No one could explain Virginia’s illness. It was just a few weeks ago that she was running about, excitingly discussing her plans with Armando, and now, there she lay in bed with a fever, unable to move out of her bed. Doctors came in from the city to see her, but still none of them could offer an explanation for her sudden demise. Of course it was very upsetting to everyone involved. Armando came to see her before he took his boat trip to Lisbon, knowing that he would probably never return to the girl he once knew. Needless to say, there were many tears shed, and many questions left unanswered.
Bewildered, and powerless, Virginia’s parents sought out help with a spiritualist. When doctors could not answer medical questions, in those days (as they sometimes do today-that is another story), people would seek the advice of psychics and spiritualistic healing from people on the island. These people were often called on for the unexplainable, whether it be sicknesses or matters of the heart. It was from one spiritualist they were informed that Virginia was a victim of a love triangle. It was learned that a jealous woman had put a curse on their daughter in order to win the affections of her suitor. Virginia’s parents were confused, and uncertain if this was really the cause of their daughter’s sudden illness. The spiritualist instructed them to beware of the person who did this to their daughter for they were capable of doing more evil towards the family.
Of course, Virginia’s family was more fearful than ever. They looked twice upon the people they chose as friends. Rarely did they leave home or attended social gatherings. They were often looking behind their shoulders, and learned to be suspicious of everyone they came to contact with. Virginia was now able to sit in a wheelchair now, but seemed to be in a state of depression. She no longer spoke the way she did, and she rarely smiled. She took pleasure at times, and often scared the younger people of the house by suddenly bursting into uncontrollable laughter, or screams. At times could be seen looking outside the window in tears. Virginia had lost it, and many thought she was going insane.
The family sought the spiritualist for help again. Unfortunately, the spiritualist told them that there was no cure for Virginia. She told them that in a vision she had seen the remainder of the drink that Virginia had tasted, and the herbs and intoxicants left from the drink, thrown into the ocean. To break a curse, these items would have to be retrieved, but alas they could not be now for they were at the bottom of the sea. She did however tell the family that there was a way of uncovering who had made the curse.
She instructed the family to bury a certain herb under a tree near her home. This would send the person away from the household. Virginia’s father, feeling rather silly, but feeling he had no other hope, planted what was instructed under a tree near his home. Once the holder of the curse passed the tree, he or she would faint or it would drive them away running. The identity of this person however, would have to remain secret in the family, for if the identity was discovered and disclosed, it could mean disaster to all involved.
To this day, I have no idea who these people are. This family secret was taken very seriously apparently. Lesson to be learned: never flaunt your happiness or drink or eat food from people you whom may be envious. ?? I know that seems a little off the wall, but you are what you eat, so they say.
So how did this all end?
One afternoon, there was talk in the neighborhood “venda” market. Witnesses had seen Lucia’s mother Manuela, running frantically down the hill from Virginia’s house. She was screaming and repeating over and over again to herself that she had forgotten to feed the chickens. Word was it that Manuela was suffering from a nervous breakdown. Nevertheless, Lucia and her mother never came to visit Virginia, or contacted any members of her family again. Armando never returned from Lisbon. A few years later, Lucia married the village drunk.
My mother has memories of Tia Virginia, sitting there on her wheel chair, silently looking out of her window. My mother and her cousin, Fatima would sometimes tip toe past her room, fearful that she would see them playing. Virginia was scary to the eyes of her little nieces. Sometimes she would blurt out to them, or stare at them with her steel blue gray eyes. At other times she would laugh at them when they were at play.
Avo’s memory of his sister still haunted him years after her death. He was heartbroken about his sister’s illness. In 1999, I visited the island again. I went looking for the family photograph in my grandfather’s old room. In the picture was Avo as a young boy, standing near his sister Virginia, who was already in a wheelchair. Avo must have been no more than eleven or twelve; his light hair was swept back, and his blue eyes were shining. He had his hand resting on his sister’s shoulder. Virginia was smiling; I hope they are both still smiling now.