Chapter 2 - Prior Events
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A Portuguese Man and a Brazilian Woman Meet
In 1930, a strong man named Manoel Pereira de Oliveira, at the age of 21, comes ashore at the seaport of Rio de Janeiro. Born and raised in Northern Portugal, he too comes with no money, but he is full of dreams about getting rich in Brazil, like most other Portuguese. He has no fixed profession and is really a jack-of-all-trades, working hard mostly as a handy man. Slowly, his hard work begins to pay off and he starts to pile up some money. Dreaming of having his own business, in 1933 he heads to the Rio Doce (Sweet River) Valley, which starts in the state of Minas Gerais and ends as the river discharges into the Atlantic, in the state of Espírito Santo.
At this time, the entire river valley is suffering from forest devastation. Lands are being cleared everywhere, as mighty trees in the Atlantic Forest are felled to give way to farms and, mostly, to cattle ranches and some small urban centers, usually founded by pioneers along the trail-blazing Vitória to Minas railway. The whole region lures adventurers, tough people who are ready and willing to tackle and tame a wild, adverse environment.
Manuel, the young Portuguese, starts in the state of Espírito Santo as a traveling salesman of domestic and personal objects. Three tame mules and one donkey haul his objects and food, while he rides a mule. He travels through farms, large and small camps, peasants’ homes—hard traveling and hard work under a scorching hot sun most of the year—but he never complains. He saves all the money he can because he has two immediate dreams: to establish his own business somewhere and to find a young girl he can marry.
In May of 1934, he stops at a dirt-floor house for cowboys and travelers, in a Minas Gerais village named Cachoeirinha (“Little Waterfall”), in the middle of the Rio Doce Valley. The house, with masonry walls on three sides and hard wooden pieces to support the roof, is not different from so many others on road-sides. A busy traveling salesman who cannot afford to waste any time, Manoel will be ready to travel again the next morning, par for the course for him, just one more no-rest, no-comfort, tiring trip full of long days and lonely nights.
For the first time, he is following a recently-inaugurated 60-km-long dirt road, linking Cachoeirinha to a town called Itanhomi, located to the Southwest. Near Itanhomi in this new road there is a village known as Cafezinho (“Little Coffee”). Travel time is unpredictable: it can be a whole month, depending on the number of stops to do business. In late afternoon, he always fixes himself supper and prepares the food for the next day. After supper, he lies down on a mattress-like piece of straw and goes to sleep.
After a while, when everyone is feeling at ease with each other, he says politely to her, “Well, I say! You remind me of a beautiful young wench in Portugal.”
She opens her eyes wide and runs into the interior of the house, her mother following hard on her heels. A serious-looking father gets up, goes to the door, spits on the ground, and stares hard towards the faraway horizon. A scared Manoel cannot understand what is going on and just remains seated, not knowing what to say. Pedro, the father, his voice irked, finally says without looking directly at him, “You spoke ill of my daughter!” and turns again to look at the horizon.
“Me, I did?! I don’t understand.”
“You called her a young wench,” the man replies, without turning to look at him.
“Well, I say! A young-wench is any young woman!” He reflects and then adds, “At least in my homeland, it is, I can tell you.”
“For us here, it means a woman who’s up to no good.”
The young Portuguese is suddenly afraid. He knows that the river valley is inhabited by rude, hard-working, little-educated people who are unwilling to swallow any insult, people who would often kill because of a minor insult. He figures that he had better say something right away. “Please forgive me, then. I meant no offense, and I apologize. In fact, I meant exactly the opposite. Some words here in Brazil take on a different meaning than in my native land. Do you understand what I am saying, senhor Pedro? By the way, what is your full name, please?”
Manoel stands up and says slowly and solemnly, looking towards the woman, “You, senhora Risoleta Santos da Cruz, and you,” he nods in the other direction, “senhorita Maria das Dores Santos da Cruz, please accept my apologies. I meant no offense, I didn’t know that...”
“Your apology’s accepted,” the mother interrupts him.
“Your apology’s accepted,” the young woman echoes her mother and sits down.
Still somewhat embarrassed, the family goes back to examining the merchandise and, soon, everyone is perfectly at ease again. The couple purchases a few objects.
Desiring to continue his trip with the knowledge that he leaves behind him no ill feelings, Manoel tells them some tales of his native land, which they hear attentively. When he finally begins to stash his merchandise away, Pedro offers an invitation: “It’s gettin’ late and you can stay here overnight if you want to.”
“Well, I say! Not bad, not bad at all! I accept with much pleasure, indeed!” he answers joyfully.
Manoel has reasons to be happy at the invitation. First off, it shows some deference. It is by no means common to invite strangers to stay overnight. Usually, the traveler looks for the nearest roadside lodge. Secondly, he will spend a comfortable night, and, most importantly of all, he will see the young girl once again.
At the kitchen table during dinner, Manoel sees the girl again and they very subtly exchange glances. How beautiful this girl is, he repeats to himself several times. Then they gather in the living room and talk in a lively way.
The couple’s three married sons, who also live on the same farm, arrive with their wives and children. The place becomes even livelier.
“That little knife there, where did you buy it?” one of the sons asks, pointing to the right side of his belt.
“Well, I say! I brought it from my homeland,” he replies enthusiastically. To satisfy their curiosity, he shows them the knife with a white horn handle, engravings in yellow metal, and a blade a little over four inches long. “Well, I say! Be careful that you don’t cut yourself,” he warns the son, as he hands him the knife. “I always keep it sharp and I can even shave with it,” he adds proudly.
They all examine the knife, appreciating its beauty and its sharpness, which reminds them of a barber’s razor.
The conversation goes on and on, and every once in a while, he discreetly steals a look at the girl. He is sure that she is looking back at him and he really feels like speaking to her but holds himself back, afraid that the family might be offended.
“Das Dor, go and fix the room for senhor Manoel to sleep,” Risoleta suddenly orders her daughter. She obeys and goes into the house.
The three sons and their families bid farewell, and, shortly after that, das Dores comes and says in a very sweet voice, “Senhor Manoel, the room’s ready.”
“Can you show me?” She nods and he follows her.
“It’s here.” She shows him the room. “You wanna wash your feet?”
“I was just thinking of that.”
“Then you just wait here a spell.”
Manoel is used to hearing folks in these regions speak incorrectly, and, in fact, he is amused by it all. In the girl’s case, he is downright spellbound—and keeps thinking about the expressions she used while he waits. She comes back with a basin, which she places next to the bed, and then goes out and brings in two pitchers. He is already barefoot, his feet on the wooden floor, his pants rolled up to his knees. Das Dores bends her body and pours the water from one of the pitchers. Then, she slowly pours the cold water from the other pitcher, controlling the temperature with her hand.
“I reckon’ it’s good enough,” she says after a few seconds, her hands still in the water. “Check it!”
He bends down and, as he tests the water, his hand brushes against hers. She reacts as if hit by a shock, but she does not withdraw her hand. He continues as if he were checking the water temperature, but in fact he is touching the back of her hand slightly again and with pleasure. She turns her hand instinctively, and, for a while, the two palms touch. The noise of Pedro’s footsteps makes her get up and leave the room, leaving the two pitchers behind. Later, she comes back for the basin and leaves the room quickly. The traveling salesman says his prayers and falls asleep, mindful of those light sensual touches.
Joy and Pressure
Manoel continues his trip, the girl’s image ever in his mind, inspiring thoughts of a sweet
courtship and a happy marriage. In his moments of solitude, he recalls with much longing her backwoods
way of speaking. He keeps asking himself whether maybe God has reserved her for him. Das Dores
strengthens his dream of settling down some place some day. All I want is a business and a woman to
love. Yet, every once in a while, he is slightly troubled. Would her family accept a foreigner?
He avoids, as much as possible, thinking about this doubt, for he has so many good things to think
of—and there is no reason to harbor any negative thought. In less than forty days, on a Wednesday, he
is back on that farm, driven by a desire to see her again.
Oh, my, look at that! She is no longer just a girl! Manoel is so awestruck that his thoughts nearly jump out of his head. Das Dores is sitting on a chair, near the table, erect and holding her head high. Her dress is simple but new and she is wearing shoes. Her shiny eyes show unbound joy. Her hair shines as much as her eyes, tied on either side of her head by a pair of white ribbons, which reach down to the neck, shoulders, and part of her breasts. She smiles shyly as the young Portuguese approaches her.
“How are you, Maria das Dores ?” As he extends his hand to her, he feels the stirring smell of a bath mixed with the perfume of the hair oil he had given her.
“I am very well, and what about you, senhor Manoel?”
“Well, very well,” he answers, unable to hide his joy. “Well, I say! It seems that you have grown up!”
“She’s big for her age,” Risoleta proudly remarks. “She’s only sixteen. Sit down, senhor Manoel,” the mother adds, offering him a chair.
“Sixteen?! Goodness! She looks older,” he states, trying to be gentle and taking a seat about a yard from her.
“She’s already old enough to get married,” Pedro says, and Manoel feels wonderful, taking the remark as a subtle hint.
A sweaty Pedro comes in, and Manoel interrupts the story he is telling, gets up and, while Pedro is serving himself some coffee, tells the couple in a firm and solemn voice what he has dreamt of saying every day since he has been to this farm.
“Well, I say! I would like to ask your permission, senhor Pedro Horácio da Cruz, and yours, senhora Risoleta Santos da Cruz, to court das Dores.”
Apparently surprised at the request, Pedro sits close to the table, beside his wife, takes a sip of coffee, sets the cup down on the table, takes a hanky out of his pocket, and dries his face. He drinks more coffee, places the cup down again, looks out the side window, and lightly taps his face and gray beard, as if wondering and doubting. The young traveling salesman is nearly bursting with anxiety. At last, Pedro turns to his daughter. “Is that what you wanna do?” The girl nods, and he turns to Manoel. “We’ll be mighty pleased,” he says on his wife’s behalf, as is the habit in that region.
Risoleta smiles slightly, but enough to show that she, too, is happy.
The traveling salesman’s eyes shine; his joyful smile is a mile wide because in his dream there was room—albeit small—for a refusal to his request. The way is now open for the change in life he is seeking.
The two young people are again alone in the living room and in the kitchen, but they do not touch each other. Manoel waits anxiously to go to bed, to wash his feet. The whole family meets again in the evening and everyone learns the news. Pedro announces a dance for Saturday, at their house, and he does not have to explain the reason why. Everyone is happy that das Dores will be married.
There is much expectation regarding das Dores ’ entrance and, from time to time, people look towards the interior of the house at the door she will come through. When she does appear at her mother’s side, looks of expectation become looks of admiration. The young traveling salesman stands ramrod straight and says to himself, She is a princess!
The young girl wears a pink dress with a wide, shiny red silk ribbon tied around her waist, the ends reaching down to her thighs. The ends of her hair, down on both shoulders, are also tied by two red ribbons below her breasts. A little red flower on the right side of her head completes the harmonious picture. She is wearing new shoes and walks slowly towards her sisters-in-law.
Sitting on a chair in a corner of the room, the accordion player swings into action. Those who were standing outside crowd in at the door and near the front and side windows, but no one begins to dance. Pedro nudges Manoel and whispers, “Go ahead, start it!”
Manoel realizes that he has the honor of starting off the festivities. He solemnly walks towards das Dores, bows, extends his right hand, lowers his head, and moves his right leg backwards, pressing his right boot on the floor. He does the same thing with his left leg. She comes to him, places her hand on his, and the two of them go to the center of the room. Everyone around admires the sophistication of their moves.
Their hearts beating fast, the young couple begins to dance. I just can’t believe this is happening! Well, I say, say, say, say say! He is delighted after the first few steps. She’s light as a feather!
On Sunday, the young traveling salesman wakes up and decides to speed things up. He anxiously waits for das Dores ’ father to finish milking some cows and addresses him right there, at the entrance to the cattle pen. “ Senhor Pedro,” he starts, as he kindly holds one of the milk buckets, “I am thinking of marrying Maria das Dores and would like to know if you agree.”
“We’d be much pleased, senhor Manoel,” he replies and then smiles.
“Well, I say! I was thinking of a wedding soon, without much delay.”
“And when would that be, senhor Manoel?”
“In a month, two at the most.”
“Just where would you be livin’? You travel the whole time...”
“Well, I say! I’m thinking of settling down in Cachoeirinha. I have some savings.”
Manoel knows that Cachoeirinha is a homeland with a bright future. Right by the river, it is a stop for the trains that go from Vitória to Minas. Roads have recently linked Cachoeirinha to some grain-producing towns, especially to the North, on the other side of the river. This has contributed to the land’s initial transformation into an economic center, a transformation driven also by the railroad, which makes it easier for merchandise to flow in and out. It is the ideal place for him to make his dream come true, namely, to get rich.
“You could live right here on the farm, so the whole family’s together. With your savings, you could buy some separate cattle, yours only, and you could farm with us.”
“I have no experience with either cattle raising or farming, senhor Pedro.”
“But it’s easy to learn.”
The young Portuguese remains silent, thinking it best not to discuss this matter. As someone who has traveled far and wide and who is used to a lonely life, it is impossible for him to imagine that their might be a problem with living away from the family but in a close by town. Thus, he replies vaguely, “That isn’t exactly what I was thinking, but I’ll talk with das Dores.” Quickly changing the subject, he asks, “Don’t people have the habit of praying here?”
“Sometimes. Once in a while, folks get together and pray in a house; ‘matter of fact, it’ll happen this evening.”
“You don’t say!? Where will it be? I’d like to go.”
“Near here. You a Catholic?”
“Yes, I am a practicing Apostolic Roman Catholic and I pray every night.”
“That’s good,” Pedro remarks.
“Well, I say! I am also a Benedictine Oblate,” he concludes, not noticing the puzzled look of incomprehension on Pedro’s face, for Manoel is referring to a layman’s affiliation with the Benedictine Order and his special participation in some ceremonies.
In the afternoon, he speaks with das Dores, when the two of them are alone. She already knows that her father has agreed to their wedding.
“Do you want to?”
“I do, but I wanna live here.”
“Well, I say! In a city or a hamlet like Cachoeirinha we would have a better future, das Dores !”
“Mother will die if I move away from here.”
“Why, if Cachoeirinha is close ? Just fifteen kilometers!”
“We don’t like streets, Manoel.”
He smiles and shakes his head incredulously. He had thought she would support him, even more than that support him, but now he hears this!
The news that das Dores might leave the farm after her wedding hits the family hard. Not only is she the only daughter, she is younger than her three brothers, aged 23 to 27. All this has contributed to making her the center of everyone’s care and affection, especially that of her oldest brother Cândido. Although they make no formal agreement, all of them are bent on changing Manoel’s mind about living somewhere else. They wait for their habitual evening get-together to discuss this matter.
Manoel goes into the bedroom and comes back wearing, over his normal clothes, a long sleeveless black cape reaching down to his knees. Everybody stares at him in surprise.
“What kind of clothing is that, Manoel?” das Dores asks, expressing the puzzlement of all.
Standing proud in the center of the room, he replies, “Well, I say! It is called an opa !”
“ Opa ?” she is still surprised.
“That is right. O-p-a, opa, a Church garment for lay people to wear!”
They do not understand, but they ask no further questions.
When they get to the house where the prayer meeting is to be held, people stare in wonder.
“It’s known as an opa,” das Dores whispers to those around her.
During the services, he is the center of attention. People pray rather mechanically, being more interested in hearing his accent or appreciating his fervor or stealing quick looks at his fancy-looking black cape.
Following their return, the whole family strives to convince Manoel to settle on the farm after his wedding.
Yet, one day, Antônio, the youngest son, remarks off-the-cuff, “Ain’t no way we gonna let das Dor leave here.”
This remark unsettles Manoel. He sees his marriage is at risk, and to live with das Dores is now his top priority. He realizes that he faces not simple resistance but strong opposition, and finally he gives up. You can’t have everything at once, he says to himself and puts his plans on hold. He tells his bride what he has decided, “Well, I say! I’ll travel to sell the remaining merchandise and then come back and we get married and live here on the farm. But for how long I don’t know.”
The family feels relieved and happy.
After changing out of their wedding clothes, Manoel and das Dores leave the house they will live in, next to Pedro’s, and join the small crowd gathered for the celebration. Cândido brings them the white horse, pulling it by the reins.
“Here’s your horse,” he says, smiling.
Manoel is quite scared.
“Well, I say! I didn’t figure that you were serious.”
Still smiling, Cândido adds, “I bought this saddle and this cloth.”
“Well, I say! Wonderful! How marvelous!”
The horse is beautiful, and the huge red sheepskin cover over the brand-new saddle makes for a harmonious whole admired by everyone. Manoel cannot resist and rides the horse, its majestic head always up, the long, smooth, white mane gracefully shaken by the long neck. The animal gallops smoothly and responds promptly to the slightest touch of a spur.
“Thank you, Cândido, thank you so much!” he says enthusiastically, getting down from the horse. “It’s beautiful and it’s a great ride!”
The wedding night fullfills them. Deeply in love, they give all of themselves to each other. Their insatiable desire allows them no sleep. At dawn, by the light of a gas lamp, das Dores gets up, leaves the room, and soon comes back, stopping at the doorway.
Manoel is astonished by her image. In the long, loose hair adorned with neither ribbon nor flower, in the serene eyes sparkling with desires fulfilled, in the body enveloped by the thinnest of nightgowns, in a young girl just made a woman, nature appears at its glorious best. He gets up, never taking his loving eyes off her and tenderly brings her back to bed. They look at each other for a long time, saying nothing—they do not need to—because any words now would be just empty sounds lost adrift in space. Feelings, especially those they experience now, are essentially indescribable. It matters not to them now whether the Earth moves around the Sun or vice-versa, whether life is eternal or not, whether they will be rich or poor.
“Am I dreaming or is this really true?” he whispers tenderly, after contemplating his beloved wife for the longest time.
Das Dores just smiles sweetly.
They make love to each other again, this time even more tenderly, so that their very souls may be forever joined.
A quick wedding after an engagement is rather common in that region, and married life is quite predictable. Yet, when someone of another nationality is involved, one never knows how things will go, here or anywhere else in the world. Now, as the couple lives day to day, the young Portuguese will be known as he really is.
To him, his wife is a gift from God. He thinks that a happy marriage is one in which the wife is happy. So he goes out of his way to shower her with affection and attention.
He has accepted that his other dream, that of having a business in an urban center, is temporarily on hold, yet he prepares himself to fulfill it some day. He purchases cattle, brands it with his own name, puts up his own wooden pigpen, and farms alongside the family.
He does his best to become part and parcel of the farm life, and, in fact, his willingness to work and to learn is such that his in-laws become very proud of him.
He takes part in the Sunday prayer meetings, always clad in the long black opa vest, and is soon leading the small group of worshippers. He thinks that they need a church and goes to visit fellow farmers and peasants, trying to get them involved in such a project. At one of the farms, after explaining his ideas, he undergoes a life experience that will be passed on to his descendants. The farmer says to him, “ Senhor Manoel of the opa...” The Portuguese smiles at being addressed in such a fashion, never having heard such a thing before. In fact, he likes it so much that he hardly pays attention to the actual question: “There ain’t that many folks around here to fill a church, don’t you agree?”
The nickname “Manoel of the opa ” had already spread far and wide, without his knowing it. For some people it is a natural way to identify him precisely. For others, who think his long black robe rather odd and weird, it is a veiled way of making fun of him.
The chapel project is eventually well accepted and a decision is made to start construction in early 1935, after the rainy season. The loca tion chosen is on the farm belonging to the Pedro Horácio da Cruz family.
These encounters cement his closer relationship the local residents; he begins to address them more informally, and vice versa. After a while, the formal treatment is reserved only for his father-in-law and mother-in-law. Everybody else calls him by his new nickname, which makes him quite proud, as a matter of fact.
In time, he incorporates many regional expressions into his vocabulary, but a slight residue of his original Portugal accent is always and deliberately preserved, for esthetic reasons—the neighbors think it rather charming—and as a sentimental link to his native land. In time, he also develops a reputation as a simple, hard-working man not bothered by practical jokes, but a man who does not cultivate very deep friendships.
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The book has 11 chapters.
Chapter 1 - The End at Hand
The victim of an incurable disease, Joman prepares to die.
Chapter 3 - Tormented Passion
Joman’s birth, his father’s extra-marital affair, and the other dramas that take place within a family.
Chapter 4 - Struggle
Thus begins the struggle between active Joman and his afflictive mother. The dynamic of the nuclear family.
Chapter 5 - Life's Defeats
Joman begins to get along with other boys, attend school, and experience his first disappointments outside the home. The suffering he passes through during his early years, a secret pre-teen crush, the difficulties he had fitting in, the anxieties and humiliations, the desperate efforts to have close relations with others and be respected, as well as the hazards, are the themes of this chapter, which extends up to the age of eighteen.
Chapter 6 - The Other World
In spite of his fears, Joman moves to another town where nobody knows him..How his shyness influences his choices such as those related to work. The first victories. His first real girlfriend at the age of twenty-five. His marriage. The suffering and harm caused by his shyness.
Chapter 7 - The Hand Tremors
Before the age of thirty, he is stricken with a life-threatening illness. He and his wife struggle desperately to find a cure. The loss of hope. His return to his hometown to relive past experiences in a different way and fulfill his ultimate desire: to be free!
The last four chapters – more than half the book – are pure adrenalin.
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