In Brazil, on Sunday mornings, we had elaborate breakfasts at tio Rafa’s house. Mamãe and I would fix a platter with fresh fruits such as papaya, cajú and mango. There would be at least twenty of us at my tio’s house. Loud conversations rattled and toppled over each other at the breakfast table. Milky tapiocas abounded. They had a pasty taste and we’d leave them soaking up in our mouths. There’d always be someone going in or out of the kitchen, which, whenever its door opened, would allow in the bitter smell of fried cheese. By this point our bellies felt heavy and lumpy, and would only remind us that we were so full that we had to eat more. We’d continue eating and talking. Eating talk until nightfall.
“I want to get a haircut.” I told my tia as she served herself.
“Alright. You’ll like my hairdresser. He’s entertaining to talk to and he knows what he’s doing. Do you want me to schedule it or give you the number?”
“Could you schedule it? I want it short. Really short.”
My hair was a long and stiff dark wood. I wore it down most of the time.
“Short. Like a bob.”
Tia Nastásia observed me.
“That should look nice on you, Roberta. You have a good shape for a face.”
Tia Nastásia appreciated shapes. Her clothing was always patterned, usually of flora or geometrical patterns, much like the furniture in her house. Objects were arranged at oblique angles like an impossible puzzle piece. Nothing seemed to fit together because each thing retained its own shape so stubbornly. Especially that table, the thin and long black one that sliced my fingers once when I touched one of its corners. I cried. I told tia Nastásia that it would turn my blood black and that her house was making me sick. I remember she was wearing a long beige dress and her eyes were tired. She stared at me for a good while without saying anything until finally she said “I’m sorry.”
Tia Nastásia had worked at pediatric centers all over the world, collecting objects from each place she lived in. She especially loved her curtains, which she had bought in Portugal. They were heavy and opaque with grainy maroon roses sparsely sewed into them. In the winter she kept them closed. She said she felt warm and encased behind them.
I hated those curtains. I felt suffocated by their dark roses. I missed real flowers and sunshine. The light in Chicago was white. It was an unattractive light that clung to people’s faces. Sometimes it screamed but most of the time it was quiet and dead.
At home, at my parent’s house, the kitchen sink faced a wide window that looked out to a backyard of buganvilias. I liked to stand there on sunny mornings, as most days had been. I liked how the sunlight burned my skin and how it made that spot in the kitchen smell slightly thicker because of the heat. Sometimes the flowers were so pink and ripe that I thought I could smell the sugar off of them.
Tia Nastásia was different from the rest of the family. She had been the only one, until me, to leave Brazil. She was pale and had large, pointy cheekbones. Her eyebrows were dark and severe and her lips were long. She had everything for a strong face, except for those eyes. Those thin, gray eyes that appeared washed over.