The Madonna round Evelina's
(translation: Antoine Cassar)
He had met her at the Hungry Duck, in the heart of Moscow, where
the ladies can drink as much as they like free of charge until half
eleven at night. The two of them happened to be at the bar. She
with a Hanky-Panky, he a Vodka Martini. Their eyes fell first on
the glasses; then, they looked at each other and realised that they
were, kind of, alone. And it's astonishing how, even in the freeze
of Moscow, one word leads to another. And the following morning,
he was a little surprised for as he was leaving her tiny apartment,
Evelina hinted that she would like to meet him again. And so they
Six months later there she was, with him in the
house he had inherited from his grandfather, in a small village
in a dwarfish country somewhere between Sicily and Libya. Roza –
the neighbour across the road, who administered the holy communion
to the old ladies of the village – said that to find a woman
he must have bought her. Others elaborated somewhat and said that
he had bought her over the internet. And there were some who would
smile whenever they saw them, as if they were some kind of joke.
Of course, some of the priests and those who spend too much time
with them, would look at the couple as if they were seeing Judas
Iscariot carrying a crate of Hopleaf beer. Because – quite
obviously – they were living in sin. Not only were they having
sex outside marriage, but they were regularising the irregular.
They were living as if they were married. Even to the grocer's,
for Christ's sake, they sometimes went together to buy butter. And
they would give them that look, the look which seems to say 'forgive
them, for they know not what they are doing'.
They were happy. She took care of the house, decorated
it, watered the bougainvillea, swatted the flies and rode around
on her bicycle, whilst he would shuttle home from work and to work
from home. They never spoke much about religion, except for the
obvious stuff, such as 'see that over there, look, that's a church',
or almost in passing, like when she took down a poster of the Last
Supper from the kitchen wall because it didn't match the decor,
and he accepted with a hug. He was a Catholic. Baptised, first communion
and confirmation. But as Evelina never mentioned mass or anything
along those lines, he didn't want to bring them up himself. Until
one day, a Saturday morning, whilst Evelina was out on her bike,
they brought them the Madonna.
"We brought you the Madonna," said the
neighbour, as he opened the front door.
The Madonna was passed around the entire village,
from one end to the other, each house passing her to the next. Each
home would keep her for two days, mostly in the kitchen with the
oil from the chip pan slapping her face, or in the sitting room
next to Super One TV.
What was he to do? Tell the neighbour he didn't
want it because it didn't match Evelina's decor? Refuse the Madonna?
Wasn't it to her that he prayed whenever he was in the doctor's
waiting room squirming with pain? And now he should refuse her?
No way. He took her inside, placed her on the kitchen table, and
went back to cutting his toenails. Then, in came Evelina.
"What the hell is that?"
"What you want it to be, Evelina? That's the Madonna."
"And what is the Madonna doing in our kitchen?"
It was useless trying to explain what it was all
about. There was no point in showing her there were people whose
lives revolved around such things. Evelina took the Madonna and
put her under the stairs, such that you had to crouch down in order
to see her, as if having to go under a truck.
"The Madonna can stay there for these two days."
And he did as was his usual. He remained silent.
Unnecessary arguments annoyed him. But that evening, in the house
named 'In-Nann' (after his grandfather), strange things began to
occur. First the lights went out. Theirs alone in the entire street.
And as soon as he tried to flick the circuit-breaker, it spat out
a flame which very nearly roasted his hand. It was too late to call
Guzi the electrician, so they decided that just for that night they
would go to bed early. And, with a slowly smouldering candle on
either side of the queen-size bed, he lay down and began to stare
at the ceiling, and at the strange shadows forming before his eyes.
In their midst, a large shadow began to take shape. It was in the
form of an arrow. No, actually, it was more like a Christmas tree.
No. And then, clear as crystal, a woman appeared ... with a veil.
The Madonna under the stairs! Then began the nightmares. The fires
of hell. The screaming. The chains. The sobbing. The devils and
who knows what else.
The following day, when Evelina came in from her
bike ride, she was greeted by the statuette of the Madonna on the
commode at the front of the house.
"What the fuck is this?"
That day, for the first time, they quarrelled fiercely.