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D.FÁBULA The secret of Niñopa

Text by Teresa de Miguel

Photographs by Olfa Masmoudi

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Misses Carmen woke up earlier than usual that Monday. The roosters hadn’t crowed in the backyard of her chinampa yet and her husband continued emitting that deep, annoying snore made by someone who knows he doesn’t have many hours of sleep left.

She wore her house slippers and anxiously started looking for her best jacket suit in an old wooden closet that smelled of naphthalene. The peacefulness of the house at dawn contrasted with the emotion contained in her chest, with her desire to speed up the cuckoo clock hanging in the living room.

She’d been waiting forty-five years for this day.

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She remembered that sunny morning perfectly, when her mother made her put on the Sunday dress and they walked to the local committee of Xochimilco where she wrote her name in girl’s handwriting in a very long five-page list.

On their way back home, her mother explained that she had just solicited the administration of Niñopa, a wooden sculpture of baby Jesus that had been granting miracles to the town for more than four hundred years.

To be its administrator was the greatest desire of any inhabitant of Xochimilco because it meant hosting that image of baby Jesus for a year at home, turning one’s house into a sacred place.

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Carmen’s mother died before witnessing the Niñopa was given to her daughter in a great religious ceremony in front of the Church of San Bernardino de Siena.

Later on, a troupe of dancing chinelos with their colorful outfits travelled in a procession across the streets of Xochimilco as Misses Carmen walked, finally holding the small Niñopa in her hands, wrapped in a delicate white blanket.

When they got to her house, she served the greatest feast she could remember on any February 2. The whole town was there, from the gossipy Misses Guadalupe, to wealthy Mr. Hernández. They all praised the altar she’d raised on the main wall of the living room, surrounded by floral arrangements and candles where Niñopa was placed with the utmost care.

Her life’s savings were dedicated to the great feast that lasted until late that night, when the last guests left, leaving behind the house in peace once again.

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It must’ve been three or four o’clock in the morning when a dry sound woke Misses Carmen up abruptly from her pleasant sleep. Her husband, motionless, continued sleeping. She reached for the spectacles in her night table and put her gown on to go out into the living room, slowly, touching the furniture she found on her way with her hands to prevent from tripping.

When she reached Niñopa’s altar, a deep scream sprung from her chest. The headless sculpture lay on the ground. Shacking, she kneeled on the cold floor and grabbed the body of the decapitated baby Jesus, sobbing.

A few centimeters away, the head with brown eyes on chubby cheeks looked at her persistently.

She leaned into the hole of the throat that the lost head left and made out a stone figure with pre Hispanic aspect hidden in the inside of the carved wooden body.

She ran to the cabinet where her husband kept his toolbox and grabbed a thick hammer. She went back to the altar and hit the small centenary wooden body of the Niñopa with force, uncovering an elaborate Xochimilca god.

She raised the stone sculpture with her two hands and, and with the help of the moonlight shining through the window, placed it carefully on the altar. She then swept the remainders of Niñopa that were still lying on the floor and went back to bed, where she sunk back in a deep sleep.

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