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Free Womb

Written by Wilson Júnior

Edited by Vanessa Guedes

Translated by Marina Ferreira

Copyedited by Luiza Cantoni

The sight of the Big House was al­most too much. Dora took her hand to her chest, fear­ing this pain would be her fi­nal. It wasn’t. Her heart, al­beit older now, was strong. Many people would say she had a stone in its place. But the stone pumped the memory of her son’s fin­gers clutch­ing to her body.

She paused at the first step of the porch. At the top of the stairs was Sinhá Girl. Dora re­cog­nized her by her eyes. They were cun­ning in her in­fancy, ma­li­cious now, the eyes of a grown wo­man. They were sad, re­sent­ful even.

“Sinhá Girl, do you re­mem­ber me? I’m Dor­alice. I worked in your home as a young wo­man, you were a little one.”

The wo­man didn’t even go through the trouble of mask­ing her dis­dain.

“Do not call me that, I’m the mat­ron of this home. No, I don’t re­mem­ber. Make your way out, the blacks are busy with the Christ­mas fest­iv­it­ies pre­par­a­tions. They don’t have time to waste on small talk.”

The con­ver­sa­tion gathered folks around them. In the crowd, Dora only re­cog­nized one face among the liv­ing. Fran­cisco was the right hand of Baron Justa but, by the clothes he wore now, he had re­turned to the blacks’ place, head down and slouched shoulders.

The wo­man was already turn­ing her back. Dora per­sisted.

“My apo­lo­gies for the in­tru­sion, ma’am. Your father told me, the day I left this house, that it would al­ways have its doors open for me, whenever I wanted to come back. I seek work and I figured, on Christ­mas eve, your home would need all the help it could get.” – It was a half-truth. The words of the Baron were spoken as mock­ery at the time, but were said non­ethe­less, and now this is what mattered to these people.

All ma­li­cious­ness left Sinhá's eyes, giv­ing space to her an­ger. Dora saw the wo­man at­tempt to main­tain her com­pos­ure, but the men­tion of her father’s prom­ise clearly bothered her.

“Do you have it in writ­ing? Any doc­u­ments that prove this?”

“I don’t, Ms. Lucélia. Fran­cisco and some oth­ers were stand­ing by your father when he spoke of it.” Dora poin­ted to the man, who now cut through the crowd.

The wo­man looked at him. Dora knew to ex­pect a neg­at­ive an­swer, but the man gave her a wide smile and said:

“He did, yes. Wel­come back, Dora.”

The fury in Sinhá Lucélia, earlier aimed at Dor­alice, now turned to Fran­cisco, who made him­self smal­ler. Dora didn’t know what had happened in this place over the last few years, but she knew there was no love between the two of them. She si­lently thanked him for be­ing her sole ally, even though he was among her en­emies in the past.

“Listen, ma’am, I don’t mean to bother on a fest­iv­ity day. If you search through your memor­ies you will re­call I’m a great baker. My cakes were fam­ous around here.”

The words put a smile on the wo­man’s mouth. Per­haps her pal­ate had bet­ter memory than her eyes.

“Little Dora, how could I have for­got­ten you? Come on up. I apo­lo­gize for my man­ners and the house is pure chaos. Go straight to the kit­chen, please, the girls will show you around everything, but I’m sure you know the place by heart.”

Dora would’ve been shocked at her drastic turn, if it wasn’t for the memor­ies of her anctics as a child. She was mean to an­im­als, plants, and people, no dis­tinc­tion, and yet cried as the vic­tim if any­one dared to ac­cuse her of any­thing. White tears, the slaves would say.

She entered the Big House through the front door. Maybe it was Lucélia’s hurry, or some­thing had shif­ted in the place, but little did it mat­ter. At the first step into the liv­ing room, she saw a ghost. Baron [Justa] was sit­ting on the rock­ing chair, look­ing at an empty corner of the room. She thanked the gods for Ms. Lucélia hav­ing left her be­hind, be­cause fa­cing the sight of the man, she could not hold back her tears. She walked to­wards the pale and skeletal vis­ion of fel­low.

“I couldn’t find our son. So I came back.”

She didn’t re­ceive an an­swer bey­ond a sliver of drool fall­ing down the side of his slack mouth. This ghost was made of muscle and bones, dif­fer­ent from the oth­ers that loitered this place. Dora saw the shad­ows, marks, and wounds, adding weight to the old man’s soul, re­turn­ing in death what he took in life. They gave her only grate­ful looks. They knew.

The house, in fact, was in up­roar, be­ing dec­or­ated. The kit­chen looked like a battle ground, with young wo­men pre­par­ing a vari­ety of dishes. Among them, only one old wo­man. Basti­ana limped to­wards Dora and gave her a tight hug.

“Fi­nally, a real cook. You have no idea what I have to go through with these air-heads.”

The young wo­men laughed and played toss­ing flour at one an­other. The play was in­ter­rup­ted in an in­stant as Sinhá Lucélia entered. She ex­plained, once more, the im­port­ance of to­night’s din­ner and its guests. And, next time she entered the kit­chen to see an­other mess, they’d all be sent to the pil­lory and then to the plant­a­tions.

“Basti­ana, make sure Dora has everything she needs. I want a nice cake, like the ones she used to make for the parties at home.” She turned to Dora: “I hope you haven’t lost your touch, be­cause I’ll be an­noun­cing this dessert to my guests with the same pomp my dad had in the past.”

Al­though she smiled, Dora re­cog­nized the threat, a kind of wis­dom ac­quired only by those de­prived of their liber­ties.

“Not at all, ma’am. I’m bet­ter than ever”

And she did not lie. She worked through­out her travels, do­ing all sorts of things, many of which she wasn’t proud of. She searched for her boy all over the province, and all over the ones sur­round­ing it. She used all her re­sources and strength. But noth­ing. It was as if her son had never even ex­is­ted.

She was happy, non­ethe­less. Now, back at the old house, she was able to do one of the few things she ever loved in her life be­sides be­ing a mother: bak­ing.

Fran­cisco entered the kit­chen. On his face, the sus­pi­cion he wore through­out most of his fore­man life re­turned.

“You came back just to cook, Dora?”

“I came back be­cause I needed to. But I’m not ar­guing with you.”

Fran­cisco covered his face. The same hands that ripped out the child from her lap, even though the or­ders came from someone else’s mouth. Had he not obeyed, he would’ve ended up on the pil­lory like any other black man and an­other one would have come to take her son.

“Let the wo­man work, Fran­cisco. She will do what she wants to do” said Basti­ana.

She would make the best cake of her en­tire life. She would do it for her little one, who never had a chance to listen to the story of his mother and her people. She would make it for them, for the ones who filled the entry­ways and win­dowsills. They ob­served the baker’s work and whispered, “make it for me,” “make it for my mommy,” “make it for you, sis­ter,” whis­per­ing only to Dor­alice’s ears. Five gen­er­a­tions of bakers guid­ing her hands. Guid­ing every meas­ure­ment, every whisk­ing, every pinch. Dora gave her body to their will. Their will be­came her move­ments and then it be­came dough. The only de­liv­ery without pain. The whole world dis­ap­peared around her. It was just them and Dora. And as they meas­ured every in­gredi­ent, she heard their groans, and as she coun­ted every fold­ing of the dough, she heard their sup­plic­a­tion, and as she mol­ded the tiny flowers and prepped the fillings, she heard the crack of the whip. They were echoes from the past.

She worked as a sculptor on her mas­ter­piece. She’d ded­ic­ate the re­main­ing years of her life, if she could, to bak­ing this cake. All the liv­ing watched her. There was ad­mir­a­tion, al­most rev­er­ence, in their eyes.

At the end, she sat in a corner of the kit­chen and res­ted fa­cing her work of art. And there she stayed, ad­mir­ing it. She didn’t hear it when Sinhá entered to praise her work. Or even when, little by little, the kit­chen was emp­tied of all the dishes for din­ner. She didn’t hear the mu­sic or the laughter, she didn’t hear it when Sinhá Lucélia an­nounced the cake as some­thing one could never find even in the best pa­tis­ser­ies of Paris. She was now in their world, the world of the ones who ac­com­pan­ied her pain, who kept her from danger, who made them­selves present when there was no one else around. There, in the ample kit­chen, they covered every corner of the floor and smiled. Was her son among them?

Dor­alice only no­ticed her sur­round­ings when the first chokes came from the din­ing room. It was a muffled sound, lost among jokes and drunken re­marks.

By the time the screams began, it was already too late. The black folk ran to aid the dy­ing. And then, they ran away. And only then, Dora al­lowed her­self a smile. She wiped the flour off of her hands, sa­luted Basti­ana and Fran­cisco, and without a hurry, walked out of the Big House through the back door. The ghosts did not fol­low her.

Wilson Júnior

Wilson Júnior has an undergraduate degree in History and a graduate degree in Creative Writing. Founder of Es­cam­bau writ­ing group, and ed­itor at Es­cam­banáutica magazine. He lives in Fortaleza, Brazil. Split­ting his routine into writ­ing, teach­ing writ­ing, be­ing a Me­dia Co­ordin­ator and work­ing on Es­cam­bau pro­jects, there is little time left to live.


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