a short story by Edd Doerr
Don Nepomuceno climbed from the back seat of his Mercedes, smoothed his silk suit, adjusted his white Panama hat, and instructed his driver to wait. The street was deserted, but for a mangy mutt examining orange peels in the middle of the dusty thoroughfare. It was not yet noon, but the heat was already intense. All the windows to the street were closed, though faint sounds of children could be heard.
Don Nepomuceno looked up and down the street and then strode into the dark cavernous church, dimly lit by candles at the various side altars, down the center aisle to the communion rail, made a sharp left turn, stopped, and knelt before the statue of St Anthony.
"Dear San Antonio," he mumbled, elbows on the rail, looking up at the statue, "I know that I am not very regular in my mass attendance, but I assure you that that is because I am a man of many responsibilities, which keep me far more occupied than most of the riff-raff in this town.
But you know all about me, how this town would go to rack and ruin without the leadership which I exercise through the mayor and the chief of police.
"Today I wish to appeal to you for help, you who are the patron saint of those who are looking for things, deserving people, of course. It's like this, you see. Coffee and banana export prices are down and my costs are going up. My wife is in Miami spending my money. My son at the university is pestering me to buy him a new car to replace the BMW he smashed up. My daughter's clothes are costing me more than I pay the servants. My Mercedes is beginning to look almost as shabby as the one that viejo pendejo Galindez drives. And as if that were not enough, my girlfriend's period is late again.
"So you can surely see, San Antonio, that I need your help. It should be a simple matter for you to help me find oil on one of my haciendas, or maybe emeralds on my property in the mountains, or maybe the nomination for the Chamber of Deputies from this district. Anything at all. And if you help me this time, I promise that I will donate five percent of all new income to the church, even though Padre Fernando is a lazy bastard hijodeputa who has tried to sleep with my girlfriend. . . . "
At that moment, Don Nepomuceno became aware that someone else had entered the church. He looked around. It seems that a beggar, a vile-smelling peasant, had crept into the church and was kneeling in the shadows, hands clasped together, eyes downcast. He was a skinny devil, dressed in filthy rags, shoeless, unshaven, hair unkempt.
Don Nepomuceno heard the creature whisper. "San Antonio, I know that you must be busy with many very important matters, with people vastly more important than I. I am an undeserving wretch, unfit even to lift my eyes to look upon your statue. I hate to ask you for anything, but, you see, I have had nothing to eat for three days, nothing whatever. I have no money, not even one centavo. I have tried to find work doing anything, cleaning toilets or shovelling manure, but there simply is no work.
"I do not ask for much, perhaps only to help me find some scraps of food the dogs and pigs do not want, maybe a piece of moldy discarded bread, anything. Maybe even a few centavos so I can by some old hard bread. I know that I am completely undeserving, and I will pray to the Virgin to assist you with your work even if you do not help me. But please . . . ."
Don Nepomuceno had heard quite enough. He pulled a wad of bills from his pocket and threw them in the direction of the beggar. "Here," he called out, "take this and get the hell out of here. Can't you see that you are distracting the saint from dealing with more important matters?"