The roads had become quieter as the taxi driver guided his cab out of the crowded city. Houses appeared between the avenue of trees, children rode bikes on the pavements, dog walkers hummed to ipods, businessmen shouted at their mobiles, soon, even the pedestrians became scarce and the houses became smaller and more tightly packed, wheelie bins littered the pavements and tabloid newspapers threw their stories amongst dry leaves and cigarette butts.
“ Are you sure this is the right place?” Janey spoke at last
“But why would a convent be in a place like this?”
“What do you think them religious folks want to be close to the cinema and pubs, a bit of drum 'n bass to stir 'em up? girls with no clothes on gyrating around?”
The cab driver sniffed, scratched behind his ear and continued “None of 'em come out of that place anyhow, I'm surprised you want to go there. The one you're off to is quite well known, supposed to be nice, if you can call it that, they've got a website n'all if you want to apply to become a nun!” With this he exploded into an unpleasant sort of laugh, though Janice didn't see the joke.
“Here” He said at last swerving the car round to the right. With a skid on the loose gravel he stopped by large wrought iron gates.
“Right love that'll be twenty eight pounds”
“Twenty eight pounds?” Janice repeated weakly
“Twenty eight pounds” He repeated flatly
She produced a twenty and a ten and refused the change.
The car sped off and left Janice alone with herself and the gates.
They were locked. Cursing, Janey rattled them to be sure. Apparently out of nowhere a girl no more than 20 appeared dressed in traditional habit.
“Can I help you?” She inquired from behind the bars.
“Oh, I'm expected, by Mother Pascal, I think. My father...made inquiries...” She quietened.
“What is your name please?”
With a warm smile, the sister stepped back from the gates and moved out of sight. With an impressive grinding sound the huge gates began to open revealing behind them a wide cobbled path lined with oak trees. Behind these, the land seemed to stretch into fields on one side and dense woodland on the other. It was certainly very beautiful even through the dulling autumn sky.
“I am Sister Bernadine, take my hand” She smiled again apparently not noticing the smirk pass Janey's lips.
“May I take your bag? It is quite a journey to the cloister.”
“No, I'm fine carrying it”
Sister Bernadine was not fazed by the shortness of the answers she was receiving and undeterred, continued to open conversation.
“Have you traveled far?”
“Only from Manchester”
The two walked in silence for several minutes, Janey enjoying the old cobbles underfoot
“Some people find it easier to walk on this verge. The cobbles are rather aggressive underfoot, especially if your soles are thin.”
“Oh no, I really like them.”Janey smiled. “They remind me of a supermarket near our house, when I was little. There was a little patch of cobbles, purely ornamental, but all the kids in the town used to walk over them as their parents followed the pavement to the entrance. I suppose children have so much more fun than adults. They don't see boring old pavements, but mazes of low walls, cracks and lines. Little posts to leap frog, sparkly stones within the tarmac,railings, steps, man hole covers, drains, barred cellars. What happens, when we grow up? Our minds are so full of mundane worries that we don't see anymore.”
The young nun nodded in agreement. “That is also true spiritually. Children will accept that Noah built an ark, or that Moses spoke to the burning bush, they are not wracked with suspicion over the credibility of these stories. Watch a hall of children with their heads bowed in prayer. They clap their hands together and scrunch their eyes shut, yet their innocent ears hear the prayers, they listen. Their 'Amen's are heard because they are spoken in earnest”
“Yes but that's just because children don't know any better, they also believe in Santa” Said Janey
“Indeed but it does not matter what they believe, what is important is that they do believe. They have the capacity for accepting God into their hearts.”
“As did masses of uneducated people who spent their lives fearing god and thus being corrupted by religious leaders who used their fear to advantage” Janey said, looking at her companion
“But is that not the devil who corrupts the innocent?” Sister Bernadine said turning to face Janice.
Janice swallowed uncomfortably. That last question sat most uncomfortably in her conscience.
“The devil sits in all of us, including corrupted religious leaders, it is our duty to overcome temptation and accept God into our hearts.”
There followed another silence, this one not enjoyed by Janice. She had been reminded yet again of Molly, and by god didn't she know about the corruption of innocence.
After the two reached the top of a small hill, the Abbey came into sight. It was large with a great spire.
“The Abbey of St Augustine” announced Sister Bernadine nodding towards the great building.
“It is a beautiful piece of architecture” Said Janey “And you have lived here for a long time?”
“No, just 3 years. I was very glad I found this place as I am sure you will be too”