by Manya Treece
Our first month here, my skin stayed sticky. Every morning my mom would give me toast and orange juice and say she had prayerful things to do that day. What do you mean, I'd ask her, but she said I would just have to wait and see what God had planned for us. She told me I could play with the other children, have lunch at one of their houses and she'd meet me at the Lord's Dominion Center for the community dinner by five. Then I'd run outside, squinty and stinky, and it wouldn't take more than a few minutes before I found the other kids. It seemed like there were thousands of them because at home--a city with street lights and grocery stores--I didn't play with hardly anyone at all. Back home, I'd throw erasers with the other kids in class or play kickball with them at recess. Sometimes I'd go to a birthday party, but mostly I just saw kids at school, and when school ended, everyone had houses to go to and a TV to watch.
Here, though, there was no school and no TV. Before we came here, my dad said I could spend the summer at his house. He said it would give my mom a break from having to take care of me all the time, but my mom said she didn't want that. Instead, she told me we were going on a long vacation all by ourselves. For the first few days, I was shy, but soon I was spending all day hiding in the barn with the others and climbing up the silo to point and laugh as the grownups did their circle dances at the Center, their singing and whooping and praising the Good Lord, Blessed Be His Name.
That month, I got brown and skinny like a stick--that's what my mom told me. I didn't know why my mom told the other kids to call me Josiah, but when I asked her, she said it was just a new nickname, that it was close enough to Josh. Josiah!, they'd scream, then come at me all at once, cover me in straw and run away laughing as they zigzagged through the Living Temple Gardens until one of the Elders told them they'd need to quiet down. One time, Mrs. Pellin saw us and said we better stop playing and start praying. When she left, I told the kids Mrs. Pellin looked like a witch. They all got quiet and asked, "How do you know what a witch looks like?" I tried to explain about TVs and the cartoon witches I used to watch with my dad when I'd stay at his house on the weekends, but even though the kids pretended, I knew they didn't understand.
One Thursday morning, I'd been spinning around out in the fields when my mom came and found me and brought me back to one of the Elder's homes. She said, Josiah, meet Mr. Tanner and fixed her eyes to his shiny dinner table. Soon you can call me Dad, he said, getting down on one knee so I could see his big ugly eyes closer. But my Dad isn't here, I said, dizzier than I was out in those fields, and Mom kept her eyes down and her hands tight to one of those skirts she'd started wearing. Then Mr. Tanner got up, put his hand too low on my mom's back, and said, He doesn't know, does he?
About the author:
Manya Treece lives, plays, works, writes and occasionally steps away from her computer. She has spent time in Chattanooga, Nashville, Berlin and, most recently, Chicago, but her heart is nearly always in New York.