Chye nudged me and whispered, “Stand.”
The sermon had ended, a song had concluded, the offering had come and gone, and a prayer uttered over the full, bounty of gifts.
I realized we were at that part of the service. The minister had announced us as guests, not that I’d recognized my name, but apparently it was our job to stand and present ourselves to the Korean Presbyterian congregation. Our covert position in the back insured that the entire gathering had to twist themselves around to gawk at us. I popped up, gazed at their upturned faces, nodded acknowledgement, and plopped back down in the pew. A gasp of horror from the onlookers told me I had made a mistake. Chye flapped her hand at me, frantically motioning at me to stand back up.
The organ burst into a full, bright chord and I jumped. I patted my hair back into place, and hung on to the pew back as the gathering opened their mouths wide and sang, “Welcome, dear guest,” or something to that effect. I’m likely making it up at this point, if only due to the complete, unnerving experience. That and I don’t speak Korean, so honestly, they could have sang anything, for example, “No sweet girls, there are no husbands here…. at least none as old as you, unless you want to consider… Never mind.”
They sang a full verse. They sang a chorus.
They sang a second verse.
They repeated the dang chorus.
I pulled my face into a wide, sloppy grin. My knees began to creak and bend toward the pew, but straightened suddenly at the start of the third verse. I felt trapped behind the smile plastered on my face and my lips began to dry on my teeth. At the final stanza, their arms rose in unison, palms open, then pointed our direction as the final chorus catapulted out.
My knees were a little weak but I lowered myself and settled softly into the upholstered pew. I pulled my head down and prayed for the announcements to end so we could scoot out of there. The minister joined me in prayer, except his wasn’t silent.
“Ah-min,” the congregation heaved loudly.
His robe flapped in a self-created breeze as he strode past.
Chye and I rushed for the aisle, taking huge mother-may-I steps toward the exit.
She made it before me, but the minister’s stance guarding the door slowed us down. Chye did as she’d been taught: she bowed low. I automatically reached out to catch her thinking she would fall over, but she had it under control. The minister caste his gaze on me. Just behind him stood the open door. Freedom. I bobbed my head his direction and turned to bolt, but my inept head jerk gave the Korean women time to set their trap. The babbling began. Their voices rose along with the volume and I yelled at Chye as they closed in on us, “What? What?”
A couple of women in front of us motioned us toward their dining hall. Another women positioned herself behind us, placed one hand on Chye’s back and one hand firmly on mine. She braced herself, dug her feet into the carpet and began to push.
She. Pushed. Us. Down. The. Hall. Literally.
When I saw what was on the table it was too good to miss. I ran the last few steps, a goofy grin gaping across my lips.