© Manuela Davidovic
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This is not a work of fiction. This is a true story. The names have been changed, except that of Viejo /'vieho/ ('old man' in Spanish)
My aim in this book is to debunk the myth that clairvoyance is a gift. It isn't. Without realizing it, Ana was a victim of an inherited generational curse.
On the other hand, paranormal events are not a myth. The Scriptures give us an exact explanation what - or better who - is behind these supernatural phenomena.
I got off the bed and dragged myself to the bathroom.
Staring at the sink - in order to avoid looking at my wan, emaciated face in the mirror - I swept up my dishevelled hair and fastened it with a large claw clip.
I turned on the tap and ran it for a while, then I washed off the sweat from my neck and splashed cold water several times over my face, without bothering to dry it.
Feeling a touch refreshed, but still woozy and fatigued, I returned into the room and opened the balcony door. It was early afternoon and sweltering hot outside.
I turned off the air conditioner and dropped the remote by my side on the bed.
Despite my sleeping like a log at night, I was struggling to stay awake through the day.
Resisting the compulsion to lie down again, I sat on the edge of the bed, pondering my current state of health after three weeks of holidaying in the Dominican Republic.
What seemed to be just a transitory indisposition – due to the sultry climate I wasn't accustomed to - was turning into some refractory, cyclic disease, impossible to palliate with a bland diet and breathing plenty of ocean air. Yet the worst of all was that vexing sensation of not being alone in the privacy of my apartment. I could positively smell and perceive that nameless presence, that miasmic thickness in the air, that invisible enemy, grinding me brutally down into nothingness.
Overpowered by sleep, I made as if to recline, when there was a knock on the door, followed by another three taps. It was Pablo.
Pablo opened the door and entered. His smile disappeared, as I turned my head towards him.
“You look so pale.”
“I’ve been feeling bad lately,” I said frankly.
Pablo squatted down next to me.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” He said, watching me with sad eyes.
What was the point? What could he have done, I thought, suddenly feeling very unhappy. My eyes filling with tears, I brushed them away quickly with my shirt sleeve.
“I’ll go back to Italy one of these days,” I said “It was...”
A sharp pain lanced through my shoulders, and I renounced voicing my thoughts that it was all my fault. I should have left before I got involved in Giovanni's problems with Fabrizio and the arguments with the hotel manager, trying to demonstrate that the hotel didn't belong to Fabrizio, that he was just one of the co-owners, as was Giovanni.
I leaned back against the cushion and clenched my jaw to prevent myself from yelling with frustration as the stabbing and the slashing in my back increased. Then, 'it' came – the harbinger of that instantaneous deliverance of pain, followed by immense relief. The first time I had experienced this incomparable sensation of calmness and comfort was a week ago when I had plunged into my hitherto most acute state of weariness.
I sat still and kept quiet, abandoning myself to the swirls of impalpable, tepid wind as it rapidly melted and removed the heavy layers of gloom that weighed me down.
“I don’t think you should go away now,” I heard Pablo speak up “Giovanni will need you here at the hotel.”
I glanced at Pablo, who appeared reduced to a deep voice and a blurred figure floating away from me.
“He's coming to Punta Cana next weekend,” Pablo went on “He wanted to surprise you.”
The ethereal, soothing wave was ebbing away in swift ripples, and Pablo’s face was beginning to re-assume clear contours. Not fully understanding what had exactly happened to me, I waited for a moment, my heart beating with anticipation. Then I realized that my back pain, the dizziness and the nausea had vanished. As if new vigour had been infused into my body during those few minutes while I was hovering between sleep and wakefulness.
I rose to my feet and started pacing the room. To make sure that I was completely restored, I continued to move about excitedly.
“I’d like to stay, but that's not a good idea,” I said “I won't be of much help to Giovanni, if I get really ill.”
Pablo nodded, but let this pass without his customary 'everything will be all right'.
“I’ll bring you a medicine that will make you feel better,” he said instead.
“What kind of a medicine?” I asked, halting at the door, where Pablo was standing now, his hand on the knob, ready to leave.
“It’s not really a medicine. It’s sort of a tonic,” clarified Pablo “My wife, Ana, makes it. She has helped lots of people, many foreigners, as well.”
Many foreigners like me, I thought dispassionately. In this torrid part of the world we were but fragile plants, liable to scorch before we acclimatized. Maybe, my infirmity was after all caused by extreme heat, which had debilitated my immune system, and all I needed was just a strong, natural restorative.
“I’ve seen people in worse conditions than yours,” added Pablo, cutting into my thoughts.
“Does anyone know about your wife doing...” I paused, then not finding the right word, uttered “this?”
“No one at the hotel apart from you,” he said, glancing aside, evidently embarrassed under my doubtful look.
“Not even Giovanni or Asunta?” I asked cautiously.
Pablo shook his head.
I considered for a moment. This crisis was over, but my relapses seemed to get worse and worse. Then and there, I decided that I had reached the limit of my endurance.
“Okay,” I said, the longing to regain my health prevailing over scepticism.
The next day, Pablo brought me two bottles. One contained the miraculous physic and the other one a body lotion. He instructed me to take a spoonful of the former every morning and, in the evening, to rub a few drops of the latter into my forehead, arms and legs.
When Pablo left, I sat down on the bed, eyeing the bottles on the table.
Consciously, I didn’t believe that those brownish liquids possessed any curative properties, but subconsciously I hoped that they would arrest the flow of life that was so inexorably trickling out of my body.
I decided to give these harmless-looking placebos a try.
The tonic that I drank smelled foul and tasted salty and bitter. The lotion was more bearable - sweet-smelling and hypnotic, inducing immediate sleep. After a couple days of regular use, I felt worse than ever. I dozed most of the day and, at night, my sleep was disturbed by nightmarish dreams, teeming with men and women with contorted faces, chasing me with firearms along a labyrinth of grubby underground tunnels.
Without remorse or regret, I emptied the bottles into the toilet and flushed them, angry with myself for having succumbed to the temptation of some exotic nostrums.
When Pablo, who was having his days off, phoned me one evening to enquire how I was feeling, without a word of blame, I told him the truth.
“I should have told you,” said Pablo, his voice full of self-reproach “Sorry, I owe you an explanation. I'll come by tomorrow.”
“See you...,” I murmured, drifting off into a sense-numbing slumber.
Seated in front of the mirror I listened to the sound of the door opening, then that of Pablo’s light step as he entered the room and closed the door.
As a rule, he would remain standing there silently, waiting for me to speak first. But I could barely keep my eyes open let alone talk.
After a three-day bout of fever, I was weak, my lips were dry and sore and my throat constricted. Taking my time, I picked up the bottle from the dressing table, poured water into the tumbler and took a gulp.
Just after midnight, a baby’s loud cry awakened me. The whimpering never stopped, but somehow I managed to go back to sleep toward dawn to find myself in a small, black room, suffocating in an oppressive smell of withered roses, alcohol fumes and cigarette smoke, while searching desperately in the pitch darkness for a way out.
As if the mere thought of the sickening odours called them into existence, I gagged and almost regurgitated the swallowed mouthful. I quickly drank up the rest of the water to relieve momentary queasiness.
“The tonics...,” I started, but found myself gasping slightly for breath.
Rising to my feet, I walked over to the window and inhaled deeply the fresh air the rain had left in its wake.
“You mustn’t feel guilty,” I continued “You did it with the best of intentions. They just didn’t work. In my case.”
“I’d still like to explain,” responded Pablo in a quiet, pleading voice.
Already beginning to feel tired again, I leaned against the wall to contemplate the green lawn below my balcony.
“Okay,” I gave in.
“Those medicines were not really made by my wife,” said Pablo “Well, she made them, but Viejo told her how to do it.”
“Who’s Viejo?” I asked, my interest aroused by a humming-bird I spotted fluttering above a bush.
“He lives with us,” said Pablo “He said that you were very ill.”
Fascinated by the sight in the garden, I ignored Pablo and continued to gaze at the tiny, iridescent creature as it drew nectar from a bloom. I had never seen a humming-bird in its natural habitat.
“This malady that you've got can't be cured by doctors,” added Pablo, after a moment of silence.
“What do you mean?” I asked absently, watching the humming-bird detach itself from the flower and fly away.
“All I’m allowed to say is that Viejo told me last night that he had to speak to you. I talked with Ana, and we agreed that you should meet him.”
With the bird gone, there was nothing interesting to look at.
Suddenly, a memory from my childhood surfaced in my mind void of thoughts.
I lived in a small village where, on particularly dull days, my playmates and I used to go around and knock on our neighbours’ doors, then we would run off to hide and watch the elders get annoyed at our antics. There was one house, though, which we never went near to. There lived an aged woman famed for her supernatural powers. One day, I got terrible stomach cramps and my grandmother took me to the old woman’s house. I was frightened and cried all the way, but when the woman laid her hand on my belly, pressed it firmly and the pain was gone, I was also delivered of my fears. I don’t remember having ever been afraid of anything or anyone thereafter.
“My family would like to thank you,” Pablo's voice reached my ears “for the foodstuffs and the money. You've been very kind to us.”
I turned away from the window and nodded.
My eye-lids, my head and my whole body felt very heavy.
Putting all my energy into a few mechanical movements, I went to lie down on the bed, giving Pablo to know that our conversation was over. I wanted to be left alone and sleep.
I looked nervously up and down the bustling street.
Maybe I had got off at the wrong bus stop? What if I pass out here? I had to let Giovanni know that I was on my own and where I was in Higüey. I composed quickly Giovanni’s phone number in Italy and waited for the signal, when a battered motorcycle stopped in front of me.
“Sorry,” apologized Pablo “I was held up at the market.”
I switched off my cell phone, tossed it back into my handbag, and climbed onto the seat behind Pablo.
Pablo pulled back into the traffic and proceeded at a moderate speed along a tree-lined avenue.
Now and then, he lifted his hand to return a greeting, and I kept turning my head from one side to the other, fascinated by the colourful, open-fronted shops, displaying all kinds of goods, from fruits and vegetables to articles of clothing and paintings.
At a certain point, Pablo swung off the main road into a narrow lane. The abrupt change of the surroundings bewildered me for a moment, then I realized that we had entered another suburb - the outlying, neglected colony of the have-nots. As we trundled along rutted dirt-tracks, advancing deeper into a wilderness of shanties, there seemed to be no end to misery and poverty that extended their tentacles in all directions. Rounding a corner in a maze of alleys, we came across a handful of teenage girls in school uniforms.
A thin girl, beautiful girl with long, dark hair broke from the group and started running abreast with us.
“My daughter, Maribel,” said Pablo over his shoulder.
I waved to the smiling girl and she waved back, slowing to a jog.
Pablo and I continued our ride past run-down dwellings and undernourished children in old and worn clothes, ruthless reminders of one of the world’s worst plagues - the devouring hunger. Eventually, we drew to a halt in front of a low house with green walls and a wooden porch.
I slid off my seat, and Pablo propped the motorcycle against a tree in the front yard. The next moment, three small barefoot children darted out of a shed-like structure attached to the house.
“Our cousins,” explained Pablo, as we walked towards the house, with the children skipping alongside us.
Two women and a young man came out and remained to wait on the porch with welcoming smiles. Pablo introduced the delicate-featured woman in her early forties as his wife, Ana. She embraced me cordially and kissed me on both cheeks, then she gestured at the young couple.
“Luis, my son from my previous marriage and Maria, my daughter-in-law,” said Ana.
“I saw you at the Italian pizzeria near the beach,” said Maria “I work there as a cook.”
“So you make those perfect Neapolitan pizzas,” I praised her and was about to add another compliment when Pablo invited me to come inside the house.
As we entered, I gave Ana the bags with grocery products. She thanked me profusely and passed the bags to Maria. In the meantime Maribel had joined us, and was standing aside, watching me shyly. I handed her a bag which contained a summer dress and sweets.
Accepting the gifts with a happy smile, Maribel disappeared behind a curtain that served as a door to a side room. Pablo asked me to take a seat in the armchair, which he had moved in the centre of the room, under a whirring, makeshift ceiling fan.
“You’ll feel more comfortable here,” he said.
Ana sat down in a chair by the door, Luis settled on the couch apposite me and Pablo on a stool next to Ana. Maria went over to the electric cooker in the corner behind my back.
“You have a nice home,” I said, my attention caught by Maribel, who was slipping out from behind the curtain, clad in her new outfit, holding two packets in the crook of her arm. She hopped outside onto the porch to share the biscuits and the toffees with her cousins.
“I built it myself,” Pablo smiled with pride “Everyone’s got their own room. All that you see here, I picked up from the rubbish heaps of various hotels. ”
I ventured a quick look around the sparsely furnished room, my eyes taking in a wooden square table, a few plastic chairs, a couple of cupboards, a television set on my right, and a cassette-player placed on top of it.
“We can’t complain,” said Pablo “We’ve got everything we need, and we are better off than many people in the neighbourhood.”
“Coffee’s ready!” Announced Maria.
Each of us, except Ana, took a mug from the tray and engaged spontaneously in small talk. The coffee was exquisite and I sipped it with relish, while answering questions about my family and my country. We kept up an easy conversation until Ana, who had shown most interest in me, all of a sudden leaped up to her feet. She lurched sideways, leaned her hand against the wall to steady herself, then shuffled gingerly out of the room and down the porch.
I glanced at Pablo uncomprehendingly.
“Everything’s alright,” he said, signalling to me to remain seated.
We kept silent for a while, listening to the jingling noises outside, then Luis stood up, went over to the cassette player and inserted a tape.
“Shall we...?” asked Pablo, turning to me.
I rose from my chair and followed him, my heart beating at a tremendous rate.
Outside on the porch, Pablo pointed to a flimsy, red curtain at the far end, whence strange music was streaming in a rhythmical, throbbing beat. As we trod along the creaky wooden boards, nearing the curtain, I felt as if I was walking into a dreamlike vacuum, permeated with an intoxicating scent of roses. It seemed an eternity before we reached the curtain.
Pablo drew the faded cloth aside to reveal a darkened, low-ceilinged room illuminated by flickering candles, dripping wax.
I halted on the threshold, my gaze sweeping around the sordid, cluttered place.
Prints of black and white divinities and tattered garments hanging from wire hangers draped the walls. Against the wall on my right, stood a small table, full of figurines of saints, coloured bottles and jars, and the floor of beaten earth was littered with cracked vessels and dented pots.
Pablo twitched the curtain back a little and I stepped inside to find myself immersed in a surreal, oneiric atmosphere, as if having overstepped some imaginary line of another world, with no sounds, no landmarks, and no feelings.
However, there was something familiar about this room, apart from the pungent flowery smell. Chills ran down my spine as the image of the black room from my nightmares flashed in my mind. Only that I wasn’t dreaming now. I was inside the room and wide awake.
Instinctively, I stepped backwards, bumping into Pablo, who whispered to me to stay calm because no one was going to hurt me.
Before I had a chance to enquire, a husky cough broke the silence. I startled and turned my head in the direction where the sound had come from.
My eyes alighted on a hunched figure, seated on a stool in the far corner on my left. I recognized Ana, and a sigh of relief escaped me.
Pablo lit a candle, and set it on the table near Ana. My heart missed a beat as I realized that this person wasn’t actually Ana. The woman was much older, and only vaguely resembled Ana. She had the same features, but the face was rounder and shrivelled, and her bottom lip noticeably crooked. Her whole appearance struck me as rather bizarre. Dressed in a tatty, pleated skirt, a green blouse and canary yellow leggings, she was smoking a pipe and staring fixedly ahead.
I turned to Pablo.
“Meet Viejo,” he said in reply to my questioning look.
Pablo signed to me to sit on the stool by the doorway. I sat speechless, scrutinizing the stoop-shouldered individual in ridiculous garb seated across from me.
As our knees almost touched, I turned my legs to one side so as to make sure that there would be no physical contact between us. I cringed mechanically as he flicked out a thin, crimson tongue and passed it rapidly over his lips, whereupon he cleared his throat with a heavy-smoker’s fit of coughing, bent his head over a bucket by his side and spat into it.
Erratic thoughts swarmed in my mind, while I tried to figure out who this outlandish-looking man might be. Ana’s father maybe or an eccentric transvestite cousin? Or her grandfather, since Pablo called him Viejo.
Pablo passed him a bottle of rum and Viejo drank its entire contents in one gulp. He let the empty bottle fall to the ground, and it rolled across the uneven floor to hit the wall opposite. My eyes dwelt for an instant on the tripod with a can of beer beneath a framed image of a black man with big, protruding eyes.
I felt Pablo’s hand touch my shoulder and I switched my look back to Viejo, who gave me a drunken grin and held out his arms, with hands overlapping in a criss-cross at the wrists. Pablo instructed me to do likewise and I complied, extending my arms toward Viejo for a limp handshake.
The silence continued as Viejo shifted awkwardly on his stool and from behind a cardboard box under the table produced another bottle of white rum. With a shaky hand he filled a chipped mug, which he had retrieved from among dirty containers arrayed at his feet. He banged down the mug onto the table, then he rose from his stool, reached for a dark blue bottle from the table, blew the dust off it, and started sprinkling oily liquid over the floor, releasing a mixture of scents.
To stave off momentary dizziness, provoked by the heady vapours, I bent my head and focused my look on his legs. They were slightly bent at the knees and looked brittle and unstable. When he turned away from me, I glanced up.
Viejo was lighting thick black and red candles, assisted by Pablo who passed him safety matches. Viejo placed some candles on the ground, along the wall with the threadbare garments and on the table, around a statuette of a wry-necked, black deity with a freakish expression and many pairs of arms, holding knives and swords.
He performed his ritual in the slowest imaginable motion, in the most unfathomable silence, accompanied only by a muffled, syncopated rhythm of music coming from beyond the walls of the poky room. Eventually, Viejo finished arranging candles and flopped onto his seat. He grabbed his rum, downed it thirstily and passed the mug to Pablo.
“I’m very tired…,” he croaked, raking his chest with his arthritic fingers “I work night and day…day and night...I never have time for myself...”
I transferred my look to the knot of men, women and children, who had gathered on the porch and were laughing and giggling. Still in a state of bemusement, unable to think clearly, I looked back at Viejo.
“Just working away,” he muttered, and went on slurring his words “Have no time ....to have a drink with my friends....no time to go to a dance....or to a date with a nice lady...”
“You're too old for such things!” Remarked a voice from outside.
Viejo threw his shoulders back.
“I’m not old!” He snapped gruffly.
“How old are you, Viejo?” enquired someone.
Viejo gave a lazy shrug.
“Dunno...thousand years...maybe more, maybe less....”
Chuckles and jeers issued from the on-lookers, calling Viejo 'cunning old devil' and 'creaky playboy', while he leered at a buxom middle-aged woman standing on the threshold near him. His nostrils quivering, his lips curled back from his teeth, he nuzzled at her thighs and grunted, causing general laughter and more bantering remarks.
I realized that no matter how unearthly the situation appeared to me, it was normal for everyone else present, but I couldn't help questions that kept springing to my mind.
“Who are you?” What’s your name?” I asked on impulse.
“I have many names...” he said, taking his pipe from Pablo and sucking in a drag.
“Tell me one of your names,” I insisted, spurred on by curiosity.
Eyeing me closely, Viejo exhaled a mouthful of smoke at leisure.
“I’ll tell you when you come next time.”
Simultaneously with the horrifying thought that *this* looked like what I had never believed in a memory came to my mind.
“They get into people to live on according to their nature,” my grandmother used to caution me when I was a child “Never go near such people. They will contaminate your destiny.”
“I shall not come again,” I said with firmness.
“You shall...you will...you will...you shall...,” he chanted in a high-pitched nasal twang “’Cause I have so many... many things to tell you....”
He abruptly swayed his upper body forward and peered into my face.
Flinching inwardly, I managed to maintain a composed exterior, while staring back into his unblinking eyes. They were like two bottomless ravines, releasing malign power that instantly made me irritable and nauseous. And that unmistakable stench his body gave off was the same that I had smelled back at the hotel, thinking that it came from the clogged bathroom sink. He...? He had been pursuing me implacably all along. He was the cause of those recurring spells of apathy, headaches, lassitude and chronic feebleness.
Viejo leaned back in his chair to observe me through half-closed bleary eyes.
“Elisa...Elisa...,” he pronounced my name slowly, his mouth curving in a smile “You will come alright.”
Violent rage mixed with hatred surged inside me.
“I shall not!” I repeated steadfastly, striving to keep my temper under control.
I'd better cut short this farce, for both Ana’s and my sake, I decided perturbed, as Pablo handed her a flask of rum. I couldn't bear to watch her drain bottle after bottle of liquor, choke on her cough and make a spectacle of herself before all these people, who continued to laugh at her and call her names.
I gripped her free hand and shook it vigorously.
“Ana, that's enough! Pull yourself together.”
“Ana is not here,” tittered Viejo “It's me...me...only me...”
He brandished the bottle towards Pablo, who took it from his hand and put it in a crate on the porch.
Suppressing the desire to dig my nails into Viejo's flesh, I pulled my hand away.
“Where is Ana?” I demanded to know, ignoring Pablo's admonishing frown “I want to speak to her.”
Viejo shook his head.
“Not yet. I will answer your questions first. That's why you came to see me.”
“I’ve come to visit friends and not you,” I retorted.
“You came to see me. Me!” Spluttered Viejo irritably, and started to cough.
This arrogant assertion aroused another rush of anger, this time with myself, for the situation I had got myself into because I had wanted to please the hotel gardener and meet his family.
Viejo motioned to Pablo, who handed him another bottle of rum, which the former held close to his chest, while spitting into his filthy bucket, his mouth dribbling saliva.
Overcome by disgust, I turned my head away from him. The crowd outside had dispersed and Pablo and I were left alone with Viejo.
“I have to tell you things,” I heard Viejo say.
I glanced over at him. He was sitting upright in his chair, clutching the bottle, his gaze fixated on me.
“Don’t interrupt me,” he warned, in a harsh tone of voice “because I won’t untie Ana before I'm done with you. Now, you may ask me whatever you want to know.”
I didn’t want to know anything. All I wanted was Ana to regain consciousness, so that I could get out and away from this cramped, vile-smelling room, full of trash and traps.
“Elisa, you should hear what the Old Man wants to tell you,” Pablo spoke up.
I consulted my watch. The last bus back to the hotel was leaving in less than one hour.
“All right,” I said.
The Old Man nodded.
“Los Corales, the hotel you are staying at,” he started and paused to throw back a slug of rum “That place is full of evil spirits,” he continued “You’ve been in danger since you came. There’s a man who comes and goes. He’s a warlock, and there’ a woman who works with him. She’s a witch. They sent an illness to you. They took your things and tied you spirit with a spell. They’re speaking curses over you all the time. They have an agreement with the man from your country. That man wants you very ill, sometimes, he even wants you dead.”
Resisting the urge to ask if it was Fabrizio he was talking about, I kept quiet while Viejo took another long pull on his rum.
“You will find out things about him that no one knows,” he restarted, wiping his mouth with the hem of his skirt “The man from your country is going to sorcerers all the time and they tell him that because you’re at the hotel, he won’t be able to carry out his plans. Your friend, he can’t do anything, no one can against him. All those people who gave him money to build that hotel, he tied them in the spirit realm, and I'll tell you next time how...he did it...”
Viejo's voice thickening, he slowly bent down his head. For a moment, it seemed that he had fallen asleep, but then he stirred and straightened up.
As he lifted his head, I recognized Ana’s face. It was ashen and taut, like a death mask.
“Ana, are you okay?” I asked anxiously.
She passed a hand over her face, as if to remove last traces of sleepiness from it.
“A bit tired,” she said in a feeble voice “It was a very long journey this time. Did Viejo come? What did he say?”
Pablo took Ana’s hands in his and rubbed them gently.
“I’ll tell you later. I should take Elisa to the station.”
Pablo and I left in a hurry. Before we turned the corner, I glanced over my shoulder.
Supported by Maria and Maribel, Ana was walking across the porch back to the house. So thin and weary, she looked like a living image of a martyred soul.
‘What had he done to her?’ I thought aghast.
Wrapped in my bathrobe, I threw myself on the bed and shut my eyes.
I wished I could go to sleep and stop thinking, but my mind was still actively engaged in dissecting the astounding event of the day. I knew for sure that everything that I had seen had really taken place before my eyes. What baffled me most was Ana's transformation into that old freak.
I shuddered at the recollection of the horrid distortion of her face and the weird manner in which she had awoken out of that state of trance.
Another inexplicable thing was that when she had come round she was completely sober, after having drunk half a dozen of bottles of rum. That she could have been hypnotized or de-hypnotized was most unlikely. None of the people present there had had a chance or interest to do that. They had all seemed to be entertained by Viejo.
During the bus ride back to the hotel, still under shock and haunted by tricky questions, for the first time in my life I had thought seriously of the Bible. I had read it as a university student, only out of curiosity, to see it Dante's Divina Commedia was really based on facts, or it was just the fruit of the writer's imagination. A realistic person like me couldn’t have considered it other than a compilation of tales. Not until today.
Again and again, the notion that it wasn't really Ana I had talked to but someone else reinforced itself as the only explanation to this mysterious happening.
As Ana showed no signs of mental disorder, I excluded a case of dual personality. Even though I didn’t believe in clairvoyants, or mediums for that matter, I had no rational answer to the fact that this Viejo knew about the disappearance of my things. And Pablo, who knew nothing about these thefts, couldn’t have told Ana, or Viejo.
And who was Viejo? Who was *he*?
“Who is Viejo?” I confronted Pablo the morning after “What is his real name?”
“A spirit,” said Pablo “We call him misterio.”
“What kind of spirit is he?” I asked with a vague presentiment.
“Sometimes he is bad, and sometimes he is good.”
Quoting the Scriptures, I explained to Pablo that, there was just one good spirit – the Holy Spirit, and all the other spirits were evil spirits, and that this misterio couldn’t be both.
Pablo stopped patting the earth around a freshly planted bush and glanced at me.
“Well, I don’t know about that, but I know that Viejo is very powerful, and that he has cured many very sick people. He can do anything you ask him to do.”
At this point, I had no doubts any more.
Viejo was evil in a human shape, and the Bible offered only one name for such entities. All evidence pointed at *him* – the devil. He was not just a myth. No matter how inconceivable and far-fetched it seemed and sounded, I had eye-witnessed his overt manifestation.
“Pablo, do you believe in God?” I asked, dreading the answer.
“With all my heart!” exclaimed Pablo with owe “God has always helped me. He blessed my family and our home by sending us one of His sons to look after us.”
Endeavouring not to get upset, I told Pablo that the Bible said that God had only one son, and that it was Jesus Christ, and He was in heaven, and didn’t live in grubby rooms, did not guzzle booze, did not smoke a pipe, and did not spit in a grimy bucket.
I couldn’t believe my ears. I, a staunch non-believer, was delivering a fervent speech on what I had always criticized. Even though I still didn’t believe in God, I already hated Viejo. I checked myself from adding that Viejo was just a stupid devil and that Pablo was a victim of his own ignorance.
“The misterio must be one of some other god’s sons,” I commented instead.
Pablo glanced at me, fear written all over his face.
“Viejo's listening to us now. You shouldn’t talk like that. He liked you very much, especially when I told him that you were a woman.”
“So he was so drunk that he didn’t even notice that,” I scoffed.
Pablo left off his planting and sat on the ground, his arms hugging his knees.
“Viejo says that you have many enemies here.”
The sadness in Pablo’s voice, for a moment, made me look at him in a different light.
Pablo was not only my delivery man, whose solicitude and availability I had always taken for granted, because I left him generous tips. As some kind of a guardian, he had been taking care of me from a distance, and not only because he had promised Giovanni that he would make sure that no harm was done to me, but because he was a good man. Ingenuously and in good faith, he had asked the artful devil to protect me, unaware of the fatal consequences of such requests.
“I don’t care!” I said spitefully, as if speaking to Viejo “Next weekend, I’m going away.”
“Viejo said that you wouldn’t go away soon, that you would stay here for a long time, that you would fall ill, and would need help.”
“His, I guess.”
Pablo didn’t comment on that. He got up and resumed his work, leaving me to my thoughts.
What would my friends think, if I told them that I had spoken to a spirit? I tried to imagine their horrified faces while I recounted that this demon was a real, but incorporeal being, and that he had an audible, although nondescript voice.
And Giovanni? Would he believe me, if I told him that a crackpot old drunkard I had met at Pablo's place knew things about him and his business? No, Giovanni wouldn’t believe me. He would laugh it off, or he would finally believe that I was right in saying that I was ill and that my poor health wasn't just an excuse to go away from here.
Regardless of whatever the others might think, I felt that I had to investigate this matter further and find out what was the connection between Viejo and Pablo, Viejo and Fabrizio, Viejo and me, why and to what extent were the hotel manager, Daniel, and Valentina - his secretary - involved in this affair.
All I knew at this point was what Giovanni had told me: that he and the investors had been trying to sell the hotel for three years now, that Fabrizio had been in absolute charge of the hotel and that he had been pocketing all the profits.
I got up and returned to my room to re-examine the strange encounter from the day before.
Two hours later, I was still sitting in my wicker chair on the balcony, musing on my conversation with Viejo, getting even more and more confused. Maybe I should stop mulling over this enigma, go back and have a better look at that old man, or whoever he might be and ask him who from he had had information about me. Apart from being very ugly, he didn’t look dangerous, so groggy and doddery. And if he tried to harm me in any way, a simple whack on the head with one of his bottles would do to knock him unconscious.
I stood up and glanced around. Pablo was mowing the lawn in front of the reception office, with Daniel watching him from the porch. The chambermaid, Asunta, had told me that Daniel was going to inaugurate the hotel restaurant in a few days. It wasn’t bad news, because she was now scouring pots instead of blabbering in my room, telling me stories of witchcraft, featuring Daniel and Valentina.
Despite myself, I thought about what Viejo had said: ‘the man who comes and goes’. Daniel. How I would have loved to kick that porker on the shin. I kicked the leg of the chair instead, then checked my watch. It was only eleven o’clock.
I could go to the beach and talk to Juan about my surreal experience. I grabbed my tote and dashed out of the room, hoping in a brainwave, something really annoying to prime Daniel with and ruin his day.
Passing by the restaurant, I gave a little cough to casually attract his attention.
“Elisa!” he exclaimed, looking up from his newspaper.
As usual, he offered me a fake smile and a drink.
“No, thanks,” I declined “I need to do some shopping. Giovanni’s coming over this weekend.”
Daniel’s mouth widened in a Bluto grin.
'Alright, you slimy slug, I’ll wipe that insolent smirk off your mug.'
Who would have imagined that Daniel’s ugly phiz could inspire poetical impulse?
“With the people who have bought this complex,” I added.
The complacency I experienced at uttering these words, made me grin back spontaneously at Daniel, while stepping a few paces backwards as he stood up from his desk and came towards me.
“The hotel, maybe,” he scowled, halting under the fan “but not the restaurant, because *it belongs to me* . I bought it.”
My look on his smarmed-down hair, I wished hard that it was a toupee, in my mind’s eye already visualizing it being whisked by one of the blades of the fan, revolving so dangerously close to his head.
“Who from?” I asked, although I already knew the answer.
“From the owner. From Mr. Fabrizio Malatesta.”
“I told you that he was not the owner.”
“That’s what you say,” muttered Daniel, badly managing to keep the irritation out of his voice “I have a written agreement, showing that I have already paid in full for the restaurant.”
Daniel extended his arm, snatched up a file from his desk and thrust it under my nose.
“Here you are!” he said with a tone of triumph.
I gave the paper a cursory look. The alleged contract was a slapdash typewritten page. What caught my eye was the line with $ 50,000 standing out in bold.
I glanced at the handwritten signature at the bottom, below Fabrizio’s name and surname. It resembled more an old man’s - the Viejo’s – scrawl.
“This is a fake,” I smiled, looking back at Daniel “I told you that Fabrizio was not the owner of this hotel. Therefore he is not authorized to sign any documents regarding the sale of any part of this complex.”
To give the statement more relevance and credibility, I added that Giovanni would decide whether this contract was valid or null and void. Giovanni was, namely, a lawyer.
Daniel’s face assumed a strange expression, between an open-mouthed gargoyle and a rigid-eyed dead fish. I dared not think that it was some misterio, creeping into his body.
“Why didn’t you tell me that?” he barked.
I smiled in response. Unlike before, when I invariably got into a state during my conversations with Daniel, I now just felt like smiling and grinning.
“Why didn’t you ask Fabrizio? He's a lawyer, too.”
Daniel cleared his throat and hitched up his trousers.
“May I have Giovanni’s phone number? I'd like to speak to him.”
“I’m afraid you may not have his number, and you will have a chance to speak to him in a few days. He will put you in the picture, since he’s in possession of some very important legal documents.”
N.B. The chapters you've read are not the opening chapters