ISSN 2359-4101

Brazilian Literature in Translation / Literatura Brasileña en Traducción

Issue / Numero

year/año: 2012
issue/numero: # 03

The girl at the Central Market

Author | Autor: Stella Maris Rezende

Translated by Mark Ridd | Illustrated by Laurent Cardon

The idea

She had every reason for not giving up on life, had Valentina Vitoria: she
was pretty with that full crop of long, curly hair, she had mother and
father who were always holding hands, she knew the meaning of many
names – a fact she was always vaunting as if the meaning of people’s
names solved eighty percent of the problems – and, most important of all, she did
her motion every morning, which granted her health and zeal.
Maria had these things on her mind, they would be on her mind for the rest of her
life because Valentina Vitoria really was one of the finest, most awesome mysteries.
But Maria had other things she needed to consider.

She combed her hair, but didn’t comb her hair. She saw the mirror, the little
lights framing it in a luminous rectangle, but she didn’t see the lights, she didn’t see
the mirror. All she saw was him.
Whatever happened, were the house swept away by the flood, roof-tiles and
furniture swirling in the muddy waters; or if her mother were to go mad and she
had to visit her in an asylum, listen to her say a thousand times that she had three
daughters, one dressed in faith, blue garments, another in hope, green garments, the
other in charity, pink; or were she, the only real daughter, were she never again to eat
cheese biscuits with freshly-made strong, black coffee, that, for sure, the greatest
tragedy of all, even then, she would never forget those black eyes, those intelligent
hands, that gruff voice.
She had distractedly entered the stage. He was beginning to set up the scenery.
“Good afternoon…,” she said, without so much as looking at the wood and
upholstery, didn’t have time, she knew that voice: “Good afternoon. I’m in charge of the
scenery… You’re the leading lady, aren’t you? I saw your photograph with the director;
he was taking it to the printers. They’re a bit late distributing the flier, don’t you think?
That gruff voice. Then she looked him straight in the eye, unabashedly. She
knew their paths would cross again. She just knew it. He had interrupted his work,
was looking at her.
“I remember you. You’re the lad from Raul Soares Square,” she said, her heart
pounding at sixes and sevens.
“I remember you. When I saw you picture today, can’t even say what I felt,” he
said, coming closer.
“I’ve never forgotten you,” she confessed, a smile spreading across her lips.
“Haven’t ever forgotten you, either,” he confessed, coming closer still.
And then he added: “I had your image. Your image has always stayed with me. A
girl looking somewhat lost in Belo Horizonte, who stood looking at my drawing… Who
wasn’t sure how to get to the Central Market… You’re the girl at the Central Market.”
She let him take her quivering hands in his: “What you saw on the flier was my
stage name. You don’t yet know my real name.”
“I will soon… Promise?”
Drawn in by those dark black eyes, she replied: “First, I must tell you that your
image has been with me all this time, too.”
In reply, as if reciting a line from a play, he said: “All things are possible on the
basis of an image.”
They stood there holding hands. They remained for that instant, they remained
in silence, they remained in doubt, they did not remain in doubt. They remained.
They kissed each other on the mouth. A long kiss, so keenly awaited; and then
nothing else existed – not the stage, not the scenographer, not the actress.
Yet it was all there.

Before that, however, there was Valentina Vitoria’s mother who, whenever she
said something, kicked off with imagine. Very funny. For her friend’s mother – she’d
never asked her name, how impolite – everything began with imagine.
“Imagine, I’ll call my daughter. So glad you’re friends.”

“Imagine, I’ve just baked a chocolate cake, you can have a snack.”
“Imagine, is your mother well?”
“Imagine, come in, do. She’ll be down in a sec.”
And imagine’s daughter, Valentina Vitoria, knew the meaning of countless
names, was always on about what they meant, said the name in a way seal’s the
bearer’s fate, Valentina Vitoria wanting to show off she knew a lot about people
because she knew what each one’s name meant; imagine, having a friend like that
makes life a lot easier, she pondered, with a snigger she couldn’t contain.
Best of all, the really fun bit, was that imagine’s daughter was a magician. Like so:
“That’s magic, do you see?”
“Every name has its own magic.”
“That’s precisely where the magic in life lies.”
“It’s magic, this business of breathing and feeling moved.”
“The magic part is that I arrived just as the rain set in; gosh, what a magic
moment, it was sheer magic, I remember every single detail, the rain pelted down
and I laughed, laughed out loud, laughed and laughed, because the rain was a sign,
I nearly fainted, life is truly magic.”
Then it struck her she could entertain these two devices, the imagine and the
sheer magic. If there was one thing she was fond of it was imagining. It cost her
nothing, quite the opposite, it would be wonderful to baptise herself with other
names, spend time in other places, imagine, make believe she was other people,
gosh, what a wonderful world, how magic.
That was how the idea sprang up.

But before, way before, all there was was a birth certificate, just a birth certificate,
and she was just Maria Campos. Daughter of Bernardina Campos, father unknown.
Her mother had been raped in a hold-up on the coach in which she was travelling
from Belo Horizonte to São Paulo. The seven hooded thugs, silent and terrifying; the
head of the gang ordered one of them to ravish the only woman on the coach. The
driver and the other passengers yelled, begged for mercy, but the thugs, each one
with a task to perform, were cruel without exception.
“I was deeply offended, of course, but I alone knew he wasn’t such a cruel
fellow.” He being her father.
Every morning, Maria woke up anxious, bothered by such things, and then a
thought would cross her mind and hound her in a relentless, challenging way: she
was just plain Maria Campos. That was not enough, nowhere near enough.
Not that she felt any need of her father’s surname. A father she had never
met, who didn’t even know she existed, a surname like that is unconvincing, entirely
dispensable. “But a name is very important,” said the girl next door who did her big
job every morning, who had a shock of long, curly hair, parents who walked hand in
hand and – trophy of trophies – had won the medal of being called Valentina Vitoria.
“Hey, I moved in yesterday. I’m called Valentina Vitoria. How about you? What’s
your name?”
“Just Maria?”
“Just Maria… Surname’s Campos.”
“So, the full name’s just Maria Campos.”
That was how they struck up their first conversation, over the low wall between
their houses.
A kiskadee was splashing about in a puddle last night’s rain had left on top of the
wall, in a hollowed-out brick the relentlessness of time had afforded, where the wall
joined the front of the terraced houses themselves. The bird was bathing, refreshing
itself, ruffling its feathers, the very picture of contentment in that playhouse scene.
“My name is Valentina Vitoria,” the new neighbour resumed, brushing some
nothing from her verdigris blouse. “And my full name is Valentina Vitoria Mendes
Teixeira Couto,” she completed, and then stood looking fixedly, as if certain the
dumb girl would be dilaceratedly downcast, traumatised, in angst, something
psychological like that.
The dumb girl seemed hesitant.
So the neighbour resolved to induce the drama: “Your name means ‘the chosen
one’, ‘the lady’. Fine meanings. Truly lovely. And magic. I would be over the moon if I
was called Maria. Even if it was just plain Maria Campos, like you.”
And, assuming a more solemn air now, she continued: “My name means ‘strong
winner’. In other words, as I have two forenames, Valentina Vitoria, and Valentina
means ‘strong’, while Vitoria means ‘winner’, I...”
“Very interesting. I liked that. In other words, bearer of the name Valentina
Vitoria, you are a strong winner. Bully for you.”
The girl was not dumb, then? Her last words had been said in an upbeat tone as
big as Brazil. And wasn’t each syllable she had pronounced loaded with irony, too?
Valentina Vitoria Mendes Teixeira Couto frowned, her brow wrinkling, and
adjusted the earring in her left ear.

After that first day, they met frequently: on the pavement, at the baker’s, outside
the west end of the church, at the Oeste de Minas patisserie, at Cleonice’s General
Stores and the Serra da Saudade cinema.
And Maria began to mull over the idea of being called by other names, many
other names, with a view to being other people, many other people, living many
lives, having all the experience this watery old world called Earth could afford.
The wisp of an idea had come the moment Valentina Vitoria had said her name
Maria meant “the chosen one”, “the lady”.
The surname came up short. Plain Campos. However, plural – not just a single
field, endless fields, maybe – Maria thought it sonorous, fresh and mild, the surname
Campos. Nevertheless, she was the lady, the one chosen to live all the lives she
wanted, or those lives life might foist on her, but starting out from the names she
chose. She would make of the names chosen the chosen lives. Imagine, it would be
magic to supply destinies, although the point had been to play with Valentina Vitoria’s
suggestion, that people’s names determine the way they are, think, feel, get out of
bed on the wrong side, put their feet in their mouth, bang their head against the wall.
And so, after several more conversations with her neighbor, who thought she
possessed all the riches in the world simply because she had a double forename and
long set of surnames, and who had taught her the meaning of many names, both
male and female.
“I’m going to start out by calling myself Zoraida, an engaging, seductive woman,
as the know-it-all explained.”
Wonderful. As long as she was called Zoraida, she would be engaging and seductive.
And so Maria became Zoraida to start out on her story of living many lives in
this dreadful, wonderful world.

Statue Mother

But first, there was the rigmarole of convincing her mother that she should
spend some time away from Dores do Indaiá. She had just turned eighteen,
had done reasonably well at school but was not yet certain what course she should
take thereafter; she said she’d be back when time came for her to return; that you
suddenly know it’s time to return at some crucial turning point; she also told her
she loved her, would miss her sorely, but that what mattered most at that phase in
her life was being all the girls she could be, starting from the names she chose for
herself, the aim being to be the lady of herself.
Her mother, poor thing, with the sink full of crockery for washing up, what the
Dickens she meant about being all the girls she could be, how so, starting from the
names she chose for herself, where did you get that idea from, dear.
Maria, already somewhat seductive and engaging, argued that living away from
her mother’s home for a while would be good, different, adventurous, and would
certainly give her, Maria, lots of opportunities to learn things, things that the sink
piled high with crockery and mother on her own could not teach her.
On hearing that, “things that the sink piled high with crockery and mother on
her own could not teach her,” Bernardina stood stock still, turned into a statue, a
woman with washing-up foam running down her arms. A platter slipped in the sink;
luckily it didn’t break.

Bernardina, too, when she was only eighteen. She’d already lost both parents,
felt utterly lost, and then put it in her head to go to São Paulo. She had been with
her only sister, older sister, who lived in Belo Horizonte, who had said travelling was
good for you, and had decided to spend a few days in Brazil’s biggest city. And she
was on that coach. She had nodded off for a bit. She was feeling perky. Suddenly,
the breaks slamming on. The fright. The terror.
Minutes later, while the others were emptying out their bags, cases and holdalls,
the youngest of the gang of thieves looked at her.
He hesitated a brief instant.
And obeyed his boss’s orders.
Committed the crime.

Her daughter, would she too run risks?
The statue moved. It continued to wash the bowls.
“I’ll phone you at work. Once a week to keep you in the picture, that alright?”
Maria added that she had always wanted to travel, feel what it was like to be in
another town, with people she didn’t know, work out how to solve things for herself,
in a way to be another person.
Bernardina had to agree. Deep down, she knew her daughter would one day
say such things.
And the girl called Maria, “the lady,” “the chosen one,” the moment she set
foot out of the house with her battered old leather valise and some of her mother’s
savings in her handbag, and walked sagaciously toward the bus station, knew full
well that she was already called Zoraida.

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