Talismán (Short Story)
Liz Hernández, 2020

To my grandma, my mom Gloria, my aunts Graciela, and Rocío.

We arrived at school when it was still dark outside, the morning dew mixing with the city's smog in the air. My sister and I walked to the entrance; she was four years younger than me, and I was about 12 years old. At our arrival, the teachers and nuns had the duty to arrange students in lines. Hundreds of girls in blue, white, and red uniforms filled the courtyard, and at 8 in the morning, we had the first prayer of the day. A monotonous chant filled the yard, and I wondered what it must sound to the people living near the school: did they join the prayer, or did they wish for silence? Between yawns and murmurs of half-asleep girls, the singing stopped. The day officially began.

It was always close to noon when classes were interrupted. The nuns would take us downstairs to the oratory to attend communion. At our arrival, the chapel greeted us with the smell of incense and white lilies, and the sunlight lit up the golden altar, casting bright spots around the white walls and wooden benches. After everyone was seated, the priest entered the room, a long white and gold robe adorning him, his hands together in the symbol of prayer. The girls around me were quiet, showing respect and listening attentively when he began speaking.

I found myself distracted during the ceremony and played with whatever I had in my pocket. As I was tuning in and out of the sermon, an unfamiliar feeling hit me suddenly. I felt my body temperature rise; I looked at myself in my pocket mirror, expecting to see my face flushed. My eyes darted around, trying to figure out if anyone noticed my panic, but no one did. I stared at my hand twice to make sure it didn't catch on fire and then felt a sudden pain in my body. It was somewhat familiar, a hole in the middle of my stomach, like the feeling you get after you've done something wrong. I was not sure what to call this sensation, but it kept going on for a few days. Eventually, I decided not to go back to communion. Secretly, I would sneak out to the library until we went back to the classroom, and surprisingly, the nuns never noticed.

One afternoon during recess, I noticed a small burn on my school uniform. Confused, I stared at it and initially didn't give it much thought, but I kept seeing more burn marks as the days went by. This revelation scared me. I held the secret in for days but felt the growing need to confide in someone. I knew that the person who could offer advice was my grandma, and one day I built up the courage to tell her.

-Grandma, I need to tell you something, but please don't get mad...my skirt has some burn marks.

- Ay, and how did that happen?

- I don't know. I noticed them the other day. I'm not sure how they got there. I'm sorry.

- I see, hmmm, they don't look like iron burns. I won't tell your mom, but we'll have to fix the holes. Now get ready, today there is a Cátedra at the Templo, we will go there in the evening. Maybe we can ask them if something is going on with you. The spirits will know; they always know.

I knew what she was referring to. My grandma often told me that spirits were roaming around us. Sometimes, the souls were of people who died and had pending issues in the material world. They would walk around endlessly, trying to enter someone else's body. Younger people like me were at a higher risk of having a bad spirit cling to their bodies and cause them unexplainable illness or pain. Knowing the possibility of having an evil spirit inside me, I knew we had to go as soon as possible.

Our pilgrimage to the temple was not incredibly scenic. We walked on a long avenue, bustling full of public buses and cars, and the pollution was thick in the air. Still, my memories linger on the trees. We walked near the Jacaranda trees, adorning the streets and sidewalks, creating a tapestry of beautiful purple flowers. We'd walk under the Pirules, a perennial tree that smells strongly of pink peppercorns and leaves a sticky sap on the bark. I was protected by the trees and my grandparents, who were guarding me as I walked between them.

The temple was not a Catholic church but a small space next to an older woman's house; her name was Doña Columba. It was a temple I knew for many years of my life but never felt the need to ask what it was. It became such a familiar place that it never felt necessary.  This was one of many spaces where the devotees of Espiritismo Trinitario Mariano (Marian Trinitarian Spiritism) would congregate. The building was not an architectural wonder like the many churches I spent time in. The room resembled a small chapel, clearly built by the congregation. It was simultaneously modest and powerful, domestic, and mystical.

As we arrived at the door, we were welcomed by the smell of fresh chrysanthemums, a balsam that smelled strongly of loción Siete Machos, and a glass of holy water to drink and cleanse the spirit. My grandparents and I got there just in time for the limpias (cleansings). We were seated, waiting for our turn to speak to one of the people in a mediumistic trance. The mediums were sitting in line, and each of them had their guía, a person offering them support while they were in trance. When it was our turn, we stood and walked towards the medium. My grandma greeted her, introduced me, and asked the medium if I had caught a spirit of darkness.

The medium was an older woman with a calm demeanor. She was sitting down with her eyes closed, and the palms of her hands facing up. My grandma and I talked to the woman, but I knew we were really talking to the spirit possessing her body. It was the soul of a female warrior who lived in the land before Mexico City, and before it was called Mexico. I couldn't remember her name, but I am sure my grandma knew immediately; it seemed like they had talked before.

I recalled the unexpected pain in my stomach, the burnt marks, the constant burning sensation. She sat down there in silence, but suddenly she grabbed my hands. We stayed quiet; her hands were soft and warm, and I could feel some sort of energy being transferred to mine. After a few minutes she said to me:

- That feeling you have is called guilt.

- Guilt?

- Yes, guilt. It's not something you are supposed to feel. Listen, your soul is good, and the goal of your life should be to trust and listen to that goodness inside you. The better your soul is, the closest you'll be to becoming part of everything that surrounds you. Guilt keeps us scared and controlled; there is no need for it. It prevents your spirit from reaching its goal to become part of the universe.

I  listened while she held my hands. She continued:

- Guilt was taught to you, which means it can be unlearned. We will do a cleansing, and I know it will make you feel much better. We won't get rid of the burn marks, those have already been done, and you will need to live with them. I need you to understand that it will take time to heal and to unlearn.

The guide brought a white candle, an egg, and a bouquet of herbs and flowers—Rue, rosemary, marigold, and hierba santa. I could also smell the burning of white copal. My body was cleansed with the herbs and the egg from head to toe, and I was told to light the candle when I got home. The spirit announced that it was time for her to leave the material world, and as the guide said goodbye to the soul, she wished her a safe journey back to the spiritual world:

- Luz y progreso en tu camino espiritual. (Light and progress on your spiritual journey.)

At night, my mom helped me light the candle, letting it burn all night in a ceramic dish. She said she'd interpret the shape of the wax after it melted completely. I felt relief after my limpia, and I went to bed, having a clearer understanding of myself. As I reflected on this newfound freedom, suddenly, the idea of heaven and hell felt strange. I thought about my family becoming part of the world surrounding me, and it was exciting.

I began daydreaming about what my grandparents would become after they passed away. I thought about my grandpa becoming a cornfield, a rose bush, or a peach tree. After all, he was good at growing those, but eventually, I decided that a Jacaranda tree seemed more appropriate. And what about my grandma? I imagined her as fresh, white chrysanthemums adorning a temple and a church. Still, I could see her as a fragrant Pirul tree, with my sister and cousins playing around her. This way I would always have my grandparents, and I'd be guarded by their spirits even after leaving the material world. As I meditated on this newfound perspective of life and death, I fell into a deep slumber.

When I woke up to get ready for school and began braiding my hair, I looked in the mirror and saw something unusual: a small flower growing near my neck. I cautiously touched the flower to see if it was real.  I touched it to make sure it was really there. I poked its small petals carefully, afraid I would break it. The flower resembled a daisy, and it was soft and delicate. I tried to hide it, but as soon as I ran to the kitchen and saw my parents, I understood that no one else could see it.

As the day went by, more flowers appeared all over my face, neck, and even my braids. It happened so quickly. That afternoon when my grandma picked us up from school, she asked me what was going on. I was quiet and apprehensive but couldn't find the right words to explain what I was going through. That was when she told me she could see the flowers.

The flowers began to take over my body, but it wasn't until later that I realized that my grandmother wasn't the only person who could see them. My mom and aunts noticed as well, but they never said a word to me. They explained that they didn't want to scare me. It was a secret amongst those who could see, who understood, and were connected to the spiritual world. It was the Gift of Seeing.