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Sunday, 22 April 2007

Sister Gregory


Me and my brother. I'm the chubby one.

“Who went to church yesterday?” Hands went up around me. Mrs Lewis looked pleased and then she noticed my hand still on the desk. She looked puzzled. I was puzzled. Why should anyone go to church on a Monday? Even as a nine year old, I knew that was verging on the excessive. She told me to stand up and rephrased the question. Why hadn’t I gone to church? Mrs Lewis had small eyes and wore glasses, her face was withered like a current, but strangely pale. Why hadn’t I gone to church?

“I didn’t know I had to?”

“You didn’t know you had to?”

The class laughed, and I was told to kneel outside the classroom door and pray and think about what My Lord had done for me. In the meantime she would phone my mother. A message was passed on to the Sister Gregory, and I knew I was in trouble. Sister Gregory was the school’s head, and more: Death, Torquemada, a Clint Eastwood in black, packing a large ruler that she carried everywhere and used as the mood took her.

It was a different age. My mother obeyed the summons, arriving at the school in under an hour. I wondered whether she’d join me on the floor praying. But redemption is a wonderful thing. Within moments it was all sorted out and I was embraced in darkness and camphor. Sister Gregory had me in her arms, crushing me, folding me deep into her heavily starched robe; not the lost sheep but the stupid, stupid boy who didn’t know what day it was.

“Today is Monday, Michael. What day is it?”
“Monday, Sister.”

“And what day was it yesterday?”

“Sunday,” I said, light at last dawning.” And I was at church.” A thousand angels sang.

Day-dreaming consumes time and I’d just slipped into Tuesday whilst the rest of the world remained in Monday. “You stupid, stupid boy” the judgement was clear though muffled in fabric. The jury is out still out as to whether I am stupid, though my wife and children seem to have some prior knowledge of what the verdict will eventually be. Day dreaming though is not a mortal sin. Inconvenient, but not a sin - only sometimes I forgot that when I too became a teacher. I must have done something bad in a previous life.

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