It was 6 in the evening when Sr. Goretti entered one of the dimly lit bathing rooms which were built in a long row. The thunder showers of October were just over and it was dark. The Septuagenarian sister Goretti pulled the tin door behind her and sent the hook latch home with a flip of her fingers. She then started discarding layers of clothes, something she hated doing. She flung them one by one on the thin line stretched across the corner opposite the door. When it came to the chemise, she hesitated. In her early days in the convent, the chemise was supposed to remain on the body during the bathing act, but over years the unwritten law was put in place that nudity during the act of bathing was not that unpardonable a deed.
She pulled the chemise over her head, flung it over the other clothes and was about to reach for the aluminium mug when she felt a movement under the line where she had put her clothes. Sister Goretti looked in the direction of the sound and she froze!
There, with its head almost touching her long outer habit which hung from the line, was a cobra, its hood spread wide and eyes looking at her with that classic aloofness.
Unlatch the door and jump out, natural instincts told her.
Oh God, How can you, nurture admonished. What, run out in this state of undress in full view of all those novices and aspirants, and also the man who comes to clean the cowshed? No way Goretti.
Goretti’s face became hard. Of course she remained absolutely immobile while these thoughts chased each other in her mind, for she knew the slightest movement and the snake would strike.
She looked venomously at the snake. You vile creature, she thought. Eve fell into your deadly trap and all mankind is still paying for it. But you shall not tempt this Goretti. No you ugly serpent, history shall not repeat. I will not let down my saviour.
And thus stood the serpent in all its crowning glory and Goretti in all her shrivelled nudity, staring at each other, totally immobile.
Oh saints in heaven, help me. How can I make an honourable exit from this wretched bathing room, wailed Sister Goretti while she continued to look with defiant hatred and steely determination into the slanted eyes of the tempter.
More time passed. No miracle happened. Even making a lightning grab for her chemise would provoke the snake and it would strike, she knew. Oh God, I’d be found dead in the bathroom with not a stitch on, she thought distressfully.
Naked I came into the world and naked shall I return thither, came a voice from somewhere deep within her.
Away Satan, she thought. Angrily. So this is what’s called the devil quoting the Bible.
All you saints n heaven, have you forsaken me? she pleaded.
And lo and behold, there appeared in the periphery of her vision a tall new broom, in the corner near the door, just a few inches from her reach.
And then everything happened in a flash. Sister Goretti reached for the broom, the snake struck, missed and the broom came crashing on its head, again and again and again till the magnificent hood was a pulpy mess. Sister Goretti looked at it triumphantly, and snorted with supreme contempt, “What you wretched creature? Did you forget i was named after Maria Goretti, the very epitome of chastity and virtue!” She smirked at the mess and then retched all over the bathing room.
To date, that little convent in the watery Kuttanad sings the praises of brave Sister Goretti.