A short story by RAMYA JAY

The coloured walls of the Church ring with the click-clack of the Sisters’ shoes. Painful to walk in, twisted ligaments and joints a real and ever present danger, these shoes are the Sisters’ silent confirmation of their obedience to their God. Moments later, the Blessed Sisters themselves appear in their ever-changing habits; their headdresses are neat and shiny, their posture and carriage that of a Believer. Shoulders back, spine straight, chest forward, head up.

They are leading a Novice. She too has the sleek headdress and shadowed eyes of a Believer – but her feet are shod in plain, flat shoes. She has not yet been confirmed. She is not yet a Sister. But that will change; the Sisters are leading the Novice to the altar room. Before she enters, the other Sisters pour kind, comforting words into her ears; they tell her of the glory of the God for whom she is doing this, the esteem she will garner in the eyes of the Holy Trinity (the Tabloid Lord, the Peer Mother and the He/She Lover.) Their words are soft and she trembles as she enters the altar room. With only one silent Sister – companion, guide, judge and torturer – she must commence the ritual. She is laid on the altar of sacrifice at the very centre of the small room; the room smells like clean, purifying tea tree oil and hot, melted wax.

The Sister brushes her hair back with calm, professional hands and tells her to say her confirmation chants through the pain. It will give her strength, she says. The sound of ripping skin and hair soon echoes in the small room, mingling with the Novice’s tremulous murmurings. The object of her penance, her purification, her devotion, lies within her sight, set in a darkened niche in the wall. She focuses her gaze on it as she chants, her voice barely audible:

‘I will be beautiful, I will be beautiful, I will be beautiful,’ she litanies, her eyes never wavering from the blood-red high heel shoes before her.