Little Antonio Sousa, rubbed his eyes and yawned. It had been a lovely day, of bright sunshine in this mountain town of Lumiar, Nova Friburgo, Brazil. The January sunshine made his avo’s garden bloom, with voluptuous purple orchids, a variety of cactus plants, and dainty lilies. The fragrance of the flowers filled Antonio’s nostrils and he was startled by the sound of his avo, announcing that lunch was ready.
Lunch! 8 year old Antonio’s favourite meal. In fact, all meals prepared by his doting grandmother, happened to be his favourite. “Venha, minha neto,”urged grandmother Alejandrina Santos. “Wash your hands and come to the table. Today I have made Feijoada!” Antonio did as his avo requested, and happily began wolfing down the delicious food. His grandfather joined them at the table as well.
Luigo and Alejandrina Sousa, were the maternal grandparents of little Antonio. They cared for and raised Antonio ever since tragedy befell his parents, and consequently their daughter, Beatriz Sousa, nee Santos. They lived in the hill town of Lumiar, a two hours drive from Rio de Janeiro. Brazil is well known for its relatively warm and humid climate, due to its proximity with the sea. Lumiar, in Brazil, however, is often blessed with pleasant, cool air, wafting from the mountain tops. The hill sides abound with various plants and palms, and there is an exotic collection of wildlife. The colourful macaws gaily squawk as they fly across blue skies, adorned with fluffy, white clouds. One can often see the famed toucan, a bird with striking plumage and a huge, yellow, orange bill.
Luigo and his wife had a substantial income, thanks to their acres of beautiful, terraced farmland. They loved Antonio and naturally treated him as the son they never had. Beatriz had been their only child. Lumiar comprised of a close-knit Catholic community of about 4500 people. The towns folk adored the Santos’ and respected the manner in which they were raising Antonio, their grandson. The Santos’ tried to fill the void, in as much as they could, so as not to let Antonio feel the lack of parents in his life. Nevertheless, as Antonio grew, he became curious about his parents and their lives prior to their demise. He had been told both his parents had passed away. His questions about his mae’s life were always dodged, or not answered by his grandparents. Neither did the older towns folk or their children speak of Antonio’s parents, to Antonio.
Alejandrina, though, often regaled Antonio, on stories related to the Bible, being the staunch Catholic that she was. Antonio was curious about the ‘Christ The Redeemer’ statue, with out stretched arms, on Concorado mountains. Alejandrina explained that Christ has His arms out stretched as He was welcoming one and all to Brazil, irrespective of colour or creed. Christ’s love is all encompassing. Alejandrina fasted for the 40 days of Lent, prior to Easter, the celebration of Jesus Christ’s Ascension into Heaven. Antonio did not particularly like the season of Lent, because he was forced to eat only vegetarian food during Lent. He certainly enjoyed Carnival, that took place every year, a weekend before Lent began. Carnival was a colourful fiesta that included song, dance and gaiety. The men and women dressed up in colourful costumes and headdresses and cavorted and swayed on floats, that were decorated as colourfully as the people travelling on them.
“ Avo could we see the Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, this year as well?,” Antonio enquired. “I don’t see why not O inocente!,” Alejandrina replied. “Miguel and Celina will be going to the Carnival as well along with their parents and cousins. I have only you and grandfather!,” Antonio added, dejectedly. Alejandria simply held him close to her bosom. She tried to cheer him up, reminding him of the delectable delicacies that would be available at the food stalls during Carnival. Antonio’s head got filled with visions of caruru, picanha, pastel de queijo, kibe and casscua chips. He seemed somewhat distracted for the moment, thought Alejandrina.
Time went by and soon Antonio’s 9th birthday was around the corner. It was at this time in the year he was adamant to hear more about his parents. He particularly missed having a mother, thought Alejandrina, as he was yet young.
One day, Luigo asked Antonio to fetch a file from a cabinet. Antonio while looking for the green file, came across a crumpled up photograph, at the far end of the drawer. He pulled it out and saw a young woman, standing besides a little boy. Forgetting about the green file, he ran quickly to the kitchen, where his grandmother was busy cutting vegetables for supper. “Who is this lady and child, avo?,” he asked her. Alejandrina’s heart skipped a beat. She felt faint and called out to her husband, Luigo. It was time to tell Antonio the truth.
“Antonio, the young lady and the boy in the picture are you and your mae, Beatriz!,” Luigo declared. Antonio’s eyes opened wide and he was all ears now. He had never been shown a picture of his mother or father before this!
Luigo continued,” Beatriz your mae, was our only child. We loved her and raised her just as we are raising you. She studied literature and then met a soldier of the Brazilian army at a party one day. She fell in love, and insisted on getting married when she was just 20. The soldier was your pai, Jose Sousa. They moved to Sao Paolo. She was happy for awhile. But your father was an alcoholic. He used to beat your mae after having far too many drinks.” Luigo’s eyes welled up with tears.
Alejandrina continued, “We wanted to protect you o inocente, and we didn’t want to put into your mind, a negative image of your pai. So we chose not to tell you about neither your mae nor your pai. Our hearts were broken when we lost our Beatriz, but then you came into our lives, and we saw a lot of Beatriz in you.” Antonio was anxious and thirsty for his avo to go on. She ruffled his hair and continued. “One terrible night when your pai was home on leave, from the army, he began fighting with your mae. He got violent and the tall man that he was, he sprang on her body. You began crying, and he went after you. Your mae pushed you towards an open window of their ground floor cottage. You were 1.5 years and ably crawled out and was saved by a passing street vendor. He heard the commotion and rushed you to the police. It was too late for your mae, though. Your pai lifted a huge steel case and brought it down on her skull.” Alejandrina burst into tears now.
Luigo consoled her and continued. “Your mae never mentioned a word of the torture to us as she thought it would hurt us. We came to know about what happened that night because your pai was arrested. He committed suicide by hanging himself in prison, but not before he wrote down his confession on a paper. I think, he might have ultimately been forgiven, by God. I know this because I am a good Catholic. But see o inocente, while dying, your mae saved you. His family disowned him after this deed and the court granted custody of you to us. We could never be consoled after losing our filha, but we gladly accepted you, Antonio. You are our precious one.”
Antonio hugged his grandparents and cried, all through the evening. After that he felt slightly at peace. He had finally been told about the mystery surrounding his parents lives. And he was thankful his mae had saved him. She had spread her arms out, just like Christ the Redeemer, and saved him, her son, in the process.
Antonio skipped down the woody path behind his grandparents home. He had seen a family of blue, red macaws. He wanted to feed them a few crumbs of his avo’s homemade pao.
Venha minha neto- Come my grandson
Feijoada- a stew of rice, collard greens cooked in beef or pork broth.
Caruru- like gumbo, made with shrimp and toasted nuts.
Picanha-barbequed meat, slow roasted.
Pastel de queijo- chocolate truffles.
Kibe- lamb with herbs.
Casscua chips- tapioca, yuca chip, deep fried.
O inocente- Oh innocent one.
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