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I Met An Angel

by 

Jamie Kay

"Damn.. I wanted a cigarette!"

Automatically my hand had dug into my handbag as the "fasten seatbelts" sign went out, but then I'd remembered that all South African domestic flights had banned onboard smoking,  so I settled back in my seat and stared vacantly out the window. Suddenly I was amused that this monstrous creation could sport such incredibly pathetic windows. Mentally, I designed a new interior for jumbo jets. Large picture windows from floor to roof. I would present my ideas to the
designers.

Nothing more exciting than cotton-wool puff clouds wafted past - or did we waft pass them...?

How boring, I mused... It would be fun to pass a UFO or maybe a flock of angels on their way to harp practice. At least there'd be something to talk about when the plane finally landed.

"Have a good flight?

"Oh yes! We passed some divine angels somewhere between Bloemfontein and Cape Town..."

I glanced at the person seated beside me. How strange... I hadn't even noticed that there was someone there. Inwardly I frowned. How unobservant!  A second sideways look - it was a nun.

Interesting!

I wondered why she was on her way to Cape Town. Maybe she was jetting her way to the ANC... (Annual Nuns Convention). She was representing the Gauteng nuns and was going to plead for a change is nuns' habits. I swallowed a giggle, feeling ashamed for a moment.

I closed my eyes and rested my head against the back of the uncomfortable seat (must ask for re-design there too, I noted) and recalled my childhood horror of nuns. The Convent Nursery School... visions of huge, flapping, rattling, black and white birds advancing on me as I sat quavering in the sandpit when I should have been at "wee and wash" time came flooding back...

Then there had been the time I'd been rushed to the Catholic Hospital for an emergency appendectomy. I must have been ten or eleven... At midnight I had woken up in a muggy moggy haze and there she'd stood at the foot of the bed - a nun in shimmering white.

"OK...  so I'm dead..." I'd thought, "And here is a real live ghost to escort me to the other world."

She sneezed.

Not the nun in the hospital - the nun who sat next to me.

"Bless you!" I said automatically.

She smiled, her eyes crinkling as she did, and her pale hands dabbed at her nose with a lavender-coloured tissue.

Funny...I didn't think nuns were allowed colourful things like lavender coloured tissues ..

She spoke, and the accent was foreign."This dry weather..my nose itches so.."

It was a soft lilting voice, and I guessed her roots lay somewhere in Switzerland. I pictured her as a young Heidi, and Peter - barefoot and adorable in his lederhosen - chasing her.... 

"Heidi! Wait for me!" And he raced up the hill with a half-dozen bleating goats in fast pursuit!

Then the image changed to that of an older version of the couple... Heidi, dazzlingly beautiful in her designer ski suit balancing on her skis... locked in a fervent embrace with the now tall, handsome ski instructor Peter, his tousled blonde hair shining like gold against the backdrop of white snow-capped mountains and greener than green pine trees. 

Their love is doomed though... he tells her he loves another... that paraplegic cousin of hers, Klara, actually holds his heart.. all this as he crushes her in his arms. She is devastated...she sobs and then runs down the mountain like
Maria in The Sound of Music and joins the local convent.

But wasn't that Austria??? I giggled to myself.

She sneezed again.

I smiled. "Bless you!"

Hands fluttered... head shook... rosary rattled.

"My silly nose! It itches at everything... even fresh air!"

She laughed. A girl's laugh. I wondered about nuns. This one next to me was definitely female. But all there was to prove her femininity was her face,
hands and voice. Otherwise, she may have been sexless.

Why?

Why be a nun???

Was she truly happy with this unnatural life? Or was her life natural and mine abnormal?

"Would you like a peppermint?"

She held a small pewter box in the palm of her hand. In it lay several small white peppermints.

"One of my vices, I'm afraid," smiled the nun ruefully, "Since I was a child, I have always loved peppermints!"

I thanked her and took one, popping it into my mouth. Thankful. Took away the need for a cigarette.

I felt uneasy. I wanted to chat - be friendly - but what could we talk about?
Finally...

"Er... Sister... is the Cape your home? I mean... is the... your convent there? Er... sorry don't know your name... Sister...?"

The smile was animated. She had truly beautiful teeth. I noticed too that her skin was flawless, unlined... awesome really... no late nights or tequila shots...

"Sister Anna Marie!" She bobbed her head. "No.. my home is the Ethembeni Home for Abandoned Children... in Vrededorp... I'm going to visit my sister. She is in Cape Town for a week.. from Zurich which is where she lives. I am going for a short visit - four, maybe five days."

So. Nuns had sisters. And brothers. And mothers and fathers. How on earth did they cope? Did they have to watch their words? Were they forever on guard as I was now?

"How nice" I smiled, "Have you seen her recently?"

She shook her wrapped-up head.

"No, not for seven years. It will be wonderful! I have counted the days and now, in a short while, I shall see her again! Oh I have missed her so!" Her eyes shone and she drew in a long happy breath.. She clasped her hands on her lap. Beautiful hands, long fingers, soft unblemished skin... where were the red chapped raw-skinned hands I thought all nuns possessed?

"And you... I do not know your name. Please? You are on holiday, yes?"
She beamed at me... blue, clear eyes.

I grinned and held out my hand. She clasped it in hers; a soft dove's hand.
"Melanie. Melanie de Vaal... and on holiday? No!"

My name meant nothing to her obviously. How could it? How could someone whose life existed in the safe confines of a cloister and the dormitories of the
abandoned children of Johannesburg possibly know about Melanie de Vaal?
I quite liked my sudden anonymity!

I glanced at the time on my slim gold Piaget watch and then suddenly felt ashamed of it. She had, after all, turned her back on such accoutrements of a past life probably never missed.

"I am going to Cape Town for a shoot...er....photography session... you know?? Fashion pictures - I am a fashion model." I felt uneasy again. Not respectful somehow, and I suddenly wished that I was sitting next to the knitting granny on the other side of the aisle. I thought about the skimpy swimwear I was about to wear for the clicking cameras and I felt my face redden. This was
ridiculous! I'd never been ashamed of my profession. Not until this moment. But the nun was smiling at me.

"Isn't that a coincidence?"

I was justifiably startled! What did that remark mean? What was a coincidence?

She beamed at me.

I beamed back, bemused. How weird... A model? 

"Margot, my sister... she is a wonderful model!"

How incredibly different the two sisters were. What extreme opposites. One taking a path to a life of flash bulbs, photographers and ratty agents, the other choosing a life of selfless devotion to her faith and charity. 

The little nun hunched up her shoulders and giggled proudly. "She is on the covers of many famous magazines!" Her eyes widened.  "She is on television programmes too... I have seen her...  modelling for the top fashion houses of
the world! My sisters - her eyes twinkled mischievously - I mean my sisters at the convent! We always try to watch Elsa Klensch on CNN... do you know her programme?"

I nodded, smiling at the adorable na´vetÚ of the nun.

"Just hoping that I can see where Margot is modelling today.. which part of the world she is in.."

Her voice trailed off as she became aware of the sudden excitement on my face.

"Margot Schmidt ? Is your sister Margot..."

The head bobbed up and down as the nun giggled, thrilled to bits with my reaction!

"The same! You know her?"

Who didn't? Margot Schmidt was Europe's top model. Known internationally and admired by every aspiring fashion model world-wide.

I squealed!

"She's here? I mean there? In Cape Town?"

She grinned. "Indeed! She will meet me at the airport! She is in Cape Town on holiday, not to work. I am glad! We shall have time to walk and talk and catch up on all the news! She is about to be married, and I shall be hearing all the wedding plans... all about home..."

I saw a brief hint of sadness as she spoke of home and guessed that the small nun would probably not be attending the family celebrations. How she must have longed to be there for the wedding of her famous sister! It would not happen, and so she was putting all her joy into seeing her sister for these precious few days in Cape Town. 

I sat back in my seat. The nun was lost in thought and I studied the small figure next to me. She obviously loved her chosen life. Her sister loved being a model. With the success she'd had, how could she not? Here were two sisters. One a model sister... one a sister model...

The plane touched down a while later and we walked together through the glass doors into the airport building. I towered above the small figure of the nun. Glancing down, I looked at her radiant face. She was almost bursting with excitement. 

From the milling crowd, the unbelievably beautiful Margot, dressed in a classically cut dove grey pants suit, pressed forward and with a squeal of joy flung her arms about her sister. Margot's long dark hair fell on the snow white cowl as the two sisters held each other close. 

I stood and watched, enjoying the reunion. Nearby, the knitting granny was being bowled over by three buxom grandchildren.

Family scenes.

Both of them.

Ordinary family scenes.

I turned finally and made my way to the luggage check-out. I was so deep in thought that I didn't notice Stephanie, over-ambitious Public Relations representative for the agency, rushing towards me, ever-present cell phone waving in the air as she sought to get my attention.

"Melanie DAAAAAAARLING!"

She offered both scented cheeks for the phoney "don't mess my make-up kiss kiss" women in my profession choose; I frowned inwardly.

"Lovely to see you! Have a good flight?" I looked back at the two sisters walking arm in arm, lost in quiet conversation. Margot had to stoop to have her head anywhere near that of her sister's.

"Melanie?"

I jumped!

"Oh! I am sorry, Steph... Did I have a good flight?"

I smiled.

"As a matter of fact, I did... I met an Angel on the way..." 

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