A sudden, involuntary flaring of his tongue, a hideous contortion of his face; and apart from this peculiar affliction, Bonifácio Careta remained an ordinary child. The villagers believed everyone entered life with unique, God-given graces—some born to nose-picking, others to continuous spitting, others to limping. They never spent a second thought on Bonifácio.
Bonifácio Careta’s life would have proceeded without remarkable attention if misfortune had not brought his peculiar condition to public notice.
Bonifácio’s fortunes changed irrevocably on the occasion of the long-awaited Papal tour of the country with the Pontiff’s brief, unscheduled bathroom stop in Bonifácio’s forgotten village. While the Pontiff bestowed upon the gathering crowd his holy blessing, his Holiness’ finger fell with singular exactitude upon the unsuspecting Bonifácio. Drawn to Bonifácio’s angelic face, his perfect, clustered freckles and pleasant manners, the radiant smile that could distract buzzing bees from their business, His Sanctity stopped the caravan and summoned the boy.
Brought forward, the Pope kissed and blessed the boy, “Little angel, would you like to come with me and join the priesthood?” the Pope enquired, patting Bonifácio’s buttocks. Bonifácio’s affliction flared and his tongue stuck out half a metre. The Pontiff, shocked, blessed himself and the child. “May our souls be safeguarded from the devious ways of Satan,” he voiced, attempting to push the child’s tongue back inside his mouth. Bonifácio did not know about Satan, he only knew his tongue carried a mind of its own. Without warning, it would dart out like a deranged clockwork cuckoo, wreaking havoc in the predictable world outside. Then his muscles would stiffen and no force or fancy could return the tongue to its proper place.
Sales of papal icons and newspapers doubled after the Pope’s “face to face encounter with the devil,” as the inflammatory press headlined the event along with a photograph of Bonifácio’s pinkish tongue. The villagers began to believe Bonifácio Careta cursed. They prayed novenas. Masses were sung. His mother, Alzira, crawled on her knees the entire way to the miraculous Lady of Fátima, seeking Her intercession for her son’s affliction.
©paulodacostastory excerpt from The Midwife of Torment & Other Stories 60 sudden fictions – Guernica Editions 2017 (forthcoming)