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Live Encounters Poetry & Writing, January 2024
Constanza, story by Rafael E. Fajer Camus.
Apolito, the shaman told her, “You can only invoke the power of the animal spirits within you. I cannot give you access to the power of a spirit that does not already reside in you. But I assure you that you will get what you are asking for.”
The confidence with which Apolito spoke to her and the flattering recommendations with which her metaphysics professor had spoken of him, motivated Constanza. She was determined.
“See you next Saturday for the ceremony. Follow the instructions well and come on an empty stomach.” Apolito said.
Constanza had been trying for weeks to get an appointment with Apolito. She had been trying for years to move up to the top position at Toma1, the advertising agency where she worked. Ronaldo, the general manager, was retiring at the end of the year and the Board of Directors was looking for his replacement. Constanza was the natural candidate, ideal if it were not for the fact that she was born a woman. It never ceased to amaze her how at this point in the new millennium, in Mexico, a country with so much development in so many areas, gender labor policies were still so backward.
Constanza had dedicated her life to her passions: advertising and the power that working in high positions gave her. No other employee at TOMA1 came close in dedication, talent, knowledge, and creativity. When she applied for the position of CEO, she did so by proposing less advantageous conditions than anyone else in that position demanded. Such was her desire for the job. The board, composed of 6 men and 1 woman, unanimously preferred to find a man for the position.
Constanza did not have much time to convince them to give her the job and seeing that the traditional ways were not bearing fruit, she turned to Apolito: a shaman expert in medicinal plants, astral travel, and empowerment rituals. In Constanza’s case, after 3 appointments in which they talked, meditated together, and got to know each other, Apolito decided that the best thing for Constanza was to put her in touch with her spirit animals.
“Did you follow the instructions? – Apolito asked her when she arrived a week later at the ritual. “
“Are you sure?”, the shaman insisted.
“Let’s get started then. Remember that on your journey you will encounter symbols that represent your animal power. Allow the symbols to come alive in you, to become part of your psychic reality.”
Constanza and Apolito remained silent, meditating with half-open eyes during the first few minutes of the temazcal session. The air heavy with humidity made the heat more intense. Constanza felt like she was in a clay oven, contained, tight. The low, windowless dome could barely fit the two of them sitting down. Herbs and vapor coming from the chimney in the periphery of the circular temazcal. Sweat made Constanza’s skin glisten.
At the end of the meditation, they invoked the ancestors of each of their lineages, asking for their blessings and permission to invite the masters. When Apolito felt the temazcal become heavier, still, he realized that they had the approval of the ancestors and that the masters were present to guide them, he handed her a cup with a concoction of medicinal plants that he prepared especially for Constanza. Constanza drank it. Apolito also took a sip. Together they chanted until the drink took effect. Apolito stared at Constanza as he played a drum with a slow, steady beat. Constanza’s mind traveled.
Walking in a dark, damp forest, the first thing she came across was a feather on the ground. She felt its call and she responded to it. Without her noticing, the feather multiplied and became a pair of wings that were placed on her back. She continued on the path. One hoof in her way, became two hoofs that, in turn, became her feet. Further ahead, she found horns that manifested suddenly on her forehead. She continued walking and came upon a pond in which the moon and stars were reflected. She had never seen anything so beautiful. Approaching the water, she saw her reflection. It was powerful. It was Constanza with wings and horns and hoofs. She was a perfectly beautiful creature. “This is Me” she thought, “I am one with Nature. It and I are the same. There are no longer any barriers between me and It. I feel It now.”
Lost in her reflection, contemplating her new understanding of the universe, of herself, of her power, she marveled. She realized that she no longer cared if she got the position at Toma1. She had found a deeper sense of life, the experience that was this harmony, this union with nature, with the whole.
“Thank you,” she said to the universe. “Thank you,” she said to nature. “Thank you” she said to Apolito. At that moment, she began to hear the rhythmic sound of Apolito’s drum in the distance. She was beginning to come to her senses, to come out of the trance. It took a few more minutes, but she returned to the temazcal, to the heat, to Apolito’s presence and to the beat of his drum.
She burst into tears.
“Thank you, Apolito! I never…. I don’t even know how to express it. What I experienced, what I felt. I am at a loss for words. Thank you!”
“There is nothing to say. Remain silent. Absorb the experience. Retain the teachings. I am here to accompany you.”
They left the temazcal and sat down in a room with cushions to drink water, tea and meditate again. Then they slept.
The next day, after breakfast, Apolito explained to Constanza what was to come.
“The objects you encountered on your journey are symbols of the guides with whom you have a deep and constant, recent, and powerful relationship. They are the ones who will take you on the path to subtler, higher dimensions of vibration. It is a reciprocal relationship. They give to you what you give to them. Look, Constanza, I’ll be honest with you. I have lived through many processes, but I have never seen one like yours. You connected deeply with the plants. I felt your union with your teachers and guides. Drink plenty of water, meditate every morning so that you can learn the lessons well”.
They agreed to meet in a month to follow up on the ritual. Constanza went home and slept. It was Sunday. It was 11:10 p.m.
She woke up with her hunched down, brushing against a tray of feed. Her knees and hands on the floor, supporting her body. Something like a swing was holding her up by her belly so she wouldn’t collapse. The position of her head and neck was held by two tubes that squeezed her at the nape of her neck. She could not move her head except to put it in the tray under her face and look at her surroundings. To her left, as on her right, was a line of women in the same posture; some eating, some turning, many screaming and most of them crying. The pain of the position was excruciating. Cramps coursing through her belly and the intense light flooding her eyes that kept her awake. There was something about the food, or the light, or the environment that caused her womb to spasm. Pain, contractions, and constant menstrual flow. Constant colic. And all those around her, just the same. Her menstruation dropped into a cup and taken to another room. Her eggs were being collected. It took her a while to realize this. Her eggs were being harvested. All these women’s eggs were being harvested.
Hours passed. Days passed. Years. Constanza, with her head between two tubes, forced to eat and menstruate non-stop, lived her life there, among women who screamed and begged for help. A robotic arm would come by to pick up older women who had stopped producing eggs. They were slaughtered in grinders. One day the robotic arm arrived for Constanza. The automatic tubes opened, and the silver claws grabbed her. She, with her body atrophied by lack of movement, could not resist. The automatic system took her to the bladed machine and dropped her on the metal teeth. Crushed by the iron jaw, Constanza died.
She opened her eyes again. She was in her bed. She looked at her cell phone. It was 11:11 p.m. What had been dozens of years in the cage had been a minute. But she had lived it, she had felt it. She had suffered it. “It was a hallucination. Calm down! You are still under the effects of that potion Apolito gave you.”
She got out of bed, went to the bathroom, and got into the shower cleaning with soap and water what she thought was a dream even though she knew it was a memory. She got out of the shower, dried off and with an intense thirst went to the kitchen for a glass of water. Turning on the kitchen lights illuminated the window in which she saw her reflection. She fainted.
She opened her eyes. She found that she could barely stand. She turned to look at her stomach and saw a huge bump. She was pregnant. She started having contractions. The cage was opened, and a group of people approached to immobilize her. Her body was splitting in two and the birth attendants would not let her move. They would just push on her belly and put their hands in her vagina to help the baby be born. On the eighth hour, her son was born. They placed him on her chest. Despite the painful experience of giving birth to that little creature, the love she felt for him was profound. Breastfeeding connected them. She nurtured him. Thanks to her body, he was going to grow and live. Her eyes full of joy looked at him searching for a name. “Renato, you are Renato. You are the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. I love you.”
She moved her lips in for a kiss when Renato was snatched from her hands. He was taken away. Constanza protested, screamed, and cursed. Four people took her by force and put her in the cage. They tied her legs and arms to a device on the wall. Her breasts were attached to a breast pump with a plate of food in front of it. The machine sucked her nipples hard and squeezed her breasts periodically. The pain from the repetitive motion of this instrument grew exponentially. At first it was only muscular, then it spread to her skin which, with the rubbing of the suction cups, began to bleed. The desperation of pain nourished her screams. But no one came to her rescue. While her breasts suffered this torture, the contraption to which her body was strapped moved her body automatically to keep the blood flowing and her muscles and bones to maintain some of their density. She spent a day thinking that her pleas would be answered. But nothing. On the second day she gave up and decided to stop eating. Her breasts dried up. The extraction machine sounded an alarm. A few minutes later a nurse arrived with Renato crying. She put him in front of her. Renato’s smell and his screams awakened her breasts. They started producing again. The baby was placed in Constanza’s arms and taken out of the cage.
“Eat.” She was instructed.
Constanza ate. The moment her plate was finished, Renato was taken away again. This went on for several days until Renato was never again returned. She stopped eating. She was intubated and fed for weeks. Her breasts were disconnected from the breast pump as they were no longer producing milk. At first Constanza experienced a strange combination of helplessness and rest, of hopelessness and peace. The memory and absence of Renato broke her heart. However, the absence of pain in her breasts was an immense relief. But time passed and those feelings gave way to impatience. The confinement and shackles were driving her to insanity. Twice a day nurses came to check her and give her antibiotics. She tried to talk to them, but they pretended not to understand her. They wouldn’t even look her in the eyes. She was just another object in that cold, dark room. She gave up. “I no longer have milk. They will kill me or release me. There’s nothing more they can do to me.” She thought as she was untied and taken out of the cage. She was carried to the end of a corridor on a gurney, the door was opened, and a bright light blinded her. She didn’t understand what light could be this bright. As she considered the options, she felt herself being carried off the gurney and placed face up on another surface.
They took her legs and tied them wide open so that she could not move. She tried to pull away, but there was nothing she could do. “The light, it’s the lighting of an operating room, what are they going to do to me?” Hardly had she formulated the question in her head when she felt a wide, cold tube enter her vagina. Constanza understood what was happening to her: she was being inseminated. In her mind she knew what her future would be. The following months and years went through her head. She passed out.
She opened her eyes. Was it another dream? She was back in her cage bound and intubated. It was not a dream. She was strapped to the contraption, in her cage, intubated. Days, weeks, and months went by like this. She tried to break free, to escape, to drown, to kill herself by any method she could think of only to find the nurses ready to reverse all her attempts. Days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months. Her mind began to lose its sharpness, but her suffering increased. When the delivery came, her thoughts did not follow any recognizable pattern. She no longer understood whether it was day or night, whether she lived in the present or in the past, she only felt her body manipulated and her heart in despair.
She gave birth once again, this time to a girl, Alejandra. But Alejandra died within minutes of her birth. Constanza’s breast did not want to give milk. Constanza lay exhausted in her cage, tied to the device that kept moving her body. She fell asleep. Her dreams no longer made sense. Her mental processes weakened; this torture destroyed her psychologically, physically, spiritually. But she was at rest. There was nothing bothering her then. There was only an absence of pain and suffering that gave her a few moments of peace. The nurses came back. They untied her. She woke up. Without understanding or wanting to understand what was happening, she let herself be carried to another room. She opened her eyes crestfallen and saw a coppery red membrane that painted the floor. Her throat was slit.
She opened her eyes. She was in the kitchen of her apartment. The clock on the wall indicated 11:55 p.m. She ran to her bedroom and picked up the phone. She looked for Apolito’s contact and just as she was about to press the dial button, she lost consciousness.
She opened her eyes and was in the same place. In her apartment, in the kitchen. The clock read 11:55 p.m. Nothing had changed. She stayed on the ground for a minute, two minutes, waited 10 minutes to see if anything would happen and nothing did. Surprised, she got up. “Has it already happened?”. She poured herself a glass of water from the refrigerator filter. She took it quietly. It seemed like years since the last time she had drunk fresh water. It was a blessing what she was experiencing. Eagerly, she poured herself two more glasses which she drank quietly leaning against her kitchen counter. She sat down in one of the chairs surrounding her dining room table and took a deep, slow, breath.
“It’s over now. The effects of that potion are insane. Damn Apolito. What’s wrong with him?” She no longer cared about the position at Toma1, but it was helpful to think about the job. It centered her. It brought her back to her present. It was a tool to forget what she had “experienced”. It gave her hope, purpose to her suffering.
After some time of reflection and quiet, she returned to the refrigerator. She opened it and was surprised at what she found there. An immense number of fruits and vegetables. Her refrigerator was an herbivore’s paradise. Grateful not to have found any animal products, she prepared a salad, ate it, and went to dozed off.
That night she slept soundly, as she had never slept before in her life. Her head sank into her pillow making a hollow from which her hair radiated like a black sun. She was thankful that her pillow was soft, soft like all the cotton that stuffed it.
She woke up with the certainty that what had happened to her had “happened” because she ate animals, because she drank milk, because she was an omnivore. The refrigerator full of herbivorous treasures was a clear indicator of the path her life would take.
Full of energy she started her day. From time to time, unwanted images of what she had “dreamed” came to her. She shook her head and continued her morning preparation. She had a bowl of oatmeal with almond milk and fresh fruit for breakfast. The coffee tasted like glory. Every moment was another opportunity to be grateful that she was alive. She grabbed her bag and went to work.
After that hellish night everything went well for her. Every task she set herself was accomplished without any major complications. The promotion was no longer in doubt. Negotiations with the Board were going full steam ahead. Seeing the progress in a process of transition, the CEO agreed to retire a few months earlier, as soon as the contract with Constanza was signed, and that was not long in coming. Constanza never ate any animal products again. She always fed at home and the refrigerator always had food in it. She didn’t need to go to the supermarket. Constanza understood that this perpetual abundance was part of the blessings the universe was bestowing on her new understanding of it.
The day of the signing of the contract arrived and a banquet was organized to celebrate. It was the board of directors (all 7 members), Ronaldo and Constanza. She entered the private room at Toma1, where the celebration would take place. She saw the table set with impeccable taste. Everyone was sitting around waiting for her. As soon as the door behind her closed, two people grabbed her by the arms and took her to the back, where there was a human-sized spinning top. They tied her hands behind her back and hung her upside down from the ceiling by her feet. They opened her neck and left her to bleed to death while they rubbed oil on her body. It didn’t take long for her to lose consciousness.
She opened her eyes. She was in her apartment, in the kitchen. The clock on the wall indicated 11:56 p.m. “No, NO. NO!” She thought. “This can’t be my life!” She picked up the phone and called Apolito.
“I need to see you.”
“I know. I’m going to your house.”
She took 45 minutes to get there. 45 minutes in which Constanza trembled with fear. She didn’t understand anything. Lost in fear and anticipation, she wept.
“Why is this still happening to me?”
She had already stopped eating animal products. Was she going to pay for the rest of her life for the ignorance she had lived with; for not wanting to see how much pain she was generating with her eating habits? Something had to be done. Apolito started this, Apolito would finish it.
“I’m going Crazy. I’m desperate. What do I do, Apolito?”
“I know what is happening to you. I gave you very clear instructions. Tell me what you ate last week.”
“Apolito, I couldn’t help it. You know that I came to you for the position of CEO at the agency.”
“What did you eat?”
“On Monday we went to have breakfast with a client. I ate some fried eggs.”
It started to become clear to Constanza what had happened.
“I had a cappuccino… With cow’s milk. On Thursday I was invited to a dinner with the Board of Directors, and we had goat for dinner… free grazing. You don’t need to tell me anymore. I understand.”
“What were you looking for?”
“The power of my spirit guides, the wisdom of my power animals.”
“What did you find?”
“I didn’t want this.”
“I gave you what you asked for. You must have understood what you were asking for. You are one with them… you felt their power. You felt their suffering. Therein lies their wisdom.”
Apolito got up and said goodbye. Constanza went to the bedroom to get the money she owed him for the visit. She took the wallet from the bureau and fainted. Constanza opened her eyes….
Apolito heard the noise in the bedroom. He went to see what was happening and found Constanza unconscious on the floor, her leather purse in her hand.
© Rafael E. Fajer Camus
Rafael E. Fajer Camus is a Mexican writer who was educated at NYU and Naropa University. He has travelled extensively and has lived in Mexico City, Paris, and NYC. He’s been through a few rehab and psychiatric treatments in the US and Mexico. He’s now aware that he’s not a cyborg destined to settle humans on Mars and is working on his first book Notes on the Borderline. His work has appeared in: ACE Anthology III: Arresting, Contemporary stories by Emerging writers, ACE Anthology IV: Arresting, Contemporary stories by Emerging writers and in several editions of Live Encounters Magazine. His work has been taught at NYU. https://rafaelfajer.com/