Felismina, the town curandeira, a woman accustomed to probing the depths of the psyche, a midwife of torment, heard about Florindo’s condition. She believed him. “If the boy says he stinks, he stinks. Who are we? Do we wear his skin, smell his nightmares?”
Florindo Ramos sought her intercession in the matter.
After consulting her wrinkled manuals, brushing the dust off her skirt, Felismina declared, “I dug up one antidote, boy. Only one. But, for it to work you must be willing to look the nightmare in the face.”
Florindo shuddered, scrubbed his face with the handkerchief in his hand.
“Unless you want to live with things as they are…” Felismina said, closing her manual. A cloud of dust rose in the air.
Florindo’s hands trembled and his eyes shone white with fear, but before the end of the day he nodded in assent.
“I can’t promise it will work without the help of the others,” Felismina concluded.
When Felismina announced her plan, half the people stomped away complaining, “Why in heavens can’t we use water from our clean mountain spring?”
“We need like to fight like,” Felismina answered. “It’s everyone’s excrement we’re discussing,” and in truth no one could deny they had not used the public outhouse at one time or another. “Therefore,” she insisted, “it’s our refuse at the bottom of the outhouse. All of us are implicated in Florindo’s torment.”
Despite efforts to avoid Florindo, people encountered him queuing at the bakery or the butcher, kneeling beside them in church, and mindless he picked at his scabs, the yellow and red ooze trickling down his face. They could not avert their eyes, and soon, their minds. In time people became convinced that Florindo’s problem was everyone’s problem and no one would have peace of mind until Florindo regained his own.
©paulodacostastory excerpt from The Midwife of Torment & Other Stories 60 sudden fictions – Guernica Editions 2017 (forthcoming)