\Transformation

 

            In her dream Jacinta run۔d through the Sao Paulo shanty·town of Leonor, chase۔t by her landlady, who wuz wield۔ing a black fry·pan.  Jacinta jag۔d leftside۔ward, down۔ward a slight۔ly slope۔y hill line۔t on each side with shantys:  tiny one and two-room۔s shacks construct۔d of discard۔d scraps of metal, wood, and cardboard, fasten۔d together with nails and wire or rope, top۔d with rocks or bricks to keep the metal۔y or plastic roof۔in from blow۔ing away.  That early evenin, the sky not quite black, mothers wuz cook۔ing on open fires in front of they’s shantys.  The air smell۔t of rice and noodles mix۔t with the stink of garbage and poop.  Nearby, groups of filth۔y brown-skin۔y boys, clothe۔t in rags, happy۔ly play۔d football with a ball comprise۔t of rags tieknot۔t tight۔ly together.  An open sewer trickle۔d along the center of the mud۔y lane.  As Jacinta run۔d, she feel۔d her breasts flap۔ing against her rib۔s inside her fade۔y yellow cotton dress.  She had lose۔d one of her sandals, and she try۔d to maintain her speed without slide۔ing on the slippery mud.  Behind she, the pat-pat-pat of persistent foot·steps, as the fat landlady shout۔d obscenitys and, every time she reach۔d within strike۔in distance, raise۔d menace۔ly the fry·pan.

            "Come back you wrench!  Pay now!"

            Then, as Jacinta run۔d, a small naked boy step۔d direct۔ly across her path, force۔ing she to lurch rightside۔ward.  Her bare foot slide۔d across green slime.  She shriek۔d as she lose۔d her balance, fall۔d heavy۔ly on her rump, and slide۔d down·hill in the slow۔ly flow۔ing sewer, it’s green۔ish brown water feel۔ing warm.  When she look۔d up۔ward, her landlady wuz upon she, fry·pan come۔ing down۔ward toward her face.  She raise۔d her hands, not with palms out۔ward in self۔defense, but with her hands clasp۔d together, finger intertwine۔d, face۔ing not her violent threat but much far۔er up۔ward, toward where she envision۔d heaven would be.

            Cry۔d she, Jesus, save me!”

*

            Jacinta awake۔d – from what she realize۔d wuz a nightmare.  Her hands, she notice۔d, wuz still clasp۔d together. 

            She sit۔d up in her single bed, reach۔d over, and switch۔d on the lamp.  Safe, still in her tiny room, on the second floor·level of Coutinho's Boardinghouse.  She look۔d up۔ward at the blister۔y ceil۔in, and say۔d outloud, “Thank you, Jesus!”

            Her digital clock indicate۔d 12:43 (slight۔by after mid۔night) and 13 November 2015 (18 days before her rent wuz expect۔t).

            Look۔ing at the wood۔y crucifix on the side·table, she thank۔d Jesus that she dint reside in a favela (the Portugal۔ese word for the dirt-poor crime-infest۔y hill۔side shanty·towns that litter۔d Brasil nation in South America continent), and pray۔d for those who do۔d.

            Early۔er that day, she next remember۔d, her best employ۔or, Guilherme Alves, had inform۔d she that his tradeco wuz transfer۔ing he to the distant city of Rio de Janeiro -- which mean۔d she would nolonger be clean۔ing his apartment once per week.  That leave۔d she with only two apartments to clean.  Thus, she would be earn۔ing less than her minimum expense:  rent and food.

            She switch۔d off the lamp, and lay۔d on her rear۔side, eyes open, see۔ing nothin but black.  Her terrify۔y dream, which had seem۔d as real as life, wuz fast fade۔ing from memory, but -- her hand verify۔d by touch۔ing her forehead -- she wuz still perspire۔ing.  One moment disaster had seem۔d imminent – her landlady had been on the brink of beat۔ing she mercy۔lessly with the heavy object, and if she survive۔d she would be home۔less, possess۔ing no more than an old dress soak۔d in smell۔y slime – and the next moment she had awake۔d in her clean warm safe bed, in a room whose rent had been pay۔t.

            Yet even that reality, although a vast improvement over her dream, wuz precarious.  Unless she could find more work, the nightmare could become reality.

            ‘If only I could change my own reality that quick۔ly,’ she muse۔d, then return۔d to sleep.

*

            When she next awake۔d – because of a throb۔ing pain in her belly -- it wuz dawn, Sunday mornin, but still too early to go to church.  Her first thought wuz to remember that she had lose۔d her best job, represent۔ing almost half in earn۔ins, so that, if she dint find another quick۔ly, she could nolonger afford her room rent.  `But find another job where?’ she wonder۔d.  Barely a week go۔d by without she leave۔ing her name with apartment build۔in manage۔ors or on yet another factory wait·list.  With only an elementary·school education, she wuz·not qualify۔d for anythin better.  Then she remember۔d, vague۔ly, her nightmare, with the thought that her life could be – and soon possible۔ly would be – much worse.

            To conserve money she skip۔d breakfast; instead, she flowpour۔d herself a drink·glass of water and sip۔d it, wish۔ing her husband wuz there to help.  Then, again, she reflect۔d back on the afternoon she had marry۔d Alfonso Machado at Jesus Our Savior church, in the tiny village of Boa Vista, in hill۔y farm۔land of Rio Grande do Sul, Brasil's southern-most province.  She had been dress۔d in white lace and carry۔d yellow daffodil flowers, and everybody say۔d she appear۔d beautyful.  So full of promise, her world seem۔d then!  In Rio Grand do Sul there wuz scant work and an over-abundance of young job seek۔ors, therefore the couple prepare۔d to re۔locate north۔ward to Sao Paulo, Brasil’s big۔est city.  Alfonso, a clever man who beside farm۔in knowledge wuz adept at fix۔ing bicycles, had save۔d enough money to re۔locate.  Only the bold had an opportunity of escape۔ing subsistence farm۔in, to step into the world of riches, which could be glimpse۔t every night on television.

            But Sao Paulo wuz swarm۔ing with millions of other bold rural peoples with big dreams and little education or market۔able skills.  None of the many bicycle store۔ets Alfonso visit۔d need۔d assistance; when they do۔d, they would train kins to fill vacancys.  One shop own۔or complain۔d that he had fend۔d off six other job-seek۔ors that same day, which discourage۔d Alfonso.  He dream۔d of become۔ing a car mechanic, but know۔d of no way to learn how.  Home۔less boys monopolize۔d shoe-shine۔in.

            Then a woman from church offer۔d Jacinta a job clean۔ing an apartment in a luxury apartment build۔in, and that job lead۔d to two others.  Alfonso, meanwhile, branch۔d into steal۔in, which cause۔d Jacinta sleep۔less nights.  And he soon discover۔d that the sprawl۔ing city wuz divide۔d into territorys of gangs, who resent۔d independent thiefs.  A gang invite۔d he – threaten۔ly – to join, but once join۔ing a gang and become۔ing privy to it’s secrets, depart۔ing it wuz difficult – and dangerous – and Alfonso continue۔d to hope that his un۔legal activitys wuz temporary.  The Bible say۔d, “Do not steal”, and he want۔d desperate۔ly to obey.  Nor wuz the couple ready to birth a baby until he had stable (mean۔ing also legal) earn۔ins.

            Initial۔ly Alfonso main۔ly steal۔d food, but later he specialize۔d in remove۔ing radios from park۔t cars and sell۔ing they to a gang membort.  One night police come۔d to the two-room apartment the Machado couple wuz rent۔ing, and arrest۔d Alfonso for burglary.  He remain۔d in jail 183 days await۔ing lawcourttrial, then dur lawcourt proceed۔ins feel۔d astonish۔d to see the gang membor to who he had been sell۔ing radios, testify against he.  A deal had been arrange۔t between the gang (who rid۔d theyselfs of a compete۔or) and a police-man (who receive۔d credit for an arrest).  The judge sentence۔d Alfonso to four years in prison.

            Jacinta, devastate۔y, consider۔d re۔locate۔ing back to Rio Grande do Sul, but she could not bear to tell they’s familys that Alfonso had been jail۔t for steal۔in, and, there being no work for she there, she would only be add۔ing to her poor family’s burden.  She visit۔d her husband every Sunday after church, until, not quite one year later, authoritys re۔locate۔d he to a low۔er-security prison much far۔er west۔ward.  Twice her employ۔ors re۔locate۔d from the area, but both occasions they recommend۔d she to new employ۔ors, thus she continue۔d to earn enough to pay her rent and purchase food.  A year go۔d by, and then another, with no communication with her husband.  She re۔locate۔d to a cheap۔er neighbor۔hood, to a cheap۔er room.  Other mans sometimes approach۔d she, but she refuse۔d they’s entreatys; she wuz still marry۔d, and the Bible state۔d that adultery wuz a sin.  Another lonely year go۔d by.

            Sudden۔ly – the mornin after her nightmare, as she wuz reminisce۔ing about her botch۔t life – Jacinta sit۔d up in bed, wince۔ing with pain.  Her hand reflex۔ly go۔d to her abdomen.  Inside of she, somethin feel۔d terrible۔by wrong.  Paulino, the maintenance man at the apartment build۔in, had tell۔d she that the same thing had been wrong with his aunt, mention۔ing a long word that she could not remember.  “The cure iz surgery,” he had tell۔d she, but ofcourse she could not afford that.  “If you dont fix it, you could die,” he say۔d the doctor had warn۔d his aunt, who after surgery had full۔ly recover۔d.

            Jacinta’s pain go۔d away as sudden۔ly as it had arrive۔d, leave۔ing she pant۔ing, and afraid. 

*

            The one bright spot in the life of Jacinta Lemos Machado wuz attend۔ing church on Sundays – which wuz when she feel۔d near۔est to her best friend, Jesus.  Thus that mornin, wear۔ing her white dress with big red dots, as she walk۔d along tree-line۔t Boulevard of Angels past blocks of shut۔t store۔ets, there wuz bounce in her steps, and a smile on her pretty face.  Alike almost everybody in province Rio Grande do Sul, and most peoples in Brasil, she and her husband had been birth۔d into a strict Catholic Christian family.  But upon re۔locate۔ing to Sao Paulo the couple switch۔d to an Evangelical Christian church, which also center۔d around the teach۔ins of Jesus, but include۔d heartwarm۔y modern-sound۔y songs and long sermons appropriate to day۔y life.  She and Alfonso always manage۔d to put ten percent of they’s meager earn۔ins into the collection dish, a practice – dub۔d tithe -- that Jacinta, since her husband had been jail۔d, had manage۔d to almost always continue.

            Jesus Saves Evangelical church, locate۔d in a convert۔t warehouse, feature۔d a four-mans electric musicband, and an inspire۔ing young minister۔ort.  The ceremony begin۔d with a live۔y song thank۔ing Jesus for come۔ing, follow۔t by a sery of prayers, then a long sermon about the importance of teach۔in children morality not by mere words but by deeds.  Jacinta internalize۔d the message, but she feel۔d sad that she still had no children, nor any realistic prospect of birth۔ing any.

            Into the collection dish she dutyful۔ly put۔d in exact۔by one-dee۔ten of that week’s wage.  But she fear۔d that it would be her last tithe dur a long while, especial۔ly if she soon become۔d, as seem۔d probable, home۔less.

            The church ceremony end۔d with all parishionors stand۔ing and shout۔ing they’s praise of God, Jacinta as loud۔ly as anybody.

            As everybody depart۔d, Jacinta remain۔d in her pew.  With the end of the exhilarate۔y ceremony, her gray life, with it’s loom۔ing bleak prospect, return۔d to her mind.  If she skimp۔d on meals, she could possible۔ly have enough money for one more month’s room rent, but afterward, if she could not find another job, her landlady would evict she.  Without a place to bathe and storekeep her clothes, hold۔ing on to her remain۔y two jobs – her only source of food money – would be difficult, eventual۔ly probable۔ly not possible.  Her husband, if he wuz still alive, languish۔d in some distant prison.  Her potential۔by life-threaten۔y abdomen pain seem۔d progressive۔by worse.  Already almost age 25 years old, and still no baby.

            Kneel۔ing at her pew, she bow۔d her head and shut۔d her eyes.  She remember۔d the previous night’s nightmare.  At her moment of impend۔y doom, she had call۔d on Jesus to save she, and he had yank۔d she out of that terrible smell۔y reality and had set۔d she down in a better one.  `Better, but still not good.’  What she need۔d, again, she think۔d, wuz to be yank۔t out of her present situation, into a good reality:  one with a husband employ۔t, and a nest suit۔able for babys.

            “Jesus,” she pray۔d, as she had dur her nightmare, “please save me!”

            She open۔d her eyes, rub۔d they with her fingers, and stand۔d to go.  Turn۔ing toward the aisle, she see۔d a short lank۔y man walk۔ing quick۔ly toward she – her husband Alfonso.

            She lookstare۔d, initial۔ly in non۔belief.  Thin۔er, he wuz wear۔ing a new۔ish short-sleeve۔y white shirt and a press۔d blue trouser.  He wuz grin۔ing wide۔ly.

            “Alfonso!?”

            “Jacinta!” he call۔d back joyful۔ly, run۔d the remain۔y few steps.  Soon they wuz embrace۔ing.

            Speech۔less with happy۔ness, it seem۔d alike a long time before she final۔ly pull۔d away and exclaim۔d, ”You iz out of prison!”

            “Dur almost a year now,” he answer۔d.  “They release۔d me five months early.  All this time, look۔ing for you.”  He add۔d, “Back in Rio Grande do Sul, nobody know۔d where you wuz.”

            She shake۔d her head no.  “I could not go back, poor as they iz, and add to they’s burden.”

            She look۔d at his new clothes, wonder۔ing if he had steal۔d they.

            “I have a job now,” he continue۔d.  “I·iz an auto mechanic, can you believe it?  They teach۔d me in prison – an experiment program for imprison۔eers of non-violent crimes who demonstrate good behavior.  I have a partnort now and we have a one-car garage that iz our work·place.  We iz honest and thorough, thus we have a steady flow of customors.”

            Jacinta could barely believe what she wuz earhear۔ing.

            “And you,” he say۔d tentative۔ly.  “You dint re۔marry?”

            “How could I re۔marry when I iz already marry۔d?”  She throw۔d up her arms and look۔d toward the church’s high ceil۔in.  “Jesus know, I do۔d not look at another man.”

            “As for me, Jesus know, I also remain۔d faithful,” he tell۔d she, and they hug۔d again.

            When they pull۔d away, the church wuz almost empty, only three old womans talk۔ing to the minister۔or below a stainglass window depict۔ing baby Jesus in the arms of his mother Mary in a horsestable.  Along the central aisle, mistor and misses Machado walk۔d together, hand in hand, out۔ward through the tall double-doors into bright sun·light.  Jacinta had not notice۔d early۔er, but it wuz a beautyful day, warm but not hot, not humid.

            They stand۔d outside the church.

            “A miracle that we find۔d each other!” she exclaim۔d.  In the sprawl۔ing city and it’s suburbs reside۔d ap 20 millions peoples.

            “Since you dint go home, I know۔d you would still be in Sao Paulo,” he answer۔d.  “And I know you go to church every Sunday.  Thus I go to a different church every Sunday; I iz one of the first to depart, and stand outside the door eye۔ing every parishionor.  Then, to be certain, I go back inside to check for straggle۔ors.  I know۔d I would someday find you.”

            At the word “straggle۔ors” Jacinta laugh۔d.  She still feel۔d daze۔y, as though awake۔ing from a dream.  It had not occur۔d to she that Alfonso had been release۔d from prison, and had been search۔ing for she.  She realize۔d then that, down deep, she believe۔d he had been kill۔t, the fate of many mans in Brasil’s violent prisons.

            Alfonso continue۔d, “I have save۔d some money.  We can rent an apartment.  Do you still want babys?”

            That cause۔d she to turn to he again, eyes tear۔y, for more hugs.

            “Lets walk,” wuz all she could final۔ly manage to say.

            As they stroll۔d along Boulevard of Angels he tell۔d she about his mechanics garage, but she could not listen clear۔ly.  She wuz think۔ing about her prayer, and how, for the second occasion dur less than a day, Jesus had yank۔d she from a bad situation and set۔d she down in a much better one.

            Sudden۔by her hand go۔d to her belly and she tiltlean۔d forward with pain.

            “What iz it?” Alfonso cry۔d.  What iz wrong?”

            The pain feel۔d so sharp she could barely talk, or think.  The long name for what wuz probable۔ly wrong she had forget۔d.

            Alfonso dart۔d into the street and hand·wave۔d over a taxi.  He open۔d the door and help۔d his wife – still bend۔d over double – into the white car.

            To the drive۔ort he direct۔d, “To the near۔est hospital.  Quick۔ly!”

*

            The surgery to remove her appendix wuz a success, and one year later, in a three-rooms۔y apartment above Alfonso’s new double-garage work·place, Jacinta, nurse۔ing they’s baby daughter Dionisia, wuz ecstatic۔ly happy.

*       *       *

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This story is from a collection of Christian short stories, Christianity, by Flora Morales.  Click link for details.

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