The padre was a known child beater. At nights, behind the closed doors of the chapel, anyone near could hear the cries of a child. They were loud and agonizing—screams of a wandering soul who’d want salvation.
The sacristan boy was known in town to have evil creatures in him. He housed at least a hundred of them, but the number ranged based on whomever talked about it.
The padre, in all his holiness and goodness, took the child as his own and tried to make him see the glory of his Christian God; but the child grew listless, evil, always wandering about and running away.
Serafina stood stiff with her cheek on the chapel’s cold lime wall, she waited patiently until she heard a chair crash, the boy murmured incomprehensibly, and the padre yelled, “I can kill you! You know I can, and no one will know, no one will care!”
But I would, Serafina thought. She stood closer to the wall, one side of her body cold. The chapel doors creaked open and a black figure staggered out, clutching one thin arm in one hand.
“Don’t come back until you’ve patched yourself,” the padre acidly said and shut the doors.
Serafina watched the boy as he hobbled; one of his feet slackened and he groaned, muttering things she couldn’t understand. The boy reached her corner and saw her.
Under the moonlight, Serafina saw the extent of the padre’s exorcism. The boy’s face was bloodied. One eye was shut and swollen, and his lip was torn. His clothes were disheveled. His white shirt looked more to be red, and one of the sleeves were ripped.
He’s evil. He has demons inside him, Serafina thought as she warily smiled to the boy. “Hello,” she whispered.
The boy ignored her and continued to hobble along the dusty road.
“W-where are you going?” she muttered behind him. “Are there still demons inside you?”
The boy stopped, turned, and panted, “I don’t have demons.”
“Then, why does the padre exorcise you every night?”
“I don’t know,” he cried, and tears pricked his eyes. He lurched forward, clutching his stomach. “H-he hit me with a chair. One of its legs broke,” he murmured more to himself than to the girl.
“You must be really evil then,” Serafina said. “Yaya told me about you. She says you came from the sea.”
The boy whimpered then, his breaths short and his body trembling. He was loud enough for anyone to hear, but no one came to him. Houses and huts on either side of the road were alive and bright with candlelight and families partaking dinner; but the broken boy was left on the middle of the street, crying in pain.
Serafina’s little heart stirred. She reached out a hand to the boy; she wanted to console him even if he was evil. But the boy looked up quickly, stared at her hard, and growled, “Don’t touch me! I’m evil, remember?”
She crouched beside him, watched as he sobbed, and patted his head the way yaya did whenever she cried. “Poor boy, poor boy”—she heard him hiss—“you’re not bad.”
The boy looked up again, but his eyes glittered, and behind those eyes Serafina saw a tiny spark in them, like how her eyes would lit up whenever Papa’s letters came. She grinned, thinking she made this boy feel at least a little joy. “Poor boy, you’re just a wild boy,” she continued. “Do you have a name?” she asked.
“Sacristan,” he murmured in reply.
“But that’s not a name. That’s what you are—a sacristan.”
“Oh,” he panted, “then, I don’t have one.”
Serafina giggled then. The sacristan was silly, no one could live without a name. “That can’t be true,” she said, grinning.
“I don’t have one,” the boy repeated, he stood staggering, and ran as fast as his beaten body would let him. He disappeared well into the night, and Serafina went back home. That poor boy, she thought, only needed a hug.
For his daughter’s twentieth birthday, Señor Mercado thought of visiting her in his childhood town of San Agustin. He promised to arrive before luncheon, and he had three hours to dress himself for the occasion and travel by coach.
He assured to his acquaintances that he was no tulip, but he made himself to be either a pioneer of fashion or a follower of great fashion. He studied two brooches in the mirror, indecisive of which of the two would suit best his cravat. He had a jade brooch shaped like a teardrop and a ruby brooch shaped into a seven-pointed star.
Surrendering with a sigh, Señor Mercado looked over his shoulder to his man, Rodrigo, and asked the aging butler of his opinion of the brooches. The old man, not a devout follower of fashion like his master, answered in slow, purposeful accents, “Sir, if I may be honest, wearing a cravat is uncomfortable in this hot weather.”
The Señor shrugged his shoulder and decided on the ruby brooch instead. It looked well with the blue coat he had in mind.
A loud clang echoed from the window, and Rodrigo, without being told, left Señor’s room in a hurry. After a few short minutes, the butler came back with a worried look in his eye.
“Well?” the Señor impatiently pressed. “Who was at the door?”
“M-master, I-I said all the best excuses I could think, but the lady was too stubborn. She insisted on seeing you. It’s t-the Doña!”
“Jusko,” gasped Señor and dropped his brooches. Rodrigo, leaping quickly, grabbed the precious breastpins from the floor and gingerly placed them on a side table.
“Antonio,” the Doña’s shrill voice rang from downstairs.
Señor Mercado hastily tucked his white shirt, puffed his cravat, and shoved his feet into his top boots. He was half decent, and, looking at the mirror, decidedly thought he was handsomely dressed enough to address his visitor. He went downstairs with Rodrigo behind him, and, upon seeing the lady seated in his sala with her ebony cane leaning against her leg, smiled very business-like and feigned delight with an exaggerated low bow. He possessed one of the Doña’s wrinkled hands and kissed it excessively.
“My dear girl,” Antonio Mercado said in surprise, “how kind of you to grace my home with your presence!” Over his shoulder, he ordered Rodrigo for tea and cakes for the visitor.
Consuela Salvador dismissed the tea and asked the manservant to leave her with his master. A look of worry passed between Antonio and Rodrigo, and this did not go unnoticed under the Doña’s dark, pensive eyes. A moment later, the butler granted them privacy.
Doña Consuela patted the seat beside her, and, when Antonio sat, said ruefully, “You have a debt to pay, sir. I’ve come here personally, lest the guardia sibil crash open your pretty door and drag you to prison. Thankfully, I haven’t called for their aid—yet.”
“M-my sweet lady,” stuttered Antonio, “I b-believe I’ve told you of my delayed remittance—”
“Delayed? Hah!” intervened Consuela. “Are the cockpits and horse races the cause of the delay, sir? I heard you fell in too deep from last weekend’s race.”
It was a well-known fact that Doña Consuela had the Governor-general’s ear for she was his wife’s aunt, and the appearance of the guardia sibil at Antonio’s doorstep was no open threat but a probability, lest he paid her the full amount he borrowed, plus interest. He regretted last year’s horse race, where he met the Doña, who gambled occasionally, and he lost at most five thousand pesos had he not bet five to one on a gray bay with a trite name as Rolling-Thunder. He thought Consuela a saint when she let him borrow her money to pay off his debts, but did not take into consideration how forceful this woman was when it came to collecting.
“How much did you lose this time, Antonio? Is it another five thousand?” expressed the lady in tired accents.
“A man’s financial status is his business—”
“Oh, hush, you nincompoop. How much?”
Nettled, Antonio looked to the side and whispered, “Five thousand at the races—and another two at the pits.”
A long, frustrated sigh escaped from the Doña’s lips. “And when shall I expect my money, Antonio? When you’ve won a thousand, but lose another three?”
“My lady, please, I-I have a transaction in progress—”
“Enough!” the lady shut him with an elegant wave of her hand. “I’ve a proposition for you instead.”
“C-certainly,” Antonio stuttered.
“I’ve two boys returning from Europe this coming Saturday,” Consuela said matter-of-fact. “By next month’s end I want either of them married. I’m old, Antonio, and I want grandchildren.”
“I understand your dilemma, my dear. Do you wish to ask for my aid in finding them a wife?”
“No,” muttered the lady. “I’m asking you to arrange a marriage between one of my boys and your daughter.”
Señor Mercado’s eyes grew wide and recalled his daughter being with him at last year’s horse race where he met the Doña. “Serafina, m-my Serafina—?”
“Yes, her. She was a delightful creature and very amiable. She has your looks, only she is more handsome, and her manners were graceful. I wouldn’t be ashamed to call her daughter-in-law.”
“I had no idea Serafina had affected you so.” Had he known he would not have brought his daughter to the races.
“I liked her well enough. Bring her to my house by Saturday afternoon. I want her to meet my sons before the welcome dinner party begins.”
“Certainly not!” exclaimed the Señor feelingly, color rising to his cheeks, and leapt to his feet.
“Pray, my good sir, why not?” seethed her ladyship and clutched the chair’s arm tight.
“Why, our estates are encumbered, entailed, madam,” he said in a small voice, shamefully admitting how deep his losses were if this would save his one and only child from this distasteful woman’s bony hands. “If Serafina married into your family, you will have to settle our debts; and that, my dear Señora, is far from how I planned on repaying you.”
The Doña should have been stupefied upon hearing such a blunt confession. Instead, she laughed gaily behind her hand and feebly shook her head. “That shan’t dampen my opinion of your child, sir.” A cold, hard twinkle flashed in the grand lady’s eyes and a curl of her lip, much like a sneer, brightened her face. “Unless you want the guardia sibil right at your doorstep, your debt is no laughing matter, Antonio. I told you once that you were no gamester and it would very well be your unbecoming. And don’t fret over Serafina being forced into marriage. I like her, didn’t I tell you? I wouldn’t want the pretty lass to cry over not having a say in the matter.”
The Señor looked at the Doña with raised brows and mouth ajar. He thought her proposal for a moment and muttered, “Are you to tell me only her appearance this Saturday will suffice?”
“No,” replied the lady. “One meeting could hardly matter. I’ve arranged for my house down in Las Biñas, had it cleaned and aired. My two sons shall be vacationing there, one of ‘em will be celebrating his birthday for a month. I am inviting you and Serafina to stay there until the end of my sons’ vacation.”
“I shall take my leave now, Antonio,” said the lady with a smile. She picked up her cane and crossed the room to the door.
Antonio, lacking of words and thought, stared at the empty seat beside his and shook violently at the lady’s handling of the matter. He was, grudgingly he admitted, bested by a crook of a woman.
Next update: May 31, 2020
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