The setting is the same as in ‘cloning, a true story’ that boys’ boarding school run by monks and the following altercation at the stone staircase of the school was witnessed by the headmaster from the door to his office. The head, a Trappist with a sense of humour, related the story over and over and each time after the telling would add, ‘What’s said in the heat of the moment can be wonderful.’
Sister Rita was a French nun who despite many years in an English-speaking environment still spoke with a pronounced French accent, one of her few charms. To be fair to her, she couldn’t afford to be charming because as Head of Housekeeping her job demanded constant vigilance and discipline. She was a woman of moderate height and quite slim build, from some angles wraithlike but that appearance in no way reflected her steel will. Her dedicated team of window cleaners, furniture polishers, floor washers and table setters was far from dedicated to domesticity made up as it was of teenage boys from an orphanage, lads the monks were good enough to hire. After a few years working at the school many of them went on to be placed in the catering and hotel industry so their first employment while menial for the most part gave them a leg up in life and Sister Rita made sure those rough and ready lads appreciated the opportunity they were afforded.
The roughest of all was a stocky 16-year-old named Eddie, a habitual skiver who at every opportunity would sneak away for a drag behind the shed at the bottom of the vegetable garden and on more than one occasion was caught guzzling altar wine in the chapel. Sister Rita kept as sharp an eye on him as she could and on the morning of the altercation caught him sneaking down the stairs having abandoned his mop and bucket on the landing above. As he reached the bottom there she was and the surprise of seeing her stopped him dead.
‘Where do you think you’re going?’ she said. ‘Get up these stairs and wash the landing.’
‘It’s done,’ Eddie said.
‘No, it isn’t, I’ve been watching you. Up and wash.’
‘It’s done,’ he repeated.
‘Up and wash the landing, I won’t tell you again.’
‘I won’t,’ he said.
Sister Rita bristled; it was the first time Eddie had openly defied her and she wasn’t having it.
‘What did you say?’
‘You will do as you’re told.’
The exchanges became loud and rapid.
‘I fuckin’ well won’t.’
‘You fuckin’ well will.’
Headmaster always maintained the good sister didn’t realise what she’d said or if she did she showed no sign of it but Eddie certainly knew. He looked at her with saucer eyes and new-found respect, a woman who spoke his language, and took the stairs two at a time and began mopping with unaccustomed vigour. Sister Rita stood hands on hips at the foot of the stairs until he had quite finished and then satisfied he’d done what he was supposed to she glided down the corridor to the refectory to check that the tables were being properly set for lunch.