Antoni wandered, alone, down the streets back to the cathedral. His anger was seeping into the cobble stones and bewilderment rushed in to replace it. What right did Beatriz have to say the things she said? After all, he knew she wasn’t perfect. And yet, it was hard to believe she meant him true harm. After all, if she didn’t care she would have stayed at home. Beatriz had come a long way … for him, and he had let her go, no forced her to leave, that much was clear. He suddenly felt short of breath and leaned against a house to rest.
A little boy and his father hurried by and, seeing Antoni, crossed to the other side of the street. The little boy tugged on his father’s sleeve, “Daddy, we should give him something. Look he’s so tired.”
But the father just shook his head “No, he’ll be fine. Just look, he’s got money in his hand.”
Antoni waved his cane, “Save your money, I’m no bum!” but they were right, he certainly looked like one. Antoni opened his hand, checking to see if he was indeed still holding his change from the meal. There, right in his palm, was a tiny snail shell. It was odd that he hadn’t even felt it. He gazed at the tight spirals of the shell going on and on in constant motion and seamless parallels, the shades of palest pink to brown in glorious ribbons. Beatriz picked them, shelled them everyday, and yet … he remembered with a smile, she loved the shells. She had a small collection by the time he left the town all carefully laid in a box she had lined with felt. He had asked her once how she could bear to look at those things and she had said … he closed his eyes as the memory fell into place.
Beatriz, her long dark hair flowing in the breeze held the shell so gently in the palm of her hand.
“I don’t know why you keep these. You get new ones every day.” Antoni could just see the gulls circling by the beach and was anxious to get there.
“Oh, I see lots, but they are so beautiful. This one; I like the color, and the shape, it’s small and perfect.”
“I don’t know. It’s just a shell. It’s alright to look at; I just don’t know why you’d keep it, that’s all.”
“You look,” she said, handing him the shell gently, “you have better eyes for this sort of thing.” Her legs swung back and forth under the bench, “I started collecting them after what the priest said at church…”
Antoni laughed, “He told you to start collecting snail shells?”
“No!” she elbowed him sharply, “of course not! Don’t you remember? He was showing all the kids, you know, us older ones, the symbols painted around the church, ‘this one is the Lamb of God’ and ‘that one is St.Andrew’s cross’…”
“Yes, I think I remember, a little…”
Beatriz laughed, “You were looking at something I bet! Looking again and not really listening. Anyway, he comes to this shell, a snail shell, and a few of the girls were snickering at me again, but he says to us all. ‘Don’t you laugh children, this is an important symbol. It reminds us all of how we get to heaven.’ And one of the boys yelled, you must remember this, ‘Yes, you go round and round!’ But the priest made us all very quiet and whispered ‘No. Our sins died with Jesus on the cross. This shell, in its spiral, reminds us that the stone was rolled away from the tomb. That he was no longer to be found with death. That he brings us to rise again to new life, a life of forgiveness. That is what the shell reminds us all.’”
Antoni gazed at the shell in his hand. It was Beatriz’s precious shell from all those years ago. He remembered. He remembered it all.
The sun was just setting through the panes in Antoni’s workshop as Joan came in the final time.
“I’m sorry Mr.Gaudi, but I really must go home. This is the third time this week I have missed Rosa’s meal and I…”
Antoni held up his hand to stop him but didn’t even look up from his work. Joan sighed and leaned against the wall watching the sun go down through the colors in the window. Finally, Antoni looked up, his eyes shining gleefully; he thrust a long roll of paper into Joan’s arms. “I’ve found it Joan, I’ve found it!”
“What?” Joan looked up from his daze.
“I’ve found the secret to the towers!” Antoni patted the roll urgently, “Now go, quickly, to the foreman. Go, Go!”
Joan didn’t move, he just sighed. “That’s what I have been trying to tell you Mr.Gaudi, the sun is setting, everyone has gone home for the day.”
Antoni threw his hands up into the air, “When do these people work? Never mind, never mind, I must at least show someone. Look here.” He unrolled the drawing for Joan to see.
Joan squinted through the gathering dark, “Yes, most unusual staircase inside the bell towers. What is it? A shell? Very imaginative but, forgive me sir, I’m not sure that I understand.”
Antoni smiled and nodded, “Yes, I had exactly that problem myself.”
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