A Chinese girl I took to a nunnery


A Chinese girl I took to a nunnery
 
                           I
 
I led her
Her silent leg-irons cutting into my shins
That day when the air stood still
Dry as the day perhaps on the hill
                                             when he spoke standing still
Drier still my words today
         of a redundant ransom of flesh:
 
         I’ll take you to the stopping place
        Where the quiet cowled nuns make lace
         They run a school for well-bred girls
         In a cloistered fenced-in arbour
         There where you’d have no need for curls
 
She turned just then seven and ten
Me barely two more        when
She said in a breathless moan:
 
         Take me to the French Convent
         Here my road has come to an end
                I want to learn
               I want to gain
         As much knowledge as my brain
                  Will strive to contain
 
I had no choice
I had no voice
In a Chinese school which stopped midways
She was the best of forty times five
Where I was hoarse from English and Science
 
She sat so close in the front row
She must have felt my breath at home
Her cowlick hand stretched crooked
Brushed my thoughts down my mane
 
Something about her dragging gait
Spoke of late hours as a kitchen mate
Or as the matron of squabbling squawking siblings
When the mother scrubbed and ironed
         the landlord’s lingerie and loins
 
A saddened face she kept awake
All through the hours at stake
 
                           II
 
It took me days and days of doubting pains
To ring at last the nunnery bell
And to stare aghast at a pallid face
Not quite white and not quite couched in cowl
To register my request
 
The novice drew and barred the door
As though I would break down the wall
And as the minutes raced in anguish by
And I heard the rusted pig-iron latch click open
Two forbidding eyes contemplated my plight
Under strictly starched and stretched folds a-sail:
 
         “Is she Catho…” she made to ask
Then as urgently withdrew her demand.
         “Bring her tomorrow at eight,” she let her words
escape.
         “Ring the bell at the gate.”
 
I never saw the demure girl again.
Her schoolmates thought she worked for the nuns.
Others: “ She took some vows!”
A sibling: “ She took no clothes for a change!”
 
Just before her silhouette effaced itself
Under the porch of creepers dense
She turned to give me a look:
        
         Was it a look of despair
         Or a well-thought-out
                                   farewell fair?
 
© T. Wignesan – Paris, 2013
 

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