TRIGGER WARNING: The following text contains material that discusses domestic violence and sexual assault, and thus may be harmful to some audiences. Please proceed with caution.
Part I: The Daughter
Does my sassiness upset you? I dug my nails in the calloused flesh of my hands, my palms bloody – but maybe the crimson shadows I saw were the result of a failing vision. Perhaps, I thought to myself, I should hide my tears and let them take my dignity, my chastity, my power, or whatever else they wanted – who could understand what it was that they lacked? But it does not matter now, my temper is too strong; the fighting in me demands the rumbles that come from deep within my throat. I see my mama in my mind’s eye, cleaning the scratches of a playground fight: “Meu bem, I can’t take care of you like this no more”. Should I have listened? If I had subsided, would I have cried less, fought less, hurt less, lived more? Instead, I want to scream what I have known forever: I must be one with the Earth, to return to its womb. I must go where womanhood is no threat to survival. Is there such a place?
Deranged laughter burst out of my chest; I felt my rib cage defy every force that held it down. There she is: the faceless, breathless deity that guides me towards something I cannot see but already recognize, for I want to be the land, I want to be the oceans, I want to be Nature – and, don’t be mistaken, Nature is a woman. I kick with the strength She has gifted me, but She could only offer momentary relief and I could not offer myself salvation; there he still was, hovering above me. My mouth received another punch, my teeth wailed as they twisted, my body begged as it hit the ground one last time. After the first laughter – no longer mine – echoed, I heard nothing more than the oppressive silence of the alley of my hands of my blood of myself of myself. I was no longer; no, I was Her, returning to where I belonged, born of fertility and turned into sorrow. I was, in fact, all of us.
Part II: The Mother
Did you want to see me broken? It had indeed been beautiful, that delicacy of newborn love. In their first ethereal Carnaval, there had been the sweat of others mixed with their own, cheap beer and escolas de samba. There had been cathartic dancing with eyes locked. “Don’t let go of my hand!” he had shouted amidst the noise, and she promised to herself, timidly, never to. Now, she wondered what would have happened if she had let him be devoured by the crowd, let herself stand still while he walked away until there were enough bodies between them that she could forever be protected.
So many years later, she tried to evoke the smell of that day, of the piss in the streets; with her eyes closed, she could feel his saliva droplets on her face. She focused on enumerating the colors of that first Carnaval – her blue blouse, the rainbows of ribbons that adorned the streets – until the reason why he screamed today escaped her memory. Was it the clothes she had worn to the market?
He marched outside of the house, and she sighed with relief: a truce, for now. Sitting at the table, the purple in her neck ached, and she allowed herself to slip back into her trance, the recurrent one – the only thing she truly owned, a secret entirely to herself. She had been visited by the woman with no face, reeking of Goddess; she did not know her and yet strangely sensed they had already met, that transparent person who inhabited her daydreams. Whenever she dared to look at that woman, she was struck by her freedom, by the hair that reached her ankles, by the feet that did not quite touch the ground.
The noise outside violently snapped her back to reality and she got up in a moment, late to pick her kid up from school. Reaching for the keys, she said a prayer, under her breath, that her girl had not gotten herself into trouble this time; but the prayer her heart really clamored for was, most of all, that she would never lose that ability to fight for herself. And in the obscure corners of her mind, this mother hoped that, wherever her other daughter was, she was as fierce as her little sister. She stepped out into the havoc, away from the dreams she left behind.
Part III: The Lost Daughter
Does my sexiness upset you? You might have seen her smoking at a bus stop or entering a brothel and driven by with rolled-down windows to yell puta just because you could. You might have felt entitled to put your filthy eyes on her – wasn’t she asking for it, with those clothes?
She might have told you she did not belong to you; she was property only of herself. She might have told you she deserved diamonds in the meeting of her thighs; that it was men like yourself who stomped on her heart, like her father had when he bruised her mama. She might have told you she still saw, she still saw the air that breathed and the waterfalls that clamored and the pulse that quivered in the core of the Earth – the Earth who had the curves of a woman – calling for her to stand up, stand up. She might have told you that, most of all, she was a girl who missed her mother. She might have told you, if only had you listened.
Part IV: The Earth
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
“Meu bem, que que aconteceu?”
The blood that dripped – and the silence where there was usually rage – was enough answer. Once their hands clasped, The Mother leading The Daughter, there was a little less darkness; the fear they held of the world subsided at the joining of hands, like two rivers that meander until they find each other. They walked in silence, each subtly clinging to the other as a lifeline. The Mother held her kid closer, folded her into herself; she knew, because she had felt it in her own bones. Now, her soul hurt more than the purple that painted her skin, having been incapable of protection that she knew to be impossible but had still hoped for. Her child had been replaced by a woman.
“Come on, let’s get you home. Mama will take care of those scratches.”
They passed by a young woman; The Mother’s heart beat furiously because she recognized in that girl, too, a part of herself that had been lost; The Daughter's pulse quickened with saudade. But it was not her, and both their hearts plummeted in their caves, waiting for the next flicker of a dream.
I wish I could have told them I too could not offer salvation. Instead, I hoped they felt Nature shifting to comfort them, enveloping two women it recognized as its own; that they sensed me in the air that hissed and in the flowers that fought to bloom. I hope they knew I would continue visiting them in dreams as they walked away holding hands, holding each other.
I was them, and I am all of us.
In 2021, 56,098 women were raped in Brazil, averaging one every ten minutes.
But still, like air, I’ll rise. We’ll rise.
Angelou, Maya. “Still I Rise”. 1978.
“Violência contra as mulheres em 2021”. Fórum Brasileiro de Segurança Pública, 2021.