Mirrors Between Us
After the funeral, the crowd shuffled to the reception hall for the repast as they did during these impromptu family reunions. As Nikki waited in line for meager portions of sustenance earned in sweat and tears during grief-ridden tantrums, she looked for a familiar face amongst a crowd of kin and acquaintances.
“Oh, yeah. Sorry.”
Nikki’s drifting had held up the line behind her full of restless people in their Sunday best. Stepping aside to the dessert table and grabbing a napkin weakly supporting a dense slice of pound cake, Nikki headed to her table.
Seated around her were some people she struggled to name, but somewhat recognized. Behind them, retired teachers and school administrators scraped their plastic forks against loud Styrofoam plates savoring every bite between laughter. As Nikki finished silently blessing her food, an elderly woman at the table infiltrated Nikki’s thoughts.
“Baby, what was your name again?”
Nikki looked up begrudgingly, annoyed that she had failed to take her first bite unnoticed.
“Nikki, I’m Reesee’s oldest child.”
“Oh yeah! Your grandma never stopped talking about y’all. Aren’t you the artist one?”
“Mhmm,” she lied, ignoring formalities by shoveling more beans onto her fork.
“Okay, okay. Your grandma was such a sweet woman. I remember when she ran the Sunday school, the kids loved her. She was always singing and teaching them new songs. I remember back when my grandkids were in her Sunday school class. I couldn’t get them to stop talking about how much fun they had with Ms. Leighigh.”
“Yeah, she loved teaching.” Nikki responded, hoping to put an end to the conversation with a polite smile.
“Mhmm. She was one of the best. Sunday service won’t be the same without her, you know? I don’t know who they’d even begin to think of to replace her. Beyond all that, Gloria was such a good friend to me. She was the only person to check on me back when my husband and I split years back. I never got a chance to thank her like I wanted to.”
Studying the woman’s face for the first time, Nikki began to feel slightly embarrassed at her lack of recognition for the woman who was evidently so close to her grandmother. Despite the woman’s colorful history with Gloria, Nikki couldn’t quite place her – not surprising given the woman’s rather plain appearance. Surely it was by chance that such a large part of Gloria’s life had gone totally unnoticed.
“I’m really going to miss her, but it’s nice to hear these stories from everyone whose life she impacted. How did you guys knows each other?”
“I joined Eastern Baptist around 2018 after my home church closed up. Eastern was the one everybody from the old congregation said felt the most like home, so I finally tried it out and haven’t looked back. So, how did it happen?”
“Excuse me?” Taken aback by the intrusive questioning by an otherwise complete stranger, Nikki took a moment to collect herself. Aware of what answer she sought, Nikki pushed back hoping to deter further interrogation with a clearly reluctant tone.
“What was it? I knew she had been in the hospital for a while, but they never said why during service. Was it her heart?”
Nikki couldn’t believe the audacity of the withering woman. “She was sick for a long time, we’re just glad she’s not suffering anymore.” Nikki feigned a smile remembering the many lectures she’d received as a child about respecting her elders, even in the face of their blatant disregard for decorum.
“Right, of course. I never stopped praying for her, and I’ll continue to do so. I know your family’s really hurting right now, so I’ll keep y’all in my prayers too. Remember, this too shall pass. I’m sure Gloria is smiling down at you right now, she was so proud.” The old woman looked to Nikki almost awaiting a congratulatory smile for her humanity, but Nikki’s gaze had long been broken and affixed upon her now room temperature rations.
“Take my number down. if you need anything at all, you give me a call, you hear me?” The woman pulled out a faded bank issued pen and scribbled down an almost illegible sequence of numbers onto a napkin. Nikki hesitantly took the napkin, folding it into her palm with a slight nod — enough to satisfy the woman’s search for reassurance.
Nikki glanced down at her timepiece, temporarily disregarding its uselessness as the battery had long ago forsaken her. Courteously placing a napkin over the slightly disturbed remnants of her plate, Nikki then dusted her lap as she rose out of her seat, ignoring the blatant stares from the surveilling elderly women at the table.
“Sorry for your loss, baby. The older woman shouted to Nikki before turning to her neighbor. “You know, those artsy ones are always a little off.”