By Anna McCullogh
Moses DeGriffney heard his deceased mother.
Her words echoed through his head like the black cast iron bell that was the biggest and deepest bass bell in the church steeple. He could barely hear it; it was almost all vibration and no sound. That feeling was reverberating from his ears, through his throat, directly to his soul.
"Now THAT was impossible to ignore," Moses thought to himself. He'd always wanted a church of his own to lord over, a congregation to lead, a choir director to direct...but a dream, a dream it was, forever now and always shall be...his thoughts led to song, and then the bell, chiming, goading, telling him he could have these things, if he only trusted God. That is what his mother always said.
The memory of his mother's comfort helped lift his dreary mood as he entered the concrete cave early that rainy Monday morning. The cave was very much alive, with people shuffling into it in herds, traveling to work or the grocery store on the train day in and day out.
The subway cave wasn't far from Moses' under a bridge. It was actually pretty nice. It was at an underpass, just after a stoplight.
Because cars weren't going full speed yet after leaving the intersection, their exhaust often spewed out under the bridge where he stayed, warming the air on cold nights. He'd gotten used to the smell, and it no longer woke him in fits of coughing and gasping. He'd found a mattress behind the apartment complex down the street. Because the Government furnished the apartments for those lucky enough to qualify to live there free, it was a nice mattress, barely torn or stained. It was one of Moses' prized possessions that he took great care of, covering it with trash bags so that it wouldn't get wet in the rain.
Even before Moses' train arrived he could tell it was about to pull into the station. It pushed in front of it a gust of wind that smelled of earth and electricity. Then, slowly, he saw its headlights, it rounded the curve, and pulled into the station, opening its doors as it screeched to a halt.
A woman was eyeing his shoes. He was very proud of his shoes, but she peered at Moses with skepticism, as if to say to him, "I know you are homeless. The toes of your shoes are curling up because they've been worn every day, have gotten wet, then dried, then gotten wet again, then dried again." Then Moses became embarrassed. He only hoped she didn't see the hole worn in the bottom where the leather was gone down to the dirty sock from years of continuous wear.
As he stepped onto the train he looked for a seat, but every seat was taken. He decided to walk to the back end of the train, carefully holding his bible in one hand and a torn, ratty plastic bag in the other. Passengers eyed him with the looks Moses had seen countless times before. He knew they were wondering why homeless men always dragged a plastic bag along with them, and he knew they were questioning why he didn't just get a job, and stating, within earshot of Moses, "That guy, he's probably drunk."
What Moses wanted to do was run up and down the aisle and scream, "I have a job!! I am a minister!! All I need is a church!" The bonging of that massive iron bell, probably over eight feet in height began to chime in his head again. It told him, "Moses you will have a church one day. You just don't realize it, but one day, you'll scream out God's love to his people from a pulpit!" It was his mother's voice again, calming him and guiding him in his time of need.
As the train pulled away from the station, he opened his bible to find his favorite passage to read. A candy bar wrapper he used to bookmark it fluttered to the ground. He leaned over to pick it up, grabbed it between his wrinkled fingers and dirty nails and slowly bent upright as he gazed across the crowded subway car. He saw businessmen in suits, mothers with children, and construction workers still clean with mini-coolers stuffed full of sandwiches because they were only beginning their long, backbreaking day of work.
He listened as one woman, so obese that her chin was protruding as though it had an orange slice tucked between the bone of her chin and the skin, tell the woman she was sitting next to that she was sick and tired of her husband not cleaning out her son, Trevor's, sippy cup.
"I mean, after all, does he not realize that milk not washed out of a sippy cup could result in cottage cheese - COTTAGE CHEESE - forming in the spout? It could make Trevor sick, by God!"
The thin spidery woman with whom orange chin was talking told orange chin that there was only one solution.
"In fact, I, myself, have used this solution to cure my husband of not washing milk out of our child's sippy cup," spider woman retorted to orange chin, her voice full of wisdom.
Spider woman proceeded to explain that when she found the sippy cups with an inch of milk still in them, she didn't wash them at all. In fact, she reported, she put them on the counter, hidden behind the microwave, and (snorting and laughing like a pig rooting through rotten lettuce and tomatoes) she LET the cottage cheese form! She continued to explain that she then, pouring in fresh milk on top of the rotten milk, gave it to her child to let the show begin!
She told orange chin at that when her child drank it, their child began gagging; spewing milk and chunks of cottage cheese from her nose and mouth.
Spider mom explained that she screamed at lazy Dad, "I TOLD you it would turn to cottage cheese! Now look what you have done to our child!"
Moses said a silent prayer for the two-year-old. He also said one for orange chin's son, Trevor, because he knew soon Trevor would be drinking a cottage cheese sippy cup himself.
When Moses looked to his left, he saw a businessman whose tie was so tight it was a wonder he could breathe. His skin squeezed out over the top of his collar like toothpaste being squeezed out of a tube that had a dried toothpaste crust at the top.
The man had a leather portfolio opened, reports and papers spread out across the portfolio and almost onto the person who shared the seat next to him. He had a highlighter and was raking it furiously across the page, left to right, right to left. It seemed the harder he bore down with the highlighter, the louder the squeak was and the louder the squeak of the highlighter, the harder he pressed, wanting more and more and more from the highlighter.
This probably wasn't unlike the treatment he subjected his administrative assistant to. She was probably forced to produce letters to his colleagues on a moment's notice, instantly order gift baskets for clients, set up massage appointments for his wife, and book a day at the spa for his girlfriend, dinners, wine tastings, and oh yeah, pick up the kids from school and take them to Ballet Class - Tuesdays, Gymnastics - Thursdays. The more she squeaked, the harder he pressed, wanting more and more and more. Moses said a silent prayer for the administrative assistant, this man's wife and kids, his girlfriend, and last but not least, the highlighter.
Moses was reminded of a song he'd sung with his mother in church. As the train rocked, he sang the song softly to himself...Swing low, sweet char-ee-ot, Comin' fore to carry me home, Swi-ii-ing low, sweet char-ee-ot, comin' for to carry me home... Sometimes I'm up, sometimes I'm down, Comin' for to carry me home, But still my soul feels heavenly bound, Comin' for to carry me home...as he sang, the slow rocking of the train sang the song with him. He sang a little louder, but not so loud that people were disturbed or scared by his singing. He'd learned the hard way that people don't like a homeless man singing loudly on the subway. It had a tendency to clear the car out.
The man with the highlighter was distracted by the soft singing and stopped his raking for a moment. He heard the song and had a look on his face as though it was familiar but couldn't quite place it. Obese orange chin quit craning over spider woman and leaned back almost as if she was listening to the sounds around her for the first time in a long time. The singing was deep but soft, and seemed to be from one source, one person, but no one could tell who it was.
Moses sang a little louder now that he realized he had a small audience. As he sung, he thought about the administrative assistant, the girlfriend, and the two-year-old and again said a small prayer for them. He sang softly and prayed silently as the train rocked the passengers to their final destination. The businessman, obese orange chin, and spider woman sat quietly and said nothing. As the approached their destination, the train slowed and the singing stopped.
As the businessman exited the train, he seemed to walk more slowly and deliberately, as if he had been calmed somehow. Obese orange chin and spider woman silently walked side by side to work, not saying a word the whole way, as if, for once, they were taking in the sights around them for the first time in months.
Moses remained on the train. He began to dream again about having a church of his own.
Then it occurred to him. He, Moses, was the choir. The passengers were the people of God whom he prayed for from his pulpit, and the train, it was the house of God.
When the doors slowly closed after the next round of passengers entered, Moses began his song.
(c) Anna McCullough 2003