Nana’s funeral was closed casket. My relatives told me she went peacefully and that it was expected. I felt like a stranger to my family since I was the only one to branch out of the coffee business. Nana was the only one to ever understand me and now she’s gone.
I stared at her casket feeling melancholy. I heard the murmuring around me, but I couldn’t pull my eyes away until my brother Nate bumped my elbow to get my attention. It was time to say goodbye.
After the burial, our family gathered at the villa outside the coffee plantation at dusk. My Uncle Rob was chosen to read Nana’s will. I wondered if Nana had left me anything. We were always so close.
Hearing my name catches me off guard.
The will only had one line in script:
Natasha Novello inherits everything.
My relatives looked at me smiling. The burden of Nana’s businesses were now on my shoulders.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” Nate asks.
We were packing to stay a couple days at Nana’s house.
“Why not? I would want to honor Nana’s last wishes.” I reply.
“You literally know nothing about what you’re getting yourself into,” Nate says.
“I can learn,” I rebut. I pause from packing to sit next to him. Maybe he was jealous I was inheriting everything.
Nate takes my response without a word and hops off the bed walking away.
The next day we arrive at Nana’s duplex. I scrunch my nose at the familiar smell of French roast coffee as soon as I step into the house; it was Nana’s favorite. It was eerie being inside her home with her gone. I missed her.
I walk past the line of pictures on the wall. We had a huge family. Everyone in these pictures looked almost exactly the same as they did now.
Nate walks through the front door without knocking.
Nate asks, “ Are you ready for a tour?”
“More than ever,” I respond.
He took me to the family cafe first. It was not too far from Nana’s house.
“Since we’ll be working together, I wanted to show you my contribution to helping you,” He continues, “I’ll be managing this half of the business, Aunt Rosita will be managing the plantation and you’ll…just take care of the traditional roles.”
“Traditional roles?” I question.
Was I even ready to take on Nana’s businesses? Nate seemed to know more about this stuff than I did.
Nate puts my question on hold and opens the cafe door.
The cafe is bustling with business. The inside was painted light green and accented by dark brown tables and chairs. Nana had put old pictures from her home in Italy along the walls. The set up was like any ordinary cafe with a touch of “home.”
Cafe workers notice us. One of them in particular caught my eye. A male barista with hazel eyes. I break our staring contest and turn my attention back to Nate.
“Let’s go to the plantation,” he states pulling me along.
At the plantation, Nate points out the workers in the field before bringing me inside the processing area.
“How is the ground still so good after being planted on for so long?” I ask him.
I knew little about farming, but knew enough that the ground should be dead by now if they weren’t rotating it?
“It’s the fertilizer, keeps it fresh,” he says looking around. “Looks like Aunt Rosita isn’t here right now. Let’s head back?”
“Wait,” I say grabbing his wrist. I remembered the barista boy.
“I think I’ll just meet you back at the house, I want to grab something from the cafe,” I tell him.
“Get me a croissant?” He asks.
“Yeah, yeah.” I reply walking back in the direction of the cafe. I hope barista boy is still there.
The bell jingles when I walk inside the family cafe. I search behind the counter and lock eyes with hazel eyes again. I approach the counter. He goes to a register I walk towards.
“Hi, my name is Natasha, I’m going to be taking over this business for my Nana,” I start, then I lean in and say lower, “I noticed you looking at my brother and I earlier.”
His co-worker starts looking at him.
“Yeah, boss told us days ago, how can I help you?” the barista asks.
“Can I get a croissant?” I answer, remembering my brother’s request.
He starts writing on a pastry bag then puts the croissant in it.
“Thank you,” I say taking the bag and walk away.
I sit in a booth, disappointed the barista ignored my question until I noticed something is written on the bag:
Can’t talk here, meet me in the graveyard after my shift. I’m off in one hour.
Or maybe I thought wrong. I stare at the message and begin a mental battle with myself. His message seemed ominous. Was this the right thing to do, or would I end up murdered meeting some stranger where he can literally bury my body? But, this could be serious if he can’t tell me upfront in public. I know I shouldn’t go so willingly, but something is telling me to go.
“Just get it over with,” I decide aloud and rip a piece of the croissant to eat. A customer looks at me strangely. I roll my eyes and continue eating my pastry.
It was midday when I reached the graveyard. The barista was in the front with two shovels.
“You’re the heir,” he states when I approach him.
“Yeah, I’m kind of new at this,” I say sticking my hand out.
“Nice to meet you, my name is Tony,” he responds shaking my hand.
“Can you tell me why you were looking at us earlier?” I ask in a whisper, even though no one else is around us.
“It’s probably better if I show you,” he responds.
“We’re not going to rob graves, are we?” I ask him.
He passes me a shovel and walks in the direction of my family’s graves. Nana’s was still fresh.
“Of course not, we’re going to dig up your Nana’s coffin,” He says.
“Why?!” I ask him, hitting him with the handle of the shovel.
“You just need to see,” he says. He starts to shovel dirt and I start shoveling with him.
By the time we get to the coffin, I’m out of breath. Tony jumps in the grave and lifts the lid. I close my eyes and open them slowly.
“What the hell…” I whisper at the empty coffin. My heart was pounding. None of this made sense.
“Do you know where she is?” I ask him jumping into the grave and pulling him by the shirt.
“No,” he answers.
“You’re not making any sense,” I say. I can hear the desperation in my voice. Maybe I’m going mad at this point.
“It will make sense in time,” he says.
I glare at him for inviting me here and not offering much of an explanation. I throw my shovel at him and decide to just go back to Nana’s house.
When I arrive at Nana’s house, I notice my shoes had gotten muddy and kicked them off.
“We have much to discuss,” my Aunt Rosita’s voice echoes from the living room. “But first, would you like some coffee?”
I jump back surprised with the company. She stands up and leads me to the kitchen where she starts to brew coffee. I sit across from her at the dining table. We stare at each other.
“So, auntie…whats up?” I ask her casually.
I’ve never had a full conversation with my Aunt Rosita until this moment. Aunt Rosita opens her mouth, but the kettle from the coffee brew interrupts her. She sets us two cups with room to put milk and sugar.
“Did Nana ever tell you why our coffee business was so successful?” Aunt Rosita asks.
She pours milk into her cup meticulously.
“Not really…” I answer taking the milk from her.
She takes a long sip of her coffee. I was getting impatient. She takes her sweet time putting a spoonful of sugar into her cup. I sipped my coffee out of habit to calm the angst I was feeling.
“We are bound to this business through the land,” Aunt Rosita starts, “Your great, great grandfather Enzo made a deal. In order for success in his coffee business there must be an exchange for a chosen body.”
I spit out my coffee.
“Sorry, w-what do you mean by a deal? A chosen body?” I ask. I wipe my mess with a nearby rag.
“Heirs get chosen to tend the family business and are guaranteed good coffee and good business until the land needs a body to fertilize. Then a new heir is chosen,” Aunt Rosita explains. “The rest of us live forever.”
I jump back from my seat knocking my cup over. I’m an heir…It’s a cycle. The dark, hot liquid spreads on the table. Steam rises from the surface.
“People are drinking coffee fertilized from our family’s decomposing bodies?!” I exclaim.
Aunt Rosita takes a long sip nodding her head, unfazed by my reaction.
This coffee we’re drinking…
“It is an honor to be chosen; remember, family is always with us,” she says.
I step back and bump into someone. Nate.
“Is she ready for the next step?” he asks.
Aunt Rosita looks to me.
“Take her,” she says.
“Take me where?” I ask.
“It is the duty of the heir to fertilize the land,” he says pulling me by my arm.