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The Alien’s Feast

Written by Luísa Montenegro

Edited by Natalle Moura & Iana A.

Translated by André Colabelli

Copyedited by Iana A.


The last time I saw mainha[1] eat was when the alien showed up at Cid­ade Livre. I was still a little girl, barely a meter and forty-five from the ground. The alien was just a bit taller than me, their skin green, and three crys­tal­line eyes on its ob­long head, like a space mantis.

At the height of my nine years of age, I had seen just about everything while cross­ing the coun­try on the back of a truck, un­der sun and rain, mainha’s belly swollen with a child, who’d be left as a toll paid to the dirty roads of the hin­ter­lands. I had seen a city rise where be­fore there was noth­ing but weeds and red soil, built on the back of simple folk — com­mon folk like you and I, but folk who might as well be ma­gic. I’d had life and death, thirst and hun­ger, joy and sor­row, all in the long rep­er­toire of my short ex­ist­ence. Be­cause of that, when I saw the new ar­rival, their trans­lu­cent fish tank hel­met match­ing the curved lines of Brasília, I im­me­di­ately un­der­stood they were an alien. But out there, in this city built out of blood and con­crete, who wasn’t?

Maybe that was why folks didn’t find it strange, either. It was mainha who saw them first, out there by the No­va­cap. She used to sell frit­ters that she pre­pared in the back of our shack in the oc­cu­pa­tion, the tray firm against her shrink­ing hips — back then she already ate very little, like a spar­row. She said she’d seen a line across the sky, and she thought it was a bal­loon or a fall­ing star. And did you make a wish, mainha?, I asked only once, when folks came around want­ing to know about the story. Mainha only looked at me out of the corner of her eyes, the deep eyes of someone who’d lived so much more life than her twenty-some­thing years of age — she wasn’t sure how many ex­actly — and I knew she hadn’t. And I fell si­lent.

Hey, maybe it’s some for­eign en­gin­eer, right? Dona Maria from the gro­cer’s talked over me, and the people star­ted de­bat­ing the idea, be­cause the for­eign en­gin­eers were all weird, cross­ing the cer­rado in their big fancy sil­ver cars, shout­ing out or­ders from atop con­struc­tion ma­chinery, speak­ing in tangled words as if they’d chugged a liter of booze, their wives al­ways these tall skinny blonde ladies, their long fin­ger­nails crim­son red, but from ink and not from soil like the wo­men from these parts. It really was some­thing from an­other world.

But mainha in­sisted it wasn’t, that she’d seen the ship-space-ship (that was how folks called it), that for­eign­ers un­der the high­land sun would change to a bunch of col­ors, red, pink, or­ange, but where have you seen a green for­eigner? And with three eyes, on top of that! And didn’t Aunt Neiva in­sist that the ali­ens had landed on Earth to civ­il­ize hu­man­ity? Maybe this one had come to see the new city, the build­ings; it all looked so spacey already. They came to meet the in­hab­it­ants, visit the people. Oxe, then it’s a dis­tin­guished guest, every­body agreed — these folk who, des­pite car­ry­ing the city’s con­struc­tion on their backs, had only seen the pres­id­ent a few times, from far away.

I felt priv­ileged, even more be­cause it was mainha who had found the alien, who was stand­ing very straight by the bunk bed where Ramiro plus Knife Zé slept, fid­dling with a little an­tenna that came out of their fish tank hel­met. Hey Mis­ter Alien, we don’t get a lot of ra­dio sta­tions we can tune to ‘round here, I felt like say­ing, but I feel that even if they had ears they wouldn't have heard me, be­cause it was all full of people there, all say­ing, wel­come to our planet Earth, the most beau­ti­ful planet in the world!, and mis­ter have you ever seen a city more mod­ern than ours?, and folks would stretch their hands, tip their hats, slap the alien’s back. Our eyes met in the middle of that havoc — we were about the same height, the alien and I — and I real­ized they were just as curi­ous about the rest of us.

Later, when I was a grown wo­man and mainha was but the phys­ical pain of her re­mem­brance, the memory of the alien’s feast would re­turn to me in the lone­li­est nights, in the end­less hours work­ing the su­per­mar­ket till, in the light-years shak­ing in­side a bus on my way to the pub­lic col­lege, in the heart of that air­plane-shaped fu­tur­istic city, ali­en­ated from the rest of the coun­try in the middle of the cer­rado, alien. The most likely place on Earth for close en­coun­ters of any kind.

No one knew what to feed to the alien, would you like some cof­fee? some saint food? some party food? so the folks brought all kinds of dif­fer­ent food, of­fer­ing a bit of their his­tor­ies. Al­most all of us were from the North­ern and North­east­ern parts of Brazil. There were people who’d come from the forest, from the beach and even from the middle of the way between the forest and the agreste, the ser­tão in the caat­inga, and people like mainha and my­self who’d come down try­ing to es­cape the droughts. Each State in the North­w­est was in the lines of each one of our faces, in the way our hands were cal­loused. There were also some people who already lived in Goiás, Mi­nas Gerais, Mato Grosso, whose cook­ing was bet­ter ad­ap­ted to the cer­rado, a place that is not the Amazon forest, the dry caat­inga or the wet­lands of pantanal, but that ac­tu­ally is, just a bit.

People brought tables, chairs, stools, wooden boxes, and put them all in the sports court where the fore­men and the con­struc­tion work­ers faced off in soc­cer. Any­one who couldn’t bring some food would bring a gui­tar, a singing voice, some booze, and when the news got out, the whole Cid­ade Livre came around to meet the alien, sit­ting at the head of the im­pro­vised com­munal table; mainha was by the alien’s side, all giddy, she even smiled — she looked like a dif­fer­ent per­son. Duck with tucupi, rice with sou­ari nuts, goat buchada, chicken and okra, the people presen­ted their foods, speak­ing loudly and slowly to see if the alien un­der­stood, and my mate, don’t you want some cana to help the food go down? And the alien would pick up the mo­cotó jelly cup in which it was served with their elong­ated pin­cers, open their tiny mouth and stir the trans­lu­cent li­quid with their long in­ter­galactic in­sect­ile tongue, their hel­met long for­got­ten, be­ing passed around by play­ing chil­dren. If the food was too spicy — Rita was fam­ous for her spicy hot food, be­ing a child of Iansã and a Pará nat­ive, she later opened a res­taur­ant even politi­cians vis­ited — or if the li­quor was too heavy, the alien’s three eyes would tear up and the folks would laugh, slap their back and of­fer cas­sava flour or milk to bring down the heat.

After some time, the alien stood up from their box, kinda woozy, kinda laugh­ing with their tiny mouth, a blueish gel leak­ing off the top of their stretched-out head, seem­ing drunk and full, like every­one else at the feast. Then they made a speech snap­ping their long tongue. At least, the people called it a speech, be­cause no one quite un­der­stood any­thing — but that was no big deal, be­cause around those parts we were well used to hear­ing au­thor­it­ies de­liver speeches that meant noth­ing, might as well be in an­other tongue. The alien fiddled with some but­tons on the chest of their mul­ti­colored uni­form and a little hatch opened up, like it was a dried tree trunk, and from the hatch a tiny sil­ver pipe sprung out, and be­fore the people could run for cover—that was all we needed, the alien be­ing a ja­g­unço work­ing for a farmer, or worse, No­va­cap po­lice—the pipe spat out a bunch of glit­tery bubbles.

The people clapped, chil­dren star­ted jump­ing up, try­ing to pick up the bubbles that landed on our empty plates and bursted, cre­at­ing a green­ish jello. Is this alien food, is it?, people were frown­ing. Like hell I’ll eat this, it barely looks like food, they jeered, but mainha raised her voice, didn’t your moth­ers teach you any man­ners?, We have to give it a try at least, it’d be a slight if we didn’t. She lif­ted the spoon to her mouth. Every­one held their breath, star­ing at mainha, who picked at it like a little bird, as she used to, and smiled, con­fid­ent. She was so brave, my mainha. So brave she en­ticed every­one to taste the grub, of­fer­ing half-hearted smiles to the alien, hmm, tasty, so good, exotic, isn’t it?, tak­ing an­other sip of cachaça to help it down, leav­ing the rest for the skinny dogs of the oc­cu­pa­tion, re­turn­ing to the food of our own world, our own people.

Mainha smiled all night long and ate the del­ic­acies the people offered the alien, peck­ing at one dish and then an­other, like the spar­row she was be­com­ing, that less than a year from then would fly up to meet Our Lady, to whom she was so de­vout. What she spared in her por­tions she lav­ished in smiles. She com­pli­men­ted the cook­ing, the spices, be­ing a renowned cook her­self, ad­mired even back then dur­ing the hard times of the No­va­cap frit­ters. A queen, a dip­lo­mat, a rep­res­ent­at­ive of Earth to oth­er­worldly en­voys. She was so brave she chal­lenged hun­ger, chal­lenged poverty. Since when do poor folks not want to eat?, people would mumble when she was already very ill, bedrid­den, be­cause they be­lieved if you’re poor you gotta eat, and eat whatever you can get your hands on.

When mainha left me, it took me quite some time to ac­cept it. I blamed the agreste, the trucks, the de­camp­ment of Cid­ade Livre, the “Cap­ital of Hope” that had left her so dis­il­lu­sioned. I even blamed the poor alien, that in that night tasted all kinds of dishes, shared their food from an­other planet — that tasted like noth­ing in our mouths, but maybe they liked it, after all, noth­ing quite com­pares with the food from our own land — and even danced and made a singing sound by rub­bing the pin­cers they had in place of hands. Be­cause as soon as the alien came back to their home planet, mainha star­ted to wilt, and that made the memory of the feast like this, so bit­ter­sweet.

On the one hand, the smoking foods, the smell of spices ming­ling, the voices mer­ging into laughter, that have no dia­lect and no ac­cent.

On the other hand, mainha.

Food has this ca­pa­city to gather, to unite, to rep­res­ent, to touch even an alien from an­other planet. It’s care, it’s like a caress in the soul, that I knew since I was a little girl. But the reason mainha denied her­self this caress I only un­der­stood after I gradu­ated, as a pro­fessor in the uni­ver­sity that quite re­minded me of the ship-space-ship, fight­ing a coup, an op­press­ive re­gime more alien than the alien from my child­hood. Even though the taste of up­ris­ing was well known to me, that was when I fi­nally un­der­stood the feel­ing that led mainha to lan­guish. When she re­fused to eat and star­ted to wilt on the out­side, she had lived through so much vi­ol­ence she already was withered on the in­side.

So I made my peace with the alien and their feast. Today, I have daugh­ters that call me mainha, to whom I told this story and taught the re­cipes from that night, re­cipes from all around the coun­try that con­verged when this city was built, like the alien in my child­hood. My daugh­ters re­tell and teach these re­cipes to their own daugh­ters, my grand­daugh­ters, all of them already born in this land, Brasília. Of mainha, I hold her memory, that doesn’t hurt so much any­more, and the in­ter­galactic hel­met the alien gif­ted her be­fore re­turn­ing to their home planet.


 

[1] En­dear­ing term for “mother”, typ­ic­ally used in the north­east­ern re­gion of Brazil.


Luísa Montenegro

Luísa Montenegro is the au­thor of A Men­ina Es­trela d'Alva, of short stor­ies in Trasgo and Es­cam­banáutica magazines, and ranked first place in the 5th Agostinho’s Cul­ture Award. She is also a doc­tor (with a Ph.D. and all) in Com­mu­nic­a­tion. She lives in Brasília with four cats and a hus­band.

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