It is the Ides of March, a date that has often been a milestone for Maria. March 15 has always been a personal, private day, and its significance is not shared with anyone, like a secret birthday. She celebrates quietly but expects some important event may take place. This evening, she leaves the dishes to her daughter, Anna Maria, and moves outside to the west veranda to admire the sunset. Dark roiling clouds with golden edges flash with heat lightening, reminding her of the first evening after she bought the ranch, Fazenda Copa.. Could forty four years have gone by? Maria answers heself, aloud: “ Yes!” She recounts the years and events, speaking aloud to herself:
“ Forty six years before, on March 15 I came back Caconde.” —Her home town, near the border of Minas Gerais .” Forty one years ago she and Facundo and I were married, and within three years our daughter Annamarie was born.”
At 17 Maria had worked as a sales clerk in Caconde. She knew men felt her arttractive, as did her boss who pestered her with proposals of marriage, and allowed her priveleges, like crediting missed hours if she was a little late.
During the previous two years at Carnaval a professional recruiter began to urge her to travel to Geneva to work as a dancer.. “They love Samba!” He painted a picture of well paid work, glamour, travel, and Europa. The recrriter persisted and Maria began to think about Geneva. Her home town offered little by way of a promising future. The area was beautiful tourist country surrounded by coffee and eucalyptus plantatons; but they belonged to landowners who only employed family for the best positions, and long time low paid trusted workers for the rest.
Maria’s family was decente, but lived in aristocratic decaying poverty, and amongst recurring sociopolitical upheavals that promised everyting and delivered nothing; her future seemed bleak. However she was disciplined, hard working, and reliable. By age nineteen Maria had saved enough for a round trip airfare to Geneva, and decided to go, despite objections and dire predictions of family and friends.
“ What will you do? How will you live? “
“I will find a job. I’ll work.!”
“ Nonsense, you have no skills!”
“ I will find them there!” And she left.
When she returned in a few years, she was able to buy a house for her mother, and her fazenda, the Brazilian cattle ranch of her dreams. In spite of unremitting curiosity among friends and family, Maria never spoke of her life in Geneva with anyone.
Night settles slowly onto the land. Maria asks the fading sunset aloud,“Was not the 15th the first time we shared the evening forty four years ago? It was only two years to the day before Facundo and I were married, … 1976” Facundo had come with the fazenda, where he was young vaqueiro. She first met him on a trip he took to …Geneva! The details and years seemed slippery. Maria again speaks aloud to herself “ I can never recall the numbers and dates. Math, I hate it!” She sighs deeply. ” Ask me about calving, cows, roundups, castrating, immunizing, marking,worming, branding, marketing, the price of soybeans; but not years and dates!”
The screen door swings noisily. Maria’s 17 year old daughter is back late from a filme cinema date with her boyfriend.
“Mamae, who are you talking with? Not yourself, surely! Todo bem?”
“ Of course, amor! Why so late? A filme doesn’t last eleven hours does it? “
“ You know, mamae, you are so mysterious. You want me to tell you todo, everything, but you never talk about anything. Like Geneva or your life there. Weren’t you exactly my age when you went?”
“ Not exactly. ”
“ What do you want to know? I was I. You have known me forever. Europe was long ago and it’s far, and you are you, this is here and now.”
“ But you are not just you. You are my mother. Isn’t that what matters? And it matters that you never mention Geneva. No one does.”
“ No one knows.”
` “Uau mamae! “
Maria shrugs her shoulders, puts up her long grey hair in a pony tail, and starts to walk about. “I am a person who can’t lie, won’t lie. To anyone. But to speak at the wrong time is a worse than a lie. One should only speak when the time is right.”
“ But Mamae! I’m packed, and leave in the morning for University in Sao Paulo!”.
“You are right; and the time is right. Please … sit beside me on the swing: Here is what you want to know:
I was a prostitute.”
Anamaria gets up angrily, and glowers, fists on hips:
“ A What!? I can’t believe it…! How could that be!?”
“ It was work I am not ashamed of. I was very successful, and worked with pride. I was the best.. Your father can confirm that, he was there, was one of my first clients.
” Your Cliente?! One of them!?”
“ Truth matters. I am ‘not remotely suggesting you be a prostitute. I am telling you this because you are now a woman, and my daughter, and I love you, and you are going away to make your life.”
“ Why didn’t you ever tell me?”
“The time was not right. This is the time. Yet I’ve not yet told all.
” There’s more!??’
” A client, not mine, interveiwed me. Years later he became a well known writer, and among other things wrote a book about what I told him. It’s called Onze Minutos.”
“Why Eleven Mintutes?”
“Maybe because he claims the average sexual encounter between a man and a woman is eleven minutes. Among a lot of other things. He thinks it’s a novel; I think it’s … creative non fiction. It’s informative, as to sex and love, real love and sex, and it’s expository; descriptive. You may want to read it. With your boyfriend, when the relationship becomes very serious. You know what I mean by very serious! Take it to a class on sexuality, it will blow… sorry… their soggy little minds. Annamaria answers derisively…
“Well! Thanks mamae. I think!..”
“ What is the date today, Aninha?
“ March 15… Why?”
“ The Ides of March,”
“ And?… Do I have to pull your tongue?”
“ Pois nao. It’s the date I returned to Rio, and the date Facundo and I were married. But today is the most moving, most meaningful Ides because I’m with you, now, here, to tell you my truth, and your dad’s. He knows and approves. I am here with you now to urge you to do whatever you do with pride, and honesty. Be clear with yourself. I am here tonight say that your life belongs to you, not to me, or your father, or to anyone other than you. I’m here now tonight to urge you that if … when…you do anything that you cannot or will not talk about with anyone, you don’t have to… unless or until the time is right. ”
The hall clock strikes 11. “Onze horas, Aninha, and you have to leave very early. Time for bed.”
Boa noite, mamae. Obrigada.
Boa vida Aninha.