from The Dionti Family
Alan Minas's first novel, A familia Dionti, is an elaboration on his award-winning film of the same name. Classified as a work of juvenile fiction in Portuguese, it follows the lives of two boys, Kelton and Serino, and their father, Josué, in the rural interior of Brazil. The mother has left to follow the byways of the world, leaving the boys with their remaining parent. As the presence of the mother and wife lingers in the memories of all three characters, the boys begin developing an awareness of their place in the world. As well as being a coming-of-age novel, the work examines, in poetic terms, the themes of rootedness, duty, and freedom in the isolated but changing community in which the story is set.
He was a thin man, full of bone, used to tilling obstinacies and pruning choices. His toes were like the teeth of a rake, abundantly knotted, a trap for his stumbling steps. He had deepset eyes, so deep that you couldn't glimpse their end. He was in constant danger of plummeting headlong into himself, which was why he always walked with arms akimbo. Josué was a short fellow—he wouldn't come up to your shoulders—but he was burdened with the shadow of a giant, which sapped his energy and was responsible for his plodding gait. He would escape through the back door when some intrusive sentiment came knocking at the front. He remained quiet to make it seem as if he wasn't there. He was a man with a short fuse, and would lose his temper at the slightest provocation. His vast brow was a barrier against whatever came at him, it would block the condensed waters of the heavens, along with any beauties circulating within them, except the ones he most desired. He was a man of many clouds. Josué swallowed winds, silences, pauses. And it wasn't that he had strong likes or dislikes. Josué Dionti was like everyone else in the world: in his emptiness, he felt an insatiable hunger.
That's my final say on the matter, my very last word. That's it! …
Josué Dionti was a self-contained man. A fellow punctuated by many full stops, whetted on the blade of many a certainty. For him, no was not a word open to endless translation and multiple reinterpretations. There were problems in this world ever more crowded with the vision of the inexperienced, but ignorant of our most time-honored precept: age draws us backwards every day. For Josué, the world feigned renewal, swathed in the superficial and the [End Page 124] modern: There's blah blah waffle waffle about all sorts of things, just to throw sand in our eyes. To hell with them! I haven't got time for such things.
To his way of thinking, what men lacked were real mirrors capable of revealing the undeniable truth. Time, our other inventor lining our faces and blurring our bodies, erases people. It persists in embellishing us all with the cosmetic of impermanence.
The old doesn't need to be rushed along. Everything reveals its true colors given time, no matter how long or how little it has lived. Have you ever heard of the night being persuaded not to fall, not to ignite its nostalgia? Well then! We are ruled by our great-great-grandmemories, dressed up as future dreams. That's all it is, exactly the same as it has always been, just as one plus one makes two. That's what enables us to see the wholeness of things.
Josué lived with his two sons in an isolated smallholding. But he had traveled the world and beyond on a truck, his life had notched up journeys measuring many a mile, until one day he stopped: I've seen all there is to see in places, every point and disappointment, and I've had enough. I've grown tired of roads that lead everywhere, that lead forever, and I can't take any more. This country has too many corners to it.
He was tired. He abandoned his tires, shod himself with ground, and went in search of someplace to settle down. He wanted to plant people and harvest a family. He examined every corner of the landscape, searching for somewhere forgotten, dusty with time, amid the world's empty spaces. How would he discover what no one could find? He wanted it so much that he succeeded in finding it. He raised his imagined shelter in a wasteland, disregarded by other living creatures. The house slid away from time, ending up on a valley floor, which Josué approved of as a privileged location, there in the narrowest of gorges, undetected by watchful eyes. Everyone in the area knew his story. It was said that he himself had pushed his house down to the bottom of the ravine. Others said the soil had become waterlogged with so much sadness that each year the house sunk a little deeper into its depths. He replied with bravado: Whatever is said with a loose tongue is hooey! All they want is to salivate their words with malice, that's all! … Josué concocted an intricate mesh of barbed wire around his house, and bought the thickest possible chain to lock his front gate, carving in its wooden board: no entry no entrance no trespassing The singular leaves room for misunderstanding; repetition puts certainty beyond doubt. Right. It's staying right there. The house neither complained nor registered any protest. Maybe it didn't want to move away. Maybe it had developed a liking for the place. Maybe. But it wasn't quite like that. With the passing of time, the windows began to go askew, to slant sideways. The paths withered away as if to avoid the tread of feet, and the paint faded. The house grew morose.
Josué recalled enthusiastically, and in lavish detail, the day he found the place.
In the season when heat is at its greatest, my heart was baking my desires, intact but in inner turmoil, like a fried puff pie cooked outwards, filling first. I [End Page 125] was so absorbed that even if you had shouted at me, I wouldn't have heeded you. But when I clapped eyes on this, my oils cooled.
According to him, summers were hotter in those days. The road was so tired of the ground that it took to the air in its escape, vaporized in the haze that misted the landscape. It's no use looking straight ahead, I can hardly see anything. It's the non-living that rise up, feather-like, to the sky, or sink into the shade under the ground.
With this way of thinking planted in his mind, he reaped the idea of living in a place where the sun would pass by furtively, without him noticing it. Somewhere he wouldn't be able to see the next day rising: In such depths as these, time isn't even aware that folk live and revivify down below.
Time was subject to a different sort of clock in Josués house. The only clock there hung on the kitchen wall. It ticked lethargically, sometimes minutes, hours slow. Some days slipped into yesterdays. Sometimes, it neglected to strike the hour, obstinately refusing to make its presence felt. The world goes by too fast for us to take account. It turns and returns to the same place, so what's the use of hurrying?
It was early morning when the rain began, and Josué awoke with a start. He concentrated on the patter of rain on the roof, as if he were listening to someone tiptoeing into the house at a late hour. Is it you? he plucked up the courage to ask himself mutely.
Josué waited anxiously every time the rain fell. Like someone anticipating a special guest, whose arrival was always imminent but never forewarned. He kept himself in a state of never-ending expectation, with the house always in perfect order. The raindrops weighed nothing, but the steps he sensed caused everything to creak. He got up hurriedly and switched on the light. That delicate step was familiar to him. He closed his eyes, and listened to the rain as it began to fall more heavily, with a steadier rhythm and more intense tone.
The house had doors, tables, chairs. These objects had no aspiration to be anything else, just like all the other objects in the house. With the exception of the tiled roof, which never had a roofly vocation. It had other desires. It yearned to be a window, open to other distant places, both outside and inside. Josué was aware of this inclination. Things never do what they're supposed to, they always take on another shape. But in spite of being contradicted, he gave in to its wish. He opened up a gap in the roof through which he could glimpse a little sliver of night.
Josué climbed onto a wooden stool and pushed a roof tile aside with a broom handle. The sky opened up above, and it rained water and stars inside his room.
Is it you?
He made up a secret answer to his question, and smiled at what wasn't there.
In the room next to Josué's slept his sons, Serino and Kelton. Serino was oblivious to the rain, which didn't dampen his dreams, and he didn't awaken from his dry slumber. Kelton was woken up by the sound of the first drops, [End Page 126] and he stared, wide eyed, at the roof tiles. Seven, thirty-two, sixty-three. How many drops does the rain begin with? How many drops does it take before we call it rain? And he kept counting, inventing a way of measuring it. He knew how many drops, how many threads of water were needed before the rain poured down with all its might. Up until that point, the rain didn't exist. It was merely a longed-for memory that left its drizzle here, there, and everywhere.
His face moistened, Josué went over to the old wardrobe, which creaked and groaned at length. He took a hanger with his best clothes on it: a white linen suit that he had preserved with meticulous care for many years. The music continued: the rain was still falling. Josué glanced at the water as it flowed over the tiles and slithered into a huge smile … He dressed in front of the ancient mirror, and stared at his image. The clock stopped ticking. The dim light concealed the surrounding objects. Where is the bed? The window? My things …? He neither looked away nor examined himself closely, but stood to one side. Time had rusted the mirror: the stain of oxidation had drawn a long beard, disheveled hair, deep lines in his reflected face. As if by magic, the object revealed an unknown enemy waiting patiently for some final, unavoidable encounter with him. In sudden terror, Josué turned away from his double, and the seconds began to flow again.
The sweat on his face began to mingle with the raindrops. He opened his bottle of cologne and dabbed some on his wrists and neck. The air was suffused with a perfume that had long been forgotten. Everything about skin is as vague as smoke, slippery and impossible to grip. This smell deceives, for it is of something that doesn't exist. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply and heavily, as if he were savoring borrowed air.
In his room, Kelton was still wide awake, tossing and turning to no effect. Sleep just wouldn't come. The rain spread. And dripped everywhere. He turned toward his brother and whispered: Serino. Wake up, Serino.
In his half slumber, Serino replied: My leg got longer … I'm going to fall off myself …
Kelton turned to the wall and covered his ears and eyes. But his thoughts continued to run amok.
In the kitchen, Josué was looking for the old umbrella behind the door, at the back of the cupboard, next to the stove. Eventually, he found it fallen behind the fridge. Kelton listened carefully to his father's movements. He was familiar with each gesture, every breath and expression in his eyes. He listened as Josué grabbed the flashlight, tested the umbrella, and left the house. The boy pressed his ear up against the window, for he didn't need to open it to guess what was happening outside: Josué walked over to the old asbestos water tank. He pulled back the plastic sheet that covered it. The tank contained about three feet of water. He gazed inside. How much water would it need for someone to drown? The water from the roof tiles flowed through a clumsy system of gutters before it cascaded into that cold old box. The umbrella was no more than a sieve, and let the water drip onto his head, his face, soaking him. It made the [End Page 127] fellow shed tears of rain without any relief. Josué pointed the flashlight at the threads of water, which glistened in the braids of light. He stretched out his hand, caressed them with his fingertips, and untangled them. Then he cupped his hands and collected some water, the rain falling asleep in his palms. He invented a dream: she was dreaming him, exhausted by the cloud's journey into his embrace. Josué begged the wind to abate. Do you want to wake her up from our dream, now of all times?! When thoughts drip this fast, it's a sign that there are still many pent-up feelings. He looked closely at his hand and murmured to the water: Your lips are moister than the sea, deeper and more secretive than the heart's well. And you even wear the night's lipstick … Such prettiness never tires of passing on its beauty to us. The rain smiled at her suitor's sweet talk, and stretched sensuously. Is it possible for someone to drown in rain? Josué stood there until the rain stopped, in spite of the mud that dirtied his shoes and his white suit, in spite of the cold. In spite of the pain in keeping his arm stretched out and his hand open.
Kelton closed the window on his thoughts, and decided to go back to sleep, but the rain was remorseless. A strong gust of wind billowed the curtains of darkness and murmured to him: I'm right here nearby. Now sleep, you've still got a lot of dreaming to do. The boy felt a chill run through him, for it was always the same voice. Startled, he peered into the hall, looked fixedly at the window and its latches. He couldn't make out whether the voice came from inside or outside. Every time this happened, he would recall his father's words.
Things that are said never end: they are washed and float away.
Josué believed that things spoken never stopped after they were uttered, but vaulted over the full stop and drifted away at the whim of the wind. In some distant place, someone would hear them. People, non-people, animals, stars, stones … A tree could serve as an antenna, its rustling would be an echo. What folks say never stops, it just goes quiet. Josué's words still held the boy in a powerful grip.
Father, so everything that people say is forever out there? In profusion?
Exactly, and there's more than enough, everything's proliferating.
Profusion, father. I said profusion …
But what I said was true: proliferating. It's a little bit of us carried away, isn't that so?
Josué believed that only the rain could interrupt those infinite voices. For him, the rain cleansed the air so that day could resume its brightness. It took away everything that was of no use and put it in the ground, burying the words.
That's how the world takes a bath and people wash off their surpluses. It's a chance for everything to uninvent itself and return to being the same as it was.
This was why, when rainwater touched the soil, it became loaded with the memories of others, things lived and narrated in proliferation. Some of these memories caused chaos in plantations, while abandoned crops listened placidly to a myriad of different stories, contaminated by lying truths and truthful lies. For this reason, crops needed to be washed, decontaminated from influences. [End Page 128] If these precautions aren't taken, then we cast our certainties to the wind, all our values are thrown into confusion. For Josué, rainwater that had trodden the earth was unable to flow, unable to satisfy other thirsts.
Using this water is like walking in other people's footsteps, hurting other folks' calluses. Don't we have enough of our own for us to grow tired of the routes people take? That's why worms are clever enough to crawl.
Kelton was startled by another gust of wind, so strong that it flung open his thoughts. The boy returned to his previous musing: his father outside in dedicated readiness. Such is the life of a sentinel! Does he never tire of it? Josué continued with resolve, drenched in determination, impermeable in his desire, convinced that this would be his last rain, the last time he would wear his white suit. After so many years of expectation, the person he so earnestly awaited was about to arrive. Kelton didn't want to listen to any more, and shut his imagination away under lock and key. He jumped into Serino's bed and pulled the blanket over him.
Whatre you doing here?
Serino, d'you believe someone can stop being someone and become something else?
Our father never lies.
And when it happens, is it the same as when someone dies?
It's not dying, Kelton, it's changing.
But isn't that the same thing?
No, change is when something ends. Close your eyes and sleep.
My eyes are closed.
Well, stop looking inwards then.
The rain stopped and silence fell over the garden and the house. Josué poured the last bit of sleeping water in his cupped hand into the tank. Mirrored in its surface, he glimpsed the moon, the stars, and himself. He dipped his arms in and with delicate care placed his hands around the moon and pulled it from the water. Its powerful gleam was reborn in the arc of its smile. It lit up his face, dazzled his eyes, and he smiled back. Everything glowed. Josué raised his arms high and with a gentle push returned it to the sky. The moon rose ever higher … In anticipated longing, it bade farewell with words of light and settled far away, in its proper place, framed by the stars. Josué stood gazing at it, illuminated by what only he could hear.
Night was stretching out inside Josué, and he needed to reawaken, light up the day, erase that which was over. But his thoughts still enveloped him in night. The sun, the day, are the same as each other. They are never unpunctual, they brush past our vision matter-of-factly. And that's it, there we go! Lit up and awake … disengulfed from night, from our dreams. Oblivious to those things that matter to us, those we've dreamed of, their dislocations. It's said that man dreams so as not to forget what has gone before, the time when he was a child. And a child dreams so as to remember what went before, when he was God. And when does someone not dream? Is it because he has nothing preserved within him? Maybe … [End Page 129] Is there anything sadder than living in order to awaken? Whatever the night, the outcome is always the same. The I doesn't change, while the dot goes offon its own. Things have their own logic. What's left then? Set off into the night, don't be scared of the dark, and never look around? It's not easy. It's hard enough to change a word in a thought, imagine doing the same thing in a deed! Boy, it's tough! … There are no clues how to do it, just think … How do you padlock the door to daytime? The sun comes up and takes your dream away as day breaks, and washes it in some remote river. In those waters, the dream dissolves and withers. And it is no longer ours. So we believe that by forgetting the dream, it's no longer any use to us. It sickens me to think about it. Where will it all end? No one knows, only He, the Powerful One! The tangible experiences that surround us are mischievous and miserly, and fail to leave even the merest scrap of us with which to plan our way ahead in life. Day comes around languorously, cloaking its desires, and stifles our wishes ever so quietly … We need to know when to draw the curtains over our eyes and conceal our wisdom. Everything is plowed up in a flash, and does this vacuous attraction make any sense? To like and not like simultaneously? We have more drawers in our heart than we think, one of them opens at the same time as another, spilling its stored contents. When a fellow goes to bed, some of them close, while those on the other side are unlocked. When the imagination is laid to rest, the world gains other boundaries. Dreams are muddy, and in the blink of an eye we plunge what we can't understand into the depths. Is it possible to unlearn how to live? And what about dreaming? It's nearly sunrise … What I'd like is to lose the light of day. Is it a sin to ask for something as big as this, with so many folk carrying a white cane, yearning for a little shred of light? I'm not even sure whether I'm committing a sin against my own self. What's more, can a blind man see his dream? Does a dream go on as normal when there's no light? And in the middle of this blackness, does dream mingle with non-dream, and everything get merged? The boys are beginning to stir, waking up for school. One's already up, I can hear his steps. And night is here, refusing to leave. I start my day with a crack of light, I'm still wearing the clothes I had on yesterday. Tomorrow is the same day as today, and I don't even know when I'll wake up. Daylight is flooding into the kitchen and the living room, the house is stretching itself, getting rid of its nightly odor. It's time … The steam rises unassumingly and disperses into the brazen emptiness, overwhelming dreams that are loath to end. [End Page 130]
Alan Minas was born in Rio de Janeiro in 1969. He is a director and screenwriter whose 2015 debut feature film, A família Dionti, won several awards both in Brazil and abroad. His works include A língua das coisas [The language of things] (2010); the documentary A morte inventada?alienação parental [The invented death—parental alienation] (2009), which he adapted into a book in 2014; and the short film Homens ao mar [Men overboard] (2006). He also published a work of children's fiction, Quando Ju escapou pra dentro [When Ju fled inside] (2016).