I Don't Practice Santeria


chess3_icon.gif ignacio_icon.gif

Scene Title I Don't Practice Santería
Synopsis Well, Nacho does. But he definitely doesn't have a crystal ball — or even a Magic 8 Ball, which Chess would find about as useful.
Date January 5, 2019

Botanica La Romana

Botanica La Romana is an established location in Red Hook — one of not very many places that survived through the war and came out the other side relatively unscathed. Not completely unscathed, sure, but considering how much of New York had been destroyed, the fact that it was even still standing and in usable in any way was saying quite a bit.

It’s still here, and any parts that had been messed up have long since been fixed. The front is painted with a beautiful mural; big, bold colors that would look much more at home on a tropical island than in New York in the middle of winter. Well, that is if New York didn’t have that sort of thing in many other places. And of course, that’s the point, right? To give a little flavor of home in a much bleaker world. There’s some music wafting from inside onto the street as well, a merengue that only adds to the impression the mural gives.

When the door is opened, that impression is cemented. It’s not quite like stepping into another world, but it’s close. There aren’t many of these around anymore, since there isn’t anywhere near as much call for the sort of thing now, but this one must be doing all right, since it’s still standing. There are candles everywhere, as well as little statues, cardboard icons, flowers, herbs…and a man behind the counter who looks to be in his middle to late twenties. He’s leaning on it as he writes something in what looks like a ledger, but his hips move in time to the music like he can’t quite bring himself to be still.

Stepping into the door, Chess strikes an ambiguous figure; a baseball cap covers her head and a man’s pair of aviator glasses obscures a large part of her delicate face. Once inside, though, the glasses are taken off, and tucked into the pocket of her leather jacket as she sweeps her gaze around the botanica curiously. It’s clear she’s never been here, and it’s very unlikely she’s here for one of the candles or statues — well, maybe the candles. There are a lot of brown outs in the Safe Zone.

She doesn’t go to the counter just yet, idly browsing in that way of a person who knows what they want but isn’t quite ready to find it. Or maybe in the manner of a shoplifter — it’s a similar approach. Touching this, picking up that before setting it down, looking at unrelated items. She could be trying to drop a tail, too. None of the options quite fit the manner of his usual customers.

The man looks up as someone comes into the shop, and his eyebrows raise. She is not familiar, and also has that whole incognito thing going on. Of course, maybe it’s sunny outside, he can’t really tell from in here. He watches her for a few seconds, his eyes following as she moves from the candles to the herbs, to the statues, to pretty much anything else that he has in the store.

“Can I help you?”

It cuts through the music, maybe a little bit louder than it needs to be, but it could be because she’s the only person in the store besides him, too. He comes out from behind the counter, starting towards her, though he stops a couple feet away. “You looking for something for a cleanse? Want someone to read the diloggun for you? ‘Cause you’re looking a little lost.” He grins at her, reaching up to grab a candle with the the image of a woman wearing a blue swirling dress, her expression at once terrifying and comforting. Hard to believe that’s possible, but there you are. “This one’s good for when your power’s out.”

“Read the what?” Chess says, turning to raise a brow at him, clearly trying to decide if he’s said something rude or is just being helpful. Her dark eyes fall to the candle he holds out and she accepts it, studying it a moment, before she looks back up at him.

“Do I really look like someone who’s looking for a cleanse?” she says with a lift of her brows. Sure, she has the Malibu blond hair, but the leather jacket’s old, scarred a couple of places in a way that’s not shabby chic; her jeans, though they fit like they were made for her, are threadbare in a few spots. Chucks on her feet have seen better days. None of it’s too worn to hint of homelessness, and she smells like she’s fresh from a shower, something citrus and coconut lingering in her hair.

“And if you tell me that I need one, you’ll be enacting the ‘you break it, you buy it’ rule while trying to staunch your own bleeding,” she adds with a small smirk.

“Hey, mamita,” Ignacio says with a shrug, spreading his hands, “how should I know? You came in here wanting something, so I took some guesses. Help a guy out, yeah? Gimme a hint, come on.” His hand moves to make a little ‘give me’ gesture with his fingers, curling and releasing quickly a few times.

“I wasn’t talking about that kind of cleanse, anyway,” he continues, before she can respond. “Cleansing the bad spirits out. You look like you got a few of those. Hiding from something with those big-ass sunglasses.” He nods once, as though he feels like he’s guessed her reason for being in here. Apparently he’s chosen not to believe that he’s about to get a candle to the face. “Or you need the bathroom? We got one in the back.”

“Anyone who’s older than ten has a few of those,” says Chess, a little defensively, though she sets the candle back down close to where he picked it up, though not quite. Clearly she’s not one for that sort of detail, at least when it comes to putting things back in a shop.

“And what’s that other thing you said, a diloggun?” she asks, still feeling him out a bit as she moves to another section of the store — slowly, apparently assuming he’ll follow, rather than like she’s trying to escape his presence. She picks up another item, turning it over in her hands, before setting it back down.

“Maybe I’m shopping for a birthday present,” she suggests, glancing to windows for a moment, before she looks back up at him. “You sell anything that’s not out on display?”

“Sure. But some people hide it better.” Ignacio does follow her, though not like he thinks she’s going to steal something — and not particularly like he’s actually trying to help her, either, since she doesn’t seem to know what she wants. Or she does and she hasn’t said it yet. He reaches out to straighten a few things as he walks, moving a candle from the back to the front, putting all the same herbs together in a row, that sort of thing.

“It’s a reading,” he says once he’s refocused on her. “It’s done with cowrie shells. The diviner can read your energy, tell whether you’re in harmony or not. See what you have to do to get back on track, if you’re not. You know. That kind of thing.” He tips his head to the side, “You want to get one? Looks like you could use it.” His tone is more encouraging than judgmental, though. Or maybe he’s just trying the hard sell.

However, then she’s asking for something in the back. “Maybe,” he says, sticking a hand into the pocket of his jeans as he regards her. “Pricier stuff. More for people who know what they want.” He flashes her a crooked smile at that, “That doesn’t sound like you, does it?”

Her brows lift as he talks of the reading, clearly not buying into it. When he says she could use one she huffs a short, breathy laugh. “I haven’t been on track since 2010. I ran hurdles,” she says lightly, stepping by him to make a show of looking at something else. She’s really probably quite aggravating. “Maybe. You could throw one in as a discount maybe, depending on what I’m buying.”

Chess picks up another item, turning it again, eyes cast down as if she’s considering buying that, before she looks up. “Something to help my memory,” she murmurs. “But not if it’s the cheap shit or bought from someone you don’t trust. I’m really not in the mood for the ER. And if I die, I’m haunting your ass.” She looks around at the store. “Since you believe in that sort of thing.”

“Not even in here five fucking minutes, and she’s already talking about discounts!” Ignacio throws up his hands, looking to the sky and shaking his head as though in defeat. “Dios santo, que me salve por favor.” However, he hasn’t lost that smile yet, despite what is clearly a plea for divine assistance, if Chess doesn’t understand the actual words.

He brings his gaze back down to look at her, a very skeptical expression on his face at this point despite the smile. “Something to help your memory?” he repeats. “What do I look like, a retirement community? We don’t have any of those memory-impaired neighborhoods even if you’ve got early-early-onset Alzheimer’s. I feel for you, though. Really, I do.” However, he’s still standing there, hand in his pocket, and he leans against one of the shelves to look at her, as though he’s waiting for something.

His plea for divine intervention is watched with a lift of brows and she rolls her eyes a little. Still, she actually laughs, another small huff of breath that sounds like it’s done in duress. When he waits, she shakes her head, looking like she might just turn out of the store and leave.

There’s a few seconds of awkward silence.

“Refrain, asshole,” Chess finally says. “I was trying to be discreet, but I guess we’re the only ones in the store. Still, you might’ve had a little abuelita in the back or something listening in, I don’t know. Do you need me to draw you a picture, too? It looks pretty much like every other syringe except it’s blue, and it glows. I usually get it over on Staten,” that’s a lie, “but the last time I was on Staten I got shot, so I’m not so big on heading over there right now, you know?”

Go ahead, Chess. Leave. Ignacio’s look almost dares her to go, because it isn’t like he doesn’t know what she means. When she comes right out with it, though, he nods exaggeratedly. “Oh, that,” he says, like he had no clue what she was talking about. “You a cop?” But this makes him laugh, too, a little more amusedly than her. Not that she couldn’t be a cop, but probably she’s not.

“You could draw me a picture if it would make you feel better,” he says as he tips his head toward the back again, though first he moves past her to lock the front door, turning the sign in the window to ‘closed.’ Well, no wonder he stays in business. It can’t be because of the candles, honestly.

He starts toward the back, unlocking a door to the left and behind the counter, opening it and gesturing her in with a flourish as he bows, though he keeps his face tilted up toward her. “Primero las damas,” he says with a grin.

“I’m a shitty artist, so it won’t. It’ll just give me something else to feel shitty about,” she tosses back, hesitating when he moves to the backroom. She glances to the front door, like she might choose to leave after all this anyway, then sighs and turns to follow him.

“Just so we’re clear,” Chess says as she steps through the doorway ahead of him, “I can and will hurt you — repeatedly — if you try anything stupid, yeah?” Her brows lift with the question, as she steps into the backroom, looking around. Maybe for signs of danger. Maybe for the tiny abuelita who could be listening in.

“Damn, rubia, you don’t play, do you?” Ignacio closes the door behind him, though he does not lock that one, perhaps so she’ll feel more secure. Or maybe he just doesn’t care. She has already made quite a credible threat, since he knows that looks are often deceiving in this day and age. “I do solemnly swear that I’m not going to chop you up into little pieces and feed you to my dogs. Okay? That’s not the way to get repeat customers.”

The back room looks like a regular store room, and though it isn’t huge, it’s plenty large enough that she won’t feel like the walls are closing in on her. “Gimme a sec.” He walks all the way to the back, disappearing behind a tall shelf, and he’s gone for about half a minute, maybe. Hopefully not getting the axe. But no, when he returns it’s with a telltale blue vial. “I told you you had demons,” he says, holding it up to display, though he doesn’t pass it to her quite yet. “A reading would be cheaper. Probably help you out more, too. This stuff’s dangerous. Not for continued use. It oughtta come with a warning label.” Though she gets the impression that he’s just messing with her a little bit. It isn’t as though he’s not going to sell it to her.

She lifts a shoulder in response to the question of whether or not she ‘plays.’ When he disappears, she reaches into the courier bag she always has on her, pulling out a baseball to turn in her hands idly; it’s a rough, scarred thing, like perhaps it once belonged to a pitball. There’s no Babe Ruth signature on it, at least.

When he comes out with one, Chess lifts her brow again. “What are you, my Nǎinai? Make it three, and skip the surgeon general warnings, yeah?” she says. “I’ll bite for the reading, though. Why not? I already know my life’s off track, but it should be entertaining at least.” Her dark eyes sweep over him from top to bottom and back up. “You don’t look the part of a fortune teller much, but I guess I’m just letting cultural stereotypes dictate my expectations.”

Her asking for three seems to take Ignacio a little bit aback, and he gives her a more scrutinizing look now. However, he shrugs after a moment, and says, “Hey, it’s your money.” His smile returns at the once over she gives him, though, and he spreads his hands out again like he’s inviting her to take her time. “Why, ‘cause I’m hot?” he asks. “It’s okay, you can look. I don’t mind.” He does a slow turn then, arms still out. “I could get big scarf and some bracelets and shit if that would make you more comfortable. ‘Ay, mija, your aura is black!’” His voice raises to a high-pitched ‘old lady’ voice with those last words, before he laughs, turning again toward the back.

He comes out with three this time, handing them over and quoting a price. “I can do the reading in the front.” he says as he starts for the door again. “But if you’re gonna sit there and be all skeptical and shit then forget it. I don’t want you in here with your bad vibes messing with Eleggua, ‘cause then he’ll be pissed at me and I got enough shit in my life to deal with without him on my ass, okay?”

“Call it research,” Chess says when he looks at her for asking for three. “I’ll be fine,” she adds — the words of every about-to-be addict ever. The mimicking of the stereotypical fortune teller does make her smirk, even as she reaches into her bag to take out a manila envelope. She withdraws a couple of bills to pocket them, then hands him the envelope as he heads toward the door.

She doesn’t speak for a moment, considering whether or not she can handle sitting there not ‘skeptical and shit,’ before she shrugs again. “Sure. I mean, I can use all the help I can get, and if it’s nothing, it’s not going to hurt me any,” she says, which seems about as accepting without belief as she’s going to get. “I’m curious,” she adds, a small smile that might even be described as flirtatious curving one corner of her mouth upward.

Ignacio takes the envelope from her with a nod, using it to gesture toward a little table in the corner of the front room as he moves behind the counter. He puts away the money, and then suddenly the merengue turns off, plunging the room into a strange silence. There aren’t many windows in here, just one next to the door, and so the light is a little bit unnatural as well. It does sort of add to the mystery, so even if he’s way off, the ambiance is right.

“See? Was that so hard?” He comes back out from behind the counter, this time with a bag in his hand. He crosses over to sit down across from where she presumably sat, unless she did not sit. But hopefully she did. “Okay,” he says. “So how it works is, I’m gonna throw it twice. I get a pattern from that, called the Odu. Then after that, you give me some yes and no questions, and I throw them again to get the answer. That helps me interpret the reading. Then we figure out what’s blocking you and how you fix it. Okay?”

When she sits, she fiddles with that baseball in her hand, rolling it in her palm until he returns. She glances at the bag, then back at him, and there’s a moment where it looks like she might have some snide comment or not that she manages to bite back.
“Okay,” she says, instead, sliding the baseball into her courier bag once more. One hand moves to rest on the strap at her shoulder, in the way one might sit in a public place worried about pickpockets and purse snatchers. The other hand drums a couple of times against the table, maybe to the rhythm of the now-absent music, before her fingers curl into a fist and drop into her lap, realizing she’s making noise.

Ignacio watches her very closely as she teeters on the bring of that decision, his eyes narrowing just slightly like he might kick her out. However, she eventually comes down on the right side, and he nods, opening up the bag and removing the contents. As he said, they are cowrie shells, as well as a little cup that is probably what is used to shake them.

“Okay,” he echoes as he puts the shells into the cup. “Just hold yourself in your mind, whatever that means to you. It doesn’t have to be anything specific. Don’t hurt yourself.” The corner of his mouth pulls up into a smirk at that, but it’s more joking than actively mean.

He tosses the shells onto the table, where some land face up and some land face down. He looks at them more quickly than should be possible before he’s starting to put them back in the cup again, but if Chess is looking specifically, it seems like more land down than up. He tosses them again quickly, and looks again, and again more seem to land down than up, but maybe not as many as before. “So now ask a question,” he says as he looks up to her. “Yes or no questions only. You get three.”

Her brow furrows at the direction to ‘hold herself in her mind,’ but she manages not to follow up with another question — at least not about that. Instead, she asks, “Are you, you know.” She taps her temple. “Do you see things? SLC?” Once, that acronym might have been ESP, before the early 2000s.

She quiets though, to watch the tossing of the cowrie shells, studying their layout as if they mean anything to her. When he tells her to ask a question, Chess frowns again and takes a long moment before she asks.

“Will I find another… like me,” she murmurs, not quite making it into a question, and she doesn’t look up at him this time, her gaze on the shells but distant, unfocused.

“Nah.” Ignacio shakes his head with a little huff, “If I was I probably wouldn’t need these, huh?” When she asks this, though, he grins, reaching toward her as though to chuck her under the chin like she’s a little kid, though he doesn’t get close enough to actually seem like he’s going to touch her. “Nena, you’re a unique special snowflake, just like everyone else,” he says. So apparently he gets to make jokes — just she doesn’t.

However, he shakes the cup then, and tosses the shells on the table, and when he sees the pattern, his eyebrows raise and he gets a little bit more serious. “Huh.” All the shells are facing down, every one. “That’s weird.” He gathers them up again, shaking them vigorously, before tossing them down on the table. And it must be a coincidence, right, that they all land face down again? Surely. Those may be long odds but anything’s possible. “Yes and no,” he finally says as he looks up at her. “And not yes, and not no. Guess he doesn’t want to commit on that one. Try another.”

There’s a subtle pullback when he reaches for her, but when he doesn’t touch her, Chess drops her gaze and looks a little embarrassed for the defensive gesture. At least his joke allows her to huff an echoing laugh and roll her eyes. “If only you knew how wrong you were,” she says lightly, one hand reaching to wrap around her wrist — he might get a glimpse of the tattoo there, the lotus flower mandala on the inside sensitive skin, before her other hand wraps around it.

Chess stares at the pattern when the shells clatter on the table, and she glances up when he says it’s weird, her expression darkening for a moment. After he retries and tells her what it means — and what it doesn’t mean — she stares at him for a moment.

It’s clear that means something to her even if it doesn’t to him.

“Weird,” she echoes, instead, and thinks for a moment. “I’m really bad at thinking of questions,” she murmurs, staring at the table in front of her. “Can I change them?” she asks after a moment, dark eyes sweeping back up to his.

Nacho probably would have had something to say about her first comment were he still in a teasing mood — and don’t count him out totally yet — but the answer to the last question has apparently intrigued him. He doesn’t even have anything to add about her little pullback, either, but instead just gathers up the shells to toss again.

He gives the cup a good shake, and spills them out on the table once more. This time there’s what seems to be an actual answer, though he does spend some time looking at them again. “Yes,” he finally says, drawing out the word a little more than is natural, as though he’s not quite sure. Or like there’s something else to it. “You can. But it’s tricky. The main thing stopping you doing that is…you.” He doesn’t say it meanly, or condescendingly. It’s clear he actually does take what he’s doing seriously, and so his tone is just matter-of-fact. “Maybe you don’t really want to yet.”

He scoops the shells into the cup again, and he looks up at her. “One more.”

The answer to that one doesn’t impress her quite as much. Chess shakes her head slightly, leaning back again; the skepticism has crept back into her posture and expression, though she keeps it in check — verbally at least. She manages to school her features back into a more neutral position as well, before he threatens to kick her out.

Despite the skepticism, it’s clear she’s taking the questions seriously — once again, taking a long moment to consider her options, consider her wording. “Did I do the right thing?” she asks, another vaguely worded query that clearly means more than the vague words convey to him. She watches with idle curiosity this time — no longer quite as fascinated, the little spell of intrigue dissipated.

It’s a good thing she doesn’t, because when she gets that look on her face Ignacio’s eyes start to narrow, like he’s going to kick her out at any moment. Luckily for her, she manages to reign it in, even though he’s still eyeing her as he starts to shake the cup. “Don’t think I don’t see you trying to be all too cool for school,” he comments, but it’s said lightly, not quite a joke, since he is in Serious Mode now, but maybe it would be one if he weren’t.

He tosses the shells on the table again, and this time he doesn’t hesitate or study them very hard at all. “Yes,” he says. “But it’s just the first step. You’re still ambivalent, and you have something hanging over you.” He gestures vaguely, as though encompassing her whole being, and then makes a little fiddling motion with his hand at the bag where she put the refrain. “Easy pickings ‘cause I know what’s in there, but that shit isn’t helping you. As long as you hold on to those memories, you’ll never really commit to anything. You think you’re just keeping them close, but you’re not.” And considering he’s making money off the very thing he’s telling her not to do, maybe it has some impact. “There’s something coming and it has to do with that. I don’t know what. But I think you’re gonna want a clear head when it pops up.”

“I liked school. School didn’t like me,” Chess says lightly, watching as he tosses the shells again. One brow rises as he calls her ambivalent, but she’s listening… until he starts to talk about memories and keeping them close.

Keeping Miles close.

Her jaw tenses and her eyes are hard when she looks back up at him. “I told you, it’s for research,” she says flatly. “Not,” she adds, “that why is any of your business.”

Of course, the reading is his business. “That was super enlightening, though. I think I’ll stop by CVS and get a Magic 8 ball for the next batch of questions I have, though,” she quips as she stands up, shouldering her courier bag. “I was going to see if you wanted to go get a drink maybe but, you know, you wouldn’t want to hang out with an addict or anything.” She isn’t one — yet — so the tone is ironic, given he has no problem selling the stuff. Even if he’s half trying to talk her out of it at the same time.

Ignacio holds up his hands, as though trying to ward off her ire. Such as it is. It’s not outward ire, really, just sarcasm, but he can ward that off, too. “Hey, I just read ‘em, I don’t write ‘em,” he says with a shrug. “Feel free to. You might get a better answer. Sometimes Eleggua’s an asshole and he’s not worth talking to. And I wouldn’t say I’m the best at this. The one who taught me was way better.”

He watches her stand up, and when she goes on, far from being offended by anything she’s said, he just grins. “Nena, if I didn’t hang out with addicts I wouldn’t have any friends.” He stands up then, too, and holds up a finger for her to wait. Whether she does or not is her own prerogative, but if she does he walks behind the counter again to do something that isn’t visible to her. Part of it seems to involve some writing, but only part of it, because when he comes back around again, there’s a box in his hand, just plain white and sealed with some Scotch tape. “Here,” he says as he hands it to her. “On the house.”

“If I didn’t talk to assholes, I wouldn’t have anyone to talk to,” quips Chess back, but she waits. A little begrudgingly, but she’s too curious to leave just yet.

When he hands her the box, she raises a brow. “This better not be chicken heads or something,” she says, with a warning look at him, feeling the heft of the box but not opening it there — she figures the scotch tape is meant to discourage her from doing so, for whatever reason.

“Thanks,” she says, though it sounds almost like a question. “And thanks for the reading. I’m sorry my cynical nature bleeds through sometimes.” Or all the time. She gives him a nod and heads to the door, glancing over her shoulder once more before exiting.

Once she’s far enough away she knows he can’t see her, she slashes through the tape with a thumbnail to cautiously open the box and peer inside.

“Nena, we don’t give away chicken heads. That’s a premium item.” However, that’s all that he says, and when she says thanks, he lifts a hand. “It’s all good. See you around.” Probably sooner than later, all things considered. Or maybe she’ll decide she was annoyed enough to get her fix elsewhere.

The box’s contents is not, in fact, a chicken head, but it is something that looks kind of like a head. It's a statue, a little pear-shaped thing with a smiling face made from cowrie shells. It’s painted in swirls of red and black, and the face plus the painting gives it sort of a friendly yet ominous feel. It’s not too heavy, but solid, like it isn’t likely to break.

There’s a card inside, too. On the front is printed text. “Caring for your Orisha,” and then some instructions that seem like the guy probably wrote them himself — that is, they’re amusing though with clear reverence for the subject. On the back, though, is a handwritten note.

Treat him nice. He likes candy.

Nacho — 646-555-0382

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