Sophia signaled at Emily to zip it, who was busy giggling at the corpse.
Emily had just pointed at Sister Margaret’s pale face and had mumbled something under her breath. Rose had joined into her mischief. Both were trying their best to control their laughter.
It was an unfortunate day for the convent. Sister Margaret who was still on the good side of her thirties had passed away in an accident. Now she rested in a coffin in a bed of roses, whilst children who didn’t understand death paid their respects, well at least tried to.
Emily was amused by the expressions on the cadaver. It reminded her of the sister’s puckered nose when she used to scold them. Her nose would always flare-up in a funny manner which they would, later on, imitate in their dormitories. Rose was a good impersonator. She could even copy her mannerisms.
“It is not good. She is dead! You are in a funeral for crying out loud!”
Sophia was now fuming with anger as Emily and Rose failed to keep their tittering in check. They fell silent on realizing the solemnity of the situation. The dead should not be made fun of.
When it was Sophia’s turn to pay her respects, she looked at the cadaver carefully.
Poor Sister Margaret, she thought. She had never bothered her for she had always been a bright child. She always did her homework on time, paid attention to her when Sister spoke and answered all of her questions correctly.
Sophia was on Margaret’s good side. She could tell that the sister had always felt proud of her. For she was the brightest of all the students.
She looked at her pursed lips and wondered how lifelike she seemed. As if she were only sleeping. That she could get up any second now and walk away from the coffin, shout at the top of her voice and ask the children to open their books.
Sophia scrutinized her brows, her eyelids, all her conspicuous distinct features carefully, as she would, up close every day, for she sat at the very first bench.
“Her eyes, what were her eyes like?” she thought. “Weren’t they a shade of pale blue?
In that split second of a moment, Sophia imaged them opening as Margaret turned to face her, and smiled.
A deafening silence erupted inside her. The world around her had suddenly frozen.
“Move!” someone chimed from behind.
Her reverie, broken by Percy asking for her turn. Sophia looked at her, then swiveled back to see the corpse. Sister Margaret hadn’t inched a bit. She was just lying there, dead as a corpse could be.
During the recess, when the girls were out on the field playing handball, she just sat there looking at them. Their faces glowing in contrast to what she had just witnessed.
She wondered how easily people could move on as if nothing had happened. What was death to them? A social gathering of what, an hour? Is that all the time they have got to spare for the dead? Or maybe they are happy because the dead reminds them to celebrate the living.
She wondered about all the mundane things people often dug their heads into, the ever chugging engine of their pointless acts and their hunt for a deliberate indifference to keep their heads from thinking about death.
A moving, feeling, life had been plucked out, just like that, and the world doesn’t give a shit.
Emily pounced on her gasping for breath.
“What happened Sophia? You look lost!”
“Nothing, I am fine.”
“Come join us!”
“I don’t feel like it. You guys carry on, I am gonna go to the study hall.”
She picked up her books, and trundled toward the spacious corridors.
“What a killjoy!” whispered Rose as soon as Sophia left.
“Rose! She is our friend.” reminded Emily.
“Yeah! Yeah! I know. Come on, let’s go.” Rose pulled a worried Emily back into the game.
In the Study Hall
There were just three other girls in the study hall when Sophia had pushed open its heavy door. They looked alarmed. On finding out it was just another student, they went back to their magazine that they had snuck in from somewhere.
“Life moves on.” Sophia thought as she took a first-row seat.
She could barely read through their giggles when she turned around exasperated and stared right at them. The girls went silent. One of them signaled the others to leave, to take the party somewhere else.
As they were leaving, the last one pulled the door really hard. The door banged shut, as its echo resounded across the empty hall. It was soon followed by an unsettling silence.
For a second, Sophia failed to realize she was all by herself in the study. As she tried to concentrate on the book she was reading, she realized she wasn’t alone.
She was accompanied by a notion, a notion of Sister Margaret being alive. A memory of her teaching in the same study hall erupted in Sophia’s mind, as the hall got re-imaged with students. They were repeating after the Sister as she enunciated an unpronounceable word nodding her head as she walked on.
Her eyes met Sophia’s, and she stopped, and looked right at her, waiting for her to pronounce.
The class went silent, the light dimmed, as Sophia struggled to open her lips, unable to answer wondering if it was all too very late.
Just then she heard a whisper from behind.
Sophia turned around almost immediately, looking at the dim-lit corners of the large room. She scanned from one corner to another. The voice seemed to have come from far away. Maybe from the past.
Considering it to be a fanciful trick of her mind, she once again dug her head into the book.
What if Sister Margaret’s soul never left? What if she liked the Convent so much she decided to stay?
That thought crept on her like a slow-moving snake. It made its way from the back of her neck towards her face and pulled her attention towards the shut door.
The only bulb that was in the room flickered. Just then the same whisper she had heard seconds ago, came from right behind her desk.
That was it for her. Sophia sprang for the door as if she had seen a ghost. But when she pulled the door open, it failed to open. She rapped the door frantically.
“Open the door! Someone, please! It wouldn’t open. Is anybody there?”
She turned around to look once again at the blank space. The bulb flickered again. A dying light.
Scanning the room anxiously, her dilated eyes moved from bench to bench for they were the only tangible elements there that spoke of the reality. Then suddenly the bulb went out.
A scream lit up the corridors of the convent. Girls came running towards the rapping door.
“Open the door! Please open the door! Aaaaaaaaaa!”
Was all they could make out. The girls pushed the door as hard as they could, but it was jammed.
“It won’t open! Try from your end.” one of the helpers shouted.
“Are you alright? What happened?” another one asked. Two sisters came too hearing the shriek. When they realized their efforts were futile they sent for the peon.
But by then, Emily was already there. She asked everyone to move aside. Then she put all her weight on one shoulder and pushed the door with all her might. The door sprang open.
A sobbing and terrorized Sophia was sitting on the floor. She had never appeared this powerless. The light was back on. The room was no longer dark.
Emily went forward and touched Sophia. The poor soul looked as if she had submitted to dread. She hugged Emily and started crying.
“Everything is going to be alright, Sophia. I am here!” whispered Emily as she took her away to the dorm.
The Same Night at the Dorm
The night rarely ever came with promises for the convent. Since the girls liked to discuss in hushed voices the topics of ghosts, for the very thrill of it kept them entertained.
But that night was different. The incident with Sophia was on everyone’s lips and mind. The girls were imagining the horror she had to face all alone inside. Theories and stories were already doing the rounds.
Sister Margaret’s ghost had already become a tale that were to live on everyone’s mind for centuries to come. It would only take a generation of skeptics to get over it, or maybe time. Time heals everything, so they say.
Emily and Rose sat till late with Sophia to make her feel at home, supported her like true friends do. Sophia’s snivels paved way for laughter as they chatted more and more about their goof-ups in class, or how they pulled a prank on each other.
When the laughter died down and it was time to bid good night, Emily pointed to Sophia,
“I will be right over there. If you need anything…”
Sophia smiled, and started making her bed.
Two hours later everyone was fast asleep. Sophia woke up in the middle of the night with the same noise she had heard in the study hall.
She casually opened her eyes and found that she was facing the wall. But then she became conscious for she could feel someone’s heavy breathing coming from right behind her.
Sheer horror painted her face as she visualized it to be none other than Sister Margaret. She didn’t have the strength to turn around and look for what she might discover. She let the moment pass in utter fright.
Minutes passed into hours but the heavy breathing wouldn’t stop. It just stood there watching over her.
was all she could manage when Sophia got tired of being afraid.
It was right after when she heard the noise of a heavy robe moving away, a slow despondent walk. The breathing seemed to be inching further away from her. It appeared as if it waited at the door for her, then finally disappeared down the hall.
Finally Sophia turned around to look. There was nothing there, but a room full of heavy sleepers. She got hold of her blanket and slept this time facing the door.
As she did, her heart felt heavy. She felt desolate inside and she was sorry for something she didn’t quite understand.
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