CRISIS OF FAITH
That voice had taken her back fifty seven years, to a place that now only existed in her nightmares. She had been forty when she had first heard the voice, barking orders and screaming abuse at the next line of victims, as they were pushed and dragged from the trains that delivered them to a hell on earth.
Sitting here, on a pew in front of her crucified saviour gave the old nun time to reflect. Evil had always been defeated, but a lot of sacrifices had been made. God had sacrificed his only son and the old nun remembered her children had been sacrificed, but not to save mankind. Her children had been sacrificed in an attempt to wipe out an entire race. And here she was, sitting in her church all these years later, rubbing her arm where that number had been tattooed.
Sister Katerina as she was now known had first heard that voice before the carriage doors had opened. Its tone had always been in her subconscious, until she had heard it again, just a few minute ago.
He had been a young man then. Now he was a grandfather on a touring holiday with his family. Katerina had watched them tour the grounds of the convent where she had spent the third chapter of her life. Opening some parts of the convent to help pay for upkeep had been her idea. Or was it divine intervention? Had god told her to do it so the man responsible for sending her here would one day arrive to meet his fate?
Katerina thought of them often when she sat in her favourite pew, the sunlight shining through the stain glass window warmed her old bones. As the sun warmed her face she closed her eyes and thought about the first chapter of her life. The chapter where she was married and became pregnant and the birth of her two sons. All had been lost when she started the second chapter, at Sobibor.
The third chapter of her life had started when the old nuns took in the broken woman they found wandering in the woods, screaming at shadows. The camp had been liberated and the survivors had been let out. The day of liberation was something she could not remember. Waking up in a small room to find an old woman in a black cloak staring down at her had made Katerina think she had died and gone to hell. But slowly, the old nuns had helped rebuild her and her sanity had returned. Then one day she had been sitting where she was now and she had felt something, then heard something. That was the day she had found her faith and the third chapter of her life had begun.
After that monumental day she had sat in this exact position and spoken to her saviours, the nuns and her Lord. She had become a believer and the nuns had accepted her into their convent. She had taken her vows and lived happily ever after. She had accepted that her family were in a better place and realised that there was good in humanity. Then he had appeared, in a way similar to Job appearing to Jesus. Was he hear to test her faith? Because if he was he was winning, she wanted to kill him. Katerina had butchered animals that they had all eaten. Her old hands as quick and nimble as they had always been. Her eyesight was perfect without glasses, or so she thought.
Why had God decided to test her now, after so long? Did he intend to welcome her into his kingdom? Was this a test or just a coincidence?
Captain Fritzel Alldrich had found his way into her convent and she had given him a guided tour. It was no coincidence that the number tattooed into her skin had started to burn when she heard his voice. Sitting here always helped her think and plan things out. Why should today be any different? Because he was here, that was why. Then it came to her in a flash. That young nun was always saying how great the internet was and how useful she found it. The tall thin girl who never had her habit on straight. What was her name? Rebecca, of course. A sign indeed, the sweet young girl had been talking about search engines at breakfast. Time to do some searching of her own. Alldrich’s daughter had said they were staying in the village for another five days.
Praying and contemplating my actions in here has given me the answer again.
“The Lord works in mysterious ways,” she whispered as she bowed and left.
Where was that blessed girl? Away with the fairies no doubt, playing with the rabbits or picking daisies. Or was she boring the visitors with her romantic notions of the Lord’s kingdom?
No she wasn’t, she was sitting on a wall daydreaming.
“Away with the fairies, my child?” Katerina sung in her best choir voice.
“Good afternoon, sister Katerina. Its such a lovely day the lord has given us,” Rebecca said, gazing up at the sky.
“Could I ask you a favour, sister?”
“I need to look something up on this internet of yours. A matter of the utmost urgency,” Katerina said in a dreamy voice.
“Come with me, sister and I will show you the glory of the modern age,” Rebecca said laughing.
“Remember, with age comes wisdom. There’s more in this head of mine than there is in that dreamboat on the top of your neck,” Katerina snapped.
“Sometimes sister, your manner borders on offensive. You always seem to rub your arm when you’re in a bad mood, much the same way you are doing now.”
Rebecca looked both hurt and surprised. Katerina felt instant guilt and sorrow for the poor girl, who was sweet in her own innocent way.
“Sorry, sister. I have a few demons that need exorcising, that is all. Something that has been in my mind for a long time, needs finishing off today. Who better to help me than my friend Rebecca?” Katerina said meekly.
She had seen the hurt on Rebecca’s face and was angry with herself for hurting the girls feelings.
“What troubles you sister?”
“I really need to look something up on the internet.”
“In that case, we’ll get right to it, follow me.”
Katerina walked along side the young nun who clasped her arm and walked along at a snails pace, much to Katerina’s dislike.
“I appreciate the gesture, dear. Ninety seven I may be but I can walk tall and when the mood takes me I can jog round the gardens. Up until a few years ago I could do the splits. I bet you’ve never seen a nun do that, have you?” Katerina said, laughing.
“Really sister. You are not like the other nuns, are you?” Rebecca said in horror.
Katerina’s head spun round and she caught Rebecca stifling a laugh by biting her top lip.
“You’re absolutely right. Fate bought me here, not god. But since that day I have learned to love, honour and obey him. I remember the day he found me, probably around the time your mother was being born, I expect. The faith that found me restored my belief in humanity. I expect you have heard that I was once in a concentration camp.”
“No,” Rebecca’s mouth fell open and her eyes widened.
“Shut your mouth dear, its not the done thing to see down someone’s throat.”
Rebecca closed her mouth but still did not speak. “Fifty seven years ago. I had two grown up children with families of their own. All of my family are with the angels now. Strange as it may sound, part of me will never leave Sobibor. If it wasn’t for my faith I would have lost my mind, years ago. Earlier today when I was showing round a group of visitors I heard the voice of the devil. Aldrich is his name. I need to get in touch with the son of an old friend of mine. A boy who is old enough to be your father, dear. Problem is I don’t have his number, but I know he has a website. We correspond, by what you call snail mail. His website is for survivors from all over the world. He has been here a few times. I was never a practicing Jew, but god accepted me and now I am a Jewish Christian.”
Both nuns had reached the room that housed their computer. Bought specifically so they could keep in touch with the outside world and be fully prepared for all visitors and advertise their ancient convent on the internet for all the world to see.
Rebecca showed Katerina what to do and the old nun was infuriated. She could not read the small print on the screen. Her old eyes were not as sharp as they once used to be. Her hand could still make a good fist though.
“Moses Zuckerman ’s organisation is called The Chosen. Is there a phone number on his page. We need a bigger screen, the writing is too small to read.”
“I’ll write the number down and you can phone him. Is there anything else you need, sister?” Rebecca asked smiling.
“A glass of wine would be nice, but I’ll make do with water. Thank you, sister. I shall telephone my old friend and tell him the news. By the way, I was joking about the splits and the jogging.”
Rebecca left the room and Katerina squinted to read and dial the number. It rang three times and was picked up by a familiar voice she had not heard for several years.
“Hello,” Moses said.
“Its Katerina, Moses. How are you my boy?”
“Katerina the nun, well bless me. Are you well?” Moses said, laughing.
“I was until this morning. Aldrich was here.”
“You mean Captain Fritzel Alldrich, the Sobibor angel of death?”
“As large as life. He is older, but his voice is still the same. He is staying at the hotel Verbassi in the town. I showed him round the convent, on one of our tours. I wanted to cut his heart out, Moses. Only my faith stopped me.”
“I have contacts in your area, Katerina. I could have someone at his hotel in a few hours. I dare say I will have news for by tomorrow morning.”
“I will say goodbye, until then Moses. I do not want to hold things up.”
“Very good. Bye for now and take care.”
“Ninety seven years and I’m still here. That’s extreme care, young man.”
The sound of Moses laughing made her smile, it was always good to talk about the past, but not so good to be reminded of it.
The phone went dead and Katerina struggled to her feet and slowly walked out of the room. That silly girl had not bought her a glass of water and it was a hot day.
Katerina made it to the dining room as the sun was starting to set and another day faded away. She sat down in her usual chair and one of the considerably younger nuns bought her over the small plateful of food she always ate in the evening. Bread, two crackers, grapes and the chocolate doughnut she always insisted on. No one joined her. They knew by the stern expression on her face that she did not want company. Rebecca was feeding the rabbits and had completely forgotten what time it was.
Katerina was awoken by a loud banging on her door. She looked at the clock on the wall and saw she was late for morning prayer, fourth time this year.
“Give me a few minutes, I’m nearly ready,” she shouted.
“I’ll wait here for you sister,” Rebecca replied.
Twenty minutes later Katerina was praying, but she heard nothing of the sermon.
On her way the dining room Sister Jane thrust a phone in her face.
“Someone for you sister. A man called Moses.”
“Thank you dear, most kind.”
Jane nodded and walked away, Rebecca hung in the background, her curiosity getting the better of her.
“Good morning Moses. Nice of you to get back so quickly.”
“It’s been dealt with. You understand?”
“I see, yes I fully understand. Justice is swift these days. You’ll have to drop in next time you pass by,” Katerina said as a warm feeling spread through her tired old body.
“I’ve been meaning to drop in and see you for sometime, I know how much you meant to my father.”
“He meant a lot to me, Moses. You take care, and thanks again for what you have done. Goodbye.”
Katerina handed the phone to Rebecca without thinking.
“Are you well sister?” Jane asked.
“Yes thank you, sister. I won’t be joining you for breakfast, I need to pray.”
Katerina walked back into the church and sat in her favourite seat, the sunlight was pouring in through the stain glass window. It seemed brighter than normal, she closed her eyes as its rays warmed her face. Closing her eyes did not shut out the light, the brightness seemed to intensify. Then she saw someone she had not seen in over half a century. Her husband followed by her children and their children. They were calling her and she stood up to greet them. As she rose she felt younger than she had done in a long time. Husband and wife held hands and kissed, children kissed their mother and grandchildren hugged her tightly. They had missed her as much as she had missed them. They would have much to talk about and so much to do.
The sun vanished behind a cloud, the church was once again in shadow.
The nuns filed in for afternoon prayer as soon as they had finished lunch.
“I see you are early this time, Katerina,” Jane said, laughing.
When she did not answer Jane walked forward and gently pushed her shoulder, the old nun had fallen asleep in here many times before.
She gasped as her hands touched the cold body of a woman they had all dearly loved.
“I’m afraid sister Katerina will not be praying with us. Only her body remains, her soul is with god now,” Jane said crossing herself.
“She can’t be dead, she was fine earlier, full of her usual spirit,” Rebecca shouted as tears poured down her face.
“Look at her face sister,” Jane said, wiping her eyes.
Rebecca gasped in amazement.
“I don’t ever remember seeing her smile like that when she was alive,” Rebecca said, smiling through her tears.
“I’m sure we would all like to know what was going through her mind when the good lord called her,” Jane replied.
Katerina’s hands were still clasped in prayer. All her prayers had finally been answered.