When Lakeesha had read the Catholic Insider article about the Saint Michael stained glass window in the Church of the Epiphany, she knew it was the answer. Although it wasn’t well known, standing in the light of this window was supposed to help you defeat evil and protect from your enemies.
Evil surrounded her. The group home staff imprisoned her, forcing her to eat what they said, do what they said, even sleep when they said. Every day was a fight just to get a little extra oatmeal, but she was hard, and she never cried. Her mother, if she knew, would be outraged, but they wouldn’t even let her call.
Lakeesha waited on the group home’s porch for Sister Nina, staying out of sight and hoping the youth care workers would forget about her and not decide last minute she couldn’t go. It cost her a month of schmoozing to get this far, and only then because Vanita, the lady who’d brought the Catholic Insider magazines, stated Lakeesha’s case. She was otherwise just as cruel as the rest.
Lakeesha was going to liberate herself from their meanness, their slavery—whatever it took. The other girls were ready. They had the tape and rope and a few other things she’d stolen from the tool shed, but things like this had been tried before. Lakeesha just needed the power of the stained glass.
The nun pulled up in a faded red Cavelier. Lakeesha jumped off the porch and stopped herself from running, strutting casually in case anyone was looking, then got in the car.
“You look nice, Lakeesha.”
Lakeesha twisted her lips to hide a smile, then forced a whispered ‘thank you.’ They drove by the boys house, and smoke came out of a bush where LaRon or one of the others snuck a cigarette. LaRon was another piece of her plan. His brother—the one that slipped him weed from time to time—had a house where they could live by their own rules.
“It was a wonderful surprise when Miss Landis called. I didn’t know you were interested in the church.”
“Have you been to it,” Lakeesha asked.
“A few times, but mostly for mass,” Nina said.
Lakeesha wrapped her arms around herself. “Is it true?”
“That depends. What have you heard?”
“The article said you’d be brave and could beat your enemies just after…” She struggled with the word because it didn’t seem to fit, “…bathing in it?”
“You mean the Catholic Insider article? That one’s pretty accurate, but what do you think it’s going to do for you?”
Sister Nina, glanced at her like she was thinking hard or something. “Is someone threatening you, Lakeesha? Because I can help.”
“Can’t say,” Lakeesha said. She had her plan, and the last thing she needed was to spend the next hour explaining how horribly the group home staff treated her. Besides, her mom always taught her to take care of things herself. She would dance seven nights a week before relying on a man, and she used what she needed to help her through. Lakeesha would do what she had to just like her mom.
Sister Nina drove in silence for a while.
“Saint Michael’s window has helped a lot of people fight evil,” Nina said. “After standing in the light people have overcome unbeatable odds. There have been true miracles.” She seemed to forget what she was saying. “What made you want to come?”
“I don’t know. I just saw the picture, and I had go there.”
“You believe in God?”
“But you believe in the window.”
She nodded pensively. “Yes.”
“Baby steps,” she mumbled.
Lakeesha wasn’t sure she was supposed to hear that.
“I hope it gives you what you need,” said Nina.
Lakeesha’s heart jumped as they pulled into the Church of the Epiphany. On the outside it didn’t look like it was anything special. An old, red-brick building, vaulted front with a ball-and-cross steeple, hedges on each side of the steps going up, and a line of rose bushes along the front. There were people lined out the door.
“We gotta wait in line?” asked Lakeesha.
Nina smiled. “It’s okay. It moves fast, believe it or not.”
Lakeesha was sweating a little by the time they got inside. The foyer was small, but cool. There was still hushed chatter until they entered the nave. Sister Nina dipped her fingers into a water dish and crossed herself, and Lakeesha tried to imitate her.
The nave was dim, pews on each side. A table full of lit candles stood left of the altar area. The crucifix hung behind the altar above a golden box, a statue on each side, one she recognized as Mary. What fascinated her the most, though, were the carvings of scenes along each side in lifelike detail. They made Lakeesha want to create something. Anything.
The sun shone through stained glass on the right side of the church, splashing color at an angle across the pews. The front of the line stopped about five pews back from the altar, visitors, a few at a time, going into one of the three or four pews in the light of one of the windows. She couldn’t see the window, but warm reds, yellows, and whites shined on the wood. The visitors stood in the light or sat or kneeled, all of them taking a quiet few moments, then clearing away for others to enter.
Lakeesha didn’t realize she was smiling until Sister Nina smiled back at her. She couldn’t even see the window, but she already felt things she’d never felt before. It was more than happiness. It was more than faith. It was hope. Hope that not only she would be okay, but that everyone might, that her mother would be delivered—she didn’t even know what that meant, but it felt right.
When the edge of the window came into view, Lakeesha couldn’t help herself, she moved ahead to get a better look. It was breathtaking. A winged, blond-haired man in a red gown held a spear and pressed his foot on a horned man’s head. A golden belt and golden cross on his chest, he shone with magnificent triumph. Chills ran through Lakeesha’s back and tummy.
Her spot in line caught up to her and she stepped in, gazing at the window, memorizing every detail, every embellishment, every piece of glass. The person in front of her moved into a pew and she gasped, not sure she was ready. She saw the spot she wanted, in the middle of the light, and as if responding to her wish, a few people shuffled out, leaving the space free.
Lakeesha gingerly sidestepped along the seat and into the light, putting herself in the middle of it to soak it in.
She was ready for some great commotion of power to well up within her, but nothing came. Instead, expectation turned to wonder, and she felt a stirring within herself, and a question came to her. Why are you so angry, child? The question frightened her, so she braced herself against it, but refused to turn away, letting the light work through her.
She stared at the archangel’s figure, wishing it would move, wanting to hear stories about the things he’d done. The light seemed to spread wide around her and brighten the entire church, softly brightening the statues and casting a brilliant reflection off the golden box until it seemed the light came from the box, lighting up the window and the rest of the world outside.
She didn’t know how long she stood there, but eventually she felt the courage grow within her. It was nothing like what she expected. Not the stormy courage to war against evil, but a determined confidence, for what she wasn’t even sure.
She stepped out of the light and walked down the side aisle to the back to wait for Sister Nina on the front steps. The sunlight felt like a new friend.
“Did you like it?” Nina appeared next to her.
“Yes. Very much.”
Nina smiled warmly. “Do you think it gave you what you were looking for?”
“I don’t know. Yes. Maybe.”
Nina laughed. “That’s how it is a lot of the time.”
“Do you think…” Lakeesha studied the toe of her tennis shoe.
“Do you think I could come again sometime?”
“Of course,” she said.
The ride back was mostly quiet. Lakeesha tried to orient her new confidence to the fight ahead, her break for freedom. She felt the courage working in her, not just for action against her enemies, but to face truth. To see herself.
Why are you so angry, my child?
Tears formed in her eyes.
She felt the evil in a new way. The closer they got to the group home, the stronger the sensation, and it took on a new danger that she had not known before. She began to tremble, but the confidence stayed with her.
As they pulled in, she glanced toward the toolshed behind the house, and she could just see LaRon’s shoulder as he waited according to plan. She grimaced as she saw the puff of smoke rise above the shed. He was going to get them busted.
“Are you okay?”
“Do you want me to come in with you?”
“No. I don’t want them to see me like this.”
“You can wait for a bit.”
“No. Thank you.” She got out of the car.
“Call me any time, okay?”
She felt like a man on death row walking to the executioner, but she took the steps bravely and entered the house.
Vanita and Carol were the care workers on duty. They’d be easy to overtake. When they saw her tears they caused an uproar asking what’s wrong and trying to keep the other girls quiet. Lakeesha didn’t want to talk to them, and they irritated her until she wanted to scream.
They irritated her.
That was all.
No evil. No monsters trying to persecute her, just extremely irritating people. Evil was nearby, but it wasn’t them. Lakeesha realized everything they did—even when they were being jerks—was out of duty and for her, not against her. Because for the first time she had courage enough to look at herself and realize—she was trouble.
She was trouble, and pure evil lurked behind the shed. She started to cry again and got permission to go to her room. Vanita followed her and sat in the hallway as Lakeesha curled up on her bed. She didn’t see anything the same.
She pictured her mother, and for the first time in her life Lakeesha knew what pity felt like.