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  • João Rebocho

Josefina and Jerónimo

After placing the clock over José’s book, Josefina was telling him that life is a snap of wings on a sunny day and that the world is the hands above the eyes trying to keep flying. It didn’t last long until she sat like she had wasted all of her strength on that sentence. In fact, she didn’t say it: José invented it, after seeing his grandmother carrying life and the world with grand gestures, never knowing more than a hundred words. Outside, the sun sat down smoothly, painted in a brownish-yellow, and so slowly that it seemed to have fallen asleep along the way. There, in his grandparent’s old lands, the sun had a rush to rise and a soft will to fall; sometimes, it was mumbled that the lords of the great old lands also forced the sky to their longings so that the new faces had the slow and heavy time of the old.

A beautiful show of kicks against sleep began, when Josefina threw herself, in front of José, into a lower chair than the one her grandson was sitting on and orchestrated a carnival-ish melody with her fingers. The day passed by, therefore, empty: the footers of the blue houses, the whitewashed walls, and the eyelids of everyone in the Town of Cinquenta Passos fainted to the ground - this, all together, was José’s life. He would wait for his grandfather Jerónimo, who had gone to work in the fields or to Alentejo’s sad ocean, as he told him. He heard, coming from outside, a light, faded sound, that zigzagged from the old Vale das Figueiras to the seeded orange trees facing the house, but it seemed like a weep, as if it brought a humid, fresh breeze of newness or chagrin and only between the fruits could the magical outcome be secreted. The woman, who now slept deeply, headed for a dream of any kind, warned that the orange trees come from the winds that, both during the night or day, brought new people into the family, so she never had dared at any time to rob those buds and reveal what only belonged to her grandparents. The ill-engineered sound from Vale das Figueiras grew, pricking ears as sparks projected from the cork tree. After lurking on Josefina’s watch José knew that, after five o’clock in the afternoon, it was a habit of Cecília to deliver a dozen eggs and, perhaps, if he showed her that he already read like a poet, he would be lucky to receive a kiss on his cheek. Cecília was the youngest daughter of the Ferreirinhas. A flowered skirt spanned and, over her forehead, was always a tight greenish scarf, with the petals of the flowerbeds that belonged to those who brought her the eggs or that opened her the door for shelter on extremely hot days. From looking so much out the window, José’s eyes started to get blurry. He thought about waking his grandmother, but he knew that if Cecília finally arrived, he would have the opportunity to catch her alone with verses of a grown boy. He would drain. His fingers became oily bristles when he crossed his hair. The dog Tobias appeared behind the orange trees and sat down in order to be noticed by José, who was already perched in the window.

‘Psiu… not now, Tobias.’

The dog stood up and walked with its paws bent and lowered to the window. The animal was bloated, smelled the food before eating and felt himself more than anyone. But no one gave him the due consideration: he had tangled fur, skewed eyes, and the children often ran after him mad when a piece of bread fell into the wrong mouth. However, José was very kind to Tobias and when they were alone, he even tried to tell him things that might only be told to a dog.

Grandma is sleeping, and I have nothing to give to you. Psiu, Tobias. Go away!’

Tobias wouldn’t move. The boy stood up silently and walked in his tiptoes to the kitchen, cheering the pet that dragged itself back in squats with a strand of saliva coming from its mouth, trying to observe every movement of his generous friend.

‘Here! Now move, go!’ said José, but the dog, after seeing half of a piece of bread dropped in the ground, whined again as if nothing was of his liking. ‘If grandma wakes up, you never get anything again. Go away, Tobias!’

The dog understood the order and, insufferably, pushed the bread until it disappeared from José’s sight. Some moments later, there’s a knock on the door and the sound of a very awake voice.

‘Grandma Josefa, Grandpa Jerónimo, I’m blind!’ warned, adding right away, ‘That cursed dog Tobias snatched the bag and broke all of my eggs! I’m blind! Hopeless!’

Josefina opened one eye and then the other. From so much blinking, the two opened completely, but noticed that she didn’t see like those who don’t see the red that April paints. The boy watched everything astonished; he turned to the woman and realized that her eyes had turned into an absurd pallor, in a dull white. The mystery densified when the grandmother turned her attention to José’s side and asked.

‘Are you still there, my boy?’

‘Yes Grandma, I am. Just like before, I’m right here’.

‘Of course. And who called me?’

‘Cecília. She’s at the door, looks faded and said she was blind’.

‘It must be from the dusty road, mustn’t it?’ she asked, with a very nasalized and confused voice.

‘Definitely, yes Grandma.’ José knew well that no dust was raised, looking at the street everything was clear and cleaned. At this point, the boy felt that his grandmother wanted him to be unaware of fear, avoiding telling him directly what was going on, similar to what happened to the piglets, who never heard anything from the woman that would hurt them or made them feel less deserving than sleeping, in some nights, in the same bed as Josefina and Jerónimo. The boy, conformed with the idea, asked, ‘Do I tell her to get in?’

‘Yes, of course!’

Walking to the door, his legs swinged, noticeably intrigued by life and the world, that everyday insisted on preaching him a sea of doubts. He wanted the night to come so that his grandpa could teach him the constellations and, in a breath of imagination, erase the uncertainties, like how the stars fade when the light is born. He looked at the woman again: she touched the arms of the chair and the shape of things so hard that she whispered its names through the stirring studded mouth. A few verses that he had written for Cecília did not seem appropriate to tell them now:

The biggest flower of the world

Walks blue and cheerful,

And comes from a western valley.

Therefore, he decided to postpone them, like a writer who postpones a work and comes across without knowing how to live. By the door, overthinking, head down to the chest, felling the restlessness of Cecília:

Oh tendeira

From your hand was born

The silence of the water.

Opening the door:

‘Cecília, come in…’ he faced the young lady with a dirty bag, with eyes sunk in a white despair, ‘Grandma is waiting for you there, in the living room…’

‘I didn’t know you were here José. Help me in.’

Her eyes were now bright, as if lucidity said goodbye to a lit remnant of emotion.

‘I´m blind, Grandma Josefa. When the dog threw himself at me, still in the Vale das Figueiras, I lost the sense of sight…’ she said terrorized, sitting with José’s help.

‘Little thing… won’t that go away in an instant?’ shot Josefa, hiding her helplessness.

‘I tell you more, this is life challenging me!’

‘Poor girl. What are you talking about?’

‘It’s like I tell you. My mother and father warned me that if I didn’t want to go to the countryside, it would have to be a good tent. When they find out, they will send someone to call me… but how will I work when I don't even see it before me, Grandma Josefa.’

‘Yes, that’s true!’

The boy was trying to order the facts, but it all appeared to be unaided work. The girl cried and did not contain the noise and Josefa cleaned her tears every moment she searched to find her grandson in the mist that was looking at her. Similarly, José vaguely contemplated the road that goes to the Vale das Figueiras, imagining the path that Cecília had taken, blind and disturbed, staggering like Zé Cotovias when he walked out of Júlio Sardas’ tavern. Softly, José also started crying. His delicate face dipped tears, desolate in expression. He swore not to have read in the books any tales that would solve the mystery and kill her eyelids, so faint that all the details of long fields and well-carved blue trees. Going down the street, the possible trail that gives the Vale das Figueiras, appeared now as a body, slim, dry, and low like every men of the time. The step was calm, folded into itself and only material when the shadows dodged.

‘Your grandfather is coming!’ said Josefa, so certain that no justification was needed.

‘Heis! But after all, grandma is able to…’

‘He is not coming in today… He doesn’t want anyone to see him shake…’ answered the woman, convulsing the anxiety in José.

The man now approached the orange trees by the windows of the house. He opened the cigarette case and lifted a cigarette to his mouth, noticing the wheezing of workdays. José, static like a stone statue, observed him in silence and Jerónimo smiled at him. Dog Tobias was heard adventuring in some cork oak. The warm wind that crossed through the gap in the glass softened the air of affliction, round of questioning. The women paused their grief, veiled from sudden compassion, and looked in space for each other’s hands. Just like José stared at all of the books in libraries, Jerónimo chased the fruit trees, leading them to murmur that light, smokey sound. A warm, wandering fantasy was breathed at the farewell. The raisins had ended when Jerónimo grabbed each one of the orange trees, hugging them passionately. In him lived a longing for those who have not unsettled. Then, he stared again at José, waved his open hand and walked with his monotonous body through the trails that were invented there.

‘The world is so beautiful, and I am so sorry to die,’ completed Josefa.

Translated by Bruna Bastos

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