Times Change For Sister Joan – Episode 38

I WANT to talk about Ben.” Jan’s face was serious and worried. “Have you noticed he is very . . .” she paused “. . . different lately?”

“What is it that you want to say, Sister?” Joan asked softly.

Jan took a deep breath.

“As you know, for some years before I answered my vocation I owned and managed a restaurant in Naples. Many young men came with their girlfriends and spent much money wining and dining them as if they were the love of their lives. Maybe only a few weeks would pass and they would be back again with another new love and so it would go on,” Jan explained. “These young men – they seem to fall in love every twenty minutes!” She spread out her hands.

“What is your point, Sister?” Joan asked.

“The point is, Mother, that these young men looked at those girls with the look of love. Ben has this very look,” Jan said.

“You mean that you think he’s in love?” Joan exclaimed.

“I know he is,” Jan replied.

“Impossible!” Joan said firmly. “Unless he’s yearning for someone in France that he hasn’t been able to contact for a long time.”

Sister Jan smiled.

“Have you not seen how he looks at her when we are at table?”

Joan realised that she had noticed nothing. None of the sisters had a particular friendship with Ben.

Jan, on the other hand, had been more in touch with the world than any of them, with the possible exception of Madeline and Imelda. Had they, too, seen what she had not?

Jan leaned forward and put a gentle hand on Joan’s arm.

“I think that she is completely unaware of it, but I suspect that Ben is in love with Emma.”

Joan put her hand to her mouth.

“Emma! Oh, dear!”

“These attractions pass,” Jan assured her. “But care must be taken, do you not think? I just felt that I had to tell you what I have observed. It is good to be forewarned, is it not?”

Joan nodded slowly.

“Thank you, Sister. I shall now be aware and will think of what I should do,” she said.

Jan got up from her chair, a look of sympathy in her large brown eyes.

“I know you are Superior, my sister, but I am here always if you need me – we all are.” She turned and left the room, closing the door behind her.

Joan took a moment to catch her breath. She rose and went to the window. Everything in the garden was being warmed by the sun. Amy and Louise, wearing their sacking aprons and green wellingtons, were spreading compost on the plants that were in most need. Everything was as normal.

But now, after her meeting with Sister Jan, nothing was the same. Could Jan just be wrong? Looks could be misinterpreted. Yet Jan was not a frivolous woman. She was purposeful and direct and had reported faithfully what she had observed. Joan reached out to open the window and let in the fresh on-shore breeze and the birdsong, and she saw her hands were shaking.

Someone knocked on the door.

“Come in.” Joan turned from the window.

“May I speak to you, Sister, like I asked yesterday?” Ben spoke firmly as he entered the room.

“Of course you may.” Joan gave him a bright smile.

His face was more serious now and she sent up a silent prayer that she might have the strength to cope with whatever his trouble was. Joan prayed that it was something to which there would be a simple answer.

Ben sat down in the chair by Joan’s desk. Wearing jeans and a T-shirt and with a wisp of a beard, he looked very little like a nun.

“Is it to do with your music? Is there a problem with your practice?” Joan asked hopefully.

Ben looked up at her.

“I suppose I could say that that’s how it started,” he said. “With the music.”

“Are you not able to keep up with your studies?” she asked.

“I can keep up with the piano,” he replied. “I have a lot of written work to do as well but it’s all still on my laptop at university.”

Joan felt relieved. If that was all, she could contact the Mother House and let them sort it out. Anything posted could be sent to Father George so there would be no connection to the convent.

She explained this to Ben, hoping that this would bring a smile to his face. But although he thanked her, she could also see that the solving of that problem was not the only thing on his mind.

“There’s something else troubling you, isn’t there?” she asked softly.

“Yes,” he replied.

Alison Cook