Aquilina

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic
You can take a person from a village, but you can't take the village from the person.

Submitted: September 16, 2012

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Submitted: September 16, 2012

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AQUILINA

Father Jerome opened his bedroom window, as he had done so every morning since his arrival in the village six months ago, and breathed in the pure mountain air. The air in Heaven must be as clean as this, thought the young priest. This thought formed part of the short morning ritual of Father Jerome. After greeting the morning and a new day, and saying his personal prayers, the priest went downstairs to the kitchen. An elderly lady servant, who had served the previous priest till his death, was preparing an enormous bowl of milky coffee, and on a plate there were biscuits. Father Jerome preferred to breakfast in the kitchen so as to avoid Rosalia entering his study looking for the breakfast tray.
Someone had knocked at the front door and on getting no reply knocked again, but this time more insistently. Moaning to herself, Rosalia, with her slow and heavy step, “I’m coming. I’m coming,” the elderly lady murmured.
Father Jerome went on drinking his coffee and eating his biscuits quietly. The kitchen door opened and Rosalia entered with a strange expression on her face. “Father, I hate to disturb you but there’s a young girl at the door.”
Father Jerome drank up the rest of his coffee and stood up, “What young girl?”
“I don’t know, Father. I don’t know her.”
“Isn’t she a village girl?”
“No, Father.”
“Well, I’d better go and see her.”
Rosalia took the young priest to the front door. “This is the young girl, Father. I let her in because I didn’t want to attract the attention of the village gossips.”
“At this time of the morning! They should have more important things to occupy themselves than with other people’s business!”
“There are some who never ever sleep and are always on guard.”
Father Jerome knew that Rosalia was right.
“This is the priest, Father Jerome,” Rosalia said to the young girl.
Father Jerome perceived in the gloominess in front of him the figure of a young, robust girl. It was obvious she was from a village.
“Good morning. How can I help you? Have you got a name?”
“My name is Aquilina, and I’ve come to your house to work.” The young girl had a strange, somewhat hoarse voice.
Rosalia and Father Jerome stared at her.
“Have you had breakfast?” Father Jerome asked the girl.
“No, Father, nothing.”
“Rosalia, take her to the kitchen and when she’s had something to eat and drink, bring her to my office. Go with Rosalia and she will give you some breakfast.”
Aquilina, with an air of feeling at home and at the same time of being an important person visiting, went with Rosalia to the kitchen. When she was full after a good breakfast, she thanked Rosalia, who then took her to the priest’s office. Aquilina had said nothing while she was breakfasting and Rosalia was curious to find out what information the young priest would be able to get out of her. What Father Jerome wanted to know was why she had gone to his house and not that of the mayor who was more important or someone else from the village.
Aquilina’s answer to the question, “Why have you come to my house?”
Was, “Because you are the priest.”
“And how did you know where my house was?”
“I knew.”
To other questions about her family, her age, and where she was from, Aquilina didn’t seem to remember anything. The priest knew she wasn’t lying so he called for the doctor, who after examining her came to the conclusion, “Amnesia, but how bad I can’t say. In time we’ll probably find out more about her. Due to her youth the amnesia won’t last long, even though you never know. If there’s nothing else for me here, I have to go.”
“Thank you, Doctor. There’s nothing else here for you. Rosalia, please accompany the doctor to the door.” The two men shook hands and the doctor left. Father Jerome stayed thinking.
“Aquilina, you can stay here till you recover your memory or a member of your family comes looking for you. Is that all right for you?”
“Yes, Father. Thank you.”
“Rosalia is always complaining of having no help and now she has you. Aquilina, you will help Rosalia with the housework.”
Rosalia went away with Aquilina, and the young priest was satisfied with the result, and at the same time sure that eventually they would have the answer to Aquilina’s sudden appearance.
In a short time they realized that Aquilina could hardly read or write and was not at all refined. In spite of the disadvantages she was clean and quick to learn. Rosalia was happy to have someone to give orders to, and who never answered back. Aquilina had soon learned how to prepare the simple dishes of the house, and how to do the laundry. Rosalia was a good teacher and made sure that Aqulina was a good pupil. The priest’s house was governed by his work. The meal times and the cleaning were directed around his work; the masses, the house visits, and the meetings with the local dignitaries. And if at times the priest and Rosalia wondered about Aquilina’s origin, they understood that the orphan’s (they called her that because it seemed she belonged to no one) goodwill was above everything else.
At the beginning of winter Aquilina’s classes began. Thinking of the young girl’s future Father Jerome had decided to teach her to read and write. Aquilina had no objections and the classes turned out to be good fun for the two of them. Father Jerome had hoped that maybe a window or a door in Aquilina’s memory would be opened, with phrases, pictures, and photos, but the girl’s mind was closed against anything that could stimulate her memory, and anything that might be there. The part of Aqulina that was most inaccessible stayed, and could not be stirred up. And so life in the priest’s little house went on peacefully and well organized for several months.

One spring day a young married couple arrived at the village. They were travelling in the area and had heard how pure and wonderful the air and water were. They stayed at the house of some friends. They had arrived at night and they were greatly surprised to see that the young wife had no servant.
“We had one that had been in my mother’s house, but she said she was unable to come for family reasons,” Isabel said.
“That’s not good. A young lady needs a maid,” their friend replied.

The next day the young couple met up with Father Jerome, whom they had met before.
Father Jerome rang a small table bell, and Aquilina appeared at the door of the living-room. “You called, Father?”
“Yes, Aquilina. I’ve got visitors. Please bring us coffee, biscuits, and any other cakes and sweets there may be.”
“Yes, Father,” and she left.
Isabel, the young wife, had noticed how Aquilina had responded to the priest and then how she had done the work. “Who is the girl?” she asked Father Jerome.
The priest told them Aquilina’s story and the fact that nobody had come looking for her.
“Do you want her?” Isabel asked.
The two men knew that Isabel was used to getting what she wanted without any arguments.
“Isabel, there are many girls like Aquilina, Father Jerome has taught her to work for him.”
“Don’t try to dissuade me, Jerome, I like this girl as she is. She’s obedient, says the minimum, and does things very well. Anyway she’s too young to be living in a young priest’s house. You know what people are like. It’s not convenient for you to have her here.”
Father Jerome knew that Isabel was right, but he had got used to Aquilina and didn’t want to let her go so easily. The girl trusted him. He wondered what Aquilina would say if she knew what Isabel’s proposal was.

Aqulina was against the idea of going to live with the young couple, but if Father Jerome said that she had to do so, then there was no argument. He was the priest, and knew what was to be done. Rosalia and Aquilina hugged each other and kissed tearful goodbyes. The priest was witness to the affection between the elderly maid and the young one, and for a moment had a feeling of remorse and loss. Rosalia and Father Jerome stood in the doorway of the house watching the car that took Aquilina far from them. Father Jerome had had the sensation of repugnance when he saw the expression of triumph on Isabel’s face and her bossy voice. Aquilina stayed staring at the priest and Rosalia’s faces till they were out of sight. Father Jerome shut the front door after them and went into his office to pray for himself, for Rosalia, and above all for Aquilina. Rosalia went to the kitchen to prepare something for the priest.

Whatever Aquilina felt on leaving the mountain village to go and live in a provincial town with two strangers, she never showed it nor spoke about it. Aquilina’s eyes were large and dark brown; the most extraordinary thing about them was their lack of expression.
One day after Aquilina had spent some years in Isabel and Cayo’s house, one of their female visitors made a comment about the lack of expression in Aquilina’s eyes. The lady in question said, “She’s like a sleepwalker.”
Isabel, with her usual aplomb said, “I’d never noticed.”
And that was that.

Cayo and Isabel lived in an apartment bought for her by her father on her marriage. Isabel was one of four sisters, daughters of a blanket manufacturer. None of the daughters had ever entered the factory, because their mother had brought them up to be the wives of someone. Orthopaedic garments was Cayo’s business, and as there were many farmers in the region he didn’t lack clients. Isabel’s visit to the shop was her first and last, as she looked disdainfully at the different goods on display. It really was a chamber of horrors. There were trusses for masculine hernias that appeared to have been handed down from generation to generation from the Middle Ages. Instruments to strengthen the spinal column and neck. Artificial arms and legs in a colour called ‘flesh’ which resembled the limbs of a giant doll, those arms and legs were nothing like the real ones. Cayo’s business was very successful in spite of its being most unattractive. Isabel decided to marry him encouraged by her mother and because she wanted to stop being a spoilt daddy’s girl to become a despotic wife.
They had got married around the same time that Aquilina had arrived at the priest’s house. Isabel was happy in her role as head of the household, but would never put up with the slightest carelessness or answering back of the servants. On seeing Aquilina, she had seen the answer to her household problems.

This was the house where Aquilina made her entrance after an extremely tiring journey with her new bosses. It took Isabel no time at all to show her true character. On entering the house, she said, “Aquilina, come with me. I’m going to show you the house. After that you can prepare some food, unpack the cases, and run my bath,”
Aquilina with her air of tamed animal did everything her boss told her. That night, Isabel confided to her husband, “I know it’s a bit early to make any kind of comment but I think with Aquilina we’ve finally found the definitive one.”
Cayo, whose only interest was his business, answered, “I hope so. Anyway, Isabel, it’s your problem. The things to do with the servants belong to you, I ask only that the house be run correctly, and excellent food. Understand?”
“Yes, darling.” Isabel closed her eyes and began planning her life. With Aquilina in her house everything was solved. For a while it had seemed that she might have to do without some of her whims, but thanks to the lucky trip to the village she wouldn’t have to do without anything. How lovely her life was!

During the first years in Cayo’s and Isabel’s house Aquilina learned how to sew and embroider besides making the tastiest dishes that Isabel got from a recipe book that she had received as a wedding present. Teaching Aquilina how to sew was so that she could mend anything torn or undone without having to look for a lady to come to the house and do them, and the tasty dishes were to impress visitors. In this way Isabel was free to do exactly what she wanted.
Every morning Aquilina took a basket and went to the market. All the sellers new her and who she worked for. It was impossible for them to sell anything to the young girl that wasn’t the best. In a short time she knew which were the best stalls for everything. She never returned home with fish that wasn’t fresh or a steak that was tough. Isabel had placed all the responsibility of running the house in Aquilina’s hands and she never failed. When one of her friends said something about her luck, Isabel usually answered, “Aquilina knows her place. With me, the servants obey because they know what’s good for them.” No one ever replied to that answer.

Isabel gave birth to a boy who died in a few weeks. The doctor said it was due to lack of milk. The worst days for Aquilina were when she could hear the baby crying because it was hungry, just like an abandoned animal. During that time Isabel didn’t want to go out or receive visitors, and at times she stayed talking to Aquilina while she was working.
One day Isabel asked Aquilina some personal questions, but she got the same replies that the priest had received before. The only thing she got was that Aquilina told her that the priest had given her the date of the twenty-fourth of July as her birthday as it was her saints day, and she had been born that day, or had been named after someone in her family. If Aquilina and Isabel grew closer at that time it was because Isabel had no other idea than to unload her problems and complaints onto someone who only had to listen and say the right word at the right moment. It never occurred to Isabel that Aquilina might have problems or that she might want to do something away from the house. For the spoilt young wife, Aquilina was nothing more than a beast of burden with the advantage of knowing how to run the house. Aquilina’s gaze was never noticed by Isabel, and if at any time she had raised her head she would never have felt so comfortable or so sure with the maid.

A year later, two things took place. First of all, the shop was made larger and a catalogue was made of all the goods; the second was that Isabel gave birth to a girl who was handed over to a wet-nurse straightaway. There were no more children, and as neither she nor her husband ever commented about it, it must have been their decision. The baby was called Ana Isabel, who all her life was called Anisa.
The baby’s arrival meant more work for Aquilina. The baby’s room had to be scrubbed from top to bottom every day. In the morning Isabel handed over a list of the work that had to be done that day. After breakfast in bed, she got up and sat in the living-room to keep an eye on how Aquilina did her work. Cayo and Isabel would meet at lunchtime. In the afternoon Isabel would take the baby out for a walk. The baby and pram were sumptuously done out. The mothers openly eyed each other up to see who had spent the most money.
Aquilina didn’t have much to do with Anisa till the wet-nurse had left the house. Then the baby went to a nursery so as not to dirty the house or annoy her mother. In Anisa, Cayo saw the continuation of his business and from a tender age Anisa was taken to her father’s shop, where he told her that one day it would be hers.

Over the years it was Aquilina who stayed up with Anisa when she was studying, making sure that that she kept warm by covering her with a blanket and giving her endless cups of coffee to keep her awake. Aquilina was always waiting for Anisa when she returned from school and then later on after she had been out with her friends.

Anisa was fourteen when they noticed that Aquilina was somewhat grumpy. Everything looked bad to her and she quarrelled with everyone.
“Aquilina, tonight we have aubergines and fish,” Isabel said on one occasion in her usual manner.
“Well, there isn’t any,” Aquilina answered, keeping her eyes on the ironing.
“What do you mean there isn’t any?”
“There isn’t any and that’s that,” Aquilina replied.
That way of replying to Isabel was deadly. “Aquilina, I don’t like the tone of your voice with me. You must be a little more careful with me, and remember who I am and who you are.”
Aquilina raised her eyes to send a gaze so deep and enigmatic that would have silenced the most senseless person, but Isabel was leaving the room after she had put the servant in her place. It was a shame that she hadn’t turned her head. Perhaps some of what was going to happen could have been avoided.

“It doesn’t change the fact that there isn’t any,” Aquilina said to an empty kitchen.
That night they had salad and chicken breast for dinner. Isabel said she wasn’t hungry. Cayo and Anisa ate the same as usual. It was very disconcerting for Isabel to feel Aquilina’s presence as a real person instead of just an ‘entity’, but couldn’t dismiss her because she couldn’t do without her.

Isabel found a young girl to help Aquilina in the house. Aquilina viewed the arrival of the new maid with indifference, and enjoyed giving orders. The poor young thing didn’t know whether to obey Isabel or Aquilina. Aquilina always went against anything Isabel said. So there came a moment when Isabel complained to Cayo, “Who is Aquilina to give orders to the maid when she is a maid herself?”

Anisa grew and studied a lot. On Saturdays she was in the shop, and Cayo had opened a branch in a village. When she went away to study economics and marketing, Cayo bought another house, much more luxurious, as corresponded to a man who was doing well. Through some friends they took on a young girl to clean the house, and Aquilina was relegated to the kitchen and the laundry.

It was Aquilina who packed Anisa’s suitcases when she went to the capital to finish her studies. And it was Aquilina who said goodbye to her at the front door with a sad look on her face, but it was her parents who accompanied her to the station to send her off in public with tears, and ready hankies waving till the train had left the station.
Once again in the street, Cayo said to Isabel, “See you later at dinner. I hope our daughter studies as hard as she did when we were watching her.”
“I think so, the residence is very strict. She knows what we expect of her and she won’t let us down.”
They each went their separate ways.
Back at the house Aquilina was in Anisa’s bedroom tidying everything up and picking up clothes that in her hurry to leave, the young girl had left on the floor. Aquilina had a sensation similar to the one she had had when she had left Father Jerome’s house.

Anisa returned home every holiday, and she was obliged to help her father in the shop, putting into practice all that she was learning. In the afternoons Isabel went out with Anisa to show her off to her friends. When her friends spoke about boyfriends for Anisa, Isabel said, “No boyfriends for the moment, she has to help her father in the business. That’s why we have made her study, and as she is very obedient she takes notice of us. There’ll be time for boys.”
Anisa liked being in the shop, thinking of how she was helping to increase her father’s income, and one day would have an assured future.

On getting her degree Anisa returned home and her father gave her the new branch. Aquilina knew that the little girl she had helped to grow up was now a woman. One day Anisa and Aquilina were the only ones at home and Anisa told the maid that she had met a young man. On seeing Anisa’s face radiant with happiness Aquilina knew she was going to lose her forever. The young man, whose name was Donato, had gone into the shop to buy an orthopaedic corset for his father. He had gone back every day under some pretext or other and leaving the shop with the strangest things imaginable. Anisa asked him, “Why do you come here every day? I can’t believe that you need so many orthopaedic articles or do you come from an ill family?”
Donato laughed and said, “I come because I like you. Would you come on a date with me?”
Anisa smiled and said yes and they began to go out.

A year later they got married and went to live in a flat not too far away from her shop. Donato was a farmer and was away from home all day. Anisa had to work in her shop. So that she could have everything in the home in place, Isabel gave Aquilina to her daughter so that she didn’t need to look for a maid.
The same night that Isabel sent Aquilina to live with their daughter, Isabel said to Cayo, “What a fantastic solution sending Aquilina to live with Anisa. Now we’ll only have to see her when we go to their place.”
Cayo said nothing as usual, he was thinking about his business and a new type of portable wheelchair. He had paid no attention to his wife’s chat in twenty years.

Aquilina cleaned Anisa’s home as if it were her own. Donato couldn’t stand Aquilina, and limited himself to good morning and giving her orders. When Donato wasn’t present both Aquilina and Anisa had chats about the people who went to the shop. Aquilina was the first to know about Anisa’s pregnancy which was the first of her three children, Oscar.

In five years Anisa had Oscar, Amada, and Coral. Aquilina’s ‘look’ didn’t change over the years, and in the moment she had to wear glasses it was as if the lenses intensified those penetrating and inscrutable eyes.
Cayo and Donato were of the same stamp, money meant everything to them. They set up an estate agents. They bought old buildings, did them up, and resold them. It was a perfect set up.
In one of their transactions they came across a very large unused site. The two men decided to build an elegant house, as evidence of how they had gone up in life. The construction lasted three years, due to the fact that neither Isabel nor Anisa wanted to enter till everything was in its place.

Aquilina looked after Anisa’s children just as she had looked after their mother. The children were very rude. Oscar, gave orders to Aquilina as soon as he arrived from school until his parents got home. Once Oscar went too far and Aquilina complained to Donato. That was a mistake on Aquilina’s part. Donato with his attitude to maids told her not to interfere in family matters. Aquilina told herself that she would never say anything ever again, if that was his attitude. From that moment on, Aquilina changed into a dark, silent, and omnipresent shadow. The children called her grumpy and she did nothing about it.

Anisa’s daughters were useless, while Anisa had been an exemplary daughter in her parents’ eyes. One thing that Cayo and Isabel agreed with Aquilina on, was that Anisa’s children were spoilt and rude. Donato didn’t like to hear his children being criticised and began to insult his in-laws. More than once Anisa found herself being the referee between her parents and her husband. In spite of their discrepancies, Amada and Coral confided their private lives to Aquilina, due to the fact that their mother was not at home. Aquilina stared at them and only blinked like an old reptile looking into the distance or at an insect about to be eaten. Aquilina had them all under her control. They were all against her. She served for something more than cleaning the house and this something was that without Aquilina they would have been in conflict amongst each other.

For his eighteenth birthday Oscar received the regulation car. Cayo and Isabel were proud of their grandson, and their plans for the boy were to make the business even bigger. He was on the point of going to university when on one of his drunken weekends, with a girl included, he drove his car into a tree, breaking his neck and dying in the act. The accident was a disaster from every angle. It took the firemen ages to get the two cadavers from the twisted metal and also to inform the parents as he wasn’t carrying any identification.
Aquilina told Anisa that there was a police officer at the door.

Anisa and Donato could not understand why this terrible tragedy had happened to them. The family knew nothing about the young girl found with Oscar, and made no attempt to find out. The tragedy was for them. There was no room for anyone else.
If his parents or his grandparents had asked Oscar’s friends what he was like, they would have replied, “Funny, show off, and conceited.” The police were not surprised on seeing Oscar’s relatives. They were the typical wealthy with very little brain. Oscar had paid the price for the dedication of his grandfather and father to making more money. One policeman on seeing the cadavers and the make of the car had commented, “Too much and too soon.”

With Oscar’s death a light had gone from the house. Isabel, used as she was to getting her own way in everything, was furious and even blamed her daughter and her son-in-law. Isabel’s quarrels with Oscar’s parents didn’t help at all, but only increased the bad feeling in the family. Aquilina continued her life preparing food no one wanted to eat, doing the laundry. Aquilina felt very unwanted on being left on one side. She didn’t figure in the general mourning as she wasn’t a member of the family. Aquilina began to age little by little.

On seeing Aquilina age, Isabel looked at herself and saw an elderly woman, too. Isabel had the appearance of the woman she was, an aged doll. Aquilina with her voice hoarser than in her youth and her skin dry and rough like that of a lizard seemed to know what her own destiny was. Without affection and understanding, Aquilina became bitter, and the family became bitter with her.

There was a drought in the countryside and it hadn’t rained enough to fill the reservoirs or the wells, while the sun felt like hot lead over the parched land. The cracks were enormous and the roots without food came out to the light to die, burnt. It was said to be something biblical, a pitiless sun punishing the farmers. For the first time in his life, Donato felt the hate and strength of nature, and knew that he would be wasting time fighting against a strength that was much more than human. So he just waited till the rains came to solve his problems. Donato didn’t like the fact that he had lost money.

Cayo was a nuisance, whenever he went into the shop to help he did strange things. Sometimes he put money in some place and then forget where he had put it. Other times he made mistakes with the prices and he had even offended a lady when he had asked her if she wanted him to help her put on the orthopaedic corset.
The stress caused by Oscar’s death and the tension with her father in the shop and her husband at home exploded in Anisa. One night she felt unwell, told Aquilina, and went to bed early. When Donato saw his wife in bed, he rang the doctor. The doctor came and examined Anisa. “I think it’s a cerebral haemorrhage. She must go to hospital at once. I’ll call for an ambulance.”
Donato informed his in-laws and they all went to the hospital. During the night Anisa fell unconscious, and Donato went home to get his daughters. Amada and Coral got to the hospital but Anisa was already in a coma.
Amada didn’t want to think about what was happening to her mother, it was too much for her. First Oscar and now Mummy. Anisa had never been a mother. Instead of affection, small attentions, and the usual daily details from a mother to her children, Anisa had only presented them with the material. Amada could not remember ever having a conversation with her mother, and now she was dying, and with this death the little security that Amada had had.

Whoever sold Amada her first ration of death knew what he was doing, and in no time at all the poor young girl was hooked. Aquilina, as always, knew that there was something bad going on with Amada, but in her innocence she had never thought of drugs. Amada went from bad to worse, and it was when she was only skin and bones did Donato open his eyes, but it was already too late. Amada couldn’t and didn’t want to be saved. They said it was sadness for the loss of her brother and her mother. Donato was furious. Her grandparents cried for ages, but no one can cry for ever, and much less when there is a business to run.

After drying their tears and blaming the most ridiculous things, they set their sights and hopes on Coral.
Being the last of the three children, Coral had been freed from the tensions suffered by Oscar and Amada. Oscar had had to get the best marks and be the best sportsman. He always had to stand out to please Cayo, who saw in the boy the son he never had. Poor Oscar, what a responsibility was placed on his shoulders.

Aquilina got long, deep wrinkles, that went down her face from her nose to her mouth. The grandparents’ attitude towards Coral had her worried, but faithful to herself she said nothing, only observed. The food was not as good as in previous years, Aquilina left the food too long on the stove and it burnt.

One day, some small clouds appeared. They were white and the first in a very long time. Donato went inside a hut where he kept farming tools and old sacks, he wanted to keep out of the rain.. At midday the sky was covered and very dark. Lightning lit up the clouds, and again and again the lightning flashed faster and faster, till the first drops started falling. Safe in his shed, Donato breathed the fresh, damp air in gratitude. The rain got noisier and noisier, and Donato realised that it was hail. Between the water and the hail he didn’t know which was worse.
A landslide, caused by the strength of the rain and hail, fell onto the shed burying him and the shed completely. When the rain stopped several hours later, there was no sign of anything in the place where the shed had been. Only a river of mud looking for its way out.

Aquilina observed the faces of the two elderly people on hearing of Donato’s accidental death. All these calamities were God’s will or a curse, was their opinion. Coral said nothing.

They made a strange quartet, three elderlies and a young girl. The trio watched over Coral as if she were under a microscope. Every moment, every movement, her food, her drink. Cayo continued with the business now, for Coral’s sake. Everything was for Coral. Isabel often said to her granddaughter, “You are going to inherit this business, this house, your father’s land, and the estate agents. One day you’ll be an important woman, what do you think?”
Coral was not at all interested. That day was too far off.
Coral was accompanied to school by either Isabel or Aquilina every day.
Destiny still had one last card to play.

There they are, waiting for me, thought Coral. In the lake’s clear waters it was easy to make them out – Oscar, Amada, Mummy, and Daddy. A light wind produced tiny waves on the surface of the lake, but they were still there. Coral approached the edge in order to see them better. Their faces returned her gaze. Coral saw her father’s arm beckoning to her. Coral screamed at them, “Wait for me!” and grabbed at Donato’s arm. Now they were all together.
The natural science teacher was unable to understand what had happened. Coral’s corpse was found floating on the lake, holding onto the branch of a tree that came out of the water that looked like the arm of a drowned person.

The trio of old people living under the roof of the great house built by Cayo with the profits from Cayo’s business was a parody of the trio of young people they had been.
Aquilina was no longer the young and robust girl that the young and elegant couple had taken from her village to be their slave. Moving with difficulty Aquilina, could just about do the housework. All the rooms were shut off except those used by the old couple and Aquilina. The fancy house was an enormous shadow full of smaller shadows like secret pains. Now old Aquilina’s aspect was more like that of an animal from ancient history. Isabel and Cayo had shrunk with age, whereas Aquilina appeared to be larger and more imperious. The old couple began to be afraid of her, without knowing why.

One day seeing the two old people sitting side by side on the sofa, both like worn out dolls, Aquilina opened her mouth to speak, “It’s like old times, isn’t it? Us three together under the same roof.” Cayo’s reaction was that of indifference, he had never been able to understand the servants, neither did he see them as human beings. Isabel, on the other hand, trembled with fear to see Aquilina’s large mouth like a dark and evil cave. The tongue was frightening, it appeared ready to catch and swallow everything. On not receiving a reply, the lizard-like Aquilina continued talking, “Things have changed somewhat, haven’t they? Now you need me, whereas I don’t need anyone.”
Isabel found the strength from somewhere deep down inside her to say, “Aquilina, you mustn’t forget one thing, I’m still the mistress here.”
At those words Aquilina’s eyes blinked and then a sound as if something was breaking came from her throat. It was an ugly, almost primitive sound with nothing human about it. At last the expected confrontation between mistress and maid had arrived, between power and servitude.
Aquilina’s words were the first of many. Every day she said something to them to remind them of painful memories.
She spoke ceaselessly about what had happened. Even to how beautiful Coral was in her coffin, “Just like a spirit from the lake,” was how she described her.
Isabel’s hair stood on end. Cayo was now so old he never thought about anything. One day, he commented that it was a shame that after so much effort the business was going to end up in strangers’ hands. Everything had been for nothing, the old man said without regret.
Aquilina had gone back to cooking the dishes she had learnt in Father Jerome’s house. Isabel preferred to eat them rather than argue with Aquilina, and Cayo was indifferent. The days of ambition for money, for the business had gone by.
In spite of everything neither Cayo nor Isabel would come out of their comfortable situation to see things as they really were. Aquilina seeing that there was no remedy kept quiet.

Isabel woke up one morning to discover that Aquilina was not there. Now in her old age Isabel had to do things for herself. She didn’t know how.
Cayo lost his patience with Isabel, and said that Aquilina was no great loss and that they could get another maid. That day they spent badly.

The following morning the large house was nothing more than a mass of rubble, it had collapsed in the night. Under the broken bricks, the corpses of Isabel and Cayo were found. In death they were two broken rag dolls, useless and ugly.
One of the men who had gone to clear away the rubble said, “This old site should never have been built on, you know, in past times it was a common grave where poor people and lepers were buried.”

The penetrating blue of the sky above the dark mountains with their white peaks, was the background to the village. An elderly priest with some resemblance to Father Jerome slowly walked up to a new gravestone, clean and shiny in the purity of its whiteness. There was a vase of wild flowers of many colours on the gravestone, giving it an air of rustic happiness. There was nothing more than one name on it: ‘AQUILINA’.
In the part of the graveyard where Aquilina’s grave was, there was no morbid or sad atmosphere, but one of happiness. Aquilina in death had returned to the freedom of nature.


© Copyright 2017 Georgina V Solly. All rights reserved.

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