It Never Rains in Paranà
fingers smelled of garlic. She grimaced as she wiped her oily hands on
her apron. She hated garlic, but it kept the mosquitoes away, and that
was important. No matter how many years she spent here, she thought,
her body would never get used to being bitten. Her limbs would swell
and weep from the sores; she would be bedridden for days with the fever
and the embarrassment of being bloated, pus-ridden, and pink.
gringa skin,’ they told her. ‘You need some colour, Angra.
You need some sun.’ Which was good advice, but considering that
once the swelling had subsided and the welts dried, her skin was so
pale and tender that she burned instantly, it was largely impractical.
The sun charred her scalp and bleached her hair, and besides, it would
be bad for the baby. No, Angra remained indoors, roasting garlic and
never eating honey, for she had heard that mosquitoes will bite the
tongue in search of sugar, and if that happened, she would surely die,
Angra dried her hands,
wincing at the smell - to which she would never become accustomed, no
matter how long she stayed here – and checked the drawer for the
three pay packets for the gardener, the window cleaner, and the boy who
collected her shopping and cleaned out the rat traps under the
verandah. She would pay the gardener extra this month as he had been
sulking ever since she had had him dry out the well, to keep the
mosquitoes away. She was a little fearful of the gardener, particularly
when he was sullen. He would work silently for hours in the baking
heat, stripped to the waist, taking no water, just a piece of bread
when the noonday sun was highest. She fancied that if he were upset, he
would break into her house at night and beat her, or worse; Angra did
not like to think of such things.
Of course, she was not
alone here. She caressed her belly as she thought of it. She had money
– not enough to be rich at home, but more than enough to be rich
here, in this foreign, southern country, where the people worked
silently and she never went out.
It was dusk now, and
Angra zipped her beekeeper’s overall and stepped onto the balcony
to watch for him as the stars appeared. She had not kept bees since she
stopped eating honey – not that the bees had taken to being kept
in the heat anyway – but she wore the overall still, partly to
protect her from the eternal, immortal mosquitoes, and partly so that
he would recognize her again when he came.
It was warm that
evening, and sweat beaded on Angra’s brow, lip, and behind her
knees. Sweat ran down her chest and over her bump, stinging the fresh
scratches under her breast that she had woken up to that morning. She
felt hot, feverish, and uncomfortable, but she waited for him to appear
as he had so many months ago: raving, mud-spattered, naked but for a
mask. It was almost time. He must come.
concentration, she jumped when the first fireworks lit up the horizon.
She lived uphill from the village, but she could hear the cries and
cheers as the first bonfires blazed up to celebrate Carnaval, casting
an orange glow on the low, heavy, pregnant clouds. The air felt wetter
now; it had been humid for days, but the villagers were not troubled -
it never rained in Paranà. Angra feared a storm, a flood, and
the plague of mosquitoes it would breed. She felt breathless as she
pressed her bump. She did not know how long childbearing took, but she
had a feeling it would be soon, and quick. Her body ached, her hips
felt pulled apart by the weight, and breathing, bathing, and walking
were difficult. She had begun to make nests of towels and boil barrels
of water in preparation for the lengthy drying process that would need
to happen after the waters broke.
The clouds lumbered
along the mountain, gathering in a purple and orange crowd, wetting the
air and glowering over the jubilant villagers’ celebration.
Lightning tore across the sky, making Angra start in shock: for a
second, in the flash of electric blue, she had seen a dark figure at
the end of the track. After the blaze, as the thunder rumbled on, it
seemed much darker than it was before.
She clutched at the arms
of her wooden rocker and leaned forward, short of breath in the damp
heat. Sweat ran in her eyes and her hair stuck to her brow as she
squinted to the haze of the beekeeper’s head protection. Breaths
stuck in her chest as if she could not take any more air. Lightning
shocked the sky alight again and she could not see anyone on the path,
now. But that did not mean, she thought, that there was no one there.
She was not ready, she did not see the whole path, it was too quick. He
could be here.
Thunder and lightning
crashed simultaneously all around and pain lashed Angra – she
thought she had been struck, but no, it was another pain altogether
that pushed her from her seat onto her knees in the sticky, muddy
veranda, hot with the evening’s warmth. Again the storm lit up
the night and the heavy clouds broke. Hard, hot rain lashed the left
side of her body where she crouched half out of shelter, dazed by
noise, light and pain, damp with sweat and heat and rain.
The village could still
be heard over the storm, preparing for the Carnaval dash through the
fields. Their revelry was loud and shrill in the night, as firework and
bonfire met lightning to light up the end of the track.
Angra realised too late
that she needed help. She could feel a wetness that was not rain or
perspiration and the pain kept her on her knees. She crawled from the
house out to the track. The mud covered her overall and clogged the
gauze over her face faster than the sheets of rain could wash it away
and stones and barbed weeds strangled by heat and drowned in rain, cut
and scored her hands. Still she crawled toward the glow.
The steel drums and
bells rang out in the village to signal the start of the run and the
whistles and cries and chaos drew louder and nearer to where she
crouched in the flooded ditch, barely breathing now. The men, masked
and feathered and covered in mud, ran together through sheets of water,
beating the drums’ rhythm with their feet.
Angra heard them coming
and could not stand. Her beekeeper’s mask was full of water, the
ditch was full of water, and she was full of water. She lay crouched
and did not feel the men’s feet trample over her. She did not
hear them cry out as they stumbled over the mad woman from the top of
the hill, blackened with ditchwater, wrapped in white plastic and
streaked with blood, swollen with child, and carried her back to the
village, where she was bathed and dried and laid out in a hut, tended
by careful women who unwrapped her swaddling bandages and pressed her
tender stomach to feel for the baby.
The women fetched the doctor, confused by the softness of her abdomen.
Angra did not understand
them, or the doctor, who shook his head sadly at her swelling and left
her to cry for the baby that was not there until the rain stopped.