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Mateus Ribeiro's Story: "Through"

"We would like to thank the wonderful Mateus Marcelini Ribeiro for sending this very personal and profound story about one of the most relevant topics nowadays. We also remind you that the Girls for the World blog is a reflection of our organization and that we have an apolitical and non-partisan approach to the discussion of social topics."


It had been a long time since I visited my relatives in Poço Fundo, Minas Gerais, Brazil, and I had a couple reasons for that. Generations passed and the world changed ever faster, making us abandon the old way of thinking of our parents and grandparents, and stop valuing their generation more than our own without even really understanding them.

Lately, the end of my teens made me question what were the reasons that led my parents, at the time they were my age, to leave their quiet hometown and venture into my father's nomad bank clerk life, always following the transfers determined by the bank, staying sometimes less than a year in each city. But my parents' story begins before my parents' existence, long before my existence, and even before memory reaches.

Does anyone still remember what life was like fifty years ago? Or has industrial capitalism managed to erase our interest in the past, annihilate our contact with our ancestors?

My upbringing in small towns, albeit nomadic, made me think that the world was something static. Small towns still had carts, horses, people looking out the windows, sitting on the pavement, doors and windows always open, a dog slowly crossing the street...

That day, returning to the farm, brought back that feeling that the past didn't really pass. I knew that letters were tucked away in someone's drawer, and that my great-aunt's memory was as vivid as the trees that had stood in that same land for more than a century. The coffee plantations, the old house, although renovated, the mountains of Minas Gerais, the animals, my great-aunts who kept their youthful spirit due to their intellectual disability, seemed to transport me to my childhood and even to their own childhood, that never ended.

Amidst the children's playing, the jarring speech of my great-uncle, who took care of the farm, brought me back to the dystopian future of the present:

— If Bolsonaro* wins I'll buy a machine gun and display it on this window!

That was one of the reasons I didn't come back here for over ten years, after sleeping on the mattress that was on top of my great-uncle's old weapons, discovered by my mother when I made the beds, amid laughter and horror.

A man who drank cachaça** for breakfast, who spat on the ground and littered cigarette butts, could not be my link to the past. Or at least not the only one.

My grandfather's stories of violence were immersed in a hazy aura, filled with alcohol and pistols and shotguns firing, but my imagination traveled much further, strolling through the streets of a small town where there were no telephones, cars, or even many houses, and rivers flowed freely, trains crossed hills and states, bringing people from distant places, on long journeys, without haste, without the confusion of the highway traffic that dripped blood, traversing endless cane fields.

The image of my mother buying candy at the store doesn't leave my mind. There were no plastic wrappers, just bread bags, and I keep wondering at what point, as if things changed all of a sudden, and in fact it had to happen at some point, at what point did it all change. The plastic that surrounds everything with its magical colors that hide the products and their alchemy, today lights up a red flag. I open my package and find a rotten chocolate. A symbolism of our world.

That phrase of praise for weapons still sounds incomprehensible to me. What did he want to do with a machine gun? No one had ever invaded his lands or tried to rape his family, but an old story made me think that maybe the world of the ancients wasn't all that peaceful, despite the absence of plastic. A transparent world, where everything was fixed with gunshots and moustaches.

I went for a walk while my great-aunt Vete played tag with my younger cousins. In her 60s, she still had the strength of a big kid.

The landscapes were beautiful. Turkeys, Angola hens, many roosters and other hens and wild birds coexisted, sang, and on the lakeshore the wattled jacanas rested. The coffee plantation stretched on the horizon, not far away, surrounded by hills but not by buildings or walls. Calm and silence in harmony with the voices of frogs and birds.

I sat on the edge of a lake with still waters, took off my slippers and plunged both feet into the icy touch of the murky water that reflected the trees on the shore and a sky of small scattered clouds, spread by the winds like sheets stretched out in space.

Closing my eyes, taking in the almost inert movement of the water, I entered a deep state of contemplation and meditation in which a male figure appeared behind me. A familiar figure, familiar from black-and-white family portraits, wearing an old suit, loose on his tall, thin frame, a mustache, and a serious face, but now serene and calm, almost happy if not for an air of concern looking at me, as if guessing my thoughts. I wanted to meet you, my grandfather, but you were gone so soon, long before I planned to exist. That bullet that went through you, how could it? In such a fragile moment, take a lifetime away from living together with children, grandchildren? Leaving your wife, who's taking care of her brother and five children without anyone's help, away from her relatives, so far from the husband who was now lost in memory. It's been more than forty years, and now you're here. Maybe you have something to say to me, in this land that was once yours, where it all began, one life for another. And when I expected a great silence, like in the old photographs, he took a step forward, as if I could see him from outside my own body, and put his hand on my shoulder, saying, these things are from the old times.

Hearing his voice, I opened my eyes and came back to consciousness, realizing that there was no longer the weight of his hand on my shoulder, and the image of him was gone, blurred in the daylight. But now it felt like someone was there looking at me, maybe watching over me. And I felt something in my chest and in my back, like a wound that closed. Now it felt like that bullet wasn't going through me anymore.

*Jair Messias Bolsonaro, the elected president of Brazil in 2018. Known for his conservative ideas, love of guns and hatred of minorities.

**cachaça: a strong alcoholic beverage.

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