Celeste awoke to gem-colored beams of light and a stiff neck.
As she sat up, stretching out the kinks from her sleep on the church
pew, her eyes followed the beams of glory up to the windows that were
their source. In the early morning light she could see the brilliant
pictures made by the mosaic of cut glass and sunshine. She didn't
realize she was staring in rapt awe until a hand touched her shoulder.
Startled, she jumped and twisted in her seat to stare up at the
intruder on her thoughts.
A middle-aged white man stood staring back at her from under
white bangs that needed a trim. His smile was gentle, though the deep
lines of his face showed that he had learned to also be firm. He
quickly withdrew his hand, having gotten the visitor's attention.
"Well look what the cat dragged in..." His voice was deep
and echoed a little in the high-ceilinged sanctuary. His eyes twinkled
playfully as Celeste gathered her wits.
"I..I'm sorry...I didn't have nowhere else to go last
night. Just needed someplace to sleep." The girl frowned and
picked up her basket. The man glanced at it then back to her, but he
remained silent. "I'll get goin' now..." A sudden thought
seemed to stop her as she was rising and she held the basket out
toward the stranger. "I didn't steal nothin'" she stated,
standing up straight and meeting the man's eyes.
The stranger took the basket from Celeste and set it back
down on the hard wooden bench. " I never said you did." He
stepped back a pace, giving the girl room to move past him into the
wide aisle that ran down the center of the building. He faced her,
standing between Celeste and the large double doors that led back onto
the street. "But before I can let you go, I must ask you
The runaway gripped her basket in a deathlock, but said
nothing. Even as she awaited the question she feared he would ask, her
mind thought out the distance to the door and how best she could reach
it if he tried to keep her from it. She could barely hear him over the
pounding of her heart. When the words finally made it past her terror,
they were so unexpected she feared she had lost her mind.
"Have you got somewhere to go, chere?"
'What?' she thought. 'Is he serious?' She
clamped her mouth shut and stared at him, her disbelief slow to leave
her. When the concerned look on his face did not leave, and neither
did her captor budge, she decided on an answer. "Yes, sir. I
gotta go find me a job today." Gambling on the chance that his
concern might be real and not some trap to keep her there, Celeste
asked a question of her own. "You know sombody could use a maid
or a cook? Maybe a hotel or somethin'?" Anything to make him
move, she prayed silently, shifting her stance enough that she could
more easily dodge past him to the sweet freedom bound by heavy iron
hinges just a few yards away.
Without changing his position, the man reached into an inside
pocket of his dark grey suit. "Maybe," he said, withdrawing
a few scraps of paper and a pencil stub. "Can you read,
Celeste answered with a wide proud smile. "Yes,
"Well all right then," he scribbled hastily as he
spoke."Go see this woman at Sacred Heart Catholic Church."
He handed her the paper, pointing out the names. "Her name is
Celeste listened carefully to the directions then tucked the
paper away in a pocket of her dress. Sidling around ever closer to the
door, she was still unsure of the kindness of the stranger. Grateful
for whatever chance she could get however, she would not pass up any
opportunity that came her way. When her benefactor finally stepped
aside, she took one last, longing look toward the stained glass
windows, mumbled a hasty 'Thank you' then fled for the door. She kept
moving in a brisk walk for several blocks, not slowing till the safety
of distance eased the tension at her back.
By midmorning, Celeste's steps brought her in sight of an old
but freshly whitewashed steeple-topped building. The girl glanced at
the paper in her hand and smiled that at least in this, the old man
had proved truthful. A red and white sign near the street announced
that this was indeed Sacred Heart Catholic Church. Celeste's eyes
wandered over the building, looking for more glass-light pictures like
the ones that had lured her to her haven of the previous night. She
was disappointed, however, to see only plain leaded glass decking the
walls of this church. As she stood staring, a figure appeared from
around the side of the building. An old black man with a slight limp
was carrying a rake and hoe. He didn't notice the small dark teen
until he'd stopped near the door of the church and turned to rest
against the wall. Wiping sweat from his brow, he cocked a grizzled
eyebrow at her and grinned. "Whatsa matter, ain't you never seen
a church before?"
Celeste moved forward a few paces, withdrawing the paper from
her pocket. "I'm lookin' for a lady named Marie Doucette. Is she
"Not yet," said the man, gathering up the
tools,"but she'll be here in a little while. You can come in an'
wait for her if you want. Follow me." He went to the door and
disappeared inside but left the portal open behind him. With a shrug,
A little over an hour and a meal of bread, cheese and milk
later, Mme. Doucette arrived. Henry, the gardener, took his leave and
left Celeste to explain her circumstances to the woman. Somewhere
between 30 and 50, Marie was stout of frame and sharp of eye. She had
a heavy accent and a hearty laugh that put Celeste quickly at ease.
Marie was careful not to pry, only asking the teen about what she was
looking for, not where she had been. Celeste felt, however, that had
the woman asked, she'd have told her anything. After listening
carefully, Marie pursed her lips, thinking in silence for several
minutes. While she waited for the verdict, Celeste doodled on the
scrap of paper she had shown her hostess. By the time Marie was ready
to give her decision, the tiny scrap was covered with pictures blocked
out in tiny mosaics, a colorless echo of the light picures still
glowing and shifting in Celeste's mind. The older woman followed the
pencil strokes with her eyes as she offered the child both home and
There was a man, she said, who was of poor health and needed
some help taking care of his house. If Celeste could cook and clean
for him, he would see to her food and clothes and the rest of her time
would be hers. She could go to school or work. The church had a small
school, of sorts, Marie told her, made up of a small group of educated
black men and women who wanted to share their knowledge with the
children of the church who wished it. One of those women, Marie Laveau,
had a very busy schedule with religious matters and needed an
assistant. If Celeste was interested, a meeting could be arranged.
So it was that Celeste came to keep house for an aging
artist, but it was the voudou mambo Marie Laveau who taught her the
most. Until the night he came...
-Sonja Torres 1999