Memories are interesting. Maybe scary, but most definitely interesting.
Good or bad, they sneak back into one’s mind, summoned maybe by a visual stimulus, maybe at their own will. Mildly outrageous. Petulant. Invasive.
Not only is the insurgence of such a defiant entity/event/happening far beyond your control, or even mine, it floods the mind with ghost events, non-existent just an instant ago, that maybe never happened. Made up details forged by a mind too limited to record the totality of its own experiences, gaps filled with emotions and impressions, vague perceptions of one’s interaction with reality. Illusions.
But I digress.
From the front balcony, I could see over the rolling hills, up and down, rolling and rolling, green amalgamated with the peculiar variety of makeshift/impromptu roof tiles used by the people that lived around there, sometimes even looking just like a virgin hill, except that it wasn’t. Favelas. The endless and everlasting Brazilian slums. Humans densely packed, in a humans/m2 ratio just enough to make Japan sound not so crazy anymore.
We are in the valley. THE Valley. Vale do Sinos (bells). Sinos’ Valley, 190-km long river, covering 32 municipalities, cradling abundant wildlife either aquatic, airborne or earthbound. Under-navigated, somewhat terribly polluted around the big cities, called this way “bells” due to its tortuous sinuosity. And the landscape around is far from flat and boring.
The hills wave and dance over the land in a more or less encompassed pace, leaving more or less periodic intervals between peaks (not that peaky) and the true “valleys”, or dips, where all the water would drain and clog, and flood and destroy, in a more or less periodic interval as well, after every trimestral week long rain. Besides, there were regular levels and steps amidst the dips and peaks, and if you were a giant, you could even call those hills something like “Doorstep” or “Toe Eater” or “Filthy Meadows”. And every level and step and dip and peak would be home to one of two types of habitation, typical of the people who lived there, at that time, and also maybe until today. It’s been a while.
These habitations would have walls and fences and wired people shredders around them, electric fences plus motion detectors and loud alarms, and dogs, many dogs, loud dogs. Many of them, very loud, all the time. Loud dogs being loud through the night, making it impossible to hear anything besides tyres screeching and gunshots.
But I digress.
Or they would have nothing of that, or just an attempt of a fence or impromptu barrier, or dog, indicating that the people there were too poor to have anything worthwhile to be stolen. These were the ones that were safe. Relatively speaking, of course.
Under the front balcony, fidgeting with a handful of tree-nuts harvested from the backyard, I see our own walls. Broken glass on the top, topped by a metal pointy fence, topped by an electric fence, topped by motion detectors throughout the whole front yard, backed by sensors on every door and window and gate, in addition to the informal private security guard in the neighbourhood, and a rather excruciating siren that would make a sailor quit swearing. We are on this side. And we are always afraid.
Across the road, in a curious urban arrangement, there is a whole more or less abandoned massive block, except for the shy however neat wooden house, simple and small, on the far corner, the one closer to me. A green field away, a few new habitations start to sprout, slowly, a few per year, covering the rest of the land, less shy than the first house. It feels strange to think that in 15 years, I never entered their house. Friendly and humble people, they didn’t have big fences to welcome you. A smile and a greeting was their usual method. They were also afraid, I assume.
Mister Ivan has been dead for a few years now, and Dona Tereza seems to be doing not so bad, given the circumstances. Her daughter comes over often, and they seem to have fun, with her grandchildren laughing the whole valley across. That is all I know about them. If my father knew more, he didn’t seem to care. If my mother knew more, she didn’t tell me. Or I didn’t listen to it. My brother didn’t know anything. They were always there, always invisible, as everyone else. The human landscape.
A mirror into where we look, to only see ourselves, living our lives, nothing special there, keep walking, it is just your own reflection, nothing more than an imaginary barrier, reflective, a mirrored wall keeping oneself from seeing thy neighbour, tedious and pale, one only sees its opinions and judgments, either developed or acquired, nonetheless sustained, and often defended. A subconscious fabrication attempting to harness the light within, surrounding the ego with smoke and mirrors, reflecting back to itself all that irradiates, all that is important, or perhaps, preventing the external light from finding its way in. Mirrors are not transparent.
In this house, I live with my father, my brother, and my mother, whose voice requests my presence in the living room. That was an anxious request, from a tremulous voice, from a strong and powerful and magnificent woman. Hmmm.
The neighbour’s mom is sick, she is very sick, she has a sickness. She is also very old (maybe I assumed that), and the sickness makes her sick…she is sick, very sick, she is a sick person. Dona Tereza is kindly and humbly asking if you can take a look at the sick person, who is also ill and diseased. Would you?
That’s what my mother told me, approximately. With her fingers intertwined under her chin and in front of her chest, eyebrows almost touching as two caterpillars that gently lean upwards to join ends in a tent-like fashion, her lips pressing each other, barely holding a desperate, “Please”. Plead behind her teeth. I could only say of course.
Now, I believe some clarification is needed. I am a biomedical scientist. That is enough for a good parcel of the cruelly uneducated people from Brazil to think that I am a fraud. The other parcel thinks I am a wizard. Maybe they are both right.
Furthermore, to my mother it was obvious that I am not a Medical Doctor, but it was not so obvious for Dona Tereza, who requested medical assistance with certain urgency. Ok, with a lot of despair.
The rock kisses the mirror.
Assuring Dona Tereza that I AM NOT a Medical Doctor, but nonetheless would do my best within my abilities to assess whatever the hell was going on, and sweating my whole university degree out of my pores, we urgently stride across the road and around the corner and through the gate and through the yard and towards the house.
A thick long wire runs through the whole extension of the yard, lazy and heavy on the dusty ground, anchored incompetently on both ends, somehow. Chained to it, the scariest dogs a 10 year old boy can imagine. The dust was brown, the ground was brown, and the dogs were brown. Those nightmares could cover some serious ground before the chain would tell them to halt. Quite quickly too. And all around, a nectarine orchard. I was terrified of those dogs. Today, I couldn’t see them.
Before we reach the porch, Dona Tereza tells me that her mother is ill, sick, diseased, but that’s because she is lazy. She does not want to move much, and has been on the bed for a little while now. She is also in pain. A lot of pain. The pain makes her thinking no good too. She is very afraid.
As I duck under the door frame and cover the two steps to the back room, I wonder why they wouldn’t simply call a doctor. No matter, I’ll try to be understanding and assertive, and mayhap make some sense out of all the biochemistry and chemistry and histology, also pathology and physiology, physics and biophysics, molecules interacting with molecules and systems and organs, to help the human subject, who I happen to have very little practice with.
The shards hit the ground.
My eyes tell me that an ancient lady is kept in bed for longer than anyone should, the sores on her back and elbows and shoulders and knees show you the glaring white sight of fresh bone, inviting you to wake up. Limbs and hips that cannot be straightened or flexed no more now than six months ago lay stiff, thin, bulging only around the joints, covered by some old worn out beige leather book cover, that covers her whole naked body, apart from the holes around the edges, and the mask of Ordeal that covers her face. What once could have been a welcoming smile, now screamed years of suffering and neglect, mitigated only by the endless love and care of a family with very very little to spare. The state can’t see them. Or care. Or care for. Neither did I.
For these people, there is no help coming. No private insurance, no public health. There is no security, no assistance, and no perspectives. Hope lies within the imaginary, the almighty, the all loving, beyond substance. Across the road, I lived, oblivious of her suffering, day after day, here, all this time, on this very bed, where now I notice, the window show us my porch, above the walls and fences and fences, I see my father fidgeting with his nuts, blind to our existence, down here, in the shadows of society.
Unsurprisingly, there was nothing I could do, but sparing some comforting words, kindly accepted, as one kindly accepts that the single most important person of your life shall rot and die on the cleanest bedsheets you can provide, for many years to come, and there is nothing you can possibly do to mitigate or accelerate the perilous process of decaying and erosion. Hell, on earth.
Back home, restless, I’m somehow not the same, inside my mind, I search for the rock, which I know is laying quietly, somewhere amidst the shattered glass and the makeshift fences.
- Dhaniel Dias Baraldi
Born from a working class family in Southern Brazil, Dhaniel has been persistently climbing the academic ladder, throughout his years, alongside with his passion for literature and close quarters combat.
He arrived in Australia in 2013 to pursue a PhD in Pharmacology and Drug Development at Monash University, and in this distinct world, he is still searching for new ways to expand the capacities and abilities of the body and the mind.