Today, you are invited to meet Sister Agnes. She is a nun of the Order of the Sisters of the Peace of Our Lady. She is the youngest of the lot and the most puzzling one. Agnes isn’t her real name. Nuns adopt the names of their patron saints when they join convent. Her real name and her motives for becoming a nun are obscure, but they become clear with time. You can safely assume that they have something to do with atonement.
The Order’s seat is in Liege, Belgium. Agnes works with her Sisters on salvaging if not the lives then at least the dignity and the eternal souls of the war victims. And her own.
This is a snippet of her story.
“Was there no one at the gate?” Mother Baptiste didn’t hide her disappointment.
“So how did the bell ring?”
“I don’t know. A brick fell and hit it? A gust of wind?”
Sister Jacqueline shifted in her chair and sighed. “I don’t think anyone’s coming for us. They would’ve by now, wouldn’t they? To rescue us.”
“Who do you mean, Sister? Who are they?”
“Well… I don’t know. The army? The police?”
“There’s no one there. No one that’s alive. All we find is corpses.”
“We’ve been burying the dead for weeks on end. May they rest in peace…”
“God have mercy on their souls,” Mother Baptiste said in a hollow voice and crossed herself. Sisters Agnes and Jacqueline did likewise. Sister Jacqueline did it awkwardly with her left hand. Her right arm was still in a sling. It had not set well; her broken bone hadn’t mended as it should have done. She had lost a lot of mobility in her arm and the feeling in her thumb and forefinger. At least she was no longer in pain and no longer in need of huge quantities of wine. But, unaccustomed to idleness, she was brooding. She did what she could around the convent while Mother Baptiste and Agnes ventured into the city, giving Christian burials to the dead. Recently, they had been finding fewer and fewer of them. Soon, all that would be left to do for the three of them would be to pray. Agnes wasn’t sure what they would be praying for. She had no hope.
They continued eating in silence as they did every day. They had fresh produce from their garden. Sister Jacqueline tended to the chickens and the vegetables. She had been sowing new crops despite the world coming to an end. Not for Sister Jacqueline, evidently. Perhaps Sister Jacqueline was right. Nature took no notice of the humans’ atrocities. Nature flourished regardless. Sometimes, after returning from her harrowing rounds in the city to the idyllic calm of the abbey, Agnes felt as if the war had somehow missed them – turned a blind eye to them on purpose, or simply didn’t see them in the periphery of the bigger picture it was staring at.
Sister Jacqueline broke the silence. “Did you look carefully?”
Agnes didn’t understand her at first. She squinted, puzzled.
“Well, it may’ve been a small child. You can’t see a small child from the eyehole in the gate, can you? It’s too high for a small child. Maybe there was a small child at the foot of the-”
“A small child wouldn’t be able to reach the bell,” Mother Baptiste pointed out.
“But did you check, Sister Agnes dear? Did you look carefully? Did you go out into the street?”
Agnes spoke firmly. “There was no small child.” At least this time she wasn’t lying.
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