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5th July
posted by amber

In the morning, Maria was unable to get up.

She’d hardly slept, her legs a torment, an agony, and the roaches on the shack’s floor considerably larger than the bed bugs in the sheets at Fat Paulina’s. As soon as the sky grew barely bright enough to see by, before she heard anyone stirring in the shack of her reluctant benefactor, she tried to resume her journey. But not by using the canes nor by pulling on the loose boards of the shack’s wall, not by crawling to the door and manhandling her legs until they dangled limply onto the porch so that she could try to haul herself upright in the doorway, not by any manner could she stand up.

She was trying again, for perhaps the thirtieth time, when she heard someone come down the stairs with sure steps in the early morning dimness, whistling. The tune was familiar, from the past, a happy time in the Pelhourinho neighbourhood. A whistled tune she’d heard whenever she went to the market – Blind Ric, seller of naked wooden dolls.

“Ric!” she called. “Senhor Ric!”

The sure steps paused, then resumed. Soon he appeared on the level where she sat hostage to her infirmity. “Where are you?” he asked.

“Over here. Watch out for that board!” she called out, but he was far more mobile than she had been, tapping with his slender cane, avoiding obstacles.

“Say something else,” he said, when he stood in front of her.

“No, I’m right here,” she answered, supposing he needed her voice to guide him to her. “You’ve found me.”

“Dona Maria Novaes!” he exclaimed. “Can it be? Dona Maria in the favela?”

“You know me by the sound of my voice, after all these years,” she marvelled.

“A voice to me is as a face to you. And voices don’t change much. But what are you doing here?”

“I don’t belong here,” she said, without thinking, then added, “Oh, not to say that anyone does. It’s a disgrace, that people are forced to live this way. I didn’t mean to offend.”

He laughed. “Don’t apologize. Of course you don’t belong here. But it seems your life has not been as fortunate since your husband died.”

She thought of the events of those years, the loss of so many of her children, and of Vera, so sick and with such a terrible man for a husband. Then she looked around at the favela, and said, “My life hasn’t been that bad. My daughter has a nice apartment and a new baby. But her husband brought me here when she was in the hospital. He paid Fat Paulina to keep me.”

“Oh, you’re that one. And now the wretch won’t pay anymore, I heard.” He added, gently, “They say your daughter is dead.”

Firmly, she replied, “It’s a lie, Senhor Ric, if you could just telephone Vera. You made her a doll once, do you remember? She’ll send a taxi and pay you for your trouble. We’d be so grateful.”

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