Soul for Sale

In the early evening Juan arrived at El Brujo’s house.
He’d never visited a sorcerer before and was as
nervous as when visiting the dentist. He stood in the
front yard with the huge silk-cotton tree— its branches
extending over the small wood house like a black
umbrella. By the trunk of the tree, seven white goats slept
on the grass. Juan wished his friend Eduardo had never
mentioned the sorcerer; he wished he’d never found that
picture of Matilde on the sidewalk by the high school; he
wished he’d never put it in his wallet and told Eduardo
that she’d given it to him.

Matilde was the most beautiful girl at Matanzas’ High.
Juan had admired her in the same hopeless, but painless
way he admired luxury cars, but since he’d placed her
picture in his wallet she’d become an obsession. His
daydreams were no longer fantasies, but possibilities.
Every evening he resolved to talk to her the next day,
only to lose his nerve at the last minute. She was now
a humiliation, his private torment.

As he stood in a darkness vibrant with the chant of crickets
watching the ghostly goats, his resolve to make her his was
once more melting. Juan was about to turn and leave when
the door opened.

“Come in, please.” El Brujo grinned at him with purple bare
gums. His black face shone as if oiled and he wore a red
bandana around his forehead. Above the bandana his afro
exploded like ashes from a volcano. He was shirtless, and as
he turned, gesturing for his visitor to follow him inside, Juan
could see the bones in his back as if the man were a skeleton
upholstered in black leather.

The living room had seven altars dedicated to Catholic saints
and African deities. The shadows of idols and saints danced
on the walls with the flickering of countless candles. The air
was hot and heavy with the smell of incense and wax. The
old man sat down on a chair upholstered in white goatskin
yellowing with age and sweat. He gestured for Juan to sit
across from him.

“Would you like coffee?”

“No, thanks.”

“Are you here to buy a love potion?”

“How does it work?”

“Have her drink it.”

“I can’t do that. I’m not her friend.”

“I could perform an incantation to put a love spell on her.”

“Yes, that sounds better. Would that make her fall in love
with me?

“Yes, but I charge five pesos, and you need to bring one of
her hairs, or a nail clipping.”

“No, I can’t get those either. Is there something else you
can do for me?”

El Brujo looked at him in silence. Juan got up.

“How bad do you want this girl?”

“I’d do anything for her love.”

“Would you sell your soul.”

“Yes, I would.”

The old man rubbed his chin. “Well, sometimes, the devil buys a soul and in return he grants a wish. If you want I could try to conjure him. I charge ten pesos in advance,
and I don’t guarantee he’ll grant your wish, or even that you’ll get to see him. I’ll keep the money either way.”

Juan pulled his wallet out. “I only have seven pesos.”

“We’ll consider it a down payment,” he extended his
bony hand.

El Brujo got up and hobbled across the room. From under an African statue, he lifted a black cape with tinsel stars and tied it around his neck. He brought over a bottle of rum and a cigar butt that had been placed by the statue. He chose a small green bottle
from a tray filled with an assortmentof colored bottles The sorcerer dropped a few drops in two shot glasses and filled the glasses with rum.

The old man lit the cigar butt with the flame of a candle and blew smoke over Juan’s head. The rancid smoke made the kid cough. El brujo offered the drink, and Juan gulped it down
choking. The old man drank his shot. With arms pointing to Juan, he danced around the supplicant with incredible agility. The sorcerer chanted an incantation in a strange tongue. The unknown words made the hairs on Juan’s arms stand up. The room began spinning and he passed out.

Juan awoke in a brick loft with large dirty windows. The light of a dying sun bathed the room in sadness. A huge desk with a black leather chair gleamed in the penumbra. Juan sat on a small incredibly uncomfortable chair facing the desk. He shivered in a cold draft that faintly smelled of decay. Not the decay of flesh, but of things more intangible– the decay of dead dreams, and of hopes ruthlessly crushed.

The empty room, the cold, the half-light, the knowledge that the dreaded creature could walk in any minute unnerved him. The wait seemed an eternity, and yet he knew only a few
minutes had passed.

A door on Juan’s left opened slowly. Juan held his breath. The room beyond was dark. Seconds passed, no one entered. He heard a faint rustling coming from the darkness. The
youth looked around for another door through which he could escape. There was none.

Someone tapped his shoulder. Juan jumped up.

A small man impeccably dressed in a three piece suit, extended his hand with an insincere expression of affability on his gaunt face. Chills went down Juan’s spine as he felt the
clammy handshake. The devil’s green bespectacled eyes drank in his discomfort.

“I’m delighted to meet you,” said the devil and the sugary inflection of the words repelled Juan.

“it’s an honor to meet you, your highness.”

The devil sat. He rested his hands on the desk intertwining his fingers. “I hope you realize what an exception this is. Most people that come here, stay.”

Juan studied the devil with an uneasy eye. He couldn’t get over how ordinary he looked. With his receding red hair, and soft bulging belly, he could pass for a government official, or the head of a large corporation. Only the predatory glare in his eyes, the way his short
nails bulged on his fingers, and an air of utter depravity denoted evil.

“Is the room too cool for you? I notice you’re shivering.”

“Just a bit. I expected it to be warmer.”

“I like it a lot hotter myself, we only run the air
conditioner for visitors. Would you like a Cuban cigar?”

“No, Thanks.”

The devil took a cigar out of a cedar box resting on his desk. He licked the cigar with his large obscene tongue. He bit off the tip showing his large menacing teeth. “How
about a drink?”

“No, thanks.”

“You’re not against fun, are you?” He blew smoke in the direction of his guest.

“Not at all. I come to offer my soul for sale.”

“Frankly, I’m not interested.” He looked at Juan with an amused expression.

“But I read that you’re always eager to buy souls.”

“I’m interested only in brave souls. You even fear asking a girl out. I know your appearance is not the best.” He studied him with a derisive eye. “You’re too thin, you stoop, and you should do something about that acne, but uglier men than you are playboys. It’s your cowardly soul that’s stopping you. Why should I buy it, when it’s doing such a good job at making you miserable?”

Juan blushed. Rejection always filled him with a sense of unworthiness. That even this loathsome creature wasn’t interested in him seemed the ultimate insult. “I know you’re right, sir. I came here to ask for courage.”

The devil laughed. “Yes, among other things. Boy, don’t you know that courage is a virtue? Do you expect to find virtues in hell? You may try praying to God for courage. Although, I doubt He’ll answer. I keep Him rather busy, nowadays.”

“Please, Your Highness, can you do something for me?”

Looking at the boy, the devil stroked his chin pensively. “You know, I like you. Your soul loves goodness, but you appreciate the drama of the struggle between good and evil. I won’t let you go empty handed. It wouldn’t be good public relations, would it? How about screwing Matilde? That is what you really came to see me about, wasn’t it?”

“Yes, sir. Could you make her love me.”

“I told you already there are no virtues in hell. Do you know what love is, anyway?”

“Love is when a person becomes priceless. When we really love, we can’t live without the beloved.”

“Can you live without air, boy?” Love is just a fancy word for need. When your beloved stops fulfilling your needs, love fades. Do you want to screw this girl, or not?”

“Yes, I do.”

“I grant your wish, and you can keep your cowardly soul.”

***

“Boy! Boy!” El Brujo was shaking his arm.

“Eh, what?”

“Wake up! Did you see the devil?”

“Yeah.”

“Did he buy your soul?”

“No, but he granted my wish.”

“He did? That’s odd. Well, good for you. I think. Be careful with that girl.”

“Why?”

“Never trust a gift from the devil.”

Juan left promising to return with the three pesos next week. He never did.

The following morning he hung around Matilde’s classroom hoping to see her. He expected her to fall to his arms without need for him to utter a word.

Finally, the classrooms door opened and students poured out noisily. His heart raced as if to free itself from the arterial cross from which it hung. There she was at last.
She saw him and walked toward him. He couldn’t believe his heart could beat any faster, but it did.

“Hand over my picture, creep!”

“What picture?” He couldn’t believe how high pitched his voice sounded. He couldn’t believe he had asked such stupid question.

“The one you found, the one you told Eduardo I gave you, the one I gave to my boyfriend, and he lost.”

“But you wrote to Juan with all my love, and my name is Juan.”

“That picture is dedicated to Juan Ramirez, the best pitcher on our high school’s team, and you know it. Don’t you have any pride?”

“Yes, I do, but I love you so much.”

She stared at him with disdain. “Give me my picture, or I’ll tell my boyfriend and he’ll beat you to a pulp.”

He had never thought of the possibility of that six foot brute beating him. He offered the picture. She snatched it. “You’re pitiful.” She walked away.

Juan stood stunned. Not only was she not spellbound with him, but she thought him pitiful. What has gone wrong? Not only had his best friend betrayed him, but he’d lost her picture as well. Had the devil reneged on his promise? Had he really seen the devil? Could it be
that he’d been duped by El Brujo and Eduardo. He ought to punch Eduardo one right on the nose.

He rushed to his friend’s house. Eduardo opened the door and Juan landed a punch that squashed his nose like a ripe tomato. “Hey! What’s this about?”

“You told Matilde about her photo.”

“I did it to help you. She needs to know how much you love her. Look what you did, you broke my damn nose.”

“Good! Serves you right, traitor. Juan turned around and left.

Two days later, Juan saw Matilde coming down a hall with two girls. She said something to them and they giggled staring at him. One of the girls ran to him. She handed him a photo face down. Matilde wants you to have this picture. He looked down at it and saw, “To Juan with love.”

Juan turned it around and saw the picture of a chimp wearing a dress.

Juan hurried away pursued by their laughter.

From that day on, it was rare for a group of girls to pass him without giggling. Pictures of old ladies, circus freaks and native women with saucer lips daily showed up at his desk. All were dedicated to him with lurid declarations of love.

He cringed when he saw a group of girls coming. He ate his lunch outside. He no longer hung around after class. Juan tried to avoid Matilde too, but he seemed to meet her more than when he loved to watch her. If she was with others she sneered with the rest; if alone, she frowned at him.

After two weeks of harassment, she approached him in a hall, “Look, I know this nonsense has gone on long enough. We’re even. I’ll tell the girls to stop it. Friends?” She extended her hand.

At the touch of her hand, he felt a warmth in his underbelly that menaced to expand out of control.

“Listen, one of my friends really likes you,” she said pulling back her hand.

“Who?”

“Dulce, she is very sweet and smart.”

“That description tells me, she’s very ugly too.”

“No, she is not.”

“I love only you.”

“Juan, I’m in love with Johnny. If I weren’t… but, I am.”

“I thought you were in love with Juan the pitcher?”

“Yes, I call him Johnny because one day he’ll go to the Unites States to play for the Yankees.”

“If you say so. I wish it were tomorrow, so I could be the only Juan near you.”

“Juan let’s be friends. I think everyone will stop teasing, you if they see I’ve forgiven you.

She was right, in a week the incident was almost forgotten, but a new torture began for him— the torment of her proximity, her touch, her smell, the sound of her voice. He lived to daydream about her. She sensed his devotion and was touched. She was gentle, even tender with him, but her kindness only fed the fire in which he roasted.

Then one day, when the math teacher spotted him sleeping during class, he was sent to the principal’s office.

Juan had to sit for hours waiting to see him. When he left the office the building was deserted. He hurried away hearing his own footsteps. Large semi-dark empty buildings gave him the creeps. As he went by her classroom, he heard someone sobbing. He looked
inside and saw her crumpled over a desk.

“Matilde?”

She ran to him.

“What’s wrong?”

She tried to speak, but her voice broke. She pressed her body against his and cried softly on his shoulder. Juan felt the warm firmness of her body, the fragrance of her hair, and was lost in a sensuous ecstasy. Noticing his arousal she pulled back.

“Juan, I’m so miserable I could die. I just saw my Johnny coming out of that closet with another girl.”

He looked across the hall. He saw the janitor’s closet door was ajar with the key still in it.

“How did he got hold of the key?”

“The janitor gave him a copy for a few pesos. This is where we meet to make love, and now he has the nerve to bring another girl to our love nest. I’m so furious, I could kill him.”

Juan was aghast. In his daydreams, she’d been a virgin and he, her first lover. Could life get any worse? He wondered. As if pulled by a force, he walked to the closet, went in, and turned the light on. He surveyed the dismal narrow closet with brooms, mops and buckets standing by a wall. It smelled of floor cleaning liquid. Here, in this miserable place, she lost her cherry, he thought.

“Juan.” Her voice sounded hoarse. He turned. she’d closed the door and looked at him with wild eyes– her nose, red; her swollen lips, shiny with snot.

“Juan, let’s teach him a lesson. Let’s get even. Do you still want me?”

“Sure.” Juan kissed her salty lips. She turned the lights off and dropped her skirt and panties. She fumbled with his fly’s buttons. She guided him home. His hips
went wild– brooms and pots collapsed with a jarring clatter all around them.

“Stop, stop. You’re out!” She grabbed it, and to his dismay he felt his climax bursting.

“Oh shit! What a mess.” She used his shirt to wipe her hand. “You’re worthless.” She pulled her panties and skirt up and stormed out slamming the door.

Then, he heard a terrifying sound– the click of the lock.

“Stay there and stew, you useless bastard,” she yelled.

“Matilde, Matilde, come back. Let’s try it again.” He heard her footsteps receding.

Juan found the light switch— a flash pierced the darkness, then all was dark again. “Oh shit.” He hit the wall with his fist and the last mop standing came down with a clatter. Could life get any worse?

His sex life so far has been only a series of disasters and humiliations. He thought of Marieta, who had initiated him to sex, and of her sinister plot. He remembered the words of El Brujo, “Never trust a gift from the devil.” Had he seen the devil after all? No doubt, the devil had delivered what he promised.He had screwed Matilde, at last. Even if it had turned out less than perfect. He had scored.

He heard footsteps approaching. Juan pounded on the door. He was sure it was Matilde. He heard her fumbling with the lock. His smile bloomed into a big grin. Then, the door opened and the smile was crushed as if by a huge fist.

The pounchy figure of the principal filled the doorway. His bespectacled small eyes looked at him with astonishment. Juan’s heart sank at the sight of his reddish tinted hair showing white roots. He reminded him of the devil.

“Mr. Lomita what in the world are you doing in this closet?”

“I, I… well…” The principal looked down at his opened fly, and the semen stains on his shirt.

“Did you use this closet to masturbate?

“No sir… I…” He was about to say he had been with a girl, but no doubt that would make matters worse, the principal would demand her name. He couldn’t descend that low.

“How did you get in?”

“The door was open, sir.”

“Who locked you in?”

“I don’t know.”

“Mr. Lomita, do you realize that less than an hour ago I lectured you about sleeping in class and now, I find you masturbating in a closet. I am afraid I must talk to your father tomorrow. Go home now.

Could life get any worse? Juan thought. The first law of hell was revealed to him at that moment: there’s no limit to worse.

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