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The Fighting Nun

By Len ShermanPublished 2 years ago 12 min read

An old man sat on a bench feeding a flock of pigeons that had gathered at his feet. As he looked at the hungry birds scurrying around on the grass, their heads bobbing up and down as they pecked at the dried breadcrumbs, he noticed a boy looking at him. At first, he thought nothing of it but then, after a little closer observation, realized that the inquisitive boy reminded him of himself when he was around the age of ten. Times were tough then. The Second World War was still in progress and living in the small town of Penarth, Wales, nestled on the northwestern shores of Bristol Channel, the explosions of the Germans bombing Cardiff, only a short distance away, could often be heard.

Such a long, long time ago; seventy-four years to be precise—right to the day—his birthday, one he would never forget because it was the day he experienced a miracle, at least in his mind, he’d experienced a miracle. Although he’d had some memorable birthdays during his life, the one that always stood out the most was his tenth. Like a beacon in the night, the memory of that day still shone brightly in his mind.

The day had begun like most days, and he smiled as he remembered walking to school with his friends while playing “Step on a crack, break your mother’s back!” The distance to school was about six blocks away and as they walked or ran along the sidewalks, they had to watch where they stepped because for every line or crack in the concrete they stepped on, it was a point against them, the one with the least amount of points winning the game.

The old man remembered not waiting for his friends after school. He had been so excited that as soon as the bell rang to dismiss classes for the day, he ran home as fast as his legs would carry him. Although he was happy he also felt sad because his father wouldn’t be home—he’d been one of the first casualties of the war—the bomber in which he’d been part of the crew had been shot down over the English Channel and was never seen or heard from again. When he arrived at the small flat located in a large apartment complex, after racing up the stairs two at a time and bursting through the door, everything was as he had imagined. Dinner would soon be ready, and a small cake was sitting in the center of the kitchen table. Recalling his mother’s smiling face, tears welled up in the old man’s eyes and he hugged himself as if once again trying to imagine her heart-warm embrace. The chocolate cake, his favorite, had ten small wax candles implanted in the thick chocolate icing waiting to be lit. His mother was about to strike a match and light the candles when the air-raid sirens began loudly wailing. Looking upwards, listening for planes overhead, she told him the cake would have to wait. Although he insisted that she light the candles, let him quickly blow them out and make a wish, she told him to get his coat. As they rushed towards the door, his mother grabbed a small bag of useful items, which would be needed during their wait in the air-raid shelter a couple of blocks away. He swore at the Germans under his breath for interrupting his special moment as they ran down the stairs and out the door. About to continue running down the street to the shelter, his mother told him to wait on the sidewalk because she had forgotten her purse in all the excitement.

Air raid sirens were bellowing like angry bulls while many people ran past him towards the safety of the air-raid shelter. Up till then, he hadn’t been afraid but when he heard a plane screaming out of the sky, he watched in horror as a German Messerschmitt Bf 109 strafed the roadway with machine gun bullets and dropped a single bomb. Unaware of the bullets zinging by him, as if in a hypnotic trance, he watched the bomb sail towards their home. He couldn’t remember the explosion, the building immediately disintegrating upon contact or being knocked across the street up against a building by its force, everything happened so quickly. As he sat on the sidewalk, his legs splayed out in front of him and his ears ringing from the loud explosion, particles of their home and other’s homes were still falling around and on top of him. He knew from the remnants of the completely obliterated building that it was useless to yell for his mother, but he didn’t care. He stood up and yelled as loud as he could, hoping with all his might that she would answer. And then, thinking a miracle was occurring, he saw a woman running towards him through the cloud of dense smoke and dust. He couldn’t suppress his smile because she looked rather comical the way her clothes flapped like the wings of a gigantic blackbird with every step she took towards him, but it wasn't his mother.

Because of the woman's odd looking wardrobe, he began to feel afraid because she looked like a black angel shot from the bowels of hell coming to fetch him. For a brief moment, he wondered if he’d been killed. When the woman arrived, as terrified as he felt, he was hoping she would help search for his mother because surely, she was still alive. She had to be, she was his everything. However, when he felt the stranger grab his hand and told him he had to leave, at this terrible moment, he somehow knew his mother was gone forever. Reluctantly, he ran hand in hand with the stranger, constantly looking over his shoulder at the blazing rubble of his home with lingering hopes that his mother might still emerge from the ashes like a Phoenix. When he realized they were running away from the safety of the air-raid shelter, he began to worry.

Wracked with confusion from the recent blast and sudden loss of his mother, he wondered who this unusual looking woman was and where she was taking him? He was surprised he hadn’t refused holding her hand and that he wasn’t crying or afraid when she said, “I’m Sister Michael. Everything will be fine. I’m taking you someplace safe.”

On and on they fled, until they arrived at a large iron gate. As they headed towards a flight of stairs leading to the front door, he hadn’t given any thought to the Penarth Orphanage sign attached to the gate nor the soldier standing in a jeep aiming a mounted Vickers machine gun at an attacking Messerschmitt. Sister Michael had barely opened the door, pushed him inside and told him to run down the hall to a set of stairs leading into the basement, when he heard the loud whine of a diving fighter plane. The sounds of the machine guns were deafening as the two enemies fired at one other, the Messerschmitt’s bullets pinging off the jeep and riddling the soldier’s body.

As soon as the nun shut the door, to this day, he still didn’t know why he hadn’t done as she had asked. He had instead, stood at the door, looked through the window and watched her run towards the jeep. He was surprised when she grabbed the dead soldier’s bloody body by the arm and tossed him to the ground like a limp sack of potatoes; her action not appearing to be that of a caring nun. And what was even more amazing, just before she took the dead soldier’s place behind the machine gun, she looked him straight in the eyes and smiled, not a gleeful smile but a smile that told him everything would be alright. Then, aiming the Vickers machinegun towards the diving Messerschmitt, the plane’s bullets tracing a path towards the jeep, she opened fire. Noticing a stream of smoke billowing from the plane’s fuselage, he remembered yelling, “Hooray!” until he saw that the nun had been wounded, the side of her head was drenched in blood.

Although Sister Michael had one eye shut from the blood cascading off her brow, he remembered noticing that neither she nor the German pilot refused to give in; they were determined, at any cost, to continue their deadly duel.

Machineguns blazing, they continued to shoot it out until the Messerschmitt exploded just before hitting the ground, and what was odd, the moment just before the explosion, the smoke had parted briefly and he caught a glimpse of the pilot through the shattered windshield. The pilot was looking at the sign and appeared to be smiling, a smile of relief as if he was glad that he hadn’t dropped a bomb on the orphanage. Stunned by the odd and confusing expression of a man about to die, he hadn’t thought to take cover as one of the Messerschmitt’s wings cartwheeling through the air smashed into the brick building close to the door. Whether he was still in shock from experiencing the pilot’s odd smile or the blood trickling down his face caused by the shards of broken glass when the window shattered, it wasn’t until he saw the flaming wreckage of the plane summersaulting upon impact, the tail end about to land on top of the jeep—he ducked—the idea of seeing the nun, his savior being killed was more than he wished to witness.

The old man remembered how sad he’d felt when he looked once again at the burning wreckage of the Messerschmitt and the jeep, the remaining machinegun ammunition randomly exploding because of the intense heat. Neither the nun nor the pilot could been seen within the fiery inferno and even afterwards, when the fires had been extinguished, the smoke had dissipated and the metal had cooled to touch, not a trace of the victims were visible—except—lying on the scorched ground beside the destroyed jeep, he found a small partial string of beads he presumed were Sister Michael’s rosary beads. They were still warm from the fire as he knotted the two ends of the frayed string together and placed the beads in his jacket pocket. He was saddened by the loss of Sister Michael and confused by the smile of the German pilot, who appeared to die happy. He often wondered about the pilot because although he was considered the enemy, didn’t mean he had no humanity.

The boy hadn’t been the only person to observe the nun tackling the Messerschmitt. Those who had chosen to remain at home, rather than flee to the nearby air-raid shelter, had also witnessed the action. Although many described seeing Sister Michael’s long, raven black hair flowing around her blood-spattered habit and streaming down one side of her face, they also mentioned the black robe she was wearing. They all insisted adamantly, since there was no wind blowing that day, it wasn’t her robe that was flapping but two large black wings. When it was discovered that no one at Penarth Orphanage or the nearby Catholic Church knew anything about the mysterious nun, many people believed her to be none other than Saint Michael as described in the Holy Bible, Daniel 12:1, “the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people”. They were convinced he had arrived in the form of a nun to save the children in the orphanage and they had indeed witnessed a miracle.

He remembered being questioned by a Catholic Church representative from the Vatican and the press, when they heard the rumors that Sister Michael had brought him to the Penarth Orphanage during an air-raid. The church had wanted to declare that the event had truly been a miracle and the nun was none other than Saint Michael but they were very dismayed when she was portrayed in the newspapers: The Fighting Nun Blasts Satan Out of the Heavens. He could have told them more than he had about Sister Michael but upon remembering the German pilot, he somehow felt that the event was more about the three of them and all the children living in the orphanage because she hadn’t just saved his life but their lives as well. Over the years, he had always been puzzled by that mysterious event and wondered if the Messerschmitt German pilot had strayed from Cardiff and perhaps mistook the orphanage as a place of military importance because he saw a jeep with a mounted machine gun parked in front of it

The old man’s thoughts of long ago were interrupted by a sharp pain in his chest and he set the bag of remaining breadcrumbs down beside him on the park bench. Gazing around, he lifted his hand and feebly waved in the boy’s direction.

Thinking the old man was motioning to come feed the pigeons, the boy suddenly felt a hand on his shoulder. Looking up, he was surprised to see a woman with a scar on her face that cut through one eyebrow and ended at her hairline, before zigzagging like a lightning bolt through her long, black wavy hair. When she smiled at him, he knew that he was meant to stay where he was as she walked towards the old man slouched on the bench, one hand still clutching his chest.

When the striking woman, dressed in black, sat down next to the old man, he looked at her, smiled and then said, “I knew you would come.”

Just as the old man and woman stood up and began slowly walking away hand in hand, the boy heard his mother calling his name. By the time he looked over his shoulder and then back towards the bench, the old man and the woman had disappeared. Where had they gone so quickly, he thought? As hard as he looked, they were nowhere to be seen. Noticing the bag of breadcrumbs still sitting on the bench, since the pigeons hadn’t left, he decided to feed them. However, when he opened the bag and placed his hand inside, he was amazed to find, instead of breadcrumbs, a tiny strand of beads, the frayed ends of the string knotting them together.

fact or fiction

About the Creator

Len Sherman

I'm a published author/artist but tend to think of myself as a doodler\dabbler. I've sailed the NW Passage & wrote & illustrated a book, ARCTIC ODYSSEY. Currently, I live on 50 semi wilderness acres & see lots of wild critters in the yard.

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