The Sisters had prayed about their calling before taking their vows. Being a Sister was a gift from God, an invitation into a deeper relationship with the creator. In Bible classes, the Sisters taught us to be open to listening to God no matter how confusing it felt; to remain faithful to pray even when we felt like prayer wasn't going anywhere. We received an education on love, and sometimes - tough love.
Sister Margaret was a mean Sister in my opinion, and in her mid-forties, she looked handsome and could have been beautiful once. But the years showed on her face and the frown didn’t help much. She was overbearing, pushy, pretentious and rude.
“I don’t want to stay here anymore,” I said to my sister. We were kneeling down again because Sister Margaret had found us singing behind the buildings. I thought there was something wrong with the Sister; some terrible character flaw that swept us like a wave. Wairimu commented that maybe she had been dropped as a baby.
“I’m beginning to dislike her too,” Wairimu said with a pained face. “Sometimes the convent feels like jail although you have to admit the food is great.”
I nodded. I loved the food and the church service. I enjoyed the hymns and the candy Sister Elizabeth always gave us. But the Sisters were sworn to a life of silence. They went about their tasks day after day in total silence, only speaking if it was necessary for reasons of courtesy.
I sighed. “I get so angry, and so hurt when she punishes us. I don’t understand how she can be so cruel and yet call herself a Sister.”
Wairimu smiled and tried to imitate one of the Sisters. “You must learn to forgive my child.”
After kneeling down for an hour, and hurting, we went to the yard to look for Sister Elizabeth who was playing a board game with the other Sisters. Recreation time was the only time the Sisters were allowed to talk freely although they couldn’t talk about their previous lives. Sister Elizabeth, wearing a familiar black veil, smiled at us as we sat on the grass next to her. She was playing Scrabble with two other young looking Sisters, while all around us Sisters knitted, sang, played musical instruments, and chatted amongst each other.
“Have you children been breaking the rules again?” Sister Elizabeth asked with a worried look.
“Sister Margaret is mean,” I said with my hands folded across my chest. “She made us kneel for an hour.”
“For making noise?”
“No. Singing. We weren’t even that loud,” Wairimu said with pursed lips.
Sister Elizabeth pushed the board game aside and apologized to the other Sisters with her eyes. It was obvious by the looks on the other Sisters’ faces that none of them approved of the way Sister Margaret controlled and pushed us around. We were just children who wanted for most part to laugh and play.
"Sit down children," Sister Elizabeth said in a soft voice. She waited until we were sat before speaking. “I grew up with a strong love for Africa,” Sister Elizabeth said, “and as a teenager followed news of violence and hatred on the continent with concern. I wanted to help the people here and so I came and joined the mission. See, that’s the thing about life, we are all looking for something, and I found it here.”
“You never wanted to get married and have children?” Wairimu asked and I worried that she was too bold.
The Sister chuckled. “I was never against marriage, but I knew that I didn’t want to give my life to just one person. So I realized that it was my vocation to give my life to praying for those who are struggling and thus dedicated myself to many families. Coming to the convent was the best decision I ever made.”
“What has that got to do with being silent?” I asked feeling agitated, confused and tormented by the constant punishments.
Sister Elizabeth touched my shoulder briefly, locked eyes with me and then let go. “When I first arrived here Wangechi, I found it hard to stay silent and was often warned about banging things around. It requires a lot of presence of mind to learn to be quiet, and am still learning.” The Sister sighed. “We are here with God Wangechi; razor sharp focus so that the world around us doesn’t distract us. Whatever the Mother Superior tells us to do, we take it as though it’s coming from God himself. Our vow is about striving for perfection to be what God wants us to be. Silence helps us to meditate and concentrate. It helps us bury the past and protects us from hearing things that will take us away from God.”
I looked around me, at the other Sisters. They all looked so happy. Why couldn’t I look like that? This was the world they knew best, far better than any other place outside the walls of the convent. My day would soon come and I would grow up too, and go into the world on my own, without hiding behind my siblings.
On Saturday afternoon, Wairimu and I were bored when we noticed a Sister carrying a golden cup headed towards the chapel. Stealthily we followed her. The door opened and we hid behind the pews, peering above the seats to see what she was doing. We watched as the Sister bowed and placed the golden cup on top of the Father’s table. She bowed again and then walked out of the building, the echo of her footsteps alerting us of her exit.
“What’s in the cup?” I asked Wairimu.
“Only one way to find out,” my sister replied as she started walking towards the altar. We crouched and whispered even though there was nobody else in sight. The chapel had a sacred aura about it that made us feel like we were being watched.
Wairimu pulled an altar chair close to the table and climbed. I watched with anxiety as she opened the cup lid and looked inside. “It’s sacrament!” she exclaimed in disbelief.
“Can I see?” I asked.
She jumped down and I climbed up, and sure enough I saw a lot of sacraments inside the cup; white round ‘bread’ the size of soda bottle tops.
“Give me one,” Wairimu whispered and I froze.
“We shouldn’t. We are not baptized.” The sacrament was a sign of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life was dispensed. We both knew that baptism was necessary for salvation for those whom the Gospel had been proclaimed.
“I just want to see what it tastes like. I know you do too,” Wairimu said, and I agreed with her. I always wanted to taste the sacrament and this was so much easier without having to receive it from the Father. I grabbed two, closed the lid and jumped down to join her.
“Maybe we should say something first,” Wairimu said with a voice full of wisdom. She held hers in the air and I copied her, waited as she searched for the right words.
“This is the body of Christ,” Wairimu said, “Take it in remembrance of me.”
I was about to open my mouth when I felt something grab my ears. I looked up startled and saw an angry face staring me down. The sacraments were taken away and we were escorted away from the altar. It was Sister Margaret, and not once did she let go off our ears. It hurt. It hurt really bad.
That night and feeling dejected, I slept in my Sister's bed and that's how Sister Elizabeth found us; hugging each other and talking about the good old days when our father was around.
Sister Elizabeth walked in with a smile and closed the door softly behind her. She wore a white night dress and a white cloth that covered her head. We propped ourselves up on pillows as she glided over towards us, her dress sweeping the floor like a bride.
"I came to check on you children and make sure you are okay. Wairimu?"
"I'm okay Sister," Wairimu said with a smile.
"I'm okay Sister." We started feeling better as soon as we uttered those words. I couldn't explain it. Maybe it was Sister Elizabeth's presence or maybe it was the feeling that came with knowing that someone cared.
The Sister sighed and sat on the bed. We moved a little to make room and she took her time before speaking. "When I was your age, I didn't know what I wanted to become in life."
"You didn't know that you wanted to be a Sister?" I asked.
"No. I didn't. But I knew that I wanted to do something important with my life. After I became a Sister, they took me to school and paid for my fees. For years I studied medicine until finally I became a nurse. That's what God wanted me to be all along. It took a while to figure it out."
"I want to be a teacher," Wairimu said in a firm tone.
"That's good Wairimu," the Sister said. "This convent can help you become anything you want to be. You must trust that God brought you here for a reason. What about you Wangechi?"
I shrugged. "I don't know what I want to be."
"I want you to think about it," Sister Elizabeth said. "Picture what you want to be and it will be so. Life is tough everywhere and challenges will follow you anywhere you go. Don't let the current challenges blind you from the big picture. God brought you here to this convent and God will show you the way."
Sister Elizabeth had never spoken to us like this before. She treated us like adults and we felt important. I also realised that she was aware of our predicament with Sister Margaret and was trying to help us around it. Sister Margaret was the small picture, our future was what really mattered.
Off to AFRICA
My book A Whisper in the Jungle has been picked by a publishing company and approved by the board. It has been scheduled for release soon.
The music is all around you, all you have to do is listen
Without God, what are we? What do we have? What is life...