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“The Coffin of Master Jôn Anton” by César Augusto Medina Fortes

Translated by Katherine Cowley. For the original Portuguese, click here

Master Jôn Anton was born in Mocho da Garça, on the island of Santo Antão. When he was still young, he immigrated to Argentina in search of a better life. Every year, he visited the land of his birth, where he would banish his longings for home and leave behind an additional child.  Among them are Basília, Dalena, Luís, Valentin, Ervelina, and others.

By 1955, master Jôn Anton had saved enough money in Argentina, and he resolved to return to his homeland. He bought a house and a little land in Cabeça de Mocho de Garça. There you could always see him, at the races and at the Feast of Saint Peter, riding on his beautiful horse, wearing boots made of leather, with a whip in hand that he might command the horse. He was also known as an excellent ouril player.

Time passed and he grew old. Master Jôn Anton went to live with his daughter, Ervelina, in the town Chã de Igreja, so he could be closer to an infirmary.

And in 1984, having lived to the age of eighty-four, he passed away.

Madame Ervelina called four men she trusted, namely, the carpenter João de Hipólito; her cousins, Autelindo (nicknamed Kokin) and Aldevino; the teacher Chichal and the gravedigger Albertino. She gave them a morbid mission: to find the coffin of master Jôn Anton, somewhere in Mocho da Garça, where he had previously lived.

Master Jôn Anton had his coffin made a number of years before, and he had kept it in his house so that when he died, he would not be buried in just any coffin, like a pauper.

The brave men left on this thankless mission. The path was mountainous, dark, and long. To keep themselves going, they brought a bottle of grog and lanterns.

They arrived in the region of Mocho and entered into the house of madame Djodja and told her what had happened. Her son, Antôn Joaquim, stood on the porch of the house and shouted:

“Jon Corr, where art thou? Master Jôn Anton has died in Chã de Igreja.”

Voice after voice yelled and passed on the message until everyone in the valley of Mocho knew of the death of master Jôn Anton. And you began to hear some of the women crying over the illustrious son of the valley.

The four men were guided by António Joaquim to the house of the deceased so they could find the coffin. They searched the entire house, yet they saw no sign of it. Exhausted, they stopped in the middle of the house, wondering where the dead man had kept his damn coffin.

António Joaquim turned his face upwards and saw the coffin hanging from a rafter. They all laughed freely.

António Joaquim, tall and strong as he was, with arms sculpted by agricultural work, carried the coffin by himself, on his shoulders, as they climbed the slopes of Selada and turned in the direction of Chã de Igreja and began the return journey. The other men walked at his side, steadying the coffin so it would not fall.

João and Autelindo were both faithful Christians. They had been baptized in the LDS church when they were young, and they were fearful of God, yet even so, they were much afraid. They began to pray to their Heavenly Father, pleading that he would deliver and protect them from the spirit of Master Jôn Anton, so that it would not enter his coffin before they arrived at Chã de Igreja.

It was almost midnight when they arrived at Chã de Igreja. They climbed to the terrace of Madame Ervelina’s house, and João de Hipólito, armed with a hammer and nails, began to repair the coffin, for it had been damaged by the humidity of so many years.

Autelindo stood like a pole, a candle in his hand, illuminating the terrace so that João de Hipólito could fix the coffin. Aldevino and Chichal would hold the coffin steady when Jon asked. Autelindo, who was quite mischievous, would at times let the wax from the candle drip—on purpose—onto professor Chichal’s plastic sandals, and slowly the wax would slip down in between the toes and there it would burn him, all the way to the soul.

And Chichal would yell, “Kokin, you lad! If you weren’t the son of my godmother, Maria de Vinha, then I’d tell you to go to a very fiery place. You’d better knock it off!”

The others would just start laughing.

Autelindo let the candle wax drip, time and time again, on Chichal’s feet, for the entire night. And every time this happened, Chichal shouted out profanities.

By the time the sun rose, the coffin was ready to be used by its rightful owner.

And inside was buried Master Jôn Anton, the gentleman who had for a time immigrated to Argentina and then came to rest in the land of his birth.

After the funeral, the brave lads paid their respects to the family. They each sat in a different corner of the house, looking at each other. Autelindo would catch the eyes of Aldevino and João de Hipólito, and then point at Chichal’s plastic sandals, which were covered in dried wax. They placed their hands over their mouths and snickered.

After it was over, they went out to the square and were finally able to let out all of their suppressed mirth. They laughed without end.

And Chichal said with half a smile, “You are a naughty lad. Today I have suffered at your hands, worse than a mouse in a bli!” A bli was a round Calabash gourd, hollowed out, dried, and used to carry milk to drink while working in the fields. Sometimes a mouse would climb into an empty gourd and be stuck, running and running in circles, spinning round and round until they died.

The four friends embraced, and, together, they walked to Bordeira to end their grand day, in which they had accomplished a thankless yet successful mission.

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