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Thanksgiving snow flurries and a capella

Thanksgiving day came with snow flurries and a biting wind out of the north. Park Slope looked soft and white for a few hours. The flurries turned to a dry powder that covered everything.

Inside Alva’s Café people crowded together at tables. One whole wall of the restaurant had been set up as a buffet. Alva always charged a flat fee for this special meal and those who couldn’t afford to pay came as Alva’s guests. Sometimes people who paid found themselves sitting next to someone who was homeless, or just alone. Sometimes family members found themselves sitting across the room from other family members and sitting next to strangers. Somehow it didn’t matter. Each year Thanksgiving at Alva’s became more popular and this year Raoul had put as many extra tables and chairs as he could possibly fit in every corner and alcove. The place was full to capacity and a few of the children had to double up and share chairs.

About halfway through the meal, Alva stood up and waved a hand to ask for quiet. After a few moments, only the sounds of cutlery clinking against plates could be heard and Alva looked out over the room.

“I’m so glad to see all of you here today,” she said, her voice carrying well throughout the restaurant. “This is a wonderful day in the year. It’s a joy to help you all celebrate the goodness we all feel and the bounty of this land. I wanted to say something special to all of you today, but in my heart is something more than words and I hope you won’t mind if I express it in my own way.”

At this point Alva looked down at the table in front of her. She stepped away from it and stood behind her chair. She lifted her head, tilting her neck back slightly and she began to sing. Quietly at first and then with greater vigor. She sang one of the first spirituals she had learned as a child so very long ago:

“Swing low, sweet chariot
Coming for to carry me home
Swing low, sweet chariot
Coming for to carry me home
I looked over Jordan and what did I see
Coming for to carry me home
A band of angels coming after me
Coming for to carry me home
If you get there before I do
Coming for to carry me home
Tell all my friends I’m coming too
Coming for to carry me home
Sometimes I’m up and sometimes I’m down
Coming for to carry me home
But still my soul feels heavenly bound
Coming for to carry me home.”

Her song took her to a place where she could have been alone, one where she felt in tune with her own soul, a place of peace and of redemption. When the last note left her body, her head sank to her chest and her breath came with effort and then, the strangest thing happened, a thing for which Alva had not been prepared nor had she even thought about the possibility of it happening. A thundering of applause took hold of the Thanksgiving diners and even Raoul, who had been surly all day long, wiped tears from his eyes with the strings of his apron.

Outside daylight was beginning to dim. The snow flurries had stopped. Evening settled on Park Slope. A bus dropped off a few passengers. Alva bowed slightly and sat down, moved beyond her ability to express in words how she felt.

Outside, McSweeney was one of the passengers who had gotten off the bus. Not wanting to interrupt, he watched through a window as Alva finished her song. It was always impossible to predict how people would take the news he brought them.

Alva, Episode Fifteen

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