‘I think Myra is sick.’
The three women were huddled together making snacks for the prayer meeting. Martha was surprised it had taken Agnes twenty full minutes before she decided to choose a victim of her gossip. Perhaps she had too many stories and had to pick the right one.
Agnes’ husband was a journalist and in recent times she had taken it upon herself to conduct the same nosiness among her own friends. Her nosiness was aided by the fact that she had a voice as sweet as honey and words as sharp as a sword that coaxed words from tombs. But that wasn’t going to happen today.
Today was all business. Martha had approached the reverend and had a list of congregants who were in dire need of prayer.
‘You mean she is a drug addict,’ Erza countered as she licked the cake batter off the the whisk. It always reminded her of how she had makes cakes with her grandmother over thirty decades ago. Erza was the quiet one. But she was also the one without any spine. She followed where the crowd led. That she had voiced that thought was a shock on its own.
Agnes nodded then added, ‘Yes that’s what I meant but I wanted to phrase it in a more acceptable manner.’
Martha finally looked up from her batch of cookies and stared at the two women. There is no acceptable manner for gossip! She hoped her fiery look would cut to their core and they would get the idea; that gossiping was way beneath them, especially when they always chose the prayer meetings to do their ill work..
‘I heard from Jo that someone saw her at the end of the street, buying drugs from one of those street drug dealers. And of recent whenever I talk to her she always sounds high, almost as though she can’t remember the conversation we just had.’ Agnes continued unfazed.
‘Or how her speech slurs. Like with all the drugs she is taking, her tongue is forgetting how to do its job’. Erza said as she put the cakes in the oven, ‘But at her age and as a full mother with her little children! It’s ridiculous. Those are wicked phases the youth engage in. And at 41 I don’t think she can call herself a youth.’
‘Maybe we shouldn’t be gossiping about her without the facts ladies. Doesn’t that make more sense to you?’ Martha reprimanded as she carried a tray with tea and coffee into the living room where they would be having the meeting. This was her house and she was not going to lose control of the meeting before it even began.
‘It’s not gossiping,’ Agnes said as she helped carry in a tray of cookies. ‘She is a prayer item and we have to figure out exactly what we have to pray for.’
Lisanna came rushing in and had barely seen anyone when she called out to whoever was in, ‘Did you hear about Myra?’
Lisanna used to be the brains of the group, very opinionated with a healthy fear of ever being accused of being in the wrong. She had always had success trademarked in her path. But she ran off course when she married a rich man and decided to stay at home, where she was wasting away watching all those TV soaps.
Agnes and Erza cast telling glances towards Martha, as if communicating that this was worthy news and indeed Myra was someone so far gone that she needs prayers.
‘What did you hear? But be sure it’s something the self-righteous Martha has no qualms listening to,’ Agnes interjected sending Martha daggers with her eyes. Martha rolled her eyes in response.
‘Myra is having an affair.’ Lisanna whispered and looked at her audience to make sure that they acknowledged the statement with the adequate responses - and nothing less of the exclamation ‘Oh my goodness,’ followed by fanning themselves with whatever was close was acceptable. Agnes and Erza followed suit but Martha asked instead, ‘And where did you get this information from?’
‘Myra herself told me,’ Lisanna replied to Agnes’ great delight, ‘I met her at the church, sitting in the back pew and seriously typing into her phone. I tried to peer into whatever she was typing and she quickly hid her phone from me. And I thought to myself, since when did we keep secrets from each other. You know me though, so I came straight out and asked her what she was typing and rather than answer she asked me how much of that conversation I had read,’ she paused to take a sip of the tea Martha had just handed her, ‘I said quite a lot. Of course that wasn’t true but I thought that would loosen her tongue and loosen it it did. She said she had been seeing the doctor for a while now.’
With her meeting-quarter of gossip fulfilled, Lisanna sat back to watch Agnes and Erza nod in agreement.
‘Lisa, how does that amount to admitting to an affair? She could be sick.’ Martha replied.
‘Well I know she is as healthy as a horse, called me to ask if I would like to participate in the marathon with her.’ Erza spoke up.
‘And it’s how she said it - her eyes shifting all over the place and not looking straight at me, sweat breaking out on her brow, her voice a little hushed as though she didn’t want anyone else to hear a single thing, and her head hang low as though she was embarrassed by what she was admitting.’ Lisanna justified her news.
‘As she must be!’ Agnes shouted out, ‘No wonder she has been taking a break from these prayer meetings.’ And if this gossip continues she won't be the only one, Martha thought grimly.
‘None of those things you’ve said lead to the confirmation of an affair.’ Martha could feel herself reaching the breaking point and the meeting hadn’t even officially started.
‘Well not to you, the unlearned eye. But some of us are well seasoned in these things. We’ve been seeing them for ever. My goodness, watch just one of those telenovelas on TV and you will know.’ Lisanna looked to the other two for support.
‘This might explain the drugs but how can she throw away her marriage just like that. And at 41! Does she think the doctor will marry her? If I were her, I would sit home best I can and take care of my children.’ Agnes quipped.
‘She may not be the only one throwing away that marriage.’ Erza, quiet as ever, broke out almost in a whisper. Almost as though she shouldn’t share what she knows.
‘What’s that Erza, speak up. You know some of the senses dull away with age.’ Lisanna urged as she picked up some more cookies.
‘Well, you didn’t hear this from me,’ she paused to get the consent from her listeners as Martha rolled her eyes, ‘But I saw Rick in an intimate moment with someone, in his car, just outside the school.’
‘How shameless!’ ‘What a fool!’ Agnes and Lisanna exclaimed. Martha couldn’t take it anymore, she got up and walked into the kitchen. She tried to remember the Bible verse that spoke against gossip. Maybe they wouldn’t listen to her but they definitely would look to the Good Book for guidance. She hoped to find something to busy herself with in there to escape the gossip. She decided to pick up the cakes from the oven. But the kitchen in that small house was not so far off as she would have liked. She still heard everything.
‘Did you get a good look at the woman?’ Lisanna could be heard urging Erza on.
‘Yes…’ Martha could imagine Erza’s own shifty look, her head hang low and hear the hushed voice. No one was accusing her of an affair though, ‘It’s Myra’s sister.’
The silence was thick.
The ladies were all probably remembering when their own sister’s had upended them; academics, sports, cooking skills…the list was endless. Sisters were always the enemy.
‘I saw them, I did.’ Erza continued, as though to defend her allegation. ‘With my own two eyes I saw them. She had her hands over his on the steering wheel and they were so close together it couldn’t be anything else but an affair. She had that look that only lovers have, of concern and wondering when the ill-fated marriage will end.’
How could all this be happening to one person, Martha thought bitterly, that’s if the rumours were to be believed. She purposed that if Myra failed to make it to this meeting, she’d pay her a personal visit. And while she was at it, she’d get a new prayer group that didn’t gossip this much.
Mavis burst through the door like a hurricane and rushed straight to the living room. She dived straight for the cookies and asked in between bites, ‘What do you know or not know about Myra?’
Mavis was a whirlwind of a person. It was always a nice character to have about - two decades ago when they needed to spice up their university days with all her energy, but these days it just grated on Martha’s nerves. She couldn’t be expected to keep her word or time or anything that screamed responsibility.
Agnes, ever eager to keep gossip running, answered, ‘Quite a lot. What do you know?’
‘Oh so you’ve already heard about the children.’ Mavis said finally taking a seat, ‘Mhmm Martha you always make the best anything food.’ Now that they had quorum, Martha made it back to the living room to try and get all of them following her agenda.
‘What about the children?’ Lisanna edged forward, almost falling out of her seat.
‘I heard from her neighbour, that things have not been going great for the whole family. She has seen Myra crying at awkward times during the day. I reckon they are headed towards divorce. She sent the children to their grandmother. Her neighbour says that where things are headed, she may lose them. But you didn’t hear this from me.’ She paused for that last important statement to sink in as she reached for more cookies. 'So what do you know?’
‘I think it’s time we start the prayer meeting. We’ll share the people on our lists and brief details about them then get to praying.’
‘Myra is on my list and I have to know everything about her that possibly needs prayer.’ Agnes insisted, ‘Tell me Mavis, you know about the affair?’
‘Oh yes. With the lawyer.’ Mavis said confidently.
‘The lawyer,’ all the women gasped, ‘I thought it was the doctor,’ Lisanna added.
‘Could be the both of them but I have seen her coming out of the lawyer’s office.’ They didn’t have to ask who the lawyer was if Mavis had seen something. Her tailoring shop was just outside the biggest hot-shot’s firm. ‘And you can tell it’s an affair from the way she walks out, as though she doesn’t want to be seen there.’
‘She could be trying to figure out the divorce,’ Martha ventured but she knew as she said it that it was false. The hot-shot lawyer didn’t do divorce cases after his own bitter divorce. The rest of the women gave her the pitying look because she was hesitant to face reality.
‘Poor Myra,’ Agnes exclaimed.
‘You mean poor children. Myra knows what she is doing. But the children, imagine having all this fall on you. And her husband, Poor Rick.’ Mavis stated.
‘Rick is also having an affair.’ Erza stated a little more confidently.
‘Poor children!’ All the women echoed.
Before they could say more, Myra walked in, leaning heavily on her sister and sounding a little short of breath.
‘Speak of the devil,’ Lisanna muttered as she excused herself to go to the bathroom.
Martha also wanted to find a way to avoid the talk down that she thought was going to ensue but as the host, she had a role to play. She offered Myra a seat and set some snacks before her.
‘Hello everyone, I’m so sorry I’m late.’ And then without warning she broke out into tears. Mavis looked at her and thought she was crying over her children. Agnes thought it was her many illicit affairs. Erza thought the drugs had finally done her in and Martha started to believe that each of them played a role.
‘I’m so sorry to break down like this,’ Myra sniffed, ‘It’s just I didn’t know where to go and I thought you ladies would have my back.’
‘Always,’ Agnes piped out.
‘And I thought at least you should know the truth before the rumours start catching like wild-fire. You know how cruel women in this town can be, saying things because of a small action with no grain of truth in it,’ she said and the women squirmed a little in their seats with Lisanna remaining frozen by the doorway.
‘I’ve been seeing the doctor a lot lately.’ The ladies wanted to burst out that they knew, ‘And the results are in. I have ALS. I’ve suspected for a while that I had a terrible degenerative disease but now it is confirmed. Erza, you might remember, I signed up for that marathon. I wanted it to be my last great run but it doesn’t seem I’ll be doing that either. My chances are not good…at all. I’m in so much pain most of the time that I have to go backdoor for stronger pain killers than what my doctor is willing to recommend. Rick has been having a hard time trying to think of how to help me out. I thought I could handle it for so long but I have been kidding myself.
‘So he went ahead and asked my sister here, to come and help me out. Especially with the children. I found that very thoughtful of him, and vulnerable too. You know how Rick never wants to ask for help. So they surprised me one day after picking the children from school. Please be kind to my sister, I’ve told her that you are trustworthy and supportive friends and she can come to you with anything. We are going to need all the support we can get now. I don’t want my family to have to see me fall apart and live like that for years. We’ve sent the children to Mum so that by the time they get back we have fallen into a pattern that is not so confusing for them. I just…I really…don’t…want to be sick at all’ And the tears flowed for everyone with no respite.
‘But what Rick doesn’t know, is that I am resigned to the thought that I don’t have long. So I have been seeing to how I can create trusts for my children. They are so young, you know. I keep wondering why I didn’t have them earlier, at least by now they’d be grown and independent and I’d have seen some great moments like graduation. But that’s not truly why I’m here,’ she puffed.
‘I want you to pray for me because even though science hasn’t figured this out. I know God can, if it’s His will. Just pray for me.’ She collapsed into uncontrollable gut-wrenching sobs.
Pray for all of us, Martha thought, ashamed by the unkind thoughts they all harboured towards a woman who was suffering beyond they imagination.