"My name is Antonio Minatore." The man in the wheelchair straightened up a little, his dark, melancholy eyes kindling with an inner fire. "One day, it's going to be known. The whole world's going to know my name. That's all I want." He pressed his slender fingertips together, and smiled.
The woman murmured in vague, reluctant agreement, brushed the rain from her forehead, and transferred her shopping bag from her right hand to her left.
"You know what that name means?" the man went on. He had a very long, thin face, a prominent nose, and a perfectly-trimmed Van Dyck beard with a grey streak as indication that he was older than he appeared. His hands were exceptionally finely formed, long and elegant.
"It means miner. That's what I am. A miner. A man of the earth. Someone who finds treasures and brings them into the light. And that's just what I've done. I found a treasure. I found a cure for every disease."
He leaned forward, gracefully, a cardinal on his throne granting a blessing, with a canopy of green branches furnished by the tree under which he was sheltering from the rain, which had left a scatter of droplets clinging to the dark strands of his hair. The torn jeans, the faded T-shirt emblazoned with the name of a long-disbanded rock group, might well have been the robes of power.
"Oh." She shifted her weight from one leg to the other, and moved the bag of groceries back to her right hand.
"It's so simple. Those doctors, they think they know all about diseases. But they've got no idea. Because for them, it's all about the money. I don't want money. If they offered me money, I wouldn't take it. All I want is to make people well, and to have them remember my name, and to tell everyone they know that Antonio Minatore cured them."
He fell silent, apparently contemplating a distant future where untold numbers, made well by his hand, continued to speak his name. The woman sighed faintly, and swapped the shopping back again.
"Well, it's been nice talking to you," she said, taking a couple of steps to one side.
Antonio Minatore turned his eyes on her again. "Don't you want to know how I'm going to heal them?"
"Uh...sure, but the rain's getting heavier, so maybe..."
"It started when I first got sick," he went on, as if she hadn't spoken. "It just hit me out of nowhere. I didn't know anything was going to happen. Even the day before, I worked the whole day. I was a car mechanic, thought I'd always be a car mechanic. But that was how it happened - perfectly well one day, and the next morning I couldn't move. It was like something was pressing down on me." He paused, and looked up at the leaves, shivering with moisture over his head. "I didn't know it then, but I found out later, it was the hand of God."
"Oh." She blinked, and moved a couple of steps away. "Gosh."
"Yeah, I didn't believe it at first. I was so angry, because I couldn't do anything, for months. And the doctors couldn't help me at all. I don't think they even tried, because I didn't have insurance. So they just stuck me in a hospital bed, and hooked me up to machines, and waited for me to die. I thought it was going to happen, too. I thought I would die."
She took another step, then froze as Antonio's eyes turned back to her.
"And then one day someone visited me in my hospital room. Who do you think it was?" Antonio's voice was as calm and matter of fact as if the visitor had been one of his workmates. "It was Jesus. He came and stood over my bed, and put his hand on my chest, right over my heart. I felt something, like an electric shock running right through me. And that was when it happened. He sent his spirit into me, and told me I'd been chosen."
"Ah...well...that must have been..."
"He told me the proof was that I wouldn't die. He said that I was going to get a miracle, and that I'd be cured. And he was right. I didn't die, and I was cured. Completely."
He moved his skinny, boneless-looking legs, then put his hands under one of them, lifting it to cross it over the other. "Of course, I don't walk yet. I know inside myself that I can, but it's not the time yet. When I'm ready to prove that my cure works, then I'll stand and walk, easy as anything."
"You don't believe it, do you?" Antonio smiled and nodded. "It sounds crazy, I know. But I looked Jesus in the face, and I knew him straight away. He had black hair and his skin was darker than what you see in all those old pictures. His eyes were sad. And his beard was black, but it had white streak in it, just here." His fingers briefly caressed his own beard. "Now, how would I know about that, if I hadn't seen him?"
"I don't...well, I suppose..."
"I even painted a picture of him." He moved again, painfully raising his right buttock so he could reach his hip pocket. "I'm an artist, you know. Let me show you..." He broke off, concentrating on the exertion required to make his muscles work. At last he extracted his wallet, and unfolded it slowly. "Look at this," he said, as he took a thumbnail-sized photo from the plastic insert. "That's one of my paintings."
She studied the image, her brow wrinkling. "It's very nice," she said at last. "But I didn't know Jesus looked quite so much like Elvis Presley."
Antonio laughed. "That's not Jesus. I don 't carry Him around in my back pocket. This is one of my other paintings. It's just like him, isn't it? And you know something? I never had a lesson in my life." He put the photo away again, and after a struggle returned the wallet to its place.
The woman edged away. "Well, it's been..."
"You see, that's God working through me, too. That's how I know it's real, not just a dream." He brought his upper body forward, as if afraid of being overheard. "And you know why he chose me?"
"Because the answer is in the earth," he replied. "So who else would he choose but a miner?"
"So what is the answer?" she asked.
"It's still a secret." Antonio moved back again. "But I'll give you a clue. Everyone is formed from the soil and water of their ancestry. So when you move away from your own place, you end up in an environment that's foreign to you, and it poisons you. If everyone lived in the land they were made out of, they could live forever. Just think about that."
He gave her another smile. "I have to go now. I have work to do. I'm writing a book about all this. Well, Jesus is writing it, I'm just putting it on paper. You should read it, when it gets published."
He stretched one long arm down to disengage the brakes of his chair. "I don't know when it'll be finished. But I'll tell you the title, so you can watch out for it."
"Oh, I'll do that," she said brightly. "What will it be called?"
"I'm going to call it by my own name, of course. The Miner."
And Antonio Minatore, serene and confident in the task entrusted to him, turned his wheelchair, and headed off through the rain.