Kendra Dwelley Guimaraes
Zero Reais $0
The summer I turn eleven, we don’t have any money. Lili, Silvana, and me run around on the beach together in our older sisters’ hand-me-down bikinis. Lili’s sister’s old bathing suit is orange with millions of tiny orange fuzz balls all over. My sister’s navy blue bikini top is so worn out, it is shiny. Silvana says she can see my nipples. Just because Silvana is twelve she thinks she knows everything that me and Lili don’t know. I lie belly down in the wet sand and stand up.
“Now can you see my nipples?” I ask. The sand dribbles off my shoulders. Silvana crams two broken shells into my bikini and giggles.
“Ju, you are a mermaid,” Lili tells me. A topless gringa lady watches us. Then she closes her eyes and tilts her chin up at the sun. I can see up her nostrils.
“Why do gringos have big noses?” I ask Lili.
“Why do they go topless?” Lili asks.
The topless lady stares at us. She waves. “Brasilenas bonitas,” she says in a funny way that sounds almost like Portuguese but it isn’t. Then she pulls out a camera from a canvas beach bag, points to us and then to the camera and shrugs her shoulders.
Silvana has big teeth when she smiles. Her smile, we know, will fill up the whole picture. Lili and me squeeze in on either side of Silvana, the show off, and smile with our lips closed.
The lady’s nipples look like wide-open cartoon eyes. She talks to the beach shack boy, and he brings us each a bottle of Guarana soda. Not just one to share between the three of us. One for each. I swear one of the lady’s nipples winks at me. I wonder if the lady wants to take pictures of us swimming and what she will give us in exchange for three snap shots.
One Real $1
When summer is over, there is only rain. My sister, my brother and me all sleep in bed with mom. Mom puts two big plastic garbage sacks over the bed. All night long we listen to splat splat splat, rain water hitting plastic buckets, or pling pling pling hitting metal bowls. I am cold because the water runs off the garbage sacks and makes the sheets wet.
“I can’t sleep,” I tell Mom.
“Pretend the sound of the water is music,” Mom says.
“Samba,” my sister says because she is awake too.
“I can’t hear music,” I tell them. “All I hear is rain.”
“Pretend the rain sounds like something else then,” my sister says, getting impatient.
“Shhhh...” my mom says.
“I know,” I say. “It’s the sound of the cash register in Vadinho’s supermarket. Pling! And don’t forget your change! Here Senhora, one real.”
Two Reais $2
It’s another summer and already the gringos are back buying shirts stamped with turtles and PRAIA DA CONCHA in capital letters, buying coconut shell bikini tops, buying lobsters at the beach shacks, buying hammocks woven by women in the village, and mounds of cashew nuts picked and dried from our trees. Lili and me see Silvana’s mom at the beach shacks. She complains because all the beer costs two reais now instead of the one real winter price for locals. She says it’s a crime that we should have to pay as much for one bottle of Antarctica beer as some fat gringo full of cash.
Silvana can’t play with me and Lili this summer because she is pregnant. Talk about fat. My mom says to be sure not to play with Silvana because pregnancy is contagious like chicken pox. Lili and me know that isn’t true. We know Silvana took her panties off for someone to stick their pinto inside her. We decide not to play with her because she is stupid for getting pregnant by some good for nothing that won’t even say he’s the father. At least that’s what we heard Dona Eladia tell her niece behind the hibiscus bush in front of her house. All the gossip will be over soon and then Silvana will have nothing but a big belly. My sister says Silvana probably doesn’t even know who the father is.
On the beach today, they are taking pictures of a model for a new brand of sunscreen. This isn’t the first time the cameramen have come. My mom says it’s because Praia da Concha is paradise. Me and Lili watch the camera men set up cameras on black stick legs. There are lights and strips of flashy aluminum. There is a model in a red bikini and all the cameramen point towards her. She is morena like me, and they film her splashing in the waves, lying on a sarong, hiding behind a palm frond. The palm frond is green green green against her brown skin. When they finish filming, a man with sunglasses on top of his head passes out glossy pieces of bright yellow paper with the model’s picture and the name of the sunscreen next to her bare foot. Lili and me take one each and I find an extra one that someone dropped in the sand. We run back from the beach in the direction of my house to show my sister the shiny pictures. We pass Ze’s store, where he sells wood sculptures, and he calls out from his hammock.
“Where are you running to, girls?”
“We saw a model on the beach, and we got pictures of her,” Lili says and stops in front of his store.
“Let me see,” Ze says, holds his palm open, and sticks it out of the hammock.
We run up to the front stoop of the store and over to Ze’s bright orange hammock. I slap one of the pictures into his hand.
“Just be sure to give it back. It’s mine. You can’t have it for free,” I tell him.
He gargles his laughter at the back of his throat and stares at the picture of the model. He puckers his lips, breathes in a sharp sucking sound, and pushes down his eyebrows, “Se-xxx-yyy,” he says to the picture, “Look at that....Is she still down on the beach?” he asks us, pretending to rise up out of his hammock.
“I don’t know,” Lili says.
Ze starts to sing that song they play on the radio all the time. “Tira calca jeans bota fio dental. Morena voce, e tao sensual.” My sister says the song is true, that our color is beautiful, sensual.
“Give me back my picture,” I tell him.
“Ju, I’ll give you twenty cents to go buy a popsicle if you give me the picture,” he says, teasing me.
“No way,” I say.
“Here you go,” he says and hands the model’s glossy picture over. “You and Lili are much prettier than her anyway.”
“Take a picture,” I reply, sticking my hip out and putting my hand on my head.
and the blond. Simone and Carla,” Ze says, staring at the two of us, “You girls should be the dancers for Gerasamba when Simone and Carla retire.”
“Are Simone and Carla rich?” Lili asks pulling at her blond curls.
“Rich?” Ze says, “Carla insures that beautiful butt of hers for thousands of reais. If that tells you anything.”
“Why’s she insure her butt?” I ask, leaning on the hammock.
“It’s her biggest asset,” Ze says and laughs.
We run back to my house to practice dancing. My sister has a Gerasamba cassette that someone bought from a street vendor in Salvador and Lili’s sister Erica has one of those little radios that also has a tape player. The electrical cord’s been lost for a long time, but Lili says the radio has batteries. And if they’re running low, we can just dance real slow.
Three reais $3
Semana Santa, Mom still washes dishes at Odette’s restaurant every day and night except for the last day of the holy week, Easter Sunday, when Odette’s is closed. Mom says thanks to God that locals come to Odette’s because with Carnival over and almost all the tourists gone from the village, she’d be out of a job. Every Easter, mom makes sweet beans with coconut milk and sugar. She makes monqueca de peixe with only fish heads. When I ask her why just the fish heads, why couldn’t she get a whole fish for a change, she explains, like she does every time I ask her, that the fish heads really do have a lot of meat in them. It’s just that most people are wasteful. She tells me I’m a cry baby that I should be grateful.
“And look,” Mom says, plunking a bottle of wine on the table. “With the three reais I had left over, I bought some wine for us and five cigarettes for myself.”
My sister pours the wine into three little cups. The wine is sweet like sugar cane juice only it’s the color of my sister’s lipstick.
“I want to go to the beach,” I say.
“You know you can’t go swimming during Semana Santa,” my sister replies.
“The gringos do,” I tell her.
“You’re not a gringa,” my mom says, scraping at the last bit of her beans on the plate.
“The gringos can do whatever they want while we eat fish heads,” I yell.
“At least you have something in your belly, girl. And the gringos didn’t buy your Easter dinner for you. I did.”
My mom picks up a loose cigarette from the table and lights it. I’m sick of her looking tired all the time.
Five reais $5
Summer again and the gringos are back in our village to suck on crab legs, caju fruit and bottles of beer. Silvana’s baby is as skinny as could be. I see Silvana looking at her reflection in the big silver pots they sell at Geraldo’s market. She looks like she wants to set the baby down on top of the little plastic bags of manioc flour stacked next to the pots and then walk away.
“Hey, Ju,” she says spotting me further down the aisle, “Come here.”
I walk up to her and stroke the baby’s toes with my finger. He is fussing. “Can I hold him?” I ask.
“Sure,” she says, looking relieved.
“What’s his name?” I ask, the baby squirms in my arms, grabs my shirt with his tiny hands and starts to suck on my shoulder.
“Why’s he so skinny?” I ask, shifting the baby to my other shoulder and rubbing his back.
Silvana looks around to see if anyone is near us in the store, “That’s my secret,” she says.
“What’s your secret?” I ask.
“Sometimes I tell my mom that I’ve fed him when I really haven’t.”
“Are you crazy?” I ask as a red faced gringa walks by us, staring at the baby that is crying in my arms.
“No,” she says,”If my mom notices, then maybe she’ll take him away from me, and if she doesn’t notice, maybe he’ll just disappear.”
“You are crazy,” I reply, “This baby didn’t do anything to hurt you.” I give her back the baby and shake my head.
“Oh, really?” Silvana says loudly, staring at the pots and not at me.
I walk out of Geraldo’s without buying the powdered milk that my mom sent me there for. Lili is sitting all by herself on the front stoop of her house. She is sucking on her arm. “What are you doing?” I ask.
“Trying to leave a mark,” she says and shrugs, “I don’t have anything to do.”
I roll my eyes. “Silvana is out of her head,” I tell Lili, “She’s not giving her little baby his bottle because she wants him to disappear. She says it’s a secret.”
“Do you think we should tell my sister?” Lili asks.
“Erica is crazy,” I tell her.
“Should we tell your sister?” Lili persists.
“No.” I say, “She already thinks Silvana is stupid. My sister says if only Silvana had poured a little Coca Cola into her perereca afterwards she never would have gotten her big belly in the first place.”
“A secret is a secret,” Lili says, but she doesn’t sound so sure.
“I don’t care if it’s a secret or not. I’m telling Silvana’s mom if the next time I see Silvana’s baby he’s as skinny as this.” I tell Lili and hold up my little pinky finger to show the size of baby Gil.
Lili jumps off the steps to her house and into the street. “Let’s go to the beach,” she says.
I flash the five reais my mom gave me to buy the milk and say, “Let’s go to the beach shacks.”
“Where’d you get that?” Lili asks.
“I kissed some gringo in the alley near Geraldo’s market and he gave this to me,” I say.
“You did not,” Lili says.
Eight Reais $8
On our way to the beach, we pass by Ze’s store. He is lying in his hammock, flicking wood chips with his finger onto the cement floor.
“Hi, Ze,” me and Lili yell.
Ze looks up and smiles. “Ju, when are you going to grow up so I can marry you?” he says.
“I’m never going to marry!” I say.
“Who says she wants to marry you?” Lili says.
“We stop at the place across from Ze’s store where Raquel sells her patchwork dresses. Lili plays with Raquel’s two daughters while I stare at the swaying dresses that hang above me from a hibiscus branch.
“Raquel, how much is the purple colored dress? I have five reais!”
“Keep saving your money pretty one. That dress is twenty,” Raquel says as she takes the dress off the hanger so I can look at it up close.
“Is this dress for the gringas?” I ask.
“The dress is for anyone who wants it. The dress is how I buy food for my girls,” Raquel answers.
“Let’s go, Lili,” I say, grabbing her hand.
“Bye, girls,” Raquel says. The dresses wave good bye to us.
We keep walking to the beach. Me and Lili are excited because we have my mom’s five reais to spend at the beach shacks. The only thing is I don’t have my bathing suit, but I don’t want to go home and get it because mom will ask me for the powdered milk and the change.
Lili and me run to the edge of the waves and splash each other until we are both drenched. I bolt up to the beach shacks and give Dona Isabel my money to hold. There is a bald gringo sitting at a table by himself and when I pass him he whispers to me in a slow funny kind of Portuguese that is all curled up in his mouth, “Girl, girl...”
Lili and I swim out to the boats in our tank tops and shorts. I can climb up the side of the boats faster than she does. I yank her up next to me and she cuts her foot on a barnacle.
“Look,” she says, “Blood. I’m menstruating.”
We giggle. “Now you’re a woman,” I tell her even though I know we both started to bleed in the winter. This is the first summer that sometimes we can’t get in the ocean to swim.
“My mom calls menstruation the visitor that no one wants,” Lili says.
We lie on the hot wood boards of the boat and the salt dries on our skin leaving powdery white splotches. I tell Lili about the gringo at Isabel’s beach shack and tell her that maybe he could give us more money because he kept saying girl, girl, and trying to get my attention. When we swim back to shore, we run straight to the shower on the side of the beach shack to rinse off the salt water and the gringo is still there. Lili thinks he’s ugly and so do I. But we still go to sit at his table just to see what will happen. He buys us Guarana and french fries. He stares at us and whistles a kind of song through his teeth. A lady from Rio Verde walks past our table with her arm full of crocheted bikini tops for ten reais each.
“I want one,” I tell the bald gringo and tap on his naked shoulder.
“How much?” he asks the lady from Rio Verde. She adjusts the baseball hat on her head and squints at him.
“Ten reais,” she says. I can tell she needs the money. She reminds me of Mom. I’m not going to spend Mom’s five reais except on the powdered milk she asked me to buy. When I get home, Mom will already be at the restaurant. No questions for me and I’ll leave the powdered milk in a little tin on the table.
“Eight reais,” he says.
He ends up paying eighteen for two bikini tops. Mine is bright blue and Lili’s is pink.
“I want to see,” the bald gringo says and points at both of his eyes and then at the two of us. We run to a little public bathroom stall on the beach and change. The stall has piss on the floor and stinks like you don’t know how, but the bikini tops are too beautiful.
“This was easy,” I tell Lili. She nods her head and stares down at her pink bikini top. We both have little boobies. Not like my sister’s, just little knobby boobies that look like caju fruit.
When we get back to the table, the gringo invites us to go for a swim and we all walk down to the water together. The water drops off real fast and pretty soon Lili and me are treading in deep water. The gringo keeps diving under water and popping up closer and closer to us. The water beads up on his scalp and runs off in little drops. I imagine his face is a soccer ball, bobbing in the wave. His game is silly like the kind you play with babies, hiding your face and showing it. At first when I feel his fingers between my legs, I think it’s a fish, but when I see Lili twist her body real fast, I know it’s him. His fingers don’t feel bad. He doesn’t pinch hard, just kind of nibbles just like a fish. I am the most beautiful girl in the world in my brand new bikini top. I figure that I tapped him on the shoulder and asked him for it. Now he is tapping me back underwater where no one can see, not Dona Isabel, not my mom, not anyone. This is mine and Lili’s secret. A fish nibble is not all that different from when I put my own fingers in my panties. Only this time, I’ve got something for it. I told a gringo what to do, and he did it.
Ten Reais $10
The night that Lili and I sneak out to Boca Piu, we see Silvana standing underneath the almond tree in a big white t-shirt and jean shorts. The t-shirt is so huge that it looks like she’s wearing only that and from the waist down she is naked.
“Put on some clothes, girl!” Lili says.
“Where’s your baby?” I ask her.
“My mom is watching him at home,” Silvana says.
“Does she know you’re here?” Lili asks, picking up a fallen leaf and twisting the stem between two fingers.
“No,” she thinks I’m buying manioc flour at Geraldo’s market,” Silvana says and pulls out a wrinkled ten reais from the pocket of her jean shorts.
“Remember your secret that you told me, Silvana?” I ask.
“Uh-huh,” she says, “He hasn’t disappeared yet, but now my mom’s the one that takes care of him mostly. She says if I want I can think of Gil like my baby brother. She says not to worry that she’s going to raise baby Gil just like she did me.”
Twenty Reais $20
In the back of Vadinho’s market is where I get the idea. I’m walking to Odette’s restaurant when the guy who works in the storeroom unloading sacks of rice and crates of vegetables calls me over. He has tight curly hair and a little mustache like kiwi skin.
“What do you want?” I ask him.
There is a truckload of crates stacked up in the street. He puts his foot on a wooden crate filled with squash and says, “Give me a kiss.”
“One kiss. One real,” I say and put my hands on my hips.
“Come here,” he tells me. He hoists up the crate, walks inside the storeroom and sets it on the floor. I follow him, but stand just inside the doorway. The room is dark and smells cool like cement and scratchy like the burlap sacks of rice that line the walls. He pulls one real out of his wallet and holds it between his fingers.
“Give it to me first,” I tell him.
He comes to the doorway, hands the money over to me and bends down until his face is close to mine. His skin smells salty and sharp but his hair is sweet with the lavender water you can buy at the supermarket. His mustache tickles my skin. He slips his tongue in my mouth in and out. I cram the money in my pocket and run away. I wonder if I gave him twenty kisses would he give me twenty reais? I’ll have to ask Lili. Silvana is really stupid. She gets a big belly and a baby she doesn’t want. Me and Lili we could get twenty reais, maybe even more.
While I’m running down the alley to Lili’s house, I get this feeling in my belly like worms. Worse than worms, like the pins of a million sea urchins tossing around in the bottom of my stomach, and I think it is because I’m thinking bad things about Silvana and she didn’t do anything to me, but then I feel a trickle between my legs. It is the visitor nobody wants.
“Go away,” I say out loud to the visitor, “You’ve got the wrong girl.”
The visitor, of course, doesn’t say anything back.
It’s not the brown streaks like banana stains on my panties or even the sea urchin pricking in my belly that makes me mad and scared all at the same time. It’s just this feeling that I want to go back to the last summer and the summer before that, before the visitor showed up, and I know I can’t.
“What’s wrong with you?” Lili calls out from her porch as I run up the steps. “Who are you running from?” she asks.
“I need to use the bathroom,” I tell her and roll my eyes like it is no big deal. “It’s the visitor.”
“Nothing you can do about it, girl,” Lili replies and laughs.
I head to the bathroom to rinse the stain from my panties while Lili makes me some chamomile tea to make the sea urchins settle down. I can’t wait to sit in Lili’s kitchen with the fan blowing, drink my sweet herb tea and forget all about my woman troubles while I tell Lili about the one real and how we can get even more.