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The Prayers of the Saints
Florence fervently prays to God. Then remembering a song of surrender sung by her mother, she sings with full-throated ease, unmindful of her surroundings. She recollects the past when her mother had taught her to pray with devotion and to trust in the mercy of God. She does not possess such faith in god. It is because of the fear of death that she seeks protection of god. She had been seriously ill for many days now and has a premonition that she would die soon. The burning sensation in her bowels had caused her pain and discomfort and she had suffered the misery all alone. She had thought of seeking the help of god but had not had the courage to do so. Today, she had accompanied her brother and sister-in-law to the church to beg for the mercy of god.
As she prays, she has visions of all those she believes she had hurt in the past but she feels answerable to no one but god. However, she remembers her life with all those who haunt her memory. Topping the list of tormentors is her mother. She vividly remembers the day when her mother had sought the protection of god for Florence more than for Gabriel. This was the day when there was trouble in town. A day earlier, her young neighbour, Deborah had been raped by a White man. When Deborah’s father had challenged the white man, the latter had killed old man. There was fear that the white men would retaliate against the Negroes and burn their houses. Thus, Florence, Gabriel and their mother had stayed indoors and spent anxious moments. Her mother had heaved a sigh of relief only when they had left town and thanked god for his mercy.
Florence’s mother was a silent, suffering woman. She had worked in the plantation for years before getting married. She had raised many children, but only two remained with her. Her first husband had died and the second had fled home to the North, away from slavery and in search of fresh pastures. Almost everyone was fleeing from the town, but her mother had stuck to her home.
Gabriel was the apple of her mother’s eye. She dressed him in decent clothes and sent him to school. She expected a lot from him but Gabriel fell far short of her expectations. He was a truant child. He had no interest in studies and wasted his time in idle company. Later, he had taken to drinking and other undesirable habits. Florence, on the other hand, was intelligent and keen on education. However, her mother preferred her to stay at home and help in the household activities. When Gabriel was young, she had to look after him. Later, she had been sent to work as a cook for a White family. She had felt trapped and longed to escape outside. She had hated Gabriel for his dissolute ways. Deborah was the only person with whom she could share her woes.
At the age of twenty-six, Florence had walked out of her house. Her White master had proposed to her and desired to make her his mistress. She had rejected his proposal and left the job. She had also decided to leave her home to start life afresh. Her mother had been sick in bed and had begged her to have mercy on her. Gabriel also had persuaded her to stay back but she stood by her decision. She bid them goodbye and boarded a train to New York. In the process, she had betrayed her mother. Now, as she stands before the Lord, she seeks forgiveness for her past behaviour.
As her heart weighs heavy and eyes close in prayer, Florence thinks of
Frank with whom she had spent many passionate years. She had first met
Frank at a community meeting. Shortly afterwards, she had decided to marry
him. However, their marriage was a failure. Frank was good at heart but
irresponsible. He was a habitual drinker and wasted his money on unnecessary
things. She had tried to reform him but it was of no use. He would apologize
for his mistake but get back to his old habits again. He did love Florence
and showered attention on her but he failed to fulfil his responsibilities
as a husband. Thus, after tolerating him for ten years, she had shown
him the door. She thought he would come
The last person Florence remembers is Deborah. Deborah had kept in touch with her even after she had married Gabriel. She had written to Florence during all the years of crisis in her marriage. One of the last letters she had written had exposed Gabriel’s relationship with another woman and the existence of his bastard. Florence had wanted to confront Gabriel with the facts of the letter but could never do so. Now too she had the letter with her but is not sure whether she would be in a position to ask her brother about it.