Viva la Vida

"Do I not matter?" I screamed, dust settling in my furious lungs. "You could have fought for me too, Enjolras! There is more to life than this damn revolution."
"People cannot love without the revolution!" He argued. "No, you're mistaken. Only you cannot love without revolution." I took a sharp breath. "Vive la France, my sweet angel. Viva la vida." My back became the attention of his stare, and I wished he wouldn't have to become the inevitable martyr he would become for Patria, and only Patria. It was his intention all along.

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2. Black: the colour of despair.

 

I was woken up by the sound of angels. There was no other way to describe the choir; each had a voice so pure and kind, I felt terrible for even letting my dirty ears have to pleasure of listening. If the music had been a colour, it would be gold. If I was a colour, I’d be the murk shade of the puddles carriages splash wheels in as they are welcomed into the convent. I tiptoed quietly away to see the gathering, careful not to awake Nathalie with dribble slipping down her thin lips still submerged fully in her dreams. We’d been here for years, yet I could hardly manage to sleep in past dawn. Something about our home still seemed unknown, like I was a guest who’d outstayed their welcome and not in training to become a full member. We slowly adapted to the lives of these modern day  angels, and making not so valiant efforts t securing a safe seat in heaven while learning to read, and cook, and clean for when the time came. We’d learnt how their entire mortal lives lived for the grace of god.

It all seemed well and good, except for the simple fact that a dark abyss in the soul of who I truly was had no desire to be holy. Sure, my surficial thoughts were gladdened for a purpose in life and a symbol of hope for my future. But it was what had programmed the core of my existence, like the intricacies of a clock that ticked inside each of us conspired against the celibate life. I did not want her, the vixen, the sinner, the fatal truth. She crept into my sleep and strangled my virtues whilst I couldn’t fight back in forms of couples’ embraces, grins and hot mingling breath. Desire, red and bloody and evil, was all my subconscious lived for. I ignored it during the day; muttered a Hail Mary or ten under my breath to waylay my thoughts; but at night I was a slave to its power. Which I suppose was the reason I didn’t sleep late after all.

Nathalie grunted as I closed the door behind me. The hallways were silent as always and only made the sound all the more haunting as I followed its call. Latin was coaxed from their lips old and new, mingling with the soft French of their accents praising God in all tongues. As I snuck a peep at them in the choir room, once again the eleven year old who’d landed at their door new to their antics, I saw the backs of each sister with the white cones sitting on their level heads bowed down in prayer. The choir room was electric, the organ though belting each key with a fury nearly drowned out by the passion they were forbidden to express in any other form. This was it; their kisses, their caresses, their embraces. Each word was filled with fierceness now as a near woman with black and deep desires could fully fathom.

Yes, I was no longer than eleven year old with puppy fat of all the odds of my starvation. The nuns had large hearts, but much less to divide the sheer mass of them; which lead to the steady decline of my excess mass until finally my stomach was near flat, my ribcages slightly visible as I’d breathe in heavily. I almost missed the softness of the skin where bones were hidden deep beneath, and the thought I could be like a hibernating creature saving my food for the winters. My height had hardly changed, leaving me little beyond five foot and the bane of the required uniform. Everything had to be shortened to fit the lengths of Nathalie and I, who was even shorter than I but only by her pinkie nail as she’d discovered with disgust. I hardly saw my figure hidden beneath the straight pinafores who made no effort to suggest a single curve in my otherwise womanly frame for a girl of sixteen. I was trapped halfway between my adulthood by my body, and rather fittingly by my scheming brain too. My face had narrowed, and  I now had cheekbones that contrasted to the roundness of my petite nose and small, relatively full lips. I’d never much liked my face, vanity was a sin here but whenever I dwelled upon it, I’d never truly smiled. My forehead was much too square, and that little freckle on my lip had stood the test of time for another five years. Now I was sure it would be a lifelong companion, almost like Nathalie.

“The devil comes for girls of youth.” Sister Berges once told me; on the day where I first noticed the pool of blood that had come from me and in fits had tears had asked her if I was dying.  Instead, she’d told me I was being possessed by Satan. “You will soon find yourself amongst considerations that aren’t yours – they are the devil’s – and you must remember of the love of God. He will cleanse you of these.”

What sister Berges did not know as I watched her play the organ with a concentrated gaze so in love with the moment and the collaborations of her instrument to the symphony of voices, like a man could love a woman,  was that if what she’d said was true; she’d let the devil invade her bloodstream with every note. Sister Clarisse was first to spy me with half of my head in the tall doorway, and smiled beckoning me into their world for just a moment. The candles glowed a reflection of heaven’s golden gates on their faces. I stood and watched as the Latin faded and the organ’s drones began to oblivate quietly until at last the only organ in the room going was the panting lungs of each of the nuns. They all smiled the same smile at me; happy faces, but pitiful eyes.

“Good morning Thérèse… I was meaning to speak with you.” Clarisse was the only moving mouth in the whole room; they all had a terrifying habit of acting like one whole being like the literal formation of the body of Christ, and Clarisse was always the mouthpiece. The arms and legs filtered away to their daily tasks, until it was only the two of us.

“Good morning,” I replied, quiet as the hallways. It was serious, too serious. I knotted a finger in my end strands of my brown locks and waited for the news. Had I done something? Or had God given her the gift of my every thought, and heard the atrocities that I’d screamed internally? Forgive me sister, I found myself thinking. It is the devil I swear! I can ignore him, please don’t-

“I’m afraid I have some bad news.” How she knew it was me and not Nathalie was a small miracle. Most couldn’t separate us for their own dear lives, and simply referred to us as ‘Girls!’ to save the trouble. My gaze dropped, unready to prove my maturity as I studied the bare floors so different to the ornate skies of ceilings and walls adorned in paintings with golden frames. What they refused to spend on food they splurged on decorations for their places of worship.

“We received a letter last night regarding your grandparents.” I loathed the way she held each word a little too long, as though she was afraid to reach the climax of her news.  I held my breath for the worst; but what could have happened to my grandparents that was worth writing about? Images of feverish grandparents flashed through me; maybe ill, maybe dead. It had happened to me parents, why not them? “I’m afraid to tell you that their fortune has gone, Thérèse. Mr Potrien’s investments did not follow through and ultimately drove them to bankruptcy.”

“Where are the boys?” I asked immediately, remembering the two younger brothers of my past who were almost as transparent as the ghosts of our shared parents. Not a word had been said about any of my family until now; if Nathalie hadn’t been around, I would have assumed I’d made them up for boredom’s sake. Maybe I was a suffering basket case locked up in a prison, having rocks thrown at my head and the laughs of stuffed pig people filling the ears who wouldn’t listen. My blood ran cold, and I awaited an answer.

“Your grandparents have been relocated to a friend’s for the time being.” They wouldn’t last a week without wealth, I was sure of it. “But luck has once again shined on your siblings, as the very same friend has agreed to adopt the boys.  Jean Calzone was his name, I believe the letter said. A kindly old fellow apparently, with a lot of love to shower on them. It is your interests I would like to discusss.”

She led me down to a seat, letting me nestle uncomfortably into its tough back digging into my spine. I breathed a single sigh of relief for my brothers, before widening my eyes at the fate of Nathalie and I. What would become of us? At sixteen, we were no longer children, and so adoption was hardly an option.

“We’ve very much enjoyed the presence of you both for your years here. We haven’t had young ones for quite some time.” She smiled warmly. “But we no longer have enough funds to provide for children. So we came up with a compromise. You and Nathalie are allowed to stay, if you agree to join our sisterhood. A lifetime of holiness and learning and singing. This is what we are offering.”

It took all of my willpower to not let my jaw chaff against the group. Was there not a moral flaw in blackmailing those to be holy? I simply nodded, watching instead the crinkles between her two eyes to make her believe I was staring deep into her irises. A lodger was a fine occupation, but a nun itself I was sure I couldn’t be. Her game was much too cruel.

“Now, we are not forcing this upon you; the door is always open though I strongly advise against leaving. I was bred in Paris; which is where I’d assume you’d go; and I can promise it will not be the palace of the dreams you may believe you seek. It has vile creatures, and evil thrives in its streets. I urge you to stay, Thérèse.”

Everything became a blur. Her hug of comfort was numb, and my gaze distant. All at once I could understand everything and nothing; why Jesus grimaced on the oil canvases, why my heart had been so uncertain hearing the coaxing of nuns this morning, but not why the more dominant, darker centre of my heart begged for its escape. This is your chance, Thérèse. You can see Paris…

It wouldn’t be glamorous… I found myself fighting back. My brain was threatening to split. You’ll suffer, you’ll know not a soul, and you’ll find no work…

I finally made it back to our bedroom to find Nathalie crossed legged, her slightly softer figure shrouded in an unflattering nightgown similar to the drab grey I was wearing. Before I even condoned it, my body burst into a spasm of tears and within a minute I found myself being comforted by Nathalie as she stroked my long hair and whispered “I know, I know.”  Even if she didn’t. The room looked different somehow;  more like a prison than the haven I’d convinced myself it was. The stale wood of our bed could have been chains, and the spines of the bibles and saints’ tales might have had teeth like daggers. Only Nathalie looked safe, with a face full of sleep and her mane tickling my shoulders with a texture like mine.

“Clarisse… And the boys… and the money… gone… and I-“

“It’s okay, Thérèse; I know.” Nathalie soothed, but her words had an opposite effect.

“What do you mean ‘you know’?” I sprang up, eyes accusingly boring into Nathalie’s. I could see my own alarmed posture in her orbs.

“Sister Clarisse told me last night, oh Tee don’t be upset! She wanted to tell you herself, she was scared you might run away in the night.” She grabbed my wrist as I leapt of the bed and paced on the ground, furious.

“How could you not tell me Nathalie! How did you sleep last night knowing we’d have to be nuns for our beds!” I quickly ran to shut the door, my eyes brimming with hot tears. Nathalie cracked all the bones in her fingers, proving how nervous she was by me.

“I promised her I wouldn’t say a word. Could you imagine if I’d told you? You would have sprinted out into the cold night without a minute’s thinking. I know you would’ve.” Her motherly tone was irritating to no end.

“And why don’t you think I would now?”

“You have all day to calm down,” She said. “We’ll have a good life Thérèse. This was the plan all along. What did you think would happen? That we’d turn eighteen and leave for Paris to start a new life for ourselves? That our grandparents would take us in and teach us to become ladies? They loathe us, Tee. And as for Paris…well.” Her laugh smashed into a million different pieces in the solemn air, where every piece of bland furniture seemed to be burning amber by my ignorant sight.

“I did think exactly that.” I added bitterly, a decibel quieter. “I can’t stay here Nathalie, I’ll drive myself mad.”

“Better mad than starving.”

“You don’t understand, my mind is a plague of sins. I don’t deserve the holy life the way these nuns do.”

“We all think things we shouldn’t, but don’t you get it? This is our future.” Nathalie was resistant to my points, as I fired thousands at her unyielding lips. Finally, an hour had past and our throats were becoming hoarse leading us to a silence very similar to the one we’d shared on arrival. My back was straightened onto the cold panes of a stone wall, my knees tucked up to my chest as I weighed my options. Each would destroy me, but which for the better? Nathalie was in mindless worry for me, fretting as she glanced at me and when I caught her straight to the door.

“Come with me,” I finally begged in the voice of a whisper.

“To see Sister?”

“No, to Paris.” The blue in her eyes stood out in panic.

“I can’t, Thérèse.” It all came down to this. Three little words to break my heart. The only person I had to hold my hand when my on its own felt incomplete, or would share a giggle at the vastly inappropriate things Nuns would say if heard by an imagination. She had been the listener to my ideas for novels, and who’d frowned as I insisted I didn’t need to wash my hair. She’d been my mother, my father, my best friend, my siblings and my enemy all wrapped up in a face that looked like mine. And all at once, she was willing to sever the bond for the church. I felt sick rise up in my stomach at the thought of living without her.

I got dressed in silence; she didn’t look my way as I packed my bag. The satchel was tiny; and could only fit an extra change of clothes. My outfit was one of my nicer pieces; a black dress no less to mark the despair of a girl so intent on abandoning faith she’d pay the price of her only family for it. Was I being selfish, or noble? Selfish for giving up Nathalie as much as she was me, or noble for giving up a warm bed for what I believed was right? I hoped for the latter as I tied the waist at the back and adjusted the sleeves that ended at the elbow with frills. The dress reached to my ankles, my collar bones on full display as I pulled the shoulders in exact place. I plaited my wild curls away, brushing was much sorer than I’d expected as Nathalie had taken it upon herself to do it herself all these years. The plait was clumsy and lopsided, a little like me as I refused to cry.

“May God have mercy on you, Thérèse.” Sister Clarisse wished my on my way unwillingly with two loaves of bread and the permission for outerwear, her heart as heavy as the strain the convent put on the muddy grass. The skies were beginning to lighten and it was easy to forget how much the sky could darken in the course of an hour or two. After her hug, she helped me put on the black thick coat and a black cap to protect my ears from the tough Parisian frostbite.

Nathalie did not see me off at the front door, although I caught her sobbing figure in the window as I passed through the gates and caught a final look at the building I hadn't left for five long years. Freedom was the last emotion I had strength to admire. Despair was the first.

 

I'd just like to take this moment to say a large thank you to all those who have commented/favorited/liked this! You're a small crowd but treasured all the less. I know she has still to meet Enjolras yet - I'm dying for this to clash and it's taking all my strength to not rush it - but I'm so overcome with muse right now I think I may just start on the third chapter. As always,feedback is like gold. I have so many ideas and I want you to be there with me when they unfold. This is just the beginning!

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