"Almost Home" A short story.
The day dawned warm and clear for early autumn. Three-year-old Madeline, our second child of four, decided to wake the household early with the slamming of her bedroom door, as if to announce it was time to get ready for church. We’d been attending Inglewood Christian Fellowship the last few Sundays and were looking forward to seeing new friends again. Opening the doors to the back deck, I noticed there was a lot more dew on the grass and the leaves on the sycamore were starting to shrivel. Not a cloud in the sky though, except a wispy shroud over the top of Mt Taranaki. We decided we would walk; church was only five minutes up the road.
It had taken us ten years to realise that Inglewood was more than a suburb of New Plymouth. Fifteen minutes by open road was an easy commute and we thought nothing of the trip to the city. That is until we had four children under the age of five and going anywhere became an event in itself. More and more we came to rely on things nearby and discovered that Inglewood was a thriving community in its own right. By the time Sam our oldest was at school in Inglewood, we realised we had become entrenched in the community and all its activities except for church, hence the recent change.
Forgetting that at ICF a 10am start actually means “whenever you get here,” we arrived with plenty of time to avail ourselves of a row of seats. We needn’t have worried: numbers were down because of Taranaki Anniversary. Numbers were never very big anyway. An intimate gathering of locals.
Eventually the service was started by Neil, internationally renowned bovine expert, local vet and part-time preacher. He introduced the gathering to an elderly woman named Jesse in the back row, having recently moved up from Ashburton. I smiled along with others in her direction. There were a few songs and notices before Sam and the older children left for Sunday School, halving the numbers. Neil’s sermon followed. I was preoccupied with keeping Madeline and her twin sisters entertained, but I did notice that Neil forsook the pulpit and microphone in favour of sitting in a chair while he preached.
When Neil was finished, the intimate gathering transformed into a throng headed for the coffee table. I joined them for some much needed caffeine of the instant variety and turned to socialise with some new friends. The woman from Ashburton, Jesse, stood at my elbow. My smile reappeared but I wondered what I could talk to her about. “My mother was a twin!” she said through beaming smile and bright eyes. That’s all that was needed as she delighted in the girls clambering about my legs.
Jesse eventually went off and my eyes searched for the rest of my family as a man I hadn’t met approached: “I see you walked this morning. It’s gonna rain.” My face conveyed my disbelief and he replied, “The mountain’s got a hat on. Don’t you know that means it’s gonna rain Luv?” His wizened eyes told me he was a farmer and that there was no doubt. His wife joined us. “We’re Bev and Gary. How long have you been in Inglewood?” I sheepishly replied, “ten years,” assuming they’d wonder where we’d been all this time. “Hmmm,” they nodded. The message was clear; we were considered new to the town. Neil whispered smilingly as he passed, “Sandra and I have been here 35 years and we’re still not locals. You have to be born here.”
Finally reunited with Paul and our children, we made our way to the exit. We smelled the rain before we saw the clouds, that thick damp odour of wet leaves and steaming tarmac. Sam had to walk but we quickly put Madeline on her tricycle and the twins in their buggy, hurrying past the tangle of bicycles by the door. Madeline’s little legs went round furiously as we trudged along the footpath. “Almost home Madeline.” I smiled. Almost home.