Back at the hotel, after a hot luxurious bath, Cathy was eager to start with her quest. So far, she had never told anyone about her dreams. Dreams that popped up in her head time and again which she had been unable to understand. And each dream had been different from the other – some haunting while some beautiful. She had kept these dreams a secret from her parents and even her boyfriend Sanjose wasn’t aware of it. Sanjose had no idea what was going on in her mind, of the heavy weight that she carried in her heart, of the disturbing dreams that had plaguing her for years.
That evening she surfed through a dozen or so Goa guides tracing out important historical sites, important enough for her at least and decided that one particular Church ruins whose pictures vaguely looked familiar, would be their first stop on the tour the next day.
That night Cathy had trouble sleeping. The images of a church kept haunting her in her dreams as she tossed and turned around in the bed. It wasn’t however the ruins of the church that disturbed her. Rather it was a different look of the church that disturbed her as if the church was just built and in its pristine glory. She woke up with a start. Dawn was just breaking in.
The tour bus took them to the outskirt of the city and came to a stop at the base of a hill. The small group alighted even as Cathy strained her neck to take a look at the top of the hill – their first destination – St Ignatius Church, the images of which had haunted her the night before.
It was a long walk up the dusty track and it wasn’t as splendid as the group had thought it would be since the path was jagged with huge boulders and dusty. But nevertheless, it still carried a trace of wilderness around it. It also offered the group a lovely panoramic view of the countryside. The long climb up the hill was tiring but everyone was too excited to notice the hard work.
They had climbed the hill half way when they reached a clear ground and beyond it, they could make out the ruins of the church. As Cathy trailed behind her eyes were riveted on a bird as it circled majestically in the sky and finally came to settle on the steeple of the church. She could feel the hair on the back of her neck stand with excitement.
She slowly took in the sight as she swept her eyes from the steeple of the church, down to its entrance and its huge building now lying half in ruins. Just as she had seen it in her dreams, she thought to herself excitedly but in a better condition than it appeared now.
She felt a strange feeling as she walked towards it with a slow gait. The guide had started his litany and his voice guided his excited visitors on the history of the church but Cathy wasn’t paying too much attention to it. Ignoring the group, she walked towards the half burnt church entrance.
Across the church, a few meters away, the guide’s shrill voice rose a bit higher. Maybe to attract her attention, she thought to herself. But her attention was riveted on this ancient monument which still bore faint traces of its lost glory. Over the years, it seems to have been neglected and wild creepers have covered most of the structure. She knew this was the church that held the answers to her dreams.
The guide was getting distracted seeing that Cathy had no interest in his speech. But to keep him happy, Cathy pointed a glance or two in his direction as he went on. She repeated his words slowly in her mind word by word as he babbled again.
’And what you see here friends was once upon a time one of the most magnificent churches of medieval Goa. Build somewhere around early 16th century by Viceroy Fonseca, the then head of the Portuguese rule in Goa, it was ministered by a young priest, Fr. Kane. This church took 3 years to be built but didn’t last for more than a year…
For a moment, a smile crossed her face as she heard the guide rant. Her friends were listening in awe to the guide’s narration. The guide, a skinny character with a thin moustache, in his mid 30s was talking at a fast pace and hearing him speak, Cathy wondered aloud where he kept his energy stuffed within that frail body. Even Sanjose was bowled over by his talks as he listened in rapt attention, hardly noticing that Cathy was not with them.
The guide’s shrilled voice continued.
‘It was the doings of Fr. Kane who soon got mixed up in some scandal at that time. The villagers in a fit of anger had tried to burn the church down along with Fr. Kane.’ The guide paused again for a dramatic effect as he looked around at his eager audience and then continued. ‘It was rumored that Fr. Kane escaped the burning inferno and over the years, the locals had waited in anticipation and in fear for his return till the epidemic struck and the entire village got wiped out though some of them managed to escape the devastation to safer locations.’
Sanjose broke in curiously. ’What kind of scandal was Fr. Kane involved in?
The guide turned around to look at him directly. He then paced a step or two to give it a dramatic effect before turning abruptly to face him.
‘Lots of stories floated around that time and over the years many new versions came up. But the one that was rumored to be true was that Fr. Kane had an unholy relationship with a woman and had fathered a child…’
‘Fathered a child? But wasn’t Fr. Kane a Catholic priest. Surely he must taken a vow of celibacy?’ Bono butted in.
The guide threw a mean look in his direction. Bono was a stout but rugged looking boy with a voice to match.
‘Yes, he was a Catholic priest. But one of the local girls, a daughter of a trader, a girl with exotic beauty and charm, had fallen in love with him and it was rumored that Fr. Kane too loved her. Mind you, all this is just a story handed down generation after generation. How much of it is true, no one knows and I guess never will.’
‘The girl must have been pretty hot for sure.’ Bono said with a naughty smile winking at Sanjose.
Even the guide had to force a smile hearing such a crass remark. But then he had learnt long ago, that foreigners were capable of saying and doing anything.
‘She was beautiful beyond comparison.’ He replied turning to look at Cathy. ‘Just one look at her and men would forget all their sorrows and sufferings.’ He turned to look at the small group and continued. ‘Even the wild animals, it was rumored would let her bask in all glory when she played or strolled in the jungle without harming her in any way.’
‘Then surely, Fr. Kane too would have been a handsome man?’
The guide seemed to mellow at this question. His tone become gentle and slow. His voice seemed to quaver or it seemed to Sanjose as he listened in rapt attention.
‘It is said that he was one of the most striking figures of his time. Just his presence would make a girl go weak in her knees. And when he spoke, it was like a gentle flow of the river waters, so soothing. Even men would at times feel envious of him. But he was a kind-hearted man and a gentle soul and the locals loved him for it till the scandal broke out.’
Cathy heard Sanjose’s voice break in again as he interrupted the guide. She realised with pain that she already knew what was coming from him.
‘So what about this girl who was besotted by him?’
‘The story goes around that the girl was married to the handsome and brave Captain Antonio, son of Viceroy Fonseca. When the locals came to know of her alleged affair with Fr. Kane, she was charged with adultery and treason against the church and finally burnt at the stake. In fact I wouldn’t blame Fr. Kane for falling for her charms. The story states that she had the power to seduce with such ease.’
So what was this girl’s name?
The guide pondered for a few seconds and slowly spoke, his voice just a faint whisper as if it was taboo to speak aloud that name. ‘Well, she was called by various names but her real name was…’
Intuitively Cathy found herself uttering aloud, ‘Rosalin…’
The small group turned around to look at Cathy but her back was turned towards them. Her eyes trained on some Portuguese inscription on the cemented marble plaque at the entrance of the church. She slowly raised her palm to wipe the dust away from its face and tried to read clearly the writings.
The group surged towards her to get a better glimpse of the plaque she was reading, anticipating a mystery. The guide seeing the crowd’s interest was waning in him, was clearly annoyed. Cathy couldn’t miss the sneer in the voice even as she slowly read the inscription. ‘Miss, I don’t think that name is inscribed on the wall?’
One of the other girls from the small group pushed herself closer and tried hard to read the inscription. Though she could make out the characters, she couldn’t understand what it meant. She turned to look at Cathy.
‘Hey Cathy, can you make out what’s inscribed. Is that name mentioned there?’
The guide seemed to flinch in anger. ‘Are you crazy miss? How can a taboo name like Rosalin be inscribed on a church wall?’
Seeing no reaction from the young crowd, the guide was now fuming with hatred for Cathy. For him, his fee and his tips depended how well he kept his customers engrossed and entertained with his bullshit history talk. But this one girl was blowing it away for him.
He quickly walked over to a small crumbling raised concrete platform like construction that measured about five square feet and about a foot high and located bang opposite the church.
‘Hello! Listen… listen folks… listen everybody.’ The guide clapped his hands for attention. ‘I think this little place will interest you…’
The group turned around to look at him except for Cathy. She was still engrossed in reading the inscription and trying to decipher what it mean. But still her body stiffened slightly. She could sense what was coming up next. She had dreaded this moment but there was no way she could let it go or give it a miss. She had wanted to be here. She had wanted to live this moment.
She remained still, her back towards them, her fists tightly clenched, eyes closed awaiting the shocking moment.
Having attracted back the crowd’s attention, the guide quickly climbed over the small crumbling platform. Turning around, he stood dramatically to attention, his hands clenched together, obviously pleased by the interest he has managed to regain from the group as they walked towards him curiously.
‘So what’s with this place man?’ Bono asked him inquisitively as he eyed the non-descript place.
Cathy knew she didn’t have to look at the place to know what Bono was talking about. The place was the center of everyone’s attention now. And once again, she found herself answering Bono’s question as much as she didn’t want to. She started slowly, her voice trembling in grief and just about in a soft whisper.
‘That’s the place where Rosalin was burnt alive for adultery she never committed and in front of a cheering crowd. The very crowd whom she had favored in various risky situations, that very place where she had ordered a stop to the practice of Sati, a tradition of the locals in which the widow burns herself to death on her dead husband’s pyre.’ Cathy paused and took a deep breath. She then continued, yet not daring to turn around.
‘That very place where she uttered her last dying words…’
She stopped. She felt a deep premonition that something horrifying was about to happen. Something that shouldn’t occur. She could feel it and she deeply regretted answering Bono’s question. She could feel the crowd’s eyes pierce her back as they stared at her in awe and in anticipation that she would continue. Her eyes were still glued unconsciously to the small inscription on the plaque. She seemed to have instigated the guide with her words but she couldn’t help it and he in turn couldn’t help himself from questioning her sarcastically and in a loud voice.
‘Oh really… so you were there that time…’ The guide said with a sneer. ‘You seem to have done your homework pretty nice. Ok… ok… so what were her last dying words? Go ahead tell me. Let everybody hear her last words… tell me! Come on tell!’ His voice was now filled with resent and anger directed towards her.
Slowly Cathy turned around to face the guide, her heart beating wildly. There was a painful expression on her face. She looked around at the faces of her fellow students. They were all waiting patiently for the answer. Most of them had a queer look on their faces as if they were not sure if it was really Cathy who had so much knowledge of this place. With a heavy heart, she turned to look at the raised ground forgetting the guide who was staring back at her. Seconds passed. She closed her eyes as she tried to reminisce the dream that was so clearly etched in her mind. Softly she began as she recalled the words.
‘Her last words… Yeah her last words… No… No…’
She jerked her eyes open her and stared hard at the raised ground as a scene flashed before her eyes. She felt as if she was transported back in time 400 years ago. It was as if she was there at this particular place watching a live scene as she saw Rosalin, a young girl about 18 with a slender body and dressed in an exquisite gown tied to a stake on the raised platform. Her loose beautiful hair blowing with the gentle breeze was obstructing the view of her face. There was a slow fire burning around her but she was obvious to it or to the crowd. Her mind completely focused on the church opposite. There was a big crowd gathered around the platform and cheering wildly shouting slogans, waving sickles and knives in the air.
Rosalin, her face still obstructed by her flowing hair, watched with fear as a small group of men piled dry wood and hay all around the church wild with enthusiasm. They too were shouting slogans against the Church Padre. Satisfied, one of the men then picked up a burning wood from near Rosalin’s stake, even as her gown caught fire and rapidly spread across her body.
Rosalin tried to free herself violently but failed. She watched in fear and desperation as the man walked lecherously to the Church and threw the burning piece of wood on the hay.
The guide and the group of students watched the fear emote on Cathy’s face as she stared with wide eyes at the illusion that played in front of her. They had no idea what was going through her mind as her eyes simply stared at the spot profound with fear witnessing a spectacle that happened hundreds of years ago.
Sanjose broke out of the group and quickly walked towards her while the others continued to watch her pensively and slightly afraid now, afraid for her sake. Sanjose quickly wrapped her in an embrace but over his shoulder, her eyes were still trained on the platform. Words came tumbling out of her mouth as her eyes kept viewing the spectacular vision, seen only by her.
… No… don’t do it… please… please… he is innocent… And Rosalin’s voice played in her ears as Cathy repeated her words, her tone matching Rosalin’s pleading voice.
‘… Please don’t do it, please don’t… he is innocent… don’t hurt him. He is a man of God… He is innocent… please dooooooooooooooon’t …’
For a second, the guide too felt the fear gripping his heart hearing the chilling voice of Cathy. Sanjose turned his head to look at him on the square with deep anger. The guide knew what was going on in his mind and he quickly raised his hands as he jumped down to indicate that he had no hand in the mumbo jumbo that was going in Cathy’s life. Sanjose turned his face to Cathy and pushed her to arms length and held her but over his shoulder, her eyes were still locked on the stake on the square in deep fear and shock.