Birthday cross

A friend from childhood

His name was Danilo.

It was summertime. Mother and I were spending weekends with father on a mountain.  There was this corporate relay station there.  Father managed the cockpit.  Those intermittent buttons and lights and the strict instruction not to interrupt his concentration bored me. I was lonely until I met Danilo. We were about the same age – 5 or 6. He was the only kid within miles and miles of tropical countryside.

Manzanita trees (genus Arctostaphylos) were thriving near the relay tower. During early mornings the fruits formed a mat of red on the ground as they fell off the branches during the night. Mama forbade me to touch them.

“Bird food should not be eaten by children, especially little girls.”

But when Mama wasn’t looking Danilo and I would pop a fistful in our mouths and grin quietly at each other. We then observed a minute or two of remorseful silence. Innocently fake. Conspiratorially juvenile.

One day Danilo came to play hide n’ seek. The game spontaneously turned into follow the leader. He led me down a trail towards their hut.  His family were busy on a makeshift kitchen in their backyard. Danilo’s dad was carrying a tin bowl filled with blood.  A white chicken with a slit across its neck lay beside an iron pot of boiling water.

“Come Danilo, where have you been?”

I followed him, still playing follow the leader.  Danilo’s mom dipped her index finger into the tin bowl and raised it up to draw a cross on Danilo’s forehead.  I inched closer excitedly expecting the same sign on my own forehead too. “Oh, alright,” she allowed.

I wore the bloody cross proudly as I skipped my rubber slippers back to the station house.

Mama’s eyebrows furrowed like an eagle’s as soon as she saw me.  I didn’t have to explain. Danilo came right behind. Then his mother. And his father.  They issued a spoken invitation for us to join them for dinner. It was Danilo’s birthday, and which the cross on his forehead was about.

We didn’t go and I forgot why. I remembered Danilo and I played as usual the day after.

This post is linked with Monday Memories