“I’m not religious.”
“Me, either. I come because Carlos can talk. His sermons are like a semester in a grad-level sociology class.”
Carlos’ mother, sitting behind the two young men, nodded. She knew her son would be happy to hear a comment like that — a semester in sociology class. She’d noticed the young man when he’d started attending services a few months earlier. At that time, he had seemed an unlikely convert, and she had wondered if he’d come for more than a Sunday or two. She’d been happy to see him settle into the group, happier still to see him start bringing other young people to services.
Of course, she shouldn’t have been surprised. She’d seen Carlos have the same effect on many young people in the two years he’d been leading services. And wasn’t she proud of the work her son was doing, proud to see how able he was to connect with young people, how his energy was transforming their church?
A frown twitched across her forehead, followed by the increasingly familiar tremble of her left eyelid.
In the kitchen that night, washing her few dinner dishes, she thought again of the young men in church, of Carlos’ ability to draw them in. She knew it was a good thing, knew that one day the church would be as large and full as it had been when her father had been preaching. She could see that Carlos had the same gift.
Again the frown and muscle spasm contracted her face.
She looked at the framed photo of her father that hung beneath the kitchen clock. His navy Sunday suit, his beautiful smile, his silver hair carefully arranged in thick waves that flowed back from his high forehead down past his collar.
“He’s getting it wrong, Papí,” she whispered, turning back to her dishes. “You would never — ”
She stopped herself, set to cleaning the kitchen.
Only in the dark, in the last thin moments before sleep could she let herself think of it, hear Carlos’ calm, sure voice telling her she might be happier in a new church.
“We’ve come a long way as a congregation,” he explained, “but we feel that to become our true selves, to discover our full power and potential, we need to be free of old ideas –”
“So you’ve run all of the elders out of the church, and now it’s my turn?”
“No one’s been run out of anywhere, mother. People have made choices that were best for them, comfortable for them.”
He’d invited her to meet him for coffee before service, a surprise that made her wary.
She’d been watching him for nearly a year, his maneuvering, the alliances he’d built. She’d seen her friends leave one by one, knew that soon she’d have to follow them
She hadn’t wanted tho believe her commadre, Marisol, who’d been the first to warn her.
“Your Carlos,” she’d said, “He has plans you won’t like.”
“What are you talking, Mari?” She had laughed at her friend. “You believe the rumors about him and that girl from Washington Heights?”
Marisol had frowned. “When he’s finished with your Papi’s church, you’ll wish your only concern was him running after some Dominicana negra.”
She wouldn’t fight him, of course. She would leave, follow Marisol and the others to Holy Light. Of course. If her father were still alive, it would be different, but he was too many years gone.
She wasn’t sure she still believed her job was to see to Carlos’ happiness even at the sacrifice of her own, but she was alone and tired. What would be gained by fighting? Was it worth whatever might be lost?