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FEB 2021

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Cotton Candy in Grandma’s Hair

Ler em portugues >>

Dressed in a white coat, with blue eyes and authority the so-called Doctor certified: the woman had a Grandma the Portuguese would round up by lasso, the savage cabocla,1 a real bugre.2 For her part, the Grandma, whenever she could, flaunted her Portuguese blood; Black was unthinkable, life had spared her that infamous drop of blood. But it did not last long. To her disgust, her husband was the color of coffee with a thick nose that looked like a worn-out pot over a wood burner. Even worse, the ill-fated man, with intentions of a new baptism, made up a name that ended up killing the poor woman on their wedding day. The type of death that does not call for a wake or burial. They would also say that the man lived on hot coals, the brand always lit forcing the pale Indian woman to drain a river of milk to feed more than a dozen mouths. She looked in disbelief at her own children, it could only be misfortune in abundance because none of them looked like her. But that was not nearly enough to make her sad, it even appeared to be revenge: if the woman she had been died to get married, it was her fate to bring unbeautified people into the world. The poor litter felt the sting, evil hurts. Each of the ill-fated suffered from some ailment: the women generally, if they did not have weak brains, came with a biting tongue that let out a breath from hell. The men on the other hand, had their feet turned over the other way, condemned to walk backwards. By way of appetizer, they say that only after his conversion in Alcoholics Anonymous did Tristonho, the youngest son and most fortunate in the home, have a revelation out there in the north of Minas Gerais: he understood that he was the grandson of a Xacriabá Indian. Baboseira, as the first-born, also wanted to show his importance by attempting to unearth some advantage from his Galician grandfather. Without blinking, he had entered the hold of the first secret ship in search of miraculous Portuguese citizenship, yes, he had invented that he wanted to be European. After being hit by many stones, his robust misconception was finally wounded: all of that griminess stuck to his skin ruined his chances of being white and Portuguese. So it was that seven years of life overseas only got him a vulgar accent and a deportation order. The pale skin of his Indian mother was pure derision at the failure of his endeavor. In spite of her venom, with each passing year the heart of the Old Woman only grew. In the beginning it had nothing to do with generosity, to tell the truth, the Chagas Disease was the start of it all. But time has the power to do away with the most hardened bile of the soul. Even though her grandchildren were dressed in the blackness of night, the old lady couldn’t help it: her pockets filled more and more with sweet treats and her kitchen with tiny beignets, manioc flour biscuits, brown sugar candy, and some advice: “Don’t waste a word; the right look will betray unsuspecting fools.” And when I asked her, “Grandma, tell me a story!” she would just respond: “There is no story, I’ll spare you. A needle is only pleasant to get rid of the parasite called bicho de pé.” So it was that after growing for almost a half century, her heart occupied her entire chest. Then it was that she concluded: “Enough already. No more as of today.” On that day, when the daughter of the mushiest brain saw that her mother’s heart was threatening to exit the chest, and to turn her pale skin purple, she felt it was time to take her to the hospital. Funny enough that in spite of the useless pregnancies she brought to the world, the little bit each tiny soul could proffer helped pay for a costly health plan. But the old lady stomped her foot: “I don’t want to depend on anyone to die. I will not leave this home.” She wanted no wailing, all she needed to hear was what the mango trees, peach trees, coffee plantations, and taioba leaves had to say in their farewell to her. And finally, she had appeared to forgive her litter for the sparse vegetable garden, just a tad more leaves would certainly make her passing from the world greener. In spite of her children’s protests, she was at peace, her body obeying her. At the end of the day, all of the blood that had grown old with her took quiet rest inside of her giant heart. And when the final drop finally came in, she closed off all of the doors to her heart, and she could finally die. She closed her eyes with assurance: if blood was life itself, she had irrigated her chest’s lifelong pain to the death, finally giving it well-deserved rest.

Since then, I yearn for her when I get a craving to eat banana heart with angu3 and beef rib. To walk by the immense purple heart of the banana is chilling in memory and makes me drool. I was content flirting with her presence in this way, and I even felt it was very generous of her, considering that while alive she also gave me the name found on her death certificate, the very one she received the day that she married my wronged grandfather, the prospector of ill fortune. But in her chest a thick trunk of kindness took root, and today she came to me with this delight: “For you who wanted to hear stories so much, I will tell you one: The world was even beautiful, a decent place to live. But then a son was born, the worst kind that no mother would wish to claim, he was too white, too much of a man, and even seemed like a revenant. Nothing could console the poor mother, who decided to abandon the ill-starred creature. After a great deal of fighting and struggling, they baptized the fallen angel and the little bastard came to be known by the name Capital. As predicted, he grew up an unloved child who silently hatched only plans of vengeance in his chest. No one believed him, he seemed to not be a threat, he just made people laugh. Time passed and the world was a bit distracted when he revealed his true power, and came out with the ill-fated surprise: he was a giant with the sharp abilities to hurt the entire planet, feeding on all the gold and diamonds that the earth produced, bleeding out its belly without mercy. He would cut down any tree that had dozed off in his way to satiate his hunger for paper money; drink the oil of all the oceans to belch out fire; raise burning smoke on leagues of flora and fauna; poison more and more rivers with his infinite urine; stuff his stomach with the creatures of technology, transgenic crops and illnesses. Never satisfied, he sowed perpetual war, giving the white man (for being similar in appearance) the power of evil, the more fertile the better, because good cruelty gives birth willy-nilly to Isms. As if it were not enough, pollution and competition choked the sight of people in such a way that resistance and love for fellow man became the most difficult tasks in life. To make matters worse, he infused the will for power in all of humanity; a shiny crumb was enough to feed the illusion. If you are not attentive and clever as a person, you run the risk of feeling the flavors ‘white’ and ‘man’ grow in your mouth.” Struck by this apocalyptic torpor, I faced the gravity of the pair of jaboticaba fruits that were the window to her soul. Stunned, I watched the trace of hope disappear out the door. But my Grandma took out a ball of cotton candy from her long, abundant, and white locks of hair and this calmed down my palate. And so it was that she went back to being a mirage, slowly dragging her cute little foot like homemade bread straight out the oven, laughing as always: swinging her ample belly, singing a cascade of hearty laughter until she coughed. She laughs like someone coughing, and coughs like someone laughing, wickedly. Until the generosity settles again on her cabocla face, her right arm lands again behind her back, and her small left hand, always plump, points up above: “But everything's not lost, my child, if you trust in Tupã4, you will manage to scare away the many bats flying over your head.”

  1. Mixed race with white and Indian.
  2. An Indian “without Christian customs”
  3. A thick porridge made from cassava or corn.
  4. God in the Guarani language.

Contributor

Viviane A. Pistache

Viviane A. Pistache (1981) is a Black woman from the state of Minas Gerais. She is a psychologist, a screenwriter, a film critic and a PhD student. Pistache currently works as a researcher for the Department of Artistic Development for the Globo television network. She has previously worked as a development assistant at the production company Casa de Criação Cinema led by director Joel Zito and an assistant in the development of screenplays for O2 Filmes.

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The Brooklyn Rail

FEB 2021

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