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Pleasant troubles by Paolo da Costa



A sudden, involuntary flaring of the tongue, followed by a hideous contortion of the face: apart from this peculiar affliction, Bonifácio Careta was an ordinary child. The villagers believed everyone arrived in life with unique God-given inclinations -- some were born to nose-picking, others to continuous spitting, yet others to limping. They never paid a second thought to Bonifácio.



Bonifácio Careta's life would have proceeded normally if misfortune had not brought his peculiarity to limelight.

On the occasion of the long-awaited Papal tour of the country and the Pontiff's brief, unscheduled bathroom stop in Bonifácio's forgotten village, Bonifácio's fortune was to change forever.

It was then, while the Pontiff offered his holy blessing, that His Holiness' finger fell with singular exactitude upon poor Bonifácio. His Sanctity was drawn to Bonifácio's angelic face, the perfectly clustered freckles, the pleasant manners, the radiant smile known to distract fluttering bees from their business.

Bonifácio was immediately brought forward, kissed and blessed. As the hopeful Pope enquired about Bonifácio's desire to join the priesthood, while patting his buttocks unnecessarily long, Bonifácio's affliction flared and his tongue stuck out half a metre. The Pontiff, shocked, blessed himself and the child, safeguarding their souls from the devious ways of Satan. Bonifácio did not know about Satan; he merely knew his tongue had a mind of its own. Without warning it darted out, a deranged clock-work cuckoo to cause havoc in the predictable world. His muscles stiffened and no force or fancy succeeded in returning it to its proper place.



After the Pope's "face to face duel with the devil," as the inflammatory press headlined, parading Bonifácio's pinkish tongue to the entire nation, sales of papal icons and newspapers doubled. Villagers began to believe Bonifácio Careta was cursed. They prayed novenas upon novenas. Masses were sung. The most religious promised to crawl on their knees the entire way to the miraculous Lady of Fátima, seeking her intercession for his affliction.

When science arrived Bonifácio was promised a cure. And indeed the scrutiny of a scalpel quelled his tongue's random flaring, a remarkable improvement, but for the fact it now hung out in the world for hours at a time, creating a worse nuisance. Luckily, this cure was only temporary.

At first, if anyone had asked Bonifácio's opinion he would have confided that he enjoyed the sudden flares because no soul in the world could boast such a tongue. He looked forward to the astonished reactions of others who made contorted faces of their own. But after the efforts to mend him, he succumbed to popular pressure and began to think of himself as sick, evil, tormented. Children taunted him, dangling live flies in his face, tempting his lizard tongue. In despair Bonifácio found himself hiding, holding a knife to his lips, preparing to end the agony. The tongue, knowing better, never exited on such occasions.



The village was not forgiving. Bonifácio might have been put in freak shows for public amusement, if it were not for the village curandeira. The curandeira did not believe those who pointed accusing fingers, did not believe Bonifácio tormented. Instead she advised him to disregard the whispering, the finger-pointing and encouraged him to embrace his uniqueness.

"Your tongue is not terrible. Remember the times it flares during Sunday communion," she said. Bonifácio half-smiled, remembering Father Lucas, who for lack of a better course of action, fed him host upon host, attempting to appease the insatiable daemon inside. But in Bonifácio's view the tongue caused him more trouble than pleasure.

"I'll reveal the hidden gold of your tongue," the curandeira assured him. "Come visit me every Sunday morning after mass."



Bonifácio walked up to the curandeira's meadow where wild flowers danced in the morning breeze and the sweet fragrance of wild honey hives perfumed the air. The curandeira blind-folded Bonifácio and led him across the undulating meadow where he learned to distinguish a daisy from a lady's slipper, a hare bell from a rose, by the distinct delicacy of their pollen melting on his tongue.



As the years passed the curandeira taught Bonifácio to concoct exotic oils from wild flowers' flesh and instructed him in the art of touch. Bonifácio's innate virtuosity awakened and, during his dating years, caused a sensation among the teenage girls, prompting his election as the most handsome man in the village.

Under the curandeira's guidance Bonifácio established a reputation for his tongue's divine abilities. The tongue, an oracle, flagged omens of the future. Because of these gifts, brides in the surrounding area visited him the night before their weddings, eager for an accurate prediction of their married lives. And they returned with radiant smiles to further confirm his reputation. The news spread. Widows and married women discovered miraculous cures for their seemingly terminal discontent in their faithful weekly visits to Bonifácio. The village grew joyous and Bonifácio found his place in the scheme of things.



paulo da costa has had fiction published in This Magazine, Zygote, and performed on Canadian Broadcasting Corporation radio. He is Poetry Editor for filling Station, a Canadian literary journal, and has received a Canada Council grant to assist in completing his manuscript, "Had Word Not Spread." The publication of his translations of two poems by the Angolan poet Ana Paula Tavares is forthcoming. He lives in Calgary, Alberta.


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