The memories in this chapter touch on subjects that are often hard to recall and often the kind you hide from the world. I grew up in a time in Brazil when there was no formal justice. There was justice but it was often hard to obtain and especially hard for poor women. I wanted to include some of the hardships and challenges for rural people at that time. Lots has changed, thank God, since those days.
Courage and resourcefulness in the face of adversity, which I found in prayer and family is a theme of my book. I want to show that my life presented many sides of what it means to live in this world.
What memories shaped you? I have found prayer and the relationship with others to be great sources of comfort and strength. Perhaps the same is true for you. Please share your thoughts on this topic.
Here is Chapter 5 for your reading pleasure.
The sky was colored deep blue, with only occasional nimbus clouds passing by to give relief from the heat of the bright sun. I was pestering my sister to help me get ready to go to my friend’s house and show her my ceramic doll. My best friend, Zilá, had two, a pretty one with a pink face and an old one that had lost its eyes. I frequently went to the Silva’s’ to play with their daughter, but Zilá only let me play with the old one. I could never touch the pretty doll.
On one of these occasions, Zilá had gone into the house to bring some bananas for a snack. I had taken advantage of the situation and held the pretty doll. Zilá came back and yelled, “Leave my doll alone!” She attacked me with her fingernails and teeth. Frightened and hurt, I got hold of Zilá’s long hair and pulled her away from my shoulder.
Zilá’s mother, Dona Josefa, hearing the cries, came to the kitchen door, and seeing us fighting like roosters, yelled, “Pull her hair also, daughter. Beat her up! Beat her up!”
Afraid of Dona Josefa, I abandoned the fight and left running. I jumped the wooden fence and took the trail to my house. I had never crossed the marsh that existed between our properties by myself. I feared anacondas. That day a greater fear made me forget about anacondas. Crying, with scratches on my face and bites on my shoulder, I told my mother about the fight.
“Friend fights don’t last. One minute they fight and the next, they play. You should have waited for Doutor to pick you up,” my mother said as she sat in front of her loom and wove.
“No, I couldn’t. Dona Josefa kept telling Zilá to beat me up. I became afraid that Dona Josefa would do to me what she did to the girl that lived in their house.”
“What girl?” my mother asked with surprised eyes.
“The orphan named Amélia who lived with them.”
“How do you know about this? Who told you?”
“I’ve heard it many times.”
Amélia had been like a slave to Dona Josefa. She spanked the girl for no reason. Amélia could only eat leftovers. She slept in a hut in the back yard, rolled up in rags, without a mattress or blankets. One day when Dona Josefa became even more furious, she not only spanked Amélia until blood came out, but she also held the girl’s head under water until she almost drowned. Dona Josefa pulled her head out just to sink it in again. Finally, she left the girl in the yard to die. Amélia crawled away and hid in the sugar cane field where my parents worked on a contract basis. They found her three days later covered with sores and maggots. She had a fever and was delirious. They took Amélia home in a hammock. My mother put cow’s desinfectant on the sores to kill the maggots and bathed her. She treated her infections and fed her with chicken soup. Amélia cried fearfully if any man approached her. She didn’t talk at the beginning, but she learned to trust my mother. As time passed, her sores healed, her face gained color and she started answering my mother’s questions. She told what had happened to her at the Silvas’. Their two teenaged boys had raped her. One of them would hold the girl while the other used her.
One day when Dona Josefa found the boys trapping her in the hut, she poured out her anger on Amélia. “Is this how you pay me for letting you live with us? You are a disgraceful orphan, with no consideration. If I hadn’t taken you in, you would be dying of hunger. Is this the way you thank me? You are a shameless girl, corrupting my boys like this. I’ll kill you, you scoundrel!” Dona Josefa went on demonstrating that the violence of her children was nothing compared to what she was capable of.
When Amélia recuperated, my mother took her to her grandparents, who lived quite far away and we never heard from her again.
After my sister bathed me in the trough, dressed me with clean clothes and untangled my hair, I crossed the single log bridge over the canal in front of our house, and took the trail to Zilá’s. I felt light with contentment. First, I didn’t have to play with my friend’s old doll. I was taking my own. Second, no one needed to take me there anymore. I had the courage to go by myself now. I was so anxious to show my doll to my friend that I didn’t walk. My waist-long hair flew in the wind. In my haste to show off my new doll, I stumbled and fell down. I got to my feet holding the doll in one hand but also a piece of its head in the other. I went back home crying “Mother, look what happened.”
“Don’t cry, honey, I’m going to fix it.” She stopped weaving, went to the kitchen, put a little bit of manioc starch in a pan with some water and cooked it to make thick glue. She cut a piece of pink cloth, bigger than the broken part, spread the hot glue around the hole on the doll’s head, and put the broken piece on its place and then placed the cloth on top. “See, it’s almost new again. It’s good that the broken part was the back of the head, instead of the face. Now I’m going to sew a bonnet for it, and nobody will be able to see the mending on its head,” my mother said, trying to console her youngest daughter.
“What? Were the cattle financed?”
We were all in bed. We usually would hear only soft murmurs from our parents’ room, but that night was different. The loud talk frightened us.
“You should have asked about the origin of the cattle before you bought them!” My mother yelled.
“But Marcília, André Silva is our neighbor. I thought he was our friend, I trusted him.”
“This is your problem. You trust everybody, so you lose money in every transaction you make. But when the representative of the bank comes, André Silva will have the money that you paid him, and he will pay the bank.”
“But Marcília, this is what I am trying to tell you. The representative of the bank already came. André told them that I took the cattle to Minas Gerais, sold them and didn’t pay him. Therefore, the man wants the money from me. He’ll come in a week to get the money.”
“When he comes, you show him the receipt. You owe nothing to the bank. André is the one who owes. He has to deal with the bank.”
“The problem is that I don’t have the receipt. André said that he would give it to me later and never did. The man from the bank asked me to go to André’s house with him. André told the man, in front of me, that I never paid him, and Josué Silva, his brother, confirmed his story. There is more, hit men surrounded them, so the representative of the bank became scared. Instead of pressing them to pay, he pressed me. He said he would go after whoever had the cattle in Goiás. Since they don’t have jurisdiction in the State of Minas Gerais, and I was the one who took the cattle there, I have to pay.”
“You don’t have to pay anything! It was not you who financed it”
“Marcília, there is no justice in this part of the country. The justice here belongs to the strongest. Those people pay to kill whoever crosses them and throw the bodies in the river. They do everything in order to take advantage of others. If I don’t pay, the bank will sue me and then I have to pay even more. The man is afraid of André, he’s not going back there to charge him.”
“We don’t have the money from the sale of the cattle. It wasn’t as much as you said it would be. We spent it all already.
“I know. We have to sell our milk cows in order to pay.”
I felt a crack. Something inside me had also broken and like the mending on my doll’s head, nobody would know about it.
“I don’t believe it!” My mother shouted. “You’ve succeeded in losing everything I owned. First, my cows that you sold and the money leaked between your fingers like sand. Then you sold my land and bought these cattle saying that we would make lots of money. Now you are going to sell even the cows that give milk to the kids! It’s a good thing that this house and land belong to the three younger ones and can’t be sold without the permission of a judge. If it were not so, you would sell even this place.”
“You humiliate me, Marcília, by saying things like that.”
Papai got up and went to an empty bed in the boys’ room. I could hear my mother crying.
“What happened?” I asked one morning when I got up and noticed the house in chaos. Wooden boxes full of kitchen utensils and beddings covered the kitchen floor.
“We are moving to a brickyard near the Clear River,” explained Neném, while giving me some manioc starch biscuits and a cup of coffee.
“I don’t want black coffee. I want milk with coffee,” I demanded.
“There is no milk.”
“I can wait for them to finish milking the cows.”
“There is no milk, I am telling you,” said Neném with tears in her eyes.
“Why?” Didn’t anybody milk the cows today?”
“There is no milk today. There will be no milk tomorrow. Senhor Samuel sold our cows. Don’t cry, silly. Taste the coffee. I made it very sweet for you.”