(Dedicated to Luz)
"Let me go! I need to wander…I want to watch the sunrise, watch the waters of the rivers run, hear the birds sing. I want to be born! I want to live!”
Yiara Valdilene Gonçalves Barbosa softly sang Cartola's "Preciso Me Encontrar" as she stood over the saucepan wafting the savory effusion of the vatapá de peixe to her face. Steam wrapped around her thick braids as she hovered above the seething fish and groundnut stew, gently stirring in breadcrumbs soaked in coconut milk. As the curdled dendê oil and diced onions heated up in the adjacent sauté pan, the young woman dug her hands into the acarajé batter of dried chilies and pureed black-eyed peas, then removed and shaped each handful into a small cake. Yiara submerged each acarajé into the sizzling red oil and watched as they rolled and disappeared beneath like boulders consumed in the molten belly of a volcano. Her eyes quivered as she lustfully inhaled the pungent fusion of the cooking ingredients. The aroma inundated her mind with vivid snapshots of a life she would never have again.
Resigned to her fate, Yiara exhaled deeply and returned to cooking. She carefully removed the last acarajé from the oil, slit open and impressed its inside, and spooned in the vatapá and chopped tomatoes. She kissed the droplets of sauce peppering her wrist, moving upwards towards the acarajé cupped in her right hand. Her stomach growled. Realizing her hunger, perhaps more so for her native Brazil than for the food, she obeyed its call with a tender bite into the spicy fritter. A forgotten sense of familiarity and comfort traveled through her body as she slowly savored the marriage of piquant flavors in her mouth. How long had it been, she pondered.
Several years had passed since Yiara had impulsively boarded her one-way flight to Texas, eager to escape the ennui and unsophistication of northern Brazil. She had wanted new experiences and to achieve the American Dream, as had her employer, Henrique Reznik, the son of Czech immigrants from Paraná.
A decade before their introduction, Henrique Reznik had discovered the similarities between the barbecue traditions of southern Brazil, where he was raised, and the Hill Country of Central Texas; both having been heavily influenced by Czech meat markets and the gaucho lifestyle in Brazil’s drylands. The idea of uniting the two “straight from the stick” churrasco-styles had ensnared his mind, leading Henrique to invest his entire savings into establishing the award-winning Brazilian steakhouse, “Capataz Churrascaria”.
At the time of Yiara's arrival to Austin, the steakhouse had been nominated as one of Texas Monthly's “Top BBQ Joints”, not only for its succulent rotisserie grilled meats and unique side dishes, but for Henrique’s signature Moqueca Capixaba, a seafood stew from his native Paraná, prepared and served in traditional Goiabeira panelas. Moqueca had been one of Yiara's favorite meals growing up in the coastal city of Belém do Pará; however, she struggled to appreciate the flattened taste of Henrique’s Moqueca, which omitted the tropical flavors of coconut milk, malagueta peppers, and dendê oil her late grandmother had traditionally used in her cooking. Yiara had departed Brazil with the inerrant assumption that, if she ever desired, the culinary delights of northern Brazil would be within reach at the steakhouse where she would work part-time, or in the kitchen of the Reznik's home where she would assist the family as a housekeeper and cook.
To her surprise and dismay, most of the traditional dish variations at Capataz had been bleached of their African and Amerindian influences; and for a woman whose life had been imbued with a strong connection to her faith and culture through food, this absence affected Yiara more deeply than she could have imagined.
During her first few years in Austin, Yiara had experienced an unsatiated craving for those familiar tastes and scents of home absent from her life. Her visceral hunger, at times, would leave her suspended in a functional state of deep, indistinct nostalgia. On cooler days, for instance, the expatriate would want for nothing more than a steaming cuia of spicy tacacá from the small stand on Largo de São Sebastião. She would fixate so much on the nearly indiscernible tingling taste of the soup – the tang of the briny shrimp, yellow peppers, and manioc broth, married with the numbing sensation of the tart jambú leaves – that she would unintentionally forfeit meals the entire day. On days of sweltering heat, she would replay memories of rushing from her childhood home to catch the seller of guaraná milkshakes as he passed down the street on a bicycle cart. In her nostalgia, she could taste the richness of the thick berry juice and its generous coating of crushed cashews and chocolate syrup as if she were drinking it presently.
As more time in Austin passed, this superficial hunger had been supplanted by a deep and enervating hunger that began to slowly eat away at both her body and spirit. Yiara had not only discovered that her comforts of home were out of reach, but also that she may never return home, for Henrique and his wife - Yiara's childhood best friend - had entrapped her in a perpetual cycle of poverty and slavery, preventing her from realizing her own American Dream.
Until this moment, as Yiara reflected on her life’s transition in the kitchen of her captors, she had never felt the tenuousness of her deliberate uprooting-turned-enslavement so profoundly. The vatapá-filled acarajé on her tongue – that sacred and unchanging food enshrined in her people’s culture and faith – had become her awakening.
The second bite of the acarajé propelled Yiara to the boxy kitchen of her childhood home in Belém. The pungent smell of shrimp and dendê impregnated the air, as if traversing space and time from the Reznik’s kitchen to where her heart longed to return.
Yiara watched curiously from the kitchen threshold as her grandmother, whom she had affectionately called Mameto, pressed hard-boiled eggs and prawns into the crust of a bean stew. Mameto lifted the ceramic pot from the linoleum countertop and lowered it for an adolescent Yiara to view.
"Sapinha, this is Omolocum. O-mo-lu-cum.” Mameto repeated, emphasizing the syllabic breaks. "It's makuriá, our sacred food offering for Mãe Dandalunda Kisimbi. You must always serve Omolocum in a round stoneware bowl like this. Together, this all represents fertility and birth, so that someday She will bless you with bundles of love, wealth, and even your own sapinha.” Mameto smiled gaily before kissing her granddaughter’s forehead.
"Why do we make food for the Inkises?" the little girl asked.
"The makuriá is full of vital energies for the Inkises and it can nurture and strengthen the link between ourselves and them. Preparing the makuriá is a way of showing gratitude for the Inkises' love and support."
Yiara had arrived on the day Mameto had first begun to discipline her in the art of cooking the makuriá for Dandalunda Kisimbi and the remaining pantheon of Inkises, African divinities of nature. It had also been the moment that set-in-motion Yiara’s ascent to the role of Mameto Mulambi “mother who cooks” – the priestess responsible for scrupulously preparing the makuriá before presenting it at the gongá and to the congregants of the terreiro where they worshipped. This role had been informally fulfilled by the women in their family long before the age of slavery.
Yiara, still invisible in the kitchen, continued to watch the endearing pair before suddenly being transported to another memory. A seven-year-old Yiara stood beside Mameto at the gongá as her grandmother began to introduce the statuettes of the Entidades, the emissaries of the Inkises.
“The Entidades are enlightened spirits with the ability to communicate with us directly on behalf of the Inkises." Mameto pointed to a cluster of statuettes of dark-skinned natives in tribal clothing. "These are the caboclos, who give you willpower and strength to finish great tasks. These are the wise pretos velhos, old black slaves who bring you resolve when you’re stressed or burdened with a troubled situation. These are the children to cheer you up when you’re feeling lonely or sad. The gauchos and sailors to protect you as you work and travel. And here are the Guardians of the Seven Crossroads, Entidades of Pai Mutalambô. The Guardians guide us to the right paths in life when we lose ourselves."
"Like the guardian angels Lelê told me about?"
"Pois é, Sapinha. The Entidades are the equivalent of what Christians would call guardian angels. Though the Guardians of the Seven Crossroads include the bohemian spirits Exu and Pambujila." Mameto pointed to statuettes of a suave man in a white suit and a seductively dressed woman in red. "They can both be tricksters, but they can also protect good people from bad things and bad people."
“Like the bad men who sent Mamãe and Papaí to Zambi?” her granddaughter inquired.
“Yes, Sapinha. They are complicated Entidades. You’ll understand better when you’re older. Just remember there are people all around you, even friends and neighbors, who can become possessed by bad spirits that will drive them to commit misdeeds, bad actions."
Yiara continued to eat the acarajé, traveling deeper into her memories of Belém and her childhood, each bite recharging her spirit. A bit of vatapá dripped onto her chest in between the guias underneath her blouse. The strands of sacred beads had hung around her neck as if woven into her skin for sixteen years. Yiara, like all new initiates of the terreiro, had received her guias after a series of rites: a baptism of fresh water and crushed kola seed; a ritual head shaving; a conveyance of mukí, or life force energy, to her head through a blood offering; and finally, her three-year ritual of obligation to the terreiro.
Yiara brushed her fingers against the guias before being propelled in time once more to the afternoon of her initiation. A preteen Yiara spun in front of the long mirror in her grandmother’s room, eager to show off her outfit at the ceremony. She wore a white dress embroidered with lace, a copper-colored cloth wrapped snugly around her torso, and her dark locks twisted into a crown underneath a matching headwrap. She stopped spinning and giggled at the grin-engendering stretch of Mameto’s face as her grandmother finished tying her own headwrap tightly over her ears. Mameto rose from the bed revealing a dress more extravagant than the usual accoutrements she wore for toques. Her long, multicolored brajas and guias dos búzios swayed around her neck against a lustrous silver lace blouse accentuating an exquisite, white vestment beneath.
With the completion of her rites, Yiara had ascended to access deeper levels of spiritual knowledge and to receive the crystal green and blue guias linking her to the divine energies of her guardian Inkises, Mutalambô, "Lord of Forests and the Hunt” and Dandalunda Kisimbi, “Mother of Fresh Waters and Fertility". The terreiro itself had been named after Telekompensu, the progeny of Mutalambô and Dandalunda Kisimbi.
In the terreiro, it was believed that Mutalambô and Dandalunda Kisimbi were the ruling guardian Inkises of the self-emancipated caboclo and negro slaves. Together, the divinities had protected the enslaved as they fled the horrors of captivity on the plantations and cattle ranches of Grão-Pará to refuge deep into the northern highlands and wild, verdant interior of the floresta.
As a child, Yiara had enjoyed listening to Mameto and the other terreiro elders recite the secrets and histories of the Inkises and their ancestors. The stories were a doorway into her ancestral memories, a spiritual connection to the sovereign tribal nations of Amazonia and the great kingdoms of the Kongo, including those replicated in the kilombos of northern Brazil. It was an empowering reminder to Yiara that she had descended from great men and women and an even greater universal force.
Mameto, known to the Macumba comunidade as Mãe Luzia Gonçalves Barbosa, was the high priestess of O Centro de Doce Telekompensu, a terreiro established in the first-floor space of her narrow two-story home on Passagem São Sebastião in Belém. As a high priestess of the terreiro, Mameto maintained nobility as a highly-respected spiritual healer and herbalist, with a knowledge of medicinal plants and emetics purported to be exponentially greater than all the traditional and evangelical healers – pajés, curandeiros, babalorixas, and kimbandistas – in Belém. It was even believed by the comunidade that Mameto’s mukí had grown so great from her fervent communications with the Entidades that it was powerful enough to reverse the evil eye, repel malicious spirits, and heal those afflicted with negative energies. This was knowledge that had been passed on for generations in her family and from within the forest-dwelling mocambo community in which she had been raised.
Mameto, a fourth-generation survivor of a mocambo near Erepecuru, which had once been part of a larger, stratified kilombo, had inherited the histories and traditions of her people stretching back to her great-great grandmother Mãe Benedita Gonçalves.
It was a two-hundred-year legacy Mameto had left behind physically, but not spiritually, when she moved to Belém after the lives of her son Yamando and his wife Jasy had been tragically extinguished. The couple, who had been outspoken activists in the Traditional Populations land rights movement, were murdered during a collective campout at the construction site of a massive extractive infrastructure project. A small consortium of irate miners and land speculators had hired thugs to eliminate any obstacles to the survey of the territory. Their only child, a beautiful cafuza girl with curly black hair, bright eyes like stormy quartz, and skin like a Brazil nut had only been nine weeks old, unbaptized and unnamed.
A grief-stricken Mameto brought her granddaughter to a nearby igarapé enclosed behind a thicket. She dripped honey onto the child’s head (Dandalunda Kisimbi's favorite taste) and then bathed her in the Mother’s rippling waters. Finally, she asked the supreme creator Zambi for blessing and protection. “As everything has been born out of water, let this child bathe in its divine energies. As water is older than earth and cannot be destroyed, let not this child’s spirit be destroyed. Môkoiu no Zambi. God bless you.” She christened the child Yiara, the Tupí name for "mother of sweet waters", just as she had named her son “precursor of the waters”. Yiara was given a name that spoke of the child's history and her future.
Although Yiara had moved to Belém with Mameto as a toddler, both women were still immensely proud of their cafuzo heritage and their people’s unyielding faith in the power of the Inkises. It was a pride that had touched them deeply, not through religious pontifications, but through the collective mukí of the irmandade. Mameto passed on the vivid stories of her grandmother to all those who came after her; and Yiara lived courageously and with conviction like her parents as if her spirit were still in the floresta.
In Belém, Yiara had frequently lost herself in mystic spaces praying to the Inkises and ancestral spirits. “The spirit resides in the heart,” Mameto would remind her. “As long as the heart continues to beat, life exists and the divine energies of the Inkises exist, intertwining and flowing through your body.” Even in youth, Yiara would be transported through the festive toques of the terreiro: the deep devotional fervor of the irmandade as they recited the ritual incantations and chants; the rhythmic clapping and singing of ancestral songs to the engoma, tumbadeiras, and atabaque “Kongo” drums; the offering of the makuriá and pouring of libations at the decadent gongá illuminated by melting candles; the intense quivering, undulating and agonized gasping of the initiates in the midst of spiritual possession like mounted wild horses; the misty spray of strong sugarcane liquor and the pungent smell of sweat, tobacco, sandalwood, blood, and roasting meats permeating the humid, musty air of the abassá, the ceremonial space. It was no different than the traditional calundus of Mãe Benedita’s time.
This was the same connection the irmandade of O Centro de Doce Telekompensu felt when they stepped inside the terreiro. O Centro invited all to reclaim their ancestry. Inside the terreiro, the magick transported them from contemporary Brazil to the Amazonia and Kongo of yesteryear, wherein, the irmandade could return to their noble condition of powerful, respected warriors and healer-diviners.
On plantations across the Portuguese colony, there lay the senzalas – homesteads of the slaves, stations of perdition where dissonant moans of despair and death mingled with those of reverence and childbirth. Zenza Eliana Gonçalves was born into this world on the beaten earth floor of a mud-walled and thatch roof senzala. Her mother, Benedita (her Bantu name lost through time) had been a beautiful tucuma-skinned priestess and slave from Angola, green and unacculturated to Brazil.
Benedita vigorously prayed in her native Kimbundu as she pushed Zenza from her womb into the arms of the midwife. Benedita baptized the child in a small tub of fresh water, then anointed her head with herbal oils and the blood of a freshly-killed dove. The two women remarked on the beautiful serenity of Zenza's golden-brown face as she lay in her mother's arms, unaware of the misery and misfortune around them. It was almost certain to them that the child would be marked as a daughter of Dandalunda Kisimbi and would have the essence and protection of the maternal Inkise throughout her life. Benedita thus named her daughter after the river that had traversed her village in Angola.
Many years before Zenza’s birth, a restless force had begun to spread and insinuate itself into the spirits of many of the slaves, forcing upon them a nostalgic madness and quebranto -- a brokenness of the spirit -- that could only be extinguished by death. This quebranto left the slaves in a condition as if their bodies had been deeply perforated by an invasive dark magick, beckoning the most malevolent energies to infect their spirits.
Through her unwavering faith in the Inkises, Benedita had survived the long voyage across Kalunga, “the great grave of the sea”, the boundary between the world of the living and dead. For some of her fellow captive Africans though, they had thrown themselves overboard to be blanketed in the oceanic embrace of Queen Kaitumbá, who ruled over Kalunga. The fatal option of the slaves followed them from ship to plantation, facilitated by the fanatical belief that death would release their spirits to the homeland from which they had been so violently expelled. Most of the enslaved negros had imagined no possibility of returning to Mother Africa in that life, nor of freedom; and many crioulo slaves born into captivity had been deprived of ever knowing the continent like the boçal slaves, like Benedita. And as the white men furthered their crusade against the slaves and their old traditions in the name of profit and their disenfranchising religion, the collective mukí of the people on the plantation continued to wane.
Without a connection to the Inkises and ancestral spirits, many of the slaves forgot themselves and their inherited nobility as embattled warriors, proud sovereigns, respected medicine men, and stealthy hunters. Unable to receive or pass on the healing energies from the Inkises, they became spiritually-hijacked, zombies under the control of not only the sinhos and their even more malicious overseers, but of the mortal melancholy spreading across the plantations.
Benedita, among other boçal slaves from the Kongo, had believed that at birth sentient beings called mulunji inhabited empty bodies in the womb. With dark magick, it was possible that the mulunji could be prematurely driven from their bodies to a purgatory beyond the wardenship of Kaviungo "Lord of Diseases and Souls on Earth". There, the unfortunate souls would remain trapped until the body’s final breath of life. Benedita and the other healer-diviners suspected that the white clergymen visiting the sinhos had cast this curse to tame the slaves, not understanding its devastating power. They called the curse Banzo.
Swelling numbers of slaves took to these feverish narratives and eventually ended their lives, seeking immediate liberation from their suffering. Some through conventional methods of drowning, hanging, or slowly starving themselves; and others, in the most macabre ways — taking cutlasses and cane leaves to their wrists and necks, feeding themselves through millstones and the turning gears of the calumbá, leaping into boiling cane juice, swallowing handfuls of earth, and ingesting the hallucinogenic and lethal herbal potions of the beguiling witch doctors on the plantations and in nearby port towns. To the banzado -- those afflicted with Banzo -- the means was irrelevant so long as their broken and humbled spirits were carried from their earthly purgatory by the primordial mother Zumbarandá and guided by Matamba "Commander of the Dead" at the crossroads to the afterlife.
As the mukí of the enslaved peoples diminished on the plantations, so too did the magick of Old Africa. Soon, Banzo seemed unbreakable by even the most powerful magick of the caboclo and negro healer-diviners. Benedita, who had been fortunate enough to be spared from "sickle and hoe" work in the cane fields with the other boçal slaves, had been alternatively responsible for maintaining the containers in the sugarcane mill. For this reason, she had been more shielded from the penumbra of Banzo that easily tagged onto field slaves, shadowing their light of existence.
Before Zenza could even walk, Benedita had attracted the lustful eye of the plantation owner, Sinho Gonçalves, who became smitten after passing by the negrinha. Within the month, the Sinho had ordered Benedita and her newborn to be transferred from the senzalas of the field slaves to those nearer to the Casa Grande. Zenza and her mother were uprooted and callously separated from her father Isaias, who continued to work the fields until becoming banzado not long after his family's forced departure.
Yiara's face glowed with the memories of Mameto and O Centro de Doce Telekompensu, until she remembered her slippery slope to a life without family or friends, far from her motherland. She tongued around her mouth for the last bits of acarajé trying to delay the oncoming effects of withdrawal, which would inevitably send her plummeting back to her miserable reality. The echo of a woman's overweening voice began to pound at her subconscious. Words of malice, belittlement, and provocation beat at her. “Vai á merda piranha", Yiara silently cursed as she indulged herself with a final bite of the acarajé and rechanneled the memory of her grandmother.
Mameto anxiously descended and ascended the stairs from the ground level space housing the abassá and kitchen downstairs to several rooms in their modest upstairs apartment. She juggled several tasks: preparing an early supper of braised chicken with rice, reorganizing household items, shifting tilted wall decorations, browsing the groomed linen closet for kitchen towels, carrying glasses of fresh water and lit candles to the gongá in the center of the abassá, and before finally resting her feet, blessing a plate of xim-xim de galinha for Dandalunda Kisimbi.
Nearly desensitized to her grandmother's ritualistic behavior, seventeen-year-old Yiara sat outside on the balcony engrossed in a novel she had borrowed from the school library. Maria Bethania's “Yáyá Massemba” played in the background from her grandmother’s radio: “What a deep night in the bowels of a slave ship. What a long voyage listening to the music of the waves, the beats of a bird's heart in the depths of captivity. It is the semba of the slave world beating samba in my chest.”
Mameto stared at her granddaughter from the dining room table and rhythmically skirted across the off-white tile flooring inwardly singing along. She placed her hand on the side of the wooden shutter doors for balance chipping off a chunk of pale cerulean paint. Yiara pulled her nose from the book sensing the nimbus of her grandmother's presence. "Yes, Mameto?” she asked respectfully, though slightly irritated by the disturbance.
“Have you saluted Mãe Dandalunda Kisimbi yet? It's her day."
Yiara sighed and shook her head. She placed her book open on the cushioned wicker chair and followed the smell of the burning Hana-Noka incense downstairs to the abassá. She laid herself out upon the bamboo mat in front of the gongá at Dandalunda Kisimbi’s ornate crown and her earthenware terrina. The peacock feather-engraved terrina fashioned a dove on its lid and sat upon a yellow lace skirt encircled by yellow roses and white lilies, two small mirrors dressed in light blue ribbons, and a golden fan. With her arms at her side, Yiara touched her head to the floor and pendulated her body to both sides in a display of obeisance. “Mãe Dandalunda Kisimbi ê, Mother of Sweet Waters, thank you for your continuous protection and blessings over our home, the terreiro and irmandade, Mameto, and myself.” She inhaled the sweet aroma of the roses as she lifted herself from the mat. The sweetness lingered in Yiara's memory until she exhaled, resurfacing in reality.
Yiara’s eyes opened to a marble kitchen counter coated in vegetable skins, breadcrumbs, and soiled cooking utensils. "Saudades", she sulked. She licked the sauce from her fingers and reached for the metal ladle seated in the pot. She stared pensively at the scant amount of sauce left in the deep skillet and the remaining acarajé sitting naked in the platter. Yiara cut into the final acarajé, hollowed the inside with her thumb, and filled it meagerly with the remaining vatapá. "Just one more,” she declared timidly, aware that this momentary leisure time could appear as idleness to the Rezniks.
A violent slap disrupted her bite.
Yiara quickly wiped the smeared sauce from the side of her mouth and brushed it against her apron. Her cheeks burned aggressively, but she withheld from assuaging her face. Averting her eyes in the process, she slowly turned to face her assailant – Henrique's wife, Lucileide “Leide” Marie de Moraes.
“Yaya, what the hell do you think you're doing?” Yiara apologized, forsaking the litany of curses she would have lined up years before. "Stealing food from us now?" The petite woman forcefully slapped the unsullied acarajé from her hand to the brownstone parlor floor. The fritter glistened in the bars of sunlight that danced across the freshly polished floor. Yiara stared peripherally at the oily mess as the woman continued to berate her. She felt embers of anger for the woman's accusations, the waste of money and time invested in preparing the meal, and for the wasted magick in the acarajé that had briefly sent her home. Her anger subsided though as she became fraught over whether she should wait out the woman's diatribe or clean the floor before it spoiled the polish job. "Yaya! Are you listening to me?" the woman demanded, inflating her diminutive frame to intimidate her.
Yiara wished she were in the position to respond appropriately: "Puxa! Shut your lips venomous serpent! How dare you call me by that name!" But she bit her tongue instead.
At one point in the women's lives, the two had been inseparable. Yiara had called the bellicose woman standing before her “Lelê”, like a coconut pound cake, with the deepest feelings of love and friendship, and that woman had called her "Yaya". But now, with the deepest feelings of disdain and betrayal, Yiara had absolutely no intention or desire to ever reiterate such a term of endearment. It had been just a few years before that the two women had walked together across the black and white mosaic tiles of Largo de São Sebastião in Manaus eating steaming cuias de tacacá and happily recounting their childhood together and adult years apart. It had appeared to have been a serendipitous reunion, but that encounter would lead directly to Yiara’s entrapment.
For what reason and for what length of time is uncertain, but both Leide and Henrique had been deeply touched by some malefic magick or circumstance which had irrevocably poisoned their hearts and spilled over into the lives of those who unfortunately crossed roads with them. Had this not been the same plight that had befallen her ancestors – victims of negro and white men alike, corrupted by greed, fear, and hate?
Had a less naive version of herself requested translated immigration and working papers, or read deeper into Capataz’s foreboding restaurant logo, Yiara would have never ended up an indentured servant. Her first impression of Capataz had been its unnerving cartoon mascot on the logo – a bolas-carrying bandit dressed in long pleated trousers, leather boots, and a wide flat hat. The gaúcho grinned minaciously as if he had just bludgeoned the head of a feisty bull after bringing it to its knees with the bolas. It drudged up painful feelings of her parents’ deaths. Unfortunately, Yiara had been too captivated by the idea of reconnecting with Leide and escaping Brazil to heed the omen.
It had been Henrique, who after their initial meeting with Yiara in Manaus, had coaxed naive and weak-minded Leide, like the serpent of Eden, into beguiling her unwitting childhood friend into signing the illegitimate set of working papers and turning over her identification, for "safe keeping". Leide had initially been loath to the duplicitous scheme, but her experiences in life had changed her for the worst. Though Leide had felt underlying guilt for her part in Yiara's plight, those feelings were eviscerated upon discovery of Henrique's late-night visits to Yiara. This jealousy only fed into Leide’s corrupted moral and mistreatment of her former friend.
This all led Yiara to rename the portentous pair “The Harlot" and "The Trickster” interchangeably, as if they were the perverse embodiments of the mischievous Entidades Exu and Pambujila.
Leide continued to harangue the woman in the middle of the kitchen until her rebuke was disrupted by the heavy footsteps of Henrique's children descending the carpeted staircase. Two portly teenage boys rushed past the women to the front door. “Leide, let's go! We're late!” the smaller boy demanded.
The boys were both stocky like their father and baby-faced like their late mother. Ricardo, a freshman in middle school, permanently wore a grimace on his face as if he were contemplating something unpleasant. His younger brother Ebrahim, whom they called Coco, was the more jovial of the two. It was obvious that Leide had neither conceived nor given birth to them, or any child for that matter. She lacked the universal maternal instinct as well as the voluptuous childbearing physique to have done either. She was a bird-thin woman with enough vanity to vie against a dressing room of glitter-painted Carnaval dancers. As a woman of humble beginnings in Belém, she lived for the material luxuries Henrique provided her: fine clothes, jewelry, aged wines and champagnes, dethorned roses, and spa visits.
“Woman!” Coco shouted from the back seat of Leide's expensive birthday present. The harlot's beauty and youth could not win over all the males of the Reznik household. Leide pursed her lips and flared her nose. Thick blue veins – unusually evident for a woman her color – began to throb and protrude from her naked forehead. She massaged her temple in unnerving silence. Yiara swore smoking fire would accompany Leide's eventual exhalation, but instead, the beetroot red in her cashew-colored complexion softened. “Don't do this again,” the woman demanded in a heavy Portuguese accent, returning to her native tongue thereafter in another sporadic burst of ire. “Puxa! You still haven't learned. What if Henrique was standing here, not me?” Her voice shrilled slightly. A thought passed quickly through Yiara's mind if Leide still felt a morsel of compassion for her, or at least penitence.
A serpentine grin took shape on Leide's face preceding the venom that spit from her mouth. “Remember what happened last time?” As long as Yiara's hands wore those second degree burn scars, she would remember. Each morning and evening Yiara rubbed a proteinous mixture of andiroba oil and animal tallow on her right hand to aid the mending process. It had been three weeks.
“We're helping you. We brought you to America, gave you a job, and took you into our home from out of squalor with that Indio boat man,” Leide proclaimed contemptuously about Yiara's ex-partner. “And yet you thank us by neglecting your chores to stuff your face and daydream. Folgada! So lazy.” She spoke in English once more, clearly trying to embarrass the English illiterate woman. “Don't bite the hand that feeds you.”
Yiara grasped the gist of her statement, having learned enough words over time from an atypical process of cultural assimilation: insults, overheard conversations, television shows, and the labels and pictures on grocery products. She nodded apologetically and quickly set the remaining fritters in a Tupperware container.
“Bring me the quindão.” The harlot adjusted the oversized sunglasses pulling back her Keratin-straightened almond hair smelling sweetly of coconut oil. She casually yanked at the patterned sundress barely covering her thighs before receiving the creamy coconut pannacotta Yiara had removed from the fridge. “And open a window. That oil stinks.”
Yiara began to clean the kitchen after Leide had pulled out of the driveway in her gleaming convertible with its notable logo emblazoned on the front. As she rubbed softly at the oily residue on the kitchen floor, she began to snicker maniacally. It was the first time she had laughed in weeks. On all fours, Yiara felt like a dog sniffing around for food that had rolled off of someone's plate. In fact, she had eaten the breaded part of the tossed fritter before cleaning the mess on the floor. She had even frozen in her place anticipating the next nostalgic adventure, but the bite accomplished nothing beyond satiating her appetite.
Laughing harder, Yiara found it ironic that the Reznik family treated her so much like a dog. The boys were so fond of calling her deplorable cognomens, like “mutt”, “cachorra”, and “cadela cafuza", that she very often wanted to bite a healthy chunk of flesh from each of their fat appendages and rear ends. "It would make a delicious iscas com elas or feijoada," she jested to herself. "Reznik,” she pronounced as if the name ended with an -ie-, “could not taste much different from beef liver or pork hide. I would chew merrily on the bony body of Leide for dessert. She's the real cadela."
Any meal other than the leftovers from the delicious meals Yiara cooked for the Rezniks, which sometimes there never were, would have tasted better than the usual frozen dinner meals and snacks she spent her meager wages on. Sadly, even those meals could end up in the children's stomachs.
Despite the meek objections of his wife, Sinho Gonçalves assigned Benedita as a cook in the kitchen; and within a year, the negrinha had become a wet nurse to the Sinho's newborn twins and to her own son by him, whom she named after her people, Ndembu. The Sinho's wife spent those first years threatened by his affections for Benedita and eager to torment the slave with her power and privilege as a white woman; however, as Sinho Gonçalves became distracted by other affairs, she slowly grew to appreciate Benedita for the excellent meals and enriching tales she shared with the household.
Benedita would spend her remaining years on the plantation in the Casa Grande, entertaining the children of the house with the Amazonian folklore of the caboclos and Bantu tales of her people. She told of Zambi’s creation of the omniverse; of Kimbungo, the great beast that ate little children like the Amazonian Besta-Fera; of the shipwrecked sailor who married Kaitumbá; of Kariampemba, the horned beast who devours the souls of men; of a war between light and dark wizards; and of Mamba Muntu and Mboiaçu, snake-like water nymphs who capture fishermen by their shadows and drown them. Each day, Zenza and Ndembu would jubilantly enact these stories of Old Africa with the Sinho’s children and the servants’ children who were still young enough to enjoy certain liberties while in captivity — for children born of slaves were still slaves and not exempt from labor.
In the afternoons, Benedita would prepare sweet and savory snacks for the wife, children, and servants: quindim, sweetened porridges, pamonha, tapioca couscous with açai, cheese bread, and fruit-filled pastels. Though, on the Christian holy days, when the slaves were allowed to recuperate from the work’s week and attend church, Benedita cooked for a greater purpose. As the Mameto Mulambi among the slaves, she prepared the makuriá for the Inkises and would lay it on the gongá in the slave church, which they guised as a shrine to the Christian gods and saints.
The slaves’ religious practices and calundus had been banned years before for what the sinhos and visiting clergy described as ceremonies of profane dancing, animal sacrifices, idolatrous altars, cacophonous drumming, and dogmatic devil songs and spells. Thus, both the enslaved negros and caboclos, who refused to relinquish the heritage they still possessed, had syncretized their old traditions with Christianity to practice in the open.
As Zenza grew into womanhood, she began to ration her time with the other children and instead help her mother gather ingredients and prepare meals in the kitchen, whilst secretly learning how to cook the makuriá. She also became a maidservant and close companion to the Sinho's daughter, as well as the target of the lascivious pursuits and predatory whims of visiting gentry come to see him; men who would whisper foul words in her ears and unabashedly grope her curves. Zenza, though, unlike her negro and caboclo sisters, could safely retaliate by treating the men with indifference and seeking safety at the side of her wardress or her love interest, the Sinho’s caboclo foreman, Kauan. To her mother’s liking, his Tupí name bared an uncanny likeness to Kwanza, the riverine province in which she had lived before being stolen away.
Zenza, like her mother, was well aware of her lack of privilege as a dark-skinned woman, and yet had no yearning to “whiten” herself or integrate herself into Portuguese society through the camaraderie of the Sinho’s daughter or through concubinage to white men (who commonly took negro mistresses). She relished her relative freedom but knew it could not compare to the freedom and nobility Ndembu could be granted through manumission as the son of Sinho Gonçalves.
To the utter shock of Zenza and heartbreak of Benedita though, after some regrettable mischief while playing with the Sinho’s youngest son, twelve-year-old Ndembu was sent to the senzalas of the “sickle & hoe” slaves to live and work in the sugar mill away from his family. Benedita had pleaded for forgiveness to the Sinho to no avail, as the boy's mischief had resulted in the emotional stress of a houseguest. Under such duress, Benedita had been left with no other option than to smother her feelings in licentiousness with the Sinho, hoping that he would dissipate her fears and protect their children from all harm.
She feared they would never see Ndembu again; she feared he would become acculturated to slavery and the white man's supremacy; she feared he would die brutally at the angry whims of an overseer, having been brought up in the luxurious dissipation of life in the Case Grande; but moreover, she feared that Ndembu would face a fate like Zenza's father Isaias: Banzo.
Yiara's leisure time was rare, as infrequent as any kindness exchanged by the Rezniks; for activities outside her household and restaurant responsibilities were another setback in settling her debt. Her days were long, averaging fifteen hours, and rife with hardship – between cooking, cleaning, restaurant work, and the debilitating nostalgia clawing within herself. Her nights were longer. Nights at the Reznik household were a tale of misery for Yiara. In the beginning, the setting of the sun was a blessing, her only respite from a perpetual state of unease; until the night Nostalgia and Melancholy surreptitiously followed behind into her bed and spooned her into an uncomfortable state of insomnia. It was a warm embrace compared to that of a less pleasant nightly tenant: Henrique.
Henrique had become dissatisfied with his subjectively harmless sexual harassment of the negrinha and expected more from his charge. He had laid claim to her body as he had with her freedom, as had Sinho to Benedita. With the body of an American football lineman,\ and with sovereignty over her employment, lodging, and a passport she had not seen since she arrived at the airport, Yiara was in no position to rebuff his advances. In those late-night hours, she feigned sleep to dissuade the unwanted, wandering appendages of her employer who developed the habit of creeping into her lockless room. It rarely worked. She was silenced into submission as he forced himself upon her as he pleased, just meters from where Leide lay awake in her half-empty bed, completely aware of her husband’s brazen infidelity. The conjugal visits increased as Henrique began experiencing trouble with the expansion of “Capataz” into Mexico City and a precarious partnership deal with a cattle rancher in California. “Never do business with your friends,” she overheard him say to Ricardo. No one knew this better than Yiara.
Yiara knew though that Henrique’s visits were merely the tip of the iceberg, and lurking beneath the surface was Henrique's display of a crystal-framed photo of his late wife Priscilla on the desk of his study rather than of Leide. This was the price Leide had ostensibly paid marrying a wealthy widower, twenty years her junior. The couple had united at a crossroads of love, sex, pain, and death. For Henrique, love and anguish for his dying wife Priscilla, the mother of his two children. Lust for his demanding and enchanting mistress. Love for his culinary vision. Pain for the deaths of his wife and his mother, the woman who bequeathed her love of cooking to him. For Leide, love for a callous and reticent man with admirable, unwavering passion (though not necessarily for her). Desire for his growing wealth. Pain from within herself, from her feelings of powerlessness even in the bed of a powerful man.
The more Leide perceived his emotional and physical absence, the more antagonistic and fervid her nature became towards both Henrique and Yiara. The unwholesome couple's baleful admonitions became more impassioned and frequent each day; and at the pinnacle of her frustrations, Leide took her aggressions out on Yiara like a jealous yet powerless plantation wife on a slave.
Yiara could sense Leide’s vulnerable state when left in private though – eyes always watery and emotive like a sacred animal at the mercy of a hunter. Her marriage vows had been desecrated, her dignity insulted, and her pride wounded. Leide pitied herself as a martyr for the marriage (for divorce from her would not be an option), and yet, she felt no empathy or compassion for the unfortunate victim of her husband’s perfidy – a woman with whom she had shared her fondest memories. Her poisoned heart felt nothing for the condition of shame, abuse, and misery in which she had placed Yiara; and like Henrique, Leide had begun to exercise a sadistic and vindictive power over Yiara.
Nearly a decade had passed. Fearing slave rebellion and loss of labor through the scourge of Banzo, the plantation owners in the region, against the wishes of the local priests, resolved to pacify the slaves who had yet to become banzado. Zenza’s husband, Kauan, who served as the intermediary between Sinho Gonçalves and the slaves, had furtively gained insight into the vulnerabilities of the plantation and convinced the Sinho to permit the slaves to carry out their calundus on the evening of Christian Mass to promote community approbation. Thus, Kauan, driven to protect Zenza and their unborn child, used the opportunity to organize an escape for their family, including Ndembu.
Little had the plantation owners known that the rejuvenation and reclamation of this “unholy” ceremony had once again evoked the divine energies and become the instruments of the slaves' transformation and resistance to Banzo and their penitent oppressors. The calundus sustained their hope and traditions, and provided a way to communicate with themselves, the ancestral spirits, and the Inkises. And thus, the people survived: through the vital energies emanating from the chorales and drumming. The music fed their mukí and implanted in them a sensation of freedom — freedom from the pain in their mutilated, crippled, and beaten bodies, and from Banzo. They soon discovered that their enslavement was not in shackles, iron masks, or pillories, but in their minds and spirits.
As the calundus continued, more caboclos and negros rose from the ashes of slavery like the mythical firebird. They returned to their noble conditions and broke free from their shackles. The magick slowly returned to the senzalas, and soon, they began slipping from out of their captors’ control, fleeing the plantations to freedom.
Ndembu and Zenza, who had been distanced from each other for so many years, would reunite during an evening calundu. Amongst the distracting drumming and dancing of one of the calundus, Kauan and the siblings fled to an abandoned indigenous settlement in the floresta.
Over time, the trio and other fugitive slaves built fortified settlements in the fecundity of the floresta called mocambos. The Inkises Mutalambô and Mutakalambô, who had dominion over the hunt and the deepest entreaties of the forests – to where the sun's rays could not touch the earth – bequeathed the knowledge of the floresta to the fugitives through the shamans of indigenous tribes; and with the thickening of the floresta, they made the fugitive slaves invisible to the predatory capitães do mato and wild dogs hunting them from the plantations.
Dandalunda Kisimbi, whom they called Mãe Cachoeira “Mother of the Waterfall”, helped the fugitive slaves and natives safely navigate a treacherous labyrinth of waterways to the crown of a waterfall where they hid in its heavy mist; all the while, luring the pursuant capitães do mato with deceivingly calm waters to implacable rapids, which would ultimately drag their shanties over her precipitous waterfalls.
With the protection of the Inkises, the fugitive slaves escaped cohorts of soldiers, overseers, and vicious dogs, who all too soon disappeared in the green inferno, falling prey to white waters, ravenous beasts, and eventually, the warrior forces of the kilombos.
The trio, among others, became adept in magical herbalism, navigation, and the machete-wielding martial arts of capoeira and tudundun. And through the magick of healer-diviners, they transformed into powerful calhambolas divined with preternatural powers, with the ability to glide effortlessly across the tree canopies and cloak themselves with invisibility during robberies of trade posts and passing caravans. The calhambolas manifested these stratified mocambos into great kilombos, hidden cafuzo kingdoms protected by wooden palisades, pitfalls, and caltrop-lined pathways. Both became subjects of wonder and terror for white men.
That evening, after the family had eaten and Yiara had cleaned, she retired outside to “her” stone bench underneath the Rezniks' magnificent Crapemyrtle tree. It was the centerpiece of their property — a forty-foot-tall shady respite on the broiling summer days that rivaled hot season in Pará and a dreamscape to escape to a hundred meters from her daily nightmare. A brilliant display of the tree's clustered pink and lavender flowers grew umbrella-like over half the yard, illuminated by a half dozen white and pink landscape lights. Yiara shuffled along the freshly manicured lawn towards the tree, staring upward at the darkening sky and contrasting brightness of the moon and stars. The air felt refreshingly crisp after having stood over a heated oven and stove for several hours in the soupy summer heat. She shivered a bit. The hair on her arms rose and her skin prickled like a chicken. She sat down, rubbing down her arms to generate warmth.
Yiara felt safest here. If she closed her eyes and listened to the songs of nature, it almost felt at times that she was no longer in Austin, but transported back to nights in Iranduba with her "Indío boy", the time between when the town had begun to sleep and Nature had begun to awaken.
As Yiara sat on her bench enjoying the complacency of the evening, Leide approached her from behind. “Yaya.” Yiara stood up immediately, too surprised to be perturbed. “Henrique has a potential partner coming to stay with us Thursday night,” she said in Portuguese. I want you to prepare churrasco, given the occasion. Take this for the meat, vegetables, and whatever else is needed.” Yiara accepted the money. “As usual, bring me the receipt and change afterward.”
“I'll need to take a bus to the feira to get the ingredients. I can prepare and marinade the meats tomorrow evening and get everything else done on Thursday, if I'm excused from shift at Capataz.” Yiara typically cooked her churrasco meats with a mixture of rock salt, cachaça rum, and milk. She searched Leide's eyes for approval. Leide acknowledged Yiara's servility and her own authority, then nodded.
"I'll let Henrique know. Don't fuck this up Yaya. This dinner is a big deal for us."
The dinner would be a grossly lucrative meal for the Rezniks if Henrique succeeded in brokering a deal with Manoel dos Arcos, a Paraguayan-born cattle rancher-cum-entrepreneur with ranches in South Texas, Nebraska, and Kansas. The partnership would expand the Capataz chain into two new states and boost profits for the business overall.
She walked back towards the house. “Hey,” Leide exclaimed as she paused mid-walk, “Do you know how to make that tangy juice your grandmother used to make for churrascos? I've been craving it lately for some strange reason. Even though I haven't had it in years."
“Aruá?” Yaya answered, thinking of the slightly alcoholic drink Mameto would brew from pineapple peels, crushed ginger, brown sugar, spices, and orange juice. Mameto would also serve the aruá with the makuriá at toques in the terreiros.
“Yes, yes. That's it." Leide smugly waved her pointer finger in the air as if she had remembered the name. "I want a pitcher of that at the dinner. Make it strong."
"Ok, but that takes about four days to make."
"Well you have two," she negated as she walked away back to the house.
Yiara sat back down on the bench and thought about her yesteryears with Leide in Belém, before she and her family had moved to Curitiba. Beyond her first year in Austin, there had been very few instances when Leide referenced her childhood with Yiara. It seemed to be a period in her life she was ashamed of.
As girls, they would invite themselves over to their neighbors' churrascos, not only for a coveted link of spicy sausage or a juicy cut of steak, but for the impromptu lundum and carimbó performances by the local musicians. The instant the men began to play the curimbo drums and wooden flutes, Yiara and Leide would be the first to dance onto the planked stage area attempting to emulate the hops and sensual spins they had seen women perform. Yiara recalled how sexy they thought they had looked as they held out their unspectacular dresses to make them flow in the air as they sang. Yiara tried to remember the words to their favorite carimbó song: "The carimbó did not die, it’s back again. The carimbó never dies, who sings the carimbó is I. I’m a poisonous snake, a hard nut to crack. I'm a venomous snake, careful, I'll bite you!’”
"I'm a venomous snake, careful…," she repeated more pensively.
As Yiara ambled on that summer day to the farmer’s market to gather the ingredients for the Reznik’s churrasco, she passed by a pushcart on the sidewalk and its owner, an aging kitandeira who appeared as if she had been selling her scarce samplings of seasonal fruits and vegetables uninterrupted for generations. Unfortunately, the kitandeira’s homely pushcart lacked the appeal or wholesome selection to divert Yiara or choice-conflicted customers from passing on to the local feira, the city's popular farmers' market a mere few blocks away. As Yiara passed by, she merely nodded at the old black woman sitting on a high stool, smoking a wooden cachimbo full of fragrant tobacco. The trails of white smoke followed Yiara like a shadow. As she continued towards the farmers' market, the old woman coolly pulled the cachimbo from her lips and asked Yiara if she had eaten enough that day. For a moment she heard Mameto in the woman. “You look like you've had a sour day. Have a sweet, won't you?” Even without words, Yiara thought that even without words, her fretting and profound exhaustion were vivid to strangers. She bit the inside of her lip as she contemplated the kitandeira’s offer, but the woman’s voice was jocular and inviting. "Come filha," she continued in Portuguese. “My name is Dona Edna Macumbira.” A curious Yiara meandered back in her direction.
Before she could ask how this unfamiliar woman had known her mother tongue, the woman caressed her own neck, gesturing the waist-length guias Yiara wore. Yiara felt her body defrost and smiled warmly. “Saravá! Môkoiu!” This woman must be in the comunidade, she reasoned.
“Môkoiu no Zambi,” God bless you, the kitandeira responded. Despite the paltry sum Yiara was certain Dona Edna earned from her goods, the kitandeira impressed upon Yiara that she felt maternally obliged to endow the inadequately fed woman with a sweet apple or peach.
Yiara immediately felt comfortable with the kitandeira and decided to delay her trip to the feira. As the two women conversed, Yiara soon discovered that the old woman did indeed remind her of Mameto. She had a similarly reassuring maternal wisdom and palliative energy as her grandmother. Dona Edna's eyes were large and tragicomic, and her deep brown skin wrinkled and weathered by the sun. She wore a red head scarf, sunflower-colored shawl, and faded teal dress that hugged her robust figure.
The kitandeira’s produce stand reminded Yiara uncannily of the kitanda that had been located across the street from her home in Pedreira, "Manna: Frutería dos Santos". Her first love, Marcio dos Santos, had sold fresh produce at Manna from his family's sítio two hours outside of Belém in the countryside. The kitanda had fashioned a fading green awning and iron-gated cemented patio, which it shared with the neighboring late-night boteco and luncheonette. Even in memory, she salivated over the sweet-smelling assortment of tropical fruit ambrosia she would never find in Texas. Dona Edna's stand was no comparison to that of Manna though, but it gave Yiara the positive feelings of nostalgia that could help her get through another week of her imprisonment.
The kitandeira had open ears, and thus, Yiara progressively enumerated the afflictions and losses she had suffered since the death of her grandmother and her departure from Brazil. “Well it started with the death of my grandmother about seven years ago...”
Yiara had just matriculated at the university to study gastronomy when her grandmother had become terminally ill. She returned to Pedreira for a semester to care for her grandmother, who died several months later. Due to her grandmother's privileged position as an elder and high priestess in the comunidade however, the funeral rites lasted for a year. Consequently, Yiara fell behind in her studies and moved back to Belém to search for work, which was scarce and uninspiring — cosmetologists, boutique managers, secretarial and teaching assistant positions.
After having experienced only a taste of what was supposed to be the next chapter of her life, she struggled to liberate herself from the asphyxiating experience of living again in, what she described as, a perpetual state of backwardness and poverty. Thus, a restless Yiara wandered aimlessly from city to city in Amazonia until she arrived in Manaus. The city was a magnet for people from across Amazonia in search of a better, more cosmopolitan life than they could find in the drylands and floresta; though many found similar levels of destitution and marginalization. It seemed to Yiara that her fate was sealed.
One day, while shopping at the Feira De Artesanato, she met Cacildo Marin, an Amazonas River boat guide for a small sustainable tourism company. He was a stately caboclo from a riverine community with diaphanous sea-green eyes, and a bulbous nose and sharp ears like his Tupí predecessors. Cacildo was in port for the week waiting for the arrival of a group of university students. Their destination: an indigent mocambo on the Rio Trombetas fighting displacement and encroachment upon their ancestral lands by two massive infrastructure projects. Yiara was intrigued by not only the charm of the caboclo, but particularly for the uncanny similarity of his work to the activism of her late parents. Within months, she had moved in with Cacildo across the bridge in nearby Iranduba and continued to work steadily as an attendant at the Teatro Amazonas in Manaus.
Years later, Yiara still dreamed of Iranduba often, despite its lackluster appeal. Iranduba was an undeveloped jungle town on the river with a papaya grove on its outskirts, a bush-pilot airport, a handful of lackadaisical stores and tourist lodges, a dock for loading produce onto narrow speedboats to be delivered to riverine villages, and some botecos that blared technobrega and forró music loud enough to knock the sleeping doves, antbirds, and purple martins from the trees. Their apartment was not very spacious or attractive, but it was a place they could call home together.
"It was a crazy love; but I knew in my heart that his magnetism to the sea would always be greater than for me. He was definitely a child of Kaitumbá, Iêmanjá”, she avowed. “So when Leide offered me a job at Capataz, I couldn't say no. I thought that that was a step towards becoming something. A few years in the U.S.A. learning the art of cooking and restaurant management, then I could return to Brazil to start fresh.” Yiara pondered her slippery slope to indentured servitude and stared somberly at Dona Edna. “But she had a tongue of honey." Yiara became mortified by the tears she felt streaming down her face. “I was naïve, a fool.”
“No, Yiara,” Dona Edna interjected, “Calma, filha. You were hopeful. This is good. Only fools give up hope."
Once Yiara had become attuned to the Rezniks’ deception, she had declared the date of her return home. She had vowed to overcome her oppressive state as her ancestors had, pay her way out of debt, and become more than just a waitress at a steakhouse. She had been replete with hope, but each day of her imprisonment passed without plan or progress towards a return; and almost unconsciously, she would set another departure date, which again, never came. Thus, the naively optimistic immigrant, youthful but waning in ebullience and spirit, continued on, denying the truth of her reality, slowly losing herself and her spiritual connection to the Inkises and Entidades in the indulgence of memories and false hopes.
A boot-wearing Manoel dos Arcos arrived early the following evening, ignorant of the grueling work that Yiara had put into preparing the meal which adorned the dining room table: arroz de carreteiro with farofa, grilled sirloin steak and chicken hearts, pico de gallo, tainha na telha, fried plantains, red rice and beans, grilled vegetables, and mingau de tapioca for dessert. It was enough for a half-dozen people. To Yiara’s dismay, there had been a multitude of things to do in half a day that she had been too rushed to even think outside of kitchen work, let alone travel memory lane as she often did when she cooked certain Brazilian dishes.
She was particularly punctilious when guests visited the Rezniks. In her first year working for the harlot and the trickster, she had burned a pot roast while multitasking and had to quickly cook a baked lasagna dish as a substitute while the guests waited in the living room. As punishment, Henrique whipped her hands repeatedly with a metal spatula after the guests had left. Even with sprained and swollen fingers, Yiara continued cooking and completing household chores for the week. She had had no other choice.
This evening though had gone exceptionally well. The men indulged themselves in conversation, barbecued meat, and cognac like gauchos of the drylands after a long day of marking their territory and tending to their livestock under the intense heat of the sun. Meanwhile, wearing her best trophy wife façade, an increasingly intoxicated Leide sat at the table drinking from the pitcher of rum-infused aruá and laughing at Manoel’s stories of his early days of livestock rearing.
Yiara remained invisible most of the evening, which was preferred, except for a few innocuous propositions made by Manoel. Apart from that, the Paraguayan man sitting at the table had an avuncular essence about him. He was charming and spoke kindly to Yiara and chided Leide when she reprimanded her for silly mistakes, or no mistakes at all. The power play among the people in the Reznik's dining room had shifted and Yiara favored the conversion. Yiara stepped outside and exhaled deeply, relieved that she would not be beaten for some mishap that night.
Later that night, Yiara hosted a quite inebriated Manoel upstairs to her room. Henrique and Leide followed behind, flirtatiously bantering and teasing each other, as Yiara presumed they had done more frequently in the honeymoon stage of their relationship. Yiara opened the door to the sparsely furnished bedroom. She had already moved her belongings to the pantry downstairs, where she slept when a guest visited. The advantage to this arrangement was a peaceful night’s rest away from Henrique.
The cream-colored room was furnished with a double bed, night table, dresser, standing lamp, and cushioned sofa chair by the window. A colorful painting of Serra do Mar in Paraná hung above the sofa chair. As she waited for unspoken consent from Henrique to descend the stairs to her sleeping place, Manoel whispered to him. Henrique hesitated, clearly in thought, then looked about her with a proprietary grin. “Insomnia. How horrid! Of course, Yiara can keep you company through the night.”
Yiara felt her chest tighten and body stiffen. Manoel may have been attractive three decades before, but she inwardly recoiled at the thought of his sun-spotted pasty skin, thinning hair, moist lips, and protruding beer belly “keeping her company”. Her dislike for him curdled like expired milk; but understanding what she had to do to keep her employers satisfied, she contorted her face into a blank mask, willing her eyes not to fill with tears. She sluggishly walked into the room. Manoel eagerly staggered in behind her and closed the door.
Manoel had the sadistic calm of a predator that had cornered its prey. As the sexagenarian approached her, Yiara resolved to remove herself completely from the moment, her life, herself. Even with her faculties and the link to the divine, healing energies intact, Yiara felt as if her body were not hers but the property of Henrique, her sinho. She could not control the situation and could not escape. She painfully surrendered.
Yiara gingerly crept from the room at twilight as the Paraguayan lay sprawled and unconscious on the bed as if she were still between himself and the pillow.
Until the diameter of the sun had fully risen above the colossal Crapemyrtle tree, she spent the early morning in the downstairs bathroom vigorously scrubbing clean at her body and nether regions as if coated in the nauseating smell of his flesh and fluids. She could still hear a replaying of the old man’s faint grunting as he used her. She sang aloud to distract herself from the traumatic memory. She dug in her mind for songs that could bring her home to Belém, to moments with Mameto, who in this hour, would have been able to assuage her pain and brew a contraceptive tincture from roots and herbs.
Yiara felt, in this moment, the anxiety and disgust that usurped her relative peace of mind each morning after Henrique's nightly visits. It had been months since she had last prayed; nonetheless, Yiara placed an expresso saucer with honey before her and prayed weakly to her ancestors and guardian Inkise to spare her from more heartache and misfortune. She felt that a child borne through the violation of her body and soul would be an unwanted lifelong burden and a staggering reminder of the hell in which she had been held captive. Moreover, she feared that Henrique would have resorted to any means necessary to erase evidence of a child conceived by him (or a friend).
“Mãe Dandalunda Kisimbi ê, Mother of Fertility and Motherhood, please, take me back to your realm and bathe me in your waters. Cleanse my body of its foulness. Mãe Benedita, Mãe Zenza, Mameto, Mamãe, and the other matriarchs of my line, give me light, give me strength to get through this,” she implored. "In my dreams, please show me the way to…I cannot carry another burden."
As she prayed, Yiara recalled her first and last meeting with Dandalanda Kisimbi. After several of Henrique’s nightly visits in the beginning, Yiara had been left barely walking through each day in a terrifying fog of uncertainty. With the continued absence of her menses, it was clear to her another soul was growing within her and there would be serious implications for this. On the night of this realization, in the dream state of her fragmented sleep, Dandalunda Kisimbi appeared to Yiara to bless the seed growing within her womb. The beautiful divinity floated beside her daughter’s bed, swathed in a halo of moonlight and adorned in a gossamer fabric of gold interwoven with shells and ornaments. Yiara pleaded to her divine mother for compassion until the goddess took Yiara’s hand in hers. She carried her to the forested shore of an ethereal lake dimly illuminated by a waxing crescent moon and curious aquatic bioluminescence. “Bathe in my enchanted waters and you shall be cleansed,” she directed in a spellbinding voice, though her lips did not move. Yiara sauntered into Dandalanda Kisimbi's refreshing cool waters and immediately felt purged of the agitation and stress within herself. The next morning, Yiara had woken to find a reassuring crimson stain on her bed sheets.
That was then; but on this morning, Yiara felt more disconnected from her guardian Inkise than she ever had before.
That afternoon, Henrique and his guest causally left the house, neither acknowledging Yiara’s presence, save a distasteful smirk from Manoel as he left his coffee mug on the counter for her. A giddy Leide approached Yiara at the sink. “Cheers to us! He signed the contract. Good job Yaya.” Leide made no effort to contain her elation.
Her insensitivity burned at Yiara's thoughts displacing the disturbing thoughts from the night before. She was certain that Leide knew what had transpired the night before between Manoel and herself. Yiara felt an overwhelming sense of humiliation and anger, and a vile sensation percolating deep within herself. Her head started spinning as the familiar lurch she had felt in the doorway to the bedroom the night before re-emerged. She felt suffocated and nauseous. Every thought, flow, beat, and pump in her body felt as if they had frozen. Her mind flooded with numbness, followed by a drought of spirit and self. That hopeless despair, Banzo, gripped at the splintered woman with its beastly teeth and gnawed at her raw soul.
The harlot and trickster had finally robbed Yiara of her last warm-blooded emotions, and her fight to neutralize the angst she had been feeling for years withered. She ached to forget the event, to move on with her life. She hated herself for the weakness of her actions and how much she had lowered her standards of happiness in pursuit of happiness. Had all of this been worth it, Yiara thought as she thinly sliced a bouquet of cabbage. Is this worth the American Dream? As she looked up from the kitchen counter, she caught the reflection in the window of a sallow-faced woman. Her empty eyes swallowed her like two black holes. She had become a hollowed-out shell of herself, devoid of all that made her human. She had become banzado.
Yiara listlessly walked to Dona Edna’s fruit stand the next day seeking anything to alleviate the discomfort within herself — solace, guidance, subtle approval from the wise woman to end her suffering. Dona Edna immediately saw the desperation in her face and inquired. “Dona, I don’t feel here. My body feels emptied; and I feel gone, lost somewhere else.” Yiara hunched over on the sidewalk. “The darkness is all around me and within me. And I can’t escape.”
“Banzo.” Dona Edna took a drag from her cachimbo. Her ash-colored puffs lingered in the stiff June air. “This is dark magick that took many from us.” She guided the despondent woman to a stoop. “Listen to me, filha. I, too, have been the victim of greed and iniquity. It is a darkness that sweeps over a man's soul like locusts in the desert night. I have known disgrace like a mulatta maid in the Casa Grande praising Zambi that her dark-skinned mother became mistress to the sinho. I have known the wrath and jealousy of a sinha who gouges out the eyes of her husband's negra mistress or knocks her teeth out with a hammer. I have known imprisonment and invisibility on plantations and in the senzalas, and fear and uncertainty crossing rapids and fleeing capitães do mato through the trackless floresta. But despite all of this, I, never abandoned hope, for I have also known peace in amocambamento, in refuge.”
"Amocambamento?” Yiara finally responded, perplexed by Dona Edna's sermon. She was especially bewildered by her use of antiquated Portuguese, which sounded similar to the songs and incantations the irmandade recited in Centro de Doce Telekompensu.
“In the mocambos”, Dona Edna clarified. Still bewildered, Yiara reasoned that the old woman had been a victim of forced labor, tricked and enslaved by gatos into clearing forested areas for big farmers. Subsequently, she inundated her with questions. Dona Edna shook her head unfavorably and ignored Yiara. “My child, your fear becomes you. You want to go home? Then go my child, as your ancestors could not. You were not forced from your home as they were, and you are not tethered by shackles on your body as they were.” Yiara nodded her head listlessly in shame as Dona Edna continued to smoke from her cachimbo.
Yiara stroked her guias and recollected the many stories Mameto and the elders had told her of the calhambolas and their strength. She stared absently at the kitandeira’s repetitive movements, her uniform outfit, the tease of her hidden guias, the old-fashioned wood-carved pipe sitting on her lips. It seemed so familiar.
“The calhambolas didn’t liberate themselves on hope alone. They had to fight for it. you lost your warrior spirit? You have convinced yourself that what you have is better than nothing; but that thinking has brought you nothing but aggravation, abuse, and a deep sadness. Free yourself from this quebranto of spirit.” Dona Edna returned the cachimbo to her lips for another drag. “Never forget where you came from. You are a reflection of your ancestors. Their spirit, your spirit resides in the heart.”
Yiara stood up slowly, tears cascading down her face. “As long as the heart continues to beat, life exists and the divine energies of the Inkises exist.” She realized the true identity of Dona Edna. The old kitandeira she had been talking to for weeks was a Preta Velha, the sagacious female spirit of an old slave. Yiara gasped and fell to her knees, taking the hand of Dona Edna in hers. “What is your name?”
She grinned widely. “They called me Edna da Cachoeira. I am a child of the Waterfalls.”
“Mãe Dandalunda Kisimbi ê!” Yiara spoke fervently to the Entidade of her guardian Inkise. She had arrived to Dona Edna ready to give her life to Banzo, only to depart with a renewal of faith and recharging of her mukí.
“Kukula mu kiri kia Zambi, filha!” Grow in the truth of God, the Preta Velha bid farewell in the language of their Bantu ancestors.
Yiara reflected on her encounter with the mystical Preta Velha over the following week. She understood her two options: fight for her freedom and existence as her parents had done, or take flight for the same, escape her captors as her great ancestors had.
She soon returned to town to seek more guidance from the Preta Velha. To her relief, Dona Edna was still sitting behind her homely stand smoking a cigarette. “Môkoiú Mameto Edna! What happened to your cachimbo?”
“Excuse me, miss?" she replied.
“Mameto, why are you speaking English?” Both she and the old black woman stared quizzically at each other.
“I'm sorry ma'am. I have no idea what you're saying. Do you want something? You need help?” She slid off the stool and hobbled from behind the stand. She wore Dona Edna’s same sunflower-colored shawl fashioned with a teal blouse and loose denim jeans.
Yiara understood that she had been abandoned. The spirit of Preta Velha had manifested herself through the body of this woman and suddenly retreated when Yiara needed her most. Yiara collected herself and apologized to the concerned vendor.
Without further guidance from the Preta Velha, Yiara found herself naturally drawn to the kitchen to resolve her dilemma. As if moved and directed by the spirit of Mameto, she began preparing a favorite dish of Mutalambô. "Ma-sam-bala," she heard her grandmother enunciate in her ear. Yiara separated the cooking corn into two small pots. She would prepare the makuriá for Mutalambô as an offering and use the extra corn to cook sweet cornbread. Once the corn had cooked and been seasoned with coriander and basil, Yiara mixed a cup of grated onion, peanut powder, and molasses into the pot until it blended into a porridge. For lack of fresh coconut, she decoratively garnished the Masambala with dried coconut flakes.
Yiara walked to the back of the Crapemyrtle tree and laid out her scarce offerings on a white cotton cloth — a cigar, a shot of Pignata cachaça she had taken from Henrique’s alcohol cabinet, and a bowl of the Masambala. She lowered herself to the ground and called upon the Guardians of the Seven Crossroads, Entidades of Mutalambô, to give her guidance and reorient her towards the correct path.
“May the earth bear witness that in this place I, Yiara Valdilene Barbosa, salute the powers of Pãe Mutalambô and his Entidades Pambujila, Exu, and Caboclo of the Seven Crossroads. With these offerings, I forge a link in the present time with my ancestors from the past so that you, who know everything about my past, may chart my future and my path. Entidades of choice, change, and chance, I entreat you to knock down the barriers, fill the holes, drive away Banzo, my enemies, and any and all instability, envy, sickness, and fear that blocks the road towards love, harmony, and success!”
Yiara woke the next morning with a renewal of hope. She opened her eyes to her plight and saw for the first time her choice, which seemed laughably clear. She looked out the window of the guest room at the rising sun and caught sight of a pair of blue jays flying from the blooming Crapemyrtle tree. She joyfully sang "Preciso Me Encontrar": "I want to watch the sunrise, watch the waters of the rivers run, hear the birds sing. I want to be born! I want to live!” She, too, would fly like the calhambolas across the tree canopies.
The next week, Yiara packed the clothes and items she had brought with her years earlier and left the Rezniks' house. She felt no need to confront her captors, who would have been deaf to her entreaties. She understood that even her ancestors had not tried to appeal to their oppressors for liberation or humanity.
No one cursed her or blocked the threshold of the doorway as she left, as they were all at a neighbor's Independence Day party, to which she had not been invited. She, like Zenza and Ndembu, had liberated herself from the malefic Banzo that had broken and claimed so many of her kin. It, too, was her Independence Day.
As Yiara walked away from the place she could never call home, her spirit soared skywards in an ecstasy of flight. She would leave behind the darkness that had enveloped her life for years and seek the light of a new day. She had no idea where she was going; but whether in Texas, Brazil, or elsewhere, she would find herself again and live for both her past and her future. “Mukí!” she cried to the heavens as Zambi, the Inkises, and her ancestors looked down upon her with pride.