Strange Cargo

One day Hub had a call from an American we knew. We had done some refurbishment work on his villa; usual thing of cupboards and shelves but this particular day he wanted something different.
At his home in California he had beautiful gardens and he'd just bought a piece of garden statuary which he wanted transported back to the States; his request was for a strong wooden container to hold the marble statue. He invited us and Carlos round to the villa to see the figurine and to take appropriate measurements.

Seeing the statue quite took our breath away; standing nearly 120cms tall it was much larger than we'd imagined and formed in a beautiful green-veined marble. But it was particularly the face that was so arresting; between the goatee beard and curls on the forehead were the upturned mischievous eyes of "Pan" the god of woodlands, meadows, goats and shepherds.
It was a remarkable work of art, the ears, horns and legs of a goat and that impish, slightly malevolent face that seemed alive and as he played the pipes I could almost hear the sound of the reeds! A slight shiver went through me. I felt uneasy and not too happy and although it was beautiful workmanship I simply didn't like it!

Measurements taken we returned to the workshops with a Carlos deep in thought. As we walked into the shop Carlos spoke in rapid Portuguese to Joao, whose English was excellent; he in turn told us that Carlos (who was to make the box) needed extra strong wood to hold the heavy statue; it would have to be African hardwood.
The appropriate wood was found and Carlos set to work there and then.

At the end of the week the box was ready. I say box but in reality it was another work of art, for Carlos was not just a good carpenter he was a truly skilled craftsman; everything he made no matter how simple had a professional, expert finish. The "box" had been planed and polished till gleaming, flecks of gold shone from its dark surface; not a sharp corner or edge in sight; every corner had been smoothed and rounded and would have graced any living room as a centrepiece.

They stood on the lawn, Hub, Carlos, Joao gently lifting "Pan", easing him into his luxurious box that would be his home for the next few weeks. When it was sealed it took all three to heave it into back of van, which buckled slightly under its weight; there it was secured with strong rope to hold it in place. Hub and I then set off to deliver it to the dispatchers that were some distance away, a place we didn't know on the road to Lagos.

It was late afternoon, a very hot day, we were tired and counted on being home before dark. The place we were looking for was just off the 125 and following written instructions we turned off to the right and headed inland. All through the journey I'd had the image of "Pans" face in my head. The night before, out of pure curiosity, I had looked up "Pan" in the dictionary and alongside his description it read, "Reputed to cause sudden groundless fear such as felt by travellers in remote or desolate places!"

A sudden jolt and movement had me turn around; the box had moved, wobbling slightly. I quickly turned away, trying to mentally shake off that puckish, satanic grin. Sounds crazy now but the box seemed to hold something living and I wanted out of there! In the evening light I stared out at the strange countryside around us. It was very quiet, very remote.

"At last!" I'd been so lost in thought that Hubs words startled me, making me physically jump. In the last rays of evening sun we could make out the name of the dispatchers Casa and Hub slowed down to turn into the driveway. As we did so, we noticed the graffiti scrawled in high white-painted letters on the Casa's red clay wall: "BRITS GO HOME!"

This was the first and only time we ever saw such words during our years in Algarve.
We were so glad to get home that night to our cosy Lagoa apartment. Glad to leave behind those strangely upsetting words as we had always been met with utmost kindness. Glad also to leave behind that grinning troublesome marble god "Pan"!