Benny Winkowski wanted to pray. His shift at the electronics lab over, he headed toward the big church on the corner of 32nd and Hoover. He was happy and thankful all at once. his girlfriend had said “Yes” to his proposal of marriage.
He tucked his hands into his jacket pockets, hunched his shoulders against the late fall cold, and hurried up the steps to the giant doors of the century old church. A bronze door handle was freezing cold and locked. He tried another.
A lady dressed in black with a scrawny dog on a leash called from the sidewalk, “They usually lock the church doors around ten o’clock most week nights.”
“Why? What if somebody wants to pray.”
The lady’s dog shivered with chill, “You don’t need a church when you want to pray.”
Willie cocked his head, “Where’s a better place to pray than a church?”
“Anywhere. I’ve seen you someplace. You buy groceries at Miguel’s place on 32nd?”
“Thought so. You’re from the hood. Follow me, I’ll show you where you can pray, but you’ll need to buy me a coffee.”
“The 24 Hour Diner. You can pray there, and I will too. It should be quiet now. We’ll get a quiet booth.”
“I don’t know about that.”
“Why not? C’mon. We’ll both go to the diner and pray. I’ll show you. What do you want to pray about?”
Benny’s smile brightened the night. “My girlfriend agreed to marry me.”
They walked in the direction Benny had come. “Wait for me a second,” The lady in black motioned to a glass-fronted doorway. “This is my building. I’ll leave Maxwell with the night attendant.”
A minute later she rejoined Benny and took his arm. “C’mon kiddo, let’s get some hot coffee. By the way, when are you getting married?”
Willie practically shouted. “Next month. The fifteenth,”
“The hell you say. Me and Leroy are getting hitched on the twelfth. What a coincidence.”
Willie hesitated for a moment, “You? You? Getting married?”
“Oh nothing. No. Really. I just meant…”
“It’s okay. Me and Leroy been living together quite a while. He proposed to me 17 years ago.”
“Yes. I needed time to think about it. And last week I figured it’s time to make it legal. Yup. We’re getting married the day before you.”
“Geez.” And Willie’s big smile reappeared.
The wind picked up and the two soon-to-be-marrieds quickened their pace. A short distance later their arrival at the dinner was announced by the aroma of coffee and the mouth-watering aroma of baked cinnamon rolls.
Benny held open the door, “Here we are.”
They were the only customers in the place and chose a booth window booth. Benny watched the counterman lay cinnamon rolls into a shiny pan. “I’ll get us some coffee. You want a cinnamon roll?”
“No thank you. Let’s have one after we get our praying done. And my name is Elianna, by the way.”
“Nice to meet you Elianna. I’m Benny, short for Benjamin.” And they shook hands.
Benny got two mugs of coffee from the counterman, sat, and sipped. “Good coffee.” Another sip. “I never prayed in a diner before,”
“it’s easy,” Elianna replied. “Just bow your head and cut loose. Don’t worry, He’ll hear what you have to say.”
“I just want to say thank you. It’ll probably be a quick prayer. What are you going to pray about?”
“Well, I thanked Him a long time ago for the love of a very kind man. Guess I’ll thank Him again for that, and probably toss in a few appeals for world peace and guidance for leaders of nations everywhere.”
The night cook rolled pastry at a wooden-topped table in the kitchen. She stopped for a minute and peeked through a service window. When she saw Benny, deep in conversation with the lady in black, she tapped on the glass and motioned to the counterman. He stuck his head around a swinging door, “You want coffee Nancy?”
“No. I’m just wondering what those two out there are tailing about. They can’t have that much in common. Hell, she’s old enough to be his grandmother.”
“That’s no ordinary old lady. That’s Elianna, the prayer lady. When the big church is closed, and she sees someone trying to get in, she brings them here. They’re probably praying about something right now.”