Cricket provided a Slice Of Life prompt that really appealed to me this week – a naughty moment of my youth.
I thought of a few things initially, like the time I snogged Johnny James behind the chemistry lab when I was sixteen or when I was fourteen and had a crush (along with the rest of the girls in my class) on Mr. Wright, the economics teacher. We wrote Love You on our eyelids (just like in Raiders of the Lost Ark when the students are in love with Indiana Jones) and closed our eyes whenever he looked at us; but sadly, he chose not to notice.
The naughty moment I’d really like to talk about, however, occurred when I was much younger. I was eight years old. I was in Sister Felicita’s class. One thing I remember about her – apart from her kindness – was her striking red hair, tendrils of which used to slip from beneath her habit from time to time. It was a burnished orange, so striking against her pale skin. I imagined she was a nun by day, a heroine in a Medieval romance novel by night.
Sister Felicita had a garden near the music rooms. She grew the most amazing flowers and herbs, but the thing I remember the most were her redcurrant and blackberry bushes.
I am a berry fiend. Give me a berry, any type of berry, and I’m anyone’s. For those of you who also like berries you will know that nothing compares to a berry that is freshly-picked from the garden. It is succulent, sweet and juicy – and impossible to stop at one.
Sister Felicita liked me. She thought I was dependable. She awarded me the coveted role of watering the plants in her garden, letting me leave ten minutes before lunch to do so. I was delighted, taking the role and myself very seriously.
For an entire month I was the perfect little garden attendant. And then the blackberries began to bloom, bursting forth like little purple bubbles, filling the garden with the scent of summer pudding and just baked jam sponge.
I tried to resist, I really did. I watered the blackberry bushes first, barely looking at them, then rushed to the other side of the garden, trying to pretend there were no berries in sight.
A few bees gathered, dancing around the ripened fruit. Little birds pecked and nibbled. I didn’t want to eat the berries. I knew that Sister Felicita saved them to make jam for the people in the Retirement Home down the road. Her jams were famous. When she had a stall for Market Day people came from miles around, pushing and jostling. A Little Piece of Heaven in Every Jar was her slogan.
I didn’t want to eat the berries but I couldn’t help myself. Ever wondered what ambrosia tastes like? It is like the first mouthful of those berries – a lingering, luscious, uplifting sweetness.
For five days I gorged myself, saying extra prayers for all the orphans and sick children in the world in an attempt to absolve my sins. I thought I had got away with it but what I didn’t realise was that eating enormous handfuls of redcurrants and blackberries every day for five days leaves a slight tinge of purple shadow on your hands no matter how much you wash them.
At the end of the week Sister Felicita made an announcement. ‘Someone’s been eating my berries,’ she said with all the flourish the Three Bears must have had when they accused Goldilocks of eating their porridge. ‘Hold out your hands children.’ (Sister Felicita was obviously an old campaigner when it came to nailing berry thieves. She knew straight away the culprit’s hands would be stained purple).
We held out our hands. She walked around the room, pausing at every desk. She cleared her throat when she got to me, regarding me with a wry smile, but she said nothing. There I was caught red-handed, caught berry-handed, but she let me off.
I’ll never forget the sense of relief that swept over me, the thankfulness. Sister Felicita had every right to chastise me, to make an example of me, but she chose not to. Her kindness has stayed with me to this day. I tended her garden thereafter with the dedication of a botanist. Sister Felicita’s berries thrived, filling the garden with joy and colour. And I didn’t eat a single one ever again.