That afternoon she asked him, ‘Do you remember the cursed lady?’ It was the type of question she asked him randomly. An idea or memory that suddenly came in passing, probably triggered by something or someone. Her voice was animated. The one she unconsciously used when she was excited about something.
The two were sitting opposite each other at a table in a coffee shop. Apart from the acoustic music in the background and the occasional grind of the coffee machine, the place was pretty quiet. It was a Monday afternoon. Quite a strange day and time to ask a childhood friend out for a coffee. She cupped her chin with both her hands, squinted, and stared at him.
He took a bite of the classic sugar-glazed donut served free with the coffee, wondering why she asked him out. She wouldn’t bother to come all the way to the coffee shop near his work area just to ask him about the cursed lady. The last time she asked him out was a year ago. They met in a resto-grill that served tasty calamari and ice-cold beer. The band playing in that resto-grill was quite loud, and he couldn’t make out half of what she said. But he remembered well that she broke up with her boyfriend. Before that, she asked him out because of another breakup. He actually realized she called him every time she broke up with her exes. This time couldn’t be different.
She sipped her latte. ‘Remember when we hid behind those boulders and threw stones at her?’ Her eyes widened in excitement as if she was reliving the moment.
‘Why did we actually threw stones at her?’ He wondered. They were six or seven years old at the time. Playing outdoors on a late afternoon. It must be summer or weekend for them to be playing out late. The cursed lady stood in front of their gate, staring into blank space. She wore a shawl, which she wrapped her arms with, and crossed them as if she was embracing herself. She was underweight and had black circles around her eyes.
‘I can’t remember.’ She giggled and took a bite of her donut. ‘But remember when she noticed us hiding behind that boulder? She scared the hell out of us.’ She was still chewing but couldn’t help herself from laughing. Then she started crying. She wiped the tears from her eyes and continued laughing. There was something strange about her laugh, but he couldn’t quite figure it out.
‘It was witchcraft, wasn’t it?’ He asked.
‘That’s what they said. I believed it then. But those were just legends they used to scare us off, so we’d go home early. Don’t you think?’
‘If it wasn’t witchcraft, then what could that be?’
‘Depression, maybe? Heartbreak? Or any type of illness?’
‘But remember what the elder kids told us about her?’
She raised her right eyebrow. ‘Remind me.’
‘She had some sort of boils on her arms that the doctors couldn’t figure out. So they called a Healer to check on her. He rolled a raw egg on top of her boils, and when he cracked it, there were live worms and centipedes inside the raw egg. So, he said, it came from the boils. How would you explain that then?’
She was still skeptical, while he quite believed that witchcraft wasn’t just legends. His father and uncles came from the remotest village south of the country and brought with them stories of sorcery, amulets, and bizarre things that sent shivers down his spine.
He clearly remembered one story about the beautiful woman who unpleasantly rejected a suitor. He was not handsome, neither educated nor well off. He was aloof, and his back was slightly curved. He fell in love with the woman and visited her house one evening to meet her and her parents and declare his intentions. The evening he went to the woman’s house, there was quite a gathering, so her family and friends were present when she rejected the guy, mentioning his flaws. The guy flushed in embarrassment, and nobody saw him ever again. The following day, boils and pimples grew on the woman’s face, and no doctors could heal her, nor explain the origin of the skin ailments.
‘It could be just lack of technology at that time. That’s why the doctors couldn’t figure out her illness.’ Her voice was quite deep this time. She crossed her arms and tilted her head to the right. The last time he saw her doing this, she was trying to argue about something he couldn’t quite remember. But he knew she didn’t back down, and he had to retreat.
‘And how would we know if those elder kids really told us the truth?’
She had a point there, and he couldn’t believe himself for believing those elder kids. They could be just fooling around with them.
Her phone rang. ‘Sorry, I have to answer this.’ She walked out of the coffee shop and stood right in front of their table. He could see her through the glass wall. He could even hear her muffled voice that became louder the longer she was on the phone. While one hand held her phone, the other gestured in different manners, up and down, striking side and downwards as if her arm was a sword. She walked back and forth until the call ended. She stood akimbo for several minutes, staring into blank space.
She went back, sat on the couch, and took a deep breath. ‘Where were we again?’
‘The cursed lady. Wonder where she is right now.’
They sat motionless for some time, listening to the acoustic music and the grinding of the coffee machine. His cup was empty. Hers was half full. Her coffee had gone cold, and a bite of the sugar-glazed donut was left on the saucer. The sun had already set, and street lights were lit. The coffee shop was full of people, some in school uniform while others donned office attires. He wondered if she just had a breakup as he still didn’t figure out why she asked her out. But he was pretty sure it wasn’t about that cursed lady nor sorcery nor their childhood memories.
If you are still here, thank you for reading my short story. This was written in response to the prompt: Write about a mysterious figure in one’s neighborhood.
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