Simon de Smet of Antwerp Belgium married Rosa Maria Martinez of Guanajuato, Mexico on October 31st, 2015. It was a glorious Singapore day and the (much) younger bride had chosen a dress of ivory silk that clung and flowed with breathtaking ease down her supple body. Simon, fat and ecstatic, bounced around his reception, drinking far too much of the fine burgundy wine, chosen especially by the Sommelier from the Raffles Hotel for the wedding.
The bridegroom’s friends, expansive, wealthy expats and a coterie of other middle-aged mishaps leered at the luscious Rosa who unusually had no family attending her wedding, just a few beautiful but silent women as attendants.
She rose above it all with a stoicism that she had learnt in the House of Witches, one of the most haunted places in Mexico and now the largest brothel in the landlocked city of Léon. Rosa didn’t care much for her Belgian husband and she countered his brutish advances with daydreams of cheap, wood coffins and garrotes.
Simon was the CEO of one of the largest Dutch/Brazilian companies in Mexico giving him an estimated annual bonus of two million USD. The company was run by ‘wetbacks in suits’, the fat man was fond of saying, and that ‘Singapore suited him with its preference for multimillionaires who could sail close to the wind and never be reprimanded’.
The Belgian hated Mexicans with a passion, calling them ‘monkeys’ and ‘peasants’, so it could be thought odd that he had chosen a beautiful Latina as his bride.
In truth, there was nothing strange about it; just the usual fat, wealthy man who could have his pick of women and chose his bride from one of the poorest countries in the world to dominate and punch with a regularity that would not be out of place in the Politician Bar, Glasgow.
Rosa’s payoff would be a hefty pre-nuptial payment in the case of divorce and a life of luxury during the marriage.
If you looked very closely you might catch the fading violet flare of a bruise on the bride’s jawline but it was difficult because of the expert bridal makeup and Simon’s promise to his mother, a cruel and harsh woman, that he wouldn’t punch his betrothed for a full month before their nuptials. He had come close to fulfilling this promise.
Rosa’s outward serenity and placid demeanor harboured a rage that it lit up her guts like fire on an oil slick. Unable to use this anger against Simon in particular, but all men in general, Rosa used every resource available to her to abuse her, Pilipino housekeeper, Dumadora.
Daily, ritual humiliations were exacted. Cutting the lawn with nail scissors, eating out of a dog bowl, withholding wages and burning the maid’s passport.
Every sin, every dark spot, every lash and punch that had ever been visited on Rosa she now flung at her maid until Dumadora was tarred and feathered with abuse.
But Dumadora was a devout, selfless woman with a soul so clean, so straight and true that she bore these monstrous acts with the dignity and sacrifice of St. Gianna. Every Sunday, she crept out of the house and attended early Mass where she prayed for the health of her children left behind in Leyte in the care of their Grandmother.
Her tiny, windowless room dwarfed by the huge house of stone and marble wasn’t much at all, with only a mat to sleep on, the cheapest of soaps and a blue cotton rag to wash with. But in a crack, halfway up the grey painted wall that housed the door, Dumadora kept her most precious thing. A creased, picture of her children, taken years before but still offering comfort in the dark hours. If she held it to her chest, her heart would beat more slowly, her body relaxing in the warmth of a mother’s love.
And, if she held the photograph up to her nose and inhaled, she could smell her children as newborns, sweet and milky. This single thing gave her comfort like a soft blanket for a cherished child or tall whiskey on a sullen, wind-whipped night in the Rio Grande.
Later that night the de Smets returned to the hollow, cold mansion off the Tanglin Road lapped by moonlight and the choking humidity of Singapore. The only houses close by were the towering ‘black and whites’ colonials of the bygone days and the inscrutable embassy buildings, grey and uncompromising like Eastern Bloc tenements.
The De Smets had jointly rejected the idea of a honeymoon; faced with an extended time tougher under the auspices of ‘love’ was just too much for them.
Once the driver had dropped the couple at the towering, stone door, Simon didn’t even wait for the car to turn the corner, taking Rosa roughly under a crimson frangipani tree, grunting and sweating with hate and drink. When he was finished he pushed Rosa casually onto the brittle emerald grass, her ivory dress rucked up to her hips, rich, green smudges ruining the delicate fabric.
The bride of ten hours was so full of white-hot anger; so molten with humiliation that she stumbled when she got to her feet. She wanted to do was hurt something and she found her way to Dumadora’s room where a faint glow from underneath the door indicated that her maid was still awake, not that her sleeping would have made any difference.
Rosa kicked the door and stood barefoot, expensive high heels in hand waiting for the maid to start violently and then kneel quickly, head bowed.
But Dumadora was deeply asleep on her scratchy bed mat, exhausted by her eighteen-hour day and the absence of her children. So exhausted that she had forgotten to push the treasured photograph back in its hiding place.
The first thing Rosa did was batter Dumadora awake with the heel of her shoe. Blood welled quickly from the puncture wounds on her face and neck and Dumadora woke quickly, shock and pain reducing her to quiet sobs.
The second thing the enraged woman did was to snatch the photograph from her maid’s hand. Five botched abortions at the brothel had rendered Rosa barren and she particularly hated loving mothers, her own having sold her into the sex trade at 11.
Very deliberately Rosa watched her maid’s face as she tore the photograph in half, then half again and continued until tiny, indecipherable pieces littered the floor.
Her rage spent and immediately bored and thirsty, she left as quickly as she had come in search of water and a cigar.
Dumadora stared at the ruined picture in disbelief and shock and only then did she indeed fall to her knees in prayer. And there she stayed until dawn, her lips barely moving as she asked for the pain to stop and to find forgiveness in her heart.
After drinking a glass of water, frosted by cold and a half Cohiba, smoked leisurely by the pool, her bronzed legs rippling in the water’s shadows, Rosa went to bed. She gave no further thought to Dumadora’s pain or her husband of only twelve hours.
She slept the sleep of innocents until the clock in the cool marble hallway ticked past midnight and then she woke gently to a very faint clack clack. The noise was so quiet that Rosa thought it was the slap of Simon’s bare feet on the marble as he made his way to the bathroom so she slipped back into a drowsy sleep.
When Rosa woke again, the sound was nearer, louder and she sat up, eyes searching the room. clack clack. Whatever was making the noise was now in the bedroom and when Rosa fumbled for the light switch, something bit her fingers, hard. She yelped and scrabbled backwards towards the headboard but the clack clack, clack clack marched onwards towards her. When the night clouds parted and the moon was allowed to briefly shine, Rosa was given enough light to see the five *Calaveras that floated grotesquely at the bottom of the bed and the one, with a bloody mouth, by her ear. The clack clack sound resonated as they bounced their teeth together in unison.
The sugar skulls’ faces were tattooed with intricate, black markings and engraved with vibrant flowers, beautiful on any other night but not on this one and after they were done, Rosa had lost all her finger tips, the tops of her ears and her nose to the hunger of the Calaveras.
Afterwards, the bedclothes were burnt, the blood and other stains too deep and Dumadora sighed as she tossed them into the fire because they were such good quality.
You might think that Dumadora would relish the downfall of Rosa Maria Martinez, her tormentor, but quite the opposite was true. Dumadora’s devout nature and gentle spirit lent itself to caring for the traumatised Rosa. Washing her gently when she soiled herself, adjusting the nose mask to hide the deep scarring and helping eat and drink because both those things are surprisingly difficult without fingers.
Rosa never spoke again and died weeks later in her sleep. She had too many pieces missing to ever be enjoyed again and Simon had tired of her quickly as men like that are prone to do of broken things.
Dumadora left shortly afterwards for home, for the cool touch of the Amihan wind on her skin and for the soft arms of her children. Money always turned up when she needed it, the family was never short of food again and luck seemed to have landed permanently at their door.
Two days after Dumadora had returned to her homeland, Simon De Smet returned home late one evening, after a gorging on fine brandy, goose liver pate and willing women. He fell face down onto his soft bed and was asleep before eleven.
At one stroke past midnight, he woke and blamed the strange noises on his thumping head and by the time he could make out the odd sounds clearly, it was too late.
clack clack , clack clack
Los Calaveras were hungry and they had come to feast on Simon’s wickedness.
* Calaveras are the colourful and macabre sugar skulls that some Latin countries use to honour their ancestors on the Day of The Dead.