by Pedro Blas González
part 1 of 2
Arturo de Ferran is the kind of man whose true vocation is that of irreparable melancholic. By the age of twelve Arturo could be heard talking about the “long ago” days of his youth. By twenty-two he had come into full possession of what he called a “life plan.” Granted, this life plan was a sketch, only a blueprint of the universal axioms that he was to live out. For instance, he could not anticipate those repetitive and often pesky particulars that make up daily life and that threaten to drag down the most sure-footed of man's plans. But his plan was ample and ambitious enough to engulf most of life's surprises, including one certain contingency that would validate his need for a having a life plan in the first place.
On Wednesday, October 17th, Dr. Bill Anderson, Professor of Anthropology at New York University and collector of Caribbean artifacts of religious interest invited Arturo to his Greenwich Village home. As far as any of his colleagues could recall, Dr. Anderson had never invited any of them to his home.
Dr. Anderson's wife Rosa greeted Arturo at the door. Several minutes later Dr. Anderson appeared wearing a pair of blue slacks, a plain white t-shirt and a pair of black sandals. Arturo was greeted warmly even though he felt himself an alien in the couple's living room.
“Welcome to our home Dr. de Ferran,” Rosa said. “Can I get you something to drink? A little wine, perhaps?” she asked cordially.
“Some wine will be fine.”
“My husband tells me that you were born in Camaguey,” she asked, while pouring some wine into a glass.
“Yes. In Ciego de Avila, to be exact. It is a shame that we have not met before. And you? Where are you from?”
“I am from Havana, but I visited your province many times in my youth. I understand that it is in Ciego where the best Castillian Spanish is spoken outside of Spain.”
“Yes, we are very proud of that,” Arturo responded.
“Arturo, the reason that I asked you here tonight is because I want to ask your opinion on several personal matters that are bothering me,” Dr. Anderson said. “But first let me show you around and share my collection with you.”
As they walked around the living room in a counter clockwise fashion, Rosa brought Arturo a plate with some crackers and cheese and later politely excused herself.
“Here is a rendition of Eleggua, the Divine Jokester. It's from the Dominican Republic. It was given to me as a gift by the mother of one of my students. I understand that it was made in the 1920's. It's really a long story, but as you know, in the Yoruba religion the Divine Jokester plays the role of something much like catharsis for the ancient Greeks.”
“This is a particularly sinister rendition. I don't remember seeing one that was enjoying himself so much. Yet he is not evil. Just a kind of cosmic leveler of sorts,” Arturo said.
“That's just it. That is why he is so endearing to most people,” Dr. Anderson interrupted.
The two men went on pacing through the shelves, stopping wherever they found something particularly interesting to Arturo.
“And here... take a look at Esu, the Divine Justice, arms outstretched and looking down on mortals. This statuette is from the turn of the century. I bought it from an antiques dealer in Miami some thirty years ago. We can trace it back to a Santero in the Jesus Maria neighborhood of Havana.”
“This is a truly exquisite piece,” he said, getting closer. “Did the dealer know what he was selling?” Arturo asked.
“No. He merely sold it as he would just any other figurine. But he had no concept of what it signifies. Arturo, would you like more wine?”
“Well, maybe just a little more. I have to say that this is a formidable collection that you have here, Bill,” he said, as Dr. Anderson went to get the bottle of wine.
“Arturo, you know that I have been awarded the Clydesdale Press Prize for the best book in our field, a work that owes a great deal to your advice.”
“And a fine work it is,” Arturo added.
“Well, that's just what I want to talk to you about. Come, let's sit,” he said, motioning to a nearby couch. “Arturo, you know that I am a very private man. I am always most comfortable when I am at home in the company of my family. These familiar surroundings, these books, this space...” he said, looking about him. “These things center my life, they allow me to be myself and to enjoy a quiet life. That is all that I ask of life. But as you can well imagine, some people do not care to understand this. This way of life is one that some interpret as a sign of aloofness or arrogance. But I assure you that neither of these things is the case. Some today must have everyone involved socially and politically in every kind of business that one can think of.”
“Bill, you know that you do not have to justify your life to me,” Arturo interrupted.
“Thank you for your kindness, Arturo. I have always truly cherished you as a loyal friend. You see, I have to confide in you that after winning the prize... actually from the time that I was nominated,” he interrupted himself. “I have had some rather odd things happen to me,” he went on to say.
“Oh, is that so?” Arturo was surprised to hear.
“Arturo, you know how much we have to go at it alone in this business and in life itself. Every one of us is a physical shell to the other, but that is where the comparisons end. Some men's iron will results in work that he is proud of. But Arturo, resentment is a strong reality in all things human. Not only due to winning the prize, but in other respects as well, I have had to fend off a great deal of animosity lately. Frankly, I'm at a lost in trying to make sense of all this.”
“I know Bill. I have witnessed what you are talking about,” Arturo reassured him.
“For some very strange reason my paper, 'Tribal Lineages: A Comparative Study of the Dahomey and the Yoruba People' will no longer appear in the next issue of African-Caribbean Anthropology Digest. They just told me that after reconsidering the paper, they do not feel that it will be of much interest to their readers.
“That's highly unprofessional at best,” Arturo assured him.
“And after waiting for God knows how long, Caribbean Culture Review has informed me that they never received the article that I sent them.
“Well, the other day as I was walking in Central Park... right before I took the train home I heard my name being called from behind me. I turned around and saw a black man with a pretty pronounced Spanish accent walking towards me. I waited for him, as he had a slight limp. I could see that he was carrying something in his left hand, but being that it was already early evening and the sky was cloudy I couldn't immediately make it out. He asked me if I had a minute and that he needed to talk to me about my health. Of course, all this took me by storm. It happened so fast I really didn't have time to react. He said his name was Raphael Santos and shaking my hand he told me that he was from Puerto Rico. He then politely asked me if we could sit on a nearby bench.”
“But weren't you shocked by this mention of your health? Arturo asked.
“I was. I was. But that's what drew me in to hear what this man had to say. When we sat down I realized that what he was carrying was really a couple of newspaper pages that were rapped around some object that was the size of a large grapefruit. He didn't waste time and proceeded to tell me that I had to address my health or that I would die within a year.”
“That's pretty shocking especially coming from a stranger,” Arturo said.
“Very much so, but you know for some reason, at no given time did I think that he was joking. Things got a little clearer when he told me that I had to go to the doctor and ask him to check my colon for a cancerous tumor.”
“When was this?” Arturo asked.
“Over three weeks ago.”
“Well, did you go?” Arturo asked tentatively.
“Sure. I was very scared by this kind of talk. Not only did I go but it was confirmed to be true,” Dr. Anderson responded gently nodding his head as he drank his wine. “I will be having the operation in ten days.”
“Well, consider yourself lucky,” Arturo added.
“That's just it, Arturo. My problem does not stop there. The man told me that my problem was one of belief. He said that in that respect I was not very different from most people today. My problem, he said, was that I needed to become motivated by Ashe. As you know, Ashe is the camino, the road, the vehicle for a complete ascension. He said that I should communicate with Ashe to deliver me to my true destiny.”
“Did he say why he thought this? Usually the Santero will only say this to people who have either lost their way in life or who do not understand how to make sense of the frustrations of daily life. Ashe means ascension, a form of clarity that leaves all the mundane behind.”
“I can tell you that publishing the book, as well as some of my other projects, as you well know have caused me a great deal of strife. I couldn't imagine that some people could have so much bottled ire in them,” Dr. Anderson said, shaking his head in disbelief.
“Sounds like he was on to something. What else did he say?” asked Arturo.
“He went on to say that I was a good man but that I was living in an illusory world. The real world, he told me, belongs to a specific awareness or consciousness. I was misled, he went on to say. But you know, throughout our talk he kept apologizing, he kept telling me that it was all for the better. Actually he was very polite. He gave me his home phone number and asked me to call him when I got better physically and that he would help me with the spiritual aspect.”
“The genuine ones are always very disinterested, you know,” Arturo said, referring to Santeros.
“What do you suggest I should do? How much of all of this must be true, I can't say. But he sure got the disease part right.”
“Bill, I think that he is telling you to believe or at least to be open to believe.”
“But that's just it. I've spent all of my life researching, teaching, and studying this,” Dr. Anderson responded.
“Precisely, you heard what the man said Bill. It's all about consciousness. Bill... maybe... maybe we study too much and don't believe enough. These two things may not be the same thing... In fact,” Arturo interrupted himself. “I know that they are not the same thing at all. Bill, Ashe is vitality; it is the life force that is found in all things. Ashe is what all of the Orishas personify. These divinities show us the meaning of reality. Take Eleggua, the master Orisha he disrupts our lives, he creates chaos, he shows how things do not always add up. But you see, Bill... this is precisely how he can show that there is a higher order. This may sound paradoxical to us, but the believer knows this to be the case as soon as he leaves his home in the morning.”
“He did say that men live in different worlds, whether they know this to be the case or not.”
“Bill, you mentioned that he had a newspaper covering something. Did you ever find out what it was?”
“Oh, I forgot to tell you... He opened the newspaper and took out a palm-size rock, a kind of sleek-surface stone.”
Arturo interrupted: “He gave you a stone?”
“Yes, he gave it to me. I have it here,” he said, getting up to go get it.
At that moment the telephone rang. A short time later Rosa came out to the living room to tell him that their son who was studying in Boston wanted to talk to him. Arturo was studying the stone when Rosa asked if he wanted something else to eat or drink.
“No, thank you.”
“I guess you know about Bill's problem. Interesting isn't it?” she asked. “He said that there was no one else that he could talk to about this other than you, Arturo. He has great admiration for you.”
“Well, Rosa the universe is filled with realities that we can't seem to put a finger on,” he said, embarrassed by the compliment. “We might in fact be too overly reliant on our science and technology to give us answers, but these answers are rarely vital in scope.”
“I think you're right. Too many people live their lives in quiet desperation not realizing that they have greater control than they think. We really live in artificial societies,” she added. “But tell me something, Arturo,” she asked. “What do you make of the two stones?”
“Two stones?” Arturo asked, somewhat surprised
“The two stones that he received. You're holding one of them.”
“No. Bill only told me about one... this one that I am holding.”
“I guess Bill was coming to that. I guess he meant to tell you about the other one. But tell me, what do you make of this man in the park? How did he know Bill? You think it might all be some kind of joke?
“If it was a joke, then we are still left with the question of Bill's tumor. How can a practical joker know this? Not even Bill himself knew?
“Sorry about that, Arturo. That was our son Michael. He is in medical school up in Boston. He's been having all sorts of trouble with his exams. He was a little flustered just now when I talked to him.”
“Bill, Arturo does not know about the second stone,” Rosa said.
“Oh, the other one. I meant to tell you. When I returned here from walking in the park I noticed what looked to be a package that was placed at the foot of our front door.”
“You mentioned a package?' asked Arturo. “Was it like the one that the man gave you in the park?”
“Yes. Exactly the same.”
“I guess it means that this man knows where you live.”
'It's hard for me to imagine how he could know. He gave me no indication of how he knew me.”
“I don't think that there is any danger for you in all of this. Perhaps we are dealing with something other than mere luck or chance. The man that you met sounds like he is a dedicated believer.”
“What exactly is the significance of the stones, Arturo?” Rosa asked. “I know that they are sacred in many African religions, but why give them to Bill?”
Copyright © 2005 by Pedro Blas González