Shades of Hemingway / Deja’ Voodoo – Part 7, In the House of Juan Revuelta

Author’s note:  This is a continuation of a series.  For more information see Shades of Hemingway and Shades of Hemingway / Medium Exposure.

     I must have been out for several hours because I could see the sun was setting outside through the windows.  The bed was not much more than a cot stuck in the corner of a barren room.  There is a crucifix hanging on an exterior wall framed with rough hewn studs.  The rafters above have been left exposed; there is no insulation, electrical wiring or drywall anywhere.  The house rests on an elevated foundation with a wooden floor. 

     My head has a dull ache which accentuates every time I try to roll myself around or sit up.  In fact, it throbs with each heartbeat, but I am grateful to be alive.  The old man has left the room.  The woman with the cloth returns to kneeling beside me, dabbing my wound and forehead with a cool, wet cloth that she continues to refresh in a basin of water.  The daughter of Juan Revuelta is nowhere to be seen.

     “Do you speak English?”

     “Yes.”

     “Are you Mrs Revuelta?”

     “Yes, I am Miriam.”

     “Hello, Miriam, my name is Christian… that was your daughter, yes?”

     “Yes.”

     “She is very lovely, what is her name?”

     “Naty.”

     “Naty?  Yes?  That is a good name, Miriam.  Your daughter is very lovely.  Thank you.  Thank all of you for helping me.”

     I don’t know why but I find myself feigning a Spanish accent, thinking it may make my English easier to understand.  Miriam smiles and continues to sooth my head with the damp cloth.  I can smell cooking in the next room and hear the laughter of children.  Soon Naty appears with a plate and Miriam rises, moving towards the head of the bed and out of my sight.  Naty sits down on the cot next to me, produces a fork and then dips from the plate.  I realize I am hungry, having not eaten since the fruit Sgt. Garcia’s men provided earlier at my hotel room.  I am not familiar with the aroma but my stomach growls with eager anticipation.

     “What is it?”  I ask as the food is inserted in my mouth.

     “Steamed yucca and rice… shush now and eat.”

     I do as I am told and chew carefully, trying not to force my throbbing temples any more than necessary.  Naty watches me swallow then dips into the plate and offers more food.

     “Who are you and why are you helping me?  How do you know about Lord Cristobal?”

     “No more talking!”  She has a warm but stern face, concealing a smile that lies just below the surface.  I could draw that smile out if I tried, I thought.

     “Okay, I’ll be quiet.  But tell me who you are, Naty.  It is Naty, isn’t it?”

     “Yes, that is my name…”  Her eyes are dazzling, she is flattered that I must have inquired her name of her mother, otherwise how would I have now known to ask her.  “And you are?”  Her conversational manner is one of polite respect and curiosity.

     “Christian…  Christian Fiore.  Are you in the habit of rescuing strangers left along the road to die?”

     “You are not going to die!”  She smiles, rewarding my persistence.  “You’ll just have a slight headache for a while, Mr. Fiore.”

     “Please… call me Chris, and you are not answering my question.”

     “And you are not lying quietly!”

     “Yes, you’re right… I’m sorry.  But please, tell me about yourself and where I am… there is so little I know about Cuba…”

     “There will be enough time for questions after you rest.”

     “Tell me about Lord Cristobal, how is it that you know of him?”

     She stops feeding me for a moment, looking at me intently.  I try to smile at her but it hurts my head.  With a sigh she eventually relinquishes.

     “Everyone in Cuba knows or has heard of Lord Cristobal, he is babalaos.”

     “Babalaos?”

     “A supreme priest of Santeria, a form of religion amongst my people.”

     I nod towards the crucifix.

     “And yet, your family is Catholic?”

     “Yes, we are.  But Cuban ancestry goes further than the Spanish who came here.  Many of us have distant relatives from Africa.  In Cuba, the man who doesn’t have an ancestor from the Congo has one from the Carabali.”

     “And because of this ancestry  Lord Cristobal is Santeria?  I don’t get the connection, what does it all mean?”

     “Because of this ancestry Lord Cristobal moves freely amongst the people of Cuba.  There are those that believe Castro was placed into power by the Santeria, that he has maintained his power and longevity by means of the Santeria.  Because of this, our government allows Lord Cristobal to roam freely and conduct himself as he wishes.  For Castro, Santeria means power and influence over my people.  In Cuba, Santeria means voodoo and the hold this has on our faith strangles us.”

     Naty falls silent, slightly stirring the vegetable and rice mixture on the plate.  In my mind thoughts of voodoo conjure up chicken claws dripping in blood and ancient rituals being danced to in the pale moonlight.  After a few moments Naty scoops up more food and offers it to me.

     “You do not approve of Castro?”  I ask, accepting what she has placed before my mouth.  She then sets the plate down on my stomach and firmly thrusts the fork into my hand. Then she rises to leave, pauses and glares back down at me.

     “I despise him.”

     “And what of Lord Cristobal?”  I ask, but she has stepped away from the bed.  Naty exits the room and strides out of my sight.  But the voice of Miriam comes from above and behind me.

     “Lord Cristobal is a murderer.”

     Miriam moves to the side of the bed, picks up the plate Naty left behind and gently takes the fork from my hand.  She thoughtfully pools the scattered food fragments into a mound and then scoops some up with the fork.  But she pauses in mid-air, as if it took all of her energy to address me further.

     “Naty returned to us from Miami to help bury her sister.  Lord Cristobal sacrificed her on his altar of deceit.”

     Now my imagination stirs up images of a satanic cult and half naked savages whooping it up as a man with a demonic mask makes ready to carve up a beautiful, naked virgin with a meat cleaver.  Satisfied with food and troubled by conversation, Miriam presses my hand as I fall off to sleep again.

     There is a clearing that is spread with several tents and a couple of vehicles, I realize I am back on the Serengeti.  A fire burns in the middle of the camp, seated nearby is Hem.  He stares into the fire and puffs absentmindedly on his pipe.  There are tribesmen working on hoisting up an impala on a sling.  Off to one side I see Tenete’ squatted on the ground, whittling away on something.

     “Hem, what am I doing here?  I’m no closer to finding Rachel than when I started!”

     Hem stirs from his trance and looks over at me, a bottle dangling from one hand.

     “How’re ya doin’ there, Sport?  How ’bout that ride in the Fairlane?  Damn, those were some classy cars!”

     “I’m doing awful, Hem!  I can’t seem to get my bearings here!”

     Hem rises from his seat and comes towards me.  He reaches out and clasps a hand on my shoulder.

     “Naw… come on, now… you’re doin’ great!”

     “Great?  I could’ve been killed!  Why didn’t you warn me?”

     “Out of bounds, Sport, ya know the rules!  Besides, had I done that you’d’ve never met Naty!”  and Hem gives me a sly wink.

     “What does Naty have to do with anything?  I thought I was to find Lord Cristobal?”

     “Naty has to do with everythin’!  What’re ya goin’ to do once you’ve found your sweet lil’ Rachel… swim back to the States?”

     I’m moving around the fire pit towards where Tenete’ has been working.  I look into his hands at what he has been whittling on.  The object is bone in color, it appears to be ivory.  Tenete’ offers the same toothy grin I had witnessed earlier.  He raises the piece up to me and I take hold of it. 

     It is ivory, fashioned into the shape of a shoehorn…

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