On returning to Panjim after my day trip to Old Goa, it seemed as if Saint Francis Xavier – the so-called Incorruptible Saint – was a universally loved figure amongst the Goan Christians.
Then one evening I met a couple who definitely did not revere him.
Perhaps better said, they met me.
I was staying at a small, family owned, hotel. There were 5 rooms. These were on the second story, at the top of a long creaking wooden staircase. The owners, a middle aged couple named Soares, lived on the ground floor. In the backyard was an open, thatch roofed shelter with tables and plastic chairs. Breakfast was served here and also evening meals (which had to be ordered in the morning). Near the shelter was an area of grass and against a high wall, a riot of ferns, creepers and palms. This was a fine place to stay, it was quiet and in a secluded back street.
One evening however, it was far from quiet. It was nearing Christmas and festivities were on the agenda. There was a family get together – or rather, an extended family get together – held in the back yard. Trestle tables were set up in the garden and food and drink made available to everyone. Most of the other western tourists staying at the hotel opted to go out for the night. There must have been around 20 people there, including some boisterous kids. Some of the older people I noticed spoke Portuguese. Most of the others, middle aged and younger, spoke Konkani, a language originating in Southern India. Most Goans were conversant with English although rarely fluent.
There were two people there that night who were certainly fluent in English. I had heard about Antonio and Isabella from the Soares. They were a family success story. And they, I subsequently found out, had heard about me because of the lively account I had related to the Soares about my trip to Old Goa.
Antonio and Isabella had left Goa in their late teens, gone to university in London; he had a PhD in biochemistry and she in sociology; later they moved to Portugal, where they were living at the outskirts of Lisbon. They were middle aged and dark skinned but with some obviously Portuguese features. Antonio was a bit overweight, wore gold rimmed glasses, was clean shaven and had a crop of thick curly hair. He wore neat slacks, an open necked blue shirt and an off white cotton coat; Isabelle, still beautiful despite her years, wore a long floral dress with long sleeves, earrings, and necklace; her long black hair was tied up in a bun. Their clothes were simple but were good quality; expensive and purchased in Portugal, not India.
On first appearances, ironically, Antonio and Isabella stood out because they were as well dressed as the pilgrims I had seen a few days before in the Basilica of Bom Jesus in Old Goa……