THE FIRST COMMUNION
by Emanuel Melo
The taxi had finally arrived. The driver watched Eulália Dias as she descended from her front porch one heavy step at a time. He got out of the cab to open the back door for her, smiled an apology for being late, and asked where she was headed.
“I go to St. Helen’s Church on Dundas, you know where it is? But I need to sit in the front seat because of my legs. Please, you have to hurry. I’m going to be late for my granddaughter’s First Communion.”
“What time you need to be there?”
“No problem. We have time to get there. From Euclid and Queen to Dundas and Lansdowne is not too far.”
Once the driver saw that Eulália had finally managed to latch her seat belt, he was off.
“You Catholic?” he asked.
“Oh, yes. All my life, before I come to Canada.”
“In my country, India, we have many Catholics.”
“You Catholic, too?”
“No, my family is Hindu. We come to Canada ten years ago. I have three sons and one daughter. They all go to university. I have degree in accounting from my country but can’t get a job in my field, so I drive taxi, two shifts a day. You have to work hard in Canada.”
“Oh, sure. I work hard when I come to Canada, too. I worked in a factory, you know? I get up five o’clock in the morning. Now I miss it so much.”
“Where are you from?”
“Azores. You know Azores? Very beautiful. They say my island, São Miguel, is a green island, but Canada is green, too. When I first come to Toronto, I am young, I can walk everywhere, but now I can’t walk very much.”
“How many children do you have?”
“I have three daughters and two sons. Eight grandchildren. All beautiful, healthy.”
“Why do you have to take taxi to your granddaughter’s First Communion? One of your children should have picked you up. It’s a special day.”
“They all live too far away. Ana, in Oakville. Lita in Mississauga, and the youngest one, Fátima, in Woodbridge. Matthew lives in Montreal. He works at McGill University. John lives on Dufferin Street, close to the church. He’s the father of my granddaughter making her First Communion. Meghan, she so nice and beautiful, tall and skinny. I don’t think she eats enough. But they all too busy to come and get me.”
“Children today can be so ungrateful.”
“Oh, yes, but I am used to it. Thanks be to God that I can stay in my house after my husband died. Three years now and, believe me, I still don’t get used to him gone. He was my life. After he die, my children all so nice to me, they all say, Mom, we come get you on the weekends. But then I see that they don’t mean it. Maybe once, maybe two times, somebody come to get me, but now only Christmas and Easter.”
“That’s terrible. In my culture we expect our children to be respectful and obedient, and to take care of their parents when we are old. Maybe in your culture is different?”
“No, no, when I was young, everybody respected their elders. Now, all my friends tell me the same thing about their own children. It’s the busy life and nobody has time for the old people.”
Eulália looked at her watch in a panic.
“Is already getting late. Oh, paciência, I am going to miss the First Communion.”
“We’re now at Sheridan. Just a few more blocks. There it is, see? I told you I would get you there on time. You must not cry now, be happy. You will be with your family for the celebration and then you have lots to eat back at the house.”
The driver held Eulália Dias by the arm and walked her to the front door of the church.
“Thank you so much, and God bless you.”
“You’re welcome, Mama. You enjoy yourself.”
Eulália pushed the heavy doors open. Organ music spilled outside, as did the chatter of the congregation. She walked up the aisle trying to find a seat.
Ai, meu Deus. She would never see her granddaughter in her First Communion dress. She had to find her family, but all the benches were so full of people. A kind soul made room for her to sit down. And just in time. She didn’t think she could walk any more. It was a big church, beautiful, but not as nice as her St. Mary’s.
Ah, all the little girls going up for their First Communion. She wondered which one was Meghan. They were wearing such plain dresses and no veils. When Eulália made her own First Communion, she’d worn a beautiful long white dress, and on her head a silk tiara with little pearls sewn around it. Queridos tempos, those were happy days.
Such a long line up to get to the altar. Eulália hoped she’d see her granddaughter on her way back from her own Communion. And there she was. Eulália waved at her but Meghan didn’t see her. Why was she talking to that little girl beside her? In Eulália’s day, they would be sitting still and praying. Oh, and there was Ana, and Lita, and their kids.
“Ana, give me a kiss. Kevin, Michael, come give avó a beijinho, just one little kiss.”
“We didn’t see you, Mom. Where are you sitting?”
“I come a few minutes late but I had to sit in the back. Now I can stay here with you. Can’t you make room for me to sit down? No? Then I’ll go sit behind you with Lita and the girls. I’m not making a fuss. I just want to sit with my granddaughters. Melinda, Jessica, come give grandmother a kiss.”
Mass was coming to the end. Eulália thanked God for it. She wondered where John and his wife were. Then she spotted them, way up by the altar, always talking to strangers.
“Lita, who are they talking to over there?”
“I don’t know, Mom, maybe some friends of theirs. I’m sorry that we could not drive you. Maybe Ana can drive you back. They have plenty of space in their big car.”
“I come by taxi. Otherwise I would miss the First Communion. Meghan looks so nice, I hope she comes over to see me.”
“The children are taking a group photograph. She’ll be along soon.”
“John, parabéns, congratulations, on Meghan’s First Communion. Bend over and give your mother a kiss. I have a special present to give Meghan but I want to give it to her alone. See? It’s my gold chain that I’ve had since I was a little girl.”
“Thanks, Mãe, she’ll love it.”
“I want to have my picture taken with her, too.”
“Don’t worry, we’ll take one outside before we head out to the restaurant. Who is going to drive you there? You could come with us. We have room in our car.”
“That’s OK, I’m going with Ana. Where’s your brother, Matthew?”
“His plane got delayed so he will meet us at the restaurant.”
“Oh, que pena, how sad that he missed his niece’s First Communion.”
“Ok, Mãe, I gotta go. Sandra is calling me. I’ll see you outside.”
Eulália waved to Sandra. As Eulália’s daughter-in-law, Sandra’s duty was to come over and greet Eulália, but she was too busy talking to her friends.
Eulália looked around and hoped there was a washroom in this church.
“Fátima, I almost didn’t see you. Where are the kids?”
“Hi, Mom, we arrived late. Trevor took the kids outside. They weren’t behaving themselves. How did you get here today, taxi? Who’s driving you back to the restaurant? Oh, Ana, that’s good. You need the washroom? Yes, there’s one at the front of the church.”
“People are already leaving the church. I better hurry up.”
“Don’t worry, take your time. I’m sure Ana will wait for you.”
Eulália walked alone to the bathroom near the vestibule, and held on to the benches for support.
Her children were always nas pressas, always hurrying, with no time for anything.
Eulália found the bathroom too small to move around in. It had a very low toilet. Eulália was grateful for her tall toilet at home, with a handrail for support.
Suddenly it became very quiet, and Eulália tried to hurry up. If only there had been a handle to help her get up from the seat. Meu Deus, my God, she could not get up. Those legs of hers were good for nothing. LITA, ANA, FÁTIMA! Not even one of her daughters was close enough to hear her.
Oh, if only God could help her get up. She finally managed to stand up and felt relieved.
Hello? hello? She sensed that everyone had already left.
Why was the church so dark? She heard voices outside. What were they all laughing about while she was stuck inside alone? Oh, if only she could walk faster. She tried a heavy door and found it locked! She saw the Blessed Sacrament altar by the side door and felt for certain that this must be the way out. Please, dear God, she prayed, help me get out of this church. She sent up a prayer of thanks when the door opened. She had panicked when she had thought that she would never get out. But where did everyone go? Parece impossível! She could not believe they had all left her behind. They would be sorry when they didn’t see her at the restaurant.
Eulália was relieved to see a bench nearby and a little garden shrine with a statue of Our Lady of Fátima.
Ai, Querida Mãe. Even she, the Heavenly Mother, had been abandoned by her Son on the Cross. Eulália sat down to pray the Rosary until someone would come back to get her. She could not wait to see Meghan’s face when she gave her the gold chain.
Emanuel Melo was born in the Azores and immigrated to Canada at the age of nine. He lives in Toronto. His short stories have been included in Cleaver, Writers of the Portuguese Diaspora in the United States and Canada: An Anthology, MEMÓRIA: An Anthology of Portuguese Canadian Writers. His articles have appeared in Mundo Açoriano, (TWAS) Toronto World Arts Scene, and on the website of the Canadian Centre for Azorean Research and Studies. His short story “Avó Lives Alone,” was a finalist in the Writers’ Union of Canada’s 20th Annual Short Prose Competition for Developing Writers in 2013. Website: www.thetorzorean.com