Ma-gios, shivering, put on the woollen pullover Agnese had given him and took in the sight of the sunrise with tired eyes.
They were flying at a height of several thousand metres. He was thinking of the glossy lips of the nurse, and the soft thighs where he had rested his palm. Oh, how I wish she were here now! I’d marry her and keep kissing and pampering her till the end of my life. Even his teeth chattered with his repressed desires; he looked in torment at Vitali, who was slumbering beside him on a tilted seat. The detective had locked his fingers on his chest, the frequency of his snore precisely mirrored by the puffing up of his cheeks and the tone fine-tuned by his nose. He had insisted on accompanying the boy, even though his superior had rejected his request to let him do so.
‘Sort out the investigation from
here. Only Ma-gios is flying. We can’t pay for your airfare at present.’
‘But boss, this is of vital
importance, please understand. That child is completely defenceless without me.’
You can’t just run off to Tibet,’ his
boss rebuked him on the phone. Vitali, however, had decided to accompany the
boy, lest any trouble befell him, even if he had to pay himself. Then, a few
days later, his superior asked for him. He handed over two tickets with a
mischievous smile, remarking that Vitali’s flight would be covered from his
year-end bonus. Ta, boss!
The sun wheeled along the aircraft among
the clouds prettified with pink all over. Ma-gios was overcome by deep emotion
when the Himalayan range appeared before his eyes. His stomach turned. His childhood
sobs still reverberated among the million-year-old summits, although his mother
had long been dead. She lived on in his memory, just as the rush of avalanches
interrupted the frozen silence where they belched from the mountainsides, and
with them the roar of loneliness, cold, hopelessness and poverty. The eternal
winds found the smallest of cracks in house walls and ruthlessly burst through
the slightest tears in clothes. Only edelweiss found solace in the piercingly
cold cracks of cliffs.
He suddenly recalled the snow leopard
and felt the taste of blood in his mouth. He heard the disheartening whisper: ‘You’re
a murderer.’ Kunga’s eyes and terrified face appeared vaguely before him looking
as they had on the day he had found him in that room drenched in Rabten’s
blood. Murderer! Demon!
‘No!’ he shouted out loud.
Vitali snorted and woke up with a
‘What’s up, Ma-gios? What’s the
The boy’s face was white as a sheet
and he could not open his mouth. He clawed the armrest in alarm.
‘Did you have a bad dream?’
Ma-gios shook his head and Vitali
leaned on his elbows.
‘Have you remembered something?’
‘My home. I’m scared. I don’t know
how they’ll receive me.’
‘How they’ll receive you? Shall I
tell you how? They’ll celebrate. Everybody’ll be happy.’
Vitali stroked the boy’s shoulder,
upon which Ma-gios turned towards the window. In the distance, rocky summits
the shape of cockerel crests sliced the haze, but they reminded Ma-gios of Tashi’s
mutilated hand. It was because of me that
he chopped off his finger. He won’t ever forgive me. He used to love his son as
much as his own life. A baby cried out from a seat behind him, perhaps
suffering with gripe. It might have been his sibling, Ma-gios thought, but he
could no longer have brothers or sisters.
They had landed at night and were now
jolting towards Yilhung in a rickety off-road vehicle. Vitali, tired, kept
‘We’ve spent half our lives at
airports,’ he grumbled, moaning about their late arrival.
They could have taken bites out of
the darkness, it was as solid as a loaf of black bread. Vitali was finally about
to nod off when their rickety Toyota Land Cruiser got a puncture. The
inspector’s patience ran out and he started to shout at the driver. It was
futile, of course – he soon realized it was useless to shout at a Chinese person
Their driver, whose face was burnt to
a golden brown, jumped out of the car cursing and kicked aside a broken plough
‘What now?’ asked Ma-gios, worried.
‘I don’t know,’ replied Vitali with a
grimace. ‘He’ll need to change the tyre. Let’s hope he has a spare.’
Complaints about the world and
everyone in it, especially Westerners, were pouring out of the driver; he even dashed
his cap to the ground, making Ma-gios smile.
‘Could we help?’ Ma-gios asked him in
Tibetan. The driver looked at him in alarm.
‘You understood what I said?’
The boy nodded. ‘Rest assured, I
won’t tell him.’ He signalled towards Vitali.
The little man turned red in the
‘Of course! I should’ve realised you’re
Tibetan. It shows in your face. You must’ve been sent by the bad spirits. Look
what’s happened to me. Do you know how much a new tyre costs? I’ll be broke.’
‘We’ll help change the tyre,’ the
inspector shouted to them from a few paces further on. He did not even have enough
strength left to stay angry. He stared at the night sky. The stars were spread
over their heads like billions of diamonds from a breath-taking treasury; there
was hardly a dark spot left in the sky. How
wonderful it would be to stay here where there are no offices, no telephones,
no deadlines, and, what’s more, often not even electricity.
‘Could you ask the ladder-man to help
loosen the nuts? They’re too tight: I can’t unscrew them,’ the driver, who
could not even shift the wrench with his little hands, asked Ma-gios. His.
Vitali took the L-shaped wrench from the
driver, whose face was already as red as hot lava. The inspector unscrewed the nuts
with practised movements, lifted the chassis with the jack and rolled the
unlucky tyre back to the boot. He mounted the spare, giving an indulgent smile when
their Tibetan companion stared at the punctured tyre with a pained look.
‘You’re quite good,’ Ma-gios remarked
when Vitali had finished.
‘I wanted to be a mechanic when I was
a child; I was attracted to the endless tinkering and fixing of problems. Nonetheless,
I ended up a detective, so now I have to find the problems in almost-perfect
He washed his hands with half a
bottle of mineral water and patted the driver, who seemed unable to get over
the shock, on the shoulder. He was sobbing by the ditch.
‘Ma-gios, come here.’ The inspector
waved to the boy and rummaged in his jacket pocket.
He fished out eighty dollars and
pushed them into his hands.
‘Give this to him. Tell him it’s for
Ma-gios was deeply touched; he was
now completely convinced of Vitali’s benevolence.
From then on, they followed the river
along untrodden paths, across gullies and fords, until they reached Yilhung, ‘Yulongxiang’
in Chinese, at dawn. A little, rusting, handwritten sign, set up at the order
of the Chinese authorities, signalled the entrance to the village. The gentle
slopes were overrun by mountain pines and puddles of cloud floated in the sky,
peacefully shepherding the herds of sheep grazing below. Vitali watched Ma-gios
the whole time, but the boy did not seem happy to be back home; his head hung
as if he were scared or wanted to hide.
‘Do you live here?’ asked their
driver, who also found the boy’s strange behaviour surprising. The boy did not
react. Instead, his eyes moved from house to house. Was he searching for
somebody? A furry dog barked and darted at the vehicle with teeth bared.
Coughing, snarling and barking, he did his best to keep up with it,
periodically appearing out of the cloud of dust swirling behind them. Upon
reaching the middle of the village, the inspector beckoned to the driver to
slow down and placed his hand on the boy’s shoulder.
‘Ma-gios, do you remember where you
‘Yes, towards the end of the village.
But it all seems unfamiliar now. Have there been new houses built?’
Realizing he was unsure, the driver
put on the brakes. Around them, lights appeared in more and more of the adobe
cubes. An ancient man in a rainbow-coloured overcoat was walking towards them,
shooing the snarling dog away from the car by swinging his arms violently. When
they stepped out, the wrinkled old man burst out into cheers, flung away the walking
stick, which had helped him shuffle that far, and lifted his arms to the sky.
‘Uncle Dema!’ the boy shouted, and
ran up to the old man, who seemed to be about to lose his balance.
Dema grasped the boy with steely
hands and hugged and kissed him. His voice shook with sudden waves of weeping
and he kept squeezing Ma-gios’s arm tightly – all the more so since he would
have completely lost his balance otherwise.
‘Ma-gios, Ma-gios! You’ve come back!
They continued to embrace one
another, weeping. Deeply touched, Vitali leaned against the jeep while keeping
an eye on the dog, which had crept back in the meantime and was sniffing at the
‘Uncle Dema, where’s Daddy?’ The boy
looked into the old man’s eyes, which mirrored the struggles and beauty of long
The old man bent his head.
‘I don’t know. After he left with
you, we never saw him again.’
‘Where did we go? Do you remember?’
Old Dema burst into bitter laughter
and, losing his balance, grabbed Ma-gios’s coat again.
‘But you’d know that, son. I believe
you went to Lhasa. Somebody invited you there but you were not allowed to say
The boy turned to Vitali and
translated the old man’s words.
‘Do you remember anything else?’ he
asked the old man.
‘You didn’t say more, just packed up
and melted into thin air. You disappeared like leopards on the mountainside.’
Vitali stepped closer, drew out his
tiny squared notepad and began to jot down the information assiduously.
‘Uncle Dema, this gentleman here is
an inspector. He’s come along with me to help me find out the truth.’
‘What kind of truth?’
‘About who kept me locked up for more
than ten years.’
‘Did they keep you locked up?’ the
old man asked, and his eyes narrowed.
Someone called out the boy’s name.
Granny appeared with her ungainly steps, wearing her embroidered kerchief tied
like a turban. Her wrinkles became almost smooth with happiness, although it
was apparent how difficult it was for her to walk. The very same resolve and
willpower Ma-gios remembered from the last time he’d seen her lurked on her
face. A few children, awoken by their noise, straggled behind her; apparently,
they had been left in her care for the night. A gust of wind running down the
mountainside drew dirty patterns like snail shells in the air and then smashed
the dust at their faces. They all started to cough and rub their eyes,
At last, Granny reached them, shooed
uncle Dema, who almost fell on his back, away and took over the role of bodily
handcuffs. In the meantime, she caressed the boy’s body like a small child
would his mother. It tickled and made Ma-gios laugh.
‘No, Granny, don’t!’
‘Just laugh, just laugh at me,’ the
woman chided him. ‘I’ve been expecting both of you back, but only you’ve
As she uttered the last words, tears
flooded her eyes. Vitali understood none of their conversation but the eyes of
the old woman told him everything. Hers must have been a very difficult life, surviving
in the mountains without a man. The inspector paid the driver and, with
Ma-gios’s help, told him when to come back. The driver bowed and took his
leave. Vitali stayed near Granny all the while, realizing that the pony-sized
dogs shrank back when the old woman did no more than glance at them. She must have known these dogs for a long
time, the inspector thought. Ma-gios extricated himself from Granny’s
embrace and smiled at Vitali.
‘Granny says she’ll always be
grateful to you for bringing me back.’
‘Tell her it was only my duty.’
‘I’ve also told her how generous you
were towards our driver, and she says she’ll pray for you.’
‘Tell her I’m very grateful,’ Vitali
replied and nodded towards the old woman.
In the meantime, half the village had
come up to them: curious, tousled men with their silent, sunburnt wives. They
had just woken up from their dreams, yet smiles were lurking in their eyes.
Everybody wanted to see the miracle.
‘Life’s a bit simple here but I think
you’ll cope,’ Ma-gios whispered to Vitali while they were dawdling after
Vitali looked at the houses that reminded
him of mud huts and seemed to just grow out of the earth and sighed deeply.
‘I hope so.’
He thought he would have
congratulated the director for getting the period right if this were the set
for the shooting of a film about the Middle Ages. He was somewhat reassured by
the sight of utility poles but he knew that charging the battery of his mobile
phone would be a waste of time because the signal was non-existent. All the
same, it would be excellent as a watch.
He walked quietly and slowly by
Ma-gios, repeatedly eyeing the giant dogs sniffing about. In the crisp dawn
air, the wind brought along the musty fumes from the pens where the yak
shepherds were preparing their animals for the pastures.
Not long after they entered Granny’s
hut, impatient knocking broke the silence. A shepherd wearing a leather hat and
with a woven beard appeared in the doorway and everybody turned towards him. In
the dusk, only his cat-like green eyes flashed.
‘Do you still remember me, Ma-gios?’
The boy wrinkled his forehead, shook
his head doubtfully and asked, ‘Should I?’
Upon which the shepherd pulled his
left hand from his coat and lifted it to his right shoulder. Ma-gios’s pupils
widened, seeing that the forefinger of the veined, calloused hand was missing.
‘Yes, it’s me.’
Ma-gios’s muscles tensed, becoming
those of someone who was ready to jump any second, and his breathing
accelerated as well. The man stepped closer; the boy could see his round belly
and thickset chest under his fur coat. Uncle
Tashi has grown stout over the years, he thought and looked into his eyes.
Granny cleared her throat and rinsed it with a gulp of tea. The boy cast a
desperate glance at Vitali, who straightened up in his chair.
‘Don’t be afraid of me,’ the shepherd
said in his rasping voice. ‘I’ve just come to …’
His voice faltered; they could see he
was struggling mightily with himself, then he managed to say, ‘I’ve just come
to apologize to you.’
‘Apologize?’ Granny repeated in
The shepherd lowered his head and
placed his mutilated hand on the boy’s head.
‘Yes. I’m sorry for being so blind
about you. Your father was a very good man. I hope he’s still alive … somewhere
He caressed the boy’s head as
tenderly as if he were his father, then drew a penknife with a horn handle out
of his pocket.
‘Here, son. It was Rabten’s. I’ve
kept it for you.’
He whisked away a tear from the
corner of his eyes and left. A perplexed silence was left behind.
The next day, Ma-gios visited the
neighbours with Vitali and Granny. He noticed how difficult it was for his granny
‘Only the hope of seeing you again
kept me alive all these years,’ she told him repeatedly in her shaky voice.
Leaning on her gnarled stick, Granny
led them from house to house while Vitali fought his waves of nausea. The
tangle of flavours in Tibetan cuisine thoroughly tested his stomach. All the
while, his inspector’s self never rested. With Ma-gios’s help, he tried to
extract details of Rabten’s death from the villagers because his inner logic
told him that this strange case and the disappearance of Ma-gios and his father
were somehow connected. He looked for the key to the mystery all day long and,
back in his gaudy room at night, he kept staring at the ceiling, still puzzled.
He was glad to be able to produce better and better theories about the crime.
He listened to the crackle of the fire ablaze in the rusty stove, trying to put
together the pieces of the remote puzzle until sleep got the better of him.
Ma-gios slept in his granny’s room, and
she, deeply affected, listened to his peaceful breathing and watched him roll
about all night until he woke up early in the morning. Granny herself had
fallen asleep for an hour occasionally, but the joy of seeing her grandson again
kept waking her up.
‘Granny,’ said Ma-gios in a hoarse
voice, after he had sat up and wrapped himself in the blanket again, ‘I dreamt that
Dad and Mum were together again.’
The summer morning bowed in with glorious sunshine streaming through the windows of the grammar school in Ajka.
Songbirds sang amorously in the park in front of the school, and the air was spiced with the sweet fragrance of lilac. Taking to their wings, many student hearts flew off in happy search of partners. As days stretched ever longer, teenagers got entangled in their irresistible desires.
Since Robert had first kissed her,
Angela had also been floating in the infinite universe of love. Neither a
difficult exam nor vicious backbiting could disturb her honey-sweet world of
dreams. She could not pay any attention during lessons at all. Her mind was
occupied with the memory of the boy who had promised to come back home every
weekend. Oh, how much I love him! She
drew little red hearts all over her maths exercise book. She wrote ‘Robbie’ on
all of them in small letters.
The bell rang at long last. Most of those
whose heads were also ringing with the knowledge crammed into them, and who had
no more lessons, filed out of their classrooms with whoops. The gravel on the
path winding across the park crackled under the feet of the pupils pouring out.
Angela found relief from the glaring
sunshine on a bench under a plantain tree with her classmate Amanda, who, with
her braces, hair dyed in lilac stripes and her worn leather jacket, looked like
the star of a teen serial. She plied Angela with words in her rasping voice:
never-ending stories and, of course, the latest gossip all teenage girls worth
the name needed to hear. Angela was trying to decode the masses of information swooping
down on her, staring at her pumps, while that mysterious night with Robert
drifted before her eyes like a hazy memory. What a night it had been! Thinking
back to it, her soul melted. She felt fear mixed with happiness when Amanda
told her what a lot of gossip and wondering had surrounded her bench-mate since
the miracle. Angela had already been visited by reporters from several
newspapers and had also appeared briefly in a TV programme. She was asked how
she had learnt this special resuscitation technique, ‘which was so unique,’ she
read in a paper, ‘that it even interfered with mobile phones.’ However, several
students had made video recordings using their phones, however, except for some
indiscernible, red and green spots, there was nothing visible on the
recordings. Some had cried the devil, others an angel, so the two camps finely
balanced each other out. She also met the boy’s exuberantly grateful parents;
they must surely have thought her an angel.
Following her monologue of several
hundred words, Amanda asked, ‘Angela, do you think there’s another world?’
Angela, drawing a flower with her
foot in the sea of pebbles, replied, ‘That’s why I’ve been pestered for weeks.’
‘What do you mean by that? Do you mean
the other world helped you? Are you really a demon after all? Are the rumours
‘Amanda, don’t you start. Why should
I be? Hmm? Anyway, my hair isn’t black,’ she answered and fluttered her
‘Not so fast! There are fair-haired
demons as well, and they’re even more dangerous.’
‘Is that true? Are you speaking from
She winked at Amanda, who instantly
returned the arrow shot at her.
‘Yes, I am. For example, I know one
who made love to Réka’s brother.’
Angela’s face went red and she
started to fumble nervously in her handbag.
‘Angie, it’s nothing to be ashamed
of. Nobody’s a whore just because she’s gone to bed with the person she loves.’
Angela zipped up her handbag
‘I was terribly exhausted that
morning. I hardly had the strength to walk. But even if we had made love, I wouldn’t
discuss it with you,’ she said. She leapt up angrily, but Amanda caught her
‘Oh, Angie, don’t! Please wait. I
didn’t mean it like that. Of course I’m glad you’ve found love. If only I had an
admirer as good-looking as Robert. He gets my full approval.’
Angela succumbed to the flattery and tiredly
threw her white-striped canvas handbag back onto the bench, thinking I won’t easily escape from Amanda very quickly
‘Anyway, it wasn’t me who was
listening by the door. It was Robbie’s sister. I wasn’t even there.’
‘Well, that surprises me. I can’t
believe she hasn’t got anything better to do than spy on her brother.’
‘C’mon, Angela, she was only worried about
‘Why? Because of her brother?’
‘I’m sure she knows him better than
you do …’
‘Even so, she’s not the one going out
with him. I am. I’ll get to know him for myself.’
‘All right.’ Amanda nodded humbly,
with her braces flashing, ‘Calm down.’
The two girls went on tittering and tattling
under the foliage for long minutes without realizing that alert eyes were
watching them from a police car. The two policemen were waiting for the right
moment. They had been ordered to take the girl to the station quietly, if
possible. They were in luck. Amanda soon stood up and left with brisk steps –
heading for the nearby shop to get two ice lollies. The two men looked at each
other and instantly got out of the car. Angela felt relieved at the end of the
flood of words and sent a message to Robert in the welcome quiet. Her face
softened and she only looked up when the two policemen were already blocking her
‘Good day! Angela Bergman?’
She was startled. The last time she
had heard her name pronounced in such a formal way was on speech day at school
when outstanding sports players were awarded prizes – she was one of the highly
promising players of the volleyball club.
‘Yes, … yes, it’s me,’ she answered,
blinking up at the men in uniform.
‘No reason to worry, miss,’ the
smaller one murmured, taking out his identity card and badge. ‘We’ve been sent
by the superintendent to take you to the station. In connection with the recent
accident, you see. That is, he’d like to know a few more details about the
drowning. It won’t take more than an hour. D’you have some spare time now,
Instead of an answer, the girl blew
the air out of her lungs.
‘Everything all right?’ the policeman
‘Yes, of course.’
She thought it was best to get over
with it as soon as possible.
They headed towards the police car
across the park. Its reflective stripes were dimly visible in the distance.
Angela was glad they had parked so far away. They had at least that much brain.
This is embarrassing. Let’s get out of
here as soon as possible.
‘You can call your parents first,’
one of them said, ‘so that they don’t worry when they find you’re not here.’
‘I don’t need to: I’ve arranged to
let them know when I’m coming home today.’
‘As you wish,’ the policeman replied.
He shrugged his shoulders and took out the car keys.
Angela enjoyed every minute of the journey
to the station, and especially liked the way motorists ducked their heads like
scared birds at the sight of the police car.
‘Now everyone’s braking a bit,’ the
girl called to the driver at the front.
‘They could really step on it as far
as I’m concerned, I hate this crawling,’ the policeman answered sternly. A sad
song came on the radio but did not affect Angela at all. Love kept her happy
all the time. Of course, what else could people
doing this job be like? she thought on arriving at the police station. Even
policemen would feel incarcerated when they had to spend so much of their time
in such a socialist-era cube of a building. Worn photos and medals were
arranged on the walls with military precision. No disorder, no deviation
anywhere. No slackness would be tolerated here. The girl was already expected
in a smoke-smelling office.
A lanky man with a stork’s nose, whose
uniform was uncreased even while he was seated, introduced himself, ‘Welcome,
Angela. I’m superintendent Tibor Varga, Please forgive me for hauling you back here
about this matter, but we won’t inconvenience you again, I promise. Let me
introduce Father Adriano Esposito, who has come here from Budapest to talk to
you. He’s someone who deals with any kind of supernatural events for the Church.’
‘I’d like to extend my welcome to you
too, Angela,’ the clergyman cut in, looking at the girl. ‘I’m very glad to meet
you in person.’
‘Hello to you, too,’ the girl replied
coldly. ‘Why do you need the police? Why didn’t you just visit me personally at
Adriano looked at the policemen and
broke into a sinister smile.
‘You’re actually right, I probably
could have. But, please,’ he nodded towards the girl, ‘disregard the uniforms
and the police car. Superintendent Varga is an old friend of mine and I don’t
know my way around here.’
‘That’s right,’ the superintendent
agreed. ‘We’ve known each other for a good twenty years, and this has given us
a good excuse to meet up again.’
A clergyman has a policeman as a friend?
‘Gentlemen?’ Adriano turned towards
‘Come with me,’ the superintendent
ordered the policemen who had brought Angela in. ‘Let’s leave them alone.’
They were off in a jiffy: Adriano and
Angela were left alone. Why do I feel
that these policemen are afraid of this man? Who scares the police? the
girl wondered. The clergyman waited for the sound of steps to die down and then
began his story.
‘My dear Angela, I talked to your
parents on the phone today, and they confirmed my supposition that you possess
very special abilities.’ He turned the huge golden and sapphire ring on his
How can a priest afford a ring like that? And what’s with this
exaggerated self-assurance? ‘So, have my parents
told you everything?’
The man nodded.
‘That is, I think, almost everything.
But I’d like to hear the full story from you too.’
Pride flamed up in the girl, but she
pouted and said, ‘I’m sorry, Mr Adriano, but wasn’t what my parents told you
‘Well, yes, it probably was. But I’d
like to get to know you better now that there’s a chance we may become
‘Yes, in accomplishing a task of
vital importance,’ he quickly answered. But he realised he’d been overhasty when
the girl began to shake her head.
‘Hold on. Wait. I don’t want any kind
of work. Anyway, what could I help you with? I’m only a grammar-school girl. I
don’t know what this is all about, I want to go home.’
Adriano slackened the hook as it became
clear to him that the fish would swim off forever if he made only one more
careless move. And then Ennio would have him quartered. He folded his hands, as
if in prayer, and leant forward confidentially as far over the table as he
‘Angela, we need to find some people
who are obstacles to the development of this world and to a life of happiness and
riches for all. These people insist that there’s a need for grief, poverty and
sickness in the world.’
‘I don’t get it. Who’d want that?’
‘People who adamantly cling to their
own ideas and possess, unfortunately, huge mental powers. They purport to be
servants of God, whereas they’re the ones who bring about human suffering. You
may be able to help us find them.’
‘They’re servants of God and yet so harmful?’
‘No, they aren’t God’s servants; they
only pretend to be. We have to find them, they’re dangerous people.’
Angela saw that the clergyman was
talking to her earnestly, his earlier self-assurance gone. This put her a bit
more at ease.
‘If I perhaps succeeded in finding
them, what would happen them afterwards, Father Adriano?’
‘Oh, that wouldn’t be your problem.
You’d just help us to find them – in exchange for proper remuneration, as a
matter of course.’
‘So is this proper work?’
‘Yes,’ the man smiled. ‘You could think
of it as a sort of summer job. Surely you’d like to earn some money, wouldn’t
‘What makes you think that?’
‘That’s only my guess.’
Angela stroke her hair and asked, ‘Mr
Adriano, may I ask what you’re going to do with them when you’ve found them?’
Adriano’s lips quivered. He had not
expected such straightforward questions. He’d been convinced that the teenage
girl would only ask about the amount of money she would be paid.
‘Naturally, we would convince them,
with Christian affection, to forsake their erroneous ways and accept the hand
we extend to them to help them embark upon a new course. We would like to
change them into useful and cooperative members of society.’
Feelings of scorn coursed across
Angela’s face, she tightened her lips. Of course!
Pigeons kicked off the windowsill
towards the sky, fluttering and cooing, only their feathers descended giddily
from high above.
‘It all sounds very good and noble, but
what would happen if they didn’t want to accept your help?’
‘We’d be patient and persist: the Word
of God tells us to love our enemies,’ the churchman answered with nerves
resonating in his voice. Angela did not let go.
‘Still, why is it so important to you
to find them that you are willing to spend money on it? Somehow the pieces of
the picture don’t add up.’
‘Angela, this is too complicated to
explain now, but I’ll try. I’ve asked Mr Varga to give us an hour, and it looks
like we’ll need it.’
‘Let’s assume I accept your offer. When
would I have time for it? Would I only need to give up my summer holiday?’
‘In that case, you’d have to pay a
lot,’ she replied laughing. ‘Because, besides my parents, the most precious
things in the world to me are my summer holidays.’
‘I understand that.’ The man leaned
back, relaxed, sure of his success. ‘Do you mind if I smoke?’
‘Go ahead,’ Angela said. ‘I like
The minute hand of the clock on the
wall had jumped more than sixty times by the time Adriano had wound up his
story about the Catholic Church and the Alliance of Peoples, of which he was
also a stalwart. She listened to the list of various services performed by the
clergyman in amazement. Her change in mood was picked up by the man too; he was
smiling victoriously by the end.
‘You don’t have to reply now, of
course. I can’t expect you to do that, Angela. Think it over, talk it through with
your parents and decide afterwards.’
Unexpectedly, he handed a padded
envelope over to Angela and added, ‘In this envelope you’ll find a letter sent
by Archbishop Ennio Marino, from Italy. This letter must not be seen by anyone
but you and your parents – it is confidential. Can I trust you, Angela?’
‘Yes, but why is the envelope so
thick? Has he written so much?’
‘No, not really. But the archbishop
would like to give you a personal gift for doing what you did for that boy who
fell in the water. He was happy to hear you’d acted following divine
inspiration. Saving the life of a fellow human is the most valuable service you
can give. Now, take this envelope, take good care of it and only open it at
home, in a safe place, all right?’
‘Yes sir!’ said Angela briskly,
saluting with her hand at her forehead. ‘An order is an order.’
‘Well, yes, we’re at a police
station. By the way, your mother is waiting for you in front of the building. I
told her you’d be here.’
The girl scratched her head.
‘Have I done something wrong?’ the
‘Well, truth be told, I wanted to go
home on my own, but it doesn’t matter.’
‘Apologies, I didn’t know. But if you
have any more questions about this – and I’m almost certain you will – please
don’t hesitate to ask me. Here’s my card.’
Angela took the envelope and the blue
card carefully and slipped them into her bag. There may be money inside. She sighed but knew she was right. She
was overcome with happiness and zipped her bag close quickly.
‘Well, see you soon.’ Adriano smiled
at her. ‘I’m staying for a little while.’
‘See you.’ Angela took her leave too.
‘Can you find your way out?’
Angela nodded. Once she had left the
room, her curiosity multiplied with each second. She wanted to tear into the
envelope like a dog that has stolen meat from her owner. Clutching her prize, she
accelerated her steps towards the exit.
Her mother was waiting for her in the
sunshine, and hugged her. The heat slapped Angela in the face after the coolness
‘Wow, it’s hot out here!’
‘Yes, we’ll soon be able to set up
the pool in the garden.’
‘Don’t talk to me about pools for a
while, Mum.’ A mysterious smile lurked in Angela’s eyes.
‘Now, tell me what they wanted this
‘I’ll tell you all at home, Mum. We
may have a windfall,’ she replied, and disentangled herself from her mother’s
Angela adamantly abided by her
promise to Adriano, so her mother could not extricate a single word out of her
on the car trip, except for boring generalities. She talked as if she were
afraid that the contents of the envelope would dissolve into thin air if she
said anything about the priest.
On arriving home she tugged off her
shoes and ran straight to her room with her bag.
Edith heard the key turn in the lock
and then silence ensued. Although she was tormented by curiosity, she was determined
not to disturb Angela, knowing well that she would soon emerge from her den. She can’t keep it inside forever, but if I
press her, she’ll only drag her feet for longer. I’d do the same myself,
she considered while tidying up the footwear scattered about in the hall. She went
to put away the shopping bags, but, when she let go of the handles, a head of
cabbage rolled back to the threshold, frightening the cat preening there to
death. Edith laughed out loud.
‘What is it? Don’t you want to play
with balls any more, you little imp?’
In the meantime, Angela ceremoniously
placed the envelope on the bedspread then opened it. Her head turned when she
saw the huge bundle of hundred-dollar bills enclosed with the letter. Her hands
trembled and she started three times before she was able to finish counting it.
She imagined herself on a tropical island, then at the jeweller’s. She unfolded
the letter, then realized she was actually holding two: a handwritten one with
another, smaller, typed one folded inside it. The first was written in shapely,
winding letters – but it was in Italian, unfortunately. The other was in
My name is Archbishop Ennio
Marino. I was formerly head of the Vatican’s secret archives and I am also a
member of an organization which considers its mission to be to forward the
spiritual and material welfare of mankind. It is a wholly voluntary organization
called the Alliance of Peoples. It has numerous influential and prestigious
members, who are instrumental in performing our activities.
We have established
humanitarian organizations, schools and other social and cultural institutions
to help people live in better spiritual and material circumstances. The
widespread nature of our work means that institutions for which we provide the
principal material and spiritual basis can be found all over the world.
Naturally, faithful to the Word
of God, we stay in the background and refrain from advertising ourselves. Our
long-term aim is to create a society where the minimum number of people live in
poverty, or suffer from sickness, crime and other kinds of spiritual distress.
We wish to follow to that part of the Word which says, ‘Go, stand in the temple courts … and tell the people
all about this new life!’ (Acts, 5:20, NIV) In my
opinion, a good society begins with good ideas and ends in good acts.
You must be asking how you can help
with this process, seeing that you are neither rich, nor influential, nor have you
experience. However, you have a supernatural ability that, as far as we know,
very few people possess today. Even you yourself probably don’t understand it
precisely, but, in my view, you can call upon energy and information from the
invisible world. To get to the point, Angela, you are like a live key, a key
that can open a passage to the unknown, into a dimension we are unable to
experience with our eyes and ears. In our circles, everybody is sure that
processes taking place in that unknown world influence and control events in
our world. That other world is full of energy and power, while we are but a
shadow of the phenomena there, beggars clinging to empty tins and incessantly
entreating others for a bit of power or material goods.
Wonderfully, this other world
reacts to our signals and wishes, since every one of our thoughts is a
quantum-mechanical wave, a fiery arc of energy pressing into the invisible and,
possibly, influencing it. So, Angela, to put it more clearly, what we think
influences that other world and, indirectly, our own personal future. Your
thought waves, however, are so strong that they may have a global impact. We
consider it our mission to help you …
She broke off reading the letter. The
scratching sound of a mouse caught her attention – but she realized it was her
‘Angela,’ Edith whispered pressing
her mouth to the door, ‘may I come in? Could we talk please?’
The lock turned quietly. Edith
stepped inside timidly.
‘My God!’ she exclaimed as she
instantly saw the money on the bed and ran nearer, almost sweeping the peacock
feathers in the glass vase off the table. ‘These are hundred-dollar bills!
Where are they from? Were they in that envelope? What do those people want from
you? We can’t accept it! No, something’s wrong with this. Good God, what on
earth would they pay so much for?’ she squawked like a parrot.
Angela took a deep breath and, staring
up at the worn wallpaper, where she had once stuck a poster of a fire-red
Porsche, screamed at the top of her voice,
Budapest was stirring.
The sun’s disc was sleepily climbing over the housetops, birds perched stiffly on branches. Tram wheels wailed on the rails, rebelling against their restraints as they crawled towards the inner city. It was six in the morning and a Monday. Figures trudging the streets vanished into the morning twilight, some were dragging suitcases, some carrying light rucksacks. The daily drudgery was commencing. The disillusionment, hope, sorrow and merriment of serious and troubled lives were carved into tired faces.
On the second floor of an Art Nouveau building that rose above a tram stop, was a light that had been on since the small hours. On the windowsill, doves were cooing, perhaps demanding their breakfast. Behind his messily laden desk, a stout man was sitting, his head on his hand like a statue of a melancholy Buddha. Dozens of photos were strewn in front of him. He was circling something on one of the photos now. He must have been doing this for quite a while as lots of circles already adorned various parts of the photos spread across the desk. Right now, however, he seemed to have stopped his painstaking work. Was he perhaps compelled to stand up by a disturbing thought? Or by the scuttling of the doves?
He rose wearily and walked to the window. He stretched his limbs, opened the poison-ivy-green casement wide and enjoyed the cold air biting his face. He waited a little, closed the window and made a cup of coffee. This had been his daily routine for decades. With a careless movement, he turned on the radio just as the morning news was being read. He listened to the monotonous torrent of words from the loudspeaker in a bored manner but then, at one point, he turned up the volume.
… The eight young people questioned about the accident by the swimming pool on Saturday evening continue to adhere to their story. According to sources, the teenagers had gathered in a holiday home by the Danube to celebrate the birthday of a friend but their fun almost turned into tragedy. By his own admission, one of them drank too much and fell into the swimming pool in the garden. His high blood alcohol content was corroborated by examination afterwards. Unfortunately, nobody noticed that he had fallen in the water because the lights by the pool had been turned off. He was unable to call for help because he knocked his head and lost consciousness. Investigators at the scene of the accident stated that the boy must have been under water for about ten minutes.
This supposition is based on the testimony of one of the eyewitnesses who said he had glanced at his telephone when the accident was discovered, while the watch of the boy involved in the accident had broken and stopped as a result of the fall, thereby signalling the exact time of the accident. The tragedy was not discovered in time because several young people had previously jumped into the unlit pool to play. The boy involved approached the pool in a state of intoxication and must have slipped on the wet stone floor. Dr Francis Soós, executive medical director at the Péterfy Sándor Utcai Kórház Hospital, said that the young man could not possibly have spent such a long time under water because they had not found any lasting damage to the brain. Witnesses continue to adhere to their claim that the boy’s life was saved by a girl. According to their statements, the young hero creatively saved the life of her fellow student by warming up the boy’s chilled body, though the exact circumstances of the revival still remain a mystery. Since the events, the curate of the Roman Catholic parish in Ajka has also met with the girl to gather personal information with the intention of elucidating whether this was a miracle or just good luck. According to the priest, it is not impossible that …
Before the presenter had got to the
end of this sensational piece of news, the man silenced the set, glanced at his
watch, took out his mobile phone and held down the button labelled one. The
sapphire signet ring that adorned his ring finger flashed in the dim light as
he drummed on the desk. His telephone dialled automatically.
‘Hello, Giovanni, is that you?’ he
asked in an uncertain voice, but in Hungarian, just to make sure the butler
would not ask too many questions.
At the other end of the line, an
ebullient voice answered the call.
‘Adriano Esposito? You how be? Want
tell something important me? Talk no problem.’
‘Listen, Giovanni, if his Excellency
is already up, tell him I’d need to talk to him urgently. Tell him to call me
problema, Adriano, my master going call you.’
‘Good, Giovanni. Don’t forget about
it, and thank you.’
‘I thank you you call. Ciao!’
After only a few minutes the phone
Brother Ennio,’ he said decisively into the receiver. ‘Excuse me for calling
you at such an early hour but it’s about a girl. You should see her. As far as
I know, she’s raised someone from the dead. If she’s one of them, she could be of the utmost help to
Brother Adriano. I’m glad you’re so enthusiastic so quickly, but I’d advise you
to check on the matter and find out more precise information.’
‘Yes, of course, Ennio, but I’ve
checked up on it already. I’ve acquired photos from her childhood as well. She
looks very much like the girl we’ve been searching for. She behaved exactly as
expected. She lay on top of a dead boy and resurrected him. It’s already been
reported in the news.’
A sigh was heard from the other end
of the phone.
‘All the same, do be prudent,
Adriano. You remember, we came a cropper the last time we found a miracle
worker like this. We could barely remove the stains he left. Anyway, send me a
photo of her by e-mail.’
‘Yes, Brother, but I don’t think I’m
wrong this time. The priest at Ajka has already talked to her, and it was he
who managed to grab hold of her childhood photos. I’ve copied them, I’m looking
at them right now. Food for thought. My instincts as well as facts suggest this
girl could be useful to us. After telling Giovanni you should call me back,
I’ve looked at the latest photos of the story. I’ve seen the clothes of the boy
she’s saved. Completely burnt. There must have been a huge transfer of energy.’
‘Oh, all right, then it’s fine. We’ll
have to talk about it personally tomorrow. Besides, get the priest in Ajka off the case lest he
gets himself burnt. Will you fly to me in Rome? Bring
along the photos too, and all other material you’ve been able to collect about
her. Which reminds me, why did you chase the childhood photos?’
‘There’s a fireball above her head in
almost all of them. No one saw anything when they took the photos, it only
showed up when the films were developed.’
‘That’s odd. All right, then, I’ll be
waiting for you in the Vatican at the usual place.’
‘Right, Ennio. I’ll call you
The man talking on the other end of
the line did not like chatting very much. His closest colleagues in Rome
considered Ennio Marino a reserved but puzzling man. He leaned back now in his
armchair and was absorbed in his thoughts. He loathed one thing, and that was
when someone made a mistake. He opened the mail on his computer with curiosity,
magnified the coloured childhood photo and something shot him in the stomach:
he recognized the little lost girl in Saint Peter’s Square.
He magnified the photo as much as he
could. The fireball hovering phantom-like above the little head truly
fascinated him. He touched the screen with his finger. He was captivated by the
innocent childish face, conjuring up memories of Jiang Li in his mind. He began
to feel sorry for the stewardess. How
pretty she was and how happy she looked, just like this little lass. Jiang Li, Jiang
Li, I wonder whether your bones have crumbled over the last ten years. Or has
anyone fished you out? Taking a large swig of his lemon tea, he spat the
seed that had stuck between his teeth into his palm.
He hollered to his general factotum. ‘Giovanni!
Don’t prepare dinner for tonight, I’ve got to go to the chancery this
There was no answer. The old servant
was a little slower than necessary, but he also had a simple nature and was
extremely patient. Above his blubbery hamster cheeks, his button-like eyes were
made even smaller by his glasses.
‘I hear you, sir, I hear you. I was
just having the duster among my teeth,’ he apologized – and knocked a book off
Ennio guffawed uproariously.
‘Oh, my dear old fool. Try not to eat
the duster for breakfast, there are too many feathers in it.’
‘My good sir is really humorous, but
I’ve already breakfasted.’
‘Well, all right, all right,’ the
archbishop soothed him. ‘My grey suit?’
‘It hangs second in the built-in
wardrobe,’ Giovanni answered, his cumulus-like countenance appearing in the
‘Excellent, Giovanni. And what hangs
‘Your cassock, of course.’
‘I should have known,’ the archbishop
murmured and stepped to the wardrobe.
The morning, then the afternoon flew
by on their falcon wings and Ennio was almost dizzy with hunger. There was no
sign of Adriano and he could not reach him by phone either. Wanting to avoid
the inquisitive questions of his colleagues, he had no wish to have dinner in
the Vatican. The rather exclusive little restaurant in the Holy City that he
sometimes used, the Ristorante dei Musei Vaticani, would also be full of
acquaintances. For a change, he instructed Giovanni to reserve a table for him
in the Pergola, the most elegant restaurant in Rome. He wanted to relax after
the day’s strenuous proceedings and long discussions. He was zigzagging in his
Mercedes through the streets of a well-to-do neighbourhood, a pair of cat’s
eyes occasionally flashing in his headlights. I hope Giovanni didn’t forget to reserve a table, he brooded
restlessly, but all his anxiety evaporated when the waiter helping his coat off
showed him to a table overlooking the Basilica. There was pale green antique
pottery, probably Chinese, ranged along the windowsills, and tulips bloomed in
vases the shape of golden coins on cream-coloured tablecloths. Ennio loved this
place because here he could pretend to belong to the world of men of fortune
instead of that of the average man for a short while. He ordered an orange
juice and opened the menu. He noticed from the corner of his eye that the
neighbouring table was also occupied. He was a bit annoyed that he had to share
the magnificent view of the Basilica with others: he would have rather have emptied
the whole restaurant. But when he glanced up, his heart suddenly sank into his
stomach. From the neighbouring table, Francesca, lounging there with a woman
friend, threw him a smile. Intoxicated, Ennio waved to Francesca and her
companion and felt that there was no stupider smile in the whole world than the
one on his face right then. He had not seen Francesca for years, in fact since
she had closed down her patisserie on Corso Vittorio Emanuel. She had
disappeared, but here she was now, appearing when he had given her up.
‘Don’t tell me you were following me,
‘Why are you not addressing me as
Monsignore?’ he shot back with a smile.
The woman was surprised yet, somehow,
pleased by the teasing remark.
‘I think we know each other better
than that. Although I’d have thought this restaurant was rather too elegant for
a churchman like you, Monsignore.’
Ennio’s lower lip twitched from the
pain caused by Francesca’s stab but he replied with dignity nevertheless.
‘It’s true.’ He acknowledged the
remark, forcing a smile to his face. ‘But a little bit of glitter occasionally
brings great delight. Do you still live in Rome?’
‘Of course I do. I manage my
husband’s …’ at this word, her voice became uncertain, ‘ … my husband’s textile
As she had expected, Ennio jumped on
the new information with a wry grin.
‘So you’ve given in? Well, to be
honest, I didn’t think you would ever be conquered. Congratulations.’
‘Thank you,’ she replied, so awestruck
that her friend beside her began to be worried.
‘And tell me, Francesca, is marriage
a good thing?’
It was at this point when the waiter
in a shirt as white as the driven snow stepped between them and served the
orange juice. He might have broken the archbishop’s magic spell as Francesca
answered, ‘Why don’t you give it a try yourself? Oh yes, of course, it’s
‘Is the gentleman truly an
archbishop?’ her friend asked Francesca.
‘Unfortunately he is,’ the woman
answered loud enough for Ennio to hear it clearly.
‘Why unfortunately?’ Ennio enquired.
He found it impossible to hide his outrage any longer. Francesca gave him the
coup de grâce.
‘I said “unfortunately” because if it
weren’t so, I might just be your wife.’
Ennio felt like dashing out of the
restaurant roaring. He always suspected that, although she refused him,
Francesca was drawn to him. She knew precisely what was going on in the
archbishop’s soul but intentionally dipped him into the flames of hell. Her
female mind was begotten by the devil.
‘In that case, I wish you a pleasant
conversation and dinner,’ Ennio said. Sipping his orange juice was not enough
to damp the fire raised in his soul.
‘You’ve insulted him, Francesca,’ her
‘I haven’t, I’ve only aroused him,’
she whispered in her ear.
They sat in silence. Like an
automaton, Ennio ate his roast lamb and washed it down with half a glass of red
wine, paid and, saying goodbye to the ladies properly, went to leave, but
Francesca called after him.
‘Why don’t you drop by the shop sometime.
It’s on the Via delle Botteghe Oscure. I haven’t seen you there yet.’
‘A rather enticing offer. I may think
about it, although it must be a place too elegant for a church person like me,’
he replied, and made for the exit.
He sat in his car crestfallen but
secretly feeling glad he’d been able to come up with a retort. I’d just like to know why the hell she wants
to see me again now she’s married. He stepped on the accelerator, the
engine roared and the tyres screeched. Back home, he put his jacket in
Giovanni’s hand without a greeting and locked himself up in his room. He went
to bed morosely.
The following morning he hurried to
his office to meet his guest. At around ten o’clock, the Vatican silence was
broken by the noise of brisk steps on the polished marble floor. Adriano
Esposito was hurrying to see him: he did not like to keep the archbishop
waiting. Ennio was standing at the window of a room with a high ceiling,
staring into the distance. He was perhaps viewing the arched dome of St.
Peter’s, or the sky, which looked ominously grey now.
‘Yes, it’s me. The plane only landed
an hour ago, sorry for being late.’
‘You promised to come yesterday.’
‘True,’ Adriano swallowed
regretfully, ‘I should’ve sent word. A funeral intervened. My apologies.’
The archbishop hit the windowpane
rhythmically. As he turned around, light from the bulbs bounced back from the
golden rim of his spectacles and struck Adriano in the eyes.
‘Why didn’t you excuse yourself from the
‘It was my father’s funeral.’
‘Oh, I see. Then you are welcome,
Brother. My condolences. Still you should’ve let me know… Come now, we must
go to a safer place. We can’t talk here, anyone could disturb us,’ he remarked
shortly, a time bomb ticking in his voice. Adriano was conscious of this too so
he did not waste time by explaining any further.
‘Of course, Ennio, nothing can leak
out. Unity and fraternity!’
‘Unity and fraternity,’ Ennio
The outlines of a narrow door could
be seen in the wall on the far side of the room. Ennio beckoned Adriano, who
was still ashamed of himself for his lateness, to it. They entered a room off
the main one. It was a library with shelves up to the ceiling, crammed full of
books on religion and history. Leather-bound codices jostled with portfolios of
centuries-old manuscripts collected by industrious, though feeble, hands over
the centuries. It resembled the secret Vatican library, but there Ennio felt
like a lord, while here he was an omnipotent monarch.
A single hexagonal desk stood
despondently in the tiny room, four pale chestnut-coloured chairs were set on
the wall-to-wall carpet. One flickering lamp was the only lighting. Ennio drew
the soft-padded door shut and turned the key. They sat in semidarkness.
‘Adriano,’ the archbishop began,
‘tell me everything about this girl. Last night I had a vision that quite
worries me. I’d like to hear your opinion. In my dream I was here in this
library with piles of books towering above me scarily, when a fair-haired girl
appeared. She looked like an angel come down on earth. She shook her head and transformed
into a torch as she walked up to me, stark naked. She burnt all my books, the
entire room, and scorched me. I shouted at her, asking why she was doing this but
she only answered, “Could anyone carry fire in his soul without burning his
clothes?” By the end of the dream, everything I had had been burnt up and I
woke up soaking in ice-cold sweat.’
‘An interesting dream,’ Adriano said.
‘I hope it doesn’t mean what we both think it does.’
Leaning on the corner of the
old-fashioned desk, he went on, ‘We have to be careful with fire: it can not
only provide light and warmth but also burn our secrets. I’m afraid too,
‘I’m not afraid. Not afraid! I can
achieve all I want.’
The archbishop rose to his feet, with
his terrible expression glimmering in the wan light. The decades had scored deep
furrows in the physiognomy of the old killer. Adriano had suspected from the
beginning that he worked for the devil himself.
‘You already know yourself,’ the
archbishop went on in a calmer voice, ‘that it was only recently that that Tibetan
boy almost brought the police upon us. He carried out an appalling massacre.
Adriano, mutual confidence and discretion are very important pillars of the
Alliance of Peoples. Without these principles, we’d collapse. If anybody
becomes unreliable … Well, you know.’
This gave Adriano the shivers. He
adjusted his shock of curly hair, then calmed the hurried breathing of his
stocky body, but was still panting.
‘So, are you willing to talk about
‘Yes. The girl’s experiences started
in her childhood. The other world talked to her and even actively intervened in
‘Have you talked to her in person?’
‘Not yet. I’d like to ask for your
‘Quite right, I’m glad you’re seeking
Adriano took a black folder from his
briefcase; the stack of pictures almost tumbled out of it.
‘There are some photos here that even
the mother and the girl haven’t seen. Daddy tactfully hid them.’
‘That’s interesting. Why would he
have done that?’
‘I don’t know. By the way, she’s
‘How come? Have you checked up on
‘No, but my superior mentioned her
way before you drew my attention to her. He told me, “Adriano will call you
about this matter.”’
‘Unbelievable! Your boss knows about
everything. A seer, really. You could tell me who the hell he is,’ Adriano
‘Is he perhaps something like a CIA
The archbishop only shook his head.
‘If the CIA knew what he knows, lots
of criminals would be amazed.’
‘Must be a real big gun.’ Adriano
went on digging. ‘I wouldn’t be surprised if he were very old.’
‘Old enough, don’t you worry. But I’m
more interested to know why Angela’s father hid some of the photos.’
Adriano’s fleshy fingers delved into
the folder and took out a pile of photos.
‘He had hidden them in a shoebox but,
as good luck would have it, they’ve just been found.’
‘Remarkable, but there’s no such
thing as luck, you know that too,’ Ennio muttered, fingering the photos.
‘He apologized, saying he’d hidden
them because they’re not much good. But people usually throw bad photos away, they
don’t hide them.’
Ennio’s fingers excitedly carried on
with their search.
‘“Not much good”, hmm, really? Would
they really be that bad?’
‘Not highly likely. They’ve all got
the same problem too. But it’d be preposterous to consider all these spheres of
light to be the consequence of faulty film, since they appear in different
places on each of the photos but always only above the girl’s head. I’ve had
the father checked out and some very interesting facts about his past emerged.’
‘Well, well, well. But let’s talk
about Angela first.’ He waved his hand.
‘Yes, sir. May I light up?’
‘Well, if you want to turn the room
into a gas chamber, you may. Besides, we’re in a library.’
‘Oh yes, you’re right. Sorry. Well,
the girl, yes. Her supernatural experiences began with a childhood dream, where,
as far as she remembers, God talked to her openly, describing her mission and
certain dark powers that infected the whole world.’
Adriano paused for effect, then went
on a bit more softly, ‘God mentioned that most churches and public institutions
spread the spirituality of the dark force
as he called it. She recalled how she and her mother had escaped an apparently
deadly car accident and told me about a revived dog too. I asked about this in
‘A revived dog?’ asked Ennio in
amazement, his eyes piercing in the half-light.
‘Yes, it was run over by a truck.
I’ve also brought you the full set of photos taken on the spot after the
resuscitation of the drowned boy. I got them from our policeman friend,’ he
murmured. ‘The colonel, you know.’
‘Naturally. You’ve done well. That’s what
connections are for.’
Adriano was glad to be praised at
last and leaned back in his chair.
‘I have no doubt,’ he went on more
energetically, ‘that this girl can establish connections with the other world.
However, the father could be dangerous, as he once had contact with the rebels
fighting against the establishment of the great perfect world order. Against
us, that is.’
‘And who are still fighting in vain to
this very day,’ Ennio said, angrily.
Adriano kept pouring his words out excitedly.
‘We exterminated those pertinacious people
back then, but their ideas had already infected many others. Do you remember
the hippies, Ennio?’
‘Don’t remind me of them. The
infection has spread. We’ll have to be cautious with the father.’
‘Don’t worry, Ennio. Should he prove
to be a spy, we’ve already got well-established methods of dealing with them.’
‘We’ll have to send word to the black
monks, Adriano. If necessary, they’ll dispatch him without hassle.’
As the door shut behind Adriano after
another three hours of discussion, the archbishop took out Angela’s childhood
photos again. Chosen. Could she be the
He sat back in his chair and impatiently drummed
on the armrest with his fingers. It’ll
happen the way I want it to! It doesn’t matter who you are, Angela, in the end,
you’ll die anyway. You can’t defeat me. Contra vim mortis, non est medicamen in
bortis!* At that moment, a bible that
had been sticking out from a high shelf fell, landing on the desk right in
front of the archbishop. Well, well!
Someone’s angry he thought, and shut the open book.
* No herb grows in the
gardens against the power of death (Latin proverb)
Inspector Vitali parked his car behind the
concrete mass of the Sant’Andrea hospital, which had a shape like melting ice cream,
and made for the entrance across the car park that clung tightly to the feet of
the building. He was disturbed by the fact that he still could not understand
the connections. While children were running in front of him with paper kites,
he was busy figuring out who might have made an attempt on Ma-gios’s life and
whether he would succeed in getting him safely back to Tibet. He poked his
fingers into his nest of hair for a moment, which, as his wife liked to say, was
more like a haystack rather than a human coiffure, then fished a cigarette from
his pocket. He passed his favourite little paper-coated tobacco roll under his
nose, inhaling its aroma with pleasure, but then caught sight of the red No smoking! sign on the door. His
elation abated. He did not want to stuff the cigarette he’d already taken out back
in the packet, so he simply put it into his pocket. At the lift, orderlies
pushing gurneys carrying elderly people with listless eyes creaked past him, and,
on very floor, nurses fussed with white-coated doctors. Vitali was making his
way up to the fourth floor. Secretly, he hoped that a piece of the boy’s memory
would return: maybe a piece others would consider insubstantial would help him
make sense of this story. Passionate about his profession since his childhood,
loving mysteries and puzzles, he was a detective through and through.
The door opened after two rings. The
corridor was deserted. This surprised him because it was time for morning
rounds, but he was tired so he found this peace pleasant. He headed towards
Ma-gios’s room but, to his great astonishment, one of his colleagues peeped out
of the neighbouring ward, making him slow down.
‘What’re you doing here?’ Vitali
inquired with wide-open eyes.
‘What are you doing here?’ the other one rejoined.
‘I’ve come to see a boy in the next
room. A complicated matter.’
‘Is that right? And what’s happened
‘I think he was attacked. He was
brought in with serious injuries’
An affected smile spread on the other
one’s face. ‘Is that so? While this old lady’s died of food poisoning – in a
hospital of all places. Nonsense! Botulinum toxin was found in her blood at the
‘An accident, or a murder?’
‘Oh c’mon, Vitali! Who’d want to
poison an eighty-year-old lady with no money?’
‘You still checked, right?’ asked
Vitali with a sardonic grin.
‘According to the toxicology lab,
some meat product she ate was infected.’ The other policeman tried to divert
attention away from himself.
‘Tainted meat? Exciting.’
‘Then enjoy the job. Still, it’s a
bit strange that it killed nobody else, since everybody gets the same food
‘Right. Don’t you think that’s why we
are here, Vitali?’ asked the lanky inspector with straw-coloured hair, tapping
his colleague’s forehead.
Vitali shrugged and entered Ma-gios’s
room. The boy was standing with his back to him, barefoot on the stone floor in
his pale green pyjamas. He was feasting his eyes on the disc of the sun dipping
into a bed of cumuli.
‘Do you like the view?’ asked Vitali.
‘I miss my home. Good morning, signor
The inspector glanced round the room
and realized Ma-gios really appeared to be a stranger in it. He belonged to
nature in his own country.
‘Would you step outside with me?’
‘Sure,’ said the boy. ‘I feel like
I’m being squashed by this room, that’s what frightens me, although it’s so
‘Familiar? Does it remind you of something?’
‘I’m not sure,’ the boy replied, dropping
his head. ‘I don’t know anything.’
Vitali touched the boy’s shoulder
‘I’m sorry that we hardly know any
more either, Ma-gios. Well, put something on and let’s go out into the sunshine.’
Vitali encouraged him with a fatherly smile.
Having put on his borrowed, oversize
slippers and a women’s pullover, Ma-gios was ready to leave. The inspector
looked him up and down with a wry countenance.
‘Well, son, I’ll ask for some decent
clothes for you in the centre. It seems nobody here can help you out.’
‘A uniform? That’d be great, signor
Vitali, I’ve always wanted to dress up like a policeman.’
‘No, silly, you won’t get a uniform,
don’t even dream of it. Now, c’mon!’ he answered and, tucking his jacket under
his arm, drove the boy out of the door.
Passing by the neighbouring room,
they stopped for a second. The policemen in there taking swabs did not escape
Ma-gios’s inquiring eyes. On reaching the lift, he said, ‘Vitali, what’s
happened to the lady? Why isn’t she in her room?’
The man sighed and pushed the call
button. ‘She’s passed away.’
‘Passed away? But she was feeling
quite well just yesterday. I saw her.’
‘She could’ve lived longer,’ replied
Vitali. ‘She possibly had food poisoning.’
The boy’s face turned ashen with
‘Food poisoning? But then I’ll die too!’
‘No, not at all. You’d already be
dead by now. Relax, son,’ the man answered and patted the boy on the back.
The lift arrived and opened its wings
like jaws, with the colour of poison ivy.
‘It’s like there’s a little bird
‘Where? Inside what, Ma-gios?’
‘Here in the lift. It sings so
beautifully. I’m sure the one who made the lift was longing for nature like
‘Oh yes, yes.’ The man stared straight
They stepped into the roomy lift and
Vitali pushed the button for the ground floor. The boy began to hum a tune.
Vitali thought that Ma-gios only wanted to conceal his embarrassment, but he
was wrong. Although the boy spoke excellent Italian, his thoughts were
thousands of miles to the east. His whole being was filled with tales of a
faraway land that had birds singing, no lifts, and where reaching mountaintops
at the push of a button was impossible.
‘Ma-gios, when you were with the old
lady yesterday, did you see anyone there? In her room, or on the corridor?’
‘Her relatives were there.’
‘And anyone else?’
‘No one. But I cried yesterday.’
‘Dad or Mum should’ve visited me.’
‘But they don’t even know you’re
here, and your mother passed away a long time ago, didn’t she?’
‘I know, but even so! I feel so bad
here,’ he murmured in a faltering voice. Then he composed himself. ‘But the
angels took pity on me and sent me a visitor.’
The lift trilled again. Vitali
suddenly looked up and grabbed the boy’s shoulder.
‘Who came to see you?’
‘An old lady dropped by, telling me
she’d seen me collapse in the street and was wondering if I was well.’
‘Did you talk to her?’
‘Not much, because she was in a
hurry. She was very kind and brought me chocolates.’
‘What else did she say? Tell me
‘She said she’d called the ambulance
when I’d collapsed and she was wondering whether I was still alive.’
‘And, and?’ The inspector was
pressing him impatiently.
‘Nothing special. She gave me the
chocolates and warned me not to let the nurses see them because it’s forbidden
to eat such things here.’
An ecstatic thrill possessed Vitali,
like a foxhound that had just found a fresh drop of blood on the forest moss.
‘Let’s sit down here.’ He pointed to
a group of cheap plastic chairs standing empty by the wall. ‘Ma-gios, chocolates
aren’t forbidden in the hospital.’
‘Aren’t they? Then why did she tell
‘So that only you ate them and you
wouldn’t offer them to anyone else. Have you eaten them?’
‘No, I haven’t. I don’t like stuff
like that. They’re too sticky and weird.’
‘So what did you do, then?’
‘I gave them to the old lady in the
Vitali stroke such a blow on one of
his hands with the other that, on hearing the bang, all the nearby patients,
nurses and doctors looked towards them.
‘Damn!’ the inspector shouted and
sprang up from his seat. ‘Quick, let’s get back to your room quickly.’
‘But what’s happened?’
‘Don’t you get it, son?’ roared
Vitali, his lips shaking with rage. ‘They wanted to poison you, not the old
Understanding cascaded into Ma-gios’s
‘The chocolates? Were they poisoned?’
Like a tractor, Vitali dragged
Ma-gios towards the lift.
‘C’mon, tell me all about that old
lady. Everything, you hear me?’ He shook the boy. ‘We’re going upstairs to my
colleagues. They don’t even suspect we’re working on a common project.’
It was late in the evening by the
time the crime scene investigators finished questioning Ma-gios and the police artist
had done his sketch. An elegant old lady with regular features, curly hair and wrinkles
from years of smiling came to life on the paper. A cleaning woman swore it was
her to the life – the lady had almost fallen over her bucket the day before.
The only worrying fact was that the lady had been wearing wide-rimmed
sunglasses that hid half her face.
‘Ma-gios, c’mon, is this really what
she looked like? It’s not a face you’ve seen in a fashion magazine?’
‘No, it’s not,’ the boy replied,
hurt. ‘That’s exactly what she looked like.’ He bent down his head. ‘The old
lady died because of me. If I hadn’t offered her the chocolates, she would
still be alive.’
‘But, son, you’d have died yourself.
Really. Why didn’t you eat them, anyway?’
‘I’ve told you, I didn’t feel like
eating them,’ he lied. He remembered the thought that had first scared him,
then forbade him to eat even one of the chocolates.
Ma-gios was given protection the next
morning and the investigation went on. Weeks passed without any result: the
lady with sunglasses had evaporated. The boy often sat lonely on the edge of
his bed, at other times he sat with Agnese on the concrete terrace on top of
the hospital, his feet dangling into space. Of course, patients were forbidden from
going up to the roof but they made an exception for Ma-gios – freedom emanated
from him. A narrow staircase beside the lift on the top floor led up to the
roof. Swallows occupied the sunlit, though secluded, corners and their
twittering even rose above the murmur of the air-conditioning system. Lying there
on his back, he stared at the sky for hours. Airplanes stretched white threads through
the atmosphere, and these were shredded by upper-air winds time and time again.
If he climbed up there at night, he saw satellites flashing across the sky. He
supposed they were angels and never failed to make a wish.
One glorious afternoon, Agnese went
up to see him on the roof. Her dark curls were tied in a ponytail and her white
coat was unbuttoned because of the heat. Her belly and bra flashed through the
patterned slits on her snow-white polo shirt, transparent stockings covered her
thighs as they emerged from her denim skirt.
‘I’ve finished for today,’ she
chirped, ‘and thought I’d see how you’re doing.’
She sat down softly beside the
enchanted boy and went on, ‘I’ve heard you’re going home soon. Does your granny
live in Yilhung too?’
‘Yes,’ Ma-gios replied but could not
take his eyes off Agnese’s thighs.
A baby cried out in the car park
behind the hospital.
‘Ma-gios, do you know how babies are
born? Has anyone explained?’
‘Yes, their mothers bear them.’
‘And how do they get inside their
Ma-gios put on a shocked face. ‘Well,
a man and a woman unite. Even I know that.’
‘I can see you know the facts inside
out, but I was thinking of love. When a man and a woman fall in love with each
other, they decide to live together, get married and have children. What do you
think about girls, Ma-gios? Are you interested in them?’
‘I think I am, as a matter of fact.’
The nurse cleared her throat.
‘And how about me? Do you like me?’
Ma-gios blushed as he realized that
Agnese had deliberately turned the conversation in this direction.
‘I’m s… sorry, Agnese,’ he stuttered,
‘it w… wasn’t why I was l… looking at your thighs. You’re just beautiful.’
‘Oh, you dear boy. Don’t be ashamed.
I’m glad the man inside you has stirred.’
She pecked him on the fluff of his
‘Did you like the kiss?’ she asked.
In, his embarrassment, Ma-gios could
not utter a word, he could only gape into the distance.
‘Touch me, Ma-gios. You’ve never
touched a woman, have you?’
‘I don’t remember if I have.’ He evaded
‘Then touch me.’
At last, the boy glanced at Agnese,
then at her thighs.
‘C’mon, boy, go ahead. Don’t just
‘But I can’t, I can’t. I’d be so
ashamed of myself.’
Agnese grabbed his wrist and placed his
hand on her thigh. His hand was warm and sweaty.
‘Relax, my dear. Your hand shouldn’t
be like the pickup of a record player just placed on the LP. Let go.’
‘The what of a record player?’ asked
Agnese began to laugh with all her heart.
‘Let go of yourself. Well, how does
it feel? Feels good?’
Ma-gios stroked the object of his
desire, feeling the muscles strain under his palm.
‘Wonderful,’ he answered with a huge
gulp in his throat.
The nurse placed another kiss on
Ma-gios’s petrified face and stood up.
‘I’m leaving, you dear boy, because I
have to come back for a shift tonight. I haven’t slept at all yet.’
‘Bye, Agnese. Then see you tonight.’
‘See you, dear.’
The sunlight flashed on her hair
clips and, with graceful footsteps, she skipped towards the corrosion-stained
roof door. Watching her swaying hips, Ma-gios experienced something new
happening to his body. He was startled by a tingling in his underpants. He
fingered his stone-hard penis. So this is
how lovers unite. Overjoyed, he walked back to his room, where an envelope
tied with a green ribbon was waiting for him. It had been posted in Lhasa. He tore
it open madly and, as soon as he saw what was written in it, started to weep.
His tears dropped on the letter, scrawled in Italian:
We’re expecting you home with love! Everybody would like to see you
and everybody loves you – Grandma and the village.
He was reading the telegram-short
lines for the tenth time when a warm hand touched him on the shoulder. It was
‘You can go home at last, son. Your
birthplace may be important to the investigation, so we’ve been given money for
the whole journey. We need to get you back to your relatives too, of course.
You can at last return to where lakes are freezing and clear, where the summits
reach to the skies, where real birds sing.’
Ma-gios looked at Vitali and began to weep
‘Oh yes, another thing. I’ve brought
you a real police hat.’