Sunday, July 19, 2015

CHAPTER 2: DIFFERENT FACES OF HUMANITY

Confessions of a Novice Nun
by Trisha Cuarts


A CAB DIRECTLY BEHIND US BUZZED LOUDLY, making the taxi driver of my hired cab jump from his seat as he stepped on the gas, shooting us forward to the convoluted traffic. I registered briefly the green traffic light counting down originally from sixty now to fifty-six.

Hello New York.

Being used to the small group of people I grew up with in our Cathedral in Woodinville, I couldn't stop craning my head to watch the throngs of people walking by the sidewalk. There were people of all walks of life, boldly showcasing their distinctiveness with the way they walk, and dress, and move… Woodinville's people seemed to count as just one boring person in comparison. And the buildings, all tall and intimidating, looked like they wanted to outstand each other, each one seeming to gaze down at the hassle and bustle at their feet. I could also count more hotdog stands than I could the number of Woodinville's business franchises.

I guess New Yorkers just love hotdogs.

Seeing all these makes me wonder why the world got itself into a big hurry whilst I was not looking. And how now, I need to catch up with it.

After about half an hour of traffic and travel, my hired cab finally skidded to a stop in front of a line of tall, dingy apartments.

The driver shook me out of my gawking when he suddenly spoke.

"That would be seventy, miss."

I took a double-take after hearing the price.

"H-how much?"

“Seventy.”

“Isn't that too much? The digits only show fifty,” I argued, gesturing at the machine attached beside his steering wheel.

"This is an airport taxi, miss. I already gave it to you cheap as it is."

Reluctantly, I dug inside my shoulder bag for my purse and regrettably pulled out seventy bucks to hand to the driver. I suddenly wished I was still wearing my habit so I would be treated right, feeling that I was somehow taken advantage of.

As I got out, I immediately chastised my thoughts and asked God a quick prayer of forgiveness for being angry and for wanting to use my novice-nun uniform on selfish reasons. But still, I was now short of seventy bucks which, back at the orphanage, could have helped the children buy more clothes than they could usually indulge. Sighing in defeat, I took out my luggage of meager belongings from the cab's trunk to cart inside the building.

After I knocked at the building’s main door, a tall and petite old lady opened it for me. Though probably at age eighty, the woman still looked quite strong.

"Amethyst Fay Reed?" Her mouth seemed set for a permanent scowl as she assessed me with her all-glaring eyes.

I tried to smile as I answered, "Yes. You must be Mrs Sullivan."

"Miss Sullivan," she corrected with a sneer. "Follow me."

I scanned the small receiving area situated not too far from the elevator doors. The place looked old but well-kept. It doesn't scream anything modern, unlike all that I've seen from the city thus far, and for that I was thankful. I feel that the place wouldn't alienate me that much from where I stayed at Woodinville.

"Even though I'm your landlady, you can't always come to me for help when you want to. I can't fix your sink if it gets clogged with the junk you throw in it." Continuing her rant, she pressed the button on the elevator and didn't break her speech even when we got inside. "I can't find a stupid plumber to help you flash that God-damned toilet of yours if it got stuck." I cringed from her loose use of the Lord's name. She didn't even notice my reaction as she punched the seventh floor – the highest floor for the building. "If you want fancy things, move out of my building at once because I give it to you cheap as it is. You can find a lot of fancy things in New York but not a four hundred bucks fancy apartment. And if you miss even a day of rent, I'll kick you out before you could even say 'extension'. Any questions?"

She glared at me and I got the feeling that her question was rhetorical. Currently intimidated, I shook my head in a “no”.

"Good. I live down below and I collect your rent every fifteenth of the month. Here's your key."

Handing me my key, we stepped out from the elevator to the seventh floor.

"You're at room 7C, down the hall," my landlady finished as she pointed at the rightmost room.

"Thank you Miss Sullivan. May God Bless you."

She cleared her throat. It was obvious that she was unease with well-wishers.

"Yeah. Well, that's it."

As she came back to the elevator, I waved goodbye to her with a smile. Her mouth frowned deeper as she seemed unable to look me in the eyes.

After the elevator doors closed between us, I went to pull my luggage as I took careful steps towards my room. As I entered the key to the doorknob, I noticed in my peripheral vision that my neighbor on 7C was about to enter his room as well. I turned to my left to greet him but just as fast, he was already gone. I briefly wondered if I was only seeing things. After all, I heard no noise.

Deciding on the latter, I shrugged indifferently and finally clicked the doorknob open.

The next day, I set out to tour New York by foot.

I went to see the infamous Statue of Liberty, marveled at the tall and pristine Empire State building, the nearby park, and passed by the stalls of different businesses where most were selling clothes.

It was one of the things we couldn't excessively indulge at the church – the beautiful clothes – because we were used to cheap-priced and donated ones. So, curious to know how I would look like in one, I decided to window-shop a little, going to the nearest shop from my view.

The moment I entered the shop, I was immediately frowned upon by the sales lady.

"Is there anything I can help you, miss?"

Casting a warm smile in her direction, I answered in my friendly tone, "Yes. I was wondering how much these dresses usually cost."

I gave a short gesture to the beautifully displayed furs, coats and laces not too far from us. There was a pure white dress that I was especially fond of.

However, when the sales lady answered, it was a curt one with a bit of a snubbing tone.

"Nothing you can afford,” was what she said. Even one of her eyebrows rose.

Turning back to her with embarrassment, and with my face surely coloring all shades of red, I uttered, "Oh, uhm, I see…Well, I’ll just go then …”

Utterly humiliated, I turned to exit the store as fast as I could manage.

I was about to take one step away when suddenly...

"How much is the dress?"

I jumped at the unexpected voice.

Turning at my side to see who spoke, I was greeted by a man about two or three years older than me. He was wearing a fancy-looking button-down shirt, and an even fancier coat. His black shoes were polished to the tip.

"Oh, uhm, sir, I didn't know she was with you. It's for ten thousand dollars," the sales lady uncharacteristically stammered.

Not believing my ears about the price, I whipped my head to look at the said dress, completely puzzled as to what made it so expensive. However, the stranger beside me only smiled at the now flustered sales lady, and upon pulling out his wallet, he retrieved a card to show it to her.

"See this?" He said with a suspiciously arrogant tone.

"A Black card sir."

"Yes. And do you know what that means?"

"Most definitely, sir. It means no credit limit."

"Yes, well, since I heard you spoke so harshly to my girlfriend here,” he nudged a little to my surprised face, “I think you just lost a valued customer. Have a good day."

The man then placed an arm around me, and smiling to the still shocked sales lady, he heralded me towards the exit. Before leaving, I glanced at the sales lady to see her looking utterly embarrassed. It was a stark comparison to my face a few minutes ago.

Once outside, the stranger man finally removed his arms around me.

"Thank you sir,” I immediately spoken - still a little out-of-sorts from our small pretense inside the shop. “That was really kind of you to do. However, you didn't have to embarrass her like that. She was right, after all. I really can't afford the dress."

I couldn't even begin to imagine how guilty I would feel if I got to wear a hundred-dollar dress while knowing that most people from the Third World country suffers from famine, much less a ten-thousand-dollar one. Even in my short stay at New York, my opinion of the city already gears towards all things overpriced.

"Still, that doesn't entitle her to be bitchy towards you. I assume you're new here?"

"Yes. I was from Woodinville, originally."

"What place?" He doesn't seem to register the town.

"Woodinville, Washington. I was…" I was about to say a novice nun, but remembering that I should keep my real status as secret while I was on my mission, I immediately deterred my words.

"I was only looking at new clothes," I said instead.

He clicked his tongue in warning.

"You have to be more careful around here. There are a lot of people who will deceive you if you act naively, and even more people who would do you harm. The city life is very different, especially here in New York."

"I've noticed," I remarked.

He then briefly looked at his wrist watch.

"Well, I have to get going. I have a meeting in less than half an hour."

I smiled, touched at his kindness.

"Thank you, Mister…?"

"Isaac Bradford.” He smiled back. “And you are?"

"Amy. Amy Reed."

Isaac Bradford then pulled out something from his coat pocket. When I inspected it, I saw that this time, it looked like a different kind of card.

"Well, Amy-Amy Reed, here's my card if you need any help touring the city. This here," he pointed at the upper number, "is my office number, but below, and what the others usually ignore, is my private number. Just call this second here, alright?" he said with a wink.

I took the outstretched card as I mumbled a, "Thanks."

"Now, you're welcome. I'll see you – or hear from you – soon."

He flashed me a bright smile with his all white, perfect teeth.

"Yes. Bye."

Nodding infinitesimally at me for goodbye, he started walking, heading towards his waiting car at the sidewalk. Upon reaching it, his driver was fast to open his door for him, before said driver circled the car to go inside the driver’s side.

Once they were gone, I looked down at his card at my hands to read:

Mr. Isaac Bradford
CEO – Bradford Enterprises, Inc.

In my three weeks stay at New York, I still couldn't claim to know the place. Everything was baffling for me; a lot of them were simply-complicated. I once went to a public ladies room and felt all sorts of stupid when I jumped at the automatic flush. I felt even dumber when I couldn't wash my hands on the faucet, and then another woman went to the next faucet and simply placed her hands below it for the water to gush out. Even the trash bin's mouth automatically opens.

It's like the machines try to cater to the people's fast pace.

The only consolation I have from feeling out of place is my discovery of a small church not too far from my apartment's location. I already met with the kind priest, Father Samuel. Thus far, he, and the man I briefly met on my second day, Mr. Bradford, was the only ones who seemed to wear the kind expressions on their faces. Father Samuel warmly welcomed me to his church, and was delighted to learn that I was a novice nun out on a mission. He wished me well on my journey.

I was glad I could do my confessions at St. John's cathedral every week. There is always something sacred and uplifting in having to bare my confession weekly, and having a church nearby to pray when I needed to. Just being inside Cathedrals makes me feel that I was closer to God than anywhere else.

When I was almost a month into my stay in New York, I got a call from Mother Superior telling me to proceed with my mission. Apparently, there were a lot of spiritual needs for people from prison. A priest conducts ceremonies and bible studies there during Sundays, but since most of the prisoners in the station I will be assigned to have life-sentence crimes, they need things to do during their stay. And so, I am to see, together with the proclaimed nuns, voluntary works where these prisoners would help in the community. Not that I was to truly head the programs – since that responsibility was bigger than what I was capable of yet – but I was to assist Mother Elizabeth and her congregation with everything they need of me. These activities, from planning to the last detail, were to consume my Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

To help pay my rent and bills, I asked Mother Superior to give me permission to work during the days I was free. Though she didn't approve at first, arguing that I have no need to do so since all my expenses were to be paid by the church, I explained to her that the money allotted for my expenses should instead be given to our church, impressing to her the scarcity of our funds in running our orphanage. Seeing my point, she reluctantly agreed but told me the church would still give at least half of what I should originally receive each month. Though I didn't have any other choice but to agree, I secretly planned to save the money so that upon my return, they would still be donated to our church. I then asked God a simple prayer of forgiveness for my white lie. However, it didn't make me feel a lot guilty since I know my intentions were good.

The next day after talking to Mother Superior, I applied as a crew at a café called Starbucks. Since they were in need of immediate hiring, they accepted my application right away, and even approved of my request to work only during Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. I then immediately thanked God for giving me so much blessing, and was planning to give as offertory whatever will remain of my first earning to St. John's the following Sunday.

And today, to prepare myself for my hectic schedules, I decided to clean my apartment.

First, I polished and swept all the dirt that I could find.

Next, I did my laundry, since I wasn't sure of when I would be able to do it again.

Finally, I made myself a week's worth of food to bring to work so that I wouldn't have to buy outside to spend unnecessarily.

So it was with great joy when I was able to take a bath at almost eight in the evening to relax my tired muscles after a day of working. And since my apartment was “cheap”

(as quoted by my landlady) and have various dysfunctions, I have had to boil tap water in the kettle to mix with my small bath tub because my water heater runs out during the evening, not to mention my always-clogging sink or my creaking bed…

Nevertheless, as I relaxed my tired muscles in the bath tub, I still thanked God for providing a roof on my head, thinking how unlike me, some children have had to endure the cold air at night.

When I was finished with my languid bath, I settled to have my supper.

I was about to pray before eating my meal when suddenly I heard my neighbor's door opening. Since that first day where I thought I saw him outside my apartment, I've never once met him yet, much less hear any noise from the next door. I've always thought that what I saw that day was just a by-product of my hyperactive imagination.

However, now that I was sure there really was a person living next door to me, I reckon it wouldn't hurt to invite him over for supper to at least acquaint myself with him. After all, the two other rooms on the building's seventh floor were both vacant, and so he was the only neighbor that I have.

With that in mind, I went out of my apartment to walk towards his door. Once there, I knocked twice to alert him of my presence.

However, I got no answer save for silence.

Deciding to give it another try, I knocked again, but this time calling out, "Hello? Anybody there?"

I still didn't receive an answer so I spoke again.

"I'm Amy. I'm your neighbor, and I'm just wondering if you want supper."

Feeling silly for offering him boldly without even meeting him yet, I tried speaking again.

"I'm just… I've never met you before, and I just want to know you a little…”

Again, I got no answer from him.

“Uhm, hello?"

Resolving that I probably was just imagining things again since no one was answering the door, I decided to leave instead.

I was just about to turn around so that I could go back to my apartment when all of a sudden I heard a groan from inside his room.

It was slightly muted, but I couldn't mistake the voice I heard as a groan of pain.

Now slightly alarmed, I started pounding at his door.

"Hello? Are you alright?"

When I heard another groan, it was much louder than the first one.

Growing panicked by the second, I abandoned pounding at his door to open it instead.

Once the doorknob easily clicked open, I didn't have time to think how his door wasn't locked in my hurry to get inside his room.

Fumbling for the switch, as upon entering I was immediately greeted with darkness, I heard another cry from him.

But this time, it was a cry for help.

"Wait, I'm just looking for your switch," I answered, in the process calming my heart from panicking.

When I finally was able to punch the switch to 'on', I looked for him straightaway.

Once I spotted his crouching figure at the floor, my eyes scanned the crumbling man.

It didn't surprise me to find my neighbor in such a state – his plea of help indicated as much.

However, what did surprise me was his face. Because when I looked at it, I knew that never in my life have I seen a most handsome creation God has ever made before.

It was like seeing a battered angel in front of me.

He cried out in another agony, but this time, he was able to speak clearly.

"Help me, A-Amy."

And then he passed out.


(to be continued...)

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