, , , , , , , , ,

The small group turned around to look at Cathy but her back was turned towards them. Her eyes trained on some Portuguese inscription on the cemented marble plaque at the entrance of the church. She slowly raised her palm to wipe the dust away from its face and tried to read clearly the writings.

The group surged towards her to get a better glimpse of the plaque she was reading, anticipating a mystery. The guide seeing the crowd’s interest was waning in him, was clearly annoyed. Cathy couldn’t miss the sneer in the voice even as she slowly read the inscription. ‘Miss, I don’t think that name is inscribed on the wall?’

One of the other girls from the small group pushed herself closer and tried hard to read the inscription. Though she could make out the characters, she couldn’t understand what it meant. She turned to look at Cathy.

‘Hey Cathy, can you make out what’s inscribed. Is that name mentioned there?’

The guide seemed to flinch in anger. ‘Are you crazy miss? How can a taboo name like Rosalin be inscribed on a church wall?’

Seeing no reaction from the young crowd, the guide was now fuming with hatred for Cathy. For him, his fee and his tips depended how well he kept his customers engrossed and entertained with his bullshit history talk. But this one girl was blowing it away for him.

He quickly walked over to a small crumbling raised concrete platform like construction that measured about five square feet and about a foot high and located bang opposite the church.

‘Hello! Listen… listen folks… listen everybody.’ The guide clapped his hands for attention. ‘I think this little place will interest you…’

The group turned around to look at him except for Cathy. She was still engrossed in reading the inscription and trying to decipher what it mean. But still her body stiffened slightly. She could sense what was coming up next. She had dreaded this moment but there was no way she could let it go or give it a miss. She had wanted to be here. She had wanted to live this moment.

She remained still, her back towards them, her fists tightly clenched, eyes closed awaiting the shocking moment.

Having attracted back the crowd’s attention, the guide quickly climbed over the small crumbling platform. Turning around, he stood dramatically to attention, his hands clenched together, obviously pleased by the interest he has managed to regain from the group as they walked towards him curiously.

‘So what’s with this place man?’ Bono asked him inquisitively as he eyed the non-descript place.

Cathy knew she didn’t have to look at the place to know what Bono was talking about. The place was the center of everyone’s attention now. And once again, she found herself answering Bono’s question as much as she didn’t want to. She started slowly, her voice trembling in grief and just about in a soft whisper.

‘That’s the place where Rosalin was burnt alive for adultery she never committed and in front of a cheering crowd. The very crowd whom she had favored in various risky situations, that very place where she had ordered a stop to the practice of Sati, a tradition of the locals in which the widow burns herself to death on her dead husband’s pyre.’ Cathy paused and took a deep breath. She then continued, yet not daring to turn around.

‘That very place where she uttered her last dying words…’

She stopped. She felt a deep premonition that something horrifying was about to happen. Something that shouldn’t occur. She could feel it and she deeply regretted answering Bono’s question. She could feel the crowd’s eyes pierce her back as they stared at her in awe and in anticipation that she would continue. Her eyes were still glued unconsciously to the small inscription on the plaque. She seemed to have instigated the guide with her words but she couldn’t help it and he in turn couldn’t help himself from questioning her sarcastically and in a loud voice.

‘Oh really… so you were there that time…’ The guide said with a sneer. ‘You seem to have done your homework pretty nice. Ok… ok… so what were her last dying words? Go ahead tell me. Let everybody hear her last words… tell me! Come on tell!’ His voice was now filled with resent and anger directed towards her.

Slowly Cathy turned around to face the guide, her heart beating wildly. There was a painful expression on her face. She looked around at the faces of her fellow students. They were all waiting patiently for the answer. Most of them had a queer look on their faces as if they were not sure if it was really Cathy who had so much knowledge of this place. With a heavy heart, she turned to look at the raised ground forgetting the guide who was staring back at her. Seconds passed. She closed her eyes as she tried to reminisce the dream that was so clearly etched in her mind. Softly she began as she recalled the words.

‘Her last words… Yeah her last words… No… No…’

She jerked her eyes open her and stared hard at the raised ground as a scene flashed before her eyes. She felt as if she was transported back in time 400 years ago. It was as if she was there at this particular place watching a live scene as she saw Rosalin, a young girl about 18 with a slender body and dressed in an exquisite gown tied to a stake on the raised platform. Her loose beautiful hair blowing with the gentle breeze was obstructing the view of her face. There was a slow fire burning around her but she was obvious to it or to the crowd. Her mind completely focused on the church opposite. There was a big crowd gathered around the platform and cheering wildly shouting slogans, waving sickles and knives in the air.

Rosalin, her face still obstructed by her flowing hair, watched with fear as a small group of men piled dry wood and hay all around the church wild with enthusiasm. They too were shouting slogans against the Church Padre. Satisfied, one of the men then picked up a burning wood from near Rosalin’s stake, even as her gown caught fire and rapidly spread across her body.

Rosalin tried to free herself violently but failed. She watched in fear and desperation as the man walked lecherously to the Church and threw the burning piece of wood on the hay.

The guide and the group of students watched the fear emote on Cathy’s face as she stared with wide eyes at the illusion that played in front of her. They had no idea what was going through her mind as her eyes simply stared at the spot profound with fear witnessing a spectacle that happened hundreds of years ago.

Sanjose broke out of the group and quickly walked towards her while the others continued to watch her pensively and slightly afraid now, afraid for her sake. Sanjose quickly wrapped her in an embrace but over his shoulder, her eyes were still trained on the platform. Words came tumbling out of her mouth as her eyes kept viewing the spectacular vision, seen only by her.

… No… don’t do it… please… please… he is innocent… And Rosalin’s voice played in her ears as Cathy repeated her words, her tone matching Rosalin’s pleading voice.

‘… Please don’t do it, please don’t… he is innocent… don’t hurt him. He is a man of God… He is innocent… please dooooooooooooooon’t …’

For a second, the guide too felt the fear gripping his heart hearing the chilling voice of Cathy. Sanjose turned his head to look at him on the square with deep anger. The guide knew what was going on in his mind and he quickly raised his hands as he jumped down to indicate that he had no hand in the mumbo jumbo that was going in Cathy’s life. Sanjose turned his face to Cathy and pushed her to arms length and held her but over his shoulder, her eyes were still locked on the stake on the square in deep fear and shock.