-Ana! Wake up, we have arrived! Wake up, come on!
Someone called me. I opened my eyes, got up and spied out the window of the car: “Where am I? What a horrible place! Who did we come to visit?”–I thought in amazement.
There were only dirt roads, full of red dirt. The houses were made of wood and there was bush everywhere! Dirty water flew beneath wooden bridges that linked the street to the houses. Huge rats ran down the street. The sky was gray. It was beginning to dusk.
We got out of the car. I did not know those people. Still sleepy and not able to understand what was going on, we crossed one of the bridges: it was loose... oh my God! The stench of the stream gave me nausea. My mother held me tightly, looking frightened. With her other arm, she carried Livia, my sister, on her lap.
A man clapped his hands and opened the little wooden gate. We went in. The yard was made of dirt and there was a rosebush in front of the cottage; we walked down a narrow corridor, and guess who opened the door?
- Dad! I shouted happily. –Dad!
I ran and hugged him tightly. I cried with happiness. I had not seen him in years! After many kisses, hugs and chitchat, I asked my mother:
- Are we going to live here? – I asked in alarm.
- Yes, with your father! Now he has a better salary and asked us to come. – she explained.
- No, I don't want to! It's very ugly in here! I cried, showing my white shoes covered with dirt, and went on. - The walls are damp and stained, there is cement floor and the smell is bad!
- Your father said it's just for a short time! At least we're together!
Even so I was discontented. I wanted to go back to grandma's house.
Time was passing and the difficulties of life made that good father become another man:
- Mom, let's go away! Dad gets mad at everything and hits me a lot! I complained, showing the bruises.
- It'll be alright. I will talk to him! – I tried to calm myself down.
My little legs were full of purple spots from the flip-flop spanking. I would touch them with my finger and they ached. I began to feel for him a mixture of sorrow and fear.
Once he came home from work, clearly tired and irritated:
- Ana! Who did you think was coming? – He continued complaining. – Yesterday you forgot to say hello to me! You will be grounded!
- No, I forgot it, Dad! Sorry! – I said, already crying because I knew he would beat me.
Instead, he took me by the arm, forcefully, and threw me behind the door:
You'll be grounded in the dark! - He raged.
- Ana did not mean it! Stop it! My mother defended me, speaking in an angry tone.
- Shut up! She's going to stand for five hours behind the door! Do not give her water or food!
- Why such a great punishment?" She is a child! – She cried.
- I told you to shut up! – He shouted, out of control.
A few hours passed, my legs ached a lot, then I crouched; he saw me and made me stand up by slapping me. Blood came out of my soul...
- That's enough! She shouldn't be grounded anymore!
- I said five hours! Stupid girl! If it were not for her, we would be far away!
- I did not ask to be born! I cried in anger.
- You did not, but you were! I'll hit you again. – He said, coming toward me.
- Enough! Enough! I want peace! My mother shouted, grabbing his arm.
- Shut up! He answered, going into the bedroom.
My mother always obeyed him, and then she would put her hands on her face and cried on the corner of the room, alone. He was not going to talk to her, he was not going to comfort her. I felt sorry for her being so abused.
She was feverish, almost daily, due to persistent urine infections and yet she struggled to keep the house in order. When we did not have bread to eat, she would make a tartlet with flour, oil and water; she would fry it and sprinkle it with sugar. It was delicious and we got so happy after eating it!
A few months passed... She looked sad in the mirror; her teeth were all decayed, her smile almost brown. Because of the pain she had begun to feel, she went to the dentist. At night, after dinner, he gave the bill to my father:
- Very expensive! We do not have all that money! – He said as he looked at the paper.
- And now?
- Extract your teeth! – He replied, throwing the paper on the table. And he continued. – Go wear a denture, it is cheaper!
She started to cry.
- It's no use crying!" There is no other solution! Your smile is horrible!
Every week she would go and pull out two or three teeth. She would stay awake at night, suffering from the pain and spitting blood in a pot. I could hear her crying softly from my bed. And he did nothing!
So the anger started to grow in my chest... I was angry at him, who would hurt us all the time, angry at my life! After the gum had scarred, she started to wear a denture and smiled again, despite the situation. She was happy!
One Sunday, my mother made a sauce, with one tomato. I looked at the little pieces on the pasta:
- Mom, it's horrible! I complained, because the taste was really bad.
- We only have this to eat, so eat it, otherwise you'll be hungry!" – She said.
I started to whimper, I did not want to eat it, and I felt disgusted. And my father had already begun to scold:
- That's what we got! Eat it!
- I do not want! I was almost throwing up.
- You'll feed on bread and water someday, to learn to appreciate the food we have! I want you to give her the hardest bread, the oldest in the house, to make her gums bleed when she bites it! Then she will learn to eat what she has! – And he continued. - Get up and go to your bed! Get out of here!
I cried softly, because if he heard anything, he could beat me. He used to beat me until I stopped crying.
After a few days, I asked:
- Dad, do you want me to go out and sell candy on the street?
There were so many things missing at home...
- No need, we're not starving! – He replied indignantly.
What can I do to help?
- Study! I did not have a chance to study ... – he said, looking away, and continued. – If you want to get out of this life, study!
- Study what?
- Anything! Go to the school library and study what you can!
Every day my mother would take me and pick me up at school, under the sun or the rain; we walked miles and she always had a firm look, a word of comfort. On leaving the school, while waiting for her, she went to the library to read books.
"Why don't we leave? There was nothing lacking in grandma's house, there was affection, clothes and food. Her house had no gutters, no flooding when it rained, no rats, no insects. Why did not we go back there?" – I wondered, but couldn't understand.
Every time my grandmother came to visit us, we had happy moments. She cried when she saw us. She kissed and hugged us a lot. Then the most anticipated moment: the opening of the suitcases! I knew they had gifts! She brought my cousins' used clothes, but they were new to me! Toys, candy, bonbons, it was a party, such a joy! Once she gave me a pair of new shoes! I was so happy! Mine were already stuck and had paper inside it. However, she brought something more important than all this: love and attention.
She played cards, checkers, ludo, always with a lot of patience and, at night, we used to play "Knock, knock? Who's there?” Before going to bed, we always prayed, it was her who taught me "The Lord's Prayer" and "Hail Mary"; she prayed in Latin every night for the soul of her deceased daughter and often wept for longing: "I want to see you so much, my child... wherever you are, be at peace! ".
- Grandma, how do I get out of here?
- Study hard. Be patient. You'll grow up, work and get out of here!
- I do not know how to do it... who will help me?
- God will help you, trust Him... – she said tearfully.
- Who is God? I do not see Him…
- God is everywhere. He is big. We do not see Him, but He sees everything. Pray every night, ask Him to help you and He will take care of you. Got it?
- Yes, I will pray... and ask Him to stay with me.
When grandma left, I would cry a lot and ask her to come back soon. She always left me a little money; I was saving to buy a box with 24 colored pencils. It was my dream!
I got sick every month and prayed: "God, do not take me, or my mother will be sad... please heal me, for my mother... take care of me!"
The years passed, and nothing changed. Many times, I confronted him, got angry with him and the beatings wouldn't hurt anymore!
- Dad, do you love me? - I asked one day.
- Yes. – He said dryly.
- Then why do you punish me so much?
- You are very rebellious! Your life will be very hard, so you need to become strong!
His gaze was lost in emptiness. He continued:
- I'm going to die soon... you're going to have to help your mother!
- Are you sick? – I asked fearfully.
-No. For your own benefit, I'd better die! You will receive a pension and there will be fewer people to eat.
After months, he bought a grave. Every weekend we went to the cemetery. He would drink mate with my mother, looking at his grave, while Livia and I played among the tombstones in one of the few fun moments of childhood.
- Ana, come here! - He called me as he pointed to the ground. And he continued: – What are you going to do after I die?
- I don't know!
- Think a bit... you're the oldest and you'll have to help your mother and sister.
I did not know what to say, so I answered:
I was already a teenager when he had an accident at work: a boiler broke out and poured boiling oil on his legs. He was recovering, but he had an infection and it got worse. Antibiotics no longer had any effect. His last wish: a cigarette. He died smoking and alone in an empty hospital room.
We received the news at home. I had so much sorrow, so much, that I could not cry. I went to the bedroom, opened the window, and finally breathed a sigh of relief: I was forever free from the one who tortured me and who called himself my father.
Life went its course... and it was hard, but I was prepared.
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