Palms

Tomás leaned against the muddy wall of the trench furiously whittling a knotted tree branch. He paused, controlled his impatience, not wishing to carve the wrong groove. The knuckles of his hand were white, his fingers numb from the relentless work, the iced air.

He unwrapped his frozen fingers from the wood and warmed his hands under his armpits before firing random shots into the night. He waited for the enemy sentinel to dutifully respond. The shots echoed over the hill. Tomás sighed. One more hour of silence would now settle over the trenches.

Tomás sealed a rolled cigarette with his tongue and lit the smoke under his coat. As he returned the silver tobacco box to his breast pocket, he contemplated the bullet hole in the middle. His grandfather Manecas had slammed the box into his hand at the train station.

“Saved my life in the First,” pointing to the box, “have a hunch it hasn’t exhausted its luck yet.”

Moments later the train whistle drowned his voice and the smoke forced his grandfather to reach for a handkerchief.

In the trench, the cigarette box lifted Tomás’ spirits despite the fortune-teller’s sentence.

 

§

 

On his last day in town, Amélia had convinced Tomás to spend the day at the market.

He bought olives, she lupinis. They walked, arm in arm, around the crowded tents, he spitting black pits, she yellow skins, peeking at booths where merchants yelled out abundant praise for their wares, the louder the better. They were accosted by a rabbit vendor dangling the creature by its ears.

“Clean as a baby, no sores, no infections. My rabbits are the healthiest in the market,” the vendor claimed as she spread the rabbit’s legs a mere finger from his face.

“No doubt. But where I’m bound I’ll find no use for rabbits,” Tomás said gloomily.

“Take two then. I’ll offer you a better price. There’s nowhere one might be where the comfort of a pelt doesn’t come in handy,” she insisted, rubbing her hand along the rabbit’s thick fur.

Tomás and Amélia pushed onward while the woman chased them a few paces down the lane.

“You’d be surprised how little care they need, how little space they take!” She pointed at crowded cages where the rabbits were squeezed. Amélia and Tomás hurried on, merging with the crowds.

Amélia suggested they visit the fortune-teller. They were engaged, and she wanted to prepare for how many children the future had planned for them, how long she must wait before his return.

The palm reader’s tent was tucked away in the far corner, past the auction pens. With stripes of green, red and white, it was the most colourful in the market, and despite the stench, it displayed the longest queue on the grounds. Only the foozball tent, where the men gathered, rivalled its business.

In the queue, Tomás shifted from foot to foot, his heart in the foozball tent with his friends. He avoided the curious glances of women waiting their turn.

After hours in the braising heat, swatting flies and avoiding the swing of cattle’s tails, a woman, handkerchief on her head matching the patterns on her tent, invited them in. As they stepped inside they were immediately blinded by the darkness.

“Crystal, card or palm? The fortune-teller asked before they had even sat down.

“Palms.” Amélia said promptly.

“Left or right?”

“Does it make a difference?” Tomás asked, needing to assert his presence.

“Of course. The left palm shows your hereditary nature. The right, opens the door to the future, and it’s more expensive to read of course.”

Tomás did not like the fortune-teller’s eyes. Black and glimmering, the eyes did not leave him at rest.

(…)

excerpt                         ©paulodacosta

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The Scent of a Lie is a book of fourteen inter-connected stories, set in two charismatic towns in Portugal. Characters weave in and out of the intertwined stories, which can be read as a novel in fragments.

(2002/2012) – Paperback (140p) Format: 196 x 126 – ISBN: 978-0978184766

 MP3    Audio-Book (unabridged) Time: 4 h 14 m                  ISBN:9780978184773

 

from:  The Scent of a Lie,  LPO 2012 – 2 edition

 

 

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