“Donald, go! The sign is green. Are you day dreaming?” I touched his shoulder alerting him. We had stopped on Francisco Glicério Avenue waiting to cross General Osório. These were the two busiest streets of downtown Campinas.
“Oh yes, Mother, I was. I guess this letter is going to cause a great change in our lives right?
“I was reminiscing. Disconnected scenes were coming to my mind like a broken and mended movie…”
He pressed the gas pedal and in a little while, I glanced at him and saw a furrow between his eyebrows. He was immersed in thought again.
I saw my mother and myself in the open air market in Ipatinga. We walked among the stands piled high with fresh fruit and vegetables. I still remembered the different smells as we passed by. The owners would give us samples of their fruits hoping that we would judge them the sweetest and buy. Mother usually bought one hundred oranges for the week, bunches of bananas and a couple of papayas. She would never buy apples. She’d say they were too expensive. Our maid would squeeze oranges for every meal and we would enjoy a fresh glass of orange juice with our food. I missed my mother. I wished she could stay more with us, but she had to teach so many classes. I’d wait with anxiety for the evenings that she didn’t teach. Then she’d sit by our bed, talk with us, read stories and then pray with us.
In preparation to go to the United States, she sold everything we had except the house. The day that one of her teacher friends took away the Volkswagen Beetle, I felt we became very poor without a car. I cried when she gathered piles of papers, took them to an empty lot and set fire to them. She gave me the task of staying there with a stick stirring the pile to make sure that everything would be burnt. I watched tests that I took and reports I had written burn slowly and disappear into ashes. It seemed to me we destroyed our past, our roots. Even my brother cried. He said, “I didn’t want my mother to burn our ancestors.” He meant the old stuff that we used to keep in boxes in the attic. David liked to go through them. He’d find something interesting like mom’s braids from when she had long hair, and ask her to tell about them. When I told mom that we cried by the bonfire, she hugged us and explained that we couldn’t take all that old stuff with us to the United States. ‘Things aren’t important, only people are,’ she said. Mom told us she was taking only clothes and two precious jewels, which were her two children. I felt better.
During the time in the United States we went through many new experiences. Snow. They told us it beat records that winter. I made friends with Danny and Tony. The two of them, my brother and I made a tunnel in the mound of snow beside the church. We also slid down the same mound on pieces of cardboard. We shot baskets in the spring when the snow finally melted. There was one thing I didn’t like. I felt embarrassed that we lived in the basement of a church. I didn’t want any of my friends from school to discover where I lived.
Our neighbors cried when we said goodbye. The immigration didn’t permit us to stay longer, so we had to go back to Brazil. I told them, “I will return.” When we arrived in Brazil, I remember David telling mom one night, “Mother, you wasted all the money you spent on me going to the United States, I already forgot English. I wished I hadn’t gone. If I hadn’t gone, I would be happier here. I liked the school in Germantown. When the bell rang at the end of the day, I wanted to stay longer. Here at this public school in Campinas, when the classes start, I can’t wait to go home.”
I noticed the change in mom’s expression and I said, “Don’t be mean, David! Don’t you see you’re making Mom sad?”
I would come back home from school and find dinner ready: rice, beans, a tossed salad, and beefsteak. I had mixed feelings. I was said because I wanted to stay in the U.S., but at the same time, I was happy to be in Brazil again because of the food. Here we eat real food twice a day, not sandwiches. One day, along with lunch, she left a message telling me not to play soccer with my friends but to stay home and keep my brother company. David had a broken arm.
I thought mom had gone downtown to buy a present for me. My 13th birthday was the next day. I wanted a new pair of soccer shoes and a soccer ball. When I was younger I wanted a teddy bear to hug at bed time. The truth is, I still wanted the teddy bear, but I knew she couldn’t give me those three items. She hadn’t found a job yet. We were living with the help of aunt Eunice. Sometimes I woke up at night and mom was praying aloud and crying. I wanted to grow up quickly so I could help her.
My mom must have left the present in our neighbor Lenita’s house, because she arrived without a package, and she always gave me something on my birthday.
Later that night, I was watching an Arnold Schwartzenegger movie and Mom sat beside me and started a conversation. I think she was trying to make peace with me. She had yelled at me because I didn’t want to wash the dinner dishes. I was like that older son from the Bible whose father told him to go to work on the vineyard and the son said, “I don’t want to,” but later he changed his mind and went. My brother was the opposite. He was like the younger son who, when ordered to go to work in the field, answered, “Yes, sir,” but didn’t go.
Then Mom asked me, “Are you enjoying your last twelve-year old hours?” During the commercials she told me about my birth and how I made her so happy, and that the doctor put me in the oxygen balloon because I wasn’t well.
I said, “Well it seems I started having problems since I was born.”
She got that worried expression – a crooked mouth, “No, what you have are issues common to all teenagers. They soon will pass.”
“I do have problems that are just mine.”
“Do you want to talk about them then?”
“I don’t want to talk about problems now. I want to watch this movie.”
“Alright, when you are ready we will talk about your problems.”
When the movie ended she prayed with me and thanked God for my life. While she was praying I noticed her voice got shaky. I lay down. When she gave me my good night kiss, some teardrops fell down onto my face.
I woke up during the night to mom and David talking. David was crying from the pain of his broken arm, and she had to give him pills. This is what happens when you disobey your mother. David knew mom had told us, “Don’t climb onto the garage. The roof tiles are weak. They will break and you will fall down and get hurt.” Well, he disobeyed and now he had a broken arm. Then I saw a package at the foot of my bed. I got so curious that I couldn’t sleep for awhile. Mom thought I was sleeping so she kept her light on and read the Bible aloud. “Come to me, all of you who are tired from carrying heavy loads and I will give you rest. Take my yoke and put it on you, and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in spirit; and you will find rest. For the yoke I will give you is easy, and the load I will put on you is light.” Then I heard her praying out loud, “Lord, I’ve looked for jobs as a secretary in so many companies. They don’t want me because I have no experience. I am tired of refusals, tired of waiting, tired of feeling incompetent. I need to take good care of my children and don’t have the means. Now I know what Jesus meant by heavy loads. Mine is too heavy. Help me Lord. I want to take your yoke, show it to me clearly, so that I can take it.”
When I opened my eyes in the morning, I grabbed the package, tore the wrapping paper, opened the box and there it was: my long desired, leather soccer ball. It smelled so good, it was smooth and firm, and above all it was mine. “Thank you, Mom,” I said and started kicking it around the bedroom.
“Donald, you have to get ready for school.”
When I came home from Physical Education that day, I am embarrassed to confess, I was crying. Mom asked, “What happened, Donald?”
“Rui threatened me again. He said he was going to beat me up after class.” She set aside the letter she was writing. “I came home before the end of the class so I wouldn’t have to fight, but the others made fun of me saying that I was a coward.”
“Boys of this age can be cruel. They sometimes use all their teenage energy to do harm. Let’s think calmly about what you can do in this situation. You came home early to avoid a fight. Are you happy with that decision?”
“No. The others think I’m weak.”
“Well then, try to talk to Rui. Ask him why he acts like this towards you. Maybe you did something that provoked his anger. If it was something that you said, say you are sorry. Say that you are for peace, that you don’t like violence.”
“Mom, you are a woman. You don’t understand. Things don’t work that way. If I say that those things, they are going to tease me even more.”
“Yes, son, unfortunately you don’t have a man to guide you in these matters. My orientation has always been to avoid fights. There is a Scripture verse teaching that whenever it depends upon you, keep peace. Maybe it’s gotten to the point where it doesn’t depend on you anymore. If this is the case, stand up to Rui. Maybe tomorrow you will come home with a black eye, but after that they are going to respect you. David had an experience like yours in the U.S. and after he stood up to the bully, they became best friends. Another thing that we can do is to pray. Now, how about a happier face? Come with me to the bakery so we have more time to talk.”
“After that, may I play soccer with my friends? I want to use my new ball.”
I watched as Donald steered the car into our driveway and parked. He sighed and looked over at me. I was so grateful to be his mother. What would this big adventure bring for him and for his brother and me?
Beefsteak with Onion
1 pound sirloin steak cut into 1/3 in. thick slices
2 tablespoons oil
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
4 cloves of smashed fresh garlic
2 sliced onion
3 sliced tomatoes
1/3 C of water
2 teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
Season the meat with garlic, salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a non-stick pan. Put two slices of steak into the pan and fry them on one side until golden brown. Turn them and fry the other side. If necessary, add a little bit more oil. Fry all the steaks and set them aside. In the same frying pan pour the onion and tomatoes and sauté them until they wilt. Add water and vinegar and let it boil; if necessary, add more salt. Pour this mixture on the meat. Serve with rice, beans and steamed broccoli. Bom apetite!