(Img: Sudanese Model – Nyakim Gatwech)
A regal rogue curtain separated the front of the voodoo shop from the reading area where Mrs. Muriel did her tarot readings, or on odds days the Prince would receive people wishing an audience with the wizard. Customers idling through the shop browsing were all frozen in their tracks upon overhearing the irate Mrs. Cara behind the red curtain, “WHAT DO YOU MEAN IT WON’T COME OFF?!”
“Dat was de deal. You want him to live, payment made.”
She flung the curtain open and stormed out screeching, “This isn’t over! It’s coming off.”
She suddenly came face to face with the most beautiful girl she had ever seen. Her anger cooled to awe. “Oh my god, are you a model?” she blurted without thinking.
The young girl was tall for her age at 5’9”, but her jawline rose gracefully beneath a pair of luscious, full lips underneath cheekbones that Michaelangelo could have carved from jet black onyx. Her dark black skin was without blemish, making her look like a Nubian princess. Her dark skin would have blushed if it could as she replied, “Thank you Ma’am, but I’m only a Freshman in high school.”
Mrs. Muriel spoke up from behind the counter, “If Miguel were here, we’d have to chain him to the wall. He’d have hearts floating around him like in the cartoons.”
The girl looked puzzled.
“That’s my son, he’s a Freshman, too.”
She smiled. “Oh, boys my age don’t like tall girls.”
“He’s only had one girlfriend and she was a little taller than you.”
“Well, Ma’am, if he has your looks, I hate that I missed him.”
It was Cara’s turn to blush, “I’m Cara. What’s your name?”
“Ariadne. And this is my grandmother.” She took the elbow of an old lady who had come to stand beside her.
“It’s funny that you were named after the princess who marries Dionysus.”
“Why is that funny?”
“Because Dionysus and Bacchus are the same god.”
Mrs. Muriel smiled, “They sure are!”
“Well, Miguel, my son, was King Bacchus at the summer dance.”
“Oh, that IS funny. I’m sorry I missed him. It might have been fate.”
“Are you here to get your future read?” Cara inquired
“Oh, um,” Ariadne said something to her grandmother in Spanish and her grandmother replied before she continued, “My grandmother says there is a brujo here and she wants to buy a favor.”
Cara cut an evil eye to the part of the store where the Prince was and said, “Well, good luck with that.” Then she smiled and continued, “It sure was nice meeting someone so lovely, My son is the manager here. If you come back later in the summer, you might meet him.”
“Thank you. You are so sweet!”
“Let me bring you back,” Mrs. Muriel said before she looked over her shoulder to wink her good eye at Cara.
Cara mouthed, “And she speaks Spanish!”
The old woman looked well into her seventies and walked crouched over leaning on a cane like time itself was weight crushing down on her tiny frame. She began to speak rapidly in Spanish at first sight of the dreadlocked sorcerer. The curtain fell behind them and still she spoke on.
When she finally stopped, Ariadne began to translate. The Prince snapped his fingers making the young girl’s lips snap closed. The beauty covered her mouth with her hand, shocked at not knowing what silenced her.
Mr. Curtis pulled out two Victorian chairs while the Prince leaned against the table in the middle of the room, speaking to her in Spanish. He trailed a dark fingernail along the girl’s jaw and said, “I am dat one who has spoke in ebry tongue of men. I don’t be needin a trans-la-tor. Eben one dat be as lovely as you be.”
The ancient woman spun a tale of tragic woe, how her husband had passed away only a month earlier and they were in New Orleans to meet with a lawyer concerning his will. The attorney had informed the grieving widow that not only was there no money to be inherited, but the loan against the house she had lived in for 50 years was not covered by the survivorship policy. To make matters worse, she had only 30 days to come up with ten thousand dollars before they foreclosed.
The Prince interrupted her mid-sentence, “I done sent the knight to slay your dragon. What I need now is de P-A-Y-M-E-N-T.”
The old woman looked enraged as he yelled, “Give to Ceasar, that which is Ceasar’s!” Her small purse burst into flames and she dropped it on the wood floor. “And I don’t talk to no witches mask.”
As he spoke the air went blurry around the old woman and she was transformed into a regal beauty, a tantalizing Ptolemaic Princess that would have caused Helen of Argos to recall sepia prints of her grandmother.
Mr. Curtis grabbed the woman by the wrist and Ariadne tensed to stop him, but the Prince snapped his fingers and wooden hands grew from the arms of the chair to restrain her.
The old woman said in Spanish to the girl, “Don’t worry. He can’t hurt me again.” She turned to the Prince and pulled up her sleeves, showing arms full of beautiful designs. “Marks of my house. Pale Queen, mighty in sorrow, tears of flame.”
The Prince held a silver goblet up and said, “You were a Pale Queen.” He waved his hand and her tattoos became liquid and misted through the air to fill the goblet.
The woman said, “When that monster,” she pointed a Mr. Curtis, “cut the wings from my spine, I shed not one tear. I cheated YOU! I traded a thimbleful of the water of life for an ocean full of love like you monsters will never know! I don’t even want to go back and I have never regretted it!” She snapped her fingers with a deafening crack and became an old woman again. The chair released Ariadne.
The Prince’s temples throbbed with anger and she spoke to the girl who clutched her grandmother, “I done sent them knights, but I need a favor from you. When dem get to dat castle, gib dem dis.” He held out a black stone.
The dark wizard dipped a crooked finger in the chalice of ink. The air around the cup twinkled and the liquid became solid spiders that poured onto the Princess and were absorbed into the black stone. The old woman crinkled up her face in disgust and did the sign of the cross then spit on the ground.
The Prince pulled a small change purse from the tall teenager’s handbag. He held the stone to his lips and blew on it. His breath became a gold leaf foil wrapping it like candy. He lifted it with two long fingernails and dropped it in the change purse before returning it to the girl’s bag. “Please don’t look at dat. Wait for dat knight. It fa him.”
Then the dreadlocked sorcerer touched a fingernail to the girl’s palm and the all too familiar spider tattoo began to form, but to the Prince’s surprise, and with a startle that made Mr. Curtis stand in alarm, the girl made her hand into a cup and poured the spider into it as a pool of ink, then poured the ink back into the chalice on the table.
“Look at dat, Mistah Curtis. Eben a formah queen can make a real live princess.”
“You said give unto Ceasar, I say give the devil his due,” Ariadne said with contempt.
“I promise you dis, chile, when dat knight give dis witch back dat castle, you betta send him back as a prince. Harm one hair on him head and you will know de debil.”
The old woman spat at the Prince’s feet and they walked out of the store. The Prince poured the ink into a small blue bottle and put a stopper in it. He stowed it on a shelf full of ancient bottles.