|Metro Mensch in São Paulo
Story by Isabella da Silva, Illustration by Kevin Visdeloup and Ernesto Mendez
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|Maria and Luis
We lived for all our lives on the same road in the outskirts of São Paulo. Mother was a shopkeeper, as our house was on the busy road of the school, where I studied from the start to the end of school days, and then from there to college. Father worked at the Mercedes Benz plant, so we had a normal working class home, with the usual working class expectations.
I was lucky as I never had to work and could dedicate all my time to my studies, a luck that I don't share with many of my contemporaries at school, they had to work all day and go to school tired, unable to concentrate, or to do proper home work, or to have hope even of better days in future, all those kids would worry about was to survive everyday life and help their homes to keep going with food in their plates and guarantee the ceiling above their heads.
Mother was religious, the local Catholic Church was her second home, where she'd spend most of her time on week evenings and weekends, when I could look after the shop for her. My father had drinking problems, though he'd still work hard to keep out lifestyle, but the weekends were for his friends at the bar. Mother was frustrated with that, now I realise that their marriage was broken because of my father's out-of-marriage-adventures, most of them, with the women surrounding the bar where he usually went.
It was in the church, where mother knew Maria, a woman who migrated from the North East to São Paulo, seeking a better life for her and her two kids. Her husband was a regular costumer of the local bar, but different from dad, he wouldn't work, my mother tried to help that man many times, once he came to work for us, she wanted some work done on the tiles of our bathroom, he started in a Friday, on Saturday, when I came home from the library and found him lying there on the bathroom floor, lying in his own vomit, that man was in a alcoholic coma. It was morning yet, I called for help, the ambulance never arrived so my uncle came around and took that man to hospital in his car. Mother had to pay for the car wash afterwards and we had to pay someone else to finish the tiles in the bathroom, the tiles that, as my father used to point out, wasn't supposed to be done in the first place. It was only mother's excuse to give that man a chance to feed his family.
Father was home another day and I could listen to his conversation on the phone with his brother, they were best friends, my uncle also tried to give an opportunity to Maria's husband, but again, he fucked up. Dad was saying that his daughter became one of Miss Diva's girls. Well, I know what it means, she already found the prostitution's way of living. Shame. Soon she left home and never went back, never called to know about, at least, her mom and little brother. I felt sorry for the mother, Maria was changing, so skinny and sad, begging everyone for opportunity and for food, our government system doesn't help anyone, the struggle of that woman would make me feel so bad, would make me think if, as we can't save the world, we could, at least, try to save Maria. Maria's fate doesn't end there, with a lazy and alcoholic husband, she'd also face domestic violence, so mom and I decided that we could have her to work in our house as a domestic cleaner, we'd give her a minimum wage, holidays and food. It wasn't much, but the smile proved to us that this little was the world for her, finally, a ray of hope. This could be a start and with a bit of confidence, she could even leave that piece of shit, we know, her father forced her marriage with.
I wonder if Maria came to this world to have a life of pure misfortune, misery and pain.
Maria's son was called Luis, he was six years old. Very curious little boy, would ask me questions all day long, about school mainly, he'd start the primary school the following year, and just to talk about it used to make he smile and giggle, and was very well noticed his little eyes becoming brighter, full of excitement and joy. I decided to teach him how to write, read and count for a couple of hours every day. What a bright kid, he was really thirsty for learning. I really enjoyed those days, I learned more than I taught, and I really miss it. When I think about it, I only regret for not have more done for them, I always thought that that kid would put an end to this misfortune and misery that has been in his family for generations. But I was wrong.
Maria didn't turn up for work for almost a week, we went to her house in a shanty town just fifteen minutes from our home, but no one answered the door. The neighbours know nothing. We fear for them. What if that drunk bastard had done something to them? After all, he was a violent man.
I was leaving home to college when I heard the phone and run back the stairs to answer it, the person on the other side tells me to be a receptionist from Hospital das Clinicas, she was calling on behalf of Maria Aparecida, she was in hospital with he son, he was very ill, apparently, with leukemia. Maria was illiterate, she wasn't able to make a phone call all by herself. It was luck I had given her our phone and address written on a piece of paper. As more information wasn't possible over the phone I got my car and drove there to give that poor mother some support.
When I got there, I was taken to see Dr Octavio straight away, he explained that this type of leukemia is rare, fatal and quick and he didn't believe that poor Luis would make to the next morning. When he took me to see mother and son, she smiled at me as soon as she saw me; her son was lying on the bed just in front of her, Luis was sleeping, so pale and quiet, looking like if the last ray of life was struggling inside his body. Luis changed so much in such short period of time, my eyes couldn't bare to look at the scene, it was really painful to see that little boy dying and his mother defeated again by the misfortune of her life. I'd rather shown myself strong, as I always thought I was and give that woman some strength to go through this miserable situation, but I cried. I felt like the smallest and weakest creature that might exist on earth. I couldn't cope. I've seem they fighting together so many times before, one was the strength of the other, Maria lost two kids, one to the underworld of prostitution, other to a fatal illness. What is next? They didn't deserve that, I believed so much that those recently happy days were just the start of a prosperous life, but no, death strikes, and hope was suddenly taken away.
My parents dealt with the funeral arrangements, Maria wanted to have the body in her own home, we're the only ones presents, her husband might not even know the fate of his son, he always disappear for some days, but always comes back as sudden as he disappeared. Maria wanted to be alone with her baby, she asked us to leave, have some rest and come back later on, so we did. When we got back, hours later, we found the little house made of wood at the bottom of the slum in flames, the fire fighters were there, but the fire was by now under control.
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