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  • Monday.

    I pull off my number and wait for it to come up. Two elderly men sitting in front of me where I stand, all seats being taken, are chatting.

    One of them leaves. I take the vacated seat. I speak to the elderly man, thinking perhaps he is like most older people who don't mind a conversation or two. He says he lives near the Yuk Min School, do I know it? I don't. He says many indigenous children go there. He laughs at the thought of Kadazan children learning Chinese. I say a niece and nephew attended an elementary Chinese school.

    Where do I live? he asks. I tell him Lime Village. He says, Kolopis ! I used to have a relative who lived there. But that was, maybe, thirty years ago.

    We meander into faith. He says he is Ta Pi Kong. (Depending on who you ask, it is Confucianism, Taoism, or Buddhism.) His children are of the same belief system. But who knows, in the future? he says.

    He has driven himself here to pay a couple of bills. He is 86 years old. His number comes up and very shortly after, he says, Goodbye, Ah Moi (Little Sister) and leaves.

    A Franciscan sister comes in. She takes her number. I draw her attention to the empty space next to me. I make light conversation. I say I once went for a retreat where we stayed at a building which had steps up a steep slope to the Carmelites'. You have been to Mass there? she says. I say yes. But I have forgotten what the building was. She says she believes it used to be the home of the Good Shepherd sisters. I say when I was there, there were no sisters.

    We come to introductions. Her name is Sister Collette. Is that a saint's name? I want to know. She says she wouldn't take it if it wasn't. I name my family. She names a cousin. Yes, I say, I am her first cousin. We go through a few more relatives, the upshot being we discover we are related: her grandmother is related to my grandfather's family. Or my grandfather's family is related to her grandmother. I reach out and shake her hand.

    We meander into faith. I say I am divorced. Was your marriage annulled? she asks. I say no. She looks at me. I think she probably expects I am a recovering Catholic. She asks if I still believe in my faith. Are you kidding? I startle her into laughter. She says many stop believing after divorce. I note the Catholic Church here does not recognise divorce. Does that mean I am considered married over here? She says with certainty, You are married.

    My number comes up. The necessary transaction is done. I go to her and hold out my hand, Good to meet you, Sister. She stands up quickly to shake hands. She looks profoundly touched.

    What if we had had the time to go deeper into faith? I believe she would be profoundly moved by the beauty of the prayer Lakota Sioux Chief Yellow Lark translated in 1887, published in Native American Prayers by the Episcopal Church,

    O Great Spirit

    Whose voice I hear in the winds,

    and whose breath gives life to all the world,

    hear me, I am small and weak,

    I need your strength and wisdom.

    Let me walk in beauty...

    Ave Maria

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