The sky went black. The cool wind that came along at the same time felt nice. A few drops of rain began to fall. They tickled and made Tom want to giggle.
‘I told you we’d have a storm. I said we should have brought our macs,’ said Mum. She pulled him and Maisie and Daisy towards her.
‘Don’t be daft,’ said Dad. ‘We’d only have had to carry them. This’ll be over in no time. It’s just a summer storm.’
There was a flash of lightning and then almost immediately a loud bang.
‘Is that the clouds bumping into each other?’ said Tom. ‘That’s what Alfie always says.’ Alfie was his best friend at school, a bit of a clever clogs. He was usually right about most things, though.
His mum and dad ignored him.
Maisie and Daisy were now clinging on to Mum’s skirt. The rain was falling faster now. Their dresses were beginning to stick to their legs and were becoming see-though. Red dye was running out Maisie’s dress, making it look as if her legs were bleeding.
‘Come on let’s get out of this,’ said Dad. ‘Look, let’s shelter in the porch of that church.’
Tom wondered what a church was. He’d seen them before, of course, but he didn’t know what they did. He knew all about shops, hospitals and schools but not about churches.
Several other people had had the same idea. It was a bit of a squash in the small doorway. Mum accidentally leant on the big wooden door and it opened a little.
‘Oh look,’ she said. ‘It’s not locked. We could go inside. Take the weight off our feet a bit.’
She took the little girls by the hand and ushered them in. Dad guided him from behind.
It smelt funny, a bit like the soil after the rain has fallen on it. The cold seemed to come up through your feet. Maisie and Daisy were shivering now. It was hard to believe that last night none of them had been able to sleep in Mrs Quinn’s stuffy old boarding-house.
A few other people sat in some funny chairs that had hard-looing backs.
‘You must be really quiet and sit as still as you can,’ said Mum. ‘These people are trying to pray.’
He didn’t understand what that meant. ‘What’s praying?’ he asked.
‘Talking to God. They’re talking to God,’ said Dad.
Dad sighed. ‘Well I don’t believe none of it myself. But some people think this very clever man – God - made everything and it’s a good idea to talk to him now and then. That’s what churches are for.’
Tom noticed the coloured glass and the paintings on the wall. ‘Can I go and look at the pictures?’ he said.
‘As long as you don’t touch anything,’ said Dad.
‘And don’t make a noise,’ whispered Mum.
He walked along the narrow passage between the funny chairs and stopped from time to time to look at the pictures, the coloured glass windows or the statues. There were some interesting things here- like the man who was guiding some animals into a great big boat, the tower that was falling down and the bush that seemed to be on fire. ‘Dad,’ he called. ‘Can you tell me what these stories are about?’
‘Ssh!’ said Dad. ‘You mustn’t make a noise in Church.
Mum was cuddling the little girls, whispering to them and occasionally stroking their hair. Why didn’t she cuddle him like that anymore? Dad stared towards the front of the church and didn’t say a word to Mum, or to him or to Maisie and Daisy. The other people sitting in the funny chairs kept their heads bent low.
There was a big table covered with a very posh looking cloth and it had candlesticks on it. There was something near the door that looked like a big stone baby bath. He remembered helping to bath Maisie and Daisy until one day he got soap in Daisy’s eyes and she screamed the place down.
‘What have you done to her?’ Mum shouted.
After that he wasn’t allowed to go anywhere near the girls at bath-time.
Never mind. So, you came here if you wanted to speak to God, the really clever man who had made everything. This was incredibly cool. Tom wondered whether he should say something but he couldn’t think what and he felt a bit shy actually. Besides, he didn’t know exactly where God was.
At the side was a little room without a door and with proper chairs facing away from the main part of the church. Why were the chairs like that? In front of them on the wall was a huge wooden cross and on it a man with nails through his hands and his feet. There was blood coming from them and from his head on which were thorny branches, woven together to look a little like a crown. Oh, it made him feel sick. That must really hurt.
There was a woman sitting on one of the chairs. He couldn’t help himself. He just had to know. ‘Miss, who’s that?’
‘That’s the Lord Jesus. He’s the Son of God. God sent his only son to us. Died for us, he did. So that God would forgive us for being so wicked. He did it because he loves us.’
That was terrible. What a horrible thing to do. Fancy sending your only son away. He was Mum and Dad’s only son. Were they going to send him away? And would somebody put nails though his hands and feet and make him a crown out of brambles?
He screamed. Then he started sobbing. Great breathless sobs.
‘There now, there now,’ the woman muttered.
Dad came running into the little space. ‘What are you making a racket like that for? We told you you’d got to be quiet.’ He turned to the woman. ‘I’m so sorry.’
The woman shook her head. ‘No problem. I was just telling him about what Jesus did.’
‘He’s cruel, that God. You’re not going to send me away are you Dad?’
‘He’s probably never heard about that before,’ said Dad. ‘You see, we don’t go to church.’
Mum and Maisie and Daisy wandered along.
‘I think we can go now anyway,’ said Mum. ‘I think the rain’s stopped.’ She pointed to the sunlight that was now streaming through the stained glass windows and making patterns on the floors.
The other people who had been in the church were beginning to shuffle out. They looked away from Tom and his mum and dad and his two sisters. He was probably going to get a ticking off now for embarrassing them.
He took some deep breaths and tried to calm down. He began to hiccough, and each hiccough was followed by a shudder.
It was sunny again outside. The puddles were steaming. The sun was getting warm again but it wasn’t so sticky anymore.
‘No wonder the kid was scared,’ said Dad. ‘That figure was as large as life. It looked like something out of a horror film. That’s one of the reasons I hate the whole business. And all that stuff about the bread and wine becoming the body and blood of Christ and eating and drinking him. Barbaric!’ He ruffled Tom’s hair.
Tom really was sure he was going to be sick now. If you went to church you had to eat God’s son? No, he must have got that wrong.
‘Come on then,’ said Dad. ‘Let’s get going.’
Tom wanted to tell Dad that the man on the cross hadn’t frightened him. That he knew it was only a carving and not a very good one at that. It was the idea of God having a son and that son loving everyone so much that he was prepared to let them put nails through his hands and his feet and he would die for him. Would his mum and dad do that for him? Would he do it for them and his sisters?
He couldn’t say a word, though. If he did he knew he would start crying again and he didn’t want to look like a wimp in front of his dad and his sisters. He’d done enough damage already, getting into a tizzy like that.
‘I think the best thing we can do now is go and get an ice-cream, don’t you?’ said Dad.
The little girls clapped their hands and jumped up and down on the spot. Tom tried his best to smile.
About the author:
Gill James writes all sorts of fiction - novels, short fiction, flash fiction and experimental fiction. She is also a publisher and editor. Visit her blog at http://www.gilljameswriter.eu/