We are thrilled to feature a new short story by a talents from the next brilliant generation of Australian writers
Earlier this year, Writers Bloc reached out to high schools to trial a new competition to find and publish brand new young writers. We were blown away by the results, and profoundly impressed by the talent being nurtured in the classrooms of Australia. We're going to showcase three three winners of our younger writers competition on this site - last month we showcased the YA dystopian romance 'Hetero'.
Our next story is 'The Festival of Miracles' by Rocio Wilson Camina. A story written in the quintessential Latin American magic realism style.
The Festival of Miracles
Rocio Wilson Camina
The priest and the altar boy were in hurried preparation to prime their church for the day's celebrations. They dashed up and down row after row of seats that faced towards the figure of La Virgen de la Candelaria in the same way that sunflowers look towards the sun in admiration.
A multitude of flowers had been collected from the gardens of the town, and in every nook and cranny of the church, candles made by local merchants had already been placed by the elderly priest.
Every single gold adornment had been dusted by the long-haired altar boy, and the crucifixes shone so brightly they could blind a man.
The day had to be perfect. Every year on this very day, the Circus of Miracles arrived at Humahuaca.
The Festival of Miracles included a variety of celebrations and was cherished by every citizen of Humahuaca.
The man and boy had been working rigorously all morning to make the Colonial-style building look fit for a visit from God Himself.
By the light that was stretching inside from the windows, the old man could tell the morning had turned into noon.
"Manuel!" He called to the boy.
"You've worked well m'hijo, you may leave. Enjoy the celebrations while you can, but don't eat too much!" The priest jokingly warned him.
Manuel stopped arranging the bibles and turned to face the priest. His long hair fell over his face just enough that you couldn't see his eyes unless you looked very closely. He nodded and did as he was told. He grabbed his sun hat, flattened his torn, ancient yellowing cassock, and stepped out onto the cobbled streets outside.In the church, the priest continued with his chores, he grabbed the leather-bound bibles that Manuel had stacked and tried to find them a home. The old man decided against putting them on the altar where he kept holy objects he needed for mass, and instead resolved to place them next to the candleholders which rested atop a wooden shelf next to La Virgen.
He struggled at the task, the priest had never thought of himself as short but at that moment he felt as minuscule as an ant, he jumped and jumped, finally succeeding in placing the heavy books on the shelf. Please don’t hit my head, he thought, when he accidentally tipped over the heavy golden candle holders. But, as if by a miracle, he began to feel himself being pulled backwards like he was being sucked into the stomach of a tornado. The old priest found himself seated on the cold stone floor with no injuries at all, and the candlesticks placed neatly beside him. He sat up, motioned the Trinitarian prayer and whispered:
Josefina and Simón had climbed to the roof of where they lived, a building so small that it couldn't be called a house and would most likely be defined as a room.
The twins had found it difficult to watch the long parade due to their height so they had decided to appreciate the view from above, like a pair of Andean condors would.
Both children giggled and clapped their tiny hands as the comedians and actors pranced through the main plaza. Simón was especially fond of the jugglers who showed off exquisite, loose outfits exhaustively filled with sequins and beautiful jewels of blue and green.
Meanwhile Josefina couldn't take her eyes off the many women dressed as animals of the region: a puma here, a vicuña there. She could even see a guanaco making her way right beneath them. Josefina's favourite of all was a tall woman with long black hair that, even from so far away, looked as soft as the sunset. Baby pink feathers that covered her body, like an Andean flamingo.
"Simón", his sister nudged his shoulder to get his attention, "Do you think we'll see him soon? Do you think he could be one of the animal ladies?"
He looked at her with incredulous eyes, she says the silliest things sometimes, he thought to himself.
"No silly! Where you even listening to what Manuel told us? He was an animal last year! The miracle boy changes his costume every year, he can't be one of the ladies!"
Josefina scratched her head in embarrassment, "Sorry", she stated with sad eyes but quickly smiled as another wave of entertainment marched past.
"So, we only find out who the miracle boy dressed up as at the end of the day. Right?"
Simon nodded, "Yes, I heard that when the sun is about to set and the whole circus has left, the only costume left is the one he used for the day"
Josefina smiled at her brother, she couldn't wait to uncover the mystery of who the invisible boy was this year.
Macarena Martinez's short and plump figure was bent over the dozens of humitas she had prepared to sell to those who were out celebrating the annual arrival of the marvellous parade. This was her and her children's first year seeing the show, since they had only been in Humahuaca for four months.
Macarena too had heard the tales of the circus and the miracle boy from the young altar boy, Manuel. She still hadn't decided whether to believe the stories or dismiss them as merely made-up tales from the locals. Right now she was just thankful for the opportunity to earn some extra money.
Her husband, Ramón, had left her when Josefina and Simón were merely two years of age and she was left with no money and no connections. Macarena and her children had been forced to travel across northern Argentina in search for a place to call home. After four years of travelling, the small family had finally found paradise in the small town of Humahuaca. She felt safe in the brick room they called home. Nevertheless, money was still scarce and a little extra savings from selling humitas wouldn't hurt anybody.
"JOSEFINA ANTONELA MARTINEZ! Where did you put the damn string?", she yelled at the roof trying to get a response from her troublesome daughter.
Macarena stirred the hot water where the corn dish was being cooked. The sweet, tempting smell of the food wafted into the room as she stirred the wooden spoon in anticlockwise circles. When she was confident they had received enough stirring, she began to look for the damn string. In the cupboard? No. On the table? Not there either. Near the fireplace? Nada.
Anger began creeping up her neck, the large vein on her forehead that appeared when she was in a fury began to emerge in all its glory, looking as intimidating as ever.
"Josefina! If you don't come down in this moment, I will–", she suddenly saw a blur of yellow tattered cloth, similar to the dress Josefina was wearing that morning.
"Look! The princess finally showed up! What do you think, that everything is a toy? That I'm your servant? Eh?".
She scolded her Josefina and swung furiously towards where her she thought her daughter stood, but suddenly realised nobody was there.
Confusion quickly turned into fear when she realised that, in the act of turning around, she had knocked the boiling pot off the stove with the spoon she was planning to punish her daughter with. However, when she returned to the stove to salvage could the remains of the food, she found the pot perfectly safe, and very little water had spilt onto the floor.
She shook her head, "There truly is a miracle boy."
The priest could not believe what he was hearing.
Manuel had walked back inside the church, greeted him and explained why he hadn't been able to attend the cleaning session that morning.
"I ate too many of Doña Martinez's humitas and got a really bad stomach ache, I'm sorry Padre", he had told him, "By the way, have you seen my cassock? I couldn't find it at home so I thought I might have left it here last night."
The priest stared blankly at the boy, he suspected Manuel was playing one of his many pranks and laughed heartily, "M'hijo, you're very funny! You came to help me this morning, don’t you remember?"
"No Father, you must have had forgotten to take your pills this morning, because I definitely wasn't here."
Manuel assured the priest that he hadn't step foot in the church since the day before.
"You can ask the fruit vendor on the corner of the main street, I got sick while talking to him and had to help him clean the pavement."
"Then who helped me decorate the church this morning?"
The twins and a group of other children of the neighbourhood screamed with delight.
"We found it! The costume! We found it!"
They had searched for the miracle boy’s costume since sundown and found it three hours later, splayed across a rock near the outskirts of the town.
The pack of children raced back to the town square and locals crowded around them, trying to sneak a peek at the costume. The sound of people paying owed money from bets, whispers, and "How did I not guess that?!" could be heard around them and all across Humahuaca.
The mystery of the greatest miracle of The Circus of Miracles had been resolved once again, this year the miracle boy had indeed surpassed all expectations. His costume had been unguessable, and the number of miracles given over the day had broken his own record.
According to tradition, the locals placed the costume in a beautiful wooden box and carried it to the centre of the city. There they hung it on a flagpole next to the Argentinian flag. The costume would bring luck to the town until the next year came, when the guessing game would begin once again.
Manuel was somehow glad he had used his cassock, he now had an excuse to get a new one.
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