The mornings on Buena Vista street were stunning, especially in spring when the Araguaney in front of Cecilio's two-story apartment building was fully bloomed, and the breeze took with it the yellow flowers to dance on the impeccable cobblestone streets.
Cecilio sat on the hammock chair of his balcony with a cup of strongly sweetened black coffee and said hello to a new day. The barbershop across the street opened for customers and he admired the slow way the owner, an older man of Italian origin with colored suspenders, sat on the wooden bench to read the newspaper as his oldest son opened the store. The patrons slowly got in for a fresh shave and a nice talk. Next to it, the bookshop was getting ready to open too. Every single one of them waved at him and Cecilio waved back, no matter if they were younger or older they had this custom to show him some respect.
That's the least you could do to the street's witch. It was a thing people in this street had been doing since he came to live here with his grandmother as a little boy. She was the confidant of many, a keeper of secrets, and the one who always knew the solution for many issues that any of her neighbors had. That's the type of person Amina Terán was. Now that she was gone, Cecilio followed in her footsteps, and let's say he was at least good at managing the store she left behind. The days he didn't forget to open up early, of course.
Rosario, the owner of the bookshop on the front street, and her wife Lila, a tall, tanned woman with a taste for having her brown hair run free and that you would never lose since she always had a colorful shirt on, worked hard at cleaning the front of the bookshop while Paolo, their son, was rushed by them to go to his school’s club activities. He stopped first in front of Cecilio’s building where Danielle, his neighbor from the next apartment, was waiting for him. Both kids looked up at the balcony where Cecilio calmly enjoyed his slow morning and waved him goodbye before running to catch a bus.
Cecilio sluggishly waved back, and when they both disappeared from his view, he heard his front street neighbor calling his name.
“Aren’t you opening the shop? Is 7 already!” screamed Lila at the balcony, only getting a thumbs-up as an answer. “Stop being so lazy! What did you do last night?”
“It was Friday, Lila. What do you think I was doing?”
Cecilio massaged his tired eyes and wished he’d grabbed his glasses before coffee.
“Knowing you, you probably spent the whole night reading!”
Cecilio didn’t answer since she was pretty much right. The mess of books and papers in his room that he tried to ignore confirmed it.
“Maybe… Maybe if you hadn’t brought my order that late yesterday I wouldn’t have spent all night checking the new books!”
“What a bad excuse…” she whispered to herself and rolled up the cuffs of her bright yellow shirt. “Did you like them?!”
Finally, Cecilio stood up and leaned on the wooden railing of his balcony, his black curly hair was at neck length and slightly disheveled, the eye bags weren't as dark as she thought they would be, and even for having slept barely 3 hours, Cecilio’s tanned skin glowed with the warm sunlight of the morning. He looked down at Lila with his clear green eyes and a tired smile formed on his face that showed a boyish charm that stayed with him even at his age.
“I adore them. You’re the best for getting them even if it was such a hassle.”
“You paid a lot for them… But we can talk about that later. Get dressed and open the shop before it’s too late!”
Cecilio sighed, letting his forehead rest on the wooden railing for a moment.
“I’m sure no one needs a rock or incense this early Lila!” he tried to yell, but he was still sleepy and felt his body so heavy.
“Este niño!" she raised her hand at the second floor with anger, "Tomorrow's Domingo de procesión! People will need that incense to pray!”
In an instant, Cecilio disappeared from the balcony, and Lila laughed when she heard the ruckus coming from the apartment as he rushed to get ready. Her job as the daily alarm was now fulfilled.
Stumbling his way through the room, Cecilio took a shower and dressed with the first things he saw in his closet. Carefully and trying to not stomp onto the mess of books, old and new, or the loose papers and materials he’d been using the past few days. The disorder was unsightly, the more he looked at it, it looked back at him, but he had to work. The shop would be closed on Sunday for spring cleaning. Missing breakfast annoyed him, but he was running late.
The apartment, of dark wooden floors and cream and dark green colored walls that were covered with so many different abstract paintings, photographs, retro decorations, and statues looked more like some sort of vintage art nouveau museum rather than a 33-year-old man’s home. None of these things were placed by him though, this apartment had been decorated by his grandmother years ago. Cecilio liked it all, and when she passed, he left it as it was.
On an extravagantly ornamented golden frame body mirror, Cecilio fixed the curls that got tangled in his ear piercings, most of them golden except for the one with a bright citrine stone, and finished drying his hair. He checked that the wide-legged grey pants and the brown loose shirt fit well when his cellphone rang from some point in the living room. It was under a book about medieval history and when he picked it up he noticed the amount of missed texts. Cherry had been trying to reach him since 5 AM.
“I hope the club didn’t catch on fire for you to call me so early,” said Cecilio while answering his phone.
“Don’t ever wish ill on my bussines you witch.”
The feminine voice across the phone was also sluggish and the sentence ended in a long yawn. Cherry too was barely waking up.
“Only blessings your way honey. What do you need?”
“Incense please, lots of it. Your special blend. I need it for midnight.”
“I’ll see what I can do, I’m running late to work,” he put on his glasses and checked the page he used his phone as a bookmark for, then quickly ran to get a highlighter and pen to take some notes. “Can you believe I forgot there’s a procession tomorrow?”
“Yes, I can. I betted on it and it looks like I won.”
"How could you...?"
"You said yesterday your highly specialized collection about the history of humanity finally arrived. Of course, I knew you would geek out for hours and forget about life itself."
"... So you could've stopped me from reading 2 whole books last night and you chose to not do it?" he started massaging his temple, knowing well that it was his fault to have overslept.
"That's what you get for relying more on books rather than on the lived experience of a 300-year-old lady. I'll pick up my order later!"
His friend hung up the call and Cecilio sighed to calm himself. With his book in hand, he went to the living room and lifted a floor door that connected his apartment with a spiral staircase and the store under it. Cecilio left his phone and book on the store’s oak counter and grabbed the keys he left in the backroom. Too tired to handle the big and heavy emerald green velvet curtains, he risked being caught, and by simply looking at them, a subtle spark in his eyes appeared before they slowly opened and let the sunlight inside his perfectly organized store. The shelves needed their daily dusting, and the floor some sweeping, everything he completed in half an hour.
Just as he finished cleaning and putting new ware on some empty shelves, he turned around the sign at the door and let some customers in.
Astralis Store: Esoteric and metaphysical supplies is open to the public.
Just like Lila said, Cecilio spent his morning attending to many of the religious communities of the zone by himself. They took all of his sunflower incense sticks, and he almost ran out of candles too, just to say some of the customers' favorites. After some hectic first 2 hours, Cecilio sat behind the counter and in front of the curtain that matched the one in the shop window, relaxing before the usual traffic of customers started arriving.
The customers in this type of shop were usually the same. Besides his patrons that were, ironically, a mix of religious people, mostly Catholics, and well-seasoned witches stocking up on materials, you also had people that got in because the extravagance of the store caught their eye or some tourists that thought it was a gift shop at first but still end up buying some necklaces with pretty charms. The groups of teens that wander around the store before daring to ask him for a beginner-friendly astrology book and some stones were some of his favorites, and Cecilio usually charmed at least one of them into buying a pendulum or tarot deck a friend of his illustrated. Then there were the usual skeptics that acted like everything in the shop was fake, placebos and “A waste of time/A dumb hobby only teenage girls could fall for” coming and going, but after a kind smile from Cecilio they always ended up buying some pretty bracelet or a bit of his homemade good luck essential oil to gift someone.
A lie, it was always for themselves.
Cecilio liked the people that believed, even when they didn’t know it themselves.
Believing in all of this was easier for Cecilio than the usual skeptic since he knew that all of these placebos worked, and so much more. There's a vow of secrecy in the community and it must be respected, but if you had to know something about Cecilio and what his kind smile hid was that he knew how to do all those tricks you could usually see in movies. How to make things levitate, bend or disappear. Control the weather and the energies that made life itself, all of that Cecilio could do after having a good breakfast and if he was in the right mood. Years of practice took him to the level he was on, and still, Cecilio was more fond of the simple rituals rather than the flashy magic. Whenever he lit up a candle and asked for something, he was sure it would come in the way the universe wanted it, and if he had any ill of the soul, meditation always fixed it, especially if he lit up a cinnamon incense stick, his favorite.
To teach the curious that approached him with open hearts, to help whoever needed him, that's what makes him want to wake up every day and the reason he studied so hard.
In the quietness of his store, when there were no customers like right now, Cecilio thought back to his past. Being nostalgic was something that he imagined came with age, but it was hard to smell that well-known scent of sandalwood incense that impregnated the store and not think about how he got here. The shop looked so different now from when he was 7 and his grandma took full custody of him, deciding to bring him to this city after spending his childhood in some little town in Venezuela with his mother. He didn’t know anything about his mother ever since— and wished to never know anything at all about her. From the day he was on that plane and took on the last name Terán, Cecilio finally found a home, and he decided he was born at seven years old.
Many responsibilities befall him as a store owner and only worker of Astralis. Cleaning, opening on time (something that had been getting harder as time passed), refilling the jars with the crystals, checking the stock of materials and merchandise, doing some tarot readings for interested customers, and trying to not look into their lives too much, since he was usually right in every single reading. That’s why he rarely read for himself.
That’s pretty much the responsibilities his grandmother had and that she left to him when she passed away 9 years ago. That and her other customers. You see, to be a witch you could just feel called to the lifestyle and call yourself one, use pretty crystals, and know the meaning of all the herbs in your garden. Believe that all of it can make a positive change in your life. You can have fun at it or be like Cecilio, and her grandmother Amina, then her mother and her great grandfather before her. Who knows how many witches there’s been in this bloodline, not even his grandma knew them all.
It was all a family bussines.
Families like his were many all around the world. It was in their blood to be a witch. Cecilio only found out those sensibilities blooming when he was 10, and his grandmother was as excited as if she’d found a mine of gold next to one of amethysts. Both things she did in her 20s and there were pictures to prove it, yet to find her sole grandkid to be like her was enough to make her focus on passing all her knowledge to him. She managed to teach him quite a lot, so much that her friends that were also witches were surprised at Cecilio’s naturality in the craft. He was such a good prospect that he was presented to the Great Assembly of Witches.
Because there’s an assembly of witches across the world. They avoid the pointy hats and brooms for the political aspect of it, but the black cats were a must just because of how pretty they are.
To no surprise to anyone but himself, he’d been initiated at 16, considered to be a member by the time he was 20, and everything seemed bright. Then it wasn’t. All because Cecilio committed an atrocity that was common for a big part of humanity.
When he was 24, he fell in love with a guy. A guy that lied to him and that he never saw again in his life.
A guy that came from outer space, but we’re getting ahead of the facts.
Every time he thought about that man he clenched his hands without thinking, never noticing how the nails dig into the palm. Because of the betrayal caused by him 9 years ago, a domino effect of universal proportions fell on Cecilio, who lost the peaceful life he attained when he was seven and was only able to regain some semblance of it 3 years ago. Thanks to him and the chaos he brought, Cecilio ended up taking in more burdens than he ever imagined he would have. There was the routine at the store, always peaceful and repetitive, but he also had many things to attend to as Grand Witch, a role that was forced onto him when his beloved grandmother was gone. Now Cecilio was stuck in an administrative role he oversaw from the comfort of his home against many complaints.
Cecilio didn’t think of his childhood before Teria, his mother, or that man anymore, and the bell of the door announced customers and something to distract him from the uncomfortable feelings he got whenever he found himself alone.
Other than the hectic start of the day and his terrible crisis of nostalgia, it’d been quite calm for a Saturday morning. He tended to the store how his grandma, the original owner, did, and his favorite part was seeing people walking on the street, how families enjoyed the sunny spring day, and the neighbors doing well with their businesses. How wonderful it was to see how at ease you could be in Buena Vista street no matter what day of the week it was. Everything was at peace.
Oh, and there's that demon at the other side of the street, of course, waiting for Cecilio to allow him to walk inside his shop.