~A Tale Of Half Truths~
The heat was already beginning to build as I stepped into the square before the Basilica. It was still early morning but the unforgiving Portuguese sun felt especially fiery today. It was my third time here, so the sight of people making their way to the Basilica on their knees wasn't so shocking anymore. As usual the place was packed, yet it always amazed me how so many people could be so quiet, there was a serene air, almost like a buzzing, shrouding the place.
The Basilica itself stood like a colossal work of art, the haunting images of the dead children looking down on the faithful, forever captured in that moment of fear and bewilderment, locked in that monochrome daguerreotype for eternity. The steps that led up to the building were crowded as usual, but I happened to notice one little girl staring at me intently, a strange glow surrounding her. As I looked closer she appeared to be beckoning me. As I saw her face clearer I saw it was HER, from the image above.
"You took your time" she said.
"Hello Jacinta" I replied.
"You'll need this" she said, handing me a thoroughly battered Walkman that was held together by insulating tape and sticking plasters.
I put the headphones on and almost immediately 'Morning Light' crashed in. She took me by the hand a led me into the square.
"How come no-one else can see you?" I asked.
"I only appear to one person at a time. It's easier that way"
"Why me though?"
"I always pick an unbeliever. That way they don't go mad and start flapping around all bug eyed! I mean, look at some of this lot!!" She pointed to some of the pilgrims, agonisingly making their way on bended knees, or so disabled they could barely stand let alone walk or crawl. She skipped around them, sometimes dropping to her knees and mimicking their actions.
"You're terrible" I said.
She spat through her teeth, and replied "You'd think some of them would get a life. Haven't they sussed it by now?" She handed me a water bottle. "You'd better fill this up from one of the fountains. It's going to be a long day" she instructed.
"But the fountains are blessed. That's Holy Water!"
"It's just water. It's JUST water!"
She touched the sleeve of my shirt...
....the backdrop shifted and changed.....
We were in the house where she and Francisco had lived. The tape spooled onto 'Walking'.
As we stood in the tiny house I realised that we were both here in real time, and back in April 1919 as Francisco lay dying in his bed. As the procession of tourists and pilgrims made their way through the narrow room, I could also see the grieving family gathered around the small bed. Jacinta looked down lovingly at her brother.
"I never thought he'd go before me" she said.
"He looks so young" I replied.
"He's only 10 years old. He'll always only be 10 years old". She sneered at the procession making it's way through the house. "Look at them! Always touching his walking aid or stealing threads from his bed or scarf. It makes me sick".
She touched the sleeve of my shirt....
....the backdrop shifted and changed....
The wistful melancholy of 'Dear Flies, Love Spider' shook me out of me stupor...
We were now in Jacinta's own room. Again we were here in the present day, and also in February 1920. Jacinta was looking down at her own dead self, apparently unmoved. "Barbarians!" she said suddenly. "Barbarians! That's what they were like in those days. I had the pleurisy bad and do you know how they tried to treat me? They removed two of my ribs. I was only nine! How could they!"
It wasn't sadness I saw in her eyes, it was anger.
"I see this every day, and every day I curse them. They never even left a nurse with me on my final night" she cried as the faceless troop of believers walked through the room. "Come on, we need some fresh air" she said and grabbed my sleeve...
....the backdrop shifted and changed....
We found ourselves upon a hill in Aljustrel, "Thoughts Of You" crept onto the tape.
"So this is where it all said to have happened" I remarked.
"Yeah, this is where we said we saw Her....Our Lady....Haha!" She shook her head. "And they took the word of three little kids" she continued, laughing, "Those clowns would believe anything we told them....angels, apparitions, the sun falling from the sky! I mean look at us! Why would SHE appear to us, eh?"
She began acting out her reverential behaviour from the days of the visitation. Exactly on cue she shouted "Look what we've done?" in time with song playing in my head.
"I think I need a drink" I said.
.....the backdrop shifted and changed....
We found ourselves walking the busy streets of Fatima, '...Of Lights' fitted the mood.
We looked at all the tat. Christ shaped paperweights sat amongst Virgin Mary styled lava lamps. Biscuit tins with 'Our Lady's benign face filled shelves groaning under a ton of Rosaries. I could only shake my head in incomprehension. Jacinta yanked me into a little cafe. I ordered a bottle of Vino Verde and a bowl of bacalhua. Jacinta helped herself to some of the food then took a swig from the bottle.
"Hey, you're under-age!" I exclaimed.
"I'm 101 years old actually....and I think I'm entitled to drink. Better than that Communion wine anyway!"
We walked back to the square at the Basilica. The place was now heaving as the faithful began to gather for the mass and the procession. Aptly 'Rosary' played on the tape.
As we walked amongst the believers I couldn't help but notice that Jacinta now looked a little sad. She told me of how she and Francisco had come here nearly every day for the past 90 odd years and how they had missed their friend Lucy all that time. Now that Lucy had joined them, she was an old woman and had little time for their boisterous activities. As the sunset bathed the square in a golden glow Jacinta said it was time for her to go. "Can't let all these people down now, can I?"
I looked at all the people making their way to the various altars; candles, Holy Water and rosaries in hand.
"And to think, all of this because three little kids made up some nonsense saying they saw the Virgin Mary" I laughed.
Jacinta shot me a quizzical, angry look.
"Made up nonsense?" she glowered. "I never said we made it up. We really did see Her! She really did appear to us, just like we said"
I felt a chill in my stomach as she took back her Walkman.
"Actually" she continued, smiling, "You'd like her. She's an Atheist too!"
And with that, she disappeared into the throng.
I could still hear 'Rosary' in my head, it swirled around me like the vapour of a cynical ghost.....
~For Jacinta Marto, March 11, 1910 - February 20, 1920~