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Renouncing the Devil




I read the ominous sign of disembodied cockroach legs sprinkled across my windshield as the latest annoying act of my landlord’s new muchacha.  Who else could it have been?  Our residential building comprised of only four apartments: the biggest belonging to the landlord and his family, a smaller one on the same level rented by a single businessman, then one floor below, a studio inhabited by the muchacha herself, and below her my basement studio apartment.

            Despite being in the basement, my studio actually had an impressive view since the apartment building sat on a hill just high enough to clear the neighbors, revealing the glorified mountain in Tegucigalpa, where both the Coca-Cola sign and El Cristo perched on top.  The haphazardly terraced landscape covered with corrugated-roofed houses and businesses tattooed the mountain’s torso. A relatively quiet sanctuary quality descended my studio at night when the romantic soft yellow lights of nighttime activity glowed in the darkness.

            Quite the ideal—until the new muchacha flew in on her destructive broom.  Slowly trash began to gather at the bottom of the stairs in front of my door.  (I have never figured out if she was just lazy or lacked awareness of “object permanence”: the trash still existed even if she swept it cascading down the stairs where she could no longer see it.)  Her gradual efforts finally accumulated into an appreciable pigsty heap welcoming me back one long weekend when I had ventured out of town.

            Instead of giving into my temper and storming up to her studio, I readied my digital camera and shot several angles of her nasty creation. Selecting the best picture, I inserted it into a word document and addressed a straightforward, non-accusing note to my landlord.

            “Dear Gabriel,

            When I left Friday morning, the stairwell in front of my apartment was clean.  However, when I returned Sunday afternoon, I found trash in front of my door.  I’d appreciate it if the person who was responsible for throwing/sweeping the trash in front of my apartment would clean it up.”

            I printed it, signed it and taped it to his front door the next morning on my way to work.  When I returned that afternoon, the stairwell had been swept clean, but the battle had begun.

            The muchacha no longer greeted me.  She’d hear me coming up the stairs and would quickly duck into the landlord’s apartment or cower in another part of the garage, under the pretense of tidying up something until I had driven away.

            Her simple mind stewed for about a week until she finally struck back.  Since I always parked near where the water tank, mops, brooms and dust pans were stored, she’d leave a broom or mop propped against the water tank, extending out into my parking space.  Genius.  She’d effectively inconvenience me without being present.

            Attempting to rise above the pettiness, I’d hop out of the car to move the projecting broom or mop before parking.  Occasionally, I drove over them.  This last time, I lost my temper.  I ran over the broom, parked my car, slammed the door and threw that damn broom back into place.

            For the first time ever, I appreciated the water tank.  As if part of a comedy stunt, the broom struck a thin water hose that had been attached to the tank.  The hose, despite its thinness, spewed a seemingly impossible amount of water. 

            Recovering from my shock, I grabbed the hose and attempted to ram it back into place.  When that proved useless, I ran around frantically like a cartoon character, trying one useless thing after another.  One of my failed ideas was to open the garage door, hoping to yell at some passerby while holding my thumb over the hose.  Of course, there weren’t any passersby since I lived at the curve of a cul-de-sac. Yet, divine intervention sent Gabriel and his family home at that moment with a full view of the high-strung American expat in crisis.

            As Gabriel stepped calmly over the river I had brought to life, I explained quickly (hysterically?) why I was squatting and holding the hose.  He told me to let it go. 

 “But, the water!” I panicked.

            He shrugged and said that he would take care of it.  I made my escape, thinking I’d be more useful out of the way. Not only did he take care of the water hose problem, but the protruding broom/mop problem as well.

            Now, it had come down to this: some semi-literate, backwoods, Honduran voodoo of scattering insect legs on the windshield of my car on a Sunday morning. As a degreed secular Christian, I didn’t really believe in such mumbo-jumbo as voodoo, but one can never be too careful with someone willing to go the extra mile to make one’s life miserable. 

I had the impulse to delay my trip to the gym and search the internet for the significance of the curse that the she-devil had attempted. In the end, I convinced myself that the best thing to do was go about my normal routine rather than let paranoia prevent me from my usual pursuit of happiness.

I used the windshield wipers to clear the cockroach legs.  Some pesky legs remained, but I wiped them off with my shoe once I reached the gym, taking no chances that those cockroach legs had not been sprayed or soaked in something to make me sick.  I had recalled reading somewhere that the only way those so-called voodoo curses could work was if the targeted person touched or ingested poison. 

             One of the beautiful things about swimming was that all my tensions melted into the water and I intuited solutions. While swimming, I thought of doing something more positive instead of retaliation. Not wishing to escalate the situation further since I didn’t have as much free time to dedicate to the battle as she obviously did, I thought, “What would a Christian more devout than myself do?”  Why bring her to Jesus, of course!

I wanted to avoid making a long-winded-come-to-Jesus speech since I spoke basic Spanish.  I continued doing laps while translating a short, but powerful-sounding phrase, “In the name of Jesus Christ, renounce the devil.”  After many laps and verb conjugations, my best translation was: “En el nombre Del Jesucristo, renuncie al Diablo.”

The prudent course of action was to help her renounce the devil as soon as possible.  Conveniently enough, nothing says “Come to Jesus” better than a little Sunday afternoon prayer.

            Feeling more empowered, I didn’t care which curse the muchacha had attempted.  I would counter her actions.  And yet, I had a sinking feeling that those broken cockroach legs meant that she wanted me to break my legs.  Boy, would she grow desperate when I didn’t have a car accident, injuring my legs! Guessing her evil mind, she would probably spread oil on the stairs just to help her curse along.

            I drove back home as cautiously as I had driven to the gym.  I felt uneasy about knocking on Gabriel’s door to inquire about his muchacha or knocking on her door to confront her directly.  Since I ardently believed that God had always answered my prayers, I gently placed my hand on Gabriel’s door and whispered my powerful prayer in Spanish three times. 

I spied one of her brooms propped against a wall in the garage.  Figuring that it wouldn’t hurt to “bless” it as well, I placed my hand on its handle and repeated my prayer three times again.

            Soon afterwards, I heard Gabriel’s two-year-old son, Gabrielito, whimpering.  When Gabriel opened the front door, I feigned that I was just returning home.  Certainly he wouldn’t have guessed that I had recently left a prayer on his front door along with the broom.

We greeted each other and I especially made an attempt to greet Gabrielito since after living there for eight months, I’d finally seemed to have won him over.  Gabriel explained that Gabrielito was a little fussy because he needed to take a nap; so Gabriel was going to drive Gabrielito around the block to help him fall asleep. 

Not wanting to miss my opportunity due to small talk, I asked if the muchacha was around.  “We no longer have a muchacha,” Gabriel replied. “We fired her a few weeks ago.”

No longer have a muchacha! The phrase struck me damn near speechless.  How could this be?  I’d had it all figured out. Recovering, I thanked him and wished him good luck getting Gabrielito to fall asleep. 

I walked gingerly down the stairs, laughing at myself for apparently inventing the whole cockroach voodoo curse.  I still looked it up on the internet, but with no success. 

Still, how the hell did those cockroach legs get on my car?  In my haste to clear the windshield, I had not bothered to count the legs first.  All I know for sure was that there were more than two.  So I don’t know how many cockroaches had been “sacrificed”.

Could it be possible that something that eats cockroaches had sat on the roof of my car and ate the cockroach’s body, which is full of energizing fat, and then simply discarded those legs on the windshield?  Sounds plausible, especially since the voodoo theory was out.

Now, can you imagine if I had made that poor girl renounce the devil for nothing?