Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Visitors

by Regina Edelman

Mom came home from church after ten o’clock in the morning. Spiritually comforted, she sat on the edge of wounded grandma’s bed, and for some seconds pensively watched me feed the old lady bread soaked in warm milk when somebody knocked on our door.

“Mom, there’s someone at the door,” I said.

“Who’d knock on our door?” mom asked.

“I don’t know. You need to check to know.”

“Don’t start; I’m in peace with my Jesus.”

There were claps. “Is anybody home?” a husky woman’s voice shouted from outside.

Grandma’s neck struggled up alertly. Mom searched fidgety for a cigarette inside her bra.

“O, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, the factory sold this house,” she said. “We’ll live in the streets. Should I answer? If I don’t answer, she might go away. I’m not going to give up my house that easy.”

More claps. “O, Hello! Hello! Anyone home?”

Mom was stuck in the middle of the bedroom with a firm plan not to open the door, and so I went to answer the caller.

There stood a senior man, dark skin, bald, his remaining gray hair pulled back, a long gray moustache twisted at the edges, and mysterious blue eyes under a thick brow. He wasn’t tall or short, but skinny and his belly made his profile resemble a rattlesnake digesting a toad. He wore a brown suit and tie and carried a black briefcase in his left hand. A heavy gold ring adorned with a square stone on top like ice sparkling under the sun attracted me.

Beside him stood a short middle-aged woman with short thick black hair and lively gray eyes like the ones grandma had in the past. A wart on her chin grew two long gray hairs. Her body was the same as other widows I’ve met, sweet potato-like, and she dressed in a plain black dress printed with minuscule white flowers. On her neck sparkled a thick gold chain with a gold cross incrusted of emeralds and rubies. She grinned, her small teeth stuck inside her lips.

“Hi,” she said, calmly waving her hands. “We came to visit our sister,” she said, her Portuguese with an accent from Portugal.

Mom introduced herself as the daughter of their sister and said she was pleased to meet them in flesh for the first time. “And this is my daughter,” mom introduced me.

The woman seemed pleased to meet me, but the man averred to look at me. The wrinkle in the bridge of his nosed deepened, severe and prejudicial, however slightly he bowed.

The party settled in grandma’s room. He solemnly grieved for the invalid, and made the sign of the cross. I lingered there too at the edge of my bed next to hers.

“Sister,” the man said, “I thought often of you.”

“Me too!” the woman said. “I missed you so much, sister. I swear on the lives of my children, I’ve missed you.”

Why does she have to swear at all that she missed her sister? I instinctively felt sorry for the lives of her children, and I was right to feel that way because her statement will prove untrue ahead in this story.

Mom listened at the foot of the bed, not understanding the visitors’ purpose, but smiled pleased.

Grandma suddenly perked up. “Did mama die quick as she always said she would from her mysterious disease with no medicine in all heaven or hell to cure her?” she said suddenly sarcastic and sneered as she talked.

“No, no, no,” her brother nodded, clearly doubting her words, exchanging glances with the woman on his side.

“Our mama died two years ago. She was ninety-three,” the woman concluded conciliatory and in a calm voice.

“You know, I always knew she wasn’t sick at all. And papa, what was made of papa?” grandma asked as a little girl would for her dear dad after a day in school.

“Papa just died,” the brother said and sighed. “That’s why we came, because of his will.” As he talked, he put his briefcase on his lap, pushed the zipper, and opened it. The woman blushed and smiled to hide her shame, but her smile only made her uglier.

“O, I see, a business visit,” grandma said. “We’ll go through this business, don’t worry. I’m not going to die this minute. First let me learn what became of the ones I deeply loved.”

The couple looked startled to each other.

“Why didn’t you ever write to me?”

“Well, I moved back to Portugal. Papa sent me a letter calling me back to help him on the grape plantation. His business finally succeeded, and he bought back the house we were born in. He expanded and bought three more farms for grape plantations and started to produce his wine. Business was good afterwards. I administrated business for him, and was so busy with work that I had time for nothing else. That’s why I didn’t write or ever visit,” he excused himself.

“And now you find time to come?”

“Mom,” my mom said. “Aren’t you being a little harsh with your brother?” She patted her mother lightly on the feet.

“What’s your understanding of being harsh?” grandmother asked.

“Well, the noble couple came after such a long time from far to see you, mom. I think it’s kind of them,” my mother said with a neat smile to the couple.

“Thanks, ma’am,” the man finally addressed his attention to my mother, “but I understand my sister’s inquisitions.” He turned back to his sister in bed. “I was only able to come now because I’m quite retired. My three sons are in charge of the business. I work as a consultant when they need me.”

“And are you here as a consultant?” grandma asked.

The couple danced uncomfortably where they sat and exchanged glances of conspiracy, and then she took the conversation from there.

“No! No!” the woman said. “We came to see you too, my dear sister.”

“What about you, my dear sister, did you go back to Portugal as well?” the moribund sister asked, dragging out energy to speak.

“No, I live in São Paulo. I married, but I’ve been a widow for ten years. I have four kids, two boys, and two girls. They’re god’s blessing, my kids, all married and successful, thank god, and I have ten grandsons all together,” the sister gaily summarized her life, and then an uncomfortable silence fell on the room for a few moments.

My mother smiled like an Indio in the Amazon in front of a civilized white man for the first time. Sullen, I watched the strangers.

My great uncle grunted his patience over and put his white head inside the briefcase on his lap. Sun came through the narrow window to light the room. He took some minutes to put his papers together, and even had a palm sized pillow of ink to take fingerprints. “Just in case she doesn’t know how to sign anymore,” he mumbled. “I brought some papers for you to sign, sister” he said louder like a man in power well entitled to his business, and placed the papers on top of his black briefcase that served as his desk.

Mother’s eyes became curious when she heard that there were papers to sign, and she bit her bottom lip in expectation.

“What are the papers for?” grandma asked in a business manner like the strangers spoke since their arrival.

Long lost brother and sister exchanged more uncomfortable glances. He cleared his throat. “Our father didn’t forget you and left a small piece of land in Portugal for you in his will. Its small land, Arminda, very small, very small, indeed, small.”

Did he know that he emphasized the word small too much?

He sighed and went on. “I know you can’t go there to take possession of the land, and money is what you need, right?” he said, grunted, and sketched a smile to my mother.
“Right, right,” mom replied as he wished.

“These papers are authorization to give me the power to sell your small land there. I’ll send you the money as soon we can sell it.”

“Sign, mom. We need money so badly. Jesus sent him to save us,” my mother said in agitation.

“So that’s what was made of my beloved ones who forgot me,” grandma said, and her eyes died a bit more at the moment.

“We all love you, sister, very much so. We didn’t forget you for a single minute of our lives, but your husband was too violent. Mama forbad us to contact you because we knew he enslaved and beat you. She couldn’t stand his ignorance and your insistence to stay with him. We didn’t want her to cast us out too,” the woman said.

Mom knew that what the woman said was true, because grandpa was cruel, and mom grinned trusting her aunt and uncle.

“You guys punished me even more—because of my husband’s temper?”

“You’re going to sign the papers, right mom?” my mother cut short what to her were the old woman’s senseless emotions.

“Daughter,” grandma said to my mother, “try to see through your fantasies at once. I beg you!” grandma managed to clasp her hands to beg her daughter’s attention.

Mom blinked. I couldn’t tell if she listened, and grandma went on.

“I don’t have anything to lose, daughter. If you tell me not to sign these papers, I won’t. My weak mother’s heart tells me that you’re the one who’ll lose if I sign these papers. The beautiful blue eyes of the couple you see ahead of you aren’t smart and have no compassion the way they look like they have. This is my last chance to give you anything in life. Signing or not signing these documents is entirely your decision. Are you sure you want me to?” She put in check her daughter’s desire.

My mother looked up and asked heaven what she should do. Doubts shook her mind. The couple smiled to captivate their foolish thinker.

“If your option is to sign, the money will be in your hands in two to three weeks at the most,” the man said in a desperate tone.

“Nobody sells land in three weeks,” grandmother said.

“We have the buyer, sister,” he countered steadily.

“You can deal with the buyer directly, daughter, or keep the land if you wish. Make some effort,” grandma said.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea. The buyer will trick her and underpay her for the land,” the man said.

“You have to go by airplane to Portugal in order to deal with the buyer. Have you ever traveled by plane?” the woman asked.

Mom was a simple person and not courageous. She never got close to an airplane in her life, and without pondering, she decided in frights, “No! Airplane to Portugal? No! Sign the papers, mom.”

“O, sister, you were always the slyest of us,” my grandmother said. “You’re still the same, I see. You easily see the weakness of your prey.”

The woman stirred uncomfortably in the chair. Her soul was ashamed.

“Daughter, don’t you want to go through the papers to see what you’ll lose?” the moribund insisted.

“No, I believe my uncle and aunt are good people and have Jesus in their heart. They wouldn’t lie to me, would you?”

They shook their heads anxiously.

“See, I trust them. I don’t need to go through the papers. Sign the documents, mom.”

“Well, at least I’ll die knowing that I attended my only daughter’s last wish.”

A commotion followed to collect signatures and fingerprints from the moribund in bed.

"I'm going to need a notarized copy of your father’s obituary certificate,” the man said to my mom who nodded and went to another room to get the document in order to trust it to him.

“Don’t you worry,” he said, taking the paper carefully from her hands. “I’ll pay the expenses to notarize a copy and bring the original back to you tomorrow.”

“All set,” mother said and kissed her uncle’s hand on top of his brilliant ring. “Bless me, uncle.”

My grandmother, forgotten, sank weary in her bed. The two relatives stood up and prepared to leave.

“Sister, I’ll come back tomorrow to see you again,” the man said. My grandmother remained silent, and neither knew what to do.

“Mom,” my mother said, “they’re saying goodbye to you.”

My grandmother’s lips didn’t move.

“Well, I understand she needs to rest,” the woman said.

“God bless you,” he said finally, making a sign of the cross, and they folded their grins mischievously.

My mother, of course, was thrilled with the agreement, and expected a small fortune from Europe soon.

“Wooh hoo! I’m going to buy this house,” she planned, and sang parading back and forth in a good mood inside revolting clouds from her cigarette.

When my brother arrived from somewhere sometime in the middle of the afternoon, she rushed to tell him the good news.

“Son, we’ll be filthy rich!” she said, and explained everything that happened to him.

“Really? Will we have steak every day?” he asked.

“Of course we’ll have steak and bread and cheese and chicken and cake. Whatever you want to eat, my son.”

“Mom, can I have Coca-Cola every day too?” he asked.

“Of course, son.”

“Hurrah!” my brother shouted, licking his dry lips and opening wide his gluttonous eyes.

The moribund sunk quiet in her bed.

Next morning, a boy knocked at our door and delivered grandpa’s death certificate with a note, which my mother read aloud in a trembling voice.

Dear Sister,
I apologize for not going back there today as promised. Business made me fly immediately back to Lisbon

Thank you for your attention yesterday. God bless your sweet home.

Antonio Maria

PS: Minerva sends her regards with love and God’s blessing.

Grandmother died and mom never got a penny.

©2009 Regina Edelman

1 comment:

  1. Hey Regina:
    Is this an excerpt from your book? I found it very interesting - something that I've seen and heard of before - the things that even one's relatives do for greed!