Old Habits

Sister Shirley shuts the door quietly, leaving two worshippers kneeling in the tiny convent chapel, braced against the cold. It’s an early September morning in Elmore, a small town in rural Australia. Outside the spring sunshine wipes frost from the grass and dances across the chapel’s stained glass windows. Inside the night chill remains undisturbed and hangs like icicles from the ceiling. The doorbell rings. Sister Shirley returns to the room with a third churchgoer. Dressed habit to toe in cornflower blue, she moves around the chapel setting up for mass with purpose that defies her years.

Taking her regular seat, she closes her eyes in meditative silence. At the stroke of 8am, the priest emerges from a side room and takes his place at the pulpit in front the congregation of five. Unperturbed by the small turnout, Sister Shirley leads the small group through mass with an easy confidence, pronouncing words carefully and clearly through a clipped accent, evidence of many years abroad. After mass, the smell of coffee and fruit bread promises to settle the grumbling stomachs. The décor of the formal dining room transports the room and its occupants back to a time before flat screen televisions and IKEA. As the morning sun climbs steadily the group chat over breakfast, the conversation intercepted only by Sister Shirley´s infectious chuckle.

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