[Luthertal, World of the Wends]
Clang! Clang! Clang!
Amie bolted upright.
Clang! Clang! Clang!
Amie nudged Wilma. ‘What is it?’
Wilma stretched and yawned as if she had all the time in her lost world.
Amie grabbed her upper arms and shook her. ‘Wilma! What is it?’
The sound of clanging echoed from downstairs.
Wilma shrugged Amie’s hands off her and then stretched and yawned again. From outside came the ominous sound. Bong! Bong! Bong!
Amie yelled. ‘Wilma! Wake up! Was is that clanging and bonging?’
Wilma blinked. ‘Chruch. It’s the Lord’s Day. We must go to church.’
‘Church? We’re going to church?’ Amie muttered.
Frau Biar burst into the room. She hammered a saucepan with a wooden spoon.
Amie huddled under the quilt and covered her ears.
Frau Biar roared. ‘Hurry!’ She ripped the quilt off the girls. ‘You’re late! Naughty girls! We’re late for church? Hurry!’ Wilma’s mutti swatted the spoon at Amie and Wilma.
Avoiding the spoon, the girls scrambled from the bed. Wilma flung on her black frock and frilly white cap.
Frau Biar picked up a larger version of black dress hanging from the back of a chair. She flung it at Amie. ‘Quick!’
In fear of the wooden-spoon-wielding Mother Wend, Amie peeled off her nightclothes and then slid into the dress.
Frau Biar, satisfied with their prompt cooperation, descended the stairs. Amie and Wilma straightened their black attire and followed.
Frau Biar mumbled something about the men leaving ages ago, and then stormed out of the house, leaving the girls lagging behind.
‘Sure we’re not going to a funeral?’ Amie asked Wilma.
Amie was sure Walter Wenke said the Wends wore colourful clothing. She mused. But what if Walter’s Boris? What can I believe?
‘Why is everyone dressed in black?’ Amie asked again. ‘It’s like someone has died.’
Wilma bit her lip and still looked confused.
‘Why all the black dresses?’ Amie pointed at another family straggling up the path to the church entrance.
‘It’s our Sunday dresses.’
‘Sunday dresses? What’s with the little nanny cap?’
‘The bonnet? We must wear a head covering for church. It is in the Bible. It is one of the commandments,’ Wilma said with big eyes.
‘The bonnet? Thou shalt wear a bonnet in the church? Never heard that one.’
They caught up the Frau Biar who tapped her foot at the church gate. ‘It’s in the Bible.
Women must submit to men and wives must submit to their husbands. The hat is a sign of submission.’
Amie looked up to see a cast-iron bell slung between two tree trunks either side of the gate. So that’s the bell responsible for the bonging.
Frau Biar grabbed Amie’s arm. ‘Hurry! We’re late!’ She dragged her to the church door. There she stopped, dusted and shook her dress like a duck settling its feathers, and then she walked in.
Amie and Wilma trailed in after her, entering the sanctuary. Pairs of eyes tracked their every move—especially Amie’s.
Amie halted, overcome with a combination of embarrassment and self-consciousness. She tiptoed down the centre aisle. She glanced up at the dark rafters, down at the mud packed floor, and sideways at the plain glass windows—anywhere but at the people.
Amie had to look at them eventually to find a pew. She spotted Joseph who had an empty space beside him and made a beeline for him. As she reached him, he held up his hand.
‘Why?’ she asked, then moved to sit by him.
‘No,’ he whispered. ‘Men sit this side. Ladies over there.’
Amie gazed at the pews on the other side. Fifty pairs of eyes watched her, making her face burn as the heat of shame cascaded from the top of her head down her face and neck. She murmured, ‘Oops,’ and then sidled into the nearest pew on the women’s side.
Standing before altar, Herr Biar lead the service. He signalled for the congregation to rise and sing the first hymn. Amie recognised the tune, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”.
The service progressed rather slowly. Amie bumbled through the liturgy and hymns, trying to make sense of the Latin “Kyrie Eleisons”, Hebrew “Hallelujahs” and “Amens” and Apostles’ Creed chanted in German. She sat when she should be standing, and stood up when she should stay sitting, and sat when everyone else knelt—like some female version of Mr. Bean entering the church service for the first time. She consoled herself. I guess this is the first time I’ve participated in a Wendish service.
Herr Biar prepared to give the sermon. His generous frame filled the pulpit and he pursed his lips as he presided over the people. Amie expected Herr Biar to roar and thunder damnation on the congregation, but his face softened and in a gentle voice, he extended his sympathies to the couple who just last night, lost their infant.
From that moment on, Biar’s sermon on false prophets and how to pick them was lost on Amie. During the ten-minute address, Amie craned her neck to glimpse the poor couple. She thought she picked them out—husband on the men’s side, his head bowed, and his wife on the other, a friend patting her hunched back. Every so often, the bereaved mother convulsed in a wave of weeping.
Amie kept straining to see the woman. She pondered. What would it be like to lose a baby? Did Boris have anything to do with her loss? She became aware of the lady next to her glaring—at her. Her cheeks burning again, she straightened her spine, and lifted her eyes to Herr Biar who had just finalised his sermon with “Amen”.
After several more embarrassing moments where Amie added to her already long list of religious faux pas, she staggered out into the brilliant light of two suns.
© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2017
Photo: So European! Die Kirche, Berchtesgaden, Bavaria © Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2014
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