Another feature of the research was how common sexual teasing and banter is in the favelas. Here are some examples which I unearthed, and then a scene to depict how this aspect was used in the novel:
- Erotic language is so linked to eating that after sex one can say appreciatively, “Foi gostoso” or “Foi uma delicia!” – “It was tasty” or “It was delicious!”
- Male organ described as a banana, cucumber, sausage or stick of sugar cane.
- A woman may tease she doesn’t want to be fed with a stick of sugar cane, she wants a fat sausage.
- A woman’s breasts may be described as ripe papayas flowing with milk and honey, waiting to be licked and sucked.
- Sex is seen as a compensatory gratification, making the participant know that even though hunger is killing them, they are still alive. So poverty, age and beauty are no barriers to this sensuality, especially at carnival.
- There is a constant flow of spontaneous black humour by the women.
- Mobility through marriage and or sexual seduction is a favourite theme of Brazilian telenovelas.
Thereza and the other women climbed through the window of the office. The man who represented the mayor wasn’t due at work that day, and Dona Fernanda had locked herself in the room and let them in. Each of the women gave Fernanda their ten centavos as they straddled the window, but Thereza was allowed in free. ‘Off the chairs, and don’t touch the table, I’ve already dusted them this morning,’ her godmother said to two of the younger women who were coming for the first time. All twelve in the room settled on the floor. Fernanda pulled the blind but left the window ajar, so they could make a quick escape if the guard with whom she split the takings rapped a warning on the door. To give her an excuse for being in the room, a duster also hung from her waist. Thereza used the opportunity to scout the room for customers, and when she found her first, she started plaiting the woman’s hair. A hum laced with excitement rose as the women clustered towards the corner. ‘Shh,’ Fernanda said, putting a finger to her lips, ‘you’ll have to keep it down.’
An ivory-skinned woman licking her strawberry lips, her golden-sand hair trailing in the wind, was the first image they saw when Fernanda switched on the television set. The intense sigh that circulated bonded the women through their dreams. Hers was the image they mostly saw when they came to watch the telenovelas, those soaps of higher-class life in the cities that caused the women to both envy and adore the lifestyles of whitewashed villas, American cars, designer clothes and romantic love.
‘What’s she waiting for? She should give it to him before he finds another lover,’ one of the women shouted.
‘It’s good to let them wait a while, then it’s sweeter, Rosie.’
‘What are you talking about, Carmella? You’re so hot all the time that you’re out of your panties before the man’s even swollen.’ The women laughed in unison, as they hurled a constant flow of explicit sexual banter and teasing around the room.
‘At least mine are clean,’ Carmella retorted.
‘That’s only because you hardly ever have them on.’
‘Shh,’ Fernanda reminded them, though creased at the waist too.
‘You’re only jealous because you know I’d win myself a coroa before you,’ Carmella said.
‘You… as black as you are! Have you ever seen a black do anything but clean in one of these telenovelas?’
‘Hmm, hmm,’ the women agreed.
‘Have you not heard of the black Cinderella? When she married her coroa she gained wealth and whiteness, too.’
‘Hmm, hmm,’ the women agreed again, most having feasted on the story.
Thereza laughed along with them, and only when she became intoxicated by the ribbing did she risk the odd comment of her own, because she could not describe a lover’s stroke with the breathless tone of experience like the other women, and would be found out if she tried. She came to soak up the striking images that many of the others failed to notice, like the woman from the favela who was in the parliament, or the women who worked alongside men in the offices in a way rarely seen in the brawny work-gangs on the plantations. Only when able to watch the pictures streamed from the capital did she feel a belonging to the country. Its sleek-lined buildings of concrete and glass, with wide, spotless avenues, pointed like an arrow to the cities in the South, an indicator of where all should head if they had designs on taking part in the future. She had never been further than the nearest towns, which were a few hours on foot, and a little quicker by truck over the rugged terrain. The bus journey to the southern cities was said to take days, which would probably give migrants time to adjust every mile of the way. That in itself was a reason for going. During the afternoons, she liked to climb one of the hills on the edge of the shanty. Once at its summit, she peered into the distance through the heat’s haze, and was sure she could see some of those cities rising like a forest out of the land.
Dona Fernanda collected magazines from the office when the mayor’s representative had discarded them, and gave them to her. She hid them until alone in her mother’s hut, and then she would lie back in her hammock staring at pictures of skyscrapers, beachfront homes and finely cut clothes. Then when she slept, she could be spirited to those places. But the experience was never as uplifting as a stomping spiritual in church, unless she was able to watch those images on the television for herself.
Rolanda was her favourite show. It was said she had become a model after being discovered in the streets of Rio, proving that the blessed hand of fate could protect those brave enough to travel to the cities. She had read in a magazine that Rolanda had travelled to London, Paris and Rome, and though she had no idea where those places were, it left her feeling caged. Now Rolanda hosted her own talk show, had three children and had bought two homes. Thereza had saved the magazine that told the story of how Rolanda, a poor country girl from the North, had travelled to the South many years ago. She had sought to interest Tomas in the story, thinking it would swell his desire for the cities. But all he had asked was if he could borrow it for his lessons. Some had urged her to grant him a taste of the juices he would be missing if she went without him. The thought had been tempting, until she realized that the women who had advised her had used the same trick, and they were still trapped with numerous children in the shanty. Still, she hadn’t given up on him, and planned to give it one more year to turn him in her direction.
‘Thereza, come here when you’ve finished,’ Dona Fernanda said. Thereza twisted the last plait in the woman’s hair, collected her payment, and then joined her godmother on the other side of the room, where the other women couldn’t overhear them.
‘Did you remove my name from the carnival competition?’ Thereza asked.
‘Yes, yes. But when I tell you what I saw you may wish I hadn’t.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘On my way home last night I saw Tomas.’
‘He must have been going home, after he left me.’
‘He went into the shack of another woman, Thereza. Her name is Dona Lena. Do you know her?’
Thereza shook her head and her eyelids fluttered. ‘Maybe he carried her some food.’
‘He may have been carrying something to feed her with alright, but there was nothing in his hand.’
Thereza shuddered. ‘Are you doing this because I decided not to take part in the carnival competition?’
‘I’m sorry,’ Thereza said, her head turning to the floor.
‘I’m telling you because you’re my goddaughter, and I don’t want you to get hurt.’
‘But there could be nothing to it.’
‘That’s what I said, so I went back early this morning to make sure. He came out of her hut and kissed her goodbye. I was lucky he didn’t see me. Afterwards I went back and asked her neighbour who I know, and she said they’d been having an affair for months,’ Fernanda added for good measure, just to make sure, although she had spoken to no such neighbour.
Thereza’s body stiffened and her head swirled. Dona Fernanda would never lie to her. She had entered carnival because he had failed to act, and then when he did, she pulled out again. What a fool she had been. The women may well have been aiming their laughter at her, for having trusted him. It was one thing to have been with other women before they started walking out together, but once they had talked about marriage and a family, she had convinced herself that he had stopped, and would wait until she was ready. One error maybe she could forgive, but this? She felt like a child in the middle of the women’s rowdy chatter. Did their lives have to be filled with coroas, the men’s with other women, all to satisfy the easiest of desires because the essentials went unfulfilled? Was there nothing that could fit only two?
She didn’t hear the knock at the door, so deep was she swimming in her reverie. Dona Fernanda snatched her arm and dragged her to the window. The other women had already scrambled out, and Fernanda pushed her through and pulled the window shut.
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