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  • Miss Bruna
  • Marilia Arnaud (bio)
    Translated from Portuguese by Ilze Duarte

She stole almost everything from me. First, Mom's joy. Then, Grandma Bela's tender attention. And, still, Julinho. She took away the best that I had, the adults' trust and my innocence. She tore me from my nest. And this, one couldn't forgive in a person, even if she is kind, generous, and pretty. Even if she didn't mean in the least to turn my life into a nightmare. Because that is what happened. I wanted to wake up, but there was no one beside me to hear my groans of impotence and horror, to insert me again into the light of the world outside. If they hadn't hidden from me what I came to learn later, too late, when I had already rotted in neglect and resentment, I would have regarded her with different eyes. With astonishment, perhaps, or with compassion. Never with love, for you can't love someone you don't know.

It was during the summer vacation when I turned thirteen. We used to spend the month of July in Santa Pedra, I, my parents, uncles and aunts and cousins, the whole family gathered around Grandma Bela. A time to do things we couldn't do the rest of the year. Bathe in the creek, eat ripe guava right from the tree, ride horses, walk around in the thick of the grassland, go to bed late with no set time to wake up, listen to spooky stories, look for birds' nests. And, the best of all, which I had discovered only last summer, kiss Julinho on the mouth and press my body against his until I felt a sort of swooning.

For a week, everything was prepared for the arrival of Naila. Grandma Bela had the house painted, the frayed wicker chairs repaired, new linens and tablecloths purchased, curtains made for the room her granddaughter would take, and she herself tidied up the flower beds and prepared the sweet dumplings, the cookies, and the banana, mango, and guava preserves. All of this in a frenzy and a contentment that I hadn't seen in her since my grandfather's death.

Naila would come by herself because her parents, lawyers of many and important causes, couldn't leave their work. That is what they said. And at home she was all that everyone talked about, the southern granddaughter, [End Page 108] who was about to arrive and come to meet her family and see the place where her mother was born and raised. Aunt Helena hadn't visited Santa Pedra since she had had a fight with my grandfather and left home, still very young. When he was still alive and Grandma Bela would mention her daughter, she would do so very quietly, elliptically, as though Aunt Helena were a secret. There weren't even pictures of her. My grandfather had destroyed everything that could remind him of her. He had a bad temper, and my father for years had also been estranged from Santa Pedra because of an argument with him at a time when I wasn't even born. I only got to meet my grandparents when I was about five years old, when both of them, my father and my grandfather, lowered their guard and put an end to their disagreement.

As soon as I saw Naila, the image that came to mind was that of the Virgin Mary, for she had eyes that were light and serene, delicate facial features, very light skin, long and straight hair parted in the middle, a smile that was the promise of a smile, and her stride seemed more like steps on nothingness. We were all in the garden when she got out of my uncle's car, as he had picked her up at the airport. Grandma Bela was the first one to embrace her, and she would repeat, her voice altered by emotion, "My God! You look so much like your mother! Look! She's all Helena!" Later, we were introduced to Naila in turn, and everyone would smile and touch her and offer their welcome.

That same night...


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pp. 108-117
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