- Vol. 05
- Chapter 04
My mother had a secret altar. Smoothed wood stained red with golden characters carefully written in the corner. Burnt incense and fresh oranges adorned the feet of Guan Yin - the goddess of compassion - I found her when I was playing in the rice store. Mother had said demons lay in wait near the rafters - they especially liked eating small girls with rosy cheeks. The ladder to the forbidden area usually lay horizontal like tracks. It was heavy and cumbersome; I couldn’t have lifted it even if I wanted to. However, it had been left like a gift leaning against the ledge to the upper floor. I held my breath and clambered up.
The face of the goddess was fine porcelain – smooth and cold to touch. Her salmon-painted smile and gentle black eyes stared back at me, knowing, as if she was concocting some mischief. She seemed familiar - the long hair, the flowing robe. Perhaps she had visited me in my dreams.
'False idols' were banished. How funny then it was to find her. Father never ventured in there. Cooking rice was mother's job. Her fingers the right kind of gauge for the cold water in the pot.
Father's job was educating the family in the ways of Jesus Christ, well, that is what Miss Celeste had told him. Since starting the meetings at the church he was wearing suits and a hat. He looked silly but mother told me to keep my eyes down and my mouth shut tight.
Miss Celeste visited our home once a week bringing with her scripture, in books that opened the wrong way. I laughed and pointed to her. She thought I wanted to hear more, but my father's face contorted with shame. After our final prayers Miss Celeste bid us farewell wrapping her shawl around her gwai lo shoulders and covering her head in a hat larger than our pans. As the door closed behind her.
Father stood up with a gait that did not give away his intentions. He took hold of the feathered end of the duster reciting what I now know to be the Lords Prayer.
'Our Father, which art in heaven,' he mumbled through heavy breath … each strike more energised than its predecessor. I counted each one through the tears. Fourteen, fifteen …
'And forgive us our trespasses...as we forgive those who trespass against us.' Twenty-six, twenty-seven…
'And lead us not into temptation...but deliver us from evil.' Thirty-eight, thirty-nine, forty. The red stripes across the back of my thighs were testament to the holy word.
Miss Celeste was transferred to Korea soon after. She left us with a leather bound copy of the Bible. Inside she wrote, 'May you be always comforted by the gospel of our Lord.'
The new missionary was a man from Ireland. Father stopped going to church. He drowned in cheap liquor instead.
My mother kept the ladder against the ledge for us to climb. We visit our lady most days.