Ever since Granny came from St. Vincent & the Grenadines four weeks ago, it is as though she brings the heat with her. I cannot remember a hotter summer. Sweat spots my temples. Granny pants with every step.
“All this hardness does hurt me feet,” she says, pounding a foot on the concrete like I don’t know that it is hard.
“Do you want to walk on the grass?” I ask.
“Da grass kills bugs.” She points to a pesticide sign. “Me nah want me feet pun dat.”
I sigh. “Do you want me to carry you?”
“I too fat. You would die from me weight.” Granny laughs softly.
I hold my Granny’s hand as we walk uphill on Christie Street in Toronto, heading to the Baptist Church she finds on Davenport. The sweet smell of baking pies from the bakery behind us masks the smell of garbage coming from the stuffed, green and black bags balancing on the curb.
Granny always wears a new dress on Sundays. This Sunday, Granny’s dress is in yellow, with a lace trim neckline, low-scooped, enough to see her gold cross pendant. She wears shiny white shoes that she works to keep clean by sidestepping the pothole puddles from last night’s rain. In one hand, she holds a white handbag to match and in the other hand is her Holy Bible with its black cover and words in gold.
Free from the green and gold scarf she usually wears, Granny’s hair is straight with curls and black from my mom’s flat iron. The only everyday thing that Granny wears on Sundays are her knee-highs, the same brown ones she wears every day, no matter how hot it is.
“Ya legs just can’t be naked, gal,” she tells me as she insists I wear stockings.
At the top of the hill, we reach the candy store where the long-leg man once lived. The man had a store on the first floor of his house. He said one leg was longer than the other because he had “one foot in the grave.” My bike gang used to hang outside of his store and he would chase us away, telling us we were bad for business. But we were the only ones who ever came into the store. We thought for sure he was rich from selling Popeye cigarettes for twenty cents more than anybody else. The store is empty now, so I buy my candy from across the street.
An hour after Granny arrives she spends ten minutes giving my mother and me mangoes and pomegranates that she smuggles through customs. She asks me about school, although I was not even in school for the summer and then she spends fifty minutes filling my mother in on all the gossip on every Vincentian my mother does and does not know. Her last gossipy words are on whether or not my Auntie Pansy was going crazy because she keeps her Christmas tree up all year. Granny congratulates my mother on divorcing my father and then asks where the church is.
My mother and I stopped going to church regularly years ago because Sunday is the only day my mother gets to sleep more than four hours. Now we go only on holidays. The first Sunday of my Granny’s visit, my mother forces me to take Granny to our Easter and Christmas church, a Methodist church that we take a bus to. Granny hates the Methodist church. It makes her fall asleep. She says there are too many white people and that she cannot stand organ music being played with more than one mistake.
The Monday after, when the sun burns at the top of the sky, Granny says she is going for a walk. She does not come back ‘till the moon is up. But, she finds a black Baptist church that is walking distance from my mother’s house.
“We naw need to step on dat nasty bus, Da-NAH.” She grins. Her plate is not in so I can see her tongue through the spaces in her teeth.
“The bus isn’t that bad, Granny,” I say.
“Too many white people.”
Granny just is not used to white people like I am. Granny has been to every Caribbean country, to Brazil, Panama, and she has even been to Ghana, but this is her first time in a country north of the equator. My mother has lived in Canada for over twenty years and even she still is not used to white people. She always complains about the ones she works with. About how they ask her stupid questions about the food she brings for lunch and about her hair. She keeps her job for twenty-seven years. Now Granny helps my mother complain about white people.
Granny is diagnosed with breast cancer before I even understand what it is. In June, six days before her seventy fifth birthday, doctors remove one of her breasts. My mother sends her a card with an airline ticket in it.
The Baptist church on Davenport is brown brick with three floors under a black roof. A black woman stands outside the door as though she is an usher. She only has one leg, her right one, and she has a crutch under her left arm. I sneak some looks at her. Tufts of kinky hair stick out from under a red scarf wrapped around her head. Her face is dry. The skin on her plump cheeks looks grey and cracked. Her cheeks are so high on her face that her eyes squint as if they are trying to see over them. I stare at her right ear. It is the only part of her that is white. I ask Granny why the woman’s ear is like that.
“That show how these white people here are just hol’ in her by de ear,” she says.
The woman with the crutch wears a blue furry coat and the fur wears away at her elbows. I wonder why she does not faint from the heat. The coat hangs to her waist and the breeze blows her sheer, white skirt around her leg. I can see her red underwear and the stump of her left leg. Her foot is bare. Her toes curl and bend against the concrete. On the ground, by her foot, are pink stains and a popsicle stick. Ants crawl onto her toes, but she does not seem to mind.
“Honey, how ya feeling?” Granny asks the woman.
I pull at Granny’s arm. Granny’s the first person who I ever see talk to a street person.
The woman smiles at Granny without showing her teeth. She holds out her hand to us. Her eyes fix on our shoes. Granny opens her purse and gives the woman five dollars.
“Sorry, I don’t have a lickle bit more today, sweetheart.”
The woman closes her hand around the five and says nothing. She keeps staring down and does not even look at Granny.
I press Granny’s hand and pull her through the church doors. “Granny, you shouldn’t give people like that so much of your money. You just don’t know what they’ll do with it.”
Granny says that she should take me back to St. Vincent with her.
There is no way I would allow that to happen. I have been to St. Vincent before and it is hot and boring. Even their big city called Kingstown is rural.
Granny and I find a pew near the front. She needs to get up close to see. The church is packed. So many black people all in the same place, my mouth hangs open.
When the choir and band start, the pounding of a piano, saxophone solos and a drum beat uplift every church song. The choir does Four Tops moves to the music, raise their hands when they sing “up” and hug themselves when they sing “Jesus loves me, this I know.” The raucous music has everybody out of their seats. There is hardly enough room to dance in the pew, but Granny shakes her butt and her yellow dress just shimmies. She raises her arms up to her bosom and she claps so hard, the wind from her hands makes the feathers on her hat wave. Granny’s voice is so good she should be in the choir. When she sings, her top lip curls, looking like it is trying to reach her nose, but it never does. Her lip curls like that when she smiles too. My lip curls like that too when I smile. I do not really like to dance in public, but even I shake my shoulders and shuffle my feet a bit.
The music stops. It is time for the preacher to speak. He waits for everybody to catch their breath. When he starts, he speaks louder than the music scoring his voice to keep people awake I figure. Occasionally Granny screams “Amen” to things the preacher says, or stands-up and yells “yesuh.” Other older men and women do this too. When the preacher reads from the scriptures, Granny opens up her Holy Bible, extending it to me so we can follow along together. I pretend to follow, but I just stare at the page and yawn. Once my yawning starts, it will not stop. Granny stares at the preacher like he is Moses walking on water. It is the look in her eyes that stops me from telling her that I smelled liquor on the preacher’s breath when he kissed me on the cheek as we entered.
After the service, Granny says goodbye to the preacher. Walking out of church always seems difficult for her, but this time it’s worse. She drags her feet, still singing the church songs softly to herself. The walk back is faster going downhill. We cross the street and come to the shortcut leading to the block of town homes where I live with my mother, brother and sister. Granny stops walking.
“I don’t have me Bible.”
I look at her, all over her. “Are you sure? Check your purse.”
“I know I don’t have me Bible,” she says without checking her purse. “I must have left it at de church.”
I do not want to go all the way back there, especially with how slow Granny walks. Also I cannot wait to get home. I breathe heat.
“Lawd, Richard done give me dat Bible. I can’t lose it.”
Richard is my grandfather who I had never even met. He died two years before I was born.
“Okay, Granny, just go home,” I say and turn around. “I’ll run back and get it for you.”
I am already running when I hear her thanking me. Once I reach the candy store, I’m panting out so much hot air I stop. I get to the church doors so quick it surprises me. I didn’t realize how close the church is when I walk with Granny. I can hear singing inside and guess it is the choir practicing for next Sunday. I do not want to disturb them so I try to enter quietly.
Without all those people in it, I notice how big the room is. When I glance on the small stage where the choir is, nobody is there. But in a front pew I see the back of the woman with the crutch.
“Jesus loves me, this I know…” she sings.
One hand grasps her crutch, and the other is suspended in the air, the fingers wiggling double time to her singing.
“Cuz the Bible tells me so…”
She shakes her hips, leaning on the crutch. She sticks out her bum and shakes it.
I do not know what to do. I look around to see if the Bible is anywhere near, but I know I might have to go right behind the woman to get it. I think about coming back, but I do not want Granny’s Bible to get stolen. Who would take a Bible in a church, I ask myself. I am not sure, but I think maybe somebody could.
I take a few steps forward and then stop, hoping the woman will not turn around. The closer I get to her, the more my stomach knots. I do not want her to see me. I am halfway there, wondering whether I should just wait outside until I see her leave. She stops dancing and turns around.
I look past her.
“I’m sorry,” I say, darting my eyes to her. “My Granny forgot something.”
I want to dash to find the Bible, get it and just run away. The woman shifts her weight on the crutch and bends forward. She tries to pick up something in front of her. Granny’s Bible. It takes a while for her to grasp the book without dropping it. She holds it out to me.
I come close enough to smell the scent of the streets from her. I feel sickness in my throat. I hold my breath and grab the book. I dart my eyes to her face. Her eyes are squinty, but I know she stares at me.
Then she holds out her hand.
I do not have a purse or any pockets. I do not have anything to give her.
“I’m sorry,” I say and I run out of the church.
I do not care that the sweat stings my eyes as I run home. I approach the house and see Granny out on the veranda, sitting on a mahogany chair.
“Why you crying, gal?”
“I’m not,” I say wiping my face.
“Something did trouble ya?”
Granny will not let me go inside until I tell her.
I sit in a lawn chair with plastic purple and green stripes. I hold the Holy Bible in my hand and tell Granny what happened.
When I finish, she takes the Bible from me and shakes it in the air. “You should have given her de Bible.”
“But I didn’t think of that, Granny,” I say. “I didn’t think to give her the Bible.”
Granny puts her hand on my knee and leans toward me. “Hush chile, tank ‘ya fah da Bible. Tank you fah give dah Bible tah me. Kind to me, but yah must be kind to othahs too.”
I wipe a tear from my eye. “I will Granny, I will,” I say. “Or, at least I will try.”