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6th July
posted by amber

For the first time in the entire ordeal, Maria couldn’t keep herself from crying, and her tears flowed all the faster when she heard Blind Ric say, “Certainly, Dona Maria. You tell me the number and I’ll call her. I’d believe you before I’d believe Fat Paulina, any day. You just wait here and don’t worry.”

She waited on the porch, hearing Ric’s whistle grow fainter as he descended. He hadn’t needed to tell her not to worry – a calmness was washing over her like the warmth of a soft blanket on a chilly night. Ric’s reappearance in her life was the closing of a circle. Back in the Pelhourinho, she’d kept to herself, sure that her neightbours looked down on her for her dark skin and nordestina roots. She’d looked down on them, lazy, immoral, prone to gossip and superstition, but in fact she’d been afraid of them and the city, all the dark corners where danger could lurk, all the things she didn’t understand.

In Rio das Secas, people were as they seemed and the open landscape hid nothing. Bahia was layer upon layer of deceit and confusion, yet she had never been afraid of Ric. He couldn’t see her to judge her appearance, he couldn’t see his own face to learn how to hold it in a facade of sincerity. She trusted him and was kind to him, and in the way God’s balance was supposed to work, but rarely did in so obvious a manner, her kindness had come back to her.

Now that she was relaxing, the raw desperation which had fueled her journey departed, leaving her feeling weak and slightly dizzy. Hunger no longer churned in her stomach but the lack of sustenance was a buzzing in her ears and a sensation of transparency, as if the morning sun could shine right through her. She leaned against the wall of the shack, too tired to pay much attention to the aching of her legs, nearly too tired to focus her eyes until her attention was caught by a little gecko streaking across the boards to snap up a fly. The gecko’s tail had been lost in some escape manoeuver, but a paler section showed that it was growing back.

“Hello, Stumpy,” she said. “You and I, we will recover, won’t we?”

Swallowing his fly, the tiny lizard looked at her and seemed to grin.

“Stick with me. I’m sure I smell bad enough to attract lots of flies,” she advised him, but he darted away as a shadow swooped across the porch.

Maria looked up. A young boy stood silhouetted in front of her, holding out a paper bag. “Ric told me to bring this up to you. He has to wait down there for your daughter.”

She took the bag. It contained a small banana and some bread. “Thank you.”

He fidgeted, frowning, as he looked at her. “I have to go now,” he finally announced, turning away, then jerked back toward her. “Are you okay?”

She realized he’d seen her talking to the gecko, or possibly it seemed that she was talking to no one. She smiled. “Yes, I am fine. Tell Ric that I am fine.”

Maria is one of my favourite characters in my novel, “The Healer.” She’s gutsy and, despite her flaws and disadvantages, she developed into a strong supporter of her daughter and granddaughter.

Stumpy, the gecko, is a real lizard who I encountered on a writing trip to Costa Rica. I was very happy to let him enter the pages of my novel.

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