Jorge was only 7 years old when he witnessed his first exorcism. It was an almost matter-of-fact affair, between him and his aunt, between her and an indefinable something that spoke through her mouth. No one else heard the voice: even if Jorge and his aunt stayed in a shanty town, their neighbors were probably too immersed in their own work and problems to notice the cold winds that opened up the balm of summer, or the smell of sulphur that won over the sickly sweet stench of garbage, or the chorus…. the chorus of notes and songs and screams and jeers that lived in that single voice that came out of his aunt as she sliced potatoes for the evening meal.
Knives are nice.
The chorus woke Jorge out of his prayer. He had been praying, as he sat in the kitchen, and while packing his clothes. His aunt and he were returning to their uncle’s house that night. His aunt and uncle were always like this, fighting, fleeing from each other, reuniting … it happened at least once a year, and Jorge had made it a habit to pray that he would return to their big, warm, bright house, where electricity and hot water were as usual as a steaming bowl of beef stew. Tthere was a garden out back, for Jorge to play in; and there were books in the library, for Jorge to read; and then there were photos on the walls, of his aunt and uncle in happier times, of Jorge all muddied from playing in the grass, of Jorge’s parents who had died when he was just a babe fresh out of the womb.
Knives are nice. It was the voice again.
Jorge thought his aunt was joking. He smiled, looked up, waiting to see her laughter-rich face turned to his. Instead, he saw her staring at her chopping board, her knife poised in mid-slice.
We should give it to him. We should make him pay. Then we shall have that house.
Again, a chorus of a thousand voices, weeping, wailing, teeth gnashing. Jorge had read those words somewhere, but they had meant nothing to him until that moment. He had heard the voices only briefly, when he would chance upon his aunt sitting alone in her room, with only candles and a doll for company. He would hear her ask questions of the air; he would hear the air answer back through her mouth. And then Jorge would run away, into the streets, through the alleyways, and into a church, where the silence would help him shut out the whispers.
But tonight, he was alone with his aunt, and the front door was locked. They were surrounded by three kerosene lamps, but the room seemed to darken, to pulse with shadows, to flicker every time Jorge blinked. He could not even move his knees, as he watched his companion train her eyes on her fingers, and the knife. Something within told him to be afraid; but something within also told him that he could do something.
Jorge began to pray in his head, and allow the words to flow over his own heartbeat. He could hear his heart in his throat, then in his ears, then in his skull; but his words were clearer, crisper, as theyrode on his every breath.
Do you really think you can stop me, child?
Jorge’s throad froze in the middle of his Hail Mary. He could feel the sweat in his palms seep into the shirt he was folding, settle into the fabric, and cool his fingertips. The candlelight bounced off the knife, and into his eyes. Jorge fought not to blink.
The Hail Mary continued in his head.
Your prayers are too feeble, little boy.
Jorge did not stop. He simply went on praying, unable to do anything except stare at his aunt in silence. Every word now played in his head, played against his brow, played in his heart. He could hear a voice within him growing stronger, over and above the black fear that gnawed at his throat. He wished that he could meet his aunt’s eyes, to comfort her, to tell her that these voices were not hers, that they were not her masters, that they did not define her.
Jorge still did not stop. He watched his aunt, observed as her head stayed in place, as her arm hung in the air over the chopping board, as her grip on the knife relaxed.
Don’t be too confident, little boy. We will be back.
”What are you staring at, Jorge?” his aunt finally looked up, as though she had always had her voice, and Jorge had always been a lazy child who had to be ordered around to find his purpose, “Fold your clothes. We leave after dinner.”
Jorge finally breathed. He tried to fold his shirt again, but it was too wet with his sweat. Around him, the lamps brightened. Before him, his aunt continued slicing potatoes. The prayers continued in his head; the voices still played in his ears.