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A Woman's Revenge
By Marvin V. Arnett
Friday, September 27, 2002
A WOMAN’S REVENGE
Marvin V. Arnett
You might wonder what a middle aged black woman and her teenage son were doing sitting on a rickety wooden bench high atop a mountain in Portugal in the summer of 1970. The answer to that question is as unique as the situation itself.
It was nearly twenty years since I had last kept the financial records for Mr. Claude Benson, President of the Benson Construction Company. You see, Mr. Benson, a highly successful black businessman, could neither read nor write. Although hired to keep the books, I also wrote and responded to all correspondence. This arrangement lasted until Mr. Benson’s oldest son, Arthur, graduated from college and joined the firm.
In 1969,when I received a letter from a lawyer advising me that Mr. Benson had died and left me $10,00 in his will, along with the stern admonition to spend it on something wild and crazy, I was at a lose for words. Ever obedient, I settled on the wildest and craziest thing I could think of, a long anticipated trip to the country of Portugal—a land of beautiful mountains, stirring love songs, and a river of golden wine.
The tour was fast winding down, and in a few days we would head home. The trip was allegedly William’s reward for graduating from Cass Technical High with a perfect 4.0 grade point average. Actually, it was a cleverly crafted opportunity to expose him to what world-celebrated traveler, Freya Stark, described as “that sweet addiction-travel.”
As we compared entries in our journals, a young woman, dressed in black gaucho pants and a loose fitting, long sleeved blouse, approached. Following hard on her heels were two young men each carrying a sturdy wooden chair high above his head. Pulling up the rear, and steadily admonishing the young men to be careful, were two old women. They were swaddled in long woolen shawls. Sweat had formed on the brow of the young men, but the old ladies displayed not a drop of moisture.
The young woman sat down beside me and asked, “Are you American?” When I replied, “Yes,” she explained that that she lived in Chicago but had spent the last three weeks visiting her grandmother
We exchanged those odd bits of personal information shared by strangers who are convinced they will never meet again in life. I looked over at the grandmothers, and said, “It must be wonderful to live such simple, peaceful lives.”
The young woman smiled and said, “Appearances can be deceiving. I’m named Fatima after my grandmother. We have the same name, but have lived very different lives. My grandmother has had experiences you could not even imagine.”
She sat in silence for several minutes then, as if to prove the truth of her statement, related the following story.
Grandmother Fatima was born in the village behind us. As a young girl, she worked in her father’s fields and waited for her true mission in life—to become the wife of one of the young men of the village. She had her heart set on Manuel Almeida, the son of a wealthy farmer.
Fatima was the youngest of three children. Her family, while not wealthy, was descended from the small group of peasants that had founded the village of Meriada. Her brother, Pietro, was a well-known Fado singer who, in the spring and summer, traveled to surrounding villages to sing in local taverns.
The following spring, Pietro suggested that Fatima accompany him on his annual tour. His parents agreed to let her go, and Pietro and Fatima set out across the mountain. Soon the crowds called for Fatima as often as they called for Pietro.
In one of the villages they visited there lived a man named Jose Sousa. Married and the father of ten children, he had no obvious means of support. He was a big, brute of a man who often beat his wife and children. Among the village men he had many so-called friends, for not to be Sousa’s friend was to be his enemy, and none had the courage to risk his displeasure.
One evening Sousa spotted Fatima at the local tavern. As she sang the songs of Fado—songs of sadness, of loneliness, of lost love—he felt a surge of feeling he did not understand. He only knew that he desired this woman as he had never desired a woman before. He vowed to his drinking partners that he would possess her before the week was out.
Fatima was a devout Catholic. Not a day passed that she did not find a way to perform her devotionals. One evening, Fatima noticed that just a short distance beyond the tavern was a small chapel. “How fortunate,” she thought, “After the singing is over, I will stop and give a prayer of thanksgiving for the success of the tour so far.”
After the tavern closed for the night, Fatima hastened down the street to the small chapel unaware that the full moon was not her only companion.
The stone floor of the chapel was cool to the touch as she knelt before the altar lost in the rapture of the eternal mystery. So deep was her concentration, that she did not hear the heavy oak door of the chapel squeak open or the sound of leather boots approaching. Not until she was
jerked from behind and thrown roughly to the floor did she sense danger, but by then it was too late. At first she tried to scream, but Sousa’s hand covered her mouth, cutting off her wind. Finally, she ceased to struggle and with her eyes fixed on the statue of the Blessed Virgin.
Suddenly she shifted her body. As Sousa raised his body to give yet another massive thrust, Fatima drew back, hooking her abdomen to form a deep hollow. He struggled to regain possession of her body, but was unable to penetrate her again. At last he climaxed, but it was a climax consisting equally of ecstasy and pain.
When Sousa boasted to his friends that he had made good his vow, they were uncharacteristically silent for they had seen the look of terror that crossed his face at the moment of climax. They followed Sousa from the chapel leaving Fatima spread-eagle, and bleeding, in front of the altar.
Pulling her torn clothing about her, Fatima rolled over and crawled to the door. Half running, half walking, she made her way to a house not far from the chapel. Her knock was so faint that it was many minutes before Sousa’s wife heard it and opened the door. At the sight of Fatima’s bruised and bloodied body she exclaimed, “Mother of God!” then dragged Fatima across the threshold into the house closing the door behind her.
The sensation of a hand brushing against my forearm broke the spell cast by the storyteller. Startled, I looked around surprised to see my son sitting beside me. From the dazed expression on his face, I could tell he was as engrossed in the tale as I. Still unwilling to break away from the story, I asked, “What did they talk about? What could the two of them possibly have to talk about?”
The granddaughter replied, “I don’t know, but somehow I believe that conversation set the stage for what followed.”
It was Anna, Sousa’s wife, who walked Fatima home that night. It was she who explained to Pietro that Fatima had fallen down the chapel steps.
Sousa did not return home for several days. Fatima lay in bed for a week before regaining her strength. Finally Pietro decided to end the tour, and they left for home the next morning.
Fatima was no longer the same, carefree, girl. Throughout the balance of that summer, Manuel pressed his courtship, but Fatima rejected his proposal of marriage. It was whispered that the fall she had taken had scrambled her brain.
When Pietro and Fatima returned to Sousa’s village the following spring, he was surprised to see her among the Fado singers appearing at the local tavern. Again, desire stirred in his loins, but this time it was tinged with strange feelings of apprehension and fear.
These feelings were allayed when Fatima greeted him with a smile. As she sang, she moved among the tables until she arrived at a spot directly in front of Sousa. Look him directly in the eyes, she leaned forward and lightly brushed her hip across his distended groin. He moaned in agony, and turned away in confusion. What was happening to him? Why did what had always given pleasure suddenly give such pain? Fatima turned away from the crowd blocking their view. Unseen by the audience she cupped one hand around Sousa’s turgid organ. This time he screamed aloud in pain and bolted for the door. That was the beginning.
Everywhere he went, Fatima followed. To the marketplace where he went to sell the rabbits he had shot; to the open-air gaming tables where she stood behind his chair; and always to the tavern where he went to drown his sorrows. He sought refuge at home only to flee in horror when his wife greeted him at the door with a cupped hand raised, defiantly, above her head. There was no hiding place. Always there was Fatima. Always the gesture of that cupped hand pointed directly at his manhood. Always the pain that grew sharper with each encounter.
Sousa was alone. Never before in his life had he been completely alone. His friends had long since deserted him. The village women whispered insults, “Coward! Weakling! Rapist!”
As his misery increased, that cupped hand took on a power of its own until just the sight of it brought pain of astonishing intensity. He could not escape. He longed for the end, but the end would not come.
On the day Fatima and her brother were scheduled to leave the village, Fatima knelt for many hours in front of the statue of the Blessed Virgin. Finally she arose, and proceeded down the main street of the village. The women of the village came to their doorways to watch her pass, but no words were exchanged. On she marched, finally disappearing down a path that led to a small group of garden plots farmed by the villagers. There she found Sousa.
Fatima’s granddaughter suddenly fell silent as if she was too tired to continue. She took a small, tin cup from her pocket and filled it with water from the rusty tin pail sitting between the grandmothers’ chairs. She drank deeply. Seemingly refreshed, she again took up the tale, but not without effort.
Fatima returned to the village about an hour later. Her steps bore the measured cadence of one completely at peace. Pietro had loaded their wagon, and they left for home. It was not until sunset that some of the men went down to the garden plots.
They returned carrying Sousa’s lifeless body. People covered their faces as they passed for the stench arising from the body was overwhelming. It was the face, however, that forever etched itself on the memory of those who saw it. Fixed in death, his eyes bulged from their sockets, and his lips were locked in a grimace that rested somewhere between heaven and hell.
They laid the body at the doorway of his house, but his wife refused to open the door. When the stench became unbearable, a group of villagers sought to bury the body in the small cemetery behind the chapel. The priest refused permission for it was holy ground. Finally they buried it in the garden plot on the side of the cliff.
Sitting on the side of a mountain road in Portugal, I heard a tale of revenge that still chills me to my bones!
My son stirred beside me as we both slowly returned to the present. Our tour bus was about to leave. As we gathered our belongings, I asked the question I knew I must ask—“But which one of the grandmothers is Fatima? Which one wrought such vengeance on another human being?”
The answer came unbidden. Suddenly the grandmother sitting next to my son reached down into the water bucket, and shaping her hand into a cup, filled it with water and drank deeply. As I watched in fascination, she reached back down, refilled her hand, and smilingly offered it to my son. Instinctively, I thrust my arm between him and that cupped hand. William bolted for the bus, and I followed
On the bus ride back to the hotel, William slept while I passed the time turning the pages of a novel. To this day, I cannot remember the title of that book.
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