Sisters whispered that she was touched by tongues of the Holy Spirit.
job was to knock nests of spiders out of the tall trees.
"Anybody who thinks the bay's bottom is closer than the gates of
hell will have to revise the map," she proclaimed as she dropped
bundles of pescado from her boat.
Of all the fish in the sea, she fed and nurtured the biggest. Slipping
this dietary regimen into dark waters, a froth of life rose, causing her
skiff to tip. Shoulders to the oars, she turned toward shore. Raw power
of tiburon fabulosa scraping her keel, bumping her prow, pressing and
banging the thin wood.
Mouthing the words of Psalm sixty four, she knew no harm would come. Across
a waterspout of mad activity, she rode - monstrous killer fish thrashing
below. Nearing the edge of this wild throng, a gaping hole in the night
revealed convex arches of glistening teeth. Twenty-inch ivory spikes,
set row upon row, formed a half-circle around the smooth, blunt-nosed
Her heart quickened. The Psalm - a prayer of protection - was all remaining
between her and eternity. Searching out the fire on the beach, she lined
up a beacon. Until now, the sharks had been utterly dependent upon her
- but this was too much. This sea creature of unfathomable magnitude.
Moonlight glittered off its serpentine length. She hurried to shore.
Ever since she'd come from within the cultivations, she'd spoken with
the sharks. They promise to even the score. Voice of their willingness
comes through the rite of fire.
Reaching shore, she beaches the boat, steps over the bow and rushes to
the blaze. Kneeling, peering into the heart of embers she understands
that it is time to add the planks of her skiff. So, dragging the old boat
over wind-blown sand to the intoxicating glow, she uses an axe to break
it up. She piles pieces of the useless vessel atop the flickering driftwood.
Many sediments have been absorbed in the taint of her old craft. The taint
sizzles and sparkles. It gives the heart of fire a rainbow of flickering
hue. She strains to grasp the meaning conveyed. Flames climb into the
night revealing a spirit of retribution.
Hissing, the taint breaks into a phosphorescence clutching the thwarts
of her destroyed scow. It has a great deal to tell: of wealth and need
in a province where the small are consumed by the large.
Her name is Estrella and she is the Bruja. She charms the snakes of despair
in the tiny port of Armuelles. Lighting fires before her small house of
wood at the base of the first green slope to rise out of the bay. She
holds ceremonies bewitching the cloven-hoofed beast of hopelessness.
Beyond the broken-down pier of the Fruit Company, cock fights are held.
A pastime of Diablo. People would do better spending their time in holy
reverence - not betting on fowl wearing inch-long razor spurs. These contests
thrill those with no trabajo. With no faith. For so long now the cultivations
have been empty of stoop-shouldered peasants.
The Bruja's once-lovely skin was marred by spiders, years back, within
the cultivations. She remains severed from social activity, staying close
to her house. Often, village folk ask why she has to be so separate from
all of Chiriqui province. But common knowledge remembers how as a girl
she'd entered into the Academy of San Vicente where the Sisters whispered
that she was touched by tongues of the Holy Spirit.
A very perceptive little sorceress who, as charms of femininity bloomed,
spoke so much of unseen energies, powers and forces that courting caballeros
shied away from. After she had entered the cultivations - coming out draped
in scars - the caballeros considered her not simply crazy, but ugly as
well. Those vainglorious strapping men who are now being recruited for
the new wharf under construction beside the old pier.
Her house on the strand is a refuge against the village. Against the cultivations
and the caballeros. Against the consuming evil of the world.
As a barefoot maiden, Estrella had stepped into the lush cultivations.
She cherished the rich folds of earth rife with botanical amusements,
basking in the sun between the trees.
Chiriqui province boasts of verdant linear beauty as far as the eye will
travel. Peasants devote lifetimes growing rows of banana trees for the
Estrella's job was to knock nests of spiders out of the tall trees. Using
a long pole, she was supposed to kill as many of the eight-legged pests
as possible. Nobody likes spiders; her purpose was to keep everybody free
of the little nuisances. This jumpy contest commanded the mania of a senorita
blessed by a spirit of spunky grit.
She was determined that the lousy critters would not chase her. Never!
It was her row of trees - she was in control. It did not belong to the
creepy little prickling devils nesting in the towering tops above and
below the voluptuous fronds, on the ground or in holes beneath the earth.
Offensive vermin! Heebee-jeebies of her wire-drawn nerves pulled hysteria
near enough to make her spasmodic. Spiders being parasites, freeloaders
- leeches at large. Jittery, lowly, animals living off fruit which wasn't
theirs. Spooking the soul of a girl getting mighty ticked.
She went after these cooties with the fury of a spitfire, zigzagging up
and down the rows, stabbing at gossamer nests with her great skewer. Herding
and pushing, she fought against armies of long-legged spinners. And they
The sun was setting. There wasn't a cloud in the sky. She'd taken a rightful
stand against the delinquent beasts. It was July. Spiders breed in the
rainy season of November. In hiding, they incubate until it grows hot.
Then, coming into the sunshine, they act as if the world were created
with them in mind. Estrella had given them a good run for their money.
She showed them who's boss. She'd exhausted herself. Sitting down, leaning
against a tree, she conked out to a deep sleep.
Awakening in the dark, she was covered with slithering, slippery, squishy,
sucking, stinging arachnids. Upon her cinnamon body bites swelled like
pimples of pox.
Pain stricken, her torso compelled itself to roll over five or six times.
She lifted herself, brushing off the slithery wooze of living slime. On
her knees she crawled to the safety of an irrigation ditch, where she
wallowed in the cool muck until the infestation subsided. The host of
her body was numb. Punished. Inflamed with fiery agony.
Along the dirty road she carried herself in throbbing darkness. Reaching
her house, she stealthily went to the cabinet and opened a jar of ointment.
Smearing the greasy stuff with abandon, her keen misery was unendurable.
She groped across the room's murk to her mother's hammock, twanging the
supporting twine like a string on a big bass cello.
Alarmed, her mother sprang up. Estrella cried that she'd been hurt and
needed ice. In a maternal way, the older woman attested that ice is for
millionaires and Eskimos. She flopped out of the hammock and struck a
match to the oil lamp, focusing concentration on her daughter's swelling
"Oh, my sweet angel! You need ice."
"Mama, I'm burning up."
You're blessed with the tongues of Espirito Santo."
"Ice. Hiello! Hiello! Ice!" Estrella wailed.
Her mother ran to the warehouse of the fruit company and bribed a man
into giving up a five pound block of ice. Returning, she found Estrella
on the hammock in a dull slumber. Chopping the ice to pieces, she wrapped
them in cloth and tried comforting the burning angel. At sunrise she persuaded
a local boy, to get one of the Sisters from the Academy of San Vicente.
The Sister, then, standing over the miserably sick girl, decided that
only the toil of unending mercy could soothe such fever. Estrella's mother
bought lots of cotton and a paring knife. Lighting the lamp, the Sister
sliced at the flame and set to work making incisions on the heads of exuding
wounds. She cut, squeezed, pinched, poked, pressed and dabbed clean the
crevice of every puncture. Whenever the chastening knife penetrated insensibility,
Estrella would stir.
Pulling off her veil, the Sister hunched over a thousand sweltering lesions,
moistening cotton with the oozing poison. She drained the damage done.
Rolling Estrella over, she continued piercing, curing, redressing, sculpting.
Around her black shoes formed a pool of blood. Speed, fortitude and the
strength of an iron will unlocked the angel's immunity. She glanced at
Estrella's mother, praying by the window. Sunset pulled the clouds to
western lustre. Estrella would make it. Instructing the mother to continue
sponging the poison, she put her veil back where it belonged and returned
to San Vicente.
When Estrella had fully recovered, she walked to the Academy and thanked
the Sister who'd saved her life. Smiling, the Sister said we must all
help each other along the path to everlasting joy; that within the turmoil
of land and fruit there is very little good. She was admonished not to
be overly concerned about the scars. The scars would fade.
Never again did Estrella set foot within the cultivations. The land company
didn't miss her, and eventually the fruit company began spraying legal
poison on the bananas - repelling the translucent pests.
From then on the Bruja cursed the companies for their vulgar husbandry
of Chiriqui province and the pawning advantage taken of its Indians. With
a vow to rectify the situation, she holds a ceremony - to this day - before
her blue house.
Nightly, just downwind from where the great new wharf is under construction,
the Bruja's fire enchants merry dancers to call forth past, present and
future. Pyromania clutches the blackness like a cry of distress. Salts,
minerals and sulfides mingle with dangers from the briney deep wherein
three-hundred year old turtles feed upon spawning jellyfish. Wherin the
reflection of the surface roams across flanks of the monsters she has
fed. The horror she has weaned.
For the longest time, Estrella caught red snapper and wrapped large bundles
of it in cloth. She weighted the bundles with scoops full of pebbles.
Sinking these bundles of pescado out in the bay, she allowed the sharks
to feed; to grow the size of fishing boats. Monsters. Tiburon fabulosa.
The Psalm of protection now admonishes her to fish only from the fortress
of the beach. It is her beach.
She considers the caballeros on thin ropes and shaky scaffolding, working
on the great new wharf.
"I wonder who will help them along the path to everlasting joy,"
Skeeze Whitlow sailed in the Merchant Marine. He settled in Arlington,
VA, to write. A graduate of Marymount University, he believes life to
be a good thing.
© Skeeze Whitlow April 2003
all rights reserved