Monday, November 5, 2012

Pedro and Samara

     Those closest to me know that I am an aspiring novelist with ambitions to write as well as my favourite authors; Hemmingway, Grey, L’Amour, Mowatt, Clavelle, Evans and Sparks. My earliest memories of writing begin when I was 12 years of age, inspired by my grade 7 librarian, Mrs. Rain, whom I had a mad crush on.  I used to sit at my mother’s old Underwood typewriter at the kitchen table night after night punching out my first novel one finger poke at a time for Mrs. Rain to read. There was no backspace back then and a single typo meant that I would tear out the page, throw it in the garbage and start over.  In my teens I turned to romantic poetry and through young adulthood, I played with short stories and essays.  In my dreams, I would travel the world collecting smiles, experiences and adventures and live to write about it.  I’m almost there! 

     As a writer, I have evolved through different writing styles, playing with writing in the first person (“I blocked the blow with my left forearm and jabbed him in the throat with the fingers of my right hand”), third person (“They sat on the grass in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, candlelight dancing on their happy faces.”) and also narrative, (“Deafening thunder echoed across the valley, forked lightning exploded across the dark horizon and a curtain of torrential rain swept across the water.  One lone man stood silhouetted on the bow of his ship facing the wrath of nature.”) At first, I lacked the confidence to take the long leap from fact to fiction.  I used my actual experiences and my own feelings which made my work too personal to share. And so, I learned to become narcissistic, separating myself from my characters, and their feelings from mine.  It was a terrifying but powerful leap for me. What power, and what responsibility it takes to build physical and emotional characters, to let them live or die on a whim, to fall in love, or to have their hearts ripped out.

     And then it occurred to me, if I am ever to write a novel, I will need not one, not two but several characters, all of them mine for the making.  And so it began, a whole host of characters, many of whom started out as normal people I met in “real” life, have joined my inventory of antagonists and protagonists all ready to become heroes and heroines at my manipulation.

   That said, the next hurdle in my evolutionary development as a writer is to get over my fear of what people think. It is not easy to not give a care what people say or think when you do give a care. But I’m getting to a point in my life where I have less time to worry about other people’s opinions and more time to worry about my own.  That said, and in an unprecedented brave move, I am including a chapter out of my latest novel, "Poliana".  Bear in mind, dear readers that this is art; fiction in its purest form. Just enjoy it for what it is.

Pedro and Samara

Chapter 1

The Honda sputtered, puffs of blue smoke polluting the night air behind the battered motorcycle. Pedro Carlos Joaquim Dos Santos pulled the clutch, shifted down one gear and sped up the dirt road, up and over a small  hill.  Sandwiched behind him was his four year old daughter Poliana and behind her, his wife Samara. It was a good night and Pedro had hurried home from his job as a ranch hand where he wrangled cattle for Sr. Da Silva.   The young couple lived on the ranch in a small brick hovel, along with two other families in their own homes. It was a warm Saturday night, and Pedro had been paid his monthly stipend, all of which was carefully budgeted between food, fuel, and savings. Tonight was special though for it was Poliana’s fourth birthday on top of which, Samara had just discovered she was pregnant. This time, thought Pedro, we will have a son and he will be named Pedro Carlos Fernando Costa Dos Santos, in honour of parents and grandparents on both sides of the family tree. The thought made him swell with pride and it was all he could do to contain his happiness. He felt his young wife tighten her grip on him, her head lovingly laid against his back. They were very much in love.

The helmetless riders rode without stopping for over 35 kilometers, criss-crossing a network of northern Brazil’s dusty dirt roads, on their way to the closest city of Ourilandia Do Norte in the south of Para.  These roads weren’t more than a couple years old, and in fact, many of them still showed evidence of recent excavation in the red clay along the sides. The pastures which opened up in all directions weren’t much older.  New barbed wire fences hung on crooked wooden posts staking fresh cattle farms all along the way, with piles of tropical trees drying by day and burning bright on the horizons at night.  Skies were rarely blue, smoke hung across the landscape like a grey blanket and  the humid air was thick with a smoky taint.

Dusk fell suddenly with the setting of the sun, increasing the danger of driving these roads.  Pedro and Samara both watched the road ahead in the bouncing headlight, she with the better eyes, patting his side when a cow, or a donkey or a stray dog came into view.  Twice they had come to flooded roads with several inches of mud in their path but he had managed to find a solid rut on the high side of the road and keep the bike upright, as it fishtailed through the slippery spots. 

After an hour of solid riding, they came to a paved highway and turned left, now only a couple miles from town.  Street lights welcomed them and as they got closer, they joined dozens of other riders and cars coming and leaving the town.  Their first stop was at the Ipiranga gas  station where they filled up the fuel tank and added air to the back tire for it had a slow leak. Pedro kidded Samara about the extra weight now that she was pregnant and she laughed, slapping him on the shoulder and asking what they were going to do for transportation with another child on the way.  Pedro smiled and said they still had room for one more, maybe two. He justified his opinion by adding that Samara would be thin again, and by the time Pedro Jr. was old enough to have a seat, they could afford a bigger motorcycle or maybe even a car. Samara smiled. He added that their neighbours, the Da Souza’s have three children and they still go to town on their motorcycle. Samara smiled and climbed back on, reaching down for young Poliana and placing her between them.  Poliana was a beautiful child with dark brown chestnut coloured eyes and long black hair just like her mother.  Today she wore a pink dress with a flowery belt tied around her thin waist, with white shoes and a white ribbon in her hair. Of all the things she loved, she loved being sandwiched between her parent’s warm bodies the best. She enjoyed watching the world go by from the relative safety of her parent’s embrace.  She felt very safe clamped between her mothers legs and her fathers back, finding comfort in the smell of their bodies so close.

Pedro started the bike up and headed back out onto the street, cautiously joining in with the one way traffic headed west through town. The city of Ourilandia is about a mile and a half long with a pot-holed east bound street on the south side of the highway and a pot-holed west bound street on the north side.  There are abrupt speed bumps strategically placed every few hundred yards, and at the traffic circles which allow highway traffic to exit onto and off of the side streets. All along this main drag are drugstores, super markets, variety stores, a furniture store, as well as bars and outdoor eateries called churascarias. The bars are small one room  buildings with rough cut planks nailed to their wood framed skeletons. They are painted in fruity green or blue pastels with their names marked with cans of black spray paint.  Many bars have dirt floors and a verandah out front where a pool table welcomes patrons to enjoy a game and a nice cold cervesa or two. The churascarias usually have an outdoor courtyard and/or a covered seating area with picnic tables or cheap plastic tables and chairs. Waitresses scurry between the tables and the kitchen carrying trays and drinks while a cook delivers skewers of barbequed meat from a charcoal fired grill parked enticingly near the street.

It wasn’t often that the Dos Santos made it to town, and they both rode wide eyed through the streets taking in the lights and the music as well as enjoying the company of so many people. As their speed decreased, Samara loosened her grip around Pedro’s waist, moving one hand to his shoulder and arm which she lovingly caressed, the other around Poliana.  The streets of Ourilandia are never quiet. Hundreds of motorcycles mill around the traffic circles in a never ending merry-go-round. Here, the streets are used for more than transportation. Teenagers mill about flashing smiles at one another, young men compete by performing wheelies, jumping off of speed bumps and swerving close to each other. Families, often three, four or five persons per motorcycle chug along, their motorcycles bogged down with the weight.  Delivery bikes, their trailers connected to makeshift hitches welded to the back of their motorcycles swerve in and out delivering everything from refrigerators, to propane, live chickens, groceries, wood and doors.     Though there are stop signs located on the side streets adjacent to the traffic circles,  nobody ever stops. Cars and trucks will slow down for the speed bumps and look both ways for oncoming traffic but they do not stop, they only adjust their speed to merge into the oncoming traffic.  Motorcycles do not even slow down for the speed bumps; they are maneuverable enough to flow through the cars and trucks almost effortlessly. There are two lanes on each side street, but the right lane is also the parking lane so there is a constant shifting of traffic from lane to lane, faster vehicles passing on the left, often using up all of the street including the curbs and sidewalks. Pedro kept to the right as much as possible, letting the faster traffic pass him as they watched for the public square to come up on their left.  When they got there, they parked diagonally in a long line of diagonally parked motorcycles.  Walking hand-in-hand with young Poliana leading the way, they walked to the children’s play area where a large and very colourful inflated children’s slide was set up. Dozens of tiny tots and young children were lined up as one at a time, they walked up the stairs and slid down into their waiting parents arms. Poliana did the slide several times, each time a smile lighting up her face as her parents caught her and set her back on the steps ready to go again. After  a while, Pedro stepped back, and sat down on a concrete bench, watching his wife as she waited for Poliana, caught her and set her back on the steps. Samara was very beautiful and not a day went by that he did not mention her in his prayers, and thank god that she loved him, a lowly peasant from a small village far away. As he watched her, he could not help but let his eyes explore her body, never tiring of the look of her. She was tall for a Brazilian woman, thin in her legs, arms and neck but her hips and breasts were well padded, making her very nicely curved. She was also lighter skinned than he with German and Dutch on one side of her family tree, African on the other.  He, on the other hand was mulatto, with a continuous mix of  African branches going to the very top of his family tree. Both of their families were what was called “mixed race” which was a euphemism for any combination of races, though this is not uncommon in Brazil.  Samara’s beauty came from more than her nicely toned young body, taunt skin, raven black hair and gorgeous flashing eyes now glowing with the thought of a new child; she radiated beauty from within also. His heart quickened at the thought of her smile, the sparkle in her dark eyes and the way she would call his name, “Oh Pedro…” when he made love to her. As he watched her, she turned and smiled at him, her eyes sparkling. His heart flipped over. Life was good.

After letting Poliana play on the slide and giving her a ride on the swings, the small family sat at an outdoor eatery and ordered small bowls of vanilla ice cream, the sound of Brazilian Samba music piped into speakers all around them. When they were done, Pedro picked up his daughter, wiped her face with a napkin and carried her as they walked down the esplanade and on to the street where farmers were selling abacate, watermelons and pineapples.  The young family walked down to the Giro super market where they bought some corn flour and a bag of beans.

Pedro wasn’t born here. He was born in a small village near Sao Joaquim, over a thousand miles away. But his parents were old and very poor and he had to make his own way in the world by the time he became a teen.  He counted himself very fortunate to have been able to find work on farms and ranches, though many times he had gone hungry and had to sleep on the streets. Gradually, by working very long hard days in the hot sun, Pedro had saved his money and he managed to take some night classes to improve his math, reading and writing skills. It was in school that he had met Samara. He was quiet and shy and while many of the young men showed up for night classes on their flashy motorcycles, strutting around like peacocks, Pedro had to walk across town.  His clothes were well worn and he was gaunt and thin. He would take his seat in a back corner of the class and wait for the bell to sound, when the other students would flood in still talking about their weekend plans and arranging to meet for picnics and get togethers. Samara came from a family with money; not a lot of money, but out here on the Brazilian frontier, it didn’t take much to be considered wealthy.  Her family owned a local laundromat and her father had been a construction supervisor at the Onca Puma plant for several years. The first time her parents met Pedro, her father threw him out of the house and told him never to return. But the young lovers persisted until Pedro was finally accepted into the family and a fragile peace accord was formed between her father and Pedro. The relationship became even more strained when Pedro and Samara moved out to the ranch and announced that they had been married by a catholic priest in an obscure country church. Life wasn’t easy but neither of them could remember ever being happier.  

The hovel they lived in was small, even by rural South American standards. It consisted of two rooms and a front porch which doubled as both a kitchen and a living room.  The floor was made of packed earth and the walls of mortared red clay bricks, many of which showed through the thin parging.  On Sunday afternoons, his only day off, Pedro would rake the leaves and sticks away from the house and make a fire, burning any garbage which had accumulated. He had planted Samara flowers in a rusted out washtub which sat at the front of the house. On Sunday evenings, Pedro sang love songs to Samara and Poliana, often becoming intoxicated, but not from alcohol, they could not afford it. No, he was drunk on love because he knew that after Poliana fell asleep, Samara would make love to him.

Usually, Poliana nodded off shortly after dinner, her little belly satisfied by good food and family harmony. Samara would smile at Pedro as she carried the child to bed, starting an erotic game that had become as much a routine as it was a highlight of their week.  Typically, Pedro would continue strumming his guitar, lowering his voice while he plucked away and sang Samara her favourite romantic ballad. As he serenaded her, Samara would do the evening dishes in the washtub.  Often, when he opened his eyes and met her gaze, she would pull her dress down over one shoulder and look at him, her chocolate brown eyes melting him.  He was helpless to stop the stirring in his loins and often, she would tease him by dancing for him, twirling and snapping her hips to the rythym of his song, her hands touching him. Before long, he would lay his guitar off to the side, and she would lay in his lap while the crickets and bullfrogs took over the acoustics for the evening. He would brush her hair, slowly pulling the brush through her hair and gathering it into a pony tail which he would loosen and gather again and again.  And then they would kiss, slow lip-sealing kisses while his fingers danced across her body, caressing her with the soft skin on the back of his fingers, his hands holding her close. In time, her kisses became more aggressive, and his fingers would explore further under her dress, undoing one button at a time as she kissed his neck, leaving small bites and nibbles until she had undone all of the buttons and removed his shirt, kissing his chest dead square in the centre, their sign that everything was okay. Not that it wasn’t dark enough to continue on the front porch, for they had no light except candles, but modesty required that they take their dance into the house where nature could take its course beyond the eyes and ears of their neighbours.

By the light of a small candle they would finish undressing each other, their shadows becoming one as they fell together on their small bed…