There was no Brazil without Lúcia. There was no home across the sea without Lúcia. From the not-so-hidden depths of her childhood memories, Isabella missed Lúcia, the woman who looked after her and her brother during most of her life, while her parents were at work. On an ordinary day, the longing was such that a small tear marked a path in her face, passing her high cheekbones, straight into her half smiling lips and into her mouth, bringing the salty taste of immigration and the nostalgia of a warm, nurturing past.
Isabella, who was fondly called Belinha, tried to find the words to describe the woman who so tenderly filled her heart with love and her evenings with laughter. Her memories of their time together popped into her mind by the second, bringing a feeling of peace to her exhausted first-time mother’s body.
‘Come, Lúcia, I will teach you how to write your name,’ she would say, slowly, making sure Lúcia could read her lips moving. In her early adult life Lúcia became deaf thanks to the inadequacies of the public health system in Brazil.
‘Ih! Can you teach me numbers instead so that people don’t steal from me?’ she replied in her perfect speech—one benefit Lúcia saw in losing her hearing after being fully grow—despite always shouting, unknowingly.
‘Of course! Anything you want!’ said Isabella, always ready to help her second mother.
But she couldn’t always help her.
‘They took it! They took my house … Ten years I spent building it, since Belinha was this tiny!’ Sitting at the dining table, Lúcia cried, the only time Isabella can remember.
It happened the day after the walls were painted, just before the floor tiles would go in. Isabella was a teenager now, but she knew that houses were built differently in the favela. For the middle classes: a safe, orderly build (more-or-less). From what she heard from Lúcia, a favela building project involved favours, bribes, wonky project management as available workers left to work on the upper-class homes.
‘They put me in the corner, they hit my daughter, I peed my pants …’
Lúcia’s face flooded with tears as she relived the night when they invaded her house and forced her out. She would have to start all over again.
All Isabella could do was hug her, try to comfort the woman who so had, so many times, cushioned her trivial problems without any judgement.
‘You should stay here!’ Isabella cried.
‘No, Belinha I will stay with my cousin,’ Lúcia replied.
‘They will steal money from you!’
‘Oh, my child, I will pay in advance for my stay.’
Isabella melted to the floor, heartbroken at not being able to provide for her second mother.
‘Don’t you worry, Belinha,’ Lúcia said. ‘I will be fine.’
Isabella often wondered if she’d be as brave and resilient if it hadn’t been for Lúcia’s presence in her life.
Seconds before opening the door, Isabella and her brother would often hear Lúcia’s laughter from outside the house. They would walk as loudly as they could, so their vibrations would signal their return from school. They didn’t like to scare her.
‘Belinha, can you read to me what happened?’ She would often ask Isabella, not her brother, to read the gossip sections of the weekly magazine over lunch. Both liked to know which celebrity was getting up to mischief.
When a couple broke up, Lúcia was certain to say: ‘Men are useless, has he cheated on her?’ The answer was often yes. However, when it was the woman who cheated, she‘d often be surprised: ‘Maybe she’s not very smart.’ Either way, Isabella and her giggled together.
These memories brought back all the words that Isabella was missing since the birth of her child. She remembered the last time she saw Lúcia was over a year ago, when she was pregnant with her first baby.
‘Ah! My flower! So beautiful! Is it a boy or a girl?’ Lúcia cried, with her broad smile.
‘What a hunk! You chose well!’ she said about Isabella’s fiancé, and quickly started talking to him in Portuguese, as if he would understand. ‘Eu peguei essa mulher no colo, quando seu cabelo ainda era loiro e ela era desse tamaninho! Sou a mãe preta dela; esse é meu neto branco aí dentro!’
‘I am her black mother; this is my white grandchild in there!’
At this moment, Isabella remembered Lúcia so intensely she could feel her right next to her. She wondered if she had passed away and immediately texted her mother to check up on Lúcia.
She smiled, certain her other mother was still spreading her laughter into the world.
On that ordinary day, Isabella remembered the calmness of the afternoons in her kitchen in Brazil, the scent of freshly cooked rice and beans permeating through the house, the sound of the birds in the backyard and the stillness. She remembered the glorious, loud, loving and honest laugh, like the sound of children in a playground. It was Lúcia, teaching her to be a mother.
Born and raised in Niterói, Brazil, Maíra grew up fascinated by the historically ingrained complexities of social and economic inequalities that plague South America. Her writing tries to show non-stereotypical Latin American characters, exploring the poetic and controversial nature of their lives.
She has long believed in the healing power of stories, and in 2018 founded a boutique children’s publishing house, Saci Books, as a vehicle to give a voice to those who are not often heard. Her first novel was published under a pseudonym.
By Maíra Metelo
Issue 2 | Spring 2022
An antonym for Marie Kondo | Natalia Figueroa Barroso
Mi casa (no) es tu casa // Writing about my house in somebody else’s home | Suzanne Hermanoczki