After ringing the door bell, the gate was open to us. A polite and timid maid walked us through the garden. the owner waited for us by the door. My parents were received with a warm welcome by Dona Lourdes, their friend of many years, and I, after being properly kissed and hugged, escaped to see the backyard. Immense buildings surrounded the property on all sides. The only allowed view was the sky above. The sunlight was still plenty for the decade-old-trees guarding the house. Fruits like Papaya, coffee and Jaboticaba (Myrciaria cauliflora) waited to get ripe. Orchids housed by trees, thanked the hospitality with splashes of color on each branch. Pots were carefully planted with herbs that were used as spices as well as medicine. The memory of my daD crushing Boldo for his eventual hangovers came right back to me, as I saw some Peumus boldus growing there.
This backyard would’ve been unnoticed when growing up – just a typical house in my neighborhood. My Aunt Nenem’s place had an immense loquat tree (Eriobotrya japonica) attracting all kinds of birds, combined with a fish tank and wondering ladybugs – one would always come back home with me, inside a match box. At my Aunt Efigênia’s house, I would spend hours making bubbles using the stems of mamona, better known as, castor oil plant. No straws back then. Sometimes on my way home from school, I would stop by the Jaboticaba tree, at my friend Raquel’s house, for some snacking. And all neighbors knew about the avocado tree next door: “It’s so big, it could kill you”, as some would describe the ripened avocados that fell out of the sky. But all I had to do was to look up at the suffocating presence of skyscrapers over this house, to be reminded that places like those no longer exist. My hometown of Belo Horizonte, in Brazil, has become a permanent construction site. All houses from my childhood memories have been torn down, long ago. Progress, some say.
I’m invited inside. The table was set. Coffee, biscuits and pão de queijo, the regionally famous cassava flour bread, were served. A maid was standing by. Available and waiting. I am the only one who notices and acknowledges her constant presence. But I avert her eyes with obvious embarassement and shame on my face. “Why don’t you sit down, Have a cup of coffee, and Eat some pão de queijo?”- I dared to ask her only in my thoughts. As everyone else in the room I go back to ignoring her as we were taught to do.
My parents were having lively conversations and old stories were being shared like cups of coffee. I couldn’t resist the architecture and started to wonder around the place. Inside, religious relics blessed and protected the home. Even from the precise ticking of the clock. Time was still. the Family history was hanging on the walls as if intact. I walked down the hallway and found one of the rooms. A mosquito net and the open window made the humid South American air even more pronounced. Dona Lourdes walks in. “You can come and stay, anytime you want. This house is yours”, she said. And during that afternoon in May, I pretended it to be. unlike the maid. She knows better.