I saw her in the foyer as S.M. and I walked past. As we sat down in our customary seat in the front row, I observed through my peripheral vision, that the woman sat third row from the back at the end of the pew with her black purse sitting on her lap. People walked by, said, “excuse me,” as they jostled past her to sit in the center of that pew, but they kept a large distance between them and her, smiling briefly toward her, but not engaging into conversation. I kept turning around, finding reasons to watch this new person, as a new person in our church stands out like a hippie from Woodstock at CPAC.
The new visitor wore her black hair in two long braids. She opened her purse, and searched for something, before finding it. Carefully, the woman unwrapped a piece of gum and slipped it into her mouth. I looked away when she looked up, pretending to flip through my church bulletin as if death and birth announcements or a call to help out at the ladies potluck was more interesting than this new person.
S.M. was already studying the sermon notes. A friend of his from the Men’s Bible study slid in next to him, and they started talking about whatever men talk about. I wasn’t really listening. My mind wandered back to the woman with the braids.
Our “official” greeters had greeted her (what is that anyway?!). My hands began to feel sweaty. My stomach did flip flops. What do I talk about? How long til service begins? I had fifteen minutes to make up my mind about whether to approach the woman who didn’t make eye contact with anyone.
“Be right back.” I whispered to S.M.
S.M. nodded, but he and his friend were engrossed in a discussion about amnesty. I stood, leaving my purse on the pew, and walked to the woman with the braids. In my mind, I rehearsed:
“Hi, my name is…”
“Hi, S.M. and I go to this great hot dog place after church, and…”
I stopped next to her pew, and she moved her feet automatically. “Oh, I’m not going to sit there.” I said.
“Oh.” Her hazel eyes reflected confusion.
Her face had that hard look. In spite of her youth, intuitively, I sensed she had lived a life beyond her years. I swallowed and urged myself to continue talking, to fill this awkward silence.
“I just wanted to introduce myself. Welcome to church.” I gave her my name.
A lovely smile deepened the dimple on her left cheek. “I am Mari.”
“My husband and I are going to this great hot dog place…”
“Oh, I’m vegetarian.” Mari said.
“They serve salads, too. Would you like to join us after church?”
“Maybe another time.” She said. “I’ve got a lot of unpacking to do. I just moved into a new apartment downtown.”
“Wonderful.” I said.
Silence. She looked down at her feet. I excused myself and returned to sit next to S.M.
“Met a new person?”
“She’s a vegetarian.” I said.
S.M. nodded. “So you invited her to our hot dog place.”