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Sands of Time(13)
Author: Sidney Sheldon

Their reactions to the friar were mixed. Graciela dared not look directly at him; Megan studied him with quick, interested glances; and Sister Teresa regarded him as a messenger sent by God who would lead them to the convent at Mendavia.

Friar Carrillo said, "The men who attacked the convent will undoubtedly keep searching for you. But they will be looking for four nuns. The first thing you must do is change your clothing."

Megan reminded him, "We have no clothes to change into."

Friar Carrillo gave her a beatific smile. "Our Lord has a very large wardrobe. Do not worry, my child. He will provide. Let us go back into town."

It was two o'clock in the afternoon, siesta time, and Friar Carrillo and the four sisters walked down the main street of the village, alert for any signs of their pursuers. The shops were closed, but the restaurants and bars were open and from them they could hear strange music issuing, hard, dissonant, and raucous-sounding.

Friar Carrillo saw the look on Sister Teresa's face. "That's rock and roll," he said. "Very popular with the young these days."

A pair of young women standing in front of one of the bars stared at the nuns as they passed. The nuns stared back, wide-eyed, at the strange clothing the pair wore. One wore a skirt so short it barely covered her thighs, and the other wore a longer skirt that was split up to the sides of her thighs. Both wore tight knitted bodices with no sleeves.

They might as well be naked, Sister Teresa thought, horrified.

In the doorway stood a man who wore a turtleneck sweater, a strange-looking jacket without a collar, and a jeweled pendant.

Unfamiliar odors greeted the nuns as they passed a bodega. Nicotine and whiskey.

Megan was staring at something across the street. She stopped.

Friar Carrillo said, "What is it? What's the matter?" He turned to look.

Megan was watching a woman carrying a baby. How many years had it been since she had seen a baby, or even a small child? Not since the orphanage, fourteen years ago. The sudden shock made Megan realize how far her life had been removed from the outside world.

Sister Teresa was staring at the baby too, but she was thinking of something else. It's Monique's baby. The baby across the street was screaming. It's screaming because I deserted it. But no, that's impossible. That was thirty years ago. Sister Teresa turned away, the baby's cries ringing in her ears. They moved on.

They passed a motion-picture theater. The marquee read Three Lovers, and the photographs displayed showed skimpily clad women embracing a bare-chested man.

"Why, they're - they're almost naked!" Sister Teresa exclaimed.

Friar Carrillo frowned. "Yes. It's disgraceful what the cinema is permitted to show these days. That movie is pure pornography. The most personal and private acts are there for everyone to see. They turn God's children into animals."

They passed a hardware store, a hairdressing salon, a flower shop, a candy store, all closed for the siesta, and at each shop the sisters stopped and stared at the windows, filled with once-familiar, faintly remembered artifacts.

When they came to a women's dress shop, Friar Carrillo said, "Stop."

The shades were pulled down over the front windows and a sign on the front door said CLOSED.

"Wait here for me, please."

The four women watched as he walked to the corner and turned out of sight. They looked at one another blankly. Where was he going, and what if he did not return?

A few minutes later, they heard the sound of the front door of the shop opening, and Friar Carrillo stood in the doorway, beaming. He motioned them inside. "Hurry."

When they were all in the store and the friar had locked the door, Lucia asked, "How did you - ?"

"God provides a back door as well as a front door," the friar said gravely. But there was an impish edge to his voice that made Megan smile.

The sisters looked around the shop in awe. The store was a multicolored cornucopia of dresses and sweaters, bras and stockings, high-heeled shoes and boleros. Objects they had not seen in years. And the styles seemed so strange. There were purses and scarves and compacts and blouses. It was all too much to absorb. The women stood there, gaping.

"We must move quickly," Friar Carrillo warned them, "and leave before siesta is over and the store reopens. Help yourselves. Choose whatever fits you."

Lucia thought: Thank God I can finally dress like a woman again. She walked over to a rack of dresses and began to sort through them. She found a beige skirt and a tan silk blouse to go with it. It's not Balenciaga, but it will do for now. She picked out panties and a bra and a pair of soft boots, then stepped behind a clothes rack, stripped, and in a matter of minutes was dressed and ready to go.

The others were slowly selecting their outfits.

Graciela chose a white cotton dress that set off her black hair and dark complexion, and a pair of sandals.

Megan chose a patterned blue cotton dress that fell below the knees and low-heeled shoes.

Sister Teresa had the most difficult time choosing something to wear. The array of choices was too dazzling. There were silks and flannels and tweeds and leather. There were cottons and twills and corduroys, and there were plaids and checks and stripes of every color. And they all seemed - skimpy was the word that came to Sister Teresa's mind. For the past thirty years she had been decently covered by the heavy robes of her calling. And now she was being asked to shed them and put on these indecent creations. She finally selected the longest skirt she could find, and a long-sleeved, high-collared cotton blouse.

Friar Carrillo urged, "Hurry, Sisters. Get undressed and change."

They looked at one another in embarrassment.

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