Chapter 10 ////////////////
Nickola was not supposed to watch, or even listen. He knew that he was breaking his grandmother’s trust by doing so. But, he also workedfor Ms. Vinccencio. He had to report to her what was going on.
His loyalties were not divided. They never were. Without the Vinccencio’s his family would probably not exist. Angela Vinccencio was more deserving of his loyalty than any other Vinccencio before her. No, he had no problem telling his employer everything that he knew, except when it came to his grandmother.
Nonna spoke to ghosts. Everyone in the town knew. She was an honored treasure here, amongst those that did not fear her gift. But to people like the Vinccencio’s, Nonna was just a crazy old woman.
He had been tasked with taking Ms. Casey anyplace she wanted to go, and to protect her with his life. She was not his employer, but she might as well be. Ms. Casey was Ms. Vinccencio’s adopted sister. It was an adoption of the heart. That was the strongest kind.
Still, after the problems at the villa, surely Ms. Vinccencio will want to know what her sister was up to next. Should he tell her that her sister also sees ghosts, and is really in Italy to learn something about that from his Nonna? Nickola scratched his chin. He needed a shave. Heal so would need a guardian Angel to keep him alive if he was stupid enough to tell Ms. Vinccencio the truth. Lying was not an option. It was his experience, that the woman could detect a lie in a telephone line.
Ultimately, he decided to just wait. Ms. Vinccencio would be busy with the people of the villa for a little while, and surely the infighting amongst family members was taxing on her time. The question that came to mind was, how much did she trust him? If her trust in him was sufficient, she would wait for him to call her with any updates. Otherwise, things could get a bit dicey.
Cali awoke in a small bed. She had no memory of how she had gotten here. She was not disturbed by the lack. The small window in the wall opposite had no glass, and a soft warm breeze was ruffling the thin curtains. The air smelled of flowers, and earth, and animals. It smelled of a farm. Like the farm on which she had been raised. The realization did not cause Cali any discomfort. She felt no anxiety. In fact, she felt peaceful.
She stretched and crawled out of bed. A pitcher of water and a wash basin sat on a table designed for just this purpose. The water was cool and the soap was rough. When she was done with a spot bath, she felt more than just clean, she felt cleansed. The breeze licked the excess moisture from her skin while she dressed.
Blue jeans and a t-shirt with tennis shoes… perfect. Nickola must have gone out and gotten them while she slept. They had not been in the bag she had packed. She considered removing the ring of the Vinccencio’s from her hand. But, she left it. It was on the index finger of her scarred left hand. She would have liked to have it resized to fit the ring finger of her right hand. But, she didn’t dare wear it at home. She was watched, constantly. If Angela had not confirmed it, she would have suspected it. Still, she had made enough mistakes to hang them all. Had Angela not been watching, Cali had no doubt that she would be in prison right now.
She pulled her hair back into a pony tail, tied it with a ribbon that she found on the wash stand, and headed for the door. The hallway was short and only went in one direction. One other doorway sat nearly opposite from her own. She peaked inside. It was as sparsely appointed as the one she had just left. Only the garments hanging in the makeshift closet told her that this was Nonna’s room.
She emerged in the living area. The front door was to her right and the kitchen and back door were to her left. There was a note on the dining table, under a hand fashioned bud vase.
There is a plate of food in the refrigerator and soda as well.
When you have eaten, come find us.
She had not noticed the night before. The kitchen was a modern kitchen… well the appliances were a few years old but, they were electrical appliances. I don’t know why I was expecting something else. The plate of food was leftovers from the night before with cellophane wrap over the plate. She removed the cover and popped it into the microwave, while shaking her head at her own prejudices. Nickola had gotten her some Diet Pepsi. She could have kissed him. Her head felt like a fog was lifting, and when it did, it was going to unleash the pounding. Water would be better, but she needed caffeine first.
After eating, she washed the dish and put it into the rack, grabbed a few bottles of water and headed out the back door. I might as well get oriented from both sides.
The back area was fenced. One fence for the entire building, and apparently all of their domestic animals shared the same enclosure. The area was clean and well-tended. Grass covered the ground, even under a large tree. A large water trough sat near the housing complex. It was fed by rainwater that was run through a rough filter before reaching the trough. Excess water was drained away through a hose. It watered an herb garden that was just out of reach of the animals. The animals had full access to the complex as well as the yard. Every home appeared to have a back door and at least one window that over looked the yard. The complex looked haphazardly built but, it most certainly was not.
Cali scratched the ears of several donkeys, mules and goats and had to extricate herself from the masses of curious animals to go back through Nonna’s house and back out the front door. She found Nickola and a half dozen others tending the fields.
“Well, good morning ma’am.” Nickola pulled off dirty gloves to greet her. He relieve her of the water she was carrying. “They’ve saved you a seat.” He waved her towards an area where a group of elderly people were seated in the shade of a large tree. They were watching the children while the others worked. Nonna was among them. He walked with her over to the tree and returned to his work.
“Good morning, Nonna.” Cali spoke when Nonna’s attention rested on her.
“Good morning child.” She glanced at the sun in the sky. “It’s late. Did you sleep well?”
“Yes, it is late. I’m sorry. I don’t even remember falling asleep. But I did sleep well, thank you.”
Cali took the seat proffered to her. She couldn’t help but notice that the others were trying not to look at her ring. It made her feel a little uncomfortable. But, she wasn’t taking it off. She was trusting Angela to have a good reason for giving it to her to wear while she was here.
Nonna had returned to her previous conversation. Cali didn’t speak Italian and apparently no-one else here spoke English. Cali felt like the proverbial fifth wheel. Just sitting here, was driving her nuts and her head was beginning to pound. She grabbed a bottle of water and drank it dry. One of the elderly told a child to collect her bottle and refill from the well. Cali took the refilled bottle as graciously as she could. This is insane. I can’t just sit here and get waited on.
“Excuse me, Nonna.” When the woman turned to her again she had a glint in her eye. As if she had just heard a joke.
“Yes, my dear.”
“Would it be alright if I helped in the fields?”
Nonna blinked in surprise. Whatever the joke had been, it was gone. Cali had surprised her. “Do you know how…?” The question died on her lips. “Of course you do.” She held up her hand to indicate that she should wait. She glanced around the fields. “Yes” She turned back to Cali. “The corn needs to be weeded. There are gloves over there and the… tools are over there.” She had wanted to give the tool a name but did not know it.
Cali leaned closer and spoke quietly. “It’s called a hoe, not to be confused with the word, whore.” She smiled mischievously.
Nonna shared the joke with her and watched her wander off to collect gloves and a hoe.
Over the next several hours Cali gloried in the sun on her neck and a hoe in her hands. Working the fields, even the personal house garden, had been one of the few truly peaceful times of her childhood on the farm. This was more than that. This was how it should have been. She worked all of the small fields with the other workers. They all tended the plants with love and care. There were no machines to do the work. There was only the muscle of man and hand held tools.
Occasionally she stopped to watch the children play while she drank another bottle of water. The child that had refilled it the first time, must have had a radar. Every time she finished a bottle, it was refilled and placed in the shade. When she looked thirsty, the boy was there holding it for her.
While she tilled the land, she listened to the world around her. The birds sang, the animals talked to one another and the elderly chatted and laughed under the tree. The earth was rich in smell and texture and the plants were happy. Despite the drum roll in her head, Cali felt amazing.
When the sun reached its zenith a break was called. Everyone convened under the tree for lunch. Cali was given a chair, while the other workers found a seat on the ground. At first she was thankful for the chair, especially the backrest, but when the food was served she found that eating in a chair was not convenient. She abandoned it for a spot on the ground. She didn’t notice the nods of approval that her action brought. She was hungry and had only one thought in mind.
Cali ate until Nonna cut her off. “If you eat too much. You will be sick.” Her comment was low and said with a smile.
She was right. Cali stopped and had another bottle of water. She had rinsed her hands before she had tucked into her food. But, as she drank she saw mud encrusting the ring. How is it that even if you wear gloves, your hands get covered with dirt? Absently she poured some water over the ring and scrubbed at the mud. It had gotten into the engraving of the family crest on the top. She had not really looked at the ring in a while. It looked like an old fashioned insignia ring. The kind that you pressed into hot wax to seal documents. There was no wording on the top, so it could have been a replica of just that sort of ring. She managed to get the mud out of most of the cracks. With some dirt still encrusted, she gave up and shook her head. Why do I bother? I’m just going to get it muddy again. Tomorrow I’ll take it off before coming out to work. Once again she was oblivious to the attention that her actions were getting.
When the other workers headed back out, so did Cali. She became tired as the day wore on. But, she would not stop. It went against everything that she had ever been taught. Work until the job is done. That’s what Cali knew. It is the work ethic that drove her back home. She had five rows left in her area when the other workers gathered up their things and headed home. Cali stopped, and leaned on her hoe. She was torn. The job was not done. They had left rows undone as well. That didn’t make it right. She glanced at the backs of the workers. The elderly were also collecting their belongings. The children had all but disappeared inside their homes. Nonna and Nickola stood under the tree waiting for her. Neither spoke.
Reluctantly Cali walked towards them, pulling her gloves off as she walked. Nickola took her gloves and hoe and put them in the tool shed. Nonna smiled at her. “Why are you upset child?”
Cali wasn’t sure if she should say, but it burst from her lips anyway. “The job is not done.” She flung her arm behind her to indicate the un-weeded part of the field.
“The sun is almost down, and the weeds will be there tomorrow.” Nonna put her arm around Cali’s waist and led her away from the field. The Demons are deep in this child. “Come, you must eat and rest.”
She allowed herself to be led away. Nonna was the grandmother. She was in charge. If she said that it was alright to leave the job undone, then it must be so.
The following morning she awoke with the dawn. She washed and dressed quickly and met Nonna and Nickola in the kitchen. They ate and headed out to feed the animals. Cali was anxious to return to the fields to finish the job she had started. But she knew better than to neglect the animals. They came to her in groups wanting more than just food. They wanted her personal attention and argued with each other when they felt that they had not gotten enough of it.
Her body was stiff and sore and despite the gloves her hands had blisters. I really have grown soft. She could hear the grandmother chiding her. You’re soft and weak! Worthless! Cali shook her head and pushed the Demon down. Can’t even finish a simple job of weeding! Fucking little bitch! Cali could feel the ghost slap across her mouth. She swallowed hard and pushed the Demon deeper.
She jumped when Nonna touched her arm. She glanced around. How long had she been standing in the center of the animals? Her feed scoop was empty and the animals were all munching happily on what was on the ground.
Once again she allowed Nonna to lead her away. This time at least, she merely followed the woman. There were chores, all sorts of chores. Will they never end? The sun climbed into the sky. Lunch came and went. Still, the fields sat empty of human care.
Cali’s insides were vibrating with anxiety. The small weeds that had been left the day before grew in her mind. They had started as small sprigs and grew into bushes and trees that showed everyone how inept she was, how useless she was. The grandmother came for her. You’re no good. Maybe your father can find some use for you. The grandmother dragged her kicking and screaming to the barn and hung her like aside of beef on the wall of a stall.
The sound of her father’s step preceded him. The thump of his boots on the hay covered wooden floor, echoed in her mind. The grandmother had stripped her. The wood was cold against her skin. Daddy’s got a present for his baby girl. His voice had a sing song quality to it. He was in a good mood, and he was drunk.
Cali thrashed against the bindings. She could feel the leather bite into her flesh and tear skin. She felt his breath on the back of her neck and smell his rancid puke smelling breath. His zipper came down. I’ve got what you want right here. She could feel his flesh up against her. He pushed her hard against the boards and…
“Cali… wake up!” Nonna shook her again. “Come on child. Let it go!”
Her eyes fluttered open. Tears burned her eyes and ran into her ears. She was lying on the couch, in Nonna’s home. Nonna was kneeling beside her and Nickola was leaning over the end. Both looked concerned. Cali sighed. I did it again. Damn it. She was exhausted and completely disheartened. “I’m sorry.”
“Nonsense, it’s why you’re here. You must confront them. But, you do need to learn control.” She flicked a hand at Nickola and he walked away.
“Else the Demons eat me alive.”
“Exactly.” Nickola handed the woman a glass of water, which she gave to Cali. “Now, let’s talk about those weeds. Shall we?”
Please let me know what you think. In the mean time, Live well and be good to each other.