at everything around him. He was staring at the carvings on the high domed ceiling when the archbishop rang his bell again. Grandpapa promptly answered with his clackers.
Lucy watched Papa Jake shift his weight so that he stood a little closer to Grandpapa. Papa Jake’s dimples and bright eyes might look merry enough, but Lucy knew nobody would mess with Grandpapa when the president approved of him and his clackers. She relaxed and chuckled.
Martha silently slid into place beside Lucy on the pretext of relieving her of Elspeth. Lucy looked at Martha who rolled her eyes toward Grandpapa, and both girls sputtered, hunched their shoulders and stifled the giggles.
C’Tis nudged his sister and scowled at Martha for giggling in Mass, making the girls want to giggle more.
The service reached the first occasion to say, “Thanks be to God.” Martha managed the response while spitting out the ribbons Elspeth had decided to share with Auntie Martha, stuffing them in Martha’s mouth.
Lucy absentmindedly muttered the response while watching her niece.
C’Tis twisted his damp prayer card with his sweaty hands and managed to come in on, “to God.”
Grandpapa listened to the words of the Archbishop in his tall hat. He nodded at the muttering around him and clacked his clackers three times.
Tears started leaking out the corner of Martha’s eyes as she tried to stifle the giggles over Grandpapa’s clackers.
Beside Martha, E’Wan sucked on two fingers as he turned to stare up at his grandpapa. His wide eyes reflected his adoration for his important grandpapa. He reached out one finger and gently stroked the wooden clacker in his Grandpapa’s hand.
By the time the Archbishop reached the part of the service where he blessed the bread and wine, he’d gotten quite accustomed to the clackers and learned to pause long enough for the native elder to respond to the ringing of the bell. He stifled a grin, knowing that some clergy and theologians would be horrified at the unblessed instrument being used in Mass, but he figured that the Holy Spirit would interpret the native form of worship as praise to God. The Archbishop was also wise enough to refrain from making eye contact with President Jake for fear of getting the giggles over how thoroughly the president was enjoying the clackers.
Alan nodded at C’Tis to indicate it was time for the Our Father.
C’Tis swallowed, held up his card, and began. He reached the “Lead us not into temptation” part before the rest of the congregation finished the “Blessed is your name.” Feeling his face grow warm, he listened a moment to hear the others say the prayer slowly with pauses at the end of each phrase instead of rattling it off as quickly as possible. By the time the congregation got to the part about the “daily bread,” C’Tis had the rhythm of the thing and finished triumphantly with everybody else. A great sigh escaped from his lungs.
Grandpapa added three clacks at the end of the Our Father as an amen.
C’Tis’s card had become a soggy twisted mess of smeared ink and fraying paper.
U’Kee handed Edward to Alan and took the card from C’Tis. He clapped C’Tis on the shoulder and whispered, “You did great bro.”
C’Tis forgot his terror over not fitting in, being rejected, or embarrassing his new family and grinned at U’Kee.