miércoles, 3 de marzo de 2021

 

Addendum to “Sister Zero”


FROM NOTEBOOK #3


The following text was printed on a page which was attached to the handwritten story of “Sister Zero.” Light googling has confirmed that this is a text named “Rotten Sun,” written by French intellectual Georges Bataille--not by my brother or his friends.


The text attached to the pages of the notebook comes from an official Spanish translation of Bataille’s essays. Instead of translating it myself, I’ve opted to copy-paste an official English translation of the same text. On the printed page, certain words and phrases have been underlined; this has been maintained here.


The sun, from the human point of view (in other words, as it is confused with the notion of noon) is the most elevated conception. It is also the most abstract object, since it is impossible to look at it fixedly at that time of day. If we describe the notion of the sun in the mind of one whose weak eyes compel him to emasculate it, that sun must be said to have the poetic meaning of mathematical serenity and spiritual elevation. If on the other hand, one obstinately focuses on it, a certain madness is implied, and the notion changes because it is no longer production that appears in light, but refuse or combustion, adequately expressed by the horror emanating from a brilliant arc lamp. In practice the scrutinized sun can be identified with a mental ejaculation, foam on the lips, and an epileptic crisis. In the same way that the preceding sun (the one not looked at) is perfectly beautiful, the one that is scrutinized can be considered horribly ugly. In mythology, the scrutinized sun is identified with a man who slays a bull (Mithra), with a vulture that eats the liver (Prometheus); in other words, with the man who looks along with the slain bull or the eaten liver. The Mithraic cult of the sun led to a very widespread religious practice: people stripped in a kind of pit that was covered with a wooden scaffold, on which the priest slashed the throat of a bull; thus they were suddenly doused with hot blood, to the accompaniment of the bull’s boisterous struggle and bellowing--a simple way of reaping the moral benefits of the blinding sun. Of course the bull himself is also an image of the sun, but only with his throat slit. The same goes for the cock, whose horrible and particularly solar cry always approximates the screams of a slaughter. One might add that the sun has also been mythologically expressed by a man slashing his own throat, as well as by an anthropomorphic being deprived of a head. All this leads one to say that the summit of elevation is in practice confused with a sudden fall of unheard-of violence. The myth of Icarus is particularly expressive from this point of view: it clearly splits the sun in two--the one that was shining at the moment of Icarus’s elevation, and the one that melted the wax, causing failure and a screaming fall when Icarus got too close.

This human tendency to distinguish two suns owes its particular importance in this case to the fact that the psychological movements described are not ones that have been diverted, nor their urges attenuated, by secondary elements. But this also indicates that it would be ridiculous a priori to try to determine the precise equivalent of such movements in an activity as complex as painting. It is an elevation--without excess--of the spirit. In contemporary painting, however, the search for that which most ruptures the highest elevation, and for a blinding brilliance, has a share in the elaboration or decomposition of forms, though strictly speaking this is only noticeable in the paintings of Picasso.

martes, 2 de marzo de 2021


“Sister Zero”


FROM NOTEBOOK #3


PART IV (END)


It wasn’t so much that Tomasa and Giovana’s questions were prodding or intrusive, but rather that I didn’t know how much I was supposed to divulge. The balmy afternoon and the little garden tea set were working their magic on me, but I was still sharply aware of how bizarre the situation was. And, I have to admit, part of me was also embarrassed. What would my coworkers think if they knew what I was doing with my Friday? It’s funny how I had spent the last few months convincing myself I was above them, and had no interest in their opinions, but now they were coming back to haunt me. I wasn’t--I’m not--like B. I can’t spend my life having little “urban adventures” with aging barkeeps, lonesome street-sweepers, and cryptic record collectors. I do have a reputation to uphold.


I allowed myself to listen to the nuns’ chatter instead, remaining at the margins of their conversation, but maintaining a friendly disposition. Tomasa was once again reminiscing about her childhood in a northern fishing village, where summers were endless and people lived in a state of what F. would probably call “honest poverty.” Tomasa’s way of telling stories was lyrical, prone to tangents which seemed to delight even her. It seemed like she never knew where exactly her anecdotes would go, either, and the result was always as much of a surprise for the narrator as it was for the audience. Giovana listened with feigned interest, a kind of strained, political smile which locked her sharp features in place.


Tomasa’s aimless reminiscing reached its natural conclusion and a pleasant silence fell upon the three of us. It had probably been forty-five or so minutes since we began talking. She was wary of monopolizing the conversation, even though Giovana had made no attempt to interrupt, and I was wholly someplace else. Her narration was almost therapeutic. But Giovana’s manners were stronger and she turned to me with an open gesture. She wanted to know about my day, my job and career. My world was a bit mysterious to them; I suppose they imagined I was rubbing shoulders with “titans of finance,” and closing million-dollar deals on a daily basis. Important people in high-rise buildings overlooking the skyline. To them, whose sensory life had been reduced to the convent and whatever existed in a two-mile radius around it, there must have been some frisson to it. If only they knew how dire things really were.


I didn’t want to talk about my life, and I wouldn’t have known how to do so if prompted. I tried changing the subject back to them. I thought perhaps we had now grown close enough for me to feel warranted in asking more personal questions. After a bit of generic fluff about what it was about to work in an “important” law firm (I don’t think they were aware that an temp does nothing but data entry and espressos), I tried asking Giovana what drove her to becoming a nun. To this she screwed up her face for just a second (I did see it), but then it resettled into a polite, tense smile. She looked above me, presumably at the sun setting behind the wall, and seemed genuinely lost in thought. Tomasa was looking at her--I noticed from the corner of her eye--with a certain anticipation.


In so many words: Giovana lived in a small southern town. Dry, quiet, and mostly populated by the elderly. Her mother was a teacher, while her father occupied a certain position in the regional government. It was understood that Giovana’s family had a certain local caché which commanded respect for their forebears. (She didn’t say that, though; I intuited it). And her hometown was notable for one thing only: a beautiful, colonial cathedral which had become a regional tourist attraction, where she had attended Mass since early childhood. All social functions of the town were, as is common, tied in some way to the parish. It was where carnivals, funerals, fundraisers, baptisms, and weddings were organized. Elegant traditional construction, lacquered pews, a robust silver goblet for communion. Stained-glass windows dating back to the viceroyalty. This was the most excited I ever saw Giovana, as she entered a kind of trance state where she seemed to access a perfect reconstruction of the cathedral which existed in her mind. She described fussy details with remarkable ease: the wainscoting, the minor characters of the oil paintings in the priest’s quarters, the number of candles usually lit on the devotional altar. And Tomasa listened on in similar rapture, not looking directly at Giovana but rather at me, as if Giovana herself were too much to bear in this precise moment.


Needless to say, the cathedral had a profound impact on Giovana as a child and adolescent; it seemed to have been etched into its mind, from stone block to artisanal flourish, forever. And she spoke of it with such obsessive adoration that at a certain point I almost felt obliged to interrupt; not because I wasn’t enjoying this, but because I was beginning to wonder if she would get to the point of the story before sundown. Giovana eventually caught on to this, and her face settled into her usual expression, as if she were slowly--but surely--stepping down from her rapture. Then she fixed her eyes on mine and simply said this: that cathedral burned down one day, when she was still young. It burned down completely to the ground, and while there were no casualties--thank God--the loss was immense. Things were never the same, and Giovana had to leave.


“And I became a nun because I wanted to rebuild that cathedral in my heart,” Giovana said plainly. Tomasa looked, honestly, like this was the first time she heard this story in its entirety.


Tati, roughly ten years ago, remember we’d all go to the Salvage beach during the summer? It was really popular, you could rent out a place for cheap, we’d spend the summer months getting tanned to a crisp without a care in the world and so on. It was roughly two hours away from town down the main highway. Anyway, I’m asking because, do you remember ever seeing a burned-down husk of church in the distance once? Because I clearly remember it. It’s been stuck to my head since I saw it, probably at age ten or so. The sun was setting and I looked at this broken skeleton of a building against the sky, which was on fire. There were people moving about, but for the most part it seemed abandoned. I suppose it could have been a building in construction, but for some reason I always knew it was a church, and it burned down. Do you remember that? Am I going crazy?


The next time I ran into Tomasa and Giovana, they were standing in exactly the same place as always, at the bottom level of the abandoned mall, in a sunbeam. This had never struck me as weird until that moment: why were they willingly placing themselves under the sun, in the heat of summer? In those clothes? I remember the reason why it seemed to strange to me then was because they hadn’t seen me approaching, and as I walked towards them to say hi, I noticed that they were both staring upwards, directly at the sun’s rays, as if trying to discern something in it from the depths of that condemned building.


My relationship with the nuns reached its natural conclusion in the days afterwards. We still regarded each other warmly, but my days at the firm were coming to an end and I had no reason to ever approach the mall again. I had to find work elsewhere and get my grades up and so on. But I did visit them once more, totally out of the blue, months after this entire ordeal. I remember I had stopped at a nearby convenience store for cigarettes--I don’t remember why I was in that part of town, it was the weekend--and I caught the convent out of the corner of my eye. And I thought, I should see them again, once more. I felt a pang of guilt for the way in which our rapport completely vanished after that summer, even if it was inevitable for it to do so. It was just my luck that, at that precise moment, Tomasa was running the front desk. They were selling chocolate truffles, as always.


To be honest, Tati, she didn’t seem thrilled to see me. There was a dire change in her behavior, or maybe just in her openness towards me. First of all, her mouth froze into what seemed like it was going to be a scream for help when I walked through the door. She quickly regained composure and adopted a polite coldness which was not unlike the way Giovana treated everyone. I tried making chipper small talk with her, but remarkably, she didn’t bite. She talked fast and low, like our meeting was in some way illicit, like she couldn’t wait to be done with this and never see me again.


To this day I don’t really understand. Were they reprimanded for letting me into the building on that day? For shirking their duties? Did they feel silly for revealing so much of themselves to a stranger? Did they feel resentful and abandoned? I guess those are all possibilities. I guess nuns are mysterious creatures after all.


I did ask her about Giovana, and she said she was just beyond the heavy doors, wiping the halls which lead to the nuns’ quarters. I guess I was way out of bounds here, but at the time I didn’t even give it a second thought; I had every intention of saying hello, and so I walked past Tomasa and swung and heavy door open, peering into the tiled halls which lead beyond the front desk and into a bowels of the convent where visitors were not allowed. I didn’t even intend to walk in! I just wanted to see her, and wave, and that would be that. And maybe I would’ve bought some chocolates as a sign of goodwill.


Anyway, there wasn’t anyone wiping the floors, though I did see a bucket of water set down, as if someone had abandoned the work part way through. Was Giovana avoiding me? Had she been listening to our conversation? I couldn’t find out because Tomasa immediately seized me by the arm with intention to cause pain, and I was bewildered, stepping back instantly and letting the door swing back on its hinges, almost hitting me in the face. I was being reprimanded at mach speed by Tomasa, who was saying something about how it was strictly prohibited for visitors to look into the private quarters, and that Giovana was busy anyway, and something about nuns’ vows and so on. I was so rattled that I didn’t listen. I allowed her to lead me back towards the entrance, hand firmly on my forearm like a petulant child, and with that we said our goodbyes. I was in a daze. I felt so violently rejected that I didn’t dare protest or inquire.


And that was my story with the nuns. I know you’ve never been there, Tati, and I don’t recommend visiting. After the other things I’ve learned from your friends, it’s clear that something’s going on there. Also, I did a little amateur web-searching and I can’t find the church that burned down? I imagine there would be at least a few news stories about it, but nothing matches the timeframe and location described. But I do remember seeing something like that on drives home from the beach, do you? Is it possible Giovana was embellishing the story, and this was some dinky chapel in the middle of nowhere? Or am I connecting dots that don’t exist?


jueves, 25 de febrero de 2021

It's done.

 After roughly a decade of reading, transcribing, searching, running, wondering, fearing and mourning, the mystery has been revealed. I think.

If anyone is still reading this: I don't know what to tell you. No apology or explanation will suffice; only the entries themselves will do. Please watch this space over the coming weeks.

lunes, 12 de octubre de 2020

A Letter from F.

Loosely attached to Notebook #4


 B.,

I know it's been like five years. And I know it's inexcusable for me to not have been in touch since. I reached out to E. and K. sometimes. I've heard through them that you're all doing fine. I know that A. has settled into the life he was always meant to live, and everyone else was scattered to the winds. I think that's how it was always meant to be. We couldn't have stayed in the city. To me, at least, it was always a disappointment. The people who seemed so fascinating in our university years eventually settled for a sixth-floor apartment and an ad agency job, didn't they. Everyone got off on the last stop, with no warning. It's too small a town to live freely in. Those who didn't settle had flaws so deep that they were prevented from catching even the last train to normalcy; or, they stayed behind out of a misguided sense of pride, resigned to a dark and bitter life. You'll notice that the former are always pining for a partner to forgive all their shortcomings, while the latter are always looking to leave.

As for me, I wouldn't say I've been happier since I left town, but I would say I've felt imbued with a greater sense of purpose. Even if I'm not sure what that purpose is. Maybe it's just been all the traveling that's kept me busy. Colonial little islands on the Caribbean, sun-baked towns in North Africa, a season in Manchester as well. I leap at the first employment opportunity that comes with a plane ticket attached. You should see my resume; you couldn't make heads or tails of it. But something always comes up eventually. I'm not naive enough to think that this has nothing to do with the influence of my father; always there, even when it's not. But I'm done carrying that cross. Instead I'm teaching, learning, shooting, editing, sleeping on friends' couches and middle-of-nowhere motels. I hope you get to experience this at some point, too.

I never understood why you chose to stay behind, of all people. I know you don't like to talk about money, but I'm sure you would've been able to leave if you wanted to. I understand A.; he's like a fish in water over there. Why would he leave? I'll always be fond of him, but he's not like us in that sense. You, though, had the most reasons and the best credentials. But you always brushed aside all inquiries, and I think most of the group assumed that you were having family issues, or something of the sort. But I have to be honest with you: I knew it wasn't that. Ever since you told me about your father, the Clan, and the rest, it was easy to put it all together.

I want you to know that you're not bound to that city forever. I worry about you because you seem to think otherwise. The underground galleries, the secret bars, the abandoned housing complexes and anonymous hallways. It doesn't have to be your life. Please, if you need help just tell me. I was so ambivalent about reaching out for years, and today I regret it. I should have sent this letter long ago, but now it's in your hands. Don't let it consume you. You can still do it differently.

Call me,

F.

domingo, 1 de marzo de 2020


"Sister Zero"
FROM NOTEBOOK #3
PART III

The first time I entered St. Francis, I was in a daze. The convent was unsurprisingly spare, but welcoming. There was a bit of an improvised gift shop where chocolate truffles slowly melted on the shelves, and an equally haphazard “front desk”. Past a heavy door, which swung on its hinges instead of locking, were the living quarters, and the rest of the building.

It took a lot of convincing for me to allow Tomasa and Giovanna to bring me there, as the proposal seemed ridiculous and embarrassing to me. They had asked a number of times in the past and every time I had politely turned them down with reasonable excuses. As a lapsed Catholic, I had my reservations about the clergy and their constant attempts at conversion. My friends, who had gone to religious schools where nuns and priests governed, had few good things to say about them; about their rigid vigilance, their glowering menace. I could never have considered the nuns my “friends” because our lives and backgrounds were so dramatically different, that I knew our relationship would never develop beyond the very specific circumstances that lead us to meet in that summer. I mentally categorized them as part of a group of kooky acquaintances, which I was secretly kind of proud of having, but would be embarrassed to reveal to others.

But it was Friday, and we were allowed to leave the office early. I could have darted straight home, made plans for the beach, but instead I absentmindedly wandered into the old mall again, telling myself I was going to check out this thing or another. It was hard for me to admit that I wanted to see them, the two people with whom I had built a genuine rapport over the last couple months. I told myself those weren’t my intentions, but it was blindingly obvious.

And conveniently enough, there they were, fanning themselves with the lids of open chocolate boxes, readjusting their coarse and boxy habits, which I could only imagine wearing in such heat. We immediately struck up a conversation with a rehearsed kind of joviality that was so pleasant to me at the time. Tati, if there’s something to be said about nuns it’s that they know how to make people feel welcome without ever overdoing it. This little space felt so refreshing when compared to the air-conditioned nightmare of the firm. We got to talking as usual and, without realizing, I mentioned that I was free for the afternoon. The nuns were delighted, and insisted that I come with them to the convent for tea. At this point I was feeling the kind of weird, warm tingles that sometimes slide down your back when you go to the hairdresser, or when a soft-spoken receptionist tends to your needs. That kind of hypnotic warmth that I associate with, I guess, service and comfort. And it almost made me want to cry. I said yes.

Whether the nuns’ intentions were purely altruistic or whether there was a conversion motive, I don’t know. Maybe they saw potential in me to be like them. Who even becomes a nun in this day and age? I have to assume they’re low on numbers. But I didn’t care about any of this at the time. As soon as I accepted, Tomasa and Giovanna burst into a thrilled chit-chat and beamed with what seemed like genuine joy, as they probably hadn’t entertained a guest in a while. They seemed to be amused by how the sisters would react to their guest, and began to work out the logistics of the operation. I don’t know much about convents, but I’m sure nuns aren’t allowed to simply bring in people off the street. At the same time, it didn’t seem like they were doing this in secret.


It’s not surprising that there was no air conditioning at St. Francis, or any similar amenities. Despite the background hum of comings and goings, errands and small talk, beyond the storefront was a place of monastic contemplation. I think the heat started to get to me at that point. I began to feel childlike, impressionable, far too easy to guide. Tomasa and Giovanna lead me through a back door that opened into a wonderful little corner of the convent’s inner patio, a sunlit place with little more than an iron-legged marble table and a few, thin chairs. The arrangement looked like it had stood there, unperturbed, for a thousand years. It sat in the middle of a walled little corner of the patio that was separated from the main square by a tight hallway, as if built in secret. The side and back walls were covered in greenery that was soothing to just look at. In a moment I became aware that his was, without a doubt, Tomasa and Giovanna’s secret corner, a place where they came to find some privacy, to tend to the plants, to drink tea and eat cake and gossip about the other sisters. I feel weirdly humbled to have been let in. I heard the moving-around of furniture behind me and then the door closed, and immediately I began to hear baby wrens, chirping in the distance. I no longer felt like I was in the city. And I began to relax, to let go in ways I hadn’t allowed myself to do for months.

viernes, 14 de febrero de 2020

"Sister Zero"
FROM NOTEBOOK #3
PART II

I had originally intended to spend six months or so in Marianne's firm while I got my certificates and diplomas in line at university. But I hated university, and kept putting it off. It's easier to justify it to yourself when you're working and always exhausted. The idea of doing something productive with the meager free time you're given seems unfeasible and frankly kind of insulting. Nobody wants to write application letters where they grovel before idiotic bureaucrats and sycophantic secretaries, especially not after spending eight-to-ten hours licking the boots of incompetent bosses who owe their position to their illustrious father or uncle. Besides, that summer was miserable: ruthless and sweltering, the first summer I had to spend in pencil skirts and thick, hand-me-down blouses. They worked us from sunrise to sunset. I have a bad habit of simply accepting horrible situations and not speaking out after a while. This was one of them.

Whenever I ran into acquaintances while doing errands or grabbing lunch--especially when I ran into high school classmates--I felt rattled, almost disturbed. Partly because of the ways in which we had changed, but also because school and everything about it now seemed like a mildly twisted dream. The vast and unknowable world of my teens had shrunk into a roughly three-kilometer urban expanse, wherein I knew every corner shop, ATM, and condemned building by heart. Not only had the mystery vanished, but something about working life seemed truly hopeless at the time. To be reminded that things used to be different was disheartening. And I guess that's why I distanced myself from the group after graduation. I told myself that it was the adult thing to do, that only sad people cling to high school memories forever, and that it was high time I got over all the Weird Shit, anyway. Such a dumb thing. All those make-believe adventures, which, even today, I'm a bit embarrassed to recall. But as a consequence of this mindset I became crushingly, comically lonely.

And so I began to spend more and more lunch breaks with Tomasa and Giovanna. It was always casual and almost incidental in my mind. A normal person would've taken advantage of their internship to network with their peers and prove their worth to their superiors, but just the thought of it made me break out in hives. I would much rather wander the halls of a semi-abandoned shopping mall, eating tasteless and questionable salads from a Styrofoam box. At least I was alone with my thoughts. And in this way, my encounters with the nuns occurred naturally. There was nowhere else nearby to hide from the sun during the deadly period between noon and early dusk, when just walking outside felt like being cooked.

Most middle-aged women eventually develop the tendency to divulge their life stories in bite-sized vignettes, and the nuns were no different. I learned that Tomasa grew up poor in the north, but had an honest and happy childhood of chasing after wild fowl, bathing in riverbanks, and crowding around black-and-white television sets with her cousins. Giovanna was quite the opposite: she had been a young promise of her school's soft tennis club, she was very careful not to divulge embarrassing or comical childhood stories, and everything about her suggested that she was highly-bred. Well, not really. I didn't believe most of what she said. For the most part it seemed like she was embarrassed of having a perfectly-normal upbringing and felt the need to put on airs around me. Perhaps she thought I was "that kind of person", simply because I worked with lawyers and executives and politicians' wives. Sometimes I thought I was "that kind of person" as well, but thankfully I snapped out of it after a few months.

It was a strange dynamic between the three of us. It took a while for me to lower my guard and no longer keep an ironic distance between myself and the nuns. It was Tomasa's unbeatable enthusiasm that drew us closer together. Giovanna was reticent to make any personal statements, or move beyond polite conversation. (For her, polite conversation included the weather, non-political current events, and Scripture, the last of which usually drove our talks to a dead end.) We were such an unlikely group, and to be honest, I would have been mortified to have been caught laughing it up with them by a coworker or boss. (Nobody asked where I went for lunch; at this point everyone had correctly assumed that I despised them.) But we grew closer in spite of it all. Eventually they started to bring chocolate truffles especially for me, and I started complaining to them about my cubicle-mates. I found myself unraveling before them sometimes, going on tangents about the uselessness of higher education, the hypocrisy of office hierarchies, the fact that my job didn't seem to exist for any real purpose. In hindsight I can only assume that, gradually, I began to look a little lost to them. Possibly in need of course-correction. Nuns tend to see people that way. It's no surprise that, eventually, they began to find excuses to invite me into the convent. It was right there, after all.

domingo, 19 de marzo de 2017

"Sister Zero"
FROM NOTEBOOK #3
PART I


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.