Basilica do Bom Jesus

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Basilica do Bom Jesus

Victor’s mission begins
The dawn sun picks at the hilltop
Shadows and silence in the valley

Victor packs side saddles on his bike
Makes the final check of supplies
Three coils of rope: cotton, hemp, nylon

Flares and spikes and entrenching tools
Bicycle repair kit with extra screws and bolts and nuts
Little square-head hammer for you just never know

Assorted knives: Opinel, Laguiole, Bowie
A canteen of water and a can opener
Tins of catfood and little sacks of catnip

He’s prepared
No further delay
Lost cats must be rescued

Victor steers his bicycle out the front door and leans it against the wall of his house. Good, still nobody about. In August, the neighbors are never awake this early when the bands down in Couiza play all night and the people dance and dance. Un, dos, très! Olé! Olé! Olé! Victor avoids crowds. Ever since Beirut and the bombs and the fires.

Sky a scary blue dome
In Victor’s eyes
Dawn’s wet fingers

Victor sighs
He is content
This is the very day

Of very days
Perfect conditions
For his dangerous work

The sign on his front door reads
L’association Chats Libres
Maison de Repos Féline

The seriousness of his mission
Homeless cats must be saved
His work is humble and vital

Before climbing on his bicycle, he checks his watch, cocks his béret, adjusts the straps on his backpack. He sucks in deep gobs of cold air. He must invigorate his body and clear his mind.

Replays when he was six
Ripoll in the Catalan mountains
Replays breaking his left arm

His brother chased him into the river
Replays Beirut’s fiery streets
Recalls Martinique’s silver sand

Remembering rust on his hands
Tortoise-shell palms
When he was a sailor

Martinique. San Francisco. Manila. Goa.
Kneeling for hours
Basilica do Bom Jesus

Rolling downhill, the only person Victor meets is old Mimi tiptoeing out of the mayor’s garden. She clutches an armful of marguerites. She has rescued the flowers to adorn the Madonna in the Chapelle downhill beside the SNCF tracks. Her mission in the dawn shadows.

Bonjour Mimi, Victor whispers
Not stopping
Not today

Any other morning he would
Regale Mimi with tales of his life
Wrestling matches in Tunisian nights

Whitewash painted on a Hindu temple
Horse racing on forbidden Sicilian roads
Endless vacant white days off Madagascar

Harvesting blistered limons in Andalusia
Building a bridge on a Brazilian river
He cannot remember the name of

Bonjour Victor, Mimi replies
With a sly grin saying Keep
my secrets I’ll keep yours

Victor nods and grins
He, too, is on a mission
He winks and rides on

Sad homeless cats down in Couiza
Lost cats who must be saved
They cry in the night

Cries that replay
Schooner rigging squealing
On the Bimini rum run

Wild whistles of the pit boss
Peruvian silver mine on fire
Twenty-one lost, their cries

Victor crying in Ripoll’s icy river
Victor replaying his life
Accordion screeches as he rolls

down the hill
into the shadows
of dawn


Photograph by D Young.
Story of Victor by R Young.


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