When I was almost seven, Father got sick with a terrible pain that would not go away. At first, Mother believed it was not serious, and that it would soon be cured using the herbal teas and concoctions from plants in our back yard, like many other maladies that she was used to diagnosing and treating. This one, however, was different. The pain got worse, not better. My sister Gaia and elder brothers Célio and Carlos –nicknamed Tatai– took turns walking the long road to the town pharmacy to ask Orlando Lima, the pharmacist and a son of Aunt Zibina’s daughter, Iaiá, to please come and help.
Soon after Father died, Mother began pacing the dirt floor on one side of our house where a white jasmine bush in constant bloom emanated a soothing aroma. She carried Wilson, our 6-month old baby brother, in her arms, and wondered where our next meal would come from. At the time, my brothers and sisters decided to help bring in some food or money any way that they could.
Ua, the eldest at nineteen, barely four feet tall with light skin, dark hair and eyes, took a job at the local movie theater after one of our cousin’s boyfriend did the cousin the evil deed —“fez o mal a ela,” and she was forced to leave her job. She “was lost” —“se perdeu.” After a boy had deflowered a girl in town —“deflorou a moca” —in most cases, the girl was forced to leave her parents’ home —“sair de casa.” These popular expressions indicated a girl’s loss of her virginity, a way of saying that a boy had gotten her pregnant. A girl’s virginity was sacred, and it had to be preserved until marriage. If it was lost, everyone would ostracize her, including her family. She would lose a job —if she had one —her humanity, and the respect of the community. Parents would usually send their daughters to stay with a distant relative or the girl had to stay indoors, not leaving the parents’ home for the duration of the pregnancy. I often heard the elders say that these girls could never lead a normal life again.
There were girls I remember seeing in the neighborhood who had no distant relatives to take them in. They had no means of leaving home or raising the child. The grandparents assumed responsibility for raising the baby, and the girls stayed prisoners in their parents’ home and were never again accepted in society. However, after our cousin had her child, as if my miracle, she got married to a former boyfriend and started a family. But after a few years, her husband left her for a young girl whom she raised and lived in the family’s home, helping with the children and the chores.
Ua would take all of the money she earned at her new job and at a second one she had at the Cartorio Eleitoral —where she recorded the townspeople’s voting records and registration by hand —to the market on Saturday to buy food. In addition, the sewing classes Ua had taken in better days on Flowers Street were put into practice to supplement her earnings at her two other jobs. Soon, the front window of our rundown house gained color with the display of the undergarments my sister and mother sewed on the new Singer that Father had bought before his illness. They hung the clothes on a rope across the top frame. Neighbors and passersby would stop and take notice.
Surrounded by colorful panties and brassieres on the window sill was fresh yellow corn meal couscous, topped with white grated coconut. Mother made and sliced it into triangular portions to sell to the workers who walked by our house in the early morning on their way to Suerdieck, the town’s tobacco factory. The smell of the sweet corn filled the air. We couldn’t eat the couscous because we knew that Mother sold it so that we could buy beans and farina, and maybe a small piece of dry meat to cook with the beans. The beans and farina would fill our stomachs more and make us less hungry. Later, Mother also sold couscous to buy some of my schoolbooks. By midmorning, Mother’s couscous was usually gone. Continue reading “Maria L. Souza Hogan – Club of Stars”