Shopaholic Takes Manhattan

Page 23

She stares at me as though I’m speaking gibberish, and I realize she’s probably been in the convent so long, she doesn’t know what The Sound of Music is.

“There was this film…” I start to explain. Then it occurs to me, maybe she doesn’t know what a film is, even. “It’s like, moving pictures,” I say carefully. “You watch it on a screen. And there was this nun called Maria…”

“We have a shop,” interrupts the nun urgently. “A shop. What about that?”

A shop! For a moment I feel all excited, and want to ask what they sell. But then I remember the promise I made to Suze.

“I can’t,” I say regretfully. “I told my flatmate I wouldn’t go shopping today.”

“Your flatmate?” says the nun. “What does she have to do with it?”

“She just gets really worried about me spending money—”

“Does your flatmate run your life?”

“Well, it’s just I made her this quite serious promise a while ago. You know, a bit like a vow, I suppose…”

“She’ll never know!” says the nun. “Not if you don’t tell her.”

I stare at her, a bit taken aback.

“But I’d feel really bad, breaking my promise! No, I’ll just stay here with you for a bit longer, if that’s OK.” I pick up a little statue of Mary which has caught my eye. “This is nice. Where did you get it?”

The nun stares at me, her eyes narrowing.

“Don’t think of it as shopping,” she says at last. “Think of it as making a donation.” She leans forward. “You donate the money — and we give you a little something in return. You couldn’t really count it as shopping at all. More… an act of charity.”

I’m silent for a few moments, letting this idea sink in. The truth is, I do always mean to do more for charity, and maybe this is my chance.

“So, it’ll be like doing a good deed?” I say, just to be sure.

“Exactly the same. And Jesus and all his angels will bless you for it.” She takes hold of my arm. “Now, you go along and have a browse. Come on, I’ll show you the way…”

As we leave the side chapel, the nun shuts the door and takes down the Spiritual Retreat notice.

“Aren’t you coming back?” I say in surprise.

“Not today, no,” she says, and gives me an odd look. “I think I’ll leave it for today.”

You know, it’s just like they say — virtue is its own reward. As I arrive back at the hotel later that afternoon, I’m glowing with happiness at all the good I’ve done. I must have donated at least £50 in that shop, if not more! In fact, not to show off or anything, but I’m obviously naturally very altruistic. Because once I started donating, I couldn’t stop! Each time I parted with a bit more money, I felt a real high. And although it’s a completely incidental point, I ended up with some really nice stuff in return. Lots of lavender honey, and lavender essential oil, and some lavender tea, which I’m sure will be delicious, and a lavender pillow to help me sleep.

The amazing thing is, I’d never really given lavender much thought before. I just thought of it as a plant in people’s gardens. But that young nun behind the table was quite right — it has such vital, life-enhancing properties that it should be part of everyone’s life. Plus St. Winifred’s lavender is completely organic, she explained, so it’s vastly superior to other varieties, but the prices are much lower than many competing mail-order catalogues. She was the one who persuaded me to buy the lavender pillow, actually, and to put my name on the mailing list. She was really quite persistent, for a nun.

When I get back to Blakeley Hall, the minicab driver offers to help me lug it all in, because the box of lavender honey is quite heavy. And I’m standing at the reception desk, giving him a nice hefty tip and thinking I might go and have a nice bath with my new lavender bath essence… when the front door into reception swings open. Into the hotel strides a girl with blond hair, a Louis Vuitton bag, and long tanned legs.

I stare at her in disbelief. It’s Alicia Billington. Or, as I call her, Alicia Bitch Longlegs. What’s she doing here?

Alicia is one of the account executives in Brandon Communications — which is Luke’s PR company — and we’ve never exactly got along. In fact, between you and me, she’s a bit of a cow and, secretly, I wish Luke would fire her. A few months ago, actually, she nearly did get fired — and it was kind of to do with me. (I was a financial journalist then, and I wrote this piece… oh, it’s a bit of a long story.) But in the end she just got a stiff warning, and since then, she’s really pulled her socks up.

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