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 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
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
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
communion," she said. Bonifácio half-smiled, remembering Father Lucas,
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
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
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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