domingo, 19 de marzo de 2017

"Sister Zero"

Tati, this is the only interesting thing that came of the six months I spent working as a temp in Marianne's firm.

It was a horrible, lonely job, though I was physically close to others for the entire time. I was squeezed into a hallway lined with outdated computers and sentenced to draft inane e-mails alongside nine other interns. I was one of two girls in this group. The other girl was strange, not in an attractive way, she just came off as mentally unbalanced. For some reason she was really obsessed with traveling to Israel. Whatever.

Most of my fellow interns took this job seriously and answered directly to a number of important men. It was amazing how their tone would shift between gross, sexual jokes and shameless dick-sucking. At the end of the hall there was a telephone from the eighties so that anyone who wanted something from us--usually a whim--could tell us. Twice a day I would take the elevator down to the courtyard and smoke a cigarette, vacantly staring. Usually when I returned, someone would be considerate enough to tell me that the boss had called for me.

I didn't even try to be friendly in Marianne's firm; I wasn't going to last there and I knew it, and so did they. Many thought I was a lesbian, because I showed no interest in the boys. One of them was more sensitive and, let's say, "trying to be alternative," and I think he wanted to establish a friendship. But every moment spent there was hell, Tati. I wasn't in the mood to be nice to anyone.

At 1:00 p.m. sharp I was gone. We had an hour-and-a-half lunch break. The building is located in the financial district, in fact just two blocks away from Central Finance. Most of the other interns would take this time to get sushi or haircuts in the nearby Swissotel. I was spending three-fourths of my meager salary on gas to get to work in the first place, and the other fourth on video games. I ate in the Mall.

When I talk about the Mall I talk about the Mall back in 1998. Two years later that Mall was demolished, and replaced with the one we know now. The old Mall was a curiosity. Despite the great location, it never really worked out, I think because of some issue in the lease contracts for stores. Most of them closed down. In the end you had a four-story labyrinth where the vast majority of stores was shuttered. Open locales were not inspiring: old toy shops, geriatic wear, a pharmacy, "The World of Towels." Like B. would say, you could smell the money being laundered through them.

But that's not all. The Mall was a place worth exploring. The ground floor had two basements under it, and the deeper you went, the more eerie it became. Electric stairways remained frozen, lights flickered or didn't work at all, and the décor retrated further back into the past. The bottom floor contained nothing but a mural that looked like it was painted in the sixties (with images of Bengal tigers and multi-racial hand-holding), and an exit to the park that passes by an ATM. This was where I met the Sisters, and I felt so lucky.

Tati, can you imagine meeting two nuns in the bottom floor of an abandoned mall? And on top of that, they were standing under a fluorescent light. I felt like I was in a video game, I had just come to a new town, and these two characters were going to tell me where to go next. It's obvious that I felt lost and desperate in those days. I sat eating a slippery microwave-cooked lunch, alone, mostly in the dark. To me this was a blessing, even though I've never been religiously-inclined.

I would come to know the Sisters as Tomasa (the plump, husky, black one) and Giovanna (the tall, bird-like, white one). They were the kind of pair you would see on a newspaper comic strip, with such exaggerated features and contrasting personalities. We made smalltalk almost immediately; they looked as relieved to find me as I was to find them.

The conversation was stilted at first, but they were happy to talk. I told them that I worked nearby and they told me that they sold truffles. I think it's typical for convents to bake and sell goods, as I remember Mom would buy chocolates from a group of nuns when I was a kid. They went around the neighborhood offering boxes and took a moment to rest from the heat in the Mall. My comments and replies were very banal. "I couldn't imagine walking around in the heat like that." But somehow the conversation was always refreshing. They did most of the work; I just sat there nodding.

(Tati, the truffles they sold were delicious. I'm sorry I never brought you any, but you might still forgive me if you keep reading.)

This went on for several days, on and off, over a couple weeks. On days when I didn't run into the Sisters I usually ended up eating lunch alone. A couple times I went to Stephany's apartment. She was living alone at that point, her parents were abroad. But we were never really that close, so I mostly smoked cigarettes on her balcony until it was time to go. I remember being so jealous that she was living alone, in an apartment, in the nicest part of town. Six years later I found myself in the same situation and I was miserable! This sounds like a stupid "ironic" thing that a stupid girl would post on Facebook.

Anyway, back to the story. With each of these encounters I grew closer to the Sisters, and I discovered more about them. They were from St. Francis, which was really obvious when I think about it. St. Francis is the convent located next to St. Francis' church. And St. Francis' church is right in front of the Mall. Not many people know that there is also a convent there; it's a very low-profile building, it looks kind of like the administrative offices of the church. Both Sisters looked about middle-aged; Tomasa possibly older. Tomasa was loud and loved to guffaw; she was jovial and gossipy. Giovanna was more proper. It seemed like sometimes her partner's behavior irked her, but it was never apparent.

Giovanna also talked a lot about punishment. She was very much from the old school of nunship, I think. Being married to Jesus was not just devotion and silence, it was also active suffering. And it was clear that she didn't think of me or anyone else as pure. She would sometimes go on tangents about blood and epiphanies. Usually Tomasa and I glossed over them and changed the subject. But she was always courteous and smiling. I regarded her more like a kooky aunt than a person to be feared. They always seemed like ultimately likable women.