Thursday, November 5, 2015

7. Dona Glória

My mother was a good soul. When her husband, Pedro de Albuquerque Santiago, died, she was thirty-one years old and could have returned to Itaguaí. She didn’t want to; she chose instead to stay close to the church in which my father was buried. She sold the fazenda and the slaves, bought some others that she hired out or sent off to work for cash; she acquired a dozen or so buildings and some government bonds, and set herself up in the house at Matacavalos, where she had lived for the previous two years of her married life. Her mother was from Minas Gerais, a descendant of a lady from São Paulo, of the Fernandes family.

Now then, in the year of grace 1857, Dona Maria da Glória Fernandes Santiago was forty-two years old. She was still pretty and didn’t look her age, but she stubbornly concealed the remnants of her youth no matter how much nature wished to preserve her from the ravages of time. She lived encased in an eternal dark dress, free of adornment, with a black shawl folded in a triangle and fastened at the breast by a cameo. Her hair, plaited, was gathered at the nape of her neck by an old tortoiseshell comb; sometimes she wore a white, frilled cap. She spent the whole of her day like this, shuffling in her muffled leather flats, guiding and supervising the activities of the entire house from one end to the other, from morning to night.

I have her portrait on the wall over there, right next to her husband’s, just like they were in the other house. The paint has darkened significantly, but a reasonable impression of them both can still be made out. I don’t remember anything about him, except vaguely that he was tall and wore his hair long. The portrait shows a round pair of eyes, which follow me everywhere I go, an effect that frightened me as a child.  His neck emerges out of an undulating black necktie, his face is cleanly shaven -- except for a small patch by the ears. My mother’s portrait shows how beautiful she was. She was twenty then and held a flower in her hand. In the frame she seems to be offering the flower to her husband. What is read in both their faces is that if marital bliss can be compared to winning the lottery, they had bought the winning ticket together.

I conclude by saying that lotteries should not be abolished. No winner has ever accused them of being immoral, just as nobody has denounced Pandora’s box as being evil for having Hope stuffed inside; she has to be somewhere. Here I have both my parents, the happily married couple of long ago, the contented lovers, the lucky lovers, who have left this life for the next, most likely continuing a dream. When I tire of the lottery and Pandora, I raise my eyes to them and I forget the luckless tickets I’ve drawn and the fateful box. The portraits are exceptionally lifelike. My mother’s, a flower extended to her husband, seems to say “I’m yours, completely, my handsome gentleman.” My father’s, eyes following us, comments: “See how much this woman loves me...” If they suffered from ailments, I do not know, just as I do not know if they bore any disappointments: I was a child and I began by not having been born. After his death, I remember that she cried bitterly; but here are both their portraits, and without years of accumulated grime taking anything away from their expressions of long ago. They are like snapshots of happiness.

Chapter 7 in the original Portuguese.

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