We step down from the bus
in a dry, lunar landscape
under a pale sky.
Wooden crosses in the cemetery
carry different colours:
white for the very young
black for the old
blue for the in-between
and sometimes two crosses
one overlapping the other
for the lucky couples who died together.
Fading paper flowers
wave gently in the breeze
sheep graze the weed among the tombs
a white steeple looms in the distance.
When we enter the church
hundreds of flickering lights
tremble in the darkness.
Rows of candles burn on the floor
over a carpet of pine needles.
Ghostly figures, barely visible,
kneel around the flames.
Low voices chant mysterious prayers.
Then from the deep shadows
comes a flutter of wings
and a shriek – soon muffled
by a quick shining blade.
Someone has sacrificed a chicken
under the eyes of a stiff Madonna
holding an ugly Baby dressed in real silk.
The sudden silence is deafening.
Our stomachs clench
as we remain rooted to the floor
for long, uneasy minutes.
An old man walks up to us
muttering in his alien language.
Giving him a coin seems inappropriate.
We take his stretched hands instead -
one each – and I say “Que le vaya bien”.
It must be the right thing to do
because we earn a hug and a blessing.
The light is blinding in the square
when we come out in the cold afternoon.
Hearts still drumming
eyes adjusting to the day
we feel the need for reassuring normalcy:
postcards to buy
a chair to rest in
a cup of coffee.