From the 21st floor, you see the beach. The sand stretches alongside unevenly spaced huts, where you’ve been known to stop for coconut water (and Bubbaloo when the kids were younger). On the other side, the ocean sparkles under the hot sun, except for the dark patches where it looks like ink has been spilled. And you’ll get to the beach soon. Ainda não.
The hammock next to you sways with the breeze, unoccupied, and now you’re feeling it. You’re missing her. It’s the first New Years without your grandmother, and though you’re lucky she lived until you were in your fifties, it doesn’t stop you from wishing she was here. You miss the way she took out her dentures to scare the children, her mashed potatoes, her smell. The way she bandaged you up when you were bitten by a Pekingese at the age of seven. How she covered for you when you weren’t hungry for dinner because you stopped at the bakery on the way home from swimming practice. O que voce não deveria fazer.
She was more of a mom to you than your own mother, even though she was your vozinha.
You walk back inside the apartment, the floor smooth and cold against your feet. You see that the kitchen is busy como sempre. Your vozinha lives on in the recipes she passed down.
Your mother sits you and ‘the kids’ (who are in their late twenties), down at the table for breakfast. One of your aunts has made a stack of buttered tapioca with fried cheese, the exact breakfast your daughters go crazy for when they’re away from home, o que acontece frenquentemente.
Your mother opts for a coffee with Leite Ninho and a few chunks of papaya, wearing that look on her face, the one that says ‘Nao digo nada.’ And you can’t shake the teenage rebellion that seems to reinstall itself in you every time you’re around her (even though you haven’t been a teenager for a long, long time). You take a tapioca and the biggest slab of cheese for yourself.
Before leaving the table, you pluck seven single pomegranate seeds from the fruit plate, counting them the way your vozinha counted her rosary beads, a prayer with each one. You wrap them in a tissue and tuck them in your pocket. They’ll go into your wallet later.
You help clean up, bumping elbows with your aunt (the grumpy one, but the one who took the most care of your vozinha). She tells you to get out of the way, but she laughs at the same time, and there’s a softness to her. She pretends to be tough, but you can see through it. Just like you, she’s hurting. How do you move on when someone you love is gone?
But your vozinha wouldn’t want you to be sad. To grieve for her. So, in this moment, you don’t. Instead of the coming new year without her, you think about what you want most from it. Peace, the uniform of white you’ll wear later, is non-negotiable. But as you look at your drawer of undergarments, you’re presented with colours, with options. Blue for harmony, purple for inspiration, green for health, pink for love. Your mother will choose yellow (for money and prosperity), you know this. And because of that you steer away from your own bright section. But only for a moment. You could use an extra buck. You choose a lemon-coloured bra, but pink underwear. This year, you want love, too. You’ve spent the last few years wearing green thanks to your cancer scare and now that you’re better, you can focus on other things. You’re grateful that she was around to see you improve. At least that. E que ela mesma nao sofreu.
You blink with the sun as it sinks into the horizon, and you start getting ready. Your lucky underwear, your white beach dress and sandals to match. Your hair is up in a curly ponytail, but you let it down. It looks better this way. You share the bathroom with your daughters and aunts, fighting for space in the mirror as you put on your makeup. They tell you that you look pretty, and you know you do. But you’re missing her voice, the way she would say ‘cheirosa,’ when she took a whiff of your perfume, and even when you smelled like nothing.
They grab the champagne and the flowers. As you follow your family out of the apartment, they split into two groups. You squeeze into the elevator with the first, and as the doors close, you swear you see her, hunched over her walker, waving that she’ll be down in a minute. But you know she wouldn’t have come anyway. She would have watched the festivities from the balcony with one of the maids.
You wait outside the building, and when everyone is accounted for, you follow them through the streets of João Pessoa. It’s only a few blocks to the beach but it feels like an obstacle course, with the pavement split and dented, the mosaics of shattered glass bottles, and the cars whizzing around corners, ignoring the lights. (Que luzes?).
But you get there safely, and that’s what matters. The beach is crowded, even though midnight is still a few hours away. The party rivals that of Copacabana beach and you don’t care that you’re not in Rio. You’d rather be closer to home. Time passes; you watch the crabs scuttle along the sand. They’re lucky they’re out on the one day when no one wants them for dinner. (You must move forward not sideways in the New Year).
People approach the water’s edge with their offerings to Iemanjá – mortal wishes in the hands of the goddess of the sea. They present strings of beads, white flowers with stems that have had their thorns removed (precautions to better their chances), toy boats carrying mirrors and messages sprayed with perfume. The tide is high, inviting, which makes everyone around you hopeful. But you hesitate, you hold on to your gift. You can’t let go just yet.
The white of the moon matches the clothes of those around you, and together with the light of the candles floating out to sea, brighten up the darkness of the beach in a way that’s only peaceful instead of eerie. Showers of rice fall into the water from eager hands, igniting fireworks in the sky. The colours explore the dark before ebbing away como agua viva and before you know it, it’s midnight. The countdown has come and gone. You’re in the New Year.
Champagne bubbles foam like ocean spray in the clinking glasses around you. Toes in the sand and in the sea, your daughters jumping seven waves for luck, happiness and prosperity. Laughter and cheers and ‘Feliz ano novo!’ and silence.
Now, it’s your time. You lay a white flower to rest, your token released to the mother of waters. You take a deep breath; you say your prayers. But you don’t wish that your vozinha was back. She wouldn’t want that. You wish that she – wherever she is – is at peace.
You smile. Your flower is gone. Iemanjá must have liked it.
Chantal Moclair has a master’s degree in Publishing from Kingston University in London, England and has worked in the publishing industry for over three years. She is passionate about travelling and writing, and often uses her travels (to seventy countries) as inspiration for stories and articles (several of which have been published on Lostgirlsworld.com). Born and raised in Canada, Chantal partially grew up in Northeastern Brazil with her mom’s side of the family, and has studied in Canada, Hong Kong and England. Her itchy feet brought her, along with her identical twin sister Carolyn, to Australia on a new adventure.
Find her on Instagram: @Identicaltravels