Religious Affiliation

***Alan Shadowrine***

What am I thinking? Oh God, why is this happening to me? I have been in church for the last one hour and I have not heard a thing of what Father Thomas is preaching. I must go for confession after mass. What will Father Thomas think of me? If Mother Superior finds out about this, she will surely give me a well-deserved scolding. Luckily Priests are sworn to secrecy.

Right after church on that Sunday I went for confession. I knelt down at the confessional and began with the usual sign of the cross. “Forgive me Father for I have greatly sinned. It has been one week since I last went for confession.”

I began confessing my sins but they were not many because – well, nuns do not commit so many sins or so I thought. Actually, we hardly committed any sins as compared to other human beings. However, Mother Superior made us go for confession every Saturday. She said that thinking that we had not committed any sin was a sin on its own accord. However, going for confession on that Sunday was my own voluntary decision.

Father Thomas remained still through most of my confession. Well, it was probably because he was used to the same old confessions from us: the nuns, the monks and novitiates. If it was not that we had missed a day of prayers then it was may be that we were late for evening or morning prayers. In our vocation we were not allowed to commit cardinal sins. We were supposed to remain holy all through. According to Mother Superior we were the closest human beings to God and we were assured of going to heaven; all we had to do was to remain holy.

However, on that Sunday, Father Thomas was baffled by my last confession. I confessed to having admired a certain guy who had recently started coming to church. I confessed that I actually liked him and thought that he was quite appealing to my eyes. I confessed to having spent most of my time during church masses thinking about him and how my life could be with him. Now if that was a confession from a typical human being who was not sworn in to a religious vocation, it would have been a normal sin. But now here was a nun, an ordained nun, actually, confessing to something like that! This was definitely a cardinal sin. It is public knowledge that nuns are not supposed to engage in romantic relationships.

Afterwards, it was Father Thomas’ turn to speak. I expected a lengthy lecture from him telling me to rebuke the power of the devil in my life and how I was close to losing my seat in heaven with what I was doing. However, what he told me was even more confusing and I would have preferred the lecture. He asked me, “Sister Irene are you really sure that you are cut out for this?” I knew that by ‘this’ he referred to being a nun – he was actually questioning whether I was cut out for my vocation. After confession, I sat on one of the pews and said the usual three Hail Marys and Our Father.

As I stepped out of the church door, there he was! – tall and masculine. He had a beautiful face and sideburns. He had a beautifully designed athletic body. There he was, the man who made me have butterflies in my stomach. My stomach twitched due to anxiety. My heart was pounding so fast you would have thought I was in some kind if danger. Come to think of it, I was in danger – danger of losing my spot in heaven because of him.

“Hi I am Derrick,” he said.

“Hi, I am Irene,” I said and immediately felt like slapping myself because that sounded more like a whimper than an actual reply.

He smiled and did not seem to care that I was a little shaken by his presence because he offered to walk me back to the convent, which was only a few blocks from church. He is such a gentleman; I thought to myself. We ended up exchanging contacts. As I saved his number in my phone, I was tingling with excitement.

Well, nuns did have phones but most of the phones contained novena prayers or rosary prayers; after all, that was what we did most of the time at the convent – praying. We hardly used our phones for chatting and when we did, we mostly talked to our close friends and family members.

That night as I lay down on my bed, I took a short drive down memory lane. I grew up in an orphanage, The St. Mary’s Orphanage. Sister Judith told me that I was left, or rather abandoned, at the doorstep of the orphanage. Life at the orphanage was hectic because of the scarce resources. It was survival of the fittest. We mostly depended on donations from well-wishers.

Having been raised in the Catholic faith, it was not unusual that many of us opted to join the convent at an early age. Most of the boys opted for priesthood and we the girls opted to be nuns. It was only the adventurous who chose to go to the university and continue with their education, or so I thought. Even then they had to look for scholarships for themselves.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, I was among the less adventurous ones who opted to join the convent. Now thinking about it I did not know why I had joined the convent. I only did what the nuns had advised us to do. On that Sunday, and for the first time in the 9 years that I had been in the convent, I had my doubts about my vocation. Could Father Thomas be right after all? I thought to myself.

That night before I slept, I got a text from Derrick, “Goodnight Irene.” A certain feeling of excitement rushed through my veins. I also did not fail to notice that he did not call me ‘Sister Irene’ as I was often called. That night as I slept, I had a feeling that something was going to happen.

Well, something did happen. A few days after my encounter with Derrick at the church, men in black suits came to the convent early in the morning. They interrupted our morning prayers as the watchman came and told Mother Superior that there were men looking for her. We were scared because it was not every day that men came to the convent, especially detectives. As they left, I saw him; our eyes made contact and we stared at each other for some time. That day we did not talk. As they left, I felt a lump in my heart – it was like I did not want him to go or I wanted to go with him. Was I falling in love with him? Was I falling in love with Derrick?

I had read a lot of romantic novels and the characters had really captivating stories but none had a story like mine. None was bound to a vocation she did not know why she had joined in the first place. None was in love with a man she could never be with. None had my life.

Derrick and I had been chatting for some time now and we were getting to know each other better. He did not pity me when I told him my story and I liked that. He was a detective in California. I had wanted to ask him what had brought them at the convent but I debated against it. I did not want to sound curious or like a gossiper to him. Our friendship was flourishing and I did not want to risk it. When he asked me out to lunch, I readily accepted – I did not see any reason as to why I should refuse.

Every Friday afternoon Mother Superior allowed us to go out and maybe do some shopping. Now this Friday I would go out with Derrick. I obviously would not go out dressed as a nun. Luckily, I still had some of my clothes from the orphanage. I was taking a huge risk and if I was caught, I would be in big trouble. My best friend, Sister Cindy, would cover for me if need arose.

Derrick picked me up at our meeting place. I was scared, excited and confused, all at the same time. I was wearing blue faded jeans and an Arsenal T- shirt. I had expected him to be in one of his usual black suits but it was not so. He wore a blue pair of jeans and a white T- shirt. That casual look made him appear even more handsome than I had thought.

I had expected a fancy lunch date in a luxurious hotel like I had seen in the few soap operas that I had watched at in the orphanage. Instead of a fancy lunch we had a simple picnic near River Lowe.

The site was beautiful and the atmosphere around it was serene. As we ate, we talked mostly about ourselves and our lives. He was not afraid to tell me about his childhood experiences and neither did I shy away from telling him about my adventures at the orphanage. We laughed at the mischievous things we did at the orphanage. Not accustomed to dates, I did not care much about how I ate and so it was no surprise that I had some specks of food on my cheek which Derrick, so diligently, tried to help me clean with his hand. His touch sent a tingling feeling down my system. I did not know if he felt the same but when I looked at his eyes, I saw some emotion and knew that he had also felt something. Right then, I wanted to forget my vocation and kiss his lips which seemed to be all too welcoming. But I could not, instead I told him that it was getting late and I had to get back to the convent.

I changed back into my habit which insisted of friars and a veil. I felt like fate was against me. As we neared the convent, I asked Derrick to drop me some distance away from the convent. It was not wise for a nun to be seen getting off a man’s car, no matter how innocent the act may seem. Just before I got off from his car, Derrick gave me a kiss which I passionately responded to. I was shocked and did not even say goodbye. I ran all the way back to the convent.

That evening I started having all sort of fantasies and imaginations. I imagined how my life would be if I left the convent and went off with Derrick to live my life with him. What I was thinking was impossible – not that it could not be done, but very few nuns left their vocation after being ordained. Defecting from my vocation would be quite difficult. It would have been better if I had done it during my novitiate period – leaving now would be a lengthy and torturous procedure. I could not believe that I was thinking about leaving the convent. I had to keep away from Derrick.

I started ignoring his texts and calls but not so easily. I was suffering. I hated to admit it but I had already fallen in love with him. It was the cold hard truth and I had to stop pretending and running away from it. I had to do something about it.

One early morning, our usual morning prayers were interrupted when police stormed into the convent. They arrested Mother Superior and three other nuns. The rest of us were confused and desperately needed an explanation which the cops were not willing to give.

“You are coming with me,” Derrick said as he grabbed my hand, pulled me out of the convent and into his car. Well, that was expected. I had been ignoring his texts and calls. He was obviously justified to be angry. He drove us to the place we had had our first date. By then I was also furious at him for pulling me out of the convent without a warning. What would the other nuns think of me? I demanded for an explanation for all the events that had happened so far and I did get what I wanted.

It turned out that he had come to Florida to investigate on cases of child trafficking. The kids were being trafficked to Arabia and sold into slavery. I did not know that slave trade still existed. The kids were being trafficked from The St Mary Orphanage with the help of Mother Superior and the three nuns.

That I was shocked is an understatement.

I did not expect such a morally degrading behavior from any of the nuns, especially not Mother Superior who seemed holier than the Bible. Yet she was the one condemning us and warning us about losing our spots in heaven. However, the desire for money is often the root source of all evil.

Derrick also confessed that he had feelings for me and like it if I could go back to California with him. It was not that I did not expect him to like me but I did not think that he would fall in love with me. He was waiting for my response and right then I knew what I had to do.

It was a long and tiresome procedure but Derrick was there all through. I had to explain why I wanted to leave the convent and the only explanation that I had was that I had found the love of my life. Many judged me and said that I had been playing a joke on God. They even said that I should just wait for God’s punishment. I must admit that the thought of what God might do to me scared me but to some point I also felt like I had God’s support. Deep down I felt like leaving the vocation was the right thing for me to do.

There are those who supported me – those who truly believed in the power of love. Some of the nuns even admired my courage. The religious analysts thought that my defection from the vocation would incite other nuns to do the same. Then my application to defect had to be sent to Vatican City and presented to the Pope. He would be the one to make the final decision. Initially Derrick had wanted for us to elope together but we both knew that we would not find peace unless we dealt with the problem head on.

As I write this it has been now five years since I left the convent. We relocated to Spain and started a new life where we don’t have to deal with so much judgment. I still keep in touch with the nuns back in Florida. After all, they were my family for nine good years and I had made memories with them. The Pope accepted my request to defect and actually wished me all the best. During the five years since my defection, there are some nuns who have also left the convent and gone to do other things with their lives. Some left in search of love while others left in such of their career dreams – turns out that they were inspired by my courage.

I got myself some education and am now a practicing lawyer. I am now Mrs. Derrick Woods. We have a cute baby girl. She has Derrick’s eyes. I will not lie, there are days I wonder whether I still have a seat in heaven but I don’t regret what I did. I only hope that God understands too. I live for my family. I live to see them happy.

@Caroline Wanjugu
For the record it is just a story I have nothing against the nuns.

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