The daughters of Adelina are playing on the beach but she
doesnt care. Ipanema, the loveliest of Rios beaches, opens
its arms to the sea and to people alike, but the beauty of it all dies
in her heart. On this Dia de São João,sparks from
a roman candle leap over the waves, then plunge into the water with a
sizzle. It is tradition, as is this: excited children watching the fireworks
are dressed like caipiras,like the peasants who churn butter in
childrens stories. The girls wear calico dresses with hems of flowers
and eyelet ruffle, and the boys wear pants with colorful patches. Both
wear straw hats, and the girls have ribbons. To Adelina, real peasants
with bitter faces and hatchet-like shoulders wear decrepit pants and shredded
shirts. Real firecrackers in the favelas,the shanty towns up in
the hills, welcome a shipment of drugs or warn others of approaching policemen.
Real shouts drunkenly swirl with cachaça and insults, those
that permeate the brick walls of shacks. Adelina sees everything on the
dark side. She is no fun. Friends joke that for Adelina, fun would be
dancing at her own funeral.
Adelina flinches at the smack of a small rocket and covers
her ears. Her husband Carlinhos says something to her, but she doesnt
want to hear voices, not of her husband, nor of her children, nor of the
fireworks screaming like women falling down a deep, black gorge.
Adelina remembers her small village in the North, remembers
the day when she saw the women plummet. She and the other peasants shuffled
on swollen feet, their scoured heels twisting their sandals as they headed
to the bus stop on the paved main road up ahead. They could already see
the metal bridge that straddled canyon and river. Adelina was going to
the bus stop to wait for her uncle who had driven to a friends house
to buy fireworks. Every year on the Dia de São João,after
hours of dripping-sweat baião and forró dancing,
Adelinas uncle set off pinwheels and cherry bombs and the more dazzling
airborne torches. He had an old truck, and Adelina could always spot it
from a distance, its front bumper tied in place with rags.
At first, no one paid attention to the strange bus that
stopped midway on the bridge. Zé heaved his heavy burlap bag of
manioc.The others, sucking in heat waves, were too hot to help
him. They continued on a footpath that went along the canyon rim. Small
weedy shrubs, their leaves like hard green chips, became more plentiful
as did thistles and thickets of silk grass; a mandacarú,with
twisted greenish-black boughs, stood alone. Down the steep sides of the
canyon, grass and thorny creepers, with occasional crimson flowers, clutched
the soil. Far below, the river seemed to drag itself over rocks and did
nothing to cool the hot air that coughed dry gusts.
It happened when they approached the bridge, close enough
to see the metal rivets on the low guardrail: two policemen struggled
off the bus, lugging a woman and hurling her off the bridge. Then they
went back into the bus for another. Some of the women being shoved to
the edge tried to hook the guardrail with their feet, and one managed
to stay perched for a few seconds. The women tumbled, diving like hawks
as they headed toward the water. These women had no armies of brothers
or uncles to defend them; no fathers to organize bands of gunmen. Prostitutes
maybe. Who knows and who cares, people might say.
As an orange skirt flew upwards, a necklace broke, its beads
dropping one by one. Another woman lost her shoes as she tried to climb
up the rungs of air.
Adelina and the others stopped and stared. How do
you catch fear that bursts before your eyes? How can you go through life
as a dull animal that sees only pale dust in its path? Perhaps this whole
thing never happened, this trail of screams, these faint splashes into
the river. It would have been better if it had been a dream.
Adelina can feel her husband Carlinhos rubbing the back
of her neck, but she shrinks from his touch. Fronds from the palm trees
dangle in the breeze. A boy in a plaid shirt hurls a shoe into the water.
Small street kids in dingy shorts run into the ocean up to their knees,
hooting violently, and scaring a girl in a ruffled apron. Adelina wants
to remember the Dia de São João of her childhood,
the small flags strung from lamppost to lamppost and the dancing men and
women intertwining their brown legs and rubbing their bellies against
each other for the forró.She wants to remember her uncles
hands, scarred from failed explosions, and how he wept with joy as his
shower of stars erupted above the roofs.
But the rockets shatter and drop into the moon lit water,
silver like the reflection of bones in the riverbed. Under the waters,
all waters, all rivers, all oceans, fish flit through the womens
ribs, their hearts turned to stone. Carlinhos says, "Meu bem, diga-me
que você tá pensando?"--What are you thinking about?--and
whispers other words, relaxed as he is from drinking two beers. He strokes
the black curl loose from her hair pins, but finally lets go. Adelina
can think only of the underwater women being carried off by caimans and
crows. The womens troubled spirits chatter of revenge. On this Dia
de São João,everyone calls to Adelina in voices she
cant even answer.
Kathleen de Azevedos
fiction has appeared in Other Voices, Brooklyn Review,and Haydens
Ferry Review.She was born in Rio de Janeiro and lives in San Francisco.