Alright, I don't know if I ended the chapter correctly, but I did get in all that I wanted to get in. Please let me know what you think.
Their departure was incredibly anticlimactic. Once hearing from Cali, Angela sent her men to the villa where they quickly put things in order. The promises that Cali had made was honored. Those that wanted to rejoin the ranks were accepted in, and those that wanted freedom were given it. All those that wanted freedom were given enough money to disappear. All but one,the boy Ettore was not given a choice. He was already a captive, freeing him was the only option. But, Angela would take care of it personally.
The villa was closed for renovations. When it was finally reopened, it would house people that actually worked in the orchards. There would be no more bloody fertilizer for the trees, and no more forced prostitution. At least not in this place.
Gioia, had gathered her a few more details about Lilly. She now knew that Lilly had taken to her new job with her usual rancor. Her attitude had won her many beatings, but it had also won beatings for others. She actually got into a fight with an employee one night and he cut up her face. It was not reconstructed well. She didn’t live long after wards. But, it wasn’t the cutting that killed her, it was her own pride. That’s what the women that had known her said. She had felt that she was too pretty to do the job. When her beauty was taken, she lost her will. She wallowed in filth by her own choice, and she left a treatable disease untreated. She was too proud to admit that she had it. In the end she died in misery and pain. Her body was burned until there was nothing left. A diseased body cannot be used for fertilizer.
The information fit Cali’s memory of the woman. She could feel no pity for her. Neither could she feel vindication for herself. Cali felt shame for what she had done. She should have felt good about herself. Her visit had not only freed countless ghosts but also dozens of humans. And yet, there was a nagging sense of something left undone. What had been the reason for this visit? Why did I come here? To face my demons… and be swallowed by them.
She sat in the passenger seat of Nickola’s compact. The trees sped by. They were huge, and healthy. Lilly had not gone to feeding them. Somehow, that felt right.
There was a convoy of vehicles in front of them. Trucks and cars with people and property, that was to be redistributed. Gioia, had wanted to stay at the villa. It was her home. Others wanted to stay as well. But, Angela would not have it. She owned so many places, and had influence in so many others. But instead of just putting them to work, she decided that she would send these poor souls to school. If they wanted to serve her then she would have them reeducated, or in the case of many of them, given an education. Cali loved how Angela gave so freely and had such compassion. Of course, Angela would say that, she simply hated to be surrounded by stupid, uneducated people. It didn’t surprise Cali that so many of them wanted to continue to serve Angela. There were really very few that wanted out, that wanted freedom. It was understandable, those that wanted freedom, had small children.
The sun had set long ago. She looked at her phone. It was still before midnight at home. Connie wouldn’t care if it was 2 in the morning. She would want Cali to call.
Cali dialed the number and waited for it to connect. Connie finally picked up and promptly dropped her phone among the sheets. Cali listened, while her sweetie dug through the sheets that had eaten her phone. Connie became frantic while looking, and yelled out to Cali, over and over, not to hang up.
Finally the phone hit the floor, when Connie ripped the bed apart looking for it. Cali heard her pounce on the bed, and slide over the edge in an attempt to grab the wayward device. When Connie actually got the thing to her ear again, she was out of breath and annoyed and Cali was laughing.
Over the course of the next two hours, the love birds talked of everything and nothing. The only thing that Cali felt uncomfortable discussing was the ghosts. Connie would have understood, but Nickola, she wasn’t so sure about. So, when Connie asked how things had gone, Cali abbreviated in such a manner that Connie knew to expect the rest of the story later.
While they spoke Connie managed to put the bed back together and crawl back under the covers. She further made the mistake of putting in her Bluetooth. After that, it was only a matter of time before the Sandman’s magic took over. Cali had also laid her seat back as far as it would go, and balled up a coat under her head. They both dozed in and out, until finally Cali told her love to hang up. She would call again tomorrow, and try not to make it so late.
Nickola drove on through the night. When Cali awoke she was still in the middle of nowhere. The landscape had changed from olive trees to grape vines. Anticipating her needs, Nickola told her that they would be reaching a small town in about 5 minutes. She had awakened just in time. They would be at his grandmother’s soon.
Cali vaguely remembered agreeing to go and see the old woman. She had no idea why she had done so. At the time, it had sounded like the only logical course of action. Now, she couldn’t figure out why she would have thought such a thing. There was nothing that she could do for it now. I might as well just go with it. At the very least I’ll get a good meal out of it.
As promised, 5 minutes later they rolled into a small town. Saying it was small was an over estimation and calling it a town was a kindness. There was a small store, it was the size of a gas station. The gas station had one pump. It was even older than the ones that she had seen yesterday. There was a small cluster of houses. They shared common walls and were made of mud brick. They could have been built yesterday, or a thousand years ago. Cali couldn’t tell. Pens stacked up side by side, held goats, sheep, cattle and pigs. On the other side of the street a few small houses stood behind several small cultivated squares. Each square had a different crop. It was a larger version of a private vegetable garden.
“This town shares everything. All of the goats are penned together, but they have different owners. Everyone helps. They all feed the animals. They all tend the crops. They all survive together. This is how it has been done here since the rise of the Roman Empire.” He pulled the car over at the small store.
Cali didn’t need any prompting. She found a bathroom and freshened herself for her meeting. Thank God for portable toothbrushes. When she emerged, she found Nickola had moved the car to a spot closer to the combo-home, and was waiting for her.
He puffed out his chest as he approached a door. It was near the middle of the menagerie, and looked no different than any other door here. He knocked politely and called for her. “Nonna”
Cali heard a slight shuffling from within. It could have been chickens pecking the floor, for all she knew.
Nickola called again. “Nonna, sono io Nickola. Aprire laporta.”
Once again there was shuffling within, but now it grew louder. The door knob rattled for a brief second and the door opened. A tiny old woman with thick silver hair with black streaks stood in the doorway. She smiled and showed a mouth of wine stained teeth, but they were all there. Her arms were thin but they were not frail and she was tiny by birth, not by any medical imperfections. This woman appeared to be as healthy as a horse, and when she spoke she showed that she had a strong presence. “Infine Nickola, entrare, ho aspettato.” She stood aside and held the door for them to pass.
The inside was cool and the floor was made of the same mud brick as the rest of the home. It was simple, but clean and comfortable. Now that they were inside the home, Cali could smell something wonderful cooking. Her stomach grumbled. The woman laughed and playfully slapped her grandson. They had hugged before he entered. Cali had squeezed passed them.
“Come facevi a sapere che stavamo arrivando?”
“Nickola, mind your manners. Speak English for our guest.” The old woman spoke with a slight accent, as if she had been speaking English for years. Nickola was shocked.
“Nonna, you do not speak English.” He almost sounded angry that she would dare to speak a language that she didn’t know how to speak.
“Then what language am I speaking?” She mocked confusion. It was clear in her voice that she was enjoying his surprise.
“But Nonna, how do you speak English now? Who taught you?”
She laughed again. The sound of her laughter made Cali think of the earth. It was warm, inviting and real. Cali felt comfortable in this tiny home with this tiny woman. She showed her ease by finding a seat and absently petting a dog that came up to see who she was. There were animals everywhere, but only the dog and one cat had entered the building. The rest had their heads sticking through the window or were sitting outside the back door. Birds sat on the window seal and a few even sat on the back and one perched between the ears of a donkey. All of them seemed interested in her. She shook her head and decided that she was the only odd ball here. Of course they would be curious.
Nonna patted Nickola’s hand. “I learned. That’s enough.” She walked over to Cali, who tried to stand. “Sit child. I’ve been waiting for you for quite a while. Let me feed you and we can talk while you eat.”
“Yes Ma’am. I am a bit hungry, and whatever you have cooking, smells amazing!” Cali’s stomach seconded the praise.
“Nonna, call me Nonna. My name has little meaning anymore. Everyone calls me Nonna. It means grandmother, but I don’t suppose that you would like to use that word ever again in your life. So just call me Nonna.”
“No, I wouldn’t…” Cali had spoken without thinking. “Wait…how could you… I mean… that’s not something that I… umm…”
Nonna set two plates of food on the table and beckoned her visitors with her hand. “There’s a lot that I know about you, Calisto Gabrielle Casey.”
Cali turned to Nickola. “What have you told her?”
He had just stuffed a mouthful of food into his mouth. He spoke anyway. “Nothing, no one ever needs to tell Nonna anything. She knows.”He kept filling his mouth.
She was confused. How could Nickola not have told Nonna something? She was trying to figure it out, but any logic kept eluding her.
“Eat, there is time for us to speak when you have food in your stomach.” Nonna buttered some hot rough grain bread and handed it to Cali. Cali took up her fork and collected a bite but hesitated.
There is only one kind of being that calls me by my full name. But Nonna, is not a ghost. Cali stuffed the fork into her mouth, and the flavor burst onto her senses. She had not realized just how hungry she really was. For the next few minutes there was no time for thinking. She surfaced long enough to eat a slice of bread while Nonna refilled the plate.
Nickola finished a third plate full and Nonna sent him out to feed the animals. Cali could not finish her second plate but did not want to give it up either. She sat back to let her stomach settle. She wanted to talk to this woman. But, this was not an easy topic.
“You called me by my full name, and you know something about my grandmother. How?”
“I think that you know.” She searched Cali’s face. “You are stubborn. It is partially how you survived… fine… you want me to say it. I see ghosts just like you. But, I am not like you. I have a natural gift, and only certain ghost speak to me. You on the other hand, you have been given a…calling… a covenant of sorts.”
Cali was really glad that she was already seated and leaning back. She was a bit sorry that she had eaten so quickly and so much. Her stomach was doing back flips. Once again the events that happened in Maine came flooding back to her. She had learned a lesson while there. Her arrangement with the ghosts was a quid pro quo type of relationship. She had learned that she was expected to help ghosts in need, if they wanted it. If she failed to provide that service for them then, they would stop helping her. It really was a type of covenant. “But, I didn’t ask for it.”
“My dear, that’s why it’s called a calling. You are called to perform a function. You have accepted that calling. Now it’s time to learn a little more about your responsibilities and what to expect from them. I’m hereto help you with that. It’s why I learned English.”
Okay, so that was the next chapter. I've already begun to write into the following chapter. It was difficult because there was no definitive place to end a chapter and begin another one. But, you splice one in there or your book becomes a huge run on sentence. Anyway, I hope that you are enjoying my new book. Someday I'll return to the two that are still in the works and finish the darn things. So much to do, so little time.
Live well and be good to each other.