Bugs, Heat, and Hail

It is hot today. The sun blazes down on us, unabashed.

There are too many dragonflies. Their jewelled bodies swarm through the air, each averaging four inches long. As my bike whirs down the hot lakefront path, they dive-bomb into my sunglasses and face with a loud crunch.

I am going to church. Today I am glad to turn from the lakefront trail onto streets: I have seen enough of the sweaty backs of sunburnt white men. The lakefront is well populated on Sundays; today everyone moves as if in a trance.

By the water fountain there is a dead bird. The blue expanse of lake is in sight, but it died here trying to get water. Its cousin hops nearby, beak open in a parched plea for moisture. The wee dead one’s head rests on grating. I see and hear rushing water underneath.

The only thing close is a piece of a paper Trader Joe’s bag. A biker is stooping over the silver fountain piece to drink: I kneel at his feet and gently lift the bird. There is no where else to lay it but in the trash can nearby. The biker looks at me strange.

Even in church, you know it is hot outside. The kids are restless.

Pravel and I lead Sunday School together. The kids colour, play restaurant, yell at each other. Pravel’s hands move fast as she fills a sheet with colour, and her words trip out of her mouth fast too: sports, plans for the future, family, Congo. I have lived in the country that claims her heritage: she wants to know if she will like it when she visits soon. I colour my Wise Men with a bright orange marker. Little Asha leans far back on her little chair, blows out her cheeks, and surveys me seriously.

The kids are practicing a song. There is less light coming in the high windows; no one notices that yet.

Michael is always ready with a distraction. “Are you from Congo?” he asks me.
No, Michael. Stand closer to Tony. I’m from Canada.
“Do you speak French?”
A little, Michael.
“You’re Canadian.”
I just nod. They still need to sing ‘Father Abraham’.
“But…I thought you speak Lingala?”
I do, Michael. I lived in Congo. Please stand closer to Tony.

They sing ‘Father Abraham’ and don’t forget any of the actions. Outside, the clouds are very dark. Thunder cracks angrily.
Church is over: I run to look out a door. The rain pelts down. I turn and see Michael.
“Do you drive from Canada?”
Not every day, Michael: I live in Chicago now.
His look gives me pause, his next words are simply:
“I’m sorry for you.”

Next moment, I’m out the door, in the rain, running to put my bike under shelter.

My biking shoes are soaked through; when church is over I walk away with them hanging from my handlebars.
The sidewalk is padded with a mattress of green leaves, hard green acorns, and broken branches. The brief, violent storm was of hail.

Bad weather invariably has one pleasant result: people stop to chat about it. Men and women alike speak to me as an equal, asking where I was in the storm. Had I seen the damage? That large tree, fallen at its base? The branches blocking the bike trail? None of them seem to notice that I wear a skirt, blouse, and jewellery to push a rusty mountain bike adorned with soggy sandals. They don’t stare at my bare feet. For a moment, I am an equal in their world, regardless of where I was coming from or going. I know this will pass as quickly the storm did.

hail2

I think of my church. I am a stranger there, the only North American girl among African immigrants and their families. They always welcome me. As far as I know them, I love them, and I know they love me too, despite my differences. But I am different.

And Michael, he is sorry for me.

The metallic dragonflies lie dead on the grass, killed by the hail stones. I finger the smooth green acorns.

hail3

hail
Already, the sun and heat are back. 13 miles lie between me and my dorm room. I swing my leg over the metal frame of my bike and start to pedal.

It is hot today.

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