Victor de Santos’ picture was everywhere but the man standing before me appeared taller and more sinewy than I’d expected. He radiated a presence no two-dimensional image could capture. The difference between a photo and the person was as profound as listening to a song on the radio and experiencing it live in concert.
“Good morning, Ms. Thomas.” His grip was firm but not oppressive. The greeting of your best friend’s mum or a kindly priest.
“Just Samantha. Sam, if you prefer,” I said. “Thank you for agreeing to talk to me, Mr. de Santos.”
“If we’re to be on a first name basis, please, just Victor.”
A subtle trace of his Spanish heritage lingered in his voice but otherwise he spoke with a clear West Midlands accent. His parents fled Colombia during the drug wars when he was twelve. The de Santos had successfully navigated the labyrinth of British asylum paperwork and established themselves as diligent little shopkeepers in Coventry.
Victor moved aside for me to come in. The beige walls of the hotel room matched the earthy tones of the leather couch and mahogany chairs and table. As I unraveled my black shemagh and shucked out of my anorak, Victor disappeared into the bedroom and returned with a pot of hot water and two teacups.
“There’s no proper kitchenette,” he said. “They want to do everything for me. But I have a small plug-in heater. Silly times we live in when a man can’t make his own tea.” He gestured toward a plush armchair. “Make yourself comfortable.”
I sat and fished my phone from my bag. I switched on the recording app and set it on the table in front of me while Victor poured the tea.
“I can’t thank you enough for agreeing to the interview. The world is quite curious about you, Victor.”
“The world is curious about what I can do,” he said. He sipped his tea then settled into the chair opposite me. “Not me so much, I think, or else the BBC would have come by our shop with their camera crews and television vans years ago.”
Over my career, I’d interviewed presidents and potentates, movie stars and business moguls, but nobody with such meteoric celebrity as Victor. What he could do was unprecedented.
“You want to know about the curación?” he said.
“Actually, I want to ask about you first. I suppose we should start with the biggest question out there: are you the Second Coming?”
Victor’s laugh came out like a bark nearly causing his tea to slosh out of his cup.
“If I am, I’m a damnably poor version. I can’t walk on water or multiply loaves and I’ve never rebuked a storm.”
“But you can heal people. With just a touch.”
“I can do that.” He frowned momentarily, eyes briefly shifting past mine to some point a thousand leagues beyond. “And before you ask, I’ll tell you I don’t know how. I don’t even know why. Six months ago I woke with a headache. I rubbed my temples and it was gone. I chalked it up to serendipity as anyone would. Later in the day I touched my father’s hand and his arthritis disappeared. My mother lost her pinkie finger in an accident. When I touched her it grew back.”
“What was their reaction?” I asked.
“They were frightened. Then, like everyone else, they concluded this was a miracle from God.”
“You don’t agree?
“I’ve been an atheist all my life, Samantha. I feel there must be a scientific explanation.”
“Have you found one?”
Victor eased back in the chair and looked toward the windows. Though we were eight floors up and the room was advertised as nearly soundproof I could still hear the clamor of the thousands gathered below. The streets had become like a giant hospital waiting room with every manner of ailment represented in the masses.
“I haven’t had time.” His voice grew soft and he closed his eyes. He favored me with wan smile. “Of course my family told everyone they could and soon there was a line out the door. And the word spread from there.”
Victor rose and moved toward the window. Even though the glass was tinted he stood to the side as he looked down at the crowd below.
“It’s changed a bit since the beginning,” he said. “The curación requires about a minute of contact. I have to will it to work. And of course people want to talk. They want advice. They want to thank me. They want to me to bless them. Do you know how long it takes to heal a thousand people at one person a minute?”
Math wasn’t my forte in school, but I tried to work it out in my head.
“About sixteen hours.”
“Closer to seventeen and more like thirty when you factor in all the…gratitude. There are fifteen million chronically ill people in England, Samantha. That’s to say nothing of everyone else who wants the curación for cataracts or male pattern balding.”
He beckoned me to stand by him at the window. I knew the crowd was huge but from above the impact of the mass of suffering humanity was magnified.
“Wherever I go it is like this,” he said. “I’ve slept three, maybe four hours a day for the last six months.”
“Why do you feel this is all on you?” I asked.
He regarded me for several moments before answering.
“An overdeveloped conscience, I suppose.”
I looked back down at the people below. Last week one of those self-appointed American moralists with a pretty smile and a million followers had suggested aerosolizing Victor’s blood and spraying it all over the world to cure everyone. I wanted to ask Victor about his security. I wanted to ask him about studying his gift. I wanted to ask him about the goose and the golden egg.
But when I turned to speak to him again, he was gone.
J.C. Towler is cursed with an abundance of ideas and paucity of time to hammer them into proper stories.