‘What’s wrong with us?’ said the wife. She wasn’t looking at her husband but through the window, somewhere far away, over the hills, at the deep, dark sky. The room was silent apart from the crackling fire.
‘How do you mean?’ said the husband after a while.
‘I mean, she was a good woman, John. A good woman! She didn’t deserve it.’
‘It happens so rarely for someone who deserves it to actually get it,’ replied the husband in a humorous way. ’So rarely that I don’t question these things any more. You should learn this…’
‘You’re talking nonsense. Why don’t you just shut up for now?’
The candle was burning and its light had chased the shadows into the ghostly corners of the room. Mariette was on her knees, praying. She was always praying at this hour; and at any hour. She was always praying. As if praying would bring her husband back. As if praying could generate a miracle. Tales yes, miracles no. But she kept on praying, every day, every night. She kept on praying.
There was a soft knock at the door but she remained stone-still. Only her lips moved as if she was speaking, but no sounds were released in the praying room. Then she kissed the ground and the baby Jesus in the picture and stood up.
‘The pig is ready, ma’am. I can’t do it by myself. I need four hands for all the little babies.’
‘They are called piglets, Angela,’ said the woman in the softest of voices.
‘Not for this wild beast here!’ said Angela, pointing towards the pregnant pig. They both laughed softly and Mariette touched Angela’s arm, as a sign of friendship.
‘Do you know what I ask for, in my prayers?’ Mariette started to say, but the pig started to squeal so loudly that they needed to bring the hot water and the blankets right away.
18th of March. By midnight, six healthy piglets had been born. But the mother-sow was still squealing loudly. ‘There has to be at least one more.’ said Angela, rubbing the sow’s swollen belly.
‘I’ll do it,’ said Mariette, and Angela saw, for the first time since her husband died, something that looked like a light in Mariette’s eyes. ‘Come on, little pig, come on… I’ll take care of your babies, I promise, come on!’
And there it was. The answer to all her prayers, there it was! A child! A human child, a tiny, red, soggy little creature, with a round head, two hands, two feet: A human child! The women fell silent, the pig stopped squealing and time stood still… A baby, sent from Heaven, a holy child!
That summer the rain flooded the fields, the crops were destroyed and the people in the village started to go to church more often. Every Sunday all they talked about at the meetings was how to turn God’s face back to them. They killed cows and burned them on the open fields, they killed goats and hens, turkeys and horses; they sacrificed everything they could lay their hands on, hoping that God would stop the rain. But He didn’t. God was upset.
Only Mariette didn’t mind. She had it all, in her praying room. A little bed, dressed in nice, cotton sheets, holding in its wooden safety a magical life. Momot. Mariette named the boy Momot. Every day he looked more and more like her, even Angela said so. But he was growing so fast. By the end of the summer he had hair and teeth and had started to walk. By autumn he was stroking Mariette’s cheek and calling her mama.
One afternoon, in mid-November, Mariette and Angela were having camomile tea in the praying room. The bells from the church were ringing, rain was pouring and the clouds were furious. ‘Where is Momot?’ said Mariette all of a sudden, fear spreading on her face. ‘He can’t be outside, it’s pouring…’
They started calling him, but he was nowhere to be found. They searched every room; Mariette went outside, started running up and down the alleys, crying, calling his name, pulling out her hair. Angela wanted to go to ask the neighbours. ‘Wait!’ said Mariette, ‘what are you going to tell them? Tell them it’s my baby; tell them I want him back!’ But an old woman, all dressed in black was coming their way. She was holding Momot’s hand. Mariette ran and grabbed the boy in her arms. ‘Don’t ever leave like that, Momot, you hear me? Never do this to mama, never, never!’ and she held him tight and wept tears of happiness.
‘Whose baby is this?’ asked the old woman.
‘My baby!’ said Mariette proudly.
‘Is he really? Because he told me his mother is a pig and you are his other mother. That’s what the boy said to me. Mariette, are you hiding something from us?’
‘Did I not come out of that pig, mama? Are the piglets not my brothers and sisters, mama? Tell her, you tell her, she’ll believe you!’
It was almost Christmas. Rain had turned into snow, so much snow that the mayor had to employ people permanently to clean the alleys and the streets; so much snow that houses were nothing but roofs, surrounded by a sea of white; so much snow that no other place in the world had snow that year.
People were getting their pigs ready for the Thursday slaughter. By Friday the village would smell of blood, roast pork, sausages and meat rolls, goodies for Christmas Day.
By now, everybody in the village knew about Momot. They all came to see him, and the more people came, the faster he grew. They liked him; he was smart and had an answer to any question they asked. But, most importantly, Momot couldn’t lie. ‘Where did you come from?’ they would ask. ‘From Heaven.’ He’d reply. ‘How is Heaven?’ And his face would hold a wide smile as he spoke. ‘A bit like this place, a lot of white around, but no snow; and not so cold. They don’t kill pigs for Christmas in Heaven, either…’
‘That’s because it’s pigs Heaven.’ they whispered to one another.
On Christmas Day, all the wealthy people in the village met in the mayor’s house to dine. There were no more than a dozen of them. Mariette came too – she left Momot with Angela for two or three hours – to maintain her place in the village’s hierarchy. She was the only daughter of one doctor and the widow of another; both dead.
They all stood around the table, talking about this curse, about how God hated them for a reason they didn’t know, how they would all end up dying under the snow. Mariette didn’t want to listen to any of that. She knew nothing of any curse. All she could think of was the miracle God had blessed her pitiful life with, her baby, her treasure, her Momot.
‘Friends,’ she said, ‘let’s talk no more of the misfortune that has fallen upon our village, not today, not on this holy day. Let’s pray, let’s be thankful and let’s taste the holy food that we are so lucky to have on our table. Mayor, tell the girls to bring the platters.’ She was in high spirits; she remembered being like this when she got married. She had loved her husband so! All she had ever wanted was him and his baby. She got one of two. She was happy.
The saloon’s doors slid open and the girls came with hot platters, covered with silver lids. They were all put on the table and the mayor stood up to make his speech.
‘Dear friends, we are gathered here today to celebrate a holy day. We are gathered here today to pray, to ask for forgiveness and to do right again. There are good people in this village, but something has cast a shadow over our simple, peaceful lives. And we need to make it right today, in this day when Christ came for us. We ought to thank Him. We ought to show Him our love.’ And with that he lifted the lid of the big platter. There he was, roasted, a golden apple stuck in his open mouth.
Mariette released a sharp scream and jumped on the table. Momot! Her dear Momot, her baby, not only dead, but cooked, naked, her poor baby, naked on a silver plateau! Were they going to eat him? Was that the way they deal with a miracle? She kissed the body, between tears, and tasted the salt, the vinegar and the flames still burning his skin. Her baby…
‘I curse… I curse you… I curse you, sinners, for taking the last piece of life out of me, I curse you to never give birth again in this village, not you here, not anybody who will ever live in this village, I curse you…’
‘You know, as well as I do, Angela, you know that we all wanted her to die.’ said the husband.
‘I didn’t want her to die, John. I didn’t want her child to die and I never wanted her to die. Did we do the right thing? Did we stop the rain? Yes! But twelve years, John, and no new-born. You answer me now; you tell me what the answer is. Did we do the right thing?’
‘God works in mysterious ways.’
‘He does. We have no idea how to handle His ways. If I’ll ever be with child, I will name him Momot,’ said Angela, continuing to look through the window, over the hills. Then she turned and looked into her husband’s eyes.
‘I’ll be in the praying room.’