Afterwards, as we lay breathless on our backs looking up at the stars and moons, Lemanja whispered in my ear. “For as long as you live,” she said, “every time you lie down with a woman, you will hear and smell the Salterio, and you will think of me.”
“You’re the only woman I want to lie with.”
Hand in hand we walked back to the taverna. The shuttered windows were dark and the building quiet as we climbed back into her room.
A meager flame flickered from the wax stub remaining of the candle. Something against the wall by the bureau held my attention. As my eyes adjusted, the outline of a human form slowly became visible. After that, the faint luster of a single, glassy eye.
As though sensing he was seen, Vanderlei stepped out into the candle’s meager illumination.
“You whore,” he said, soft murder in his voice. “You hardly talk to me. You laugh and mock me while I go crazy down in the cantina. I am a man. Everybody knows that. I am a man, and you go off to screw this boy.”
My heart went as still as stone. When Lemanja broke out in shrill laughter, I jumped.
Vanderlei’s lips curled back in a disgusted smile. “You crazy whore,” he said, and lunged for her with a knife in hand. I leapt forward to intercept him, but he swatted me aside and sent me tumbling against the wall.
The room lurched and spun in a daze around me. I struggled to my feet. My vision cleared enough to discern Vanderlei holding Lemanja down on her bed. Candlelight gleamed off the knife blade as it slashed down in an arc and ended with a sound like sackcloth being torn.
Vanderlei pulled his hand back for another attack. I charged forward and butted him in the back with my shoulder, knocking him over the bed and onto the floor. As he scrambled about grasping through the shadows for his knife, I picked up the bureau and smashed it over his head. The man groaned, fell onto his face, and went still.
Lemanja covered one side of her face with her hand. Blood seeped between her fingers. I opened my mouth to beg her to keep the wound hidden, but before I formed the words she pulled her hand back. A gash hung open in her cheek like a gruesome smile. Mad elation filled her eyes. She leapt from the bed and grabbed me by the shoulders.
“I’m free, Mauricio,” she cried. “I’m free.”
Between the folds of that horrific wound waited all the darkness in the world, and I nearly screamed.
“We have to go,” I said, diverting my eyes to the window. “He’ll kill us when he wakes.”
She laughed and pushed me across the room. “Yes, you must go,” she said. “You are free now, Marucio. Go be free.”
She pushed me to the window and nearly out of it before scrambling back to collect Vanderlei’s knife. The barman rolled on the floor, clutching his head and groaning.
Flames sprang up from Lemanja’s bed, and I remembered the candle that had been on the bureau. I shouted a warning for Lemanja. She looked up at me, face twisted in a sneer, and pressed the knife against Vanderlei’s throat.
I turned and scrambled out the window. As soon as my feet hit the ground, I ran.