Losing His Religion ©

“It’s not fair,” Chloe said. “Why does he have to stand outside the door?”
“Because that’s the way it is,” Chloe’s mother answered.
“Well it ain’t fair, he drove us all the way down here.
He even knows the words to all the songs, but still he has to stand out there. It ain’t fair.”
“Isn’t. And I’m sure he doesn’t mind dear – pay attention.”
“Is it because his bible got burnt up in the fire?”
“Certainly not! Now turn around.”

Chloe was looking over her shoulder at Mr. Prosser standing outside the door. He held his driving hat in both hands. Beads of perspiration glistened on his brow and tinted his shirt collar. Occasionally Mr. Prosser would wipe his forehead and throat with an overused front-pocket handkerchief and tug at the uncomfortable tightness of his tie. Mr. Prosser stood there in his dark colored suit and mouthed along as the others sang aloud. He gently bowed his head when the others lowered theirs and looked heavenward when he felt it necessary.

“Paul  preaches  there  is  neither  Jew  nor  Gentile,   neither  slave  nor  free,   nor  is  there  male  and  female.” Boomed the preacher.
“Amen,” said Mr. Prosser from outside the church doors, “Amen.”
Mr. Prosser’s voice was solid and guttural.

On the drive home Chloe asked Mr. Prosser what he thought of the sermon but Chloe’s mother told her to hush up.
Her mother said she shouldn’t talk to Mr. Prosser while he was driving.
Chloe did as she was told and looked through the car’s side glass. She read the crippled marquee in front of 16th Street Baptist Church as they drove past – “sundays sermon – the love that forgives”.
Chloe could see the front of the brick building was blasted away. The steps that led up to the heavy double doors were also missing. A group of men was standing near the road. Some of them had their shirt sleeves rolled up and their fedoras pushed back. Mr. Prosser threw up his hand and waved. The colored men waved back.
A static laced voice played through the car’s radio speakers.
“The blood of four little children is on your hands. Your irresponsible and misguided actions have created, in Birmingham and Alabama, the atmosphere that has induced continued violence  – and now murder…”
Chloe’s mother asked that Mr. Prosser switch off the radio. Mr. Prosser did as he was asked.

After he drives the pink skinned girl and her mother back to their big white house, Mr. Prosser will go down into his cellar room below the house to listen to the latest news about the church bombing. He keeps a tiny transistor radio next to his gray, iron cot. His room is clean but empty. A square card table and metal folding chair sit in the center of the room. A print of The Potato Eaters hangs on the white-washed wall above his cot. The picture is a melancholy reminder of his own difficult childhood. The reminder is more of a necessity than a desire.

Mr. Prosser rolled the car to a stop in the driveway and switched off the ignition. Chloe’s mother stepped out and gently pushed the car door to. Chloe leaned over the back of the front seat and dropped her bible down beside Mr. Prosser.
“You can have it Mr. Prosser.”
Looking back and down at her blonde curls, Mr. Prosser lifted the bible. He felt its warm, textured cover and fine, thin pages between his fingers. He unfolded the book to where the delicate tasseled bookmark separated the pages. Galatians, 3:28.
“For you are all one in Christ Jesus,” Mr Prosser read aloud. His voice barely more than a throaty whisper, but heavy enough to be rough and scratchy.
“That’s what the preacher talked about in church today,” Chloe said.
“About how all people are equal. But I was thinking since you had to stand outside, maybe they didn’t think you was equal Mr. Prosser. But I do Mr. Prosser. I think you’re as equal as the rest of them. That’s why you can have my bible Mr. Prosser, so they can see you are equal and then you can come inside the church too until your own church gets fixed up again, OK Mr. Prosser?”

Mr. Prosser closed the pages over the nylon marker. He smoothed his dry palm over the pressed gold letters on the cover of the book. He slowly turned the bible this way and that. He studied over it a minute before speaking.
“I can’t take your bible Miss Chloe,” said Mr. Prosser in his deep, rich voice, “Besides child, I reckon it’s six feet of earth that make all men equal, not this here book.”

Chloe didn’t hear Mr. Prosser. She was already skipping towards her big white house where her mother was waiting in the doorway.

The Ballad of Birmingham by Dudley Randall