By Kendra Marya
Shh! Adelle turns to her younger brother Benji, her eyes wide. He looks terrified and for a second she wonders if it’s worth it to continue with her plan. He tip-toes behind her, his Velcro shoes and windbreaker on, and he’s holding onto her turquoise canvas Jansport backpack as guidance in the dark. It’s 4:36 in the morning. They’ve both never been out of their beds at this time, except the one time they had to pray all day and night with only a couple of bathroom breaks and some rice crackers to eat, as Prophet Ned said would please God.
The two veer towards the front door, Adelle’s fingers slowly turn the deadbolt. Thunk! It echoes into the black. Pausing, she listens for any stirring from their parent’s bedroom. She’s waiting. Waiting for them to hear them moving about, to wake up, to come find them, to punish them, to tell Prophet Ned. But nothing happens. Adelle lets Benji out first, into the early morning twilight. She twists the doorknob again, pulling it closed without a peep.
“Okay c’mon,” she whispers, not daring to make a noise. They’re not out of the clear yet. Adelle walks quickly, Benji struggles to keep up, jogging behind her, still holding onto her backpack.
“This way,” they turn a corner on the street. Their neighbourhood is behind them, streetlamps light up the road and they walk towards the ocean, off the sidewalk, on the dark side of the road with grass and trees for cover.
They’ve been walking for a while and the sun is starting to rise. A man is stumbling on the path ahead of them, his hands in his pockets, a cigarette in his mouth. She remembers, any man that indulges in alcohol or smoking is to be severely punished. Prophet Ned said, ‘the outside world is full of evil and if you leave, horrible, unimaginable things will happen to you,’ and she was seeing what he meant. But this was just temporary. They are going to go back. And they’ll be back in time for the End that is happening tonight.
Adelle was typically a star pupil in Sunday school. She had to be. What was expected of little girls was to be seen, not heard. Although she often had an ache that was billowing like Her mother Marjorie taught her, and her brother school subjects during the day, but mostly her brother. She only picked up on reading from what her brother was taught, by listening in on the lesson. Women were not allowed to interpret the Bible, so there wasn’t much point. Girls don’t need to learn how to do math or science because they would never need it. What she did get full attention in learning from her mother was how to sew. She was wearing a dress she had made herself, with fabric from the discount bin at Fabricland. It was long and had a neckline that went right up to her throat with tiny frills at the top. She wore leotards underneath with black buckled shoes.
But now it seems, any schooling had been more of a forethought. A necessary endeavour that was required of the earthly realm. They were onto more important things that were more spiritual and long-lasting than anything that could be done here in our human bodies, as Prophet Ned had told them. They were learning the True Word Of God, not the lies they told in every other church.
Adelle starts singing, “Baby beluga in the deep blue sea,” and crosses the street to avoid the man ahead, grabbing Benji’s hand. Despite being taught to be quiet and to always listen to the father, the Prophet, and her brother, she possessed an inner guidance that told her to
He joins in singing with his sister, “swims so wild and he swims so free, heaven above, sea below, and the little white whale on the go.”
“We’re going to see a real baby beluga today Benji, are you excited?” Adelle needs to keep Benji going since he’s so little and tires quicker. He got paddled with the ‘Hand of God’ last month for falling asleep during evening prayers. Prophet Ned made papa do it in front of everyone right there in church.
Adelle holds her brother’s hand tight, their hands sweating and slick where their palms are pressed together. She sees a bus stop shelter up ahead and guides them towards it. She tries to read the schedule, but she’s never taken a bus before, she’s only seen them on the car ride to church every morning and evening. She pulls the backpack off, sets it on the bench, and pulls out some of the loose change, getting it ready for the bus fare.
A woman with a large purse, dark skin, long stranded braids, and a face shaded with eyeshadow and lipstick walks up to the bus stop and stands near them. She eyes the two, then looks up the street and down the sidewalk on all sides before saying, “Are you two by yourselves? Where’s your ma’ or dad?”
Adelle hears Prophet Ned’s words in her mind, ‘makeup is from the devil to seduce man, as Eve seduced Adam with an apple’. She moves closer to Benji on the bench, ignoring the evil woman.
“It’s alright, do you want me to call someone? There’s a payphone around the corner,” the woman talks in a soothing tone. But Adelle knows better than to conspire with the outsiders, she turns her back on the woman.
“Okay, okay, just be smart ‘mkay? I wouldn’t want my youngins to be running around alone out here in this hood at this hour,” the woman resigns and pulls a book out of her bag to read while waiting for the bus.
The day is emerging, and the sun is nearly risen. Their parents will know they are gone by now. A loud diesel bus comes to the stop, opening its doors. The woman gets on first and Adelle leads Benji up the bus stairs.
“Does this bus go to the Santa Maria Aquarium?”
“This bus will take you to a depot, then you find the 182 and that one will take you there,” the bus driver grumbles.
Adelle holds out her hand full of change and the bus driver, irritated, picks out of her hand what is owed, and two bus tickets pop out of the dispenser.
The bus smells like dirt, sweat, and sour milk. Adelle’s stomach turns and she looks around at the other passengers, terrified. They’re just as she imagined when Prophet Ned said the outside world is a hell of its own. One old man with a wrinkled face sits next to a wire basket with wheels, full of empty cans. A woman sits, her hair teased and hair sprayed, box-blonde and tired. None of them are going to be saved like her, her brother, her parents, and the other families with their church. She pictures them all dead on the ground in just a day, their souls trapped in their bodies, forever on earth with the devil.
Tonight, Prophet Ned said, that we are ‘all going home to heaven’. Everyone has been so excited to go. Our church has had special celebration dinners, like Thanksgiving or Christmas. And tonight was going to be the best feast of all, he said, before we no longer need to eat anymore.
Last Sunday, Prophet Ned said, ‘animals don’t go to heaven’, which made Adelle sad. She realized she would never be able to have a pet dog, a cat, or a hamster. And this meant she wouldn’t be able to see any other animals either. “If we are to feast on food before we can’t, then surely she and her brother could see their favourite animal before they can’t too?” she thought when she found a two for one admission coupon in their mail stack in the junk drawer.
“Are we almost there,” Benji whines. They are on the second bus now and this bus driver was very nice. She told them to sit right behind her, and she would tell them when to get off and smiled cheerfully at them.
“Yes, soon Benji. Aren’t you excited?” Adelle tickles her brother, making him laugh.
The bus driver sang softly to herself as she drove. The soft melody comforted Adelle. But she felt something she didn’t understand. How could she feel good and bad at the same time? She wishes she could tell the lady about the special End day tonight. She wishes she could come to heaven too, instead of burning in the hell fire that earth was going to soon become. How come nice people had to stay?
“Here you are kids, this is it,” the bus driver tells them.
“Do we come back to this same spot to go home?” Adelle asks, the fear of not getting home in time gives her a cramp in her stomach.
“You go on the other side of the street over there and take the 32 to get back to the depot, okay?”
Adelle nods, looking past her across the street, making sure she can see the bus stop sign.
“Have a fun day you two and say hi to the fishies for me!”
They get off the bus and Adelle says, “Okay Benji, we have to be back here by 4:30 or we won’t be back in time for the End.” Adelle looks at her tiny wristwatch.
Benji stops, his little bottom lip quivering, and then it comes, he starts to cry.
“No, no, no, don’t cry,” she’s desperate to stop him, but she starts to feel a little sick and upset herself, her heart a sudden heavy beat that nearly knocks her down. What if she’s the reason her own brother doesn’t get to heaven?
“Shh, don’t worry, we will get back in time, I promise. Let’s go see baby beluga now, okay? Aren’t you happy we get to see him before we go?”
Benji wipes tears away with his little fist and a smile emerges, he sings a little, “baby beluga.”
Adelle and Benji had spent the morning in wonder gazing at stingrays, seahorses, vibrant anemones, glowing jellyfish, and various types of oceanic fish. They reach a food court section where families and other children are bustling around, eating popsicles, hotdogs, and burgers. Adelle leads Benji to a picnic table and takes off her Jansport backpack, pulling out two apple juice boxes and two homemade ham and mustard sandwiches on white bread. Then she pulls out her Old Testament bible, opening it to the page with a photo inserted in it. The photo is of Prophet Ned. His brown hair is neatly combed with a side part, and he smiles, one canine tooth chipped. He’s wearing a brown sweater with his undershirt collar out.
Adelle and Benji bow their heads. Adelle leads the prayer, “Dear God and our Prophet, thank you for this food we eat, thank you for choosing us to be your faithful flock, thank you for giving us the only true message. Amen.”
Benji quickly adds, “And we will see you soon God! Amen!”
A boy sitting at a table beside them stares at them, thinking them strange. His mother tells him not to be rude and to get back to eating his lunch. Adelle notices and looks back at him and his family. The family that isn’t going to be saved. She takes a bite of her sandwich, but the bread sits in her mouth like a solid brick. She forces herself to swallow it.
After lunch, Adelle and Benji continue exploring the exhibits at the Santa Maria Aquarium. Sea otters play in a stream with tiny waterfalls, they see endangered frogs hidden in moss and rocks, and they get to immerse their hands in lukewarm water, touching small sea urchins. Their anticipation heightens, knowing they must be getting closer to seeing the belugas.
They come across a staircase that leads down into a dark cavernous area. Benji grips Adelle’s hand, fearful of the dark as they take careful steps down. Then they see it. A wall of glass and light-hued blue water with bulbous white belugas swimming gracefully in the tank. Their bodies look like a solid mass of muscle, their heads like a giant brain in a vat, and their mouths are playful permanent grins.
“It’s a baby beluga!” Benji runs up to the glass, his hands printing and smearing all over it, trying to get as close to the whales as possible. Adelle catches up, standing up on the ledge, leaning against the glass tank wall.
One beluga stops in front of them, curiously checking them out. Its pebble black eyes are moving and dilated, exposing its consciousness, its thinking mind. For a moment, Adelle and the whale connect, looking at one another – but more precisely, looking into one another. There’s a mutual sadness, a muted distress, something neither can articulate with words.
Adelle puts her hand up higher on the glass that separates air from water. A stream of bubbles rises from the beluga’s airhole, the buoyancy floating them to the surface above. She imagines herself in a bubble, floating in a ray of sunshine, to the place Prophet Ned told her would be an oasis of eternal love. She looks over at her brother and see’s the reflection of the white whale in his brown eyes.
“Aren’t you glad we got to see them before we go?” Adelle smiles. Benji hugs her around her waist.
The two emerge up the other side, climbing stairs back to an outdoor ground level. The sun is sitting west in the sky. There’s still more to see, like dolphins, penguins, and orcas. Adelle suddenly remembers to look at her watch. She squints at the hands trying to remember which one is for minutes and which one is for hours. The short one is the hour: one, two, three, four! She looks at the minutes, panicking. It’s 4:23!
“Benji, we have to go now!” she grabs his hand and adjusts the backpack on her back, pulling it securely over her shoulders. She looks to see where the exit is, but it’s not apparent which way goes where.
“But I have to pee,” Benji starts jumping a bit in place.
“Not now, we can’t miss the bus, remember? We have to get back or we will miss the End. We’ll be left behind!” She pulls his arm, harder than she means to and he falls to the ground, scraping his knee and the palms of his hands.
There’s a pause before Benji starts wailing as he looks at the burning blood leaking out of the scrapes. “Shh, shh, remember what Prophet Ned says, ‘pain brings us closer to God.’” She picks him up again by the arm and pulls him towards the seabird exhibit. She remembers it was close to the food court, perhaps it will guide them to the exit. Adelle is trying to run, but Benji is a dead weight behind her, stomping awkwardly, trying to keep up with her longer strides.
The bird exhibit takes them down a loop to the otters, she can’t remember where the food court is. She must have taken a wrong turn. Her breath is short as she frantically runs with Benji behind her, searching for the way out, like an animal being smoked out of a den.
“I can’t hold it that long, Adelle,” Benji rips his arm from her grasp, stopping at a bathroom they pass. She looks again at her watch; the minute hand has surpassed to 4:32. They’re too late. Adelle leans against the wall by the bathroom, then crouches down, crying into her hands. Benji comes out of the bathroom, his hands still wet from washing them.
“Adelle, what’s wrong?” he asks, wiping his hands on his pants.
“We’re too late Benji. We missed the bus,” she gets up and goes into the women’s bathroom, getting a piece of toilet paper to blow her nose in. She comes back out and they walk slowly now, looking for the exit. They still need to go home, although, what they are going to come home to, Adelle isn’t sure.
Prophet Ned said the hour of revelation would be over their feast at 6:30 at church. Surely their parents would go without them if they had to. Their congregation had been preparing for months.
Adelle and Benji cross the street to wait for the next 32 bus to go to the depot. The sun is still marked in the summer sky. She imagines the sun shooting flares at earth right when the feast begins, the whole world going aflame, her parents flying up to the sun, waving to her and Benji a solemn goodbye as they burn with the sinners below.
They get off the bus at the depot. It’s now 6:10. Five minutes until their next bus comes. Twenty minutes to rapture. Adelle hugs Benji with tears of guilt, “I’m so sorry.”
They sit quietly on the next bus towards their neighbourhood. Adelle holds her bible to her chest, praying, “Please forgive me oh Lord, I didn’t mean to be late or disobey Prophet Ned or my parents. Please take Benji still, it’s not his fault.”
The bus reaches their stop, and they get up to leave.
Adelle takes Benji’s hand again, squeezing it tightly. They walk along the sidewalk, Adelle holds her breath, as though she were crossing by a graveyard.
“Please forgive me Benji,” she wipes a tear.
Adelle stops, looking around. A man is on the other side of the street with headphones, his arms swaying to the beat of his music. Traffic continues to drive by. The sun is docile, not threatening to spit violence of hell towards them. She takes a shuddered deep breath. The world is still moving. There’s no fire. No burning. No bodies. No one is suffering and screaming, wishing they had listened to the True Word of God as told by Prophet Ned.
She thinks about the beluga, its tiny eyes looking at her through its invisible glass cage. Its sadness transpiring through in waves. Its spirit quieted through training and domestication.
Adelle looks west and sees a sliver of ocean at the edge of the horizon then looks down at her brother and they walk home.