© Hazel Campbell 2105
( This is exactly how the sister presented herself. She liked to laugh at her adventures.)
Jamaica has the most 'churches' per square mile of any country in the world. (
Book of World Records) Lots of churches. Lots of preacher men. Lots of followers,
Sista Bessie was one of the followers. She was a card. A real joker card. If she got a lift to the crossroads after church, she would keep the passengers in the car laughing so much it was almost sinful. Mostly she talked about her exploits as a roving preacher woman. Her assigned role was 'street warrior'. She preached at crowded bus stops in the densely populated areas of the city, and woe be unto any lurking pickpockets hanging around. Her nose could smell them out like rats and if they gave her any lip, she would use her 'sword' to slap them. Her Bible-sword was large, thick and could give a good clout. A youth slapped by a Bible is hardly likely to carry out his plan to rob, sometimes at knifepoint. Her targets would slink away cursing (under their breaths). For Sister Bessie could call down fire and brimstone on them, she would plead the blood of Jesus against them and although many didn’t exactly know what that meant, it didn't sound like something they wanted to experience.
Regular commuters welcomed her presence and put up with her preaching and even humoured her by listening and nodding and murmuring amen and singing a chorus or two with her.
When the transvestites, who travelled in groups of four or five, exaggerating their eccentricities to annoy or disgust the people at the bus stops – when they saw Sista Bessie they tiptoed past on the other side of the road, hoping she wouldn’t get on their case, for her voice was loud and authoritative and self-righteous and shaming and always spoiled their fun.
And she was only five feet tall.
So, when a new hustler at the bus stop saw this tiny woman carrying the big bible, he ignored her. Nobody had warned him about Sista Bessie. Clive had no affiliations to any criminal group. He was just a disgruntled youth, out of work too long, and desperate to feel some money in his hands. He was passing Sista Bessie's bus stop and seeing the people, all of whom looked well fed and prosperous, a sudden wave of anger overtook him. He didn’t stop to lurk and stalk a victim. He just walked up to the nearest buxom woman and grabbed her purse.
The cries of "Tief! Thief" scattered the crowd except for a tiny woman who put out her foot and tripped Clive. He jumped up, pulled out his knife, flicked it and lunged at this audacious woman who held up a book to shield herself from his assault. The knife plunged into the book and Clive watched in shock as the blade broke off and fell to the ground leaving the handle in his hand. Only then did he see the words Holy Bible on the book Sista Bessie was still holding up. There wasn't even a scratch on it.
Clive threw away the purse. Clive fled. The people cheered while Sista Bessie did a kind of victory dance as she sang 'No weapons formed against me shall prosper. Halleluyah!'
There was a tent church near to where Clive lived. When the gospel music started that night, it seemed to pull him towards it. He crept into the meeting and sat in the semi-darkness in the back, which was empty. He hoped nobody would notice him. He didn't know why he was there. He didn’t even see her until she was standing right before him singing and holding out her hand to lead him forward - a tiny little lady not more than five feet tall. Sista Bessie was a regular visitor at the tent meetings on Sunday nights.
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