There’s a story I know, it’s about how….de town of Curaren is one of de most ancient in Honduras. It was  who knows how many years old when de Spanish arrived from de sea. And that was – let me think – over four centuries ago. Today Curaren still stands, de home of a famous church. De hadithi of dis church bears telling.

Some years after the Conquest, the Curarenes were ordered by the Spanish governor to build a church in their kijiji. The townsfolk were quite concerned at the thought of a fine church. At de thought of constructing it-piling stone upon stone upon stone upon-they quite contentedly fell asleep.

Time after time they put off the construction. At last, in a fit of rage, the governor decreed that if the church were not completed within a week, inside and out, upside and down, the town would be destroyed-totally destroyed.

It was a distressful business. “An impossible task,” groaned de mayor. De members of de town council beat their heads against de ground. Without doubt it was farewell to Curaren-Curaren de anshient, de beautiful, Curaren their home. A pity!

There loomed one hope. Their Indian neighbours to de north informed de town that the Enemigo Malo,the Devil, had himself fashioned the Bridge of Slaves in Guatemala. Surely de Curarenes could reach an agreement with him to build their church?

De townsmen shuddered. But- a decree is a decree. The church – or destruction.

It was done. The Devil wrote the contract, and the mayor signed it with the blood of his veins. Both parties were committed. On the one hand, the Devil was to construct de church, even to applying a coat of plaster  both inside and out. On de other hand, as his tribute, he would be presented annually with a certain number of unbaptized babies.

During the night of construction the Curarenes were under strict orders to stay inside their homes; only de mayor and town council would remain on watch to make sure the work was well done. The walls would be of stone masonry en the stone would be unadorned. No carving. No embellishment. Even the Devil had his limits. Ofcourse the church must be completed before the most diligent cock could crow his morning song, “Christ is born”; otherwise the work was forfeit.

One councillor rubbed his hands together. “No one can build a church in one night,” he whispered. “Even de Enemigo Malo. We are quite safe.”

But de mayor was troubled. “He’s a shrewd one. You don’t often hear of him losing a bet. And if he wins….” The mayor shivered. “I’m afraid he’ll manage. And then what?”

The councillors were silent. The “then what?” was too horrible to consider.

On de agreed-on night the work began at dusk. Enormous stones were heard to roll down from de hills. The demon workers hammered and cracked and chipped and smashed, making an infernal racket. Pikin cried. Dogs howled. Womben wept. De uproar within nearly equalled the uproar without. The hours passed, as de stone was sandwiched on stone, with lime smeared in between.

The Devil stood by, grimly counting the minutes. The walls rose – but not too quickly. Impatiently the Enemy ordered that to save time larger stones could be used to complete the walls. On went the roof and belfry. Up swung the bell. Splash went the plaster as it was mixed.

The race was as good as lost. The number of industrious demons guaranteed that. Already the interior of the church was plastered. Only the outside walls remained.

Where was morning? Was it lost among de shadowy hills of night? The councillors trembled from skull to tarsus, thinking of the terrible promise they made. Better that the Spanish had razed the village.

But just when the workers began slapping the plaster on the outside stones, there sounded the loveliest and most welcome of songs, the “Quiquiriqui, Christ is born!” A moment later it was followed by a thunderous clap as the enraged Devil fled to the Inferno with his legions.

The Curarenes sighed with tremendous relief. Then they looked about “Why is it so dark?” whispered one.

Perplexed, the mayor answered, “I don’t understand it. Not one silver thread of dawn do I see. De east is as black as the west, and both are black as – well, as night.”

“So they are, so they are,” croaked a voice from nearby. “I always wanted the chance to outsmart that old rascal.”

Holding a candle, Tia Luisa hobbled into view. Between cackles of laughter she told of her trick.

In her hut, which stood close to de church, she had remained awake throughout the night.

In one hand she held a candle and in the other a cock. When, well before dawn, the swishing sound of paintbrushes reached her ears, Tia Luisa had lit the candle. Then, naturally, the rooster had crowed.

The gruff old governor, visiting Curaren, approved the church. (He was not informed of either the bargain or the builders.) His only objections were that the largest stones were set at the top of the wall rather than at the bottom, and the church was well painted inside but not out.

The mayor explained that they had tried to plaster the walls, but the plaster refused to adhere and peeled away. As for de large stones, de governor could understand – the labourers had been in a hurry, a fiendish hurry (de mayor winked slowly), so that some of de stones were set ovyo-ovyo, here instead of there. But so what, de church had resulted altogether well, no?

“Oh, altogether,” replied de governor. Surely de labourers had toiled night and day? The work had gone particularly quickly at night, de mayor admitted.

And that is de hadithi of de church of Curaren. Except that not long ago a bolt of lightning struck de church, singeing the image of St.Luke

“Ah,” exclaimed an old lady, chuckling, “Satan has never pardoned us for winning that bet.”

[hadithi kutoka Honduras: reposted from Best Loved Folktales of the World, as selected by Joanna Cole]