While The Twisted Circle is a work of fiction, it has been inspired by real events that occurred during my final year in a Catholic convent in my native land of Guyana. This presented a challenge when creating unique characters who did not mirror the true-life individuals. To distance myself from the protagonist, Sister Barbara Lovell, I made her a dougla—a person of African and East Indian ancestry, the country’s two major racial and ethnic populations. With a family background much different from mine, her journey led to its own resolution for the character.
Below is an excerpt from Chapter 1 when readers first meet Sister Barbara:
SISTER BARBARA LOVELL’S life was unraveling like the thread in the hem of her habit. Seated under the mid-morning September sky at the passengers’ waiting area at the Ogle Airstrip, she squeezed her thighs together and adjusted her habit hanging over her knees.
What had she done for Father Andrew Peterson to make his hands fast with her? She was just a plain dougla woman—a mixture of African and East Indian, descendants of slaves and indentured laborers fighting each other for supremacy in Guyana. Their thirteen-year-old independent nation still suffered from the hangover of British colonial rule.
Father Peterson, her parish priest and local-born son of a former British sugar plantation owner, was pale skinned like cow’s milk and tough like cane stalk. Her family had raised her to revere white priests like him.
Her Vow of Chastity was a personal choice. Perhaps, the same was not true for Father Peterson. Catholic Church law dictated that clergymen practice celibacy, yet the law did not stop him from forcing himself on her.
She tucked her sandaled feet beneath the three-seat wooden bench. Beside her on the left, Sister Angela, who had insisted on driving her to Ogle, chatted with a buxom, black woman. From snippets of their conversation, Barbara learned that the woman’s seventeen-year-old daughter had run off with a married man.
In her late forties, the white American nun had been her favorite teacher at St. John’s Catholic High School for girls. Those were the days before the government took over the church-run schools and turned them into co-ed public schools.
As a twelve-year-old in Form One, Barbara had difficulty understanding Sister Angela’s fast-spoken American English, different from British English. In the years that followed, the nun’s firm but kind and generous personality attracted her to joining the Religious Sisters of Christ the Redeemer—an American order with its Provincialate in Cleveland, Ohio.
Though Angela had become her religious mentor and friend, Barbara did not tell Angela what had driven her to move to their isolated sister-convent in Guyana’s North West District. Angela worshipped Father Peterson.
Only Hazel knew.
Seven years ago, in January 1972, she and Hazel, three years older, had entered the convent together. Hazel, too, had grown up in the countryside along the East Coast Demerara where sugarcane and rice lands jostled for sunshine and rain. As a black woman, Hazel understood how intimidating it was for Barbara to confront a white priest—and an older man at that.
Barbara wanted to report the incident to the Bishop; Hazel had disagreed.
“Anybody see him grab you?”
“Not that I know of.”
“Then is his word against yours. And you know, in this country, the white man tongue never lie, much less a priest.”
And so, it had remained their secret.
The antagonist, Sister Frances Adler, presented an even greater challenge: How to create a complex white American character that would resonate with white readers? As a student at the Catholic high school for girls, run by the nuns, I had had several American nuns as teachers. Moreover, I had lived among them in the convent during my seven years as a young religious in training. Understanding Frances’ motivations and aspirations was another matter. Once I had determined that the Vietnam War had impacted Frances’ life, I was able to unpeel the layers of her journey as a woman driven by her pain of loss and guilt.
Below is an excerpt from Chapter 3 when readers first meet Sister Frances:
SEATED AT HER desk, Sister Frances Adler stared at the flaky paint covering the fading gray wall of her room at the Santa Cruz convent. Repainting her room was out of the question. Their house superior, Beatrice, informed her that they had used up their Maintenance Account last year to repair the corrugated roof and clean the ten-foot-high, wooden cistern—their source of potable water.
She stared at the lined, yellow sheet of her writing pad—bare except for the date, September 5, 1979, and the words, Dear Aunt Mina. News had not been good from her father’s oldest sister in her hometown of Dayton, Ohio. Three months had passed since Aunt Mina’s youngest son, two years younger than her thirty-five years, had lost his job of over ten years at the steel company in Youngstown. Unable to compete with cheaper, imported, Chinese steel, the company was laying off workers by the hundreds. Her cousin had a wife and three kids, and a mortgage. What would become of them? She nibbled the back of her pen. She had written her Mother Provincial in Cleveland for help in finding him another job. Without a response, she couldn’t give Aunt Mina any hope.
“Sister, the plane just fly over,” Teresa shouted from the other side of her bedroom door. Their young Amerindian housemaid assisted with cooking and housecleaning.
Severe weather often delayed the once-weekly air service from the capital. The sound of the aircraft overhead on route to Mabaruma meant the flight was on time.
Going downstairs to the first floor, Frances bounded down another two steps to the kitchen where she grabbed the car keys, hanging on a hook near the back door.
“I’m off to get Barbara,” Frances told Gregoria, who was preparing lunch with Teresa.
The sixty-eight-year-old retired nun and former headmistress of the Santa Cruz Primary School didn’t like her. Pure jealousy of a woman passed her prime.
Skipping down the backstairs, she passed Rosario filling a bucket of water at the cistern. When Rosario wasn’t in the chapel praying for all God’s children, the diminutive, seventy-year-old Amerindian nun spent her days caring for her beloved chickens, turkeys, and kitchen garden. Frances bobbed along the concrete path to the garage under the wooden, two-story building standing above her on eight-foot-high wooden pillars.
Their four-wheel Suzuki light jeep was well suited to the unpaved, red sandstone road, connecting Santa Cruz Amerindian village with the Mabaruma Township. To remind herself to drive on the left side of the road, she had taped an arrow pointing to the left on the lower end of the windscreen. She rarely passed other cars or trucks on the road; the majority were government-owned. The Amerindians traveled on foot and by dugout canoes, called corials.
The list of all the major and minor characters featured in The Twisted Circle are available at my author’s website https://www.rosalienebacchus.com/the-characters-of-the-twisted-circle.html