Latter Day Lepers
By Michael Botur
I� told Gay there were some things I did like about the Bible, like Madonna and the immaculate collection and how Jesus must’ve had a solo mum since his Dad was hardly ever around. Girl power, I said, Proud Mary right? Gay laughed at me, called me a freak. I said oo, you’re the freak. This was up in Mt Albert, the city looked small, the perspective was refreshing, we got this view of the whole community. I could see the whole story from aaages away. Gay was trying to look beyond it, right across to the States.
She turned the motor off and jiggled the keys. Neither of us wanted to get out of the car and into the Assembly, but the scary Christian people who were hanging outside started to go in, so that was the signal. Assemblies of God are supposed to be real welcoming, like an ark, all about the love for lepers and homeless dudes and that. We were there to settle an old debate. Gay’s mum, when they were growing up in the States, used to take her to Assemblies. She’d heard conflicting things about the church’s policies since she came out, started keepin it real.
I asked her, You sure things are more tolerant now, you sure about this? She said a true Christian follows the word of the Bible, sticks to the scripture, and what the script says is that Jesus loves everybody. Even Nats, even tax collectors. Even hookers. I thought sticking to the script sounded like they couldn’t adapt. Gay wouldn’t hear of it, she was all trusting, said the script was solid.
The church was a Salvation Army hall. God bless the Sallies eh. Following some teeny boppers, we walked in, holding hands, last ones in the ark. Our legs went first coz we were a bit reluctant, and our arms and breasts followed, two by two styles. Gay wanted to close the door, I said Keep it open. Gay’s all about the PDAs, she told me, Be loud and proud, you don’t needa stick to the script. I told her, You’re contradicting yourself. She laughed, That’s to be expected. The congregationers must’ve liked what they saw, two lezzers holding hands, coz they smiled at us. It was nice. Nah, straight up: it was a nice welcome.
A forty-something Samoan dude sat down the end of our row with crazy eyebrows that looked like burning bushes. Introduced himself as David, said he was friends with this drooling girl who sat beside him. I could tell he wasn’t making his name up, David’s a pretty authentic church name. His tie didn’t match his shirt, not even close, but neither did mine, I had the Avril Lavigne skinny tie look going, modern styles. Didn’t matter, we were all on the ark together. Just as I got comfy, got my slump on and put my feet up on the chair in front of me, everybody rose up. There was a greeting in Samoan, translation projected with their dodgy projector. They needed to register Powerpoint first before the message was displayed, it was classic y’know coz, these people, they didn’t need approval for anything else. The message on the wall was like, Faauta, o le mea matua lelei ma le matagofie lava, pe a nonofo faatasi lava o uso. Yeah, I grew up in Mangere dude. I could tell what them words meant. I could read that message from aaages away.
This David dude tried to grasp the concept with his hand. Always good to have an interpreter handy. I leaned back – the translation was for Gay’s sake. He said, ‘Brothers, it is good we dwell in unity.’ He gave us a smile, nice and genuine. I think the script served him right. Sisters, though. Consider the sisters.
There was a downer up front who got real into it, man did his head tilt back far, looked like his head wanted to rock right off his body he was that into it. I tried to keep my slouch goin as much as poss but these Assemblies – okay, yeah, Gay’d warned me – these Assemblies, they’re all about ascension. Which would explain why the downer looked up the whole time, he wanted to fly, that dude. There were tonnes of crosses on the wall, above the band, live band – not bad, not bad. The crosses were mostly cardboard cut-outs, plastic and crepe paper, DIY styles, looked like whoever made the decorations had a six year old in charge but that was cool. I could see why the downer looked up and flapped his arms and felt at home, there was genuine love there. Awesome, I thought, okay, choice, sweet.
What I’ll say about the band is, they didn’t diversify, I think they pretty much stuck to the script, although the words were projected behind them whereas the words were in front of me and Gay. There was only about ten words in their vocab and they just rearranged them for each song, basically a big fruit salad of praise, Jesus, together, hallelujah, together again, love, sing, forever. Gay’s top eyelids got heavy and she started not dancing so much, just rocking her head and swaying. She had a hard time pulling me out of the chair but I got up for her sake. I could tell she had some memories goin on. The script was on her side. She rubbed the downer’s head, and the heads of some of the other weirdos there – a dude with skin disease, a few dudes and dudettes in wheelchairs, people with like pink blotches all over their faces. Latter day lepers. All of them had minders, dudes like David. I don’t have a problem with those freak people, I swear, I thought it was nice. Fully reminded me of being on an ark though, these people came in twos. They had their caretakers, they had David circulating. Even the lepers that were on their own looked like they had a dude beside them.
I didn’t wanna go for a cuppa tea. I said to David, I don’t do tea. He said there’s coffee. Gay goes, Toni does coffee. David smiled. I had to smile back, to make two smiles on the ark.
We moved into a different part of the Sallies hall, tea rooms out back. The hall had cheap wood panelling, trophies, felt noticeboards with loads of notices fulla typos, obviously done on laser printers at home. Man, them colour cartridges are expensive.� I thought it was sweet that they spent their money just to spread a few words on a noticeboard. Woulda took ages to carve stone tablets though, so I thought I understood. Either way, ink or stone, the script would be solid.
They were hella gracious. They had us sit down, threw biscuits at us. Gay held my hand. We scratched nervously. David got the downer to make our drinks and the dude only spilled like ten per cent of my coffee, it was a miracle, hallelujah! There was a guy with tubes in his nose in a wheelchair with us too. Muscular dystrophy would be my diagnosis. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got nothing against handicaps, they’re like latter-day lepers, right? It was unusual, but in a nice way. Real inclusive. Like the scripture says things should be. Like Gay says the script says. Like I say Gay says the script… man, Chinese whispers goin on. That’s why they can’t adapt the script.
After some banter about the floorboards and the translations, we got right down to it and asked about Assembly of God’s policy. You feel stronger with someone at your side. We might not have got down to it if Gay didn’t hold my hand so tight. Gay was really holding onto something.
David said, ‘Well, I not sure if you familiar wis the message of Iesu– ’
Gay goes, ‘Oh I know the message, I know the message.’ It took David aback. He was surprised that Gay knew the message, because her hand was clutching mine.
David goes, ‘Iesu, he love the tas collecta, he love piostitute, he love leper, he love sinner.’ He looked real kind, gave me the warm fuzzies hard out. Choice dude, I was thinking, good on ‘im.
Gay asked David what he meant. Always good to have an interpreter handy. David scratched his arm. The dude with tubes in his nose in the wheelchair making snorting noises didn’t make David uncomfortable, it was us normal people that made him uncomfy. He goes, ‘He heal the prostitute, the sinner, the gay.’
Gay’s clutch on my hand was pretty tight, white knuckle styles. No problem with her muscles, I’m pretty sure she didn’t need healing. To be honest, neither did I. Nothin wrong here.
Gay took it away. ‘We don’t need healing.’
‘Plis,’ David said. He was a bit busy reading from the script to make proper eye contact. ‘Iesu, he walk wis the tax collector, the piostitute, the leper– ’
David was sticking to his script hard out. Gay stood up. She was holding onto something real tight, I could tell. It wasn’t just my hand though. The hall hadn’t gone quiet, I don’t think this was much of an interruption to the people gathered here. The people, I reckoned, were safe on their ark and they could pull up the plank any time they wanted. They didn’t deviate, they stuck to the script, it was shelter to them. I thought about the door we’d left open downstairs.
Gay goes, ‘We’re not prostitutes.’
I looked around us. A downer was chowing down on gingernuts. He’d stopped flapping his arms and was kinda lookin at us. There was a puddle around his cup. The man in the wheelchair was looking up. I looked at the ceiling. Just paint and lightbulbs. I had no idea what he saw looking up. Gay and me, we had nothing to do with these people, we weren’t freaks. David might’ve seen it different though.
Even when I tripped on the stairs, even when some of them giggled at us holding hands and I gave them the evils, Gay was holding on tight.
We didn’t know what to say in the car. I wanted to know if this was the same Assembly she remembered from when she was a kid, and what the hell was in her script that she thought would make her immune from leprosy. I was pissed off and tried to shake her hand off mine, but Gay was holding on tight, like she’d come out of an audition and she was clutching the script rolled up in her hand.