Thursday, April 07, 2011

CHAPTER 42: Deprived of a Habit, I am Nun No More

Had I known that Teresa was going to deprive me of my black habit after the bath -- burning it in Kitty's barrel behind the blue house -- I would have refused the bath. No matter that I hadn't bathed in weeks.

And no matter that it was a delicious and refreshing bath. Yes -- the warm water was perfect and the suds so gentle and soothing. Kitty brought one after another fresh teakettle of steaming water, until Mr. Bean knocked on the steamed up glass window of the outside door where he was standing guard.

He was getting impatient, as my bath was taking a rather long time, and it was up to him to make sure that I got back to the jail.

The curtain kept him from peering inside where I lay in the tub.

"You ladies had better be gettin' done in there pretty quick."

"Ten minutes more," Teresa yelled.

"Five not a second extra!" he shouted back.

"Mercy, Mr. Bean, I've got to wash her hair!"

"Make it fast!"

She chuckled. And under her breath, "OK, then. rub a dub dub, Renata." She kneeled, groaning as she rearranged her plump self beside the tub. With Kitty pouring lukewarm water over her hands and my head, Teresa shampooed my shorn scalp. I smelled the lavender soap. I felt the brisk work of her strong fingertips massaging my scalp. Oddly, the clean odor of the shampoo filled me with some kind of hopefulness.

My head rinsed, I was helped by the two of them out of the bathtub and into a set of towels. A wonderful sensation. I smiled and pulled the towel tight around my shoulders.

I looked around the room. "What happened to Señora? And what did you do with my habit?"

"Ah not a chance you will ever be seeing that item of clothing again my dear," Teresa said, scowling. She stepped behind me and used the second towel to shuffle dry my hair.

"But...what...I must have it back, you know I must," I said. "Otherwise, I go back to the courtroom in two days and...and what...what exactly do I wear?"

Teresa stopped toweling, and turned me around. She took my face in her two thick hands and stared hard into my eyes. Her cheeks were pink in steam from the bath.

"Renata, my dear, there is not a thing we can do, not today anyway. I gave it to Señora while you were soaking and she tried to wash it out back there where Kitty does laundry. My dear, the both of your sleeves were so rotten in dirt that they came apart in her hands -- and there was a giant tear at the bodice. I'm going to bring you another habit on my next trip." Her voice, lilted in Irish brogue, was usually music to me. But not now.

"Where is Señora, please?" I asked.

"She's taken over the cafe for Kitty, she is fixing us a good evening meal, a tortilla soup, with one of Kitty's chickens, even, and we will be bringing a bowl to you as soon as it's cooked!"

Meanwhile, Kitty emerged from the bedroom at that moment with a neat stack of clean white underclothing. "Here you go," she said, lifting it toward me like an offering. "And I have a powder blue muslin dress in the closet, I think it will fit you. It's a bit snug on me."

I felt warm tears rising out of my eyes, covering my face like the bathwater had a few minutes before. I began to shake my head. The smell of lavender now was overpowering, and it almost made me dizzy. It occurred to me now that I was still weak with the illness that had practically killed me only days before.

"If...I had known, I would have refused the bath," I whispered.

"Renata this is just silly, you will be perfectly presentable in court wearing the blue muslin. And in a week or so I will have another habit here for you." Teresa tried to lift my chin but I wasn't having any of it.

Bean was banging on the door. "I give you two more minutes or I'm coming in," he announced.

My teeth came together. "Let him in then," I seethed, feeling a deep exhaustion set in. I needed sleep. Desperately. It had been a long few days. "Let him see me naked for all I care. What does it matter, as I have nothing proper to wear!"

I was sobbing now, into the towel that Teresa had used on my hair. Kitty put her arm around my shoulders, and squeezed, Teresa had my hands. I cried harder.

"Oh Renata, I am so terribly sorry. I know this isn't easy for you," Teresa said. "And you are still so weak. Come sit down, we don't want you to get chilled."

I let her lead me to a chair. Kitty brought an afghan and covered my head as it is was a veil.

"Can you for a moment imagine how it feels?" I shuddered. "I've been caged there in that ... animal pen they call a jail for so many many weeks. And yet the whole while, I had my...I kept myself going knowing who I was. Feeling that I am, that I was, the same nun who had been dragged from the convent September 13th."

"But now my habit is gone. Gone! My veil, long since lost to me. Without them, I am... what am I Teresa? Who am I?"

She hesitated a moment. Her eyes widened, her face grew a darker pink. "It is not your habit or your veil that made you a nun," she said, her tone solemn. "It was never those who made you what you are! You are the same Renata you were before you left the convent."

I shook my head sadly. "No, no I am not," I said, quietly. "I have no idea who I am but I am definitely not the novitiate I was eight weeks ago. I have fallen too low for that."

Mr. Bean was trying the doorhandle. It was locked. He shook the handle and it rattled loudly. "I tell ya I'm going to bust down this door if you're not out here forthwith," he yelled, "and I don't care if I see her nekked."

Something in the way he said that word "nekked" -- the foolish old man -- ignited me. I stood up from the chair, letting the afghan slip off my hair, and I marched to the door, wearing just the towel. I pushed the curtain aside. I stuck my tongue out at him. "Go away," I frowned.

He must have seen that I was just in the towel because he took a quick step back. "Git yourself dressed immediately," he demanded.

I closed the curtain. I scooped up the stack of underclothes Kitty had given me. "Please if you would, show me the dress," I said, marching into Kitty's bedroom.

Teresa wanted to help but I refused. I closed the door to the bedroom and dressed myself. And when I emerged, with the pale blue belted muslin in place of my scratchy wool habit, Teresa smiled and nodded.

"God made you a beautiful woman, my dear," Teresa said. "And it is no matter what you wear. You look lovely." She handed me my old shoes, newly polished. "You are standing in nun's shoes."

I ignored her and walked toward the door. As I reached for the lock, I turned. "Kitty, I want to thank you for everything," I said.

"Of course," she smiled. "I am happy to be able to help you. I believe in you Renata and I believe in my heart that somehow, it is in God's plan that you will be set free. I have been saying extra prayers for weeks now, every time I attend mass."

I smiled. "Thank you."

I let Bean handcuff me and lead me back to the cell. The smell of the foul pail as I stepped inside the cell was so much worse than I had remembered it.

"Get this out of here," I demanded, and perhaps because of my tone, he did it right away.

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