There were few things, Cordelia thought, as unexpected as falling in love. As miraculous as that feeling of everything changing.
She had fallen in love five times in her life, and each and every time it had been striking and new, shocking, and also wholly wonderful.
She had fallen in love with religion as a small child. First in the narrow sense of being in love with the chapel at Brideshead. With the sound of religion echoing around it, with the scent of incense in the air, the feel of her rosary beads slipping through her fingertips, the glory of the sunlight coming through the stained glass window above the alter and the taste of joy as the Body of Christ was placed upon her tongue.
Later this love had widened to include God as well. Not the God who had always been present in her childhood religion, but the all encompassing and all knowing and all seeing God. A God who was as constant, and almost as, formidable as Mummy had been. He was the feeling in her heart that told her to stop being irritated by Bridey, to try and understand Julia, to forgive Sebastian time and time again, and, finally, to leave the pleasant comfort of Brideshead and go abroad. First to Spain and then to Palestine.
It was in Spain, and Palestine, that Cordelia had fallen in love for the third time. With the community of women that gathered, unceasingly and undramatically, as close to the epicentre of destruction as they could, in order to try and help. Whether they worked and helped in the fields, or in the wards, or in the kitchens, they were there to ease some of the suffering that, they were all too aware, was partially caused by the lives they had left behind. The lives they still referred to as "home". Cordelia had fallen in love with the pleasures that community life afforded her. A kiss on the cheek from someone going upstairs to bed, the careful dance of the communal kitchen, shared rejoicing in news and letters and parcels from home, and the ties that were formed. Ties that were as strong and intense as any marriage in the moment and then, as conflicts ended and people returned home, gone. The careful easy chatter of the house as they all worked and dined and read and lived, which was so different, but no more or less lovely, than the brisk efficiency of the wards, kitchens and fields in which they worked.
This love had sustained her through the trials of wars and losing friends and patients to whom she had become attached. It had allowed her to write stoic and cheerful letters home, to keep going, and to keep her faith in the humanity that God had created when all she saw was destruction. Destruction and desperation on such a massive scale that all she could do, at times, was weep. It was a love to which she had wanted to introduce Julia. A love that was different from marriage and men, that was, to Cordelia's mind, sustaining and necessary.
It was not that she had not understood or approved of Charles and Julia's relationship. She felt, rather, that it was not her place to approve or disapprove or to understand. That was a matter only for God. It was, she felt, only his approval that mattered. If she had been able to articulate it, Cordelia would have told Charles what Sister Theresa had told her, as they sat in the evening sun with gunshot echoing in the background. That it only seemed to be the non-Catholics who believed in an intractable and unapproachable God. Who saw a God with no concept of humanity who would rather smite than strive for understanding. Cordelia was not privy to the inner thoughts of God, only to her own, and her appraisal of the situation had hung more upon a desire for both Julia and Charles to be happy than upon a desire for any religiously mandated justice to be doled out. She had, however, felt a faint suspicion that man-made religious problems were going to come between them before any Angelic visitation.
When she had been, and not at all happily, proved right, Cordelia had given Julia time to mourn and reminisce and had then harried her overseas to a place where the body was so relentlessly busy that the mind could be silent.
It was here that Cordelia fell in love for the fourth time.
She had fallen in love gently, carefully, quietly and subtly. It was love nonetheless. Love which felt much the same as the love she had felt for religion and all it meant as a child, as the way she felt for her family and for the people she nursed. Yet it was more than this, more than that could ever have been, and it was something she kept hidden close to her chest. Not because she was ashamed, but because she did not want to spoil it with exposure to the wide world when it was in its infancy, because she was too busy keeping other people alive, and because she had a faint feeling that if she were to reveal it in this place, with all the chaos they lived in, that it would not be accorded the true measure of its greatness. This love, despite its birthplace and infancy being a site of destruction and want and poverty was, Cordelia knew somehow, destined to grow up in the comfortable sitting rooms and parlours and nurseries of her childhood, rooms that she did not want to be stifled by, but that she knew intimately and adored for their constancy. It would thrive on tea and scones and pointless conversations about the state of the village duckpond and the horror that was St. Pancras at five in the afternoon.
Except that it hadn't. It had faltered when faced with new soil and different social mores and incompatible social circles, and Cordelia had been left heartbroken in a land which did not seem to suit, geographically, the mess of a failed love affair. The green fields and rolling hills she returned to did nothing to comfort her, nor did the hustle and bustle of a London that was rebuilding itself. Still broken and tired, but on the way to mending. Cordelia was not on the way to mending and so she did the only thing she could. She left. She settled Julia back into London, went to visit Nanny and dropped flowers on the various graves that had appeared in her absence, and then she left.
She left. Not viciously. There were no declarations of never returning. She explained it to Julia as a fundamental discomfort with being back in England. Told her that she had spent too many years abroad to find her place in this new England, and that she missed the heat of the sun and the sound of people's voices clattering above and around her in sentences she could not parse and with regional accents she could attach no meaning to. Julia who had settled, gratefully and gracefully, back into England and English society did not, could not, understand but she gave Cordelia some money, a long hug and a sweet smile and sent her on her way.
It had seemed fitting to spend the journey in a leisurely manner, to ease herself back out of England and into Morocco. To make it all as slow and full of journeying as was possible. Cordelia sat, in accordance with this, on so many trains she lost count, read and re-read so many pages of the same book that she could have recited them by heart and took, eventually, to staring out of the window and watching the landscape change. From the fields outside London to the sunflowers as she went down through France, the mountains rising dramatically in the distance, to the redder Spanish fields and then the sight and scent of the coast. Cordelia stood on the deck of the ferry from Algeciras watching the Straits of Gibraltar being eaten by the boat, washing out the back and away from her and saw Tangiers rise in front of her. It took her a day and a half to make it to Marrakech. Travelling first to Casablanca, on a train full of French soldiers, and glimpsing the coast out of one window and the flat dusty fields out of the other. The journey from Casablanca to Marrakech was a blur of tiredness, and Cordelia only awoke properly as the train was pulling into Marrakech and fig trees were rising out of the ground and the ratio of dust to plantlife was beginning to favour greenery.
Marrakech, Cordelia found, was an easy place to settle into. She measured her day by the call of the muezzin and the sounds of the marketplace. Rising with the sun she would meander her way to the small office of the Red Crescent that she worked in, and prepare herself for a long day spent wrangling with diplomats, reassuring worried people and attempting to make small children, who were all too serious for their years, smile. By night she would sit in the Djema el Fna, sipping a mint tea and watching the myriad transactions and interactions taking place around her. It was, she thought, altogether a comfortable sort of existence, and one in which she was removed from her duties and restrictions as part of the Marchmain clan. Even her churchgoing was of a different sort. The Church of Saints Martyrs had been built in 1930, and was a far cry from the chapel at Brideshead. No overwhelming glory and pomp on the outside, or the inside, but the simplicity of a church which proclaimed only that it should exist for the few that wished it, that did not desire to convert those that passed outside its doors, and which leaned, and eagerly, its help to those around it. It was in this church that Cordelia fell in love for the fifth, and most potent time.
Falling in love across a church was, Cordelia knew, nothing new or exciting or unprecedented, but it was the way it happened, and the thought of it always brought a smile to her face. To think that a regular Sunday service, in the heat of midsummer, could have brought such joy, happiness and fulfillment always amazed her. She had looked up, as the priest raised and blessed the host, and, in the most melodramatic and ridiculous way she could have ever imagined, had seen a ray of light come through the window, and the upraised face of a woman across the aisle. And it was done. Cordelia had fallen in love, once more. In love with God and light and life and the sheer glory and joy that she could see reflected upon this woman's face, and that she knew could also be found upon hers.
There was, she thought, nothing exactly exciting or special about the way her life had continued after that. She and Helene had spoken, laughed, smiled, touched and moved in together. They spent their days trying, in some small way, to repair part of the gaping wounds that had been cast across the world in the past few years, they wrote to their families, they entertained visitors, took part in Mass, hosted church gatherings and lived.