Sunday, July 26, 2015

CHAPTER 3: THE GOOD SAMARITAN

Confessions of a Novice Nun
by Trisha Cuarts


"HELP ME, A-Amy."

I was astonished that even at his bemused state of mind, my neighbor could still remember the name I called out from his door.

A bead of sweat was permeating his skin, his mouth was scowling in anguish and between his closed eyes was a pucker from the pain he was suffering from; however, these circumstances were not enough to hide how striking his face was.

I was finally alerted when another groan escaped from his lips. As I took a hasty step towards him, I briefly panicked again when he passed out.

"Oh my, Mister, wake up!"

I stumbled forward towards his body that was lying on the floor. He was clutching his chest tightly, but I could still see and smell the blood gushing from his wound.

Knowing that any second I waste would be fatal for his life I immediately searched the room for a phone. Once I got a hold of it in his night-stand, I quickly dialed 9-1-1; my fingers shaking a little from what I've just witnessed.

Calm down, Amy. This man's life depends on you, I internally chanted just as the standard question from a female agent greeted me.

"9-1-1. State your emergency."

"Hi. This is Amy. I went to my neighbor’s apartment right next door from mine and found him bleeding on the floor. I think he got stabbed or something. He just passed out."

"Where are you located, Amy?"

"I'm in Manhattan, New York. My apartment's address is…"

"No…" I suddenly heard my neighbor groan. It seemed like he re-gained consciousness.

"Hold on," I told the agent, and then covered the receiver of the phone to say, "I'm just calling 9-1-1 right now. Stay conscious. I'll bring you to the hospital in no time."

Another groan escaped from my neighbor, and with a weak voice he pleaded, "No hosp-i-tal…"

"But you're bleeding! You need to go to the hospital."

I settled to put the phone into my ears again when suddenly the man, albeit difficulty, stretched his arms to try to take the phone away from me. It looked like he was using all his strength just to stop me. However, with his physical state, it was no use for he could not even reach a few inches near me.

"Mister, if you won't go to the hospital, how will I be able to help you?"

He looked me right in the eyes; his were unsteady from his state, revealing their color of shocking green.

"Get-t o-out."

I vehemently shook my head.

"I won't leave you. You need me. You need help."

"N-no h-hospi-tal…"

It was apparent then that if I truly wanted to help this man, I could do nothing but to heed his request, or else he wouldn't let me.

And so, gritting my teeth in frustration, I hang up the phone, placing it back on its cradle.

"Alright. No hospitals. But you listen to me very well," I started saying in a commanding voice. His closed eyes opened a small gap to look at me.

"You wouldn't die on me, do you understand? You wouldn't die on me. You wouldn't pass out. Do something

– bite your tongue if you should – but you wouldn't pass out. I'll just get my medical kit. I'll come back."

He nodded infinitesimally before I rushed out to go back to my room.

Once there, I hurriedly searched for my medical kit from my chest drawer. When I found it, I immediately came back to his room.

The moment I re-entered his apartment, his eyes started following me.

I knew I needed to do something about his continuous bleeding. With that in mind, I grabbed his blanket – not having any other nearby piece of fabric to grab – and extricated his hold of his chest to press half of the blanket to his wound. He groaned in pain, closed his eyes and gritted his teeth.

"I need to get your bleeding under control. Once your wound stopped bleeding, we could assess how to clean your wound. Right now, do your best not to pass out on me, do you understand?"

Again, he gave a short nod; his breathing was still jagged from the pain he was suffering.

I figured then that I needed to distract him.

"What's your name?"

He didn't answer me save for a groan.

Pressing firmer on his chest, I tried again to engage my agonized patient into any form of conversation so he wouldn't pass out.

"Let me guess: Ronald?"

He shook his head a little. A small spark of relief awash me with the knowledge that he could at least understand me.

"You don't look like a Ronald either. Michael…? David…?"

He shook his head again.

It was a fleeting thought but I realized that the reason I chose the names David and Michael is because he looks a bit like Michael Angelo's statue of David situated on the convent I grew up in.

Shaking my head out of these trivial thoughts, I tried a few names again.

"Well then, Frank…? Seth…? Gerald…? Raymond…? John…?"

I listed off ten more names but nothing even seems to remotely hit the mark.

"You really have a tricky name then," I noted.

I pressed the blanket with more force on his wound; the blanket was being soaked fast by his blood.

Upon this action, he groaned again in pain, though his breathing seemed to at least even out.

"Let's see, El… Elton?"

He grunted.

"Is it Elton?"

He shook his head.

"Close enough?"

He nodded curtly.

"Great! I'm close then. Let's see, names with E …, Elton… Edmund… Ezekiel… Elijah… E… Ethan…" As I said the last name, he exhaled loudly again and nodded curtly.

"Ethan? Is it Ethan?" I clarified. He gave me another nod.

"Oh! Ethan! Wonderful!” I cheered, happy that I finally guessed it right.

Once I calmed down a little from my excitement, I said, "Well, Ethan, it's nice to meet you. I'm Amy. Amethyst Fay Reed."

His hazy eyes peeked a little to my face.

A minute or two passed before I decided the wound wasn't bleeding as much. The knowledge made me exhale a gust of relieved breath.

I stood up then, and immediately, Ethan re-opened his eyes to look at me.

"I'll get a basin," I explained. "I need to clean the blood to see how deep your wound is. Stay awake."

The last part was a demand as I hurried to his sink. Once there, I filled up a pitcher – the only tool he has that I could find was deep enough to fill water in – and took the nearby wash-cloth. After which I approached him right away to tend to his wound.

At first, when I was trying to lift his shirt up, he didn’t want to remove his clutch on his belly. However, after I said, "Now, Ethan, do not be a baby. Let me clean that wound," to him, using a parental tone I usually reserve for the kids I helped at the orphanage, he finally let me take care of him.

Once I lifted his shirt, I wiped the area of the wound in his tummy to remove the blood.

After the wound was clean enough, I then assessed that it was deep but at least, was small.

I took that opportunity to close my eyes and say a small prayer:

"Lord God, please help this man to stay alive. I would do all in my power to save him, but it is always Your will to give and take away life. I pray, oh Lord, that it isn't his time yet…"

"Wh-a-t are y-you d-doing…?"

I opened my eyes to Ethan's sweaty face to see him looking at me with an alarmed and questioning expression.

I noticed then that beneath the deep shades of the emeralds of his eyes, there was hardness – an edge to the way he gazes at me – which I couldn't place.

It was hardness that evokes the feeling of fear.

I resolved to answer his question instead.

"I was praying, so that you will stay alive. Have you never prayed?"

He looked up to the roof, away from my scrutiny.

"I d-don't b-believe a-anymore ..."

In that instant, I immediately understood what type of a man Ethan is. He was an anguished soul, who has lost all trust and warmth to God. His physical wound was just a scratch compared to the wound he was suffering within him. Inside, it was deeper; darker; and more frightening.

I waited for him to look back at me. Once he did, I gave him my kindest of smiles.

"I do. I believe in Him. And if you wouldn't pray for yourself, I would pray for you.

See how He gives us miracles? If I didn't come here when I heard your door opening, who knew what would have happened to you? You could have died. But I am here now, and I won't let you die." I added an extra stress to my words.

He was looking at me with a mixture of wonder and skepticism as I continued to speak.

"And now, in just a few minutes, you could already talk. That, in itself, is a miracle.

You might have chosen not to believe anymore, but I believe in Him. And because I do, I would not lose my belief in you to also accept Him, even if it would take you a long time to do so."

A few silent minutes passed as I continued to tend to his wound.

Just as I was about to stand up to change the water from his pitcher, he spoke again.

It was only a whisper, but for me it sounded like a cry; like a plea for help; like accepting defeat but hoping to escape from his hell.

It was only five words, but for me it carried out a lifetime of his torment.

He said:

"But I lost all hope."

And the utter coldness on his eyes then was unmistakable.


oOo


Hope could be both an enemy and a friend.

In times of great peril, hope is the only thing that keeps a human sane. But too much hope could crush a person if not met. Expectations… Disappointments… Helplessness… These are all by-products of hope.

And I rode with this hope in my heart for the next twelve hours since I met Ethan.

Because of his feeble state, I settled to stay with him even after his protests. He did groan some words along the lines of "get out" and "I don't need you" to me. However, since he can't move, there was nothing he could do about me staying.

The hardest part of treating his injury was when I disinfected it.

Knowing that I have nothing remotely close to what the doctors use to thoroughly clean the wound, and a chemical of some sort to assure its healing process, I have had to settle for a bottle of liquor that I found from his liquor cabinet.

The moment I gushed it to his wound, tremors shook his body from pain. I tried to stay strong for him but his cries of agony were hard to endure.

Once the worst part was over, I settled to put hydrogen peroxide on the wound before I wrapped his whole front with bandage, assisting him in the process to lift his middle part a little.

I let him sleep after.

Once or twice, Ethan woke up with seizures.

During these times, I have had to calm him down with a warm-soaked cloth on his face. And during the entire time he was asleep, I took his nearby couch to get a little rest myself, but I was easily alerted by his every movement.

I did get around to bringing my supper in his room to feed him.

At first, he wouldn't want to open his mouth, but after I warned him that if he would so much as deny my request I would call the ambulance to bring him to the hospital, he relented with poor grace.

And from twelve to one, all I did was pray the entire rosary for him, knowing that even after doing my best for him, I could not still be certain that he was safe because anytime soon, he could suffer fever from the wound's infection and could get worse. And just as I feared, at around four in the morning, he was quivering from a hundred and four Fahrenheit of fever.

I made him ingest antibiotic. I also constantly rubbed his whole body with cloth soaked from the mixture of warm water and alcohol, so that his temperature would stabilize, all the while continuously chanting a prayer in my head.

And at around eight in the morning, with both of us having little sleep, my prayers were finally answered when his temperature dropped to ninety-nine point sixty-eight Fahrenheit.

I didn’t waste any second to say a small prayer to thank
God.

When I opened my eyes, Ethan was looking at me.

"You need to rest," I said with a smile. "Your temperature has stabilized. I'll be here the whole time so you don't have to worry about anything."

It took him a solid minute before he finally voiced out his question.

"Why?"

With only that one word, I instantly knew what he was truly asking me. And he was questioning why I was going out of my way to lend him my help.

Smiling my usual smile, I answered him, "Well, for one, I am a Christian, and good Christians help their neighbors, especially in times of great need. Second, I reckon anyone would do the same to me if I was the one in such a state, so in a way, I was only extending the help that I know I can also receive if I needed it."

It took him a moment to digest what I've said before he answered.

"Not all people would do that."

"I don't believe that."

He shook his head. "I won't."

I, in turn, shook my head in disagreement. "You would. I know that you would. You're just saying that now, but if you're faced with the same situation, you're response will almost be instinctual."

"What made you say that?"

I stared him right at his hard and doubtful eyes. Even in his current state, his beautiful face was not amiss to me, which, for some reason, makes me feel that his soul is just as beautiful.

My answer to him was filled with conviction.

"Because I know you're a good person.”

More doubt flooded his eyes.

He stared at me for another solid minute, with neither of us breaking each other's gaze.

Finally, after the lengthened silence, he looked up to the ceiling away from my stare.

"You don't know me," he whispered.

I couldn't say more after that, afraid that he would find me vexing if I press unto him my solid belief of him being a good person; because even as I see the hardness in his eyes, I could also see a glimpse of his soul from them, indicated by their little tenderness.

And it made me certain that he was a good person.

I yawned – my tired state finally catching up to me.

"You should go back to your room."

I shook my head in disagreement.

"I'll just be brief. I need to make us a breakfast, and then I'll come back so that we both could eat. You still need assistance."

"I don't need any more of your help."

His words made me laugh.

"Tell that to yourself. See if even you can believe that."

I stood up then, yawning again.

"I'll come back in about twenty minutes. And then, you'll never get rid of me."

For a week, that was what I did. I helped him, fed him, and stayed at his room – in his couch – to sleep. Every movement, every groan from him, alerts me to stand. He doesn't say much, and thinking that if I were also in such a state I wouldn't want any noise, I also hardly talked to him.

He never once said 'thank you', and I didn't expect him to. I didn't need it. My helping him is of my own will.

Except for one instance when he finally did:

The first time he needed to go to the toilet, he tried to sit without my help.

I was chopping some onions then in his kitchen, figuring I can always be present for him if I cook there.

I didn't notice him at first, but when he uttered an explicit curse, I was instantly on his side.

"What are you doing?" I asked in an alarmed voice.

He didn't answer me; he was keen to sit even as he struggles.

"You'll bleed if you continue to do that. Here, let me help you."

I placed his left arm around my shoulder, careful not to touch his wound. He hissed and gritted his teeth as I helped him stand.

"Where to?" I asked. He didn't answer save for another gritting of his teeth.

By then I realized he probably needs to go to the toilet, and that he was probably embarrassed because I'm a woman.

"Alright. I think I know where you want to go. You don't need to tell me anymore."

I helped him walk slowly towards the toilet room. Once there, I waited outside the door as he helped himself by leaning on the walls.

When I heard a flush, I knew then that he was already finished. However, not wanting to embarrass him further, I just waited outside, and once he was out, I assisted him back to his bed.

After that, I went back to the kitchen to continue preparing our meal.

"Amy," I heard him say in a quiet voice. As was my usual reaction, I walked with hasty steps towards him, thinking that there was something he needs me of again.

"Yes?"

He started gritting his teeth again, seeming to find it hard to phrase whatever he wanted to say. I waited patiently, deducing that whatever it is, it's probably something he was not accustomed to saying.

"Just… t-thank…" He stopped then, breathing heavily, which was another indication of how hard it was for him to say the words.

I smiled.

"You don't need to thank me if you have trouble saying it. It's always the thought of you being thankful that counts."

He looked at me then, for once the hardness in his eyes was replaced with pure gratitude.

I almost told him that thanking me through his eyes was more sincere than whatever words he might say to me, but decided against it.

Instead, I said:

"You don't need to say anything that's hard for you. I won't even ask you how you got stabbed, because though it made me very curious, I know it's probably something you don't want to easily share to me who is practically a stranger to you. You don't have to do or say anything to me. Just let me take care of you."

With that said, I left him to go back to the kitchen.

Probably five or ten minutes have passed before I heard him again.

"Thank you," he said in a more quiet voice.

I stopped for a beat – my heart beating loudly and experiencing an emotion I have no name of but was close to melting – before I continued my work without any word, and this time, with a permanent smile on my face.

Ethan could at least stand and walk without my help on Sunday. Because of that, I decided to finally check on his wound. After seeing that it was on its way to healing, I breathed a sigh of relief, and said my thanks to God.

Then I told him, "Ethan, listen: tomorrow I have work. I'm working for a whole week until Saturday. I think you could be left alone for a few hours, seeing that you're healing fast. But don't forget to ingest your medicine every after-four hours, especially the pain killer, alright?

I'll be back at seven in the evening. I'll still make your breakfast and I'll leave a good amount for your lunch, so you don't have to worry about your food.

I'll also leave your medicines here," I gestured to his night stand, "and a glass of water, so you would have easy access to them. Also, I'll be gone for an hour and a half later at three because I'll attend the mass at St. John's, but I'll come right back."

The only response that I got was his nod.

However, something was amiss in the way he stared at me.

I tried to ignore the nagging feeling, but it was all I could think of while I was re-bandaging his chest.

It didn't leave me even after hours.

At around four, after the mass, I made way for my confession. Once safely covered in the confines of the confessional, and with the holed window separating me from the priest, I started with the opening, "Forgive me, father, for I have sinned. It has been a week since my confession."

"Tell me your sins," the priest retorted.

"I lied to my Mother Superior about the money they monthly send me. I told her that I would use them, but I am actually planning to save them so that when I get back to our orphanage, I could give it to them.

"I also got frustrated once with the traffic.

"Lastly, I am helping a neighbor in need even though he doesn't want me to."

"Lady," told the Father, "the only sin I can hear from you is the lying you have committed to your Mother Superior. Aside from that, the two you've mentioned were just products of you being a human. I am not trying to condone lying, but hearing your intent behind it I think makes it acceptable to God. You are forgiven of your sins."

However, what he said was still not enough to pacify me. There was still something heavy upon my shoulders, and this is one thing to which I truly wish a guidance from.

"Father, I need guidance on one thing," I said. "This man that I said I was helping, he was… I think he was stabbed.

And I'm helping him even though I don't know how he got his injury. Am I doing the right thing by not asking him how he got his wounds?"

"Lady, do you recall the parable about the good Samaritan?"

"Yes, Father. It was about a man who was stripped off his clothes by the robbers, was beaten, and was inches away from death. A priest passed by but avoided him. So did the Levite. But a Samaritan helped him, poured oil and wine on his wound, carried him on his donkey, and even let him stay at an inn."

"And which of them was a neighbor to the man?"

"The Samaritan," I answered.

"Did he question the man why he was beaten to death?"

"No."

"Well, there's your answer."

Only then did I finally felt relieved.

We said a prayer together after that, then the priest made me pray three Hail Marys, one Our Father, and one Glory Be.

When I went back to my apartment building, I felt much better and even a bit excited to see my patient. Therefore, without knocking, I directly walked towards his room, letting myself in even without his approval.

Once inside, I announced my arrival.

"Ethan, I'm here. I brought you some food from outside. I passed by this chicken store and thought a warm soup with chicken will do you good…" I began to happily say.

But upon casting my eyes at his empty bed, I instantly stopped on my tracks. Thinking he was probably just inside the toilet, I went to sit at my couch.

However, as I sat, I noticed something was on his nightstand. Upon focusing on it, I realized it was a piece of paper.

A cold feeling of dread enveloped my chest.

Quickly, I rose up to dispel the feeling, praying that I wasn't right. But upon lifting the paper, more dread filled me.

Because I was proven correct in my hunch.

Because there I read in a hasty but still elegant script:

"Amy,

I have to go.

Believe me when I say that I am thankful for what you've done to me.

However, you have no idea who I really am. And as a favor for saving me, I decided it would be best for me to leave you.

For your own sake, I implore you not to speak of me to anyone. Lie, if you should. This is to keep you safe.

Burn this after, and any trace that you stayed in my room. This is not a request, but a command.

Only you, out of the hundreds, have truly known my name."

And I realized why he looked at me that way when I was re-bandaging him.

It was Ethan's way of saying goodbye.


(to be continued...)

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...)

Sunday, July 12, 2015

CHAPTER 1: THE PATH LESS TAKEN

Confessions of a Novice Nun
by Trisha Cuarts


I WALK INTO THE ROOMFUL OF CHILDREN, who were orphaned like me, and sat at the center of their make-shift stage. My delighted eyes scanned the innocent faces in front of me, and like how I always feel around people who have the same in experience as me, I saw angels with broken wings, struggling to rise up and carry the burden placed upon their feeble little shoulders. Though my heart instantaneously broke, I still smiled and carried on with our activity.
"Last week, Cathy was fortunate enough to find a new family. God really is great and may He bless their newly formed family. Let us say a little prayer."

I bowed and was copied by all children. I did the sign of the cross and spoke clearly:

"Lord God, thank you for the blessing You have given Cathy last week. It will be a new start for her, and we all pray that You will guide her and bless her like we know You would. You have sacrificed Your only son just to save us all. That is how much You love us, and that is why Your son Jesus carried the cross so that none of us would ever do it again.

"Father God, today, twenty-four more children are carrying the same cross in their little shoulders. We all pray that You may bestow upon them again Your eternal love and let them settle with families that will love them, like You did with Cathy. But we know, in Your perfect plan and perfect time, You will do just that.

"Thank You Lord for everything.

"In Jesus' name, we pray ..."

"Amen," chorused by everyone. I did the sign of the cross again, and so did the children.

"All right, now, this activity is much like the others. I know Sister Christine has taught you this morning the story of Noah and his ark. I want you to pair in groups of three to discuss what your favorite part of the story was, and how you interpret it."

Groups soon began forming. Not too far away I saw Lindsay, the latest addition to the group, pouting about the way she was not being asked. I walked towards her, and smiling, I knelled in front of her.

"What's the matter sweetie? Can't find a group yet?"

She didn't speak.

I immediately understood that she still hadn't recovered passed her isolation, and was still unable to grasp the idea of the other children smiling about whilst she was wallowing in sorrow about her parents' passing. It is the hardest part of being recently orphaned – it is hard to reconnect with people, hard to live life outside rather than stay inside their heads, and hard to forgive themselves for remaining alive while their parents suffered death. Everyone's cases is different, but usually the process involves pain, then hatred, and would turn to self-blame if not properly dealt with. I scanned the children around me, searching for an incomplete group.

"You see Sarah and Carla over there?" I pointed at the two girls who were already discussing their task without completing their group of three. "They need another group-mate, so I suggest, you go to them and ask them if Noah's son Hem had his own family."

Curling her brows in confusion, she asked, "Hem?"

"Yes, Hem. He is alone at first, you see. The girl he was supposed to marry died right before his eyes."

She gasped. "Sister Christine didn't say that."

"Well, aren't you curious to know?" She bit her lip in contemplation. I waited for her to answer whilst displaying an encouraging smile, until she finally voiced her true concern.

"What if they don't like me?"

"You can always group with me." Her eyes grew just a fraction - the idea I have expressed seemed to appeal to her. "But only, if they say 'no'," I added.

Still looking troubled, she sat with her head on her knees, hugging her legs. Seeing her curl into a ball, I knew at that instant that her pain was deeper than what our simple discussion could cure.

I knew that I needed to do something about it.

"I'll let you in on a little secret." Showing a bit of curiosity, she casted a shy look up to my face. "I once almost burned the whole church."

Her look of shock made me laugh.

"The first time I got here," I continued, "I thought everyone was scary. I avoided them on purpose. One time, I accidentally lit a blanket on fire and the smoke enveloped our room, alerting all our superiors. When the fire was put out, they asked who started it. I couldn't answer - afraid I would be thrown out to the streets again. And guess what happened?"

"What?"

"Sister Christine told everyone she did it."

She gasped.

"What happened to her?"

"She got punished because of it. She was forbidden to go out our quarters for three days."

"But why did she take the blame?"

"Later that afternoon, I came to her to ask her why she told everyone she did it, and confessed I was the one at fault. Do you know what she said?"

"What?"

"She told me, in her exact words, 'Now you talk. If I didn't do it, your saliva will rot by not talking to anyone.'"

Her lips twitched to a small smile. It was a big enough step against her somber expression.

"Because of that, we became the best of friends. You don't want to burn a blanket and have someone get punished first before you gain friends, don't you?"

She shook her head in a "no."

"If that’s the case, those new friends are waiting." I gestured with my head towards the two girls.

It took Lindsay a second before finally deciding to face her fears. As she stood up, my heart melted upon witnessing her simple show of strength.

With new found determination, she walked purposefully to the two girls. Upon reaching them, she whispered quietly but clearly what I told her to ask them. The two girls took a moment to digest what she said before Sarah, the girl on the left, scooted closer to Carla and seemed to ask Lindsay to join their group.

Lindsay's shy smile showed how touched she was by the offer. It, in turn, made me smile.

The activity ended without much episode – the only heated argument was when Greg and John debated why the snakes were let inside the ark – and the children all returned to their quarters with new learning about God's divine wrath and how people were punished because of it.

And of course, it ended with Lindsay finally gaining friends.

"A penny for your thoughts?"

Jolting in surprise, I turned towards Mother Emilia and was greeted by her knowing smile.

It was after two in the afternoon. I was seated on the bench of the Cathedral's garden. All my musings were focused on the earlier events as around me, the wind dances with the flowers and the leaves. Mother Emilia took a seat beside me.

"Mother Superior, I'm just ... There's just something I don't understand."

"Pray tell."

I bit my lip in hesitation. With a short glance at her open face, my courage to talk was slightly fueled.

"I know life isn't fair, and God made it so, and suffering was created to bring compassion, and that all makes sense. But what I don't understand is why suffering always happens to innocent people. What is their sin?"

Her fond smile grew with every word I spoke until it was so big on her face when she spoke next.

"Ah, I see. You have those questions. And I am assuming, since you've been thinking about this for a while now, you have at least formulated some answers in your head, right?"

"Guesses, mother, not answers," I corrected. "One guess is that God tests people to see if after all of their suffering, they would still be loyal to him, like the story of Job."

The kind Mother gingerly took both my hands in hers, looking deep into my eyes which contain the color that she named me from.

"Everyone gets tested, Amethyst, not only a select few. And only after death do we get judged."

"Well then, why punish them?"

"You said 'guesses'. I assume you have more than one guess?"

I bit my lip again in another hesitation.

"It's just ... it's ridiculous."

"I'll be the judge of it."

I exhaled loudly.

"Well, you know how God is alone up there?" I gestured upwards with my head. "I just think that maybe, sometimes He feels lonely so he makes us do things for His sole entertainment."

The moment I was finished, a laugh broke from the mother's lips. I blushed, feeling embarrassed at the ridiculousness of my answer.

"No one can attest otherwise, so I guess your hunch is still safe."

"I'm sorry mother." My blush was deepening in shade by the second.

"No need to feel sorry for being curious." She fondly stroked my cheek. "And to answer your question," she added, "I think, Amethyst, that God creates suffering to strengthen us, not to punish us. He never punishes. He only makes us realize what things are important to us and to always cherish them so that one day, we can be stronger, able to fight any storms thrown in our lives. Because by then, we know what are the things we could not live without. By then, we know what to fight for."

Hearing her explanation made me feel significantly smaller in wisdom compared to her.

Shaking my head, I muttered, "I have much to learn."

"Much, that’s true. But no need to worry now. In time, all your questions will have answers. And you wouldn't need someone to answer them for you anymore; in time, you’ll get to answer them by yourself."

"When is that going to happen, mother?"

"Maybe next week?"

Confused by her instant response, I asked, "What do you mean?"

She removed her hand from mine to retrieve something from the pocket of her habit. Once she handed it to me, I saw that it was a letter encased in an envelope.

I immediately tore the envelope open to see what the letter inside says.

I hadn't even read half of its contents before suddenly, Mother Superior started speaking again to explain it to me.

"That letter is from our Bishop David Fischer. It's about your mission. The time has come for you to go out and change the world. You know how this works."

Not believing my ears, I uttered the explanation that has been explained to me over and over since the day I have decided to train as a nun.

"I'll be out there for months - could be years, depending upon your instructions - and do the mission you want me to carry out until you feel I have gained enough experience to come back."

She nodded solemnly.

"That always depends if after going out there, you still would want to come back."

Upon this news, a mixture of emotions started brewing inside of me: On the one hand, I was thrilled - giddy, even - to finally reach this stage, which was the last requirement I needed before I could start pursuing my career to be an official nun. It has always been a dream for me to help people and to change their lives.

On the other, I was terrified.

I didn't have much knowledge of how the world works.

What if I couldn't last a week? What if I meet dangerous people? And worse, what if, after all that I have served and stayed at the church, I really am not fit to be a nun?

The answers to my questions now lie on my hands.

"I'll leave you to your thoughts. I’m sure this is too much for you to digest, but I hope I'll have an answer tomorrow morning. Always remember, if you think you're not yet ready for your mission, you can always tell us. We'll postpone your travel." And possibly leave doubt on my capability to be a nun.

"Where am I assigned?"

"In New York."

With that said, she finally left me alone to mule over what we had conversed.

I've always lived my church life in the town of Woodinville, Washington. Since the day Mother Superior found me lurking in the streets of Seattle, with my sad state of grease and dirt, asking alms for my growling stomach a total of eighteen years ago, and took me in her care, I've never step foot outside of the church long enough to familiarize myself of the modern world. I remember life being cruel even then to a five-year-old child me, but still, I was a kid and didn't know much.

But now, I was no longer a child.

Now, society already views me as an adult.

And now, I was in more danger than when I was a beggar.

Nevertheless, this is the path that I have always followed. This has always been how I imagined myself as - a nun, touching lives and serving people like what Mother 

Superior and Sister Christine do. And my bus ticket to this challenging journey lies literally on my palms.

So as I thought about these at night, I realized that I already know where I will find myself next week. I just hope that New York is as splendid as how it was described in the song.


(to be continued...)