(Second of three parts)
SO happy was she with Grace, as she had never been with most of her many friends in church—for Darrel, Darl for short, was an outgoing little Christian who had a smile for everyone despite her halitosis—that she shared many of her innermost desires with her, dropping them like bait, waiting for a positive response.
When her 95-year-old aunt in the province died, she told Grace about it. Her aunt was also born again, she said; she had, in fact, been a missionary like her, and was unmarried too. When she died, she was placed in a bier so wide that they could not get it to pass through the narrow door of the small church she belonged to.
And so the undertakers asked her relatives to walk away from the church for a while.
When the relatives came back, the bier was already inside the church.
Grace’s eyes continued to look inward, as they always did, unlike Darl’s which were very much interested in the world, especially the beautiful Christian women in it, whom she openly pronounced “Maganda!”
So Darl went on with her story.
“They asked us to go away because they had to move in the bier sideways.”
“Oh,” Grace finally replied, still distracted by her inner musings.
Darl went further.
“She was survived by her best friend. She lived in one house together with her. They were partners in ministry. Tita was the strategist but was bad at details, so her friend was her gofer. It was very convenient for them to live together, because then they were able to do great work for God.”
To Darl, there was nothing wrong with two women living together, as long as they did not have sex. In fact, she could not imagine two women having sex. Moreover, she did not even know how a man and a woman performed sex, having shielded her eyes from the carnal since she was born again in college. So hers, in her mind, was an entirely innocent suggestion.
Grace’s eyes were unmoved, but her brow furrowed ever so slightly.
“Like us?” She wondered in her mind. “Me the strategist, you the gofer? But I would never stay with you, I have a son and a granddaughter, they’re my responsibility. Besides, two women living alone together in a house . . .”
But she kept silent, leaving Darl to wonder about the future of her dream.
So Darl kept at it. Going away for two months to the boondocks to attend to the missionary center she had set up for tribal people decades before, she came back with renewed vigor and verve, revived by the progress she had seen there. How she wished Grace would go with her. It wasn’t unusual, after all she had brought three couples there before, and they enjoyed themselves. She had grown close to those couples, as close as she wished to become to Grace.
Grace was her elder by ten years, but she preceded her in God’s Kingdom by twenty. And yet the other woman, a much younger child of God, seemed so much more mature than she in His teachings, making her admire Grace all the more.
For while Grace kept her cool, Darl often blurted out exactly what she was thinking at the moment, without giving it the benefit of reflection on God’s will. Out of the abundance of her heart did her mouth speak.
What Darl did not take to heart was that, though Grace had told her many times about it and she would see her do it all the time, the latter’s habit was to speak in tongues. Perhaps it was because she did not believe in it. Not that she fully disbelieved in it, but that she just did not feel the necessity to do it. Her training in ministry was to use her mind, memorizing Bible verses so that she could drop them whenever it was convenient to do so.
In fact, it was her habit to text Bible verses to her friends, especially Grace; abbreviated Bible verses which Grace thought came not from God’s will, but the texter’s own.
It was a surprise to Darl therefore to hear Grace explaining to the masa they were discipling how it was to speak in tongues.
“Ang hindi ko maintindihan, sister, ay bakit ang pastor namin noon kailangan pang mag-speaking in tongues bago mag-sermon. Ang tingin ko roon ay para bang sira ang ulo niya,” the masa asked.
Darl could not answer that because, in her heart of hearts, she felt the same way.
But Grace was quick to pick up the question.
“Hindi kasi sapat na pag-aralan lang natin sa sarili nating isip ang Salita ng Diyos. Kailangan humingi tayo ng payo sa Banal na Espiritu. Ang speaking In tongues ay daan natin sa Banal na Espiritu. Tuwing mag-speaking in tongues tayo, dumadaloy ang malalim na kaalaman ng Holy Spirit sa atin, at naipapahayag ng Panginoon ang Kanyang will sa atin sa pamamagitan noon. Kung walang speaking in tongues, will lang natin ang mananaig, kahit Word of God pa ang akala nating ipinapahayag natin.”
Darl had never thought of speaking in tongues that way. She had taken Paul’s admonition about Love having to take precedence over speaking in tongues and the other spiritual gifts dogmatically.
The lesson was not enough to make her speak in tongues, but it made her admire Grace even more.
So it was that upon coming back from the boondocks and seeing Grace, she gayly exclaimed, “Let’s go to Bantayan! You’ll love the missionary center there. When I get the Ford Fiera the funding agency promised, I will drive you there. I love driving, I would like to drive through the whole Philippines up to Mindanao! We can go as soon as I get the Fiera!”
Grace merely looked at her. Her eyes were not exactly glazed, but they were eyes strangely uninterested in the world.
But in her inner mind she was saying, “Uh-huh. With me beside you, I suppose. You the driver, me the navigator.”
She had been through it before. She had had a lesbian friend fall in love with her, who having been rejected, pursued and harassed her 26 years more, to her utter dismay. She could remember driving a van with the thrilled lesbian beside her telling her of a first love on back seat while she drove a motorcycle, and how she wanted to learn to drive a car so she, Grace, would not have to. She did not hate lesbians, but knew them in fine detail: their innermost desires, their outward behavior, their seeming compromises. She had tasted of the sins of the world, had been chastised, and was not about to look back.
Her sculptures decades ago consisted of cactus-shaped penises, shrapnel-pocked boobs, and barb-wired vaginas, and whenever she carved heads, they would ooze with flesh, sex and the cares of the world. Darl, the Fine Arts graduate who never practiced her craft, had been to one such retrospective exhibit of hers with her sister, expressing admiration for her as she always did.
She wondered if they did not see the difference between those and her last decade’s busts, which increasingly captured the joy and glow of glorified faces. She wondered if, not perceiving the spiritual progress of her sculptures through the decades, the two sisters misinterpreted her as still being a creature of lust, and therefore responded accordingly.
An early widow, she had been through a whole lot of trials in her life, she knew the ins and outs of carnality and desire, and had absolutely forsaken these.
She could not be fooled.
But she liked Darl, her generosity, her genuine concern for the poor, and yes, her head for details, which she had never cultivated, so focused on the big picture was she. She could only wish Darl never had to come close to her, for she could not bear the smell of halitosis, and suspected it came from an inner, unconfessed rot.
So she went back and forth to Darl’s compound after their evangelization of the communities at the latter’s spontaneous invitations, finding her family to be an accepting, comfortable lot, even spending the last two hours of a New Year’s Eve with them in their garden, when her son and granddaughter were preoccupied with their own events.
They looked like a normal family, their married sisters stable and straight, their mother a happy old woman.
Even Darl and her sister Glen, younger by two years and even smaller, looked normal, except that they were both unmarried and had halitosis.
Glen did not try to sit close to Grace when her married sisters were around.
She never massaged her back, as she would in church or in conferences.
She did not fondle her long hair, as she did whenever she sat at the back of a friend’s car with Grace at the front seat.
Certainly she did not try to enclose the other woman’s seated back with her arms, their faces almost cheek to cheek, as she did during the latter’s technical training for church lighting effects—and even long after, when she knew that Grace already knew how.
Grace saw through these symptoms. She had had gay male friends throughout her life, outed as well as ostensibly married. They all loved touching the forearms of handsome new male acquaintances, feeling the wiry little hairs on them, reveling in their crispness. Gay females, on the other hand, hankered after deeper relationships, more outright tomboys being prone to gentle but prolonged embraces. The persistent hug from the back by outright tomboys was a sneaky way of fulfilling their desires without giving the object of their affections a chance to ward off intentions.
There was something common about all these little female fiends of hidden desire, however. They immediately took offense upon exposure, and accused their accuser of malice aforethought.
Darl was a little better than her sister. She noticed when Grace, at their mother’s house without their married sisters, began to move away from Glen, avoiding sitting beside her, shifting her chair farther whenever Glen tried to sit near her.
Glen, her beloved younger, stumpier sister, her playmate for a long time with a neighbor who never outgrew her desire to become a man, tended to be dense.
She too must have had her own denseness, oblivious as she was of Grace’s sensitivity, when she blurted out in that visit with her usual open, toothy, seemingly innocent smile, “Matulog ka muna!”
She had exclaimed that with all candor, deeply desiring to see Grace’s angelic face as she slept but not even daring to think of touching it.
Grace’s response was to stand up to go, saying, “Ang lapit-lapit ng bahay ko, may dala pa akong kotse . . . “ She wanted to say further, “Bakit pa ako matutulog dito?” But she did not proceed. She wondered where the spontaneous offer was coming from.
She had begun to notice little indications of Darl’s view of the mother’s role in the family, though the latter had her own mother in full view 24 hours a day.
Darl had told two grandmothers to stop taking care of their grandchildren because these were the responsibility of their children, and one of these to stop spoiling her grown-up sons in not pushing them to work.
The latter finally shot back at her, gently as is the wont of the poor, but eye-to-eye like all wise women, “Sister, may asawa ka ba?”
Grace, seeing Darl’s face turn red as a beet, guffawed.
“Wala, buong buhay ko nasa ministry. Nasa mission, nasa ministry,” Darl had to repeat, stuttering, but standing her ground.
“Ah, kaya pala eh,” the grandmother replied with a knowing smile, still very gently.
That sent Grace into teeters.
At another time, she heard Darl tell a middle class woman with a 14-year-old only son, “Sumama ka na sa ministry namin, masyado kang focused dyan sa anak mo e.”
The woman objected, holding the child on his arm fondly, “Only son!”
So Grace backed her up, saying, “Aba, dapat lang ang focus nasa anak!”
Grace’s dilemma increased when Darl began to exhibit signs of jealousy over other women.
Almost always late for appointments that Darl arranged with her spontaneously on the last few minutes one hour or so before church events—unscheduled dates that she began not to be comfortable in complying with, after they became too frequent—Grace would come upon an incensed Darl, whom she thought was already reacting like a boyfriend, or girlfriend as the case may be.
After one such late act she came upon Darl with a group of church women, all of whom she also knew, scheduled to attend the church event a few minutes later. One of the church women was so overjoyed to see her that she hugged and kissed her on the cheeks.
Immediately Darl stood up from her seat, almost shouting, “Bakit ngayon ka lang? Sabi mo nakaalis ka na sa bahay, hindi naman totoo! Limang minuto ka pa lang nakaalis!”
The woman who had hugged and kissed her, surprised at the outburst, withdrew. All the other women looked on, surprised. Where did that come from, they asked themselves.
Grace herself began to wonder: How did she know I had just left the house? Why is she trying to make a liar out of me in front of everyone?
At another time, out of the goodness of her heart Grace helped a poor woman get treatment at a hospital for a boil in the breast. Speaking out of the abundance of her heart as usual, Darl told Grace without a second thought, “Kunsabagay, maganda naman si Sabel, di ba?”
Huh? Was Grace’s silent response.
In fact, Grace did not know what to do with the two siblings.
She did not even know what to pray for them. For weeks on end she was led to pray in tongues, her mind empty—in her room, in the bathroom, under the shower, in the dining room when no one was around, on her daily walks, while driving the car alone—not knowing what she was praying for, nor guessing what the message was to be.
(To be continued)