Francesca Baker


They sat four tables down from Alice, two ladies breaking their cakes in half like their Lordís bread, scattering crumbs in the process. One, the shorter, fatter nun had kicked off her sensible black shoes, stockinged feet now swinging beneath her. She had funny looking toes, and a sparkle, a bounce to her being that revealed itself in her wide eyes and curious gaze with which she entreated her counterpart to converse. A deep dimple on her left cheek suggested it had been flexed repeatedly. Alice was a fan of dimples, believing them to be an indication of a certain kind of mindset. Her face, mottled like the moon, was kindly and caring. She was not so sure about the other sister. Sat opposite the nun whom Alice had now christened Ďthe smiley oneí was a far more severe sister. A life in the religious orders appeared not to have elevated her spirit. Celibacy had left her knickers firmly in a twist.

Her veil seemed starker, her robes blacker somehow. Her furrowed brow and lined forehead creased, crumples upon crumple rising up from her pursed lips. She looked severe, jabbing at the crumbs on her plate as though angry at them, folding her napkin into a knife edge.

As the whirr of the coffee grinder started up again, the smiley sister leaned in to the table at the same time as the grumpy one leaned back, with her mug in hand, pointing her bony finger at the chocolate smeared around the other nunís face. They seemed to be embroiled in some kind of debate, although they kept breaking away from this for the smiley one to dip her pudgy finger into the spiral of whipped cream on her drink and lick it off.

The sound of funk music reverberated around the room, the soundtrack to the situation seeming slightly incongruous. Two hands were thrown up in the air as the smiley one exclaimed, the dark robes falling down to reveal bright pink sleeves underneath. Her colleague glared (Did they refer to each other as colleagues, thought Alice. Did they work?) and started to raise her voice, tapping the table with every rising intonation.

Alice knew that such abrasive behaviour would make her lose her temper, but presumed that the nuns had learned to calm their emotions and vices. She wondered how many of the deadly sins these nuns had committed. Would they be punished, or was that why they were nuns? Bright women, they knew that good works negated the bad behaviour. Forgiveness was a powerful liberator. Alice thought of how many she had committed. Deep in the shadows of her mind all sorts of dark thoughts wafted on a daily basis, even if they didnít always manifest themselves in out and out sins and vices. She hadnít lived a bad life, and didnít intend to start it now, but her levels of faith and charity might not be enough to atone for the envy she had experienced and compassion that she found so hard to elicit at times.

Pushing existential thoughts out of her head, she went back to trying to fathom what the nuns in front of her were discussing so vehemently. The scary one made the sign of the cross whilst the smiley one bowed her head. Things must be getting deep. Perhaps this was a revelation of some sort, the answer to life being discussed. Or perhaps a confession. If Alice squinted hard enough at the shape of their mouths would she be able to read the secrets of the universe, or at least sordid details about the church.

Her ears strained. A clatter from behind the counter masked any sound that Alice might have been able to hear. Staring at their lips she made out only two words.

ĎJumble Sale.í