It turns out that the school was upstairs in this same building. All of the teachers were in the black outfits, and we had already met them. Each classroom had a solid door, and contained a flat table, which the students sat around on furniture. The walls had the same morbid decorations as the house below us. The teacher said things, and the students repeated what the teacher said. However, they didn’t speak English — the language of the group of aliens closest to us, nor did they speak our language. Really, with all this copying of each other, I wondered how anyone had the initiative to commit a murder!
At this point, it was clear that the investigation was going nowhere. I asked for information about the parents of these children; perhaps they could be of more assistance. Of course, Sr. Margaret James — who turned out to be in charge of the school — balked. I reminded her that we were investigating an untimely death, not their educational practices.
Daria and I left the building and headed for the first house on the list. It wasn’t far — especially the way Daria drives. I still didn’t understand why they needed all this … space. Only one family lived in each home (aside from the convent), and the homes were far apart.
It was weird dealing with these people. The one who answered the door was about the size of a young adolescent. Her hair was uncovered, but we tried not to look. She also wore clothes that were snug, form-fitting, but they looked like they were originally made from our fabrics and she just modified them. “I’m Pyan and this is Daria. We’re from the New Baty Legal Team. May we come in?”
She looked at each of us, and then pointed inside. I took this to mean we were invited in. This house also had no quilts on the wall, but rather flat pictures that I couldn’t figure out. Art is definitely cultural, I guess. This house was cluttered as well. She motioned for us to sit on something that stood on the floor, but didn’t offer us a beverage or any other refreshment.
“This morning, we were called to …” I looked at my notes. “We were called to the Mother Marianne of Molokai Convent. One of the sisters, Sr. Evangeline was found dead on the floor, and it looked as though foul play was involved. We understand you have two children who go to her school. What can you tell us about her?”
The woman did not look like self-control was coming easily. Finally she spoke. “I’m sure you have heard how sweet and wonderful Sr. Evangeline is … was … already.” She looked at both of us. “It’s nonsense.”
“She was awful. All the kids hated her. She wouldn’t let them past her in the hall unless she gave them a cheerful greeting. Then she’d say ‘See how the children love me! They greet me each morning!’ Really, she was awful. And don’t let them fool you; the nuns all hated her, too!”
“You’re saying that none of them liked her?”
“Only Sr. Margaret James. That was a really weird relationship. But no, if you’re looking for a list of people who didn’t like Sr. Evangeline, that would be just about everybody.”
OK, this was a bit of a jump, going from no suspects to everyone being a suspect. “Really, though, you should talk to Mrs. Argyoswami. She’s the parent liaison with the school. She’s the bridge between the parents and the Sisters.” Then the woman stood up and made it clear the visit was over.
It wasn’t easy following the English language street signs, but eventually we found Mrs. Argyoswami. Like the woman before her, her head was uncovered, but she quickly covered it when she saw who we were. She let us in and offered us a hot beverage.
I asked about the school first. After all, these children were going to be part of our future too, not just the human’s future. How were they going to turn out? How were they going to participate in our society?
“Have you been to the school?” Mrs. Argyoswami asked. “Have you seen them teach?”
“Well, we were inside. Your schools are clearly different from ours.” How else was I supposed to put it?
“No, ours aren’t supposed to be like that either. Really. When we still had freedom, Catholic schools were good schools. They were an important part of our faith culture, and when they were all closed, we were devastated. We had been going to Catholic schools for generations. So when we had a chance to come here and start over, or escape, we took it. Imagine our delight when a group of nuns wanted to come as well! We could continue our tradition of sending our children to Catholic schools, and it would be as though nothing changed. We were so wrong.”
“Well, we were so desperate that we never checked them out. We’d forgotten, and so we thought nuns were nuns. We get here, and discover that we’re in a group that somehow decided the downfall of our culture was the liberals, the changes. So they decided that everything would be in Latin, and rote memorization. That’s when you just say back stuff, but you don’t really learn anything that way.” Daria relaxed a little. She agreed with that, and perhaps found a glimmer of hope that this bunch wasn’t so ignorant. I wasn’t ready to make that leap yet.
“So then, why don’t you send your children to a real school? Why not send them to the school that they’re legally required to attend?”
“They have this whole guilt thing going. Really, it makes sense when you think about it. They came to staff schools and continue the faith. How does it look if everyone refuses to go to those schools? See, they were planning to have a new generation of girls wanting to become nuns and carrying on their work. Of course, none of the children would even remotely consider such a thing after spending one day at their school!” She paused. “You know, though, if the Sisters themselves closed the school, that would be different. We’d be free to send our children to school anywhere else.”
Ahh, so parents, students, and nuns all had a motive. “Are there any people in your group — um, humans — who don’t send their children to that school?”
“Sure. Not everyone who came was Catholic. People with no religion at all wanted to escape just as much as we did! You can talk to Mrs. Loomis next door.”
We thanked Mrs. Argyoswami and took our leave. It was nearly mealtime. I wanted to get back to the normal world, but Daria knew she’d have a hard time dragging me back here, so we decided to meet with Mrs. Loomis first.
Mrs. Loomis had a darker color skin than the women we’d met so far, even darker than Mrs. Argyoswami. I guess I never noticed that there was variety among the humans. She covered her head before answering the door. I suspected this because she had the hook next to the door, just as the rest of us do, so that we can put on our scarf before going outside.
Her home was less alien than the others. It wasn’t cluttered with furniture, and there were quilts hanging on the walls in all the usual places to hide plates and pots in the kitchen, the bathroom exit, and the place where clothing was stored. She smiled when she saw us notice the blankets. “These quilts were in my family for years, and I had to bring them with me. Now I’m glad I did!” She pointed out how the different patterns had different meanings, not unlike some of our own. I was much more relaxed here.
We told her about the apparent murder of Sr. Evangeline, and asked if she could shed any light on the topic. “Yeah, she was nasty. I kept telling Gita — Mrs. Argyoswami, that she should just pull her kids out of that school. They aren’t learning anything there except how to be depressed. It’s a dreadful place there!” I certainly wasn’t going to argue with that! “My kids go to your school. We call it Gregory Frost Elementary because we can’t pronounce your name for it, really. But the kids who go there are becoming bilingual, and they seem happy enough. Not like that dreadful convent school.”
“Do you have any experience with nuns? Knowing the culture more than we do, do you have any reason to believe that one nun would kill off another, or would it more likely be an outsider?”
“Well, I didn’t have that much experience with them back home, but this group? Yeah, why not? They have all these awful pictures on the wall, Christ’s agony and stuff. How can you live with that every day and not be affected by it? But that doesn’t mean that no one else could have done it. They weren’t cloistered, per se. They could leave when they wanted to, even though it didn’t happen much. Still, they did have dealings with the rest of us, and they didn’t make a ton of friends among the non-Catholics!”
“How do you mean?”
“Well, they tried to make the Catholics feel guilty. They tried to make them think that if they’d really been good Catholics, the bad times wouldn’t have come and they could still be on Earth. For the rest of us, they blamed us too. They said that if we’d fought to keep public schools secular, we could still be home too. None of it’s their fault, of course. They think they’re going straight to heaven when they die. Somehow, I rather suspect that Sr. Evangeline went to the Smoking Section of eternity, instead.”
“Never mind. It means that if she’s actually face to face with God, it isn’t a happy meeting!” That I could understand. I wasn’t sure Sophia would be all that cheerful about Sr. Evangeline treated other people, especially children. Then again, I wasn’t very sure that the nun was treating herself all that well either, surrounding herself with dour pictures and dour people.
We thanked the woman and returned to the sled. It was definitely time to get back to our own world, and eat! This time I was perfectly OK with Daria driving quickly, and in a short time we were back where we belonged.