“Now, boys and girls, how long was the ark?” Mrs. James asked the class.
While the other children skimmed the Bible verses, anxiously looking for the right answer, Jenny noticed the dirt under her finger nails and flushed. She held her Bible so her hands were hidden and bent her thumbs so the nails were obscured.
“Three hundred cubits,” David declared.
“Exactly,” the teacher beamed at David.
“Mrs. James, what’s a cubit?” Jenny asked.
“Perhaps you’d like to find out for us for next week, Jenny,” Mrs. James suggested. “Let’s move on, shall we? Noah gathered the animals into the ark, two by...”
Jenny raised her hand.
“It says in my Bible that the unclean animals came two by two, but the clean animals came seven by seven. So are the songs we sing and the pictures we see wrong?”
The other children frowned at Jenny and Mrs. James pursed her lips.
“Do you know what an unclean animal is, Jenny? A clean animal?”
“Then, you don’t really know if the pictures are incorrect or not, do you?”
“No, Mrs. James.”
Jenny looked at the floor, then at the shiny patent leather shoes of the other girls. She slid her own scuffed shoes under her chair, out of sight, but not thought. She tried not to think about their pristine socks, dresses with the smartly tied sashes, and glistening curls fastened back with coloured ribbons.
Jenny’s grip on her Bible slipped, and a few pages fluttered to the ground. Several children tittered as Jenny retrieved them.
“I’m sorry, Mrs. James.”
Mrs. James didn’t say anything as Jenny returned to her seat and found the right spots for the pages. Jenny was embarrassed. Even my Bible is wrong. The other children’s Bibles were leather bound, the delicate pages edged with gold, the stories colourfully illustrated; some of the Bibles had the children’s names on the covers. Jenny’s was plain, cardboard bound, picked up at a second-hand store.
“Who was on the ark, and what were their names?”
While the other children answered with the names of Noah’s family, Jenny noticed that she alone had a “worldly” name while the others in her Sunday School class had biblical names. David, Sarah, Rebekah, Daniel, Mark, Rachel, Adam... “Jenny” didn’t fit in at all.
Fitting in wasn’t about her name or her worn out shoes.
Jenny always knew her verse. Her lesson was always done. But it could not relieve the turmoil in Jenny’s stomach as the part of Sunday School Jenny dreaded approached.
The buzzer sounded.
The children with the spiritual names disappeared.
Jenny waited politely for Mrs. James as she rolled up the yellowing map of the Holy Land, put the lid on the box of pencils, and turned off the light.
“Come, Jenny.” Jenny knew. She followed Mrs. James down the hallway to the sanctuary. Jenny would have to sit with her Sunday School teacher. Obvious. Noticeable. Clearly without Christian parents or family.
The other children were seated with their parents already, mothers with perfectly coifed hair, fathers wearing three-piece suits. For the first time, Jenny wondered if the other little children sitting with the families had Bible names. Thomas, Ruth, Samuel, Jeremiah, Zephaniah. Jesus? Jenny giggled softly. Mrs. James frowned and touched her finger to her lips.
Mr. Dearborn strutted to the front, beaming. He slid numbers onto the attendance board at the front as if it were a momentous thing, and Jenny turned away from his pride, even though she didn’t understand it. A dreadful accounting, a tallying, a notching on a stick somewhere in the heavenlies, perhaps? Or just in Mr. Dearborn’s mind? And what about Mrs. James and the other Sunday School teachers sitting with their charges, other children like Jenny, without parents, proper Bibles, and clean socks.
Jenny found the hymn and sang, self-conscious and painfully aware of her failures, according to her perceptions.
“Jenny, time to get on the bus now,” Mrs. James urged when the sermon was over.
As Jenny walked past the families to the Sunday School bus, she heard them making plans to rest after their roast beef dinners. She wondered if her own parents were out of bed yet.
It was a sunny day. Perhaps, if her little brother wanted, she could take him to the park after she made him lunch.
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