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Niche of S.Tiago
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Home | Himalaya Project | Solar Furnace | Preface | Sample Reading | Capitulo a ler





Chapter 5—Casa da Costa

 

Antonio went over to Himalaya’s grave. He wrote down the priest’s full name and date of birth. He knew a couple of articles had been written about the priest, and he knew there was a statue of him in one of the gardens at Vila dos Arcos. He also knew that Padre Himalaya still had some distant relatives living. He knew that the priest used to live in the Casa da Costa, which was down the mountain from the church. He started to walk out of the cemetery with due respect.

 

He observed a man and a woman mourning for someone. Although they were still some distance away, Antonio could tell that their grief was young, for she was all dressed in black and he had a brown ribbon sewn on the left arm of his jacket. It was the tradition. As he walked by, the lady looked at Antonio and said, “You, too, are in pain today for your grandmother. Is that why you’re back from Canada?”

 

Antonio replied with respect. “Yes it is, madam. I’m sorry about your loss. Please accept my sympathies.”

 

“You were always a very respectful little boy. You don’t remember me, do you?”

 

“No, I’m sorry.”

 

“It doesn’t matter. You’re not the only one. Most men in this town emigrate and the women stay behind. When they return, they are changed. They don’t even remember their own people. They lose their place in the church and in our society. It’s just like the niche on the wall of the church; there is no saint there either. Our men lose their niche and very few make it back.” She began to cry even more and bowed her head over her husband’s grave.

 

“Have faith and remember him and the good times. He is in a better place now, and one day we will all join him.” The words sounded feeble, but they were all he could think of to comfort her. They had come out like a catechism.

 

“Remember him and all our good memories! I have none,” she spat. “He was an emigrant like you, and I never had the opportunity to live with him. Why can’t you men understand that here in our hometown, people have lived for thousands of years and never went hungry? Why do you have to go far way, searching for adventure and money, when you can have the most important things right here.”

 

“Well, my parents emigrated to find a better life and earn more money so their children could have a better future. Besides, emigration has helped Portugal very much,” Antonio tried to explain.

 

“The most important things in life are love and peace. You can achieve them within yourself. You can also obtain them by having a sense of family. Not by running around the world in search for money just so you can have a huge house, cars, and so on. A house is not a home without love in it. You make it sound like there is no hope here. Look around you, at the ones that never emigrated, do they look like they need your help? No! They are doing very well here where they belong. Their niches are here. And like the empty niche in the church, their absence makes us incomplete,” she explained with tears in her eyes.

 

“You could be right, but I have learned a lot and have become a better person through my experiences in Canada. Canada is more advanced than Portugal, especially when I emigrated there in the eighties. I am very happy there. My niche here was with my grandmother, and now that she is gone, it doesn’t feel the same anymore. However,” he held up his hand before she could speak, “I will remember your words.”

 

“I’m sorry about your grandmother,” the woman relaxed. “I know she raised you. You must be in a lot of pain. I also understand that, right now, you prefer to live far away. I wish you good luck. Goodbye, Antonio.”

 

Antonio also said goodbye. Then he walked out of the cemetery and back through the main entrance of the church atrium. He took one last look at the beautiful church. The niche on the main tower was indeed empty. A statue of São Tiago, the church’s patron, should be placed there, he thought. His parents were involved in the church, and he made a mental note to mention this to his mother.

 

Walking down the mountain, he passed the cruzeiro, a ten-foot high cross made of granite where all processions would walk around before returning to the church. It was like the midpoint to a sacrifice or a pilgrimage. As if life at thirty-three was a midpoint of all the sacrifice in the walk of destiny and, maybe, time to start thinking of returning home. But where was home? Antonio thought in silence. Was it Portugal, the Portugal of the old days that no longer exists? Was it life with his friends and sense of family in Canada, or Portugal’s new European outlook towards life? He was puzzled. Next to the cruzeiro stood the parish priest’s house, an old house that had been abandoned many years ago. Himalaya must have lived here when he was a priest. It would make a wonderful parish museum, Antonio thought.

 

Antonio knew that the house, although in excellent condition, had been abandoned for longer than he could remember. He recalled playing in it when he was in Grade 1. The school was not far and, on rainy winter lunch hours, there was no better place to go. There was something mysterious about this house, and the children used to tell scary stories about the giant Himalaya priest that supposedly haunted the house. Antonio remembered best the solarium on the rooftop. He liked it because it was very warm in winter and presented a fantastic view of the entire São Tiago Valley. It must have been a great place to read, write, and study. It was so peaceful, thought Antonio.

 

Antonio remembered that Himalaya’s family had lived at the Casa da Costa, which was nearby, down the mountain, and where Himalaya’s descendants still lived. He decided to walk down and take a look at it.

 

It was a different road than the one he had used to reach the church, and one that he had sometimes taken as a child. He had not often gone that way for it took longer, was even steeper than the old Roman road, and had lots of overhanging eucalyptus trees. Some of the trees must have been more than a hundred years old. Although the region was dry, there must have been a good source of underground water, because eucalyptus trees needed a lot of water to survive. They were useful trees, full of medicinal qualities. Antonio could remember that every time he had a cold, his grandmother would make him breathe the steam of eucalyptus leaves soaking in hot water..

 

He approached the main gates of the Casa da Costa. It had been constructed a long time ago with solid granite pillars and a wooden roof. Suddenly, he felt scared and on his guard. He recalled visiting the house as a child at his grandmother’s request, but he could not remember why. He did recall, however, that the owner, Senhor Alberto, had a very mean dog and Antonio was very scared of dogs. That was a long time ago, he reminded himself, but he gathered up his courage anyway and proceeded down the long path to the house with extreme caution.

 

Just to the right of the house was a small chapel, once a sign of wealth. As it was very expensive to go to school, it was typical in northern Portugal for families to send only their oldest boy. Less prosperous families would enrol their children in a religious seminary to become priests. This is what had happened to Himalaya.

Collectively suppressing individuality through institutions of social control was a constant phenomenon, thought Antonio. Today, we are faced with the same dilemma. While the church and, in the case of Portugal, the state, does not have the same bureaucratic control, other agencies attempt to control society, and often with greater subtlety. While society’s goals are no longer imposed by force, violence and repression, the media—especially television—has a tremendous influence.

 

Although Himalaya excelled as a man of God, Antonio thought, he probably did not have much choice in becoming a priest. What would Himalaya become today? He wondered about the different pressures on how we mould the life or others nowadays.

 

He admired the old chapel and decided to peek through the cracks in the door. The inside was beautiful indeed. A clear transition from Gothic to Baroque with lots of trim and details painted in a rich gold. Strictly for the family’s use, no more than twenty people could fit inside. But then again, in the old days, the extended family was the norm, with cousins mixing as siblings on a daily basis. They must have fitted in rather tight, thought Antonio. It made Antonio wonder about his cousins and how he grown apart from them. Not because Canada was far from Portugal, but because his cousins had also emigrated to other parts of the world.

 

The chapel still had all of its statues, but it looked like it had not been used for many years. Since the church decreed that a property must belong to the church in order for it to hold religious services, many of these houses had lost the right to have a priest come and conduct private services, unless there was one in the family. In Himalaya’s time, many families had one or two sons who became priests.

 

Antonio moved on to admire the house. It was magnificent, built with large and perfectly cut stones. It had many windows facing south, all with granite sills and frames. He wanted to see more of it, especially the interior. He could not remember ever being inside of it, as it was regarded as the finest house of São Tiago.

“Who’s there?” asked a voice from the garden. Antonio recognised it immediately; it was Senhor Alberto’s.

 

“It’s me, Antonio, the grandchild of Maria da Soledade.”

 

“Antonio, why didn’t you call me? How long have you been waiting?” asked Senhor Alberto.

 

“Senhor Alberto, I just got here. I’ve been admiring your wonderful house and chapel. I have always loved this house; it makes me feel at home. But I know it is not really the house, but you. You were always such a nice man. You know, my grandmother always said nice things about you.”

 

“Your grandmother was my wife’s cousin. The blood of their family is something to be proud of.” He paused. “I’m sorry for your grandmother, Antonio. I see you are here on holidays and you probably feel the pain of losing that wonderful woman. I feel it with you, and I know how it feels; my wife has departed as well. I’m alone now, but I have my son and my daughter, many grandchildren, and I’m happy here,” Senhor Alberto ended with a smile.

 

“Thank you for your kind words about my grandmother,” Antonio replied. “I’m sorry for you as well. But I am also happy to see you again, especially in such good spirits, like always.”

 

“Where are my manners? Let’s go in and have something to eat and maybe some of my best wine,” invited Senhor Alberto. “Where is the wine, Gloria?” he called out in a loud voice as they entered through the kitchen door.

 

A pretty young woman came running from one of the rooms, a little nervous.

 

“Yes, Senhor Alberto, do you need something?” she asked.

 

“You don’t see? Are you blind? We have a guest. Now, go down to the cellar and bring a pitcher of red wine and some prosciutto. Oh, and the wine, take it from the big barrel in the far left corner,” he ordered.

 

“But that one has not been opened, yet. You said to never touch that one, that you were saving it for a special occasion,” the maid objected.

 

“Girl, this is a special occasion. When do you think we’re going to drink it? When I die?” roared the man of the house. The young woman took a ceramic wine jug and big kitchen knife, and disappeared.

 

“These maids, nowadays, are not the same anymore,” Senhor Alberto apologised. “She comes from a poor family up in the mountains. I don’t really want her here, but my children are afraid. Should something happen to me, she can at least go for help.”

 

“My parents have a maid with them as well. My mother said it’s getting harder and harder to find people willing to do farm work,” said Antonio.

 

“Oh, yes, I know her. Maria is a very fine girl. I know my daughter has spoken to your mother about having her come and help me out, since Gloria is going to join her husband in Andora next year.”

 

“Well, my parents are in an ‘empty nest.’ My bothers have emigrated as well, and I’m sure she will dispense her services for you. Maria is very hardworking.”

 

“As you can see with my age, I will not be around for long. So, tell me how you have been doing and what are your plans. At least I can keep those memories of you before you go away again,” remarked Senhor Alberto.

 

“Well, I decided to come for a visit, so I could deal with the death of my grandmother, but I also wanted to see my parents, the mountains, and the people. I miss everybody very much,” replied Antonio.

 

“But, how have you been doing?” he asked again.

 

“Well, after my grandmother’s death, I felt like something was missing. I also realised that I had to enjoy life and make something out of it,” replied Antonio.

 

“Now we’re talking. I like that. You see, Antonio, I’m an old man and I have no dreams anymore, but I have a heart that feels really good in the company of someone who is honest like you. You make me remember your grandmother and the old priest that used to live here. Your grandmother and Himalaya were people that loved giving. They were also honest and very hardworking. When they spoke, they always spoke from the heart, not from the mind. That is what made them great personalities in this community,” said Senhor Alberto with confidence.

 

“It’s interesting that you mentioned the priest that used to live here long ago, because that’s something I wanted to talk to you about,” began Antonio.

 

“If I can help, you know I will,” he offered.

 

“Well, I feel that I have something to learn from the story of this priest. I’m ashamed to say that all I know is some of the stories people used to tell about him,” said Antonio.

 

“Don’t be ashamed,” Senhor Alberto reassured Antonio. “People around here did not understand Padre Himalaya. He was ahead of his time. You know how people are around here, what they don’t understand they explain with a myth.”

 

“My grandmother told me once that he had magical powers and that he could kill all the pests of the land with special prayers,” said Antonio.

 

“And other people say he had a machine that could make rain,” Senhor Alberto continued. “The only thing people around here had right was that he discovered smokeless powder. Aside from this, they don’t know much about him.”

 

“What can you tell me about him, Senhor Alberto?” asked Antonio.

 

The maid walked in with the wine and a large piece of prosciutto. She placed the jug, the meat, and some cheese on a large cutting board in the middle of the table. Then she went to get the bowls for the wine by the sink.

 

“Don’t bring the old bowls. I want the good bowls from the china cabinet, and bring one for you, too. You’re going to listen to an important story,” ordered Senhor Alberto.

 

The maid did as she was told and, before sitting down, she brought a loaf of homemade cornbread. She cut the bread, cheese, and prosciutto. Then she poured the wine into the large bowls. Senhor Alberto’s and Antonio’s bowls were filled to the top and hers to midpoint. Senhor Alberto got up from his chair and finished pouring hers to the top as well.

 

“I know I sometimes sound rough with you, Gloria, but I want you to know that I do appreciate your services and, in my house, you will sit at our table, eat, and drink like a member of the family, you hear?”

 

The wine was strong and rich. It made a ring of colour around the bowl, clearly indicating it was a good wine. The cornbread was a little sour, just like Antonio’s grandmother’s. The prosciutto was not too dry, nor too humid, with a wonderful taste of garlic, white pepper, and red wine; aromas that could be sensed from afar.

 

“So, where were we? Ah! Himalaya! Well, he was, above all, a humanitarian and a fine human being. His first interest was science, but his teachers guided him into the Catholic religion and theology. Later on, he applied himself to natural sciences, but realised that the world was too greedy. He returned to a spiritual life in his last years and returned here to São Tiago. He was born here in this house just before Christmas in 1868 and attended the primary school in this region. Later on, he studied at the Seminary of Braga. That’s where all the troubles began. His real name was Manuel Antonio Gomes, but because he was so tall, he was nicknamed Himalaya, after the mountains in Nepal. He liked this nickname so much that he adopted it later on in life. He was an excellent student. He loved to read and study, and with access to books, he took interest in many philosophies. He read about other religions and other ways of life from all over the world.

 

“He finished his school in Braga and was ordained priest, but his interest was always natural sciences. He was a very curious person and wanted to explore the universe, but most of all, he wanted to help people use renewable energies for the improvement of life. To him, the powers of nature are part of the creation of God and for us to profit from. However, he did not believe in the destruction of the creation of God. That’s why his main fascination was solar energy.

 

“After his ordination in 1890, he went to Coimbra. It was a time of new ideas and revolutions. Karl Marx had died and many communist manuscripts were in circulation. Himalaya was not able to pursue his studies in natural sciences at the university there because he became friends with the wrong people and the wrong ideas. He went to Oporto in 1892 and worked for the Van Zeller family as the teacher of their children. He taught Portuguese, French, and even English. This job was not at all what he wanted from life, so he moved on to work at the convent and monastery of Vilar in Oporto. There, he was responsible for the repairs, while still performing his duties as a servant to the Lord.

 

“The nine years after he left Braga went by quickly. With no means to pursue his studies in France as he always wished for, his ideals and dreams of inventions always haunted him, and he became very unhappy in Oporto. That is, until one day, when someone showed some faith in him and his ideas. In 1899, he became close to a lady named Emilia dos Santos.”

 

“The priest met a lady?” interrupted the faithful Catholic maid in surprise.

 

“Will you sit still, drink your wine, and listen. I’m an old man, and I don’t know how many more times I will be able to tell this story.” Senhor Alberto took his big bowl and started to drink his wine as if it was water.

 

“This is the true way to enjoy wine and food. I see some people drinking good wine without food, or with food that does not deserve such a wine. To really enjoy wine with food, you have to drink it, and I do mean drink it!” exclaimed Senhor Alberto with gusto as he helped himself to more prosciutto and cornbread.

 

Antonio had many questions, but he knew better than to interrupt such a charismatic person. Senhor Alberto spoke of Himalaya as if he really was a mountain that could withstand the coldest temperatures or the defiance of man.

 

Antonio was enjoying the wonderful wine and the tasty treats. The wine was just as good as his father’s best. Senhor Alberto’s vineyard faced south, like his father’s, which produced the best grapes. South-facing lands are neither too wet nor too dry. You can tell in the bouquet of the wine and in its smoothness. There is no acidity, and it is full-bodied.

 

The prosciutto was also smoked to perfection with green pine, oak, and bay-leaf wood. The cheese was not local. São Tiago did not produce cheese, but it was close to the valley road that led to major cities. Milk gathered in the valley was sent to Viana do Castelo on the Atlantic coast, where Limiano cheese was produced with other milk from the district. Some farmers made their own cheeses, but much further up into the mountains of Arcos de Valdevez. Soajo and the neighbouring mountains communities had great goat cheese, the best Antonio had ever tasted. And to savour all of this with an old and unique family recipe for crusty cornbread made Antonio feel as if he was in Portuguese heaven.

 

The best was the story, of course, and Antonio was trying to keep track of it all. Listening to Senhor Alberto was like living someone else’s life, while drinking excellent wine.

 

“Where was I?” asked Senhor Alberto.

 

“You were saying how Himalaya became close to a lady called Emilia,” replied the maid with a curious spirit.

 

“Oh, yes. This educated lady was from Brazil and very wealthy. She was on a short stay at the convent of Vilar and became fascinated by Himalaya’s ideas to the point of financing his studies and inventions. That’s how Himalaya found the means to study in France at the Institute of Paris, the College of France, and the Observatory of Astronomy and Physics of Meudon. There he met many well-known scientists, like Pierre Berthelot, and started to work on his favourite dream and invention, the solar furnace. In September 1899, he took out a patent from the French government for his machine that captured the sun’s heat. His first invention looked like parabola with hundreds of small mirrors that could reflect and concentrate the solar heat on one focal point.

 

“Himalaya was extremely curious and passionate. He wanted to know all about the universe, and solar energy. But all he was able to accomplish was to build a solar furnace that could reach very high temperatures.

 

“After the first machine came the second, then the third, and the fourth. The fourth one came from a combination of research in Paris, London, and Lisbon. He perfected the mirrors made of crystal and invented a mechanism that would move the mirrors all day long for the machine to follow the sun, obtain more heat, and achieve better results.

“After the fourth version, he was ready to expose it to the world, and there was no better place than the United States of America. At least that’s what he thought. In 1904, he transported his latest model to the World’s Fair in St. Louis, Missouri. There, he set it up outside, and his invention won the Grand Prize. Gold and silver medals were awarded to the people involved in the building and financing of it. It reached 3,800 degrees and could melt any metal—the highest temperatures ever achieved with a similar apparatus. He was very pleased, but his luck was about to turn sour.

 

“Under the invitation of Dr. Woodwar of the Carnegie Institute in Washington, he decided to stay awhile in the United States and teach physics and chemistry. He also studied iris diagnosis at the Carver Institute in New York. He made many discoveries and applied them on himself. He was a vegetarian and strongly believed in healing by water treatment. He was invited to work for the U.S. Department of Defense, and while away to test his other inventions—like the smokeless powder—with the U.S. army, his machine was stolen.

 

“Later on, he returned to Portugal to work on his smokeless powder, which was more effective and safer than dynamite. He invented a canon, which he used with his potent explosive to fire a prism into the air to force condensation and rain.

 

“He was very active, travelling a lot. He returned to the United States to do more work and research until he decided to accept an invitation to Argentina. He had not concluded his writings and reports regarding his inventions, and he wanted a quiet place to do so. From 1927 to 1932, he lived in Argentina. He taught, researched, and worked on his theory of the forces of nature. It was an attempt to explain the origin of solar heat and energy, as well as that of the stars and the universe. Some of his manuscripts about the origin of solar radiation and solar winds have been found, but they were incomplete. In Argentina, he worked as a teacher at the Reformatory of Jauregui and researched the agriculture and flora of the country. During his free time, he wrote about his research and inventions in a book called the Mechanical Constitution of the Universe. However, he realised that he was not going to discover the secrets of the universe, but only contribute to our knowledge of it. He also discovered that it didn’t matter how the universe works, but how our soul searches for purification.

 

“He became very ill while in Argentina and very much a man of faith once again. He returned to Portugal and, although he was becoming weaker, he still worked in Viana do Castelo in the reformation of the convent before he died in 1933. His funeral was small, since the church had its reservations as to his life. But he got a decent burial here in São Tiago—his niche.

 

“And that, my dear friends, is his life story,” Senhor Alberto concluded as he drained his bowl.

 

“What happened to all his inventions and riches?” asked Antonio curiously.

 

“He left everything to humanity, except for a small pension that he left to one of his maids. Apparently she had saved his life once when he was working with the explosives and a fire broke out,” Senhor Alberto replied.

 

“Wow, I had no idea that a priest from my hometown had made such discoveries. Do you think he ever loved a woman?” asked Antonio.

 

“A priest is also a man, and in a letter he wrote to his brother, he indicated that he had experienced temptation, but remained a faithful son and servant of God,” answered Senhor Alberto.

 

The story had been long, and although Antonio had found it fascinating, the maid had fallen sound asleep, resting her head on her arms on the old farm table.

 

“Don’t wake her up. She’s young, but she needs a rest like all of us. Come, I’m going to show you my house,” whispered Senhor Alberto as he got up slowly. Antonio did the same, but immediately felt a little dizzy from the wine. Senhor Alberto showed him the huge house and all its antiques. There was a story associated with each one, and Antonio, although not as interested as before, tried to show respect. To Antonio these kinds of furnishings and rooms were something he felt only nostalgia; he much preferred modern comforts.

 

“My daughter wants to transform the house into a sort of bed and breakfast for tourists. She doesn’t need the money, but she is passionate to share the life of Himalaya.”

 

“I think it’s a great idea, Senhor Alberto. If I meet anyone in Canada that wants to come and experience this rural, medieval life, I will recommend your place,” offered Antonio.

 

The house visit turned into a tour of the gardens, the farm, and then the stables. The cows were Senhor Alberto’s pride.

 

“Look at my cows, are they fat or not?” asked the pleased Senhor Alberto.

 

“They are very good looking cows and an excellent breed,” observed Antonio, knowing well how to flatter a fellow countryman.

 

“Come, I’m going to show you the chapel. It’s not in the best condition—my daughter already started the renovations for tourism—but it’s very beautiful.”

 

They walked over to the Costa’s little chapel. The day was coming to an end, but the clouds allowed some weak January sunlight to shine through. When they arrived at the chapel, Senhor Alberto reached up over the door into a crack in the granite stones and pulled out a very large key. He had difficulty turning it in the huge keyhole in the large wooden door. It didn’t sound like a very smooth lock, and it took a couple of shakes and pulls of the door for the key to work. Who needs a home security system with such an ingenious lock and key! As they entered, the big bell tolled five o’clock from the São Tiago church tower at the top of the mountain. The little chapel shook in concert with the reverberating bell, scattering dust from the ceiling.

“Well, this is the place where Padre Himalaya conducted services for his family,” remarked Senhor Alberto, brushing dust from his clothes and face.

 

The setting sun blazed through the half-moon glass window over the main door and pierced the central niche, where a monstrance, a small transparent compartment in which the consecrated Host is exposed for veneration, is usually placed. Instead, there was a statue of São Tiago, seemingly come to life by the brilliant rays of the sun.

 

“Senhor Alberto, if that is the central niche for the holy sacrament, why is the statue of São Tiago there?”

 

“You know, that has always been a mystery to me. The chapel is as it was in the time of Himalaya, except for the monstrance. I have documents regarding the chapel, which describe a monstrance made of crystal and gold. Nowhere do they mention a little statue of São Tiago, so I can’t really answer your question. One way or the other,” Senhor Alberto hesitated briefly, “it looks wonderful there, whether or not it is its place.”

 

Antonio wondered about his own life and how he, too, was comfortable in Ottawa, and wondered if that was his rightful place. Like Himalaya probably wondered when he became sick in Argentina. However, life in Ottawa could be very stressful and there was not much to feel connected to. Here, life was simple, in harmony with nature, where people found peace and a sense of belonging by working the land and being close to their families and friends. It was as if Antonio was not comfortable living anywhere, he thought with irritation. He could find more comfort in the “long ago” as he knew it, than he could find in the present, whether in Portugal or Canada. He thought about how the Portuguese had left their country to dedicate their lives to other nations. He also thought of all the people in the world who left their niche to look for a better life, consequently leaving behind those who could have used their help.

 

He could have stayed in Portugal. His parents, too, could have stayed with him instead of emigrating to Canada and leaving him and his brothers with their grandmother, he thought. But Antonio pushed aside his regrets. He was now in the presence of something bigger. This time he felt a strong sense of purpose. He felt that all he had been through was for a reason, maybe for a purification of the soul, or the discovery of ultimate insight. Maybe it was to reveal a mystery; the mystery of Manuel Antonio Gomes the Himalaya, perhaps? Or was it simply feeling very welcome in his native land due to the effects of a bowl of wine and some salted prosciutto.

 

“You’re right, Senhor Alberto, it does look good there,” Antonio finally said. Why bother the old man? It was enough just to enjoy his excellent company.

 

“Well, my boy, there you have it. I hope I have been of some assistance, and I hope you come back to see me next time you come to Portugal. I am old, but I have a feeling I’m going to see you again.”

 

“For sure! With such wonderful hospitality who would be crazy enough not to come back? As for your health: good people live a long life, and you’re certainly a good candidate for many more years,” Antonio complimented his host.

 

“You really take after your grandmother, Antonio. Say hello to your mother and father for me,” concluded Senhor Alberto as Antonio started to walk back out the long vine-covered entrance.

 

Antonio walked down the long path that led out of the property. But where was the gate? Antonio was sure there had been a gate when he entered the property. Maybe he had gotten turned around? But, no, there was something mysterious about the chapel, too. It was as if the sunlight and the sound of the church bells had taken him to another dimension. “Maybe the wine has made my mind fool my heart,” he wondered as he walked home to his mother’s house.

 

Suddenly, he realised that his mother was going to be furious because he had missed lunch. At the same time, he remembered, she was going to be pleased because he would be home for dinner.

 

He found his parents sitting in the dining room watching a Brazilian soap opera on TV. Apparently, it was a daily habit at dinnertime. Their children and grandchildren all lived in foreign countries, so they had no one else to talk to at home. Plus, a good Brazilian soap was always fun.

 

“Where have you been all day? Did you meet a beautiful young widow at the cemetery?” asked his mother ironically as Maria, the maid, released a giggle. She, too, was welcomed at the table instead of eating in the kitchen like in the old days. Actually, his mother was the one who always did the cooking and serving. The maid was more of a farm worker who happened to sleep there.

 

They ate as if it was an Italian wedding—Portuguese and Italians are very close in culture. As Antonio helped himself to extra servings, he thought of the diet he would have to go on after his return to Canada.

 

The soap opera was interesting, too. The last scene was crazy, wild, passionate, seemingly never-ending love-making between the son of the rich Brazilian cattle king and the maid.

 

Afterwards, they watched the news and Antonio’s father gave him an update on Portuguese politics. His father was politically very active. The rest of the evening was spent talking about old stories and future plans. His mother asked the maid to do the dishes and was the first one to go to bed. Antonio and his father spent some time alone talking about Brazil and the time his father spent there before his marriage. Then they talked about France, where he had lived after his marriage for a few years, and finally Canada. Antonio was ten years old when he and his brothers rejoined their parents in Canada. His father talked about working hard in construction and saving as much as possible. All with the goal of one day returning to Portugal and having the comfort he wanted for his family.

 

Eventually, the wine jug was empty, and his father, who was exhausted from a hard day on the farm, went to bed, asking Antonio to turn off the lights.

 

Antonio took the glasses and the empty wine jug to the kitchen and found the maid still cleaning up.

 

“I guess we had a lot of dishes tonight?” remarked Antonio.

 

“Your mother never cooks this much anymore. She usually makes simple dishes, but because you’re here, she wants to show her love for you,” said the maid.

 

“Yes, I know, she was never very good with caresses or words of affection, but she always showed us she loved us in other ways. Sometimes I wish she could just say it, instead of going to all this work. Here, let me help or you’re going to be here all night,” offered Antonio.

 

“You’re very kind. What’s a nice-looking man like you doing all alone so far away from here? Why don’t you come back and live here?” asked Maria. “You would make your parents very happy.”

 

“Really? I don’t know why for sure. All I know is that I feel comfortable in Ottawa, and I like it there,” said Antonio as he finished drying the last few dishes.

 

“One day you are going to realise that it is good to have someone next to you when you’re old, especially people that care for you. There is nothing else in this world that can make us happy, this is what your grandmother used to say,” Maria continued.

 

“You knew my grandmother?” asked Antonio.

 

“Yes, I was with her when it happened. I had been working for her for about a year at your mother’s request. I was very close to her. She was such a sweet lady, and she had an enormous strength. She was incredible. She made me feel like I could achieve anything I wished for,” Maria sighed.

 

“Did she suffer?” asked Antonio with a trembling voice.

 

“No. She was simply talking, saying how much she missed the grandchildren that had emigrated and that her head hurt. Then she fell to the side and that was it. It all happened so fast. I remember looking at her and screaming. It was strange,” Maria continued, tears in her eyes, “because she was still smiling. The same smile as when she was talking about her grandchildren. They brought her peace and happiness, I guess.”

 

“Thank you for telling me this,” said Antonio.

 

“Senhor, do you wish for anything else?” asked the maid as she finished putting the cleaning supplies away.

 

“I need to take some pills for a back problem I have. A little hot milk with some whole wheat bread would help my stomach,” Antonio replied.

 

“It will take a few minutes. I’ll bring it up to your room, Senhor,” Maria offered.

 

Antonio went upstairs, past many doors until he finally arrived at his old room. His parents had a room on the main floor. It was more practical for them that way—no stairs.

 

Antonio started preparations for the next day. He was going to the Vila of Arcos de Valdevez and do some research on Himalaya at the municipal library.

 

“Senhor Antonio, your milk is ready,” the maid said from outside his door.

“Come in, you can leave it on the writing desk. Thank you,” said Antonio without looking up. He was getting his briefcase and laptop ready. He also wanted to research the commercial markets for lumber in Portugal. Canada had excellent hardwood, and he figured that Portugal, which has mainly softwood, would have a demand.

 

“You seem to have a very bad posture,” observed Maria.

 

“I had a car accident a while back. I suffer from whiplash, and ankylosing spondylitis is building in the damaged joints,” explained Antonio. “As a result, I’m must change my career!”

 

“That’s the blood of your grandmother boiling in your veins,” Maria smiled.

 

“It’s easy to say, but sometimes it seems very hard, especially when it’s painful, like today. I guess I should not drink wine and take medication at the same time. But how can I not when it is part of the culture?” pondered Antonio.

 

“Lie down,” Maria suggested. “I’m going to give you a massage and you’re going to feel much better.”

 

Antonio thought this was very strange and inappropriate. This was Portugal, she was the maid, and it was past midnight in his room on the empty second floor. Then he thought that in Ottawa he had many massages by women. So why should it be any different?

 

“Okay,” Antonio agreed hesitantly, “but I feel a little uncomfortable about this.”

 

“Ah! Stop living in the past. This is a new millennium, not the Middle Ages,” she said as she turned on the electric heater. “Get undressed and cover yourself with the bed sheet. I’m going to get a warm towel.”

 

When she returned, Antonio had fallen asleep lying on his belly, covered only by a thin sheet. The room was very warm, and he had had a very long day.

 

He woke up to a hot towel on the back of his neck. He turned his head to the side, but could only see Maria’s long round skirt. Her hands dropped slowly to the middle of his back. The pressure was just right to relieve the tension in those tight muscles. Then she lowered the sheet, still covering his buttocks, and moved the hot towel to the lower back. She began to work gently on the neck.

 

“It smells like olive oil and eucalyptus,” mumbled Antonio, sleepy and relaxed.

 

“That’s because it is, but there is something else. Try to guess.” Maria continued the sublime massage of his neck.

 

“Well, the olive oil is soft and the eucalyptus is the overpowering scent, but its true that there is something else. It can’t be roses, can it?” asked Antonio taking in the soft scent of spring. “You’re using roses on my back?”

 

“I’m using an old-fashion recipe made from crushed eucalyptus seeds and olive oil. The roses are my perfume, you silly,” she laughed as she moved the towel further down started to massage his lower back. The heat on his sacroiliac joints was divine. His lower back was enjoying the pleasure of her magical hands. He relaxed completely. He began to wonder how far down she was going to go. Imagination and expectation made him squirm. After a while, she removed the hot towel completely and massaged his tail bone and surrounding areas. Antonio felt like he was in heaven. It was without a doubt the best massage he had ever received.

 

“Thank you, you are very kind,” he said with some reluctance, knowing that the massage was over. “Maybe you should go get some rest now. It is getting late, and I feel much better.” Antonio realised he couldn’t get up without embarrassing himself.

She moved her hand slowly up his back, around his neck, and into his hair. He could feel her hand, but also her warm body, which gently brushed his back. She continued massaging his scalp very gently, her long loose hair caressing his skin. Gently, he felt a light kiss on the nape of his neck. He was so relaxed that he allowed it to continue. The kisses were sweet and they moved down his spine as her hands continued to caress his head and shoulders. He could not resist any more. He turned around and looked straight into her eyes. He touched her hair, then cupped his hand around her face, drawing her towards him. The kiss started slowly, then intensified until passion coursed through both of them. He fumbled to unfasten her many layers of clothing.

 

“No, no,” she objected softly.

 

“What do you mean by no?” Antonio was very confused. He didn’t want to stop and was finding it very difficult to respect Maria’s wishes.

 

“I’m still a virgin,” she whispered. “I guess I got carried away.”

 

“You’re a what? Oh, I forgot I was in Portugal.” Antonio was frustrated.

 

“It’s not stupid,” her voice trembled with anger, “and you will one day realise why things are the way they are.”

 

“I don’t accept all the conservative Portuguese ways, and I’m not a priest,” Antonio snapped.

 

“No, you’re not. You’re a blind man. I have been around here for many years and you have never even looked at me. I’m sorry for being so weak, but I have been in love with you for so long and I never had the chance to tell you. Every time you came back on holidays you never stayed long enough for me to gather the courage,” she cried.

 

Antonio sighed. This was getting complicated. “Look, I’m sorry if I was blind. You’re right, I never looked at you. But I am now and, my God, you are beautiful. I never noticed how your hair shines and how soft your skin is. But I did see that you are a good girl, serious, and very hardworking.”

 

“I should go to my room,” Maria murmured as she gathered up her things. “This is not the right place for me. If your mother finds out, she’ll fire me.”

 

“No. Stay. You can sleep close to me.” Antonio lifted the bed sheet to welcome her.

 

She paused briefly. Then, she turned to put out the light. In the darkness, he felt her slide into the bed beside him. But the events and emotions of the day had taken their toll. A wave of fatigue washed over him, bringing sleep in its wake. His last conscious sensation was Maria drawing near. He stretched out his arm and she laid her head on his shoulder. He embraced her as if he had known her for a long time and fell asleep.

 

 

Chapter 9—Back to Work

 

Going back to work after holidays is not easy. Antonio didn’t like his job. It was stressful and a source of great frustration. He worked as a salesperson for an Ottawa company that did residential and commercial hardwood flooring. He found it exhausting—coping with difficult clients, scheduling the jobs, and collecting the money afterwards. He had always dreamed of selling Canadian hardwood abroad, but did not feel he had the education to succeed in such a field. Returning to school to get the necessary knowledge and qualifications seemed to be an impossible dream.

 

His flight from London had gone well and, as usual, he called his mom to let her know he was back in Canada in one piece.

 

“Don’t forget to eat well,” she emphasised before the end of their conversation.

 

She worried too much about how her kids ate—not what they ate, rather how much they ate. It was a sign of prosperity to have an abundance of food.

 

He was happy that he arrived on the weekend and didn’t have to work for a few more days. It was sort of vacation from the vacation. But Monday soon knocked on the door,and he was back to work and hell. His in-box was full of e-mails, and although some of it was the usual junk or meaningless jokes from people he knew, there was one that provided a pleasant surprise. It was from Terry. He was happy to see that his travelling friend remembered him.

 

Terry enthused about all the things they had done together and what he had done on the farm with Antonio’s parents. He wrote about pruning the vines, storing the chestnuts, bottling the wine, and feeding the animals. At the end, however, was the most exciting news of all. Amongst the memorabilia of the St. Louis World’s Fair his father had stored, was the machine that matched the description, size, and number of mirrors that Antonio had told him about.

 

It was obviously a machine identical to the solar furnace built by Himalaya for the St. Louis World’s Fair.

 

Antonio was so excited he could not concentrate on his work. He picked up the telephone and called Terry immediately.

 

“Come on, Terry, answer the phone, answer the phone,” Antonio muttered to himself excitedly.

 

“Hello,” said a voice on the other end of the line.

 

“Terry, is that you?”

 

“No, this is his son, John. Just a minute and I’ll get him for you. May I ask who’s calling?”

 

“This is Antonio from Ottawa.”

 

“Oh, yes. My father has told me all about the good times you two had together in Portugal. And about the machine. There is no doubt in my mind this is it. According to what Dad said, we possess a major discovery from the early twentieth century.”

 

“You have no idea how happy I am to hear that. Himalaya maintained that his machine was stolen. Its discovery would mean a lot to Portugal.”

 

“I’ll let you speak to my father. He has just come back from doing some research at the library on the exposition. He might have more information for you.”

“Hello, Antonio,” Terry’s voice seemed content.

 

“Hello, my friend, so you believe it’s the machine of Padre Himalaya?”

 

“Antonio, I know you’re excited, but first I want you to know that I had the time of my life in northern Portugal, and it was all because of you. As for the machine, it wasn’t stolen, but rather damaged and then sold to the U.S. government. My father bought it at some government surplus auction.”

 

“You mean to tell me it was never stolen by the petroleum industry, as people suggested? But why would Himalaya sell it to the government of the United States when he was such a patriotic Portuguese?” asked Antonio.

 

“It what puzzles me, too, but my theory is that he probably needed the money to continue his research in other areas and, according to my son, he didn’t really sell the whole invention. It appears he didn’t want to perfect his invention any further, as it was too powerful, and was sparking interest by the wrong people for the wrong purposes.”

 

“How did you find out all of this?” asked Antonio.

 

“The 1904 fair is well-documented, and I do have a few friends in the defense department. And while I don’t completely understand all the technical terminology, according to my son, it’s not that obvious that the machine is missing a part.”

 

“I wish I could see it. It must be beautiful.”

 

“What are you waiting for?” exclaimed Terry. “You know you’re welcome in my house any time.”

 

“You’re right. What am I waiting for?” agreed Antonio. “Terry, I’m going to take you up on it. I’m going to take a few more days and come see you. I can’t wait to see the machine.”

 

“Don’t you worry. We’ll take good care of it for you, Antonio.”

 

Antonio was so excited he didn’t even finish reading his other e-mails. He turned off his computer and went straight to his boss’s office.

 

“I need a few more days off, Bob. Something’s just come up.”

 

“But you’re just back,” Bob replied in exasperation. “And I was hoping to take some time off.” Bob saw the look on Antonio’s face. “Okay, Antonio, but I need you back soon. Spring is coming, and you know how the builders are. They expect our shirt and take our blood if we don’t give it to them.”

 

“Don’t worry,” Antonio reassured his boss. “I’ve got some ideas that will generate more money for the company.”

 

“I can’t wait, Antonio, I can’t wait.” And Bob buried himself back under the paperwork.

 

Antonio went home and loaded his unpacked bags into his car, and he was off again.

 

 

“Antonio, my friend,” Terry greeted him at the door, “I’m so happy to see you and get the opportunity to thank you for all the kindness you and your family showed me in Portugal. Come in. My daughter-in-law is going to prepare a great dinner for us tonight.”

 

“Not until I see that machine, Terry. It’s been on my mind for quite some time now. And being this close, I think I’d burst if I didn’t see it right away. I sure hope it’s the one.” Antonio was tired after the long drive and the smells from the kitchen reminded him that he hadn’t had a good home-cooked meal since leaving his uncle’s home in Paris. How long ago was that? It seemed like a lifetime.

 

“Okay, Antonio. John, come with us. We’ll all go down to the warehouse.”

 

They drove a couple of blocks to a shop with a sign that read Turn of the Century Antiques. It had a small storefront, and Antonio wondered if this could possibly be the resting place of such a gigantic apparatus. He felt a little depressed. He might have been running like a fool for nothing.

 

Inside, the crowded aisles forced them to walk in single file to the back of the store. Antonio did not see anything that resembled the famous fourth model of the solar furnace, based on his research.

 

John opened a narrow door and stepped aside, as did Terry, to allow Antonio to enter first. Antonio was absolutely astounded. It was a huge warehouse at the back of the shop with a towering ceiling and a king’s ransom of weird and wonderful things. In the centre, tarps covered a massive mystery. Was this it? Antonio wondered. He couldn’t remember ever feeling so excited. Antonio looked up and saw a giant skylight. It looked new.

 

“When I tested the machine, I found it easier to install a skylight than move the machine outside,” John explained.

 

Terry drew near the machine and picked up a corner of the tarpaulin.

 

“Before I reveal it to you, Antonio, I want you to know that it is a gift to you from us in appreciation for the wonderful time I had at your house in Portugal.” Antonio couldn’t speak, he was so overwhelmed. “Well, here it goes.” The canvas gave way to a spectacular machine that was more a work of art than an instrument of industry.

 

It was majestic. It stood tall and solid like the Eiffel Tower, with thousands of mirrors made of fine crystal that sparkled brilliantly. The entire apparatus curved gracefully to the focus point on the ground, the furnace. Around it there was some sort of mechanical clock, as fine as any jeweller could craft, mounted on a circular railing system.

 

“But, you told me it had been damaged, and it is in such a perfect condition.” Antonio had not expected to see it in such good shape.

 

“The U.S. National Defense tried to put it to work, and they replaced all the parts,” said Terry.

 

“I’m going to open the skylight to its fullest,” offered John.

 

Although it was late afternoon, there was enough sunlight to strike the dish in such a way that brought the machine to life. It started to rotate and make strange movements and noises.

 

“What the hell is going on?” asked Antonio as he stepped back in alarm.

 

“Not to worry,” John reassured Antonio. “It’s just the sun-clock automatic mechanism moving the dish to best capture the sun. The mirrors are designed to produce the narrowest focus point possible. This will soon start to heat up the furnace, resulting in extremely high temperatures.”

 

Antonio could not take his eyes off the machine. He was overwhelmed by the invention. It was so old and yet it worked like a charm. Each part had been manufactured to perfection, using the best materials available. It must have cost a fortune, he thought.

 

“Himalaya must have had supreme faith in what he was doing,” John commented.

 

“I can’t believe my eyes,” said Antonio, still awestruck. “According to the pictures, this is obviously the one. But it just doesn’t seem possible that someone from such a poorly developed country, like Portugal, would have invented, let alone constructed, such a marvel.”

 

“Antonio,” began Terry, “after what I have seen in your hometown, such a discovery can only come from one who truly believes in the search for God. You see, I believe that any man who tries to make discoveries for the purposes of evil can never succeed to this magnitude.

 

“You, too, have a gift because you were born there. You are more ready for life than many others. Use it for yourself. If I were you, I would be like Himalaya. Dedicate your soul to your goals, and you will find success and peace.”

 

Antonio was having a hard time trying to take everything in, let alone understand it.

 

“I figured out almost everything about the machine,” continued John, “and it’s a very affordable way to reach high temperatures. Checking the Internet, I found several instances of giant solar furnaces throughout the world being used to produce electricity and heat. Some are being used for other purposes, like the one at White Sands Missile Range Base. However, that does not explain the missing part.”

 

“What missing part?” asked Antonio, his eyes quickly scanning the furnace. “It seems complete to me.”

 

“It’s not obvious at first, but look here. There is a slot where it appears to me that there is a part missing.”

 

“Are you sure that’s not the hole to introduce the metals to test whether or not they would melt?” Antonio had read about this function in Himalaya’s biographies.

 

“Yes,” agreed John, “it may well be for that purpose, but its shape is too odd and at the same time too perfect. I do not believe that someone would design such a perfect machine and, at the same time, be so careless with the design of the furnace hole.”

 

“Antonio, I know my son well. He is very observant and does his homework,” remarked Terry with confidence.

 

“If the furnace is incomplete, then where is the missing part and what would it do?” Antonio was still thinking about how amazing the machine was. It perfectly represented hard work, dedication, and courage. If only I could make my dreams come true with the same persistence and fervour, he thought.

 

“Antonio, when we were in Portugal, you told me Himalaya was a humanist and that his discoveries were based on the will to help humanity. Maybe the missing part has something to do with Himalaya’s personal philosophy.” Terry tried to help.

 

“My father has a point, but looking at this machine and its potential for warfare, I would say . . . Himalaya gave up on it. When he realised that only the armies were interested in such equipment he decided not to complete it.”

 

Antonio jumped in. “Well, my research indicates that it was just a solar furnace to melt metals, and it was stolen from its storage place in St. Louis while Himalaya went to work at the Carnegie Institute. It was speculated that the petroleum industry was involved in the machine’s disappearance. They thought it would harm their business.

 

“One way or the other, next to his smokeless powder invention, which he tested in many locations in the U.S, it was his biggest invention.” Antonio began to wonder why this priest was so attracted to power, heat, and explosions.

 

Then he remembered that Himalaya wanted to know the universe and why it worked the way it did. At the same time, he was a servant of God, yet a man who could produce astonishing forces. It was as if knowledge of the universe was not out there to see and learn, but rather inside the human spirit to explore and understand.

 

“Maybe there is a connection between his inventions,” John mused. “Maybe they’re not separate inventions, but rather inventions that go together somehow. That might be why he gave up on this machine. He wanted to move on to the next step of his theory, which was the explosive powder.”

 

“Slow down, John, you’re going too fast for me,” cautioned Antonio. “I know his explosive was safer and stronger than dynamite, but he left well-documented results on this invention and there was even a factory in Lisbon at one point. It’s very obvious that it was a separate invention and that he tried to make money off of it.”

 

“Then maybe this solar furnace is just what it is,” offered Terry.

 

Antonio nodded in agreement. “The solar furnace has its own story. You see, when Himalaya was a little boy in São Tiago, he saw his father guiding rainwater into the fields. Even though it was already raining, his father would not mind getting all wet for such a task. Himalaya was a very curious little boy and asked why his father would do such things. The response, as in many other old sayings in São Tiago, was that it was good for the land. Later, while studying chemistry in Braga, he learned that rainwater is full of nutrients that are good for the land. These nutrients are formed by nature’s reactions in the atmosphere. He realised that what permitted this was not the electrical discharge, but rather the enormous heat that thunder could produce. That’s why he was always interested in the separation of nitrogen from the atmosphere. Unfortunately, he could not afford to pursue this theory, so the discovery of chemical separation of nitrogen from the atmosphere was awarded to a German professor.

 

“To make a long story short, he wanted to use heat to form a ray powerful enough to test whether or not matter is indestructible and to produce oxidation of nitrogen. So, in today’s words, he wanted to create a very strong laser that was naturally powered.”

 

“That’s it!” John piped up all excited. “That’s what the hole on the side of the furnace was for. He must have had another part that could produce a laser beam of some sort, and that explains the testing at White Sands Missile Range Base.”

 

“John, you didn’t listen to Antonio,” cautioned his father. “Himalaya wanted to produce enough heat for a chemical separation.”

 

“Precisely my point. Sun rays focussed on one point are not just heat. They are also a wind and a transportation agent. If you mix a chemical that releases into other chemicals and simultaneously transport it at a certain speed, you can make a hole in the moon.” John’s voice faded at the end as he realised the enormity of what he just said.

 

“Antonio, I hope you understand what he’s talking about because, to me, it’s gibberish.”

 

“Terry, his logic makes sense from a physics and chemistry perspective. However, I don’t see how it would be powerful enough for any real danger. It only reached 3,800 degrees, hardly enough to melt all metals, let alone travel in laser-like fashion for long distances.”

 

“You’re right, Antonio. I’m getting a little carried away here, but he was ahead of his time, you know that,” stressed John.

 

“Yes, he was,” Antonio agreed, “and if something like that was possible, he would not have revealed it. He had an incredible love for mankind and he would not jeopardise that one bit. Besides, this is all speculation,” he realised.

 

“You two boys are young. At my age, all I can understand from this machine is that it brings out the best in young minds and it makes them curious and hungry for knowledge. I hope Himalaya’s work will motivate you to search for the universe.” Terry placed his hands on Antonio’s and John’s shoulders. “Now, why don’t you boys continue your speculations later? I’m hungry, and I’m sure Sarah’s wonderful meal is more than ready. Let’s go home.” They closed the shop and returned to Terry’s house.

 

On their short ride home, Antonio’s mind became clear as to what Himalaya would have become if he was born a hundred years later—a pioneer scientist in space light travel.

 

 

Terry shared his home with John, Sarah, and their ten-year-old son, Philip.

 

“This is excellent wine, Terry,” remarked Antonio as they waited for supper to be served. “What is it?”

 

“Don’t you recognize it? It’s from your father’s farm.”

 

“Yes, you’re right, but there is a small change in it. Vinho verde—green or young wine—doesn’t travel very well and usually becomes a little flat on the palate.”

 

“Flat on the palate or not, it is excellent, and my father-in-law brought a lot home, plus some grapa and cornbread,” remarked Sarah as she carried in the roast and baked potatoes. “Where’s Philip?” she asked John.

 

“I’ll go call him, he’s probably on the computer.” John left to find Philip.

 

“Antonio, I hope,” continued Sarah, “that one day I can visit your parents’ place, too, and taste that wonderful wine straight from the barrel. And the rest . . .”

 

“Knowing my mother, she probably stuffed things in Terry’s bag without him even noticing.”

 

“That’s exactly what happened. I didn’t even know I had those things in my bag until I got to U.S. customs. Your mother put me in a bit of trouble, because I had more bottles than I was claiming. It took some fancy talking to allow me through—and they kept the sausages.”

 

“I know, she does the same to me. I usually check my bags a second time after leaving the house, so that doesn’t happen. As for the sausages, I usually eat them before entering Canada. Once, a customs officer that recognised me from a previous trip asked me if I brought any sausages. I responded yes. Then he asked me where they were. I told in him they were in my stomach and that there was none left for him.” They all laughed.

 

“You mean to tell me,” Sarah addressed Terry, “you slept and ate at his house for free, then were loaded down with gifts from the farm? I guess I can’t charge you for dinner, Antonio,” Sarah teased.

 

A boy came running to the table followed by John.

 

“What’s for dinner?” he asked as he sat down and started preparing himself a plate. “Wow, my favourite, roast beef and potatoes.”

 

“It’s this gentleman’s favourite, too,” said Terry as he pointed to Antonio.

 

The little boy became shy and stared at his plate. He had forgotten they were having company.

 

“Computers are my favourite, too,” said Antonio with a welcoming smile. “I like to play games. What kind of games do you have, Philip?”

His face lit up, and all shyness disappeared.

 

“I have lots of games. Do you want to play with me after dinner? I’ll show you some really cool ones.”

 

“Okay, now that you two have met, why don’t we all eat?” Sarah sat down, John poured more wine, and the table became the centre of the universe for a few hours. It had the same warmth of family as the old house where Antonio had been born and raised.

 

After playing some computer games with Philip and bidding John and Sarah good night, Antonio and Terry sat in front of the fireplace enjoying a glass of fine port that Terry had also brought from Portugal.

 

“You see, Antonio, this is why I’m in such good health.” Terry made a gesture indicating his surroundings, house, and family.

 

“Well, I hope I can still play golf like you when I get to your age.”

 

“Then you better start practising,” Terry laughed.

 

“I practise a lot. In addition, I’m considering joining a golf school so I can be in top shape for the summer.”

 

“Oh, Antonio, I don’t think you understood me. What I meant is family. You had better start practising family. The family is at the centre of all things in our lives. If there is no sense of family, whether in the blood or human relationship sense, then we are like the lost sheep, and it will take an enormous amount of love to come and rescue us.”

 

“It’s easy for you to say, Terry, but I’m divided between two worlds. I love Ottawa very much, but I feel a little like our old inventor Himalaya. I also have spent my twenties paying for my sins. When he was eighteen, he wanted to study sciences instead of becoming a priest. I have always wanted to have a business and raise a family. I haven’t been able to do either the way I visualised them when I was younger.”

 

“You’re only in your early thirties. Everything is still possible.” Terry paused. “I remember a beautiful young woman looking very intensely at you in Portugal.”

 

“Maria?”

 

“She’s a woman, isn’t she?

 

“Yes, but . . .”

 

“But what? Do you think you’re going to find any better? She really likes you, you know!”

 

“Yeah, I know. But Terry, I have never been able to truly love a woman. I think I’m afraid that they will leave me one day, like my mother did when I was just a baby. I love my mother very much, but there is a part of me that doesn’t really know her. I don’t feel loved by my parents, I feel they like me, but love is more complicated. I’m afraid to be like them and I will never really know how much I can love a woman.”

 

“Maybe you’re the one who should have been a priest.”

 

“I would be a bad servant of God. I like women too much,” laughed Antonio.

 

“So, what are you going to do with your machine?” asked Terry, changing the subject.

 

“Terry, your family acquired the machine fair and square. I cannot accept such a gift. Besides what would I do with it?”

 

“I guess you have to start thinking because it’s yours. It doesn’t belong here, Antonio, it belongs in Portugal.”

 

“All right, keep it here for now until I think of something. Besides, it’s been safe in your family for a long time, I’m very confident it’ll be safe for a while longer.”

 

“What are your plans after this?”

 

“Well, I have a lot of work to do back in Ottawa, so I must return as soon as possible. I’ve had fun and excitement learning about Himalaya, but now it’s time to return to reality.”

 

“What do you intend to do about your job? I remember you telling me that you were not very pleased with it.”

 

“Well, I have been thinking of a plan that I’m going to approach my boss with. I’d like to see our company become more of a distribution firm with export and import capabilities. If he doesn’t like it, I’ll find some other way of getting into this field.”

 

“That’s the way I want to hear you talk, Antonio. If you dedicate yourself to that dream as much as Himalaya did to his, you’re going to achieve majestic results. I wish you the best of luck my very good friend.” Terry lifted his glass. “A toast to friendship, love, family, and hard work.”

 

“To us and to life, Terry.”

 

“To us and to life, Antonio.” The two toasted in front of the fireplace of hopes and dreams.

 

 

The next morning, Antonio tip-toed down the hall and down the stairs. He made a little bit of noise starting his car in the cold dawn, but managed to leave without waking anyone up. Then he noticed a light on and someone waving goodbye. It was Philip.

 

By sun- up, he had travelled a couple hundred kilometres. His mind was no longer on the mysteries of Himalaya, but rather on the lessons learned from Himalaya and his new-found friends.

 

“The results achieved by that priest were spectacular, but above all his biggest achievement was his courage, work, and dedication,” Antonio concluded out loud as he drove back to Canada. “Maybe that’s what my grandmother was trying to tell me. Maybe she knew I needed a model that was a little more modern than her. But she was a much better model for happiness than Himalaya. And all I want is to be happy. I guess no one can be entirely happy without a temple to build. My temple is trade, and I have to find the courage and the dedication to build it.”

 

As Antonio drove, his mind was busy, but he was content and excited about the future, so the trip seemed shorter than on the way down.

 

He didn’t mind driving. The previous year, he had driven all the way to Florida for a winter golf vacation. Nostalgia filled his senses. He could remember the white sands of Destin, Florida, and the odour of Jamaican cigars and rum.

 

Eventually, he re-entered Canada at Windsor. As he passed Kitchener on the 401, he remembered all the nice times he had had there as a boy.

 

 

At age ten, he joined his parents and lived in Kitchener until age fourteen. He remembered attending St. John Catholic School and Church and all the fun he had had there. He could still remember his teachers’ names: Mrs. Board, Mr. Wagner, and Mrs. MacNeil. Mr. Wagner was tough but a good teacher, Mrs Board was soft and kind, and Mrs. MacNeil was the sentimental one. Mrs. MacNeil taught music, and once, they all went to the University of Waterloo for a music competition. Antonio loved to play the flute and was very good at it. He remembered the time Mrs. MacNeil bought flutes for the whole class, but arrived in class empty-handed. Then she burst into tears. She had used the dishwasher to clean the flutes before giving them to the children, but apparently someone had come to the door, and she totally forgot to take them out before the final hot water rinse and dry. The samples she brought to class resembled bananas more than flutes. “Those were fun times,” smiled Antonio.

 

His mother had been a factory worker for Grebe Shoes. She also worked part-time for Kaufmann’s. She worked hard so the boys had to help out around the house. That’s when Antonio developed a flare for cooking. His father worked in construction as a slab-cement finisher in high-rise buildings.

 

Antonio and his older brother also worked part-time in the Cygnus restaurant across the street from their house. Marjorie Hubert was a good chef and an excellent mom to Antonio and his brother. There, they learned good manners from an English farm lady. Mr. Hubert worked for CP Rail. Antonio remembered when he died and how painful it was. He had been a good friend to the boys. Joey, his niece, cried so much that Antonio felt very sorry for her. She, too, was under fourteen and working, which gave Antonio a sense of belonging. He had thought just emigrants did that sort of thing. Then he realised it was a lot of fun and an excellent learning experience.

 

Antonio and his family lived in the old barber’s house across the street from the restaurant. Mr. Paul was a good man who had suffered in the eastern European communist countries, but had made it to freedom and found a better life for his family. Antonio could remember the short hair cuts he used to get from his landlord and how he was just like his grandmother. Mr. Paul was a good man, he thought, for in addition to being a barber, he acted as a crossing guard on Victoria Street for the children attending St. John’s. He also had a wonderful garden where he grew raspberries and raised rabbits. He must have had hundreds, or at least it smelled like it around his garage.

 

Mr. Paul told stories about fleeing from the Communists. They would hide in the countryside and steal potatoes, crawling and digging for them with bare hands so they would not be seen. One day he found Canada and here he raised a family. Two daughters studied at the University of Waterloo, and he had a lovely wife. He found a place to be happy and he was happy, Antonio thought with emotion, about this man who had passed away a decade before.

 

 

As Antonio drove by Kingston, Ontario, he automatically tensed up. He had experienced a terrible car accident here a few years ago, which had left him with serious health problems. He could not stop thinking about the crazy police officer who brutally woke him up in the emergency room of the Kingston General while Antonio was suffering from a head concussion.

 

All of this had left Antonio with no recollection of the accident itself besides the presence of strong lights.

 

He wondered about power and light figuring in recent events, and how God had given him another chance at life. “But why another? I was a good person before the accident, maybe living a little on the fast lane, but I was doing okay,” he told the heavens.

 

He thought of how Himalaya was also given a chance when he met Emilia Dos Santos. She financed his studies in Paris and his inventions.

 

“Himalaya took his second chance seriously and worked hard to show he deserved it. He never questioned why. I have to bring myself to do the same,” Antonio punched the air as he drove away from Kingston, the area of darkness.

 

“When I get to Ottawa, I’m going to tell my boss that I want to study part-time to learn more about exports, so that we can get into the business of exporting and importing lumber and wood flooring.

 

“Is it courage and dedication that I have to learn from this crazy priest, or is it a second chance to learn how to live life to the fullest? If it’s a second chance, why did I have to go through a stupid accident to realise it? You’re not funny up there, you know,” Antonio remarked to the heavens, as he anxiously stepped on the gas to speed Ottawa nearer.

 

 

He presented his proposal to his boss, who accepted it, so he returned to the University of Ottawa. For the next six months, he didn’t even have time to think about the machine or the mysteries of Himalaya. He was not only busy with his work and studies, but also excited about prospects for his new career. He now knew that if you don’t like your job, it becomes labour, but if you enjoyed what you were doing, it becomes a journey of life.

 

The spring and summer went by very fast. September soon came, as well as his thirty-fourth birthday. It was time to put forward the marketing plan for his export business. He designed a nice Web page and prepared a demo package of samples and information to ship to potential clients. He created a trading house with exclusivity for certain flooring and lumber products, which he would try to sell abroad.

 

On his birthday, while reading his e-mail, he got extremely excited. He jumped up in the air and ran straight to his boss’s office.

 

“My friend, I’m getting the best birthday present ever! Take a guess.”

 

“I don’t know . . . you’re having sex tonight?”

 

“No, although that would be nice, too. I have an order to export a container-load of prime maple flooring strips to Argentina. You better get your money ready because we’re in the big leagues now, my friend.”

 

“What do you mean, get my money ready? I thought you said we were a trading house?”

 

“Yes, but as you know, in the lumber business you pay when you pick up the wood.”

 

“So, we collect from the customer and pay the supplier.”

 

“That’s easy to say, but we’re only delivering in twenty days. That’s how long it takes for freight overseas and that’s when we collect,” explained Antonio.

 

“Then I hate to burst your bubble, but we’re behind on our accounts receivables. Our cash flow is low. Haven’t you been keeping track?” Bob leaned back in his chair with a look of exasperation on his face.

 

“I guess I’ve been so concentrated on the export promotions and my school that I didn’t even realise that.”

 

“So, what are we going to do? Do you know any one with money to invest?”

 

“Actually, maybe I do.” Antonio remembered Hélène, who had come from a wealthy family.

 

“Well, what are you waiting for? Get a move on it. Do you want to do business or not?”

“You’re right. I tend to be too shy to ask, but the biggest risk in life is not to take risks. I have to learn to ask, ask, ask.” And Antonio left Bob’s office with a determination he didn’t know he had.

 

Amazingly, Hélène agreed to underwrite his venture. They had kept in touch since meeting in London, and she had followed his progress with pride. Antonio went home mystified. “How can a friendship found in the middle of dream come back to help my own dreams?” he wondered.

 

With the money in place, he contacted his potential client and set up a meeting to coincide with the first shipment. He also agreed to give a demonstration and lead workshops on how to install the product.

 

Antonio saw this as an opportunity to expand the business to the sale of machinery and other products and services complementary to wood flooring, including training and consulting. “I have never been to Argentina and this will be a good reward for my hard work and studies this year,” he thought.

 

That night as he packed his laptop, his sample kits, and some air tools as demos. He couldn’t believe it was really happening.

 

“I guess dedication and hard work do pay off in the end,” he said to himself as he packed some extra clothes as well. His mother had taught him to always pack extra underwear in case he got sick. Then he remembered that Himalaya, before finally returning to spend his last days in Portugal, had spent time in Argentina, and had been very sick there.

 

“But that’s also where he found peace and a return to his spiritual life. So it couldn’t have been all that bad.

 

“I hope he had extra underwear.” Probably. He had had a Portuguese mother, too.

“Now, if only I had a good life companion to travel with me and help me in my work and my life, I would be fulfilled. I enjoy my job, my body and everything I’m doing now, but I don’t feel I have a home.”

 

Himalaya probably felt the same way. When he thought that Himalaya’s best company was the maid who once saved his life, he recalled a wonderful massage of crushed eucalyptus seeds, olive oil, and a hint of roses.

 

That night, he dreamt of fresh-baked cornbread and strong coffee, and woke up wishing that he could wake up to that scent for the rest of his life. He could almost smell eucalyptus and roses on the sheets as he made the bed before departing for the airport.

 

Chapter 10—Goodbye Argentina