Lots and Lots of Sugar: A Memoir of South Africa
sea fishing expeditions. The priest had put him in touch with two nuns who were traveling on the same train to a
destination not too far from that of the girls'. Fred felt satisfied that they would be well taken care of.
“You'll be sharing the compartment with two very nice ladies on your trip to school,” he had told them, “and
remember, Maria,—pure language!” he reminded, despite Nanny Dora's theory.
• • •
Fully expecting then that two very nice, ordinary ladies would join them in their compartment at the next train
stop, they were taken aback when first one, then another figure, shrouded from head to foot in black
ecclesiastical attire, each with a cane, entered the narrow door of the train compartment. The girls' eyes
widened and a look of awe and disbelief crossed their faces. Taking in the winged hoods and long, voluminous
habits that floated around these „ladies', the girls were dumbfounded. They had only ever observed nuns from a
great distance and, as with most things unfamiliar, nuns had always been surrounded by deep mystery and very
The Sisters set down their bags and ran their fingers along the table, the bunks and the window ledges of the
compartment as though they were exploring the texture of the surroundings.
“Crimeny!” exclaimed Maria right into Rene's ear, “what's this!”
“Maria! Don't swear!” admonished Rene in a whisper, “They're just nuns. Maybe they're looking for
something,” — but to herself she thought: „I've always known nuns are not ordinary people. What's this
„feeling around' thing they're doing?'
“Well, this is it!” announced one robed figure to the other, as if satisfied.
„This is what?' panicked Maria and to Rene she whispered:
“Jeezy-wizz, Rene! … are they really gonna stay?”
“Maria! …Stop it!” said Rene, Nanny Dora's Bible teachings coming clearly to mind, then added: “Nanny Dora
said never to use the Lord's vein in His name!”
“I didn't either use His vein in my name, Rene! … „Jeezy-wizz' isn't really saying „Jesus', … but look, they're
so scary! What do you think they'll do to us,” Maria whispered wide eyed, shrinking back into the farthest
corner of the compartment.
Rene gave Maria a sidelong glance and rolled her eyes. Maria could tell by this familiar gesture from her older
sister that she shared her fears exactly. „Oh dear Lordy me, it's really bad! After all, Rene is a whole year older
and she's very smart. If she's afraid, it must be we're in big trouble!' she thought, moving closer to Rene.
“Maria, you must behave and be very good,” warned Rene in a whisper, “nuns aren't real people and they'll
witch you if you're bad!”
“Good evening, girls,” said the old, tall, scariest nun brightly, inclining her head toward the girls but staring
“Good evening, Miss … er … I mean Nun … I mean Miss Nun,” stammered Rene awkwardly. Turning beet
red, she fidgeted nervously with the ribbon that tied one of Maria's long braids. Maria was speechless. She
wasn't planning on saying anything at all right then!
“I'm Sister Agatha,” said the tall, scary nun turning in the girls' direction still staring straight over their heads.
“So, … we're going to be traveling together!”
“And I'm Sister Gretchen,” stated the smaller, less scary one with the same blank look.
The Sisters of course knew all about the girls from the information given them by Fred. Attempting to set them
at ease, they addressed the girls as adults always seem to do, starting with the usual „what's your name'
question (even when they know a child's name.)
“What are your names?” queried Sister Gretchen, keeping her eyes focused oddly overhead.