The man paused at the white stairs, ran his hands down over his worn out sports jacket, took a deep breath and then slowly walked up the steps, counting as he moved. At the ninth step he looked up and in through the open doors. Once inside the room he stopped to let his eyes adjust to the darkness. There were a few people milling about, but most were moving though another set of doors into a much brighter place.
He shuffled forward and then slipped past two people into the large room. The lights were on, but the brightest light shined through the windows in a sparkling array of color as bright mosaics seemed to gleam off the walls. Searching for an empty pew, he walked haltingly down the aisle, nervously bowing his head to anyone who looked at him. Feeling his hands begin to tremble, he tucked them in his pockets and continued until he reached the second row, where no one was sitting.
A murmur seemed to slither through the church as he shuffled toward the middle and sat down. He could feel the beads of sweat roll down the back of his neck and he hoped the stains weren't showing through his jacket. Closing his eyes he sat motionless, trying to calm himself. When he opened his eyes and noticed the preacher had not walked in yet, he glanced back toward the entrance. A group of nicely dressed people were walking in a line toward the altar.
Near the front of the church the lady, at the head of the line, turned to enter the man's pew, but seeing him she suddenly stopped. She frowned at him, made an odd hissing sound and then awkwardly moved into the empty front row. The rest of the line followed, all squeezing into the single row. Several of the group glared at the man but said nothing. Not wanting to draw any more attention to himself, he started to get up to move when he heard music.
The choir emerged from behind the altar, singing as they moved to their seats just behind the pulpit. As the choir reached their seats, the rest of the people in the congregation stood up and began to sing. Listening to the beautiful music and singing, hearing the words of love and forgiveness the man felt a strange calm come over him. Perhaps this was where he belonged.
After the song finished everyone sat down and waited quietly for the preacher to emerge. The man stared up at the altar wanting to see how the preacher walked to the pulpit, to see if maybe...
The silence broke as suddenly a loud rustling could be heard from the back of the church, a rustling that seemed to move toward the front as the sound of loud gasps seemed to echo from all around. The man turned and, rising up on his tiptoes, looked over the people behind him to see a woman carrying a small, crumpled paper bag. Besides the paper bag, the woman didn't carry anything, in fact, she was completely naked.
Several people tried to grab her arm as she moved, but she pulled away, finally coming to the second row, the pew where the man sat by himself. She confidently shuffled down the pew a bit and sat down, several feet from the man. Bowing her head in what looked like a short prayer, she paused a moment and then looked up to the altar, ignoring the clamor around her.
Trying not to stare at the beautiful woman, the man pulled off his jacket and said, "Here, you can wear this if you want."
The woman's dark eyes met his as she replied, "No, no thank you, I am fine."
"Not too chilly?" he asked.
"The temperature is fine," she replied.
The man ignored the commotion still roiling around them and said, "You know, I thought they made me feel out of place. But why?"
She scooted a bit closer to him and whispered, "The advertisement in the paper, the sign at the front of the church said, 'come as you are.' So I did."
"I'm not sure..."
"Please, please, everyone sit down, the service begins," a loud voice boomed from the sound system. "Let us pray," the voice continued, as the people around them moved back into their seats.
The commotion in the church quieted, but the sounds of distain were replaced by some young boys giggling about the naked lady who had not yet been noticed by the preacher. Slipping his jacket back on, the man slowly moved his gaze from the beautiful woman toward the pulpit. The preacher was leafing though some notes, most likely stalling, trying to figure out what all the commotion was about.
He continued fidgeting with his papers and books until the snooty lady from the front row stood up and walked up to the pulpit. She leaned forward and whispered to the preacher who immediately looked at the woman in the second row. His face turned red as he whispered back to the woman.
After a sharp exchange of whispers, the preacher said, "I must ask the young woman in the second row to put on some proper attire."
She shook her head no and shrugged her shoulders, "I have nothing," she replied.
"Perhaps then someone can..."
"No, I am fine," she said, her voice unwavering.
"Then I must ask you to leave immediately," he said forcefully.
The woman nodded, stood up and moved out into the aisle. Amid the rude comments, hissing and laughter she calmly walked toward the doors at the back of the church. Just as she was stepping through the doors, the odd man from the second row slid out into the aisle and hurried behind her.
He moved quickly into the dark anteroom and then out through the doors in the bright sunlight. The naked woman was walking down the sidewalk toward the street, her long dark hair cascading down her back. He hurried down the stair and ran after her, calling out, "Wait."
The woman paused and turned to face him. She smiled and said, "Thank you."
"Thank you, thank you for what?" he asked.
"For being kind, offering me your jacket."
"But why, why did you do it?"
"I just wanted to see if they would take me, take me as I am," she replied, nodding over at the church's sign.
"You know, I was so scared to come today I nearly got sick," the man replied. "My hands actually shook as I entered the church and here you come... ah, as you are and..."
"No, they didn't."
"Well, I need to go now, good bye and thank you again," she said.
The man nodded and turned, heading back toward the church. Nearing the stairs he stopped and turned, calling out, "But I never got your name."
"It's Eve," she called back.
"Just Eve," she said, reaching her hand into her paper bag. She pulled out an apple, took a bite and turned to continue walking.
The man paused a moment at the stairs, but just as he began to climb up them he heard a loud hissing and then saw the leaves rustling as something slithered back into the garden. Rather than head back into the church he slowly took off his jacket, folded it neatly and placed it on the ground. He then began unbuttoning his shirt as music began to play inside the church.
The pastor, realizing the service was simply in too much chaos quickly went through the motions and then released his congregation. Later as he stood outside talking to some of the people he noticed a group of them holding some clothes. He walked over and asked, "What's happening now?"
"That strange man, the one who followed that woman out of the church."
"Well Jenny's husband, who was waiting in the car, said he took off his clothes and ran off following her. And right here is a pile of clothes."
Frowning, the preacher reached out his hands and when they handed him the man's pants, he reached in the pockets and pulled out a wallet. "Well, at least we can see who the man is," he said opening the wallet.
"Who is it Pastor?"
"It says here his name is Adam," he said, leafing through the other credit cards and things.
"Just Adam," he replied just as thunder boomed overhead and it began to rain.