Our “From the Cave” series continues with an imaginative piece by Ann Dufaux, who takes us centuries back into Spanish history. In a gitano cave in the hills above Granada, Ann read this part of a longer work to an enthralled audience. Prepare to enter the duende….
DUENDE IN THE HEART OF SPAIN
By Ann Dufaux
Three men in black hooded gowns, faces hidden in shadow, surround you as you rise from your bench, at the end of midday mass. They say: “Follow us.” You can hardly refuse their whispered order. Bearing heavy wooden crosses, they are either monks or priests.
After months walking uphill and down vale towards Compostela, you have finally arrived and are sitting with thousands of pilgrims who—like you—have made it all the way from their distant hometowns and villages. Incense clouds the air as the one-hundred-pound censer swings in the transept, rising to the rafters. An angelic voice resonates with an Ave Maria. Mass ends, and all attending cross themselves. You tremble. Turning to embrace the people around you: first left, then right, then back and front. You notice a tear here, a smile there. Most faces are familiar. You have met many along the way.
That is when it happens. Surrounded by three stern churchmen, you walk down the aisle as ordered, exiting the main door. You leave the cathedral, when a storm breaks: a flash, a rumble. You are witness to the biggest downpour ever. Gargoyles spew raging rivers from the church towers. Rain sweeps the plaza. As you walk out you are drenched in no time. Even your bones feel wet. You move along as directed toward the narrowest, darkest street.
The tallest of the three men stops, turns and throws a hood over your head. The others clench your elbows, dragging you along as you stumble and slide over wet cobblestones. You walk blindfolded for half an hour at least. Why is this happening? Where are you headed?
Finally, the men lead you up three steps and stop. A bell rings. You wait. A bolt slides. A heavy door swings open on creaking hinges, and you are taken down, down, down slippery stairs. Your hood is removed. It is so dark. One of the men takes out a big key, opens a barred door, and you are shoved into a cell. A tiny oil lamp flickers on a corner ledge, providing the only source of light in the gloom. You collapse on a pile of hay, crying out toward the priests: “Porqué?” The tallest replies: “We shall come and fetch you and question you in due time.”
Are you to be interrogated by an Inquisition tribunal? You peer towards the flickering light and below it notice the word AYUDA, scratched in bold letters on the dark stone wall. Was it left by some prisoner? When did that happen, and what became of him? You shudder in your dripping outfit. Seeking warmth, you delve deep into the bale of hay. Just then a warm furry creature wriggles up your back and scuttles away. The smell of mold pervades the atmosphere. You open the little pouch on your bosom, holding precious medicinal plants, and begin chewing on the bitter bark that you know prevents fever.
I lived most of my life in France, but spent my youth in New York City and Upstate New York. Jacques and I, the parents of four, spent two years in the States in the 80’s, and we still have many friends and relatives there. My first profession was as a RN. I later trained as an English teacher and developed courses for pros (pilots, MDs, engineers) for over 30 years. I’m presently making the most of my retirement: hiking, traveling when possible, making new friends, learning foreign cuisine, practicing Tai Chi, singing, reading (in English and French) and writing short stories.