by Jacqueline Yeo
Excerpts from the Diary of Sister Duena Gregoria Gorone
21 March 1894 ~ Iglesia de Santa Cecilia, Ronda
Tonight the Blessed Virgin entered my being during evening prayers.
Her presence was made known to me when a sharp crash from the church’s foyer interrupted my recitation of the Angelic Salutation. Upon further investigation, I was quick to discover that the congregation degenerate, Nikko Desma, was in the midst of attempting his third robbery of the church coffers.
Señor Desma is a huge, hairy, beast of a man – an immigrant from Greece if Sister Florinia is to be believed – and whose rough manners leave very much to be desired.
I knew that the man spoke very little Spanish, and so was very careful in my speech to him. I said, “Nikolai Desma, for the third and last time you have stolen from God. What would your wife think? Would you bring a child into such a world of thievery?”
“F-f-f-forgive me, Blessed Mother!” Nikko wept. “The bambina arrived. Midwife wants… she needs… gold. Please Mother!” I was shocked; the poor man thought that I – Sister Duena Gregoria Gorone – was the Blessed Virgin herself!
It was blasphemy at its finest, but what else could God have meant it to be but a sign? I could save this child from a life of degeneracy. So, God forgive me, I bartered with him. “Take the gold Nikko, but give over the child’s education to me.”
I believe Señor Desma understood my request, and so I let him go – gold clutched in his meaty hand – bowing and weeping, into Ronda’s night.
22 March 1894 ~ Convento de Nuestra Senora de la Merced, Ronda
Before even the birds had seen fit to wake, I awoke to the most tumultuous disarray. Father Rodrigo, it appears, has found an abandoned infant upon the steps of the Iglesia de Santa Cecilia, and in a state of panic has brought the newly born child to the sisters at the convent. No amount of rational argument can dissuade him from leaving the infant with us sisters.
To Father Rodrigo it matters not that we are the brides of Christ; a child is a child, and we are women.
God, it seems, has transformed sisters into mothers.
10 April 1894 ~ Iglesia de Santa Cecilia, Ronda
With the help of Father Rodrigo, I have baptized Ramona Zanita. She is a beautiful specimen; and at one day shy of three weeks old, her ebony hair is nearly as thick as my own.
It has, however, become readily apparent that my fellow sisters wish to have nothing to do with the rearing of this child. So, in order for me to keep Ramona, I must leave the convent.
It was a simple decision. As of tomorrow morning, little Ramona and I will leave Ronda for Cádiz and the coast.
12 October 1900 ~ 55 calle Pelota, Cádiz
Ramona’s hair grows like a weed, and I am loathe to cut it. She is only six, yet her hair hangs like curtains of black silk down to the base of her spine. When the mood strikes me – as it often does – Ramona and I will climb to the top Torre de Poniente at the Catedral Nueva and she will sing hymns for me. Here I make her pirouette in the sunlight and watch as God exposes a virtual rainbow of brown and red highlights upon her crown.
1 November 1902 ~ 55 calle Pelota, Cádiz
I must now bind Ramona’s thick mane in five black braids around her crown in order to prevent them from dragging along the ground. Ramona complains of the weight, and can now only pirouette when her hair is down; otherwise she is prone to lose her balance and fall.
I have thought of growing my own hair out, but consider vanity a sin.
19 January 1905 ~ 55 calle Pelota, Cádiz
Ramona grows more beautiful by the day. She is now eleven years old, and I can see that I am fast losing the beautiful child whom used to happily sing for me. All day she is at school making friends with the dirty, feral, godless, little creatures there, and it drives me mad. I fear they will infect her with lice.
“Sister Duena!” she said to me just yesterday in the most brazen tone I have ever heard from her lips. “You walk me home directly from class everyday. My classmates think me strange because I am never seen at the market. I know no games and I have no friends!”
My reply was simple and to the point. She did indeed have four very lovely friends: God, Christ, our Blessed Mother, and – of course – myself. Ramona did not seem to be particularly amused by the revelation.
26 February 1907 ~ 55 calle Pelota, Cádiz
I have seen much of Ramona’s classmate, Patrido Reyes, of late. I have watched him wander past our apartment window twice a day for nearly a month now. I am certain that I have even seen him loitering about the Plaza de la Catedral in the evenings while Ramona is singing atop the cathedral’s bell tower.
When I confronted Patrido about this, he sneered at me. “Sister Duena, Catedral Nueva is the heart of Cádiz. It is hardly strange that I should been seen in or around its precincts.” I was horrified, but that was merely a prelude to the insolence that followed. “Why are you watching me so closely, sister? Should you not be watching for God? Or can you see heaven from the top of Torre de Poniente? I know I can.”
Later that day I made sure to tell Father Gabino that I had seen Patrido spit into the holy water before Mass. The boy was whipped soundly.
6 June 1907 ~ 55 calle Pelota, Cádiz
Last night I could have sworn I heard laughter coming from Ramona’s bedroom. I went to investigate, but found only that the child had decided to sing to her window box roses in order to help them grow.
Her hair was unbound, and I could see the full moon reflected upon her crown. A beautiful sight to be sure, but I made sure to check the length of calle Pelota to be certain. It was empty.
9 May 1908 ~ Catedral Nueva de Cádiz, Cádiz
I cannot think what to write. How could I have been deceived for so long? Just an hour ago, Ramona admitted to me that that she has met with that horrid Reyes boy every evening for a year upon the cathedral’s bell tower.
When asked how this could have happened, she told me, “Patrido and I would meet upon the Torre de Poniente and watch the sun set while you were at your evening prayers. I knew that you would never notice my absence – you are so very devoted to your prayers, sister. It was only for an hour… please do not be angry…. Father Gabino says he will marry us.”
Furious as I was at the deception, I might have let her get away with it had I not noticed the tightening of her dress across her belly.
17 May 1908 ~ 55 calle Pelota, Cádiz
Blessed be to God, Mother Superior Marquilla says that she will take Ramona into the Convento de Santa Teresa in Ávila.
I write this after having just come from delivering the news to Ramona, and she was, as expected, very upset. I held her as she wept into my shoulder, pounding at me with her fists, and tugging at her beautiful hair by turns.
“Ramona, Ramona… the seed of my prayer,” I remember murmuring to her as I cut the braids from her head. “The deserts of Spain are very lovely, my child.” I said it just like that, very simple-like, very kindly, but she did not appear to be comforted by my words.
8 June 1908 ~ Catedral Nueva de Cádiz, Cádiz
Patrido has a right to know the fate to which he has damned Ramona and since he has refused to have anything to do with me since Ramona’s departure, I fashioned a wig from her braids in order to lure him back to the Torre de Poniente.
My voice is not as sweet as Ramona’s, but the braids were a convincing tool. I did not have to wait long before Patrido ascended the tower, roses in hand, expecting to see my beautiful Ramona.
Not a word was uttered from my lips before the boy, in a fit of obvious fear, fainted and tumbled down at least a dozen stairs. The thorns on the roses that he had brought for Ramona cut his face to ribbons, and I am not at all certain that they missed his eyes.
8 November 1908 ~ 55 calle Pelota, Cádiz
Two weeks ago I received word from Ávila that Ramona has successfully delivered twins – one boy and one girl – and has now entered into postulancy at the Convento de Santa Teresa. I wrote to Mother Superior Marquilla offering my assistance in rearing the children, but her answer came back yesterday morning – by express – that she thought that the children’s fate would likely be resolved in an orphanage.
So here I remain in Cádiz, where I have taken to wearing the braids beneath my habit in memoriam of Ramona. Now when I climb the Torre de Poniente, it is silent, and I can no longer tell if the braids still shine.