The narrow pedestrian streets around the Church of San Salvador de la Marina were coming to life. Most of them already crammed with stalls selling anything a tourist might need, and many things that they didn’t. Classic linen clothing from the ‘White Isle’ and cotton t-shirts with lizards, a Volkswagen camper van or a Vespa scooter. Gaudiesque ashtrays, fake branded sunglasses, plates with a map of the island or a portrait of the cathedral, necklaces with trinkets, hats with I heart Ibiza, balsawood fans in all colours with Sevillana dancers in polka dot dresses and unfathomably, wooden Buddhas of every size. The overflowing stalls squeezed into the constrained side streets forcing passers-by into single file and the inevitable impasse. A deliberate strategy by the vendors to slow the procession so their wares could be noticed. Maria Dolores and Baby negotiated these same streets, she, occasionally raising her head to acknowledge familiar faces who, in turn, nodded as she passed, the same routine, the same daily exchange. A little after 11am she reached her destination and tied Baby to a bike rack by the wall of the San Salvador de la Marina, just a block back from the Ibizan harbour. She scratched Baby behind the ears and told her to watch out for any rabbits. The Carrer de San Telmo opened up behind the church to more maritime bustle. Maria Dolores stood for a moment looking at two colossal, ostentatious yachts, both black yet brilliant in the morning sun. Two men hung from one in harnesses polishing the ink-like lucent exterior, the sunlight sparkled onto it from the water below. On the other, an EC 145 helicopter sat atop five storeys of gratuitous luxury, from Maria Dolores’ perspective it looked taller than the buildings in front of it. She didn’t dwell on the affluence of the owners, instead turned and climbed the five stone stairs to the great wooden doors with less effort than most other 84-year-old bodies might have required.
The outside the church had no particularly remarkable architectural features: small, gothic arched windows contained opaque glass but lacked colour or any artistic detail as might be expected in a church, particularly one as large as San Salvador de la Marina. The inside was equally insipid except for an enormous metre wide, white concha used for baptisms, that was mounted to the wall by the entrance and a three-metre tall wooden Christ nailed to a cross behind the chancel. Maria Dolores was always fascinated with this Christ because it had no facial features, no clothing or genitalia and no crown of thorns. In fact, there was nothing to indicate that it was actually a representation of Jesus except for the crucifixion and its lofty position above the believers who convened below in worship. She entered further into the church with her head bowed and was greeted with cool stale air, a stark contrast to the humid streets outside. She made her way down the nave to the second row of wooden chairs in the transept. Her arrhythmic footsteps and the faint whir of the electric fans fastened to each of the naves columns, the only break in the silence. She sat there a while thankful for the rest, a respite for her throbbing gout-ridden feet, without looking around her already familiar surroundings.
“Good morning Dolores, how are you today?” Maria Dolores didn’t even acknowledge that Father Antonio Ferrer had spoken to her. It was a daily ritual that she had little interest in. Most mornings Father Antonio greeted her but he had long ago given up any notion that she might open up to him, he smiled and moved on, continuing his inspection of that morning’s cleaning.
“What day is it today?” These were the first words she had said to anyone other than Baby all day. The croaky voice forced from her parched mouth. Father Antonio, paused a second then returned and sat on a chair in the row in front of Maria Dolores, who still hadn’t looked up.
“It’s the 23rd of June. Tomorrow is Saint John the Baptist.”
“Then it’s his birthday. He said it wasn’t but I’d know.” she paused, “I’m his mother.” Now Maria Dolores raised her head, but looked past Father Antonio to the Christ without a face, searching for something in him, a recognition of her pain. “I’d know I’m his mother.” She repeated.
Maria Dolores is part of something bigger