2:30 PM, 95° F temperatures outside, I lay down on the living room couch. Inside it is cool, the air conditioning fighting. My place was spotless; the housekeepers had gone over it this morning, the shutters closed off the beating afternoon sun.
They come to me.
Earlier, in back of the coffee house on the patio, a man stopped where I was sitting, pointing to a book I’d laid on the low round table.
‘Are you reading this?’ he said.
I said that I was.
‘Santeria?’ he said. ‘That’s Chango right there,’ pointing to the photo of a shrine on the cover of the book. ‘He’s the head of all that.’ I held another book in my hands.
‘That’s a history of Santeria,’ I said.
‘I know. I know all about Santeria, Voodoo.’ He stood looking at me, a big mop of black curls sweeping around his head, steady flashing dark eyes, wearing an indigo blue t-shirt, shorts and walking sandals.
‘I practice magic,’ he said. ‘I’m a magician. Black magic, white magic. This stuff,’ he said, pointing to the book on the table, ‘is satanic. The satanic side of Christianity.’
‘So you don’t do Santeria or Voodoo?’ I said.
He shook his head. ‘I cast spells, dispel curses. Santeria does animal sacrifices, low grade stuff.” He looked around the area, a BMW sedan and a jacked up off-road crawler in their parking stalls. No one was around. We spoke in normal voices. ‘Sacrificing animals, it’s like, pardon the expression, masturbating in front of God, saying See? See what I can do for you?’
‘So no animal sacrifices.’
‘No. I work with herbs, oils, candles. I know all about this stuff, though. Know all about it. I’m a Santero.’ His wrist was wrapped in a thin leather band, and he held out his right hand to show it to me. A Santero is someone who has been formally initiated into the Santeria faith, usually a series of ceremonies conferred by Santeros and Santeras, female priests in the Santeria beliefs.
I asked him if he wanted to sit down. He settled in to a thick rattan lounge chair next to me in front of a small low round table.
‘How long?’ I asked.
‘I was about ten years old. A Santera put a spell on our family, and I had to dispel it. Cast it out.’
‘Eleven years old?’
He nodded. ‘A Puerto Rican woman put a spell on us but I found out and worked on her. Messed her up really good. The essence of Santeria and Voodoo is that if you like someone you do good by them. If you don’t like someone, you mess them up.'
He introduced himself as Daren.
‘I’m working on a story,’ I said. ‘I have some of the characters in mind, and how the story might go in some aspects. Not sure exactly where it ends up, but that’s how I work.’
‘Like a journey,’ Daren said.
‘Something like that. It’s like I have an idea of who’s in the story, how it might develop, but I don’t pre-plan the ending. It can flow, that way. It’s like inviting people to a party at your house. You know the people, but you don’t know how long the party will go. Maybe until midnight, maybe 3:00 AM. But you know the people and have an idea how they might interact. So you’ve been involved in this since you were eleven years old?’
‘My mother took me to a witch doctor when I was a kid, near Riverside. We were waiting for the doctor, and a woman was in the waiting area, her stomach so big she looked like she was having triplets. She was moaning, but she had to wait for the doctor. She pulled up her shirt, and I could see lumps moving around under her skin, long slithery things, like tapeworms. The woman said she was going to die, if she didn’t get in to see the witch doctor. I asked my mother what was wrong with her, and she said to be still, we would wait to see the doctor.’
Whether Daren was there to see the doctor, of if he was waiting for his mother to go in, it was not clear.
‘Finally, she goes in and later comes out and sits in the waiting area. She spread her legs.’ Daren looked around and lowered his voice. ‘I saw coming out of her pussy, the serpents. Serpents came out of her vagina.’
‘Like snakes?’ I said.
‘Yeah,’ he said.
‘How old was she?’ I asked.
‘Twenty two, twenty five.’
‘That’s a life changing experience,’ I said.
‘And you were part of a spell to cast off a curse?’ I said.
‘This Puerto Rican woman had put a spell on our house. We had a Santera coming to the house, and when I had gotten home, that day, I felt an energy in the house. I asked my mother who was in the house? She said to go in to my room. Going down the hallway, I passed her room, and inside the Santera woman was looking at me, like she was expecting me. She was pointing at me. She knew that I could feel her presence. I see spirits. I’m clairvoyant.
‘All of these elements,” he said, “Santeria, Voodoo, black magic, white magic, Satanism, it’s all real. Powerful. I work with these energies.’
I used to ask a lot of questions. Now, I keep quiet and the conversation moves naturally.
‘They’re all real, but only if you have it in here.’ He made a fist and thumped it against his chest in the area of his heart. ‘You have to have it in here.’ He grinned as if he was telling me the words, but wasn’t imparting the full meaning. He recommended a Botanica not far from where we were right at that moment. ‘It’s the best botanica around, one of the best I’ve ever been in.’
I know the place.
‘Downtown has homeless people,’ Daren said. ‘Drug addicts, dealers, tweakers. I don’t go down there much anymore.’
Dark corners, in between shadows and light, colors blend and fade, voices are lowered. And the hidden secrets, they are sometimes revealed.