Introduction to the story, L-KEFFIENA (Preparer of Corpses)

Dreadful screams echoed all the way along Maitland Street, Ħamrun, in the late afternoon of a cool, windy and overcast day in May. Like almost everyone else in the street, Lucia hurriedly stepped outside of her home and walked out onto the narrow footpath outside to see what had happened. By the time Lucia had exited the three-storey building that housed her flat, a small group of neighbours had already gathered in front of the little house opposite, where the distressing cries were emanating from.

Some of the women in the group had been mindful enough to wrap a shawl over their head and shoulders as they left their homes. The tasselled ends of the women’s shawls were flapping in the wind while they collected outside the bright blue wooden door of the house. A gathering of about a dozen people huddled together in silence on the pavement wearing various expressions of fear, concern and anxiety.

Something bad had happened.

The commotion of shouting and wailing inside the house seemed to reach a crescendo then become quiet, just as a teenaged boy burst through the front door and into the street. One of the women shouted out as the boy dodged his way through the bystanders:

“What in God’s name has happened?”

The baby is dead! It’s not breathing. I have to bring the doctor!”

The boy ran off to the accompaniment of whispered praying and a few shrieks of anguish from members of the small congregation who repeatedly crossed themselves while imploring God to have mercy. The bedraggled assembly intermittently broke up into ones and twos as people slowly walked away with heads bowed after they realised that there was nothing they could do but go home and pray.

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