No one was normally allowed inside the Sisters’ cloister except for the cook and the helper. No one else, that is, except me.
You have to understand; I was one of the very first high school girls to sign up for dormitory living. I was there when the dorm re-opened, my neatly packed bags placed primly to the side. My mother, in her Beatles-era college years was a dorm denizen herself, so you could say this fate was preordained from birth. Being first had its perks, I guess. That, and also because despite the impertinent streak I clearly possessed, I was a relatively good girl. I had a pleasant, polite face. Maybe I just looked ripe for salvation, I don’t know.
The Sisters allowed me to hang out in the cloister, after my brief (I do have strong survival instincts) phone calls. They had a TV there, and I was allowed to watch as long as I kept the volume turned low and did not stare with too much interest at the sensual, flesh-baring soap commercials.
The nuns became so used to having me around that they felt free to remove their mantles and head coverings in my presence. I was fascinated by what I saw. I always thought the nuns had long hair hidden underneath those layers of cloth. I stared for the longest time. There was Sister Racquel with her sparse hair, gone almost completely gray. But you wouldn’t know this basing from her black, bushy brows. Tough-as-nails Sister Imay had close-cropped hair that completed the illusion, made her look like a man. The younger ones, they had shiny, pretty hair, cut in what I assume was a meant to be a stylish bob, but very badly done. Without their headdresses, the Sisters looked very vulnerable, ordinary, mortal. I remember they would all take turns giving me The Talk. They all wanted to convince me to join their ranks, to be a nun too. I would nod politely, even smile, but I always knew I could never say yes. No, that life was just not for me. It was, they would croon, a life of quiet, meekness, servitude, obedience, a life they say, of grace and inner peace. It sounded very attractive, but thank you, no.
On weekends, almost all of the girls living in the dorm would go back to their home towns. I was not inclined to do so, I liked to stay behind when everything was quiet and the halls were empty. The girls, they all say it would be lonely staying behind, weekends in their towns were much more fun, why don’t I come along? I would just wave them off at the downstairs lobby, then I would close the doors and slide the heavy bolts into place, liking the ritual, even liking the sound of finality the click of metal made.
On Sundays the nuns go into a retreat. A silent retreat. They do not speak for a whole day, sunup to sundown, breaking their silence only on Monday morning. They would lock themselves inside the cloister and maybe prostrate their bodies in prayer, I’m not sure. What I liked about those Sundays though, was that I was free to do as I please. No nun would come hurrying up the stairs to censure me. I would take out all my bootleg tapes, the banned music, songs the nuns said would invoke the very devil himself, and I would play these tapes full blast. I would turn the volume up so the music reached all the way to the roof, to the locked attic, to the sky outside. Surrounded by music, I was in a state the nuns would have me believe was attainable only through religion. I was, truly and ecstatically, in a state of bliss.
And I didn’t even have to get into that habit.