Mariana´s gift

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this tale is part of the book:

The End Times Survival Guide
Ricardo Kelmer – Miragem Editorial, 2020
fantastic – horror – science fiction

What to do when the unexplainable suddenly barges into our reality and old truths are rendered useless? Where are we to go when the end of the world is upon us? In the nine short stories included in this book, none of them short of mystery and supernatural, people are amazed at events that challenge their understanding of reality and of themselves and trigger crisis situations so intense that people’s own survival is put at stake. This is a book about collective and personal apocalypses.

(script for a movie soon)

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MARIANA´S GIFT

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We are celebrating ten years of marriage, Mirley and I. She is an amazing woman, I have to tell you, and still as beautiful and fascinating as on the day I met her. To celebrate the occasion, we came to spend the weekend in our beach house. We brought wine, scented candles and our favorite records. Ten years of joy. Two wonderful children. We had our troubles, of course, but our love has overcome everything.

Right now, Mirley is on the beach with the children. I chose to stay here in the hammock in the porch listening to Julio Iglesias, looking at the trees in the property, enjoying the wind and the rustling sound it makes through the leaves. Ten years. So many things we have been through…

I remembered facts, sensations, words, and small, trivial events. I remembered our days of hardship. While one was faltering, the other kept it all together… I laughed alone remembering the many agreements and disagreements, interesting random things and epic quarrels that time always turns into trifles. In these ten years together, we have collected the inevitable dust of ordinary matters, I know. But a still lovingly stare, believe me, can find poetry even in the moldiest routine.

And this morning, here in the hammock scanning the past, I suddenly remembered Mariana. It was like the wind blowing away the upper crust of sand on something that had been forgotten. It blew and Mariana came along with her gracious girly ways, the candid smile… And I remembered everything.

*     *     *

It was a Wednesday, the day of the week when they held session at Ms. Nina’s house, a known medium in the neighborhood. Joca had asked me if I would like to attend a session of umbanda Manaus style. I said “yes” and we went there.

I had left Recife to live in Manaus, where I had invested all my savings on an export business. My girlfriend Mirley came with me, but unfortunately she did not adapt to the local climate and went back. I stayed with the promise that soon I would make money and go back too. But almost one year later, my business was struggling hard and I was increasingly running out of money and hope. The outlook was not encouraging at all. I missed Mirley terribly, it was like having a stake driven through my soul. Everything was more difficult away from her. So who knows, maybe some spirit could lend me a hand.

The session began. The attendance was high on that evening and some people had to remain standing around the event. Since it was my first time, they let me have a chair right next to Ms. Nina, the medium, a very distinguished lady. She had a dark scrawny body and deep black hair and eyes. The congá table was in a corner of the room. I could identify the images of Jesus Christ, Saint George, Saint Sebastian, Saints Cosmas and Damian and the Holy Virgin on it. The medium asked for the blessing of Oxalá, of master Jesus, of the spirit responsible for the yard whose name I can’t remember anymore, and of some orishas.

I never believed in such things, I think they can be explained by autosuggestion. But I’m shy so the new experience made me feel uncomfortable. I saw people explain their problems to the spirits and that was strange to me. I saw that some of them secretly whispered to their ears, but I still couldn’t find the courage. I felt ridiculous by merely picturing myself whispering to the ear of an imaginary old black man blowing corn husk smoke with all those people around me providing a soundtrack of off-key chanting.

During the visit of the spirits I didn’t detect any considerable change in the medium. I watched discreetly but carefully, looking for negative or positive proofs of an afterlife. But one thing really caught my attention: the seven shots, that’s right, seven shots of cachaça that she drank during the visit of a certain caboclo spirit whose name I forget. And that was additional to the beers that other spirits ordered and consumed. Logic follows that Ms. Nina, with her puny body, had to be very intoxicated by the time she finished the session.

It was at the end of it all that Mariana came along. I was leering at Joca and expressing my impatience when Ms. Nina trembled once again, closed her eyes and went into a trance. I immediately detected a faint fragrance in the air, a scent of wood and fresh grass. I looked around coyly to find out who was wearing such a pleasant perfume.

Everybody welcomed the spirit that was arriving.

“Hail, Mariana.”

“Hail, cabocla Mariana. Welcome.”

“Welcome, Mariana of the brick-colored hair.”

“Hail, hail!” Ms. Nina answered to everyone around. And I noticed that her voice had become more juvenile.

“You haven’t come here for a long time, Mariana.”

“I’ll say, it’s crowded today. New people, handsome man, that’s good. Hurray!”

I thought it all was ridiculous and wanted to laugh. At precisely that instant, however, Ms. Nina’s eyes met mine. I was startled. It wasn’t Ms. Nina who was staring at me, it was someone else. It was a different, brighter, more lively stare. I was bothered and tried to look away, but something prevented me.

“This is my friend Diddy,” Joca introduced me right away. “It’s his first time here.”

“He has beautiful eyes, yes,” Ms. Nina said, half serious and half smiling.

I didn’t know what to say. Everyone’s attention was focused on me. I looked for something to do with my hands on the table to avoid the stares, especially Ms. Nina’s. It was odd. Ms. Nina remained there by my side, but at the same time… it didn’t seem to be her. It couldn’t be her.

“Are you shy, young man?” she asked, just a few inches away from my face. She had a sweet look, but there was something domineering about it. It was subtle, but I couldn’t look away. She touched my face, smiled and turned around to look for the old acquaintances in the session. I breathed, feeling relieved.

Ms. Nina – or Mariana – greeted all the attendants. I noticed she spent more time talking to men. She asked about old acquaintances, asked about someone or some other, laughed at stories and had fun at some disturbance that had occurred on the street a few days prior. I was so uncomfortable in the situation I didn’t even remember to ask for her help in relation to my business. I was content enough with just admiring her gracious manners and good humor. She was definitely a charming spirit.

There was something however that had grasped my attention since she had begun to talk. She asked about her fiancé then about another fiancé, and it seemed she had many fiancés. I was curious, nudged Joca and he explained it to me, whispering quietly to my ear:

“Cabocla Mariana didn’t die. She was spellbound when she was 17 and a half. She is very beautiful. She has white skin and red hair, the color of bricks. And her eyes are blue like a swimming pool. Whenever she gets infatuated with a man, she proposes him to get engaged to her. When a man becomes Mariana’s fiancé, he gets everything he wants professionally, he gets a pretty quick upgrade in his living standard.”

I felt queasy. I moved around in my chair to get closer to my friend.

“My brother is her fiancé. You visited his store, Diddy. He had nothing two years ago. He got rich pretty fast.”

“And what makes her become infatuated with a man?”

“Oh, I don’t know. She just does.”

“And what does she want in exchange?”

“She is jealous, she demands absolute exclusivity. If a man becomes her fiancé, he can’t have any other woman.”

“But… what do you mean?”

Someone shushed us… I smiled apologetically and put myself together. But that conversation was irresistible.

“She’ll ruin any other love you have,” Joca continued. “Look at Louis, that guy over there. He got engaged to her. He bought this house and gave it to Ms. Nina so she could hold the sessions. He was dirty poor and now he owns a supermarket. On the other hand, he never settled with a woman anymore. Mariana always ruins the relationship.”

“And can’t he get out of the deal?”

“No. You really must have balls to get engaged to her.”

“Well, I would accept that kind of deal.”

“You wouldn’t do that!”

“If she helps me make money, I’ll beat the hell out of here and she will never find me again. I’ll marry Mirley and keep the money.”

“She won’t let you leave, Diddy. You don’t know how powerful that girl is. You don’t know.”

His advice served no purpose anymore. I was overwhelmed by an odd frenzy. I had gone in there skeptical of the whole concept, but now I was willing to suspend my disbelief for cabocla Mariana if she would really help me out of the hardships I had been enduring. On the matter of her ruining relationships, well, that was just too much for me to believe.

“Before of I go, I want to talk to this young man here…” Mariana suddenly turned to me, to my surprise. “You don’t need to tell me that your life hasn’t been easy at all, right? Honest man, hard working… You come from a distant place, don’t you?”

I nodded. Her stare was impressive. I felt embraced by an unusual tenderness, like warm water, cozy… a nice scent of fresh grass…

“I’ll bet you left a girlfriend crying somewhere, didn’t you?”

I smiled coyly.

“Do you know the first thing they notice is your beautiful eyes?”

I felt my cheeks burn from embarrassment.

“And you know how to look the way a woman likes.”

I didn’t know what to say.

“You just need to have a little more respect for the spirits. I know you are smart. But nobody can challenge the spirits.”

She said that and touched my arm. That was definitely not Ms. Nina’s hand. It was the silky hand of a girl.

“But I do respect…” I tried to amend it, bothered by the exposure of my intimate thoughts.

“Then respect them a little more, it won’t hurt. You know a lot. But nobody knows everything.”

I remained silent, increasingly nervous. Being chastised by a spirit, who could imagine.

“For example, you don’t know how to make money.”

She spoke and laughed. It was a girl’s laughter.

“Mariana will show you if you want.”

In the ensuing silence, I heard my heart beat. What was she proposing?

“He is not interested, Mariana, Joca interrupted, patting my shoulder gently.

“Is that true?” she asked, looking into my eyes. And for a second they seemed to be blue.

“Well… I…”

“You’re not a lost cause. You just need a little push with a few things.”

Mariana kept looking at me seriously. Then I felt something strange, a slight numbness…

“I can fix that easily.”

“In how much time?” I wanted to know. She really had blue eyes. Or could I be imagining things?

“Faster than you think.”

Yes, they were blue. A crystalline, halcyon blue, almost a caress. I wasn’t imagining it. I saw it. I don’t know how, but I saw it.

“I like you.”

And the long hair, the color of bricks. The milky white skin, the manners of a mischievous girl. Don’t ask me to explain. I saw it.

“Mariana, he is not interested,” Joca interrupted us again.

“You’re still spiteful, Joca. Just because I never wanted to be your fiancée. Did you know that, Diddy? Do you know he proposed to get engaged to me and I refused?”

I looked at my friend. He had never told me that.

“That was a long time ago, Mariana. I hardly knew what I was doing.”

“That’s why you still find yourself in this situation, borrowing money from your brother. You never know what you’re doing.”

“You know I’m unemployed.”

I thought about my friend Joca. He was older than me and had tried many things in life. Nothing had worked. Friends were always helping him out. He seemed to have the stigma of failure. Perhaps Mariana had seen that in him? Could that be the reason why she didn’t accept him as her fiancé?

“Diddy?” she called me. “Listen, I’ll be back next week. Think about it carefully because I only propose once.”

“That’s true,” a man behind me said. “If you refuse, she won’t give you another chance.”

“Wait…” I held her arm. “I accept it.”

Mariana flashed her beautiful smile again. Her blue eyes twinkled. She took my hand, held it between hers, kissed it, looked at me firmly and said:

“I haven’t proposed yet, young man. But I will now. Do you want to be my fiancé?”

I thought about Mirley and how much I liked her. Would she forgive me? At least it was for a good cause. For one second I felt my future was about to be cast in that exact moment and that whatever my decision was, there would be no turning back. Mariana had locked her eyes into mine and I felt like I was being tenderly hugged… I wasn’t in that room anymore. I was walking in the forest with her. Mariana and her white dress, her beautiful red hair with a braid resting on her shoulder, we both laughing, we both dipping our feet in the river’s cold water, our hands held together, our bodies very close, her face close to mine, then closer and closer, her mouth, our mouths…

“He is going to think, Mariana,” Joca said, pushing me back to the table. “He is going to think hard and give you an answer on Wednesday.”

I glared at him.

“Then I’ll be back on Wednesday to find out,” she said. She let go of my hand and turned around to say her good-byes to everyone.

Ms. Nina soon opened her eyes, and kind as usual, smiled at everyone and asked that we all hold hands in a prayer for the disenfranchised and for all the well-meaning requests that had been made. I watched her carefully and couldn’t see any signs of intoxication. She had drunk a lot in one hour and a half and even her breath did not smell of liquor. I was impressed by that, that’s true, but not as much as by her transformation: her face, voice and gestures no longer had a single trace of young Mariana. The blue-eyed and brick-colored hair cabocla, if she ever had really been by my side, was not there anymore.

While we walked on the street, Joca told me about his frustrated engagement to Mariana. He confessed he had been very embarrassed at the time, but had gotten over it. He also felt grateful every day for being rejected by Mariana because he was dating a very nice girl.

I wanted to know more about Mariana, I was very curious.

“She really liked you. But don’t you make the mistake of getting engaged to her, Diddy.”

“That sounds like something a rejected fiancé would say…”

“I know it does. But tell me something: what use is having a lot of money and never finding someone to share your heart? Is it any good?”

“I’m going very far away. She won’t find me.”

“Remember what she said… You ought to be more respectful.”

“I am respectful. I just can’t believe it.”

Joca laughed, slapped on my shoulder and said:

“I’ve seen a lot of people come here to Manaus the way you did and leave a different person. Yes, I have.”

He laughed with great joy.

I didn’t mind going back a different man as long as I were in better situation. Joca’s opinions would not drive me away from my goals. I would get engaged to Mariana, save up some money and depart from that city. I was even making plans to invest the money. A soup restaurant in Recife Antigo. Or maybe an ice factory in Olinda.

“I can’t go with you next Wednesday,” he said. “You’re going to make that mistake all alone.”

I dreamed about Mariana twice along those days and the pleasant sensation of the dream would follow me for the rest of the day. I could smell her many times on the street, on the bus… I suddenly felt the nice scent of fresh grass, her presence inundated the atmosphere and something in me became calmer, mellower, more understanding.

I couldn’t feel comfortable talking about that with anybody, not even Joca. With Mirley, not a chance. What would I tell her, that I was insanely enamored with a teenage spirit? That I thought about her all the time and became flustered whenever I saw someone with brick-red hair passing on the street? That I found myself drawing her name on paper napkins? How could I tell her I was getting engaged to an umbanda spirit because of our future? No, I had better not say that. It would be a secret between me and Mariana.

On the next Wednesday, I went there again. And once again, Ms. Nina received the spirits. Like in the previous session, Mariana was the last one to come. Once again, the light scent of wood and fresh grass. Once again, the joyful voice, the juvenile grace. I felt like my fondness of her was spilling on the table. I admired the beauty of the simple gestures, the tiniest details. How could she be so charming? I realized I liked her. A lot.

After talking to a few people, Mariana finally turned to me. And she smiled. And once again, her smile brought the freshness of waterfalls to my mind.

“Hi, handsome young man.”

“Hi, Mariana.”

“You thought about me these days, didn’t you?”

“I did.”

“So did I. A lot.”

“Really?”

She stopped smiling and I could see the sadness in her look.

“Look, I have something to tell you. Come over here, come…” She invited me to sit on the chair next to her, reserved for private conversations. While the others chanted, she told me:

“You are more protected than I’d thought. I was told not to mess with you.”

I couldn’t understand.

“Look, you can’t be my fiancé.”

“Why not?” I asked, surprised.

“A bigger spirit than me, I have to respect. That made me very sad.”

It felt like breaking up a long relationship. I felt like crying in her lap.

“You are protected already, handsome young man. You don’t need me.”

“I do,” I insisted. I didn’t care about any embarrassments or privacy anymore. “I do need you, Mariana.”

“Go, go down your own path. It’s a good path. You’re going through a difficult moment, but you are a strong man and will get through the forest. Have faith.”

I suddenly remembered Mirley and I felt I wouldn’t have the strength to keep fighting for us anymore. I was finally beat, impotent. It was the end.

“Listen, since you can’t be my fiancé, I’m going to leave you a gift.” She took my hand and pulled me closer. She was whispering to my ear now. “So you have no doubts that I like you.”

I took a deep breath and found the strength to ask:

“A gift?”

“If you can’t come next Wednesday, I will know that you accepted Mariana’s gift.”

I saw a tear run from her eye.

“And even if you forget me, I’ll always be looking after you, you hear me? Now go, handsome man, go.”

She pushed me gently. She said her good-byes to everyone and left. The scent of fresh grass was gone. The warm water was gone.

I was devastated and went after Joca. I had no hard feelings against Mariana. On the contrary, she had really captivated me and I could only feel all tenderly about her. But I couldn’t believe I had made so many plans in vain. What about the famous soup restaurant in Recife Antigo? What about the successful ice factory in Olinda?

“She likes you,” Joca said, consoling me. “And if she likes you, she will find a way to help you.”

Joca’s words were useless. I was so sad I had no disposition for anything. The following days were like hell, I could barely get out of bed. Working was torture. I even lost my appetite. I was depressed and disappointed at everything, at life and especially at myself for having believed that a spirit would fix the course of my life.

My telephone had been cut off and wouldn’t be reactivated until Monday, so I used that as an excuse not to talk to Mirley. I didn’t want her to realize my situation. Joca invited me to go out, but I turned it down. I would spend the weekend locked up at home. I had absolutely no interest in seeing the world outside.

The telephone was reconnected on Monday and it rang at night as soon as I arrived from work. It was Mirley. I was still sad, but I managed to hide it. She told me one of the branches of her friend’s company in the countryside of Pernambuco was out of a manager and her friend considered me to fill the position. She explained that she had tried to talk to me over the weekend but couldn’t find me and maybe her friend had found someone else already. I told her I was interested and she gave me the friend’s telephone number.

I felt anxious when I hung up. It would be a very harsh punishment to lose that opportunity because of a disconnected telephone line due to late payment. I called the number she had given me, but it was busy. I called it again and again – still busy. I couldn’t even raise from the couch I was so anxious.

At my hundredth attempt, Mirley’s friend finally answered. Luckily, the position was still open. The salary was not as good as I wanted, but it was a branch in a city near Recife, so I would be close to Mirley and we would be able to see each other every weekend.

Everything was agreed upon on the same night. He was in a hurry and asked if I could schedule my trip for Wednesday, two days later.

“Yes, of course,” I replied with resolve. “You can count on it.”

I hung up the phone and froze in place, still amazed. Then I suddenly realized. That was Mariana’s gift…

I couldn’t help the tears rolling down my face. Right there, on the couch, I cried convulsively like I never had before. I remembered Mariana while I cried thankfully and could only mumble “thank you, thank you…”

On Wednesday, at the airport, I said good-bye to Joca and asked him to thank Mariana for me. And I asked him to say that I would never forget her. He laughed:

“No need. Nobody forgets Mariana.”

On Wednesday, on my journey, I could only think about the session. At that very moment, they certainly were all around the table, looking at the spirits on Ms. Nina’s face. I felt good and confident, with lightness in my soul. I was as sure as anyone can be that I was on board the most protected flight in the world.

At the airport in Recife, I picked my luggage and looked around in search of Mirley. While I waited for her, I detected this familiar scent, a pleasant freshness…

Someone suddenly touched my shoulder. My heart froze. I turned around slowly, already knowing whom I was going to see. And I saw her. The reddish hair, the white skin, the sparkling blue eyes…

A river of tepid waters ran around me and I let myself be washed by the embracing waters, the fresh smell of grass, the continuous melody of the forest… My soul was taken by a sweet feeling of rapture. Two beautiful blue eyes caressed me and all I could do was smile and smile…

“I’m sorry,” she said, embarrassed. “I mistook you for someone else.”

“What?” I said, coming back down to the airport, feeling my feet on the floor again. The girl waited for me to say something, but I couldn’t find anything to say. She waved at some people farther ahead and smiled at me.

“Good luck. Bye.”

I stood there watching the girl go away and run to her friends. I didn’t know what to think. Then I heard my name and saw Mirley come towards me. I was confused and still looked for the red-haired girl, but she had already disappeared in the crowd. Mirley hugged me tight and cried on my shoulder. We hadn’t met for almost one year. We’d missed each other so badly…

“What is this strange look on your face, Diddy?”

“It’s the trip…” I replied “But everything is alright now. Have you had dinner?”

We left soon. On the following day, I already was the manager of the store branch and there was a lot of work to do. A new life awaited me, this time next to the woman I loved.

About the girl in the airport, I know, I know. You certainly think I think she was Mariana. Yes, she was.

Don’t try to dissuade me. Don’t even ask me about logic, I don’t even have it for myself. I am perfectly content with the pure and thankful certainty I still carry in my chest that the coquettish girl who suddenly smiled at me at the airport in Recife was indeed Mariana. Yes, cabocla Mariana of the brick-colored hair, spellbound at 17 years and a half, who took some time out of Ms. Nina’s session on that Wednesday night to see me for the last time and to wish me a happy life in her own way.

This is the story. In a moment of angst and helplessness, I was willing to be Mariana’s fiancé and challenge her power. She wanted me, too. But fate would have it differently. Mariana, in demonstration of her love, gave me a gift, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to change my life for the better and I grabbed the opportunity with all my might.

This is the story of Mariana that I still carry in my chest bathed in warm water, in the smell of fresh grass. In the first few months, still impressed by everything that had happened, I remembered Mariana every day and thanked her quietly. I gradually forgot her, absorbed by the intense work and by the family growing up. As my life resumed its balance, Mariana slowly became an increasingly distant memory that eventually disappeared. Maybe she didn’t need to intervene for me anymore since my life was finally back in its natural course.

Today, however, ten years later, here in the beach house, the memory of her came back to me. It made its way into my heart. And I remembered everything again.

*     *     *

Mirley is just back from the beach with the kids. They bring a bucket full of sea shells. Louise says she is going to plant them in the backyard and wait for a sea shell tree to grow. Filippe chastises his sister for believing nonsense that grownups say. I sit on the edge of the hammock and ask them if they picked all those shells up on their own or if their mother really did all the work. Filippe says a young lady helped them. Mirley says the children loved the girl in a way she had never seen before. While pouring the shells down on the floor, Filippe tells me:

“She was beautiful, Dad. Her eyes were the color of this bucket.”

I look at the blue bucket and begin to feel strange already.

“And her hair was red, that color.”

Before Louise pointed at the roof, I had already understood. I feel my heart freeze over, a sudden vacuum in my soul. I clutch at the hammock as if grasping the will to dash away towards the beach.

“Her skin was so white, Diddy…” says Mirley, turning on the shower in the garden to wash the children. “I don’t know how that young woman can stand walking under this hot sun.”

I rise from the hammock feeling something in the chest. A strange joy, a melancholy, an excitement, everything at the same time. I walk silently to the living room. I pour myself a shot of whiskey on the counter and knock it all back at once. The burning liquid makes my eyes watery. A useless ruse to hide the tears I can’t control.

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Ricardo Kelmer – blogdokelmer.com

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(script for a movie soon)

.

this tale is part of the book:

The End Times Survival Guide
Ricardo Kelmer – Miragem Editorial, 2020
fantastic – horror – science fiction

What to do when the unexplainable suddenly barges into our reality and old truths are rendered useless? Where are we to go when the end of the world is upon us? In the nine short stories included in this book, none of them short of mystery and supernatural, people are amazed at events that challenge their understanding of reality and of themselves and trigger crisis situations so intense that people’s own survival is put at stake. This is a book about collective and personal apocalypses.

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> Amazon (kindle) english/portuguese

> In portuguese – blog 

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