More than thirty people joined me on June 7th for the Milwaukee area launching of my book, Ask. Seek. Knock. A Life Shaped By Conversations With God. It was a joyous and warm (literally) gathering of friends and family. My gratitude was overwhelming. I fell into bed that night exhausted and gratified with the show of support. I thank everyone who came.
Someone said, “You need to give away part of your book so people will know if they want to buy it.” So, here goes. For the next six days I am going to post a chapter each day and then remove them after they’ve been up for a month. Enjoy!
Ask. Seek. Knock. A Life Shaped By Conversations With God by Alcita Ferreira Brown
Cries and moans split the dark silence of the small log house where Minha Santa, a five year old girl, lay sleeping. She rubbed her eyes and rolled over on the straw-filled mattress. Another scream, louder and even more excruciating pierced the darkness. This time, she was really awake. As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she saw the familiar shapes of the leather-covered chest where the family kept bedding. The round copper headed studs, which secured the leather all around and adorned the lid forming her father’s initials, J D F, glittered by the light of the kerosene lamp shining through the doorway to her parents’ bedroom. Minha Santa got up, tiptoed to her older sister’s bed and, seeing she was also awake, asked, “Neném, why is mother screaming?”
“I don’t know. Go back to sleep,” Neném snapped.
Sleep? How? Minha Santa wondered. Mother is yelling and crying and Neném wants me to forget about it and go back to sleep?
The square house was divided into four rooms. One served as a living room by day and a bedroom for the boys at night, where they slept in hammocks hung from opposite walls. There was also a kitchen and two bedrooms; one for the girls and the other for the parents. To enter the girls’ bedroom, they had to pass through the parents’ room. This was a way to keep the girls more protected.
“José, I can’t stand these pains any longer. I think I’m going to die.” Minha Santa’s mother complained in a scratchy voice.
“Calm down, Guria,” Minha Santa heard her father telling her mother, using the endearing nickname he had for her. “Don’t waste your strength talking. Just push. The head is crowning. Push as hard as you can. Good girl! Push, push, pushhhh!”
“Aha… we have another beautiful girl. You’re brave, Guria. Rest now.” José carefully held the slippery baby in his hands.
“Rita, dip the scissors in the boiling water. Now, get some cloth from the box in the girls’ room. Fast!”
Rita entered the girl’s room and Minha Santa asked, “Auntie, what noise is that? It sounds like a baby crying.”
“It’s a kitty. It’s a kitty meowing,” her aunt answered quickly.
Minha Santa had already guessed what was happening in the other room, she just wanted some attention. She had noticed her mother’s huge tummy. People are just like animals, she had thought. The females get a big belly and then the babies come. She was used to seeing cats, dogs and cows give birth. She had watched her mother sewing baby bonnets and knitting booties. She wanted to ask questions, but didn’t have the courage. She would stop, look and go away. One day, when Neném, was carding cotton, she dared to ask, “Is Mother going to have a baby?”
“Yes,” Neném had replied dryly.
“In a few days.”
“Is it going to be a boy or a girl?”
“One can never know.”
“Does it hurt?”
“Don’t be silly! How do you manage to come up with questions like that? Go away. You’re bothering me.”
The excitement in the next room ceased. Minha Santa could hear the owls hooting on the corral fence outside. She looked at rays of moonlight coming through the gaps in the log wall, and listened to water bubbling in the trough by the house. Her eyes grew heavy…
She woke up to her father’s voice announcing, “Girls, you have a baby sister. Come see her. She is long and thin like a lizard.”
Minha Santa and Neném climbed out of their beds and followed their father. The flickering lamplight cast rippling shadows of her brothers, Joaquim, Davi and Nenenzinho, who were standing at the bedside. The rays reflected on the sweat of her mother’s face.
“José, hold the lamp closer so the children can see their little sister better,” her mother asked.
“She is a little different from us, mother.” Neném remarked. “She has dark hair and her skin is like caramel. She is not the color of milk, like us.”
“Yes, now I have two children who take after me: Davi and this one. You and the others take after your father.”
“Mother, may I hold her?” Neném asked.
“Yes, but be careful. You’re like a tapir – so clumsy.”
“Mother, may I take her for Doutor to see?”
“No. Let him sleep. Poor thing, he’s only two. In the morning, he’ll see her.
Each one of the children took a turn holding their baby sister.
“What is her name going to be?” asked Joaquim.
“How about Agostinha?” José winked at his wife. “We already have Ana.” He put his arm around Neném and gave her a playful squeeze, “which is the name of your mother’s mother. Now, we can have Agostinha after my mother.”
“No, we already have a cousin called Agostinha,” Davi said.
“How about Lagartixa, then? She is thin and long like a lizard.” José bent down and tickled under the sleeping baby’s chin.
“José, stop being silly and tell them the name we chose.”
“It is Alcita.”
“Alcita! What a strange name!” Nenenzinho said with a chuckle. He began to chant and dance around in a circle. “What a strange name!”
“Don’t make fun of our sister’s name!” Davi scolded and grabbed Nenenzinho’s arm to stop him. “Father, I don’t know anybody with this name.”
“It is a distant relative of ours. Your mother likes the name. Does everybody like it?”
They nodded their agreement.
Aunt Rita entered the room and asked, “Senor José, are you going to need me anymore?”
“No, Rita,” José answered. “You may go. Try to sleep, because we are going to need you to breast feed Lagartixa for a couple of days until Guria’s milk comes in. I hope it doesn’t take long. We don’t want your own little son to lose weight. Thank you for all your help tonight. Good night, Rita.” He turned to his oldest son and ordered, “Joaquim, walk your aunt home.”
Neném and Minha Santa went back to their beds and Davi and Nenenzinho to their hammocks. Nenenzinho began singing again, “What a strange name!” He ducked Davi’s punch and climbed into his hammock.
The joyful excitement at the birth of one more child soon ended. José became very sick. He had an incurable disease called schistosomiasis. All of his travels and exposure to dirty water, where the snails that carried this curse lived, finally had caught up with him. His belly started to swell and he had sharp pains in his side. High fever soon confined him to bed.
José lost all hope. The home remedies that Marcília gave him did not help, as he became more and more sick. She and the older children wanted to take him to a doctor, but it was a five-day trip in an oxcart. She feared he could not survive the bumpy trip – he was too weak.
While Marcília bathed his face with a cloth dipped in water to cool his fever, he muttered and rolled his head from side to side. He opened his eyes and turned his head to look down at Alcita, who was surrounded by pillows in a basket on the floor.
“I pity her. She is not going to remember her father.”
“Don’t say that! We’re going to take you to Rio Verde. You’re going to get treatment and recover.”
“No. It’s no use. I am going to die soon and my Lagartixa is not going to remember me. She is going to call another man father. You’re only thirty-six and pretty. You’ll have a new husband soon. But, I am telling you, when you’re married to that other man, I’m coming back to pull your feet at night.” He grinned weakly.
“Stop this nonsense, José. The fever is making you say crazy things. Be quiet and rest.
José used to give nicknames to almost everyone. Only two of his children, Joaquim and Davi didn’t have nicknames, maybe because they were the oldest. He called Marcília, his wife, Guria (Gal). Ana was Neném (Baby). João became Nenenzinho (Little Baby). Eunice was called Minha Santa (My Saint). Hélio received the title Doutor (Doctor) and, the littlest daughter, Alcita, became Lagartixa (Lizard). But she lost her nickname when, at only five months old, she lost her father.