“Isabel, stop staring at your reflection in the window and come back here, you vain little slut” Shouted sister Mary. Just in time for Isabel to shiver at the pure vehemence in Sister Mary’s voice, and start trudging reluctantly towards the rest of her class mates. Sister Mary was the reason twelve years old Isabel hated school. It wasn’t just the fact that the old crone, with her gnarled fingers, wrinkled face and hateful words, was always out to get her. It was also because every story that Sister Mary told, from the bible, gave Isabel nightmares.
Right from the stories of Job, where a poor God fearing man was tortured by Satan for years. Job braved it all, from loosing his children to being physically tortured. All because God had a bet with Satan, that Job would go through every imaginable torture, yet not curse his God.
“Who does that?” Isabel would think. Who does that to their disciples?
The most fearsome of Bible’s tales was the obliteration of Sodom and Gomorrah by raining burning sulphur, because men laid with men. Isabel had no idea what that meant, was it such a crime for her brother Matt to sleep in the same bed as his friend Nicholas? Yet, it was not sweet justice by God, in fact it was not justice at all, massacring innocents in those cities.
Yet, the only respite Isabel had at school, was to be able to see her reflection on the school windows. Their little town of Angelbrooke, did not allow mirrors. It was ruled by the church and mirrors were considered as perpetrators of the original sin, Pride.
Every morning on a breakfast of barley and milk, after her prayers, Isabel the eldest among four siblings, couldn’t wait to get to school and admire her pretty reflection. Isabel knew she was the prettiest girl in the town, in fact in all neighboring towns. Although she had not been to any, but she had heard snippets of how much Father Adrian, thought of her beauty. And how he had not seen a more angelic face than that of Isabel, in the entire county.
She never understood, why mother, who had also never visited other towns, did not believe Father Adrian. However, she kept her opinions to herself, lest she be blamed of heresy.
Isabel, eldest of four siblings. Two boys and two girls, was the favorite of her father. And she knew that because she was the only one allowed seven, not five, but seven minutes on the dinner table to tell father about her day.
One evening Matt, her brother, went on and on about this new sport introduced in the school. He took seven instead of five minutes. That evening, father took him to the barn and lashed him, one hour for every extra minute Matt took. Greed, after all was a sin too.
Isabel, dreamed of the day, she would be deemed to visit the neighboring town. Some girls got to do that, when they were around her age. It was Father Adrian’s rule. And she had heard rumors of talking boxes, and creamy cakes in the next town. She had heard stories of her senior girls from school, living the good life, wearing the best of fineries and eating different kinds of food every day.
She hoped that she and Nancy, her best friend, would be chosen at the same time and sent at the same time.
And then one day as Isabel slept, she felt wet, wet down there. Wet in her privates, as mother used to call it. Her stomach hurt, and when she removed the white sheet, Isabel saw a huge red stain. For the life of her, she couldn’t understand where she was hurt, or how she got hurt to bleed so much. And why down there? “Maybe”, she thought, “just maybe, I am dying”. Isabel did not want to die, at least not before visiting the other town.
She cried for mother. The thin walls of her one floored home, woke her mother up in an instant. Mother came running, with some wet and some dried clothes. And thankfully father slept, his snores a stark reminder of how hard her father toiled in the farm, to sleep through such commotion.
Isabel was inconsolable and claimed to be dying, in between in her sobs. Mother shook her head and explained, how this is was normal and how Isabel wasn’t dying. Mother also cried throughout the time she explained.
Mother cried all night. Isabel heard her quiet sobs through the thin wall of her bedroom; which she shared with her siblings. Mother cried in the morning when she served her a special breakfast of pound cake and milk, and asked Isabel to get dressed in her Sunday best. For she was to be presented to Father Adrian.
Isabel knew, today was her day. Today she was to go to the next town, to start living a life. Inspite of the pain in her back, Isabel had tiny fluttering butterflies in her stomach, running helter skelter in the anticipation of a new life. She grinned from ear to ear as she entered the church, she couldn’t wait to leave this life of suffocation and eat creamy cakes.
Father Adrian, stood beaming at her as she entered the church, presented by mother and father.
He took her head in his big hands and planted a sloppy kiss. And then gently pushed her towards his private chambers while constantly rubbing her back, right up to her buttocks.
Sister Mary was there too, and Isabel wondered why she grinned in gleeful mirth. Was she that happy that Isabel was leaving?
As Isabel, Father Adrian and Sister Mary, took the stairs to Father Adrian’s private chambers, mother’s sobs were still heard, even on the second floor. There were clinks of coins when Isabel peeped and saw father count a pouch of money.
Isabel was taken into a big room, four fat men sat on four chairs, eating more food than Isabel had seen all her life. They wore the hats of pallbearers and stared at Isabel, with drool dripping from their mouths.
What was this? Isabel thought. There was enough food in there to feed her entire class across three meals. This was not right, this was not what her town was about. She looked towards Father Adrian, expecting to see anger, fury written on his face. But all she saw were smiles, both on his face and Sister Mary’s.
“What is her sin?” Isabel turned around to see the fattest, biggest one speak through a mouthful of chicken, its fat slowing dripping down his chin and landing up on his ample paunch.
“Pride” snorted Sister Mary. If anything, the grin on her face widened like the Cheshire cat. Isabel’s stomach sank, so did her shoulders. She was wrong, oh how wrong was she?!
The fattest man sneered as the others laughed at Isabel. He then got up and proceeded to unzip his pants, just as Isabel strained to break free of Father Adrian.