July 17 – the Batizado
Gray dawn arrived, hushed by a light rain. Layered between diesel fumes and urban dust, the summer day still bore the feel of early spring. Kiev’s low voice rumbled awkwardly through thin air.
“That’s it, Kiev. Keep chanting even when I stop.”
Kiev continued in monotone:
Vem do luar no cu you
Vem do luar
No mar Coberto do flor, meu bem
De Yemenja a canter o amor
E a se mirar
Na lua triste no cu you, meu bem
Triste no mar
Dressed in an all-white frock, Aria sat on her heels. Encircled by daisies, her curly hair, fully released, hung three inches past her shoulders. A three-legged chair held two glass bowls, one with a clear solution and the other with a scarlet-red liquid. A small round metal plate with holes attached to two leather straps lay between the receptacles. The silver-embossed knife rested on the edge.
Aria’s gentle rocking, forward and back, kept time to her mournful recitation. Hands held over her eyes, she attempted to transport herself to a place of her mother’s and grandmother’s ancestry. Over and over again, she and Kiev sang the verses until the fog’s gray tendrils burned off into the new day.
“Kiev, it’s time.”
Kiev placed the metal plate over her mouth securing it to her head with leather straps. As if carrying a fragile rose, he held the bowl filled with crimson fluid, walking toward her. She continued rocking and praying. The fluid felt cold and syrupy on her scalp, felt like ants when it reached her forehead. She closed her eyes as the liquid raced down her face. Drips of red fell onto the white frock. The liquid found its way down the corkscrews of her hair. Aria called out to Saint Anastacia through her gated mouth, “Santa Anastacia, hear my cry. Hear me, Mother, who remembers forgotten children, the cries of suffering people. You who will not forsaken me, but will lead me to my transcendence to Yemenja, your great mother, mother of all.”
“Trish, stop moping around the house. It was just a dinner.”
“You weren’t the one everybody ganged up on, now were you?”
“Folks didn’t gang up on you. Seems to me you were a little jealous of Eloisa getting all that attention.”
“Why would I be jealous of that old woman? Besides Aria shouldn’t have egged her on.”
“Trish, that reminds me. Remember Colossians 3:12? ‘And so, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.’ You have an obligation not just as Aria’s relative but because of the faith you uphold, you’ve got to try to be more cordial with her.”
“Well, yes. I know. I’ll try.”
“Starting today, Trish.”
“Else, I’m going to talk about you to Pastor Fred on this Friday.”
“I said, okay. Now quit Rudy.” Trish smiled at his teasing.
After primping in the bathroom, Trish made her way to Aria’s room.
“Hello, Aria. It’s Aunt Trish -- are you in there?” Trish pushed the door open.
It was still, save for a breeze that billowed the curtains. Trish spotted it on the nightstand next to Aria’s grandmother, Mildred Rhone, picture. Her hand reached for the camera and hesitated. She turned the photo backwards and then scooped up the device.
“This thing has been such an irritant to me. I wish I would ‘accidently’ drop it,” she chuckled to herself. On the floor between the bed and the nightstand, the thick white envelope lay. She picked it up and snuck a peek inside.
Oh my God, she’s a drug dealer. I knew there was something strange going on here. She stuffed the envelope in her robe pocket. “She’s probably got Kiev running drugs too,” she said aloud.
She headed downstairs in search of Aria who she thought would be in the yard. As she descended, she found the record button and turned on the device. This confrontation would be sweet revenge. The world became a small screen with a blue back drop, tight and tidy. Her eyes did not leave the screen until she pushed past the swinging door leading to the kitchen.
It was quiet. She ventured outside to the backyard and inhaled deeply. The day seemed fresher, more full of potential than usual, despite the normal noise and commotion. Looking around Kiev’s house, she spied his head behind a small hedge to the right.
“I’ll sneak up and surprise them.” Trish tip toed forward.
The deep-toned mumbling and the high soprano voice keeping the same rhythm led her approach.
Kiev picked the knife up from the stool, then pulled the blade from the sheath. He rocked the sharp edge in the sunlight seemingly feeding off the flickering. He lowered it toward the back of Aria’s head.
The film rolled for forty-five seconds before Trish could mobilize her stunned body.
“My God, Kiev is killing her. Stop, you’re killing her.” Trish screamed.
Her arms flailed, right hand still attached to the activated camera. She ran towards Aria, who remained mute by the metal plate, her hazel eyes the size of half dollars, red streaming down her face, large stains marking her once pure white frock. Trish ran back towards the house.
“Rudy, Rudy, my God, call the police, Kiev is killing Aria.” Her hands flailed around. “Drug deal gone bad.”
Aria untied the leather straps. “That’s my camera. Turn it off, now. Stop.” Aria leapt up and ran after Trish. Her feet struggled with the grass. Kiev stood and rocked facing the hedge.
She gained on Trish, who kept turning around in seeming disbelief. She repeated her demand, “That’s my camera. Turn it off.” Trish turned and began running backwards away from Aria, stumbling, she lost her house slipper on a tuft of grass. Her teeth were fully bared in terror and confusion.
“You stay away from me. You heathen,” Trish screamed.
Aria made it just close enough to grab her arm. She pulled it toward her. Trish flung her arm sending the camera to the ground. It hit the grass before Aria could catch it, landing with a thud. The screen opened, recording the few seconds the drama stilled.
“You hideous turkey,” growled Aria.
“You little demon brat. What’s wrong with you?” Trish stepped forward and slapped her. Crimson remained on Trish’s hand.
Aria let out a shriek that pierced beyond the known world, with a force that greatly exceeded the pain caused by the blow. The sound emanating from her was more like the warning cry of a hawk than of a child reacting to physical pain: a long drawn out caw. She fell to her knees, scrubbing at her thighs as she cried. Her hand reached up to the scar on her right thigh. She scratched and gouged, till it became an open wound, bleeding freely.
Kiev dropped to his knees, rocking, unearthing the purple peonies planted a week earlier by Rudy. Using the knife to loosen the soil around each, he padded them with rich soil into a ball that he placed next to himself. By the time Rudy appeared, he was surrounded by a semi-circle.
“What is going on here?” Rudy rushed outside hearing the shriek.
“That girl. Look at her. She and Kiev were doing some demonic drug ritual in the back. She called me a name and physically assaulted me. Now she’s harming herself.” Trish wagged her finger, her claw ripping through the air.
She glared at Trish in silence.
“What happened, Aria? Tell me what happened? Is this blood?” He pointed to her head.
“No, it’s beet juice.” Her mouth opened wide and exaggerated each word. “We were doing a ritual for my Batizado Do Saint Anastacia. It’s July 17. She had my camera, filmed me, and wouldn’t give it back. She threw it on the ground.” Rudy saw the camera lying in the grass, opened. “I tried to get it away from her and she threw it. She slapped me.”
“She slapped you?” Rudy, cocked his head back, then fell to the ground and scooped her up in his arms. He examined Aria’s face, the sticky red substance and noted a welt mark in the shape of four fingers.
Stomping over to her lost house slipper, Trish bent over and snatched it off the ground. She marched into the house, waving her hands over her head.
“Uncle Rudy, I’m sorry I called her a name, but she filmed me and wouldn’t give me back my camera.” She began to heave and gulp air. “I-didn’t-finish my-Batizado-either.”
“Okay, Bird, just calm down. Kiev, it’s okay. I’ll take care of everything. Kiev.” He looked over at Kiev, dark black dirt covered his brother’s hands.
Rudy picked the camera up and put it into Aria’s shaking hands. “Let’s see, it might not be broken.”
“But she filmed me,” Aria whispered and looked at Kiev.
She reached for Kiev’s hand and he responded by coming to her. He knelt and gently wrapped his hand around her right index and middle fingers stained by blood from her wound, then laid his head on her shoulder.
“She filmed me.”
The three sat entwined and connected until the sobs settled. The blood from her thigh soaked into her dress. Rudy fingered the impression of Trish’s hand on her face.
“Uncle Rudy, I have to finish. I have to keep to it.”
“Okay what do you need to do?”
“I have to finish with the Batizado.” She looked at Kiev. “Can you help us?”
“Sure, what do you need me to do?” Rudy answered.
Aria led him to the ring of daisies. Before she stepped inside, she instructed him to pour the clear fluid over her head slowly. Kiev had followed and stood outside the ring while Aria stepped back in and kneeled in the center, sitting on her heels. She tilted her face up, “It’s okay to pour now.”
Rudy picked up the container and stepped in, as he slowly poured the water over Aria’s face and hair she repeated, Santa Anastacia, hear me, allow me to be with you.
Kiev stepped into the circle and put his hands under the liquid that ran over Aria, so it poured in a smaller, more gentle funnel. When Rudy had emptied the container, Kiev spread the moisture from his hands to his face.
Anastacia, holy Anastacia,
You who were borne by Yemenja, our mother,
Give us the strength to struggle each day
So we may never become slaves,
So that, like you, we may be rebellious creatures
May it be so. Amen
The three held space within the circle of white and yellow flowers, Aria kneeling, still, for several minutes. She looked up towards the sky and wept.
“I can’t get there, I didn’t believe hard enough. I failed, I failed her.” She thought about the lens of the camera, about a disciple’s obligation to be free and pure, strong. She knew she was neither.
Trish stood on the back porch watching the event, scrubbing what she thought was blood from her hands.
“Oh, Rudy can we talk about what happened today?” Trish asked as they were preparing to go to bed.
“This whole incident has been really upsetting. It’s got me thinking about our children and how I’d like to raise them. Aria is a perfect example of how I don’t want our children to be : wild, arrogant, weird, and disrespectful drug runners. Maybe it’s because her mother isn’t around to raise her.”
“Look,” she waved the envelope and creased it open. “I found it in her room. Where else would she have gotten money like this?”
Rudy stood up, walked over and snatched the envelope from her hand.
“Her grandmother in Germany gave it to her.” He lengthened his spine, “Trish, take this as a warning. Don’t you ever lay a hand on Aria again. She is not your child. She avoids you, so avoid her.”
“I can’t believe you’re talking to me like that.”
“What does it taste like, Patricia?”
“What? What taste like?”
“Bitterness, does it taste like dog shit or more like battery acid or a combination of both?’
“How could you possibly take her side on this? That child called me a name. I am not bitter.” Trish whined and began to tear up. “Where are you going Rudy?”
“To my office, on the couch, unless you plan on using the guest room. Then I’d sleep in the bed.” Rudy put on his robe and proceeded to Aria’s room and replaced the envelope, then to his downstairs office. He thought about calling Sasha again to see how Aria was doing but it had only been an hour since he last phoned.
“This will all blow over soon and everything will be back to normal,” Trish yelled her prediction.
“Normal? What’s that?” Rudy said to himself as he descended the steps.