Friday, June 24, 2011

Mamãe (continued)


Mamãe and I would go for walks together on the weekends. Sometimes we talked and sometimes not so much. No matter how early we tried to get started, it was always hot, and dry. We’d go to the Parque da Cidade and we’d get freshly opened coconuts to drink their water along the way. The Brasília sky felt especially immense. You can always see so much of the sky in Brasília because the land is so flat. But when you are walking under the sun for hours, you carry that opening and brightening sky on your back. It hovers over you, and sometimes it knocks you over.

About two weeks before I left Brasília, we went for our walk. I thought we would maybe talk about how things were going to change and were already changing. I would bring it up myself if I had to, but only once we had parked the car and stepped out unto the open pavement. But I never got the chance to because that morning, unlike any other day in Brasília, was very windy. The red Brasília earth wouldn’t stick to the ground. The wind kept picking it up so that it wore thousands of twirling bloody-looking skirts. I was wearing one of them too, and it scratched up my knees. If I tried to talk I would’ve swallowed a handful of earth. I walked with my eyes closed and mamãe held my hand. Very uncharacteristically, mamãe didn’t make a fuss. No yelling or words of indignation. She patiently walked through the wind with me, not saying a word. She kept trying to slap the dust off me, but to no avail. When we got to the car, I slipped off my sandals and put them in the trunk. As I walked barefoot to the car door the whisking ground scraped and blushed my soles. For a second, I was sinking into earth. When I got in the car mamãe asked me if I was all right and then gently placed her hands around the wheel. She didn’t have any dust on her, only beneath her fingernails.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Mamãe (continued)


Tia Nastácia walked me to school that Wednesday. It was a gloomy morning but she didn’t seem to think so. Once I was dressed for school, I dragged myself to the kitchen. Tia Nastácia was drinking her tea, leaning against the sink.

“Good morning, tired one!” Her voice was especially warm and energetic. It was the first time she reminded me of mamãe. They were sisters, after all, but they never had been very close or similar. Greeting mamãe in the morning had always been important to me. It gave me a sense of hope, or reassurance, that that day would be a good one. Perhaps it was because of the loud, bouncy scope in her voice. Or maybe it was because it was the one moment in the day when both of us insisted on putting on a merry demeanor, even if that wasn’t quite how we felt.

“Look at those beautiful, big clouds!” There was a pause. “Would it be alright if I walked you to school today?” Tia Nastácia asked. I was already eating my cereal.

“Yeah, that’s fine. Any reason in particular?”

“Well, I don’t know, I thought it would be nice. It’s always been a kind of dream of mine to walk a kid to school. You’re not a kid, but you know what I mean. I’ve never had kids of my own.” Tia Nastácia had this uncanny ability to be at once awkward and entirely at ease with her words.

The sky that day was a sagging gray, full with rain. It was sprinkling and we had forgotten to grab an umbrella. The rain was cold and sharp.

“Autumn rain doesn’t smell like summer rain,” I told my tia as we walked. I hadn’t known autumn rain, really, since Brasília doesn’t have seasons other than a wet and dry one. In Brasília, when it rained, it smelled tart. It slit one’s surroundings open or melted them a little so that everything smelled stronger and riper. The rain was hot and sometimes Sara, my best friend, and I would go to the quadra playground and sit on the swings.

“The summer here is pretty fantastic. You’ll see, next year. It doesn’t stay cold forever.” Tia Nastácia said softly. She never spoke loudly and she moved slowly, carrying her body calmly, in long audible breaths.

The leaves had already started to fall off the trees and they had left imprints on the sidewalks from the dirt mixed in with the rainwater.

“Smell that?” She asked me excitedly.


“The chocolate! Take a good inhale like this,” She breathed in deeply. “There’s a chocolate factory and if you get close enough to the lake you can smell it. Do you smell it?”

I stuck my nose up and took a breath. “Yeah, yeah I can. Faintly. That’s neat.”

As we walked, tia Nastácia continued to point things out about Chicago that I wouldn’t have otherwise known or cared to notice. There was one building in particular that I remember her telling me about. The Monadnock, a Burnham building. We stopped in front of it for a bit with our necks strained backwards.

“It’s the tallest all brick structure in the world, you know.” From the outside I didn’t particularly like it. It was bulky and tall and thick like lots of other big buildings. But the way tia Nastácia described things made me like them more.

“Just look at those windows and how they curve beautifully. And the light bouncing off them, it’s breathtaking really. It’s such a contrast to the delicious brick.” Most things to my tia were either delicious or beautiful. “One day we’ll go inside together. There’s this staircase that I imagine myself descending sometimes in a long, glowy dress.” We never did go there together but I still think about my tia descending that staircase sometimes.

When we got to the school gates tia Nastácia stood to the side of them, I think because she thought I’d be embarrassed. But I wasn’t.

“See you later?” I kissed her cheek. A real kiss that touched and sounded off the skin.

“Yes, yes! Of course. Have a good day.” She walked backwards, airily moving her arms about as I walked in past the gates.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Mamãe (continued)

That night, when I got up from the floor, I felt loaded with my own blood and breath. I was slowed down from the heat. I walked over to the bathroom floor-length mirror and stared at myself, naked. My cheeks bore the weight of water, leaving a slimy sheen. I could see more of myself without my long hair, and I didn’t like it. My body had been developing without me quite realizing it. My boobs looked heavier. Streams of fat felt along my thighs and I was beginning to pale. I pressed my face close to the glass and stared at myself for so long that my features lost their meaning and I thought I didn’t really exist. My lips were purple and papery. It made me think of my father’s lips, always a little worn on the edges. I was cold again.

“Roberta? Are you alright in there?” Tia Nastácia called from outside of the door. I had been in there for a while, I realized.

“Yeah. I’m fine,” I said this in a loud voice, trying to break away from what my voice would have naturally sounded like, wet and broken.


I could feel that she was still there, pressed against the door, leaning on her big hands.

“Listen, I probably shouldn’t have told you to come today. I just wanted to do something for you. But it was the wrong thing, you see.”

“I know that.” I wanted my tia to stop pitying me. I didn’t want any more questions or forgiving words. I wanted to pretend that nothing had happened. But just when I thought that maybe we had already made up and that she had left, she said:

“Roberta I saw you today. I saw that you were looking through that window.”

It was quiet for a while until I turned towards the door, as if she could see my guilty naked self, and I told her I was sorry.

When I had gotten out of the bathroom, tia Nastácia was already sleeping. She had left my bedside lamp on for me, and a glass of cold water on the table. I got the sudden urge to wake her but I didn’t. When I was very young, I would wake mamãe by softly blowing on her face, so as not to wake her too inconveniently. She would open her eyes slowly, catching my last breaths between blinks. My neck felt soft against the pillow. I had the habit of going to sleep with my hair wet, and when my hair was long I’d suck the ends of my hair until I’d fall asleep. I lay on my back like my tia that night, allowing my spine to flatten and unroll like a racing roll of ribbon. It felt good to just lie there and not think too much.