The other day I walked to church. It was windy, so I walked with my hood pulled over my head. Puddles had formed in the sides of the street and leaves were floating in the puddles. A man sat on the sidewalk underneath the sign of a CD store. His shoes were torn around the soles and his toes were sticking out. He held a piece of cardboard, asking for money. I saw a rotting banana peel on the ground next to him. I made eye-contact with him. He pointed to the sign. I shook my head. He let his head roll onto his shoulder and I kept walking.
I got to church early. I walked into the chapel and found my usual seat in the fifth row. I sat and looked at the purple and green stained glass windows. I ran my fingers over the back of the pew in front of me. The wood was smooth and cold to the touch. I breathed into my hands and rubbed them together, then stuffed them into my pockets.
During worship, a woman sat next to me. After she had taken off her jacket, she straightened and began to sign in sign language. She was signing to the lyrics of the songs. I didn’t turn but watched her movements from the corner of my eye. She altered the positions of her fingers in succession, flicked her wrist, and, every so often, touched her forehead. At times, she resembled a conductor; at others, she looked like a typist. She signed to the melody of the song, which made me realize that, of course, she could hear. She just couldn’t speak.
When the pastor asked us to introduce ourselves to our neighbors, I turned away from the woman who had been signing. I didn’t know how to introduce myself and how I would learn her name. I shook hands with everyone around me. Then I sat down and stared at the communion cups stacked on the backside of the pew.
The woman touched my shoulder. She had brown hair and brown eyes, and I could see the gold chain of a necklace hanging off of her collarbone. She smiled and held out her hand. Her wrist was thin and on its underside I could see veins. I stood and shook her hand.
I said, “I’m Matt.”
She nodded. She could hear.
I said, “What’s your name?”
She smiled and signed her name to me. I could pick out four discrete letters, or signs, but couldn’t read them.
I shrugged. I checked around for a piece of paper and a pencil but couldn’t find one.
She held out her hand as if wanting me to take it. I raised my hand and held it next to hers. She grabbed my hand and stepped closer. I let my arm slacken. She propped it on her arm and held my hand in the nook of her elbow. Then she pushed up my sleeve and, using her finger, traced her name on my arm. She traced slowly and in capital letters. Her nail ran over my skin and over my veins.
“Short for Victoria?”
“It’s nice to meet you,” I said, offering my hand.
She smiled and nodded and shook my hand and signed something to me.