Shopaholic Takes Manhattan (Shopaholic #2)(16)


by Sophie Kinsella

“St. Winifred’s,” says the taxi driver — and with a start I come to. I’m not in Barbados, am I? I’m in the middle of bloody nowhere, in Somerset.

We’ve stopped outside an old honey-colored building, and I peer through the window curiously. So this is a convent. It doesn’t look that special, actually — just like a school, or a big country house. And I’m wondering whether I should even bother getting out, when I see a nun. Walking past, in black robes, and a wimple, and everything! A real live nun, in her real habitat. And she’s completely natural. She hasn’t even looked at the taxi. This is like being on safari!

I get out and pay the driver — and as I walk toward the heavy front door, I feel prickles of intrigue. There’s an elderly woman going in at the same time who seems to know the way, so I follow her along a corridor toward the chapel. And as we walk in, I feel this amazing, holy, almost euphoric sensation coming over me. Maybe it’s the lovely smell in the air or the organ music, but I’m definitely getting something.

“Thank you, Sister,” says the elderly woman to the nun. And she starts walking off to the front of the chapel — but I stand still, slightly transfixed.

Sister. Wow.

Sister Rebecca.

And one of those lovely flowing black habits, and a fantastic clear nun complexion all the time.

Sister Rebecca of the Holy…

“You look a little lost, my dear,” a nun says behind me, and I jump. “Were you interested in seeing the Bevington Triptych?”

“Oh,” I say. “Erm… yes. Absolutely.”

“Up there,” she points, and I walk tentatively toward the front of the chapel, hoping it will become obvious what the Bevington Triptych is. A statue, maybe? Or a… a piece of tapestry?

But as I reach the elderly lady, I see that she’s staring up at a whole wall of stained-glass windows. And I have to admit, they’re pretty amazing. I mean, look at that huge blue one in the middle. It’s fantastic!

“The Bevington Triptych,” says the elderly woman. “It simply has no parallel, does it?”

“Wow,” I breathe reverentially, staring up with her. “It’s beautiful.”

And it really is stunning. It just shows, there’s no mistaking a real work of art, is there? Real genius just leaps out at you. And I’m not even an expert.

“Wonderful colors,” I murmur.

“The detail,” says the woman, clasping her hands, “is absolutely incomparable.”

“Incomparable,” I echo.

And I’m just about to point out the rainbow, which I think is a really nice touch — when I suddenly notice that the elderly woman and I aren’t looking at the same window. She’s looking at a much smaller, dingier one which I hadn’t even noticed.

As inconspicuously as possible, I shift my gaze to the right one — and feel a pang of disappointment. Is this the Bevington Triptych? But it isn’t even pretty!

“Whereas this Victorian rubbish,” the woman suddenly adds savagely, “is absolutely criminal! That rainbow! Doesn’t it make you feel sick?” She gestures to my big blue window, and I gulp.

“I know,” I say. “It’s shocking, isn’t it? Absolutely… You know, I think I’ll just go for a little wander…”

Hastily I back away, before she can say any more. And I’m sidling back down the side of the pews, wondering vaguely what to do next, when suddenly I notice a little side chapel in the corner.

Spiritual retreat, reads a notice outside. A place to sit quietly, pray, and discover more about the Catholic faith.

Cautiously I poke my head inside the side chapel — and there’s an old nun, sitting on a chair, doing embroidery. She smiles at me, and nervously I smile back and walk inside.

I sit down on a dark wooden pew, trying not to make any creaking sounds, and for a while I’m too awestruck to say anything. This is just amazing. The atmosphere is fantastic, all quiet and still — and I feel incredibly cleansed and holy just from being here. I smile again at the nun, shyly, and she puts down her embroidery and looks at me as though waiting for me to speak.

“I really like your candles,” I say in a quiet, reverent voice. “Are they from Habitat?”

“No,” says the nun, looking a bit startled. “I don’t believe so.”

“Oh right.”

I give a tiny yawn — because I’m still sleepy from all this country air — and as I do so, I notice that one of my nails has chipped. So very quietly, I unzip my bag, get out my nail file, and start to buff it. The nun looks up, and I give her a rueful smile, and point to my nail (silently, because I don’t want to ruin the spiritual atmosphere). Then, when I’ve finished, the edge is looking a bit ragged, so I take out my Maybelline express dry polish and very quickly touch it up.

All the while, the nun is watching me with a perplexed expression, and as I’m finishing, she says, “My dear, are you a Catholic?”

“No, I’m not, actually,” I say.

“Was there anything you wanted to talk about?”

“Um… not really.” I run my hand fondly over the pew I’m sitting on, and give her a friendly smile. “This carving is really nice, isn’t it. Is all your furniture as nice as this?”

“This is the chapel,” says the nun, giving me a strange look.

“Oh, I know! But you know, loads of people have pews in their houses, too, these days. I saw this article in Harpers—”

“My child…” The nun lifts a hand to interrupt me. “My child, this is a place of spiritual retreat. Of quietness.”

“I know!” I say in surprise. “That’s why I came in. For quietness.”

“Good,” says the nun, and we lapse into silence again.

In the distance, a bell starts tolling, and I notice the nun begins murmuring very quietly under her breath. I wonder what she’s saying? My granny used to knit things, and mutter the pattern to herself. Maybe she’s lost track of her embroidery.

“Your sewing’s going really well,” I say encouragingly. “What’s it going to be?” She gives a tiny start, and puts down her embroidery.

“My dear,” she says, and exhales sharply. Then she gives me a warm smile. “My dear, we have some quite famous lavender fields. Would you like to go and see them?”