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2nd July
posted by amber

Here is the second installment of the story, “Maria on Beggar’s Mountain,” an excerpt from my novel, “The Healer.”

The samba blaring from the radio made her headache worse, as did the stink of the place, but she didn’t dare complain. Fat Paulina was a coarse woman who spent her days trading gossip and insults with her female neighbours and flirting shamelessly with the men, leaning over so they could feast their eyes on her heavy sagging breasts beneath her loose-necked once-white blouses, lifting her gaudy skirts unnecessarily high when she stepped across the rivers of mud running between the shacks.

Fat Paulina was being paid generously to ‘look after’ Maria, yet she wouldn’t tolerate a word of complaint, not about the bug-infested bedding or the greasy meals prepared with meat which was clearly rotten or the nights when her lecherous boyfriends visited and chased her around noisily before the animal rutting began, usually interrupted by the arrival of a screeching jealous wife.

Fat Paulina threatened to have one of those boyfriends beat Maria up if she uttered one more word of complaint. So she sat and endured the radio, while her jailer, all smiles and kindness, tied new ribbons into the hair of her youngest grandchild, a pretty girl of three or four with blond ringlets and skin the colour of milk chocolate.

The child’s mother, Rosilene, was a waitress in a bistro near Vera and Eurico’s apartment and she was the worst kind of whore. Maria had once considered prostitution the most evil depth to which a woman could sink, now she could see an honesty to the profession – to take a man’s money and let him return to his family, poorer but relieved of his lusts – which someone like Rosilene lacked, for she took the man and his money.

She’d taken Eurico, while poor Vera was in the hospital.

“You brought this on yourself!” Fat Paulina taunted, if she noticed Maria feeling sorry for herself. “Always acting the lady, as if a caboclo like you could ever be a lady. You should have been grateful Eurico gave you a home instead of complaining all the time.”

Nights when the pain in her legs and the incessant itch from the insects in the bed kept her awake, Maria berated herself with similar accusations, but in the light of day, she knew it wasn’t true. All she had done was suggest that Eurico hire a woman to clean the house before Vera returned, and to help her afterwards. And she’d never have made such a suggestion, had it been possible for her to do those things herself.

Her legs were too bad for her to think of it. Dr. Canhoto had given her canes when she went to the hospital to see Vera and the baby – her only visit, when Ana was one day old and now she was three weeks. He’d noticed how crippled she was and set up an appointment for her, to which Eurico refused to take her, when she asked.

“Do you think I’m made of money for doctors?” he’d shouted, angry because she’d woken him in the early afternoon after another of his drunken nights out. “Why do you think I had to move Vera into a public ward? This thing will use up all my money, and for what? A fucking girl, that’s what! ”

He was angry too, because she was no longer able to cook, but sat instead at the table and sliced fruit, vegetables and bread for herself. And a few days later, she’d been lured away with the promise that a doctor’s appointment awaited her.

Poor Vera when she returned from the hospital to a husband who had a wicked smile on his face because he was certain his pregnant girlfriend would bear him the son he craved and because he’d sent his mother-in-law to the last place on earth she’d ever wanted to be – the favela.

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