I live across the street from a convent in Krakow and nuns cross my path daily. They usually travel in pairs, chatting in whispery front-of-the mouth Polish. I have seen them at the corner Jubilat, weighing strawberries, selecting canned goods, and once, to my delight, briskly sorting through a bin of bras. They are all ages, but even the youngest ones seem ancient and seem transported from the Old World in their habits and plain faces. I am fascinated by them to the point of impoliteness, peering into their shopping carts and straining to hear their voices.
I wonder what they think of the salon next door that advertises “Lipo-shock!” and gel tip nails. I wonder what the reaction would be if, like me, they were told by a dermatologist that “your face is starting to slip from the architecture of your face.” I wonder if they worry about their teeth crowding or suddenly noticing a vinegary smell to their skin after a walk in hot weather. I wonder if they see their wrinkles as a mark of another year- a gift from God- and nothing more. Do they think about their ovaries withering and the monthly reminders of what will never be? Do they just grow old together and laugh as their bodies fall apart behind those cloistered walls?
How does a nun spend her nights? I imagine a big room with iron framed single beds like an 18th century orphanage, a white gowned virgin snoring softly under each wool blanket. I wonder if, sometimes, one of the sisters across the street is awake in the worrying hours. Does she imagine their own personal version of Christ holding her in His arms and stroking her hair until she is lulled into sleep like a Sunday morning cat? Does she imagine the calming warmth of Him against her back? Would this pleasure even occur to her?
I wonder if they get jealous of their sister wives needing their shared heavenly husband more- or less- than they do. I wonder if they get stuck in the awful conditional tense of the lovelorn, “If He loved me as I thought He did, why do I hurt so bad?” Do they feel lost, unloved, or cheated by the partner they have chosen for life? In effect, are some of them in bad marriages and too afraid of the consequence of breaking the commitment and starting anew?
Or are the virgin crones in the Siostry truly called and constant in their devotion? Are they secure in their purpose while the rest of us women worry about our neck skin? What do they make of me walking by, phone in hand, unfocused and distracted as I make my way down the road we share?
Carrie Sanders is from Portland, Oregon and landing in Krakow a year and a half ago after a long meandering trip around the world. She has been a part of this Massolit writing group since its inception and will try to create another group in its image at her next stop, Ho Chi Minh City.