Drama Fiction Sad

When the sun rose, I myself had already been up for many hours. I looked through the barn door, able to see the golden rays kissing the glistening, humid grass that shines in glorious green. The hills, that look so somber at night, under the light of the new day are of an exquisite beauty, filled with trees and pulsing with life. A faint smile crossed my lips while my hands continued to milk the cow; the pungent noise of the liquid hitting the metal bucket was already familiar to me.

My days never truly start, and never really end; they are one long continuity of minutes, barely broken by periods of oblivion, when sleep overcomes me just to be sharply pulled away after I've gotten the bare minimum of rest. Sometimes, I don't sleep at all. All I do is lay my head on my pillow and stare at the wooden ceiling of my runty room, almost able to hear time passing by while my mind wanders. And it always ends up on her, no matter how hard I try to avoid the thought of her round, flushed face. I think of her, I think of her father, their laughter... It haunts me during the nights. Beauty is anguish once its lost. The memory of my happiness is my worst tormenter.

Lili mooed softly, waking me up from my daydream, and I noticed that the bucket was almost full, which should do for breakfast. I patted the cow gently on the torso.

"Très bien, ma fille". I praised in french with a sigh, getting up and carrying the bucket outside.

This property is very large; the big building in the center is modest, but of considerable size, and it's home for more than half a dozen nuns. They are all strong, God-fearing women with such joy that helps me to bear life as well. The monastery has but little money to mantain itself, money that is donated from people from the region and from selling the goods we produce; we make cheese, sell eggs, bake cakes and, when the time of the year comes, we also pick olives and make our own olive oil, that is quite famous in the village market.

I, although not a nun, also live here. I work for the nuns, and my payment is a cozy bed at night and food to keep me going. They wanted to give me a wage, but I vehemently denied. I wanted nothing but the bare minimum. In fact, all I wanted was work.

"Milk is here." I announced in french as soon as I entered the kitchen.

The cook, Mme. Augustin, was cutting some bread and turned to me with a welcoming smile.

Violette Augustin, born and raised on the french countryside, was one of the kindest people I had ever met. Her english was broken and, when I arrived, so was my french; our communication was ridiculous, in the first months. In fact, I wasn't very eager to communicate at all; work was my focus, loads of work, an absurd amount of it, enough to make me forget myself. The best days were the ones I finished with sore muscles and absolute exaustion, when I was able to sleep for at least a few hours without the slightest sight of dreams. Still, Violette insisted, bringing me pies after long days of work, learning some of my language, which was portuguese, and teaching me french so that we could improve our communication.

And, just like that, she infiltrated herself on my heart, too sneakly for me to even notice. Now, I considered her my closest friend, even though we still called each other by the last name, and hardly ever discussed our private lives.

"Bonjour, Mme. Pereira." She greeted me, wiping her hands on her apron. "Early as usual, I see."

"The early bird catches the worm, my friend." I reply. "Did the Mass end, already?"

"I suppose so. The sisters are all in the dining room waiting for you."

"For me?" I lifted an eyebrow. "Why?"

"Why don't we go check?" Violette replied with a fake naiveness and I could see she was up to something. Still, I put the bucket of milk on the table and followed her to the dining room, a large space with just one long table where we had our meals.

As soon as I entered the dining room, I saw all the nuns expecting us; their faces were lightened up with smiles and excitement while they gathered around the table. I noticed in awe that we had, instead of the plain breakfast of bread, cheese and milk, a beautiful mix of ham, cake, croissants, butter and all sorts of delicious delicacies. Of course, it wasn't particularly extravagant for the foreign eye, however I was used to the very frugal meals of the monastery and, for me, it looked like a banquet.

"Oh my! What is this?" I asked, appaled.

"It's a meal to celebrate you." Sister Lourdes, one of the oldest nuns, announced happily. "Today it's the one year anniversary of your arrival. I don't know what would be of us without you, my dear child. You are a blessing."

And then it hit me. Exactly one year ago, I left Portugal with nothing but a suitcase to come to this monastery as a helper. It felt like a lifetime. A smile crossed my face as I directed myself to Sister Lourdes and gave her a heartfelt hug.

"Thank you." I murmured. "Thank you very much."


That day, unlike the others I had had so far, was actually happy. I managed to enjoy the delightful breakfast we had before resuming my daily tasks. The day was hot, and I gardened; I took care of the animals, cleaned the barn, worked on painting one of the wings of the monastery and, before I knew it, the day of work was over.

Violette had asked me out to the river we had nearby so we could take a swim after the incredibly hot day of August we just lived through, and I saw no not to do so. Therefore, by seven, the sun was still high in the sky and I left along with her to the stream.

"One year, can you believe it?" She asked me, her eyes closed while we sat under the sun, letting ourselves dry.


"I feel like I know you so well." She stated. "And still, like I don't know you at all."

I fell silent and didn't answer.

"I noticed how much you work. And you do it for nothing, Mme. Pereira."

"I do it for shelter and food." I replied quietly.

"For shelter in a cramped room and for food that is as simple as it gets. You don't get any wage. Nobody works that hard for so little if they're not trying to punish themselves for something. You can tell me. Why did you leave Portugal?"

That question was enough to remind me of her. Her, my sweet little angel; the memory of her was still so clear and bright on my head that it hit me like a thousand bricks on the face.

"I can't tell you." I muttered, and couldn't keep my voice from trembling. "I... I really can't."

"Was it so bad?" She frowned with curiosity. I wanted to answer, but wasn't able to utter a word.

"I saw the picture in your room." My friend said when she noticed I wasn't going to reply. "I went to look for you one day and you weren't there. There was a picture in your table. A little girl and a man..."

"My ex-husband and our daughter. Her name was... is... Maria."

"What happened to her?"

With my eyes still fixated in the river, flowing so beautifully, ever peaceful, I sighed.

"I don't know." I confessed. "I really don't know, Violette".


That night, I didn't sleep at all. I tossed and turned. I thought of Maria and what had been of her. If she was dead, would I feel it on my heart? And, if she was alive... Oh, God! Did I even want her to be alive at all? Three years had gone by since she disappeared. The dreadful things, unspeakable things, that might have happened to her...

In the deep darkness of my room, desperate tears started rolling down my cheeks. Soon I could barely contain them, wailing, grasping my hair, pulling on it, covering my face with my hands; all I could see was my dear child running on my backyard, screaming to me so joyfully "Olha, mamã, o que eu sei fazer!" before doing a clumsy cartwheel. Moreover, I could remember her the last time I saw her; wet blonde hair dripping, her tanned skin glistening in the sun, her little red swimsuit covering her childlike body while she told me she was just going to catch some shells by the shore as a gift to me.

"Maybe I should come with you." I said to her, already getting up from my chair.

"No, mommy, you stay." She demanded. "You are going to ruin the surprise."

"You shouldn't go alone, I'm coming along." I replied.

"No, mom, it's right over there, you can see me while I'm doing it!"

And I could! It was just some meters away from me, I could see her, and I saw her squatting, picking shells! I smiled, I thanked God for my luck, I turned to my husband to say something, and we talked for a moment...

I never saw her again.

Everything after that is a blur. Not only immediatly after that, but truly, everything that happened after her disappearance feels like a terrible dream. The long days waiting for a call from the police, the walking around looking for her, the day of her birthday, her empty bed, her father painful screams in the middle of the night, seeing her face in the face of every child that I crossed on the street...

If only I had gone with her! If only we had stayed home that day. If only I kept my eyes on her while I talked to her father! Maybe she would still be with me, sleeping soundly on her cozy bed, protected from all the evil out in the world. Maybe her father would still be well, perhaps the grief wouldn't have pulled us apart instead of bringing us together, perhaps I would still be happy.

If only I had never known true happiness! I could live satisfied with the beauty of the life I had. I know I could find joy with the nuns, with Violette's friendship and the hard, simple work of the everyday life. But how can one be contented with life once the shadow of one's happiness in past days keep hanging over one's head like a curse? All lost, because I let Maria go on her own, because I looked away, because of me.

Often the thought of death would come to me, and I would flirt with it; however, I could never give in to it, after all it isn't death that I wish for in those moments of despair. I wish to seize to exist. Go back to a time where I simply wasn't; when there was no state of being. But I exist, and therefore everything I do changes the world in some way. My death would be loss; loss to the sisters, who so kindly prepared the delightful breakfast for me that day, to Violette who is so dear to me, to all the work I have to attend to. If I cannot spare myself from pain, I shall at least not inflict it on others.

Moreover, how can I wish to die, knowing that there is but a slight chance that my girl still lives? No, I couldn't die, I can't die.

I got up suddenly, wiping my tears. The clock stroke four o'clock in the morning when I left to work on the garden. Some hours after, while I was in the barn milking Lili, I again looked through the door and watched the sun hit gloriously the beautiful grass, the hills pulsing with light, and the world again awakening; this time, however, no faint smile crossed my lips. I simply rested my head against Lili's warm torso, and sighed heavily.

The sun still shines. It's only that, sometimes, I can't feel it.

December 01, 2020 13:04

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