‘The spirit man’ – Short story

By Nora Vasconcelos

(Part 2)
— — —
[You can read the first part of this story on Obinna Udenwe’s blog]

…Father and the neighbours couldn’t believe it!

Everybody in our street had felt relieved when the spirit man had died. Things were supposed to go back to normal. Why was this happening to us? We all wondered.

As soon as the news went around, people gathered outside the building were the spirit man used to live. Nobody really knew why we were there. The spirit man was dead, so why we should expect to get any sort of explanation by standing in front of his apartment.

May be we wanted to be sure that he was really dead. After all, he was the spirit man, and his feet never touched the pavement, or so the kids said.

Would it be our collective guilt that had brought us here? I thought.

What if the spirit man didn’t have anything to do with our misfortunes and he’d been killed for no reason at all..? No! That couldn’t be. Everybody in the neighbourhood said that he was guilty because people had died just because they had looked at him…

All these ideas tormented me over and over while I was standing there. Then something happened… Something nobody expected.

As a big gray cloud covered the sky, we saw how some light was coming from the spirit man’s apartment.

How was that possible? We wondered, asking each other if we had actually seen what we thought we had seen.

Silence invaded us. Then we watched more attentively. A chill was felt around our paralysed bodies. There was not only light coming from his apartment, but also noise…

‘Someone is there!’ A woman screamed.

‘That can’t be true!’ A young man said. ‘We got rid of the body at the lagoon… Even more, we saw it disappear as it sank in the muddy waters.’

It couldn’t be the owner of the building as he was away this week, visiting his family in the countryside.

So, who was there?

The uncertainty was terrible. But nobody dared to get closer to look inside the place. A young boy had passed away even after the spirit man had died, so, it was for sure that whoever looked through those windows would share the same faith…

‘Spirits don’t died, that’s why!’ A young boy said, hiding among the crowd.

Was that true? Had the spirit man come back from the land of the death…?

‘I’ll go and see!’ An old man said. ‘Cancer has already taken the best of my years, pain’s unbearable and one less day on this earth won’t really matter.’

We all looked at him when he started to approach the place.

As he was getting really close to one of the windows, the lights in the apartment went out.

Anyway, the old man had the chance to get a glance. ‘It’s empty!’ He yelled, just before he fell onto the floor and died.

Screams filled the air… Then everybody ran away, leaving the body of the poor man lying there.

When we got home, father said he had to come back. ‘It is not right to leave him there,’ he told us. But little time passed before he came back.

‘He wasn’t there anymore!’ He said. His face pale and his hands shaking.

‘What happened?’ Mother asked. ‘Please don’t tell me that you saw the spirit man?’ She begged.

‘I cannot say it was him, his features were different, his face was different and yet, there was something familiarly odd…’ Father said. Then he remained silent for a while, his eyes fixed on the wall, his body leaning on the door.

‘I can’t stay here with all of you! Not now that I’ve been haunted. I have to go somewhere far away from you. I can’t allow my family to get what I might have…’

And in a second, father was gone.

Mother ran to the door, but when she got close to it, she stopped, afraid of touching it.

What if ‘it’ was contagious even through the objects…? We all dreaded.

Then we cried all the evening until our bodies couldn’t take it anymore and we felt asleep. Only mother remained awake. A candle on the window, a chair blocking the door…

The next morning our doorbell rang. Mother didn’t dare to answer.

The bell didn’t ring again. Only the sound of someone going away was heard.

I shouldn’t have done it. But I did it anyway. While mother was still trying to make sure that whoever had been there was really gone, I looked through the window. A man with a limp was leaving our place …His feet barely touched the street.

I didn’t recognize him. But when I was about to go back to the room, I saw his face as he was turning his head toward our door. His nose was twisted, the same as one of his eyes and one of his ears… His eyes were as brown as the light that appears right after the sun has set and just before the night comes to rule its realm.

An hour passed before mother gathered the courage to open the door. And when she did it we noticed that our house number had disappeared. What did that mean? Were we condemned as well…? Were we going to be the next…?

‘The man with the limp had taken it for sure. But why?’ I said.

‘Let’s go kids!’ Mother ordered, gathering a few clothes in a hurry. ‘We can’t stay here!’

A friend of the family had a small apartment on the corner of our street because it was convenient for him to stay there any time he visited his grandparents who lived two blocks from here.

Mother and father took care of the apartment when he was away, making sure that it remained functional. Now, it would be our hideaway house. Nor the spirit man nor the man with the limp would ever know that we were there. Or so we thought…

The following morning everything was silent. Not even the wind blew around.

When we were getting ready to have our breakfast a bang on the door made us jump from our chairs. Nobody was supposed to know we were there!

Trying to be quiet, mother got near the door and looked through the peephole. ‘Nobody’s there,’ she said. So, she opened the door.

The house number had disappeared again!

Mother went out, hoping a mischievous kid had taken it, but we all knew that it had been the man with the limp.

Then we went out and walked along the street. There were no people outside and all the numbers of all the houses had disappeared. The same as it had happened to us!

Faraway… almost on the opposite corner, we managed to see the man with the limp entering the building where the spirit man used to live.  Were they one and the same?

At least no more people had died during the night. Or none that we were aware of. We still didn’t know what had happened to father. It’d be better if we went back to our new place. After all, it had been him who had suggested that we moved there in case things turned more complicated, so he should know where to find us when he felt it was safe.

A few hours later, a note was left under our door. We all thought it’d be from father, so we rushed to pick it up. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. The note wasn’t sign, it only said: Meet me at the apartment in an hour.

We all knew what apartment was that.

At 2pm all the neighbours got together at the spirit man’s place. Even father was there. Then we were certain that nobody else had died in the last hours, so we felt it should be safe for us to be there. Even so, no one dare to get too close to the apartment.

The man with the limp opened the door and looked at us. His expression was a puzzling one. Who was this man?

‘You all have been part of a terrible crime here,’ he said with a severe voice. ‘You’ve killed a man who never said anything . If he was a spirit or no, you’ll never know.’ The man paused and studied our faces.

‘I’ve come all the way from Gabon, where a cholera epidemic destroyed our hometown. People blamed the spirit man, but there was no way to probe it was his fault even when death became his constant companion…”

‘Oh’s!’ Were heard from the people around us.

‘By taking off the numbers of your homes I’ve prevented the disease from knowing where you live, so it won’t be able to kill anyone else. I’ve also cleaned this apartment with all the herbs and chants I know, so no one will get sick anymore. But remember, what you have done here it will remain for the spirits to be judged, so you might as well never be safe again…”

* * *

croosover artwork OK
* This story is part of The Crossover Mexico-Nigeria Project

Licencia Creative Commons

‘Second Chances’ – Short Story

By Nora Vasconcelos

It had been 10 years since I had been here the last time.

The city looked cleaner and bigger. Somehow, more modern, even when all the colonial buildings that mixed the best of the old Spanish and Mexican architecture were still standing around the small central park.

Certainly the main buildings had been cleaned up, and I should say, they looked majestic. New plant stands had been set along the City Hall and some floor to ceiling windows had been added to the office destined to greet tourists.

In the park, things remained the same as I remembered them. A big fountain in the middle of the square, splashing water to all people who walked close by. The tall trees seemed to play with the soft breeze, their branches moving from one side to the other, causing ghostly shadows to reflect on the pavement, giving the whole place an interesting contrast that made dark and sunny areas mix in a unique combination.

My walk across the park took less than ten minutes until I reached one of the galleries that were formed between the space left by the inside buildings and the arches that ran all along the main square, those that people in Puebla called Los Arcos.

Fearing the place wouldn’t be there any more, I walked faster the last steps before reaching it. Lucky for me, it was still open for business.

La cazuela –the cooking pot– was one of the many little restaurants that served locals and tourists some of the best typical dishes for which Puebla was well known around Mexico and in several countries around the world.

The feature dish mole poblano, was often known by foreigners as chicken in chocolate sauce, which I always found a bit funny because, being a Mexican to me chocolate sauce sounded more like a liquid preparation you add to your dessert and not something you have for your main course. And that was the funniest thing, the dish in fact had chicken, or turkey, in it, but the sauce was a thick mixture of several dry chilies and spices with just a small portion of chocolate to make the hot preparation a mild one, quite tasty and not that hot after the concoction was finished.

Anyways, I wasn’t here for the famous mole, nor for the also famous chiles en nogada, the same recipe for poblano chilies stuffed with minced beef and fruits covered with walnut sauce that centuries ago was made for the first time by a group of nouns, a little after Mexico had gained its independence from Spain.

No, my purpose was not the food, although I asked for a table and checked on the menu before ordering today’s meal: arroz con pollo. Some fried rice with tomato sauce and chicken would be all what my stomach could take. My nerves were making me feel uneasy as time passed by inside the place.

Nothing had changed there. The same walls with the old paintings showing some of the passages of the history of Puebla still decorated the restaurant.

Crowded tables with colorful tablecloths in red, white and green were surrounded by hungry people who looked happy to dip their fingers along with their corn tortillas inside the thick mole preparation.

As I waited for my food, my heart started beating faster …Is he still here? I wondered. A decade had passed by since we had seen each other for the last time, and I still remembered him, the same as if it had been yesterday.

At that time, both of us were working at this same restaurant, I was a waitress, he a bartender, and as it often happens when people spend many hours together, we went from polite coworkers to best friends to couple of the year.

But us being engaged lasted less than a week. At that time, I was offered a job in California, working for a fancy food chain, and I took the chance. I knew the timing was terrible for us, but the money I’d earn would help my little brothers and sisters finish school and it’d give my folks a well-deserved rest. They had kept working for several years after their retirement age because their saving weren’t enough to feed five kids and pay for their education.

Besides, Dad’s raw materials store had to close down after a big supermarket had opened on the same street. Then all their dreams of a comfortable life at their old age disappeared. No more dreams for them to see with their own eyes the Mediterranean Sea, and no more dreams of me becoming a college girl soon to be married to a loving man.

California was the answer to all our problems. Or almost all, because secretly, I had been wishing for another gorgeous thing to happen. I knew I was ambitious, but I wished with all my heart that I could keep my new job and my beloved man. He hadn’t been offer a position, although he had applied for it at the same time I had done it.

He promised he’d found a solution but things happened too fast. One day he had looked at me as if I were the most beautiful girl in the world, the only girl in the world he wanted to marry, and the next week he was staring at me silently, with his mouth half open as if words were stuck in his throat, unable to move, unable to say good bye.

We simply stood there, right in front of each other. I had stopped by the restaurant to see him for the last time, wishing deep inside he’d change his mind, wishing he said he’d found a way to go with me, wishing he’d say he’d wait for me. But he didn’t say any of those things.

When I entered the place, carrying my suitcase, he looked at me with his deep hazel eyes and smiled at me as if the sunrise had just appeared on the horizon.

‘I’m leaving,’ I said softly, with all the strength I was able to gather.

We looked at each other for a long second that in our hearts was equal to the eternity. We didn’t speak a word and yet we said I love you to each other with our eyes, speaking in silence, all in that long lingering painful second…

‘Well, I’m leaving,’ I said, wanting so badly he reached for me. But that didn’t happened. He didn’t even say good-bye to me. He just stayed there, looking at me, intensely, as if the world were closing its curtain for the last time …and yet, he said nothing.

I walked away and as I got close to the bus stop I turned my face to see him, at least one more time. And there he was standing in the same position. He hadn’t move, he hadn’t even turned his head away, he was still there looking at me as I was leaving. And then, I left.

Ten years had passed since that day, and here I was again. Back at the same restaurant. Hoping he’d still be here.

The smells coming from the kitchen made me hungry. It was hard to resist all those aromas mixed in amusing combinations. My eyes then toured the place, looking for his familiar face. I knew I hadn’t seen him in so long but his features remained fresh on my mind, exactly the same as the last time we had seen each other.

I looked at the bar, and sighed disappointed when a bartender I didn’t recognized was serving drinks to a group of businessmen.

Probably he isn’t here any more, why should he? I though. My mood was turning as grey as the sky that was getting ready for an early rainfall.

What if he is still here and he doesn’t want to see me? May be he has a family now and he has forgotten all about me… Doubts and more doubts were all over my head. What is the point of me being here…? I wondered.

My arroz con pollo finally arrived, along with some warm tortillas, fresh guacamole made with local avocado and a sampler of different hot sauces.

I thanked the waiter, looked at my food and turned my face to the window.

The city looked truly magnificent. How much I had missed it. All those buildings made with stone blocks, the towers and domes that dominated the architecture of the place, the colours that brought to life old constructions that had been renovated. Everything reminded me of the good old times.

Are there any chances for us? I closed my eyes and sighed again. Deeper this time.

I took my fork and got it into my rice. Then I looked around one more time.

One of the small murals presented an old configuration of the city and a legend placed at the top of it that said: Puebla de los Angeles. Then I thought, if this city has always been so magical as to deserved being called in the old legends as the city that the angels built, would it be enough to make my dreams come true..?

(To be continued next Wednesday on Obinna Udenwe’s Blog: )

croosover artwork OK
* This story is part of The Crossover Mexico-Nigeria Project

Licencia Creative Commons