Their first stop was to a small church just past Waterloo. It’s wasn’t somewhere she’d planned to go to. In fact it wasn’t even part of the Open House Weekend, but Esme needed the toilet and the Mother had listened to about us much of Rihana on Speakerphone, as she could take. They jumped off the bus just after crossing the river. Not literally, although she had come close to taking the plunge that when they’d crossed the Thames, Huh Rihana Bad girl my arse Aaron, had stayed on the bus telling them he’d see them later. Well he said laters what every that fucking meant.
After a quick visit to the toilet, they walk quietly into the nave. Instantly, the Mother is hit by a waft of incense. It is a strangely pleasant smell and one which instantly relaxes the Mother. As they continue walking, the smell of incense fades and another scent drifts through the air. It is the smell of the wooden pews. This smell is much stronger and follows the Mother wherever she goes. It permeates the church, lingering in every corner and crevice. The smell of the church is so different from the London streets outside.
The smell is not the only thing that’s different. Inside, there is beauty everywhere. The walls are adorned with huge, great paintings in vibrant, bold colours. Then there are the fragments of colour on the church floor, created by the beams of light coming through the stained glass windows. And overseeing all this is a magnificent gold eagle, perched high up on the lectern. Outside, it’s mostly just McDonald’s wrappers, pigeons and rain.
Just below the gigantic bird is a table covered with tiny candles burning brightly. They too help to create a calm and serenity. The Mother begins to feel relaxed, which is unusual for her, particularly when in the presence of her own children.
Esme asks what the little candles are for. The Mother, who is not a frequent visitor to this or indeed any religious building says, “I think you light a candle to remember someone who has died.”
Esme thinks this is a lovely idea and asks, “Can we light a candle for Aunty Edna?” The Mother says that they cannot light one for Edna yet as she is still alive.
“Are you sure?” asks Esme.
The Mother’s memory is not what it used to be, but she is pretty sure that particular aunt is still alive.
“I’ll call my mum tonight and check,” the Mother tells Esme, just to be on the safe side.
Next, Esme turns her attention to the paintings. The Mother attempts to explain to her daughter the religious symbolism within them, It’s not a long talk. Then, for several minutes, they walk around, looking at these great works of art. Then they both notice something almost hidden from view. Something you could easily miss if you weren’t walking as slowly as you possibly could, trying to kill time with your kids, skint on a Saturday afternoon. Tucked away in a small alcove in the corner of the church is a statue of the Virgin Mary. There she stands in a shaft of light, cradling the lifeless body of Jesus Christ in her outstretched arms.
So expertly carved is the statue that the long blue robe and white dress could easily be mistaken for fabric. The Madonna is looking up at the heavens with sorrow, tears rolling down her cheeks. A small crowd of worshippers are also looking at the effigy, forming a crescent around her. The group are deep in conversation but speak only in whispers. Upon noticing the statue, Esme slips past the gathering, kneels down in front of Mary and says quietly, “I’m going to pray to Jesus.” There is a collective “Ahh” from the group, and they all turn now to look at a little girl in stripy leggings kneeling before the Mother of God. There is silence as Esme put her hands on her knees, closes her eyes, and lowers her head.
The Mother is a little surprised to see that Esme had adopted the Muslim style of prayer. Blimey, she has even taken her shoes off, well at least she’s picked up something from those RE lessons. “I just hope she’s facing Mecca,” thinks the Mother. “Of course, her grandad would be turning in his grave if he could see her now. So it was probably a good job he’d been cremated.” Ah, yes, Grandad is dead! They could have lit a candle for him if, of course, he hadn’t been such an insufferable bastard in life. Still, he is dead now – that’s the main thing.
But perhaps even her grandad’s heart would have melted looking at Esme right now. For this is truly a mesmerizing sight. For a second, not a sound can be heard in the entire church. A tiny speck of dust floats in the air and is illuminated by the shard of light from a window high up in the church. At that moment, a candle, unnoticed, silently goes out.
Also, at that moment, Esme stands up and begins jumping wildly, flailing her arms and legs around and shouting, “One, two, three, four, five!” What the fuck?! The Mother doesn’t know where to look. What the hell is she doing?
“Star jumps for Jesus,” hollers Esme, as the Mother looks away. Ah, yes, star jumps for Jesus of course. And after the star jumps come the handstands and then the cartwheels.
“Look, Mummy, watch my one-handed cartwheel.”
But the Mother is not watching. She is, in fact, walking straight to the exit. Except it is a funny kind of walk she is doing. It is the kind of walk a shoplifter might do if she’d just stuffed a bottle of vodka into the ripped lining of her coat. Not that she has ever done this of course, this is just speculation, you understand.
Later, the Mother will have a big chat with her daughter about religion and things she can and can’t do in a church, or a mosque for that matter.
Esme runs to catch up with her mum.
“Mummy,” she says, “can I ask you something?”
“Of course, darling.”
“Have we finished looking around the church now?”
“Yes, we have, sweetie.”
“Ah, good. Can I ask another question?”
“Yes,” replies the Mother.
“I just wanted to know why Jesus Christ was named after a swear word.”
“Um, well, that’s an interesting question,” says the Mother.
“God and Jesus is definitely something we need to talk about later, but right now why don’t we go and get a nice hot chocolate?”
“Yeah,” shouts Esme happily. “Is that my prize for going somewhere educational and boring with you?”