Brother Buddy and the Elders hold many meetings to decide whether to approve some people getting subscriptions to Time Magazine. I hear Mama, Peggy and Willie talk about how the Elders are concerned there could be content that we shouldn’t see.
“There was the problem with the National Geographics.” Mama says. “They probably don’t want to deal with that again.”
“Yeah,” Peggy interjects. “They had to cut out all the boob pictures from every magazine before they put them in people’s mailboxes.”
Peggy’s saracastic and blunt way of saying things sometimes makes me laugh inside. If I could say what was on my mind I’d talk like her. I’d not seen the pictures of breasts in the National Geographic magazines at school. I’d stop looking at National Geographic when Franklin Basil says what he does, about the Kayan Lahwi woman with neck rings, rows and rows of gold shimmering from necks twice as long as mine.
“If these women act up, the men take the rings off, and they’re put to death by suffocation.” Franklin holds up the magazine page for everyone to see. It is early morning, before Brother Trotter comes in to start Science class.
“Yep,” Franklin continues. “They wear the rings all their life so their neck muscles don’t get strong. So their necks flop sideways and they can’t breathe.”
He makes choking noises with his hands around his neck, and everyone laughs.
“Why don’t they just hold their heads up with their hands until their necks get strong?” I ask, thinking they really didn’t die since if it was me, I would just hold my head up until my neck got strong again.
“Because, Sila,” Franklin’s tone is mocking. “They don’t let them. They tie their hands.”
I fall silent, thinking what a horrible thing to do to a woman, and what an awful way to die.
The elders approve Time Magazine, but it’s short lived. When an issue arrives with two teenagers on the front kissing, the cover gets ripped off of every magazine except one Brother Buddy’s uses in his church sermon.
“This, Brothers and Sisters, is why we MUST keep ourselves sequestered away from the evils of Satan that exist in the world. Children kissing on the covers of magazines for everyone to see!”
He holds the magazine up so everyone can get a look, and I strain to see it clearly; a long haired girl and a boy, mouth to mouth. She has her arm wrapped around his waist, her hand tucked in his back pocket. I think it’s sweet, but I feel embarrassed at the same time; like something that intimate shouldn’t be shown in public.
“These are the images being fed to young children! These abominations and defilements are why God will end the world! Hallelujah! Al shalamahundi!”
And the congregation’s voice swells up with echoing hallelujahs and versions of speaking in tongues; and I think about the smell of Brother Ray’s beard, how his mouth tasted like dirty socks when he stuck his tongue in mine. I shudder in my skin, like chill bumps, and I pull my sweater around my chest.