Magdela returned to the temple with her purse full of change. She was extremely proud as she trudged up the steps and waited her turn to Brother Michael’s office. She watched as he dumped the contents of her purse onto his desk and quickly estimated it’s worth. He shook his head.
“You must do better than that, Magdala, if we are to survive as a group. The money we send to the orphanages will be scant this week. The other members stay out until they have the pledged amount. Another thing, it has been brought to my attention that you have a vanity about your long hair. It must be cut so you will have no need to sin.
“Í asked the driver to bring us back early because Della has been so sick.” She hung her head in remorse. She didn’t want the poor orphaned children to suffer because of her. She had been here for a month and was constantly reminded she was not doing her share.
Brother Michael put his hand on her back and led her to the door. “I will forgive you this time, but next time there will be a punishment, we are having guests tonight. The evil on the outside has taken its toll on them. You may do a good turn for these brothers and sisters by teaching them some of the lessons you have learned.” He detained her for a moment before opening the door. “As for Della, I want you to leave that problem for me to take care of.” His face turned into hard lines as he spoke. Della is ill and needs attention. She will be taken care of. You must continue your work and put away any thought of her.”
In the lecture room she laid out pamphlets for the guests, pausing to read one. The inner peace she was experiencing was still new to her. Finally, she tore herself away and joined the others at supper. Tonight they shared oatmeal and as a special treat, they had brown sugar to sprinkle over it. In clear plastic cups, red punch added color to the meal.
From her seat she could hear Brother Michael scolding another member about his small contribution for the day. “Don’t you realize that our free life depends on your contributions so we might all be sheltered and fed?”
The young man’s voice was barely audible and she felt sorry for him. Strangely, there was no mention of orphans. She was momentarily distracted by Della who was hunched over the table, looking sick and faint. She put her arm around the girl who was drenched in perspiration. Della pushed Magdala’s hand away, and a cup of punch spilled across the table.
“Watch what you’re doing, you stupid slut,”’ Dorcas snapped and gave her a slap across the back of the head, sending her hair flying,
“Dorcas, can’t you see she is sick?” Magdala put her arm around Della protectively.
Dorcas grabbed Magdala’s hair and pulled her close. “You really don’t know what’s wrong with her, do you?”
Magdala felt the pull of her hair and winced with pain.
“Well, for one thing, she needs a fix. She’s a junkie. She’s been using her money to support her habit. When she came here she promised to quit, cold turkey but she never did. Now we’re all paying for it.” She pointed to the oatmeal.
“You said, ‘one thing.’ Is there something else wrong with her? She looks feverish.”
“I’ll say she is. You’re really a pretty dumb chick, you know. She was pregnant but she had an abortion.” She dropped the news and flounced off down the hall slamming the door so hard it was heard echoing through the hall.
Magdala sat in the kitchen for a long time after everyone had left. Dorcas was right. She was dumb. She had witnessed the morning sickness but never dreamed that Della had been pregnant. She tried to think, but her mind was as tired as her body. Soon her hair would be cropped like the other girls. She was expected to help with the guests so she rose from her chair. Passing the office she couldn’t help over hear the loud talking from inside.
“I won’t have her taking bread from our mouths.” Brother Michael’s voice rose above another voice.
Magdala lingered a moment. Then she slipped into the sleeping quarters where Della rolled on a cot. A small bell sounded as all were called to meet the guests. As she left Della was crying softly. It was a sound that would have moved Trish to tears, but not Magdala.