Tales of Inequality

We seat around the table. We are upper class in Brasil. Claudia, the maid, serves us. My grandmother is 87 and seats next to me. My aunt and cousin seat across the table. It is a huge apartment. There is one dinning room which is used only for meals. When lunch is served we are invited to come in. My aunt, when she is in town, wakes up very early. She listens to all of the stories Claudia has to tell. Claudia came from the northeast of Brasil as I have once explained. She always smiles. Sometimes she has tears in her eyes but she still smiles. Her life should be written down by a real writer. I am no writer, so I write about lunch.

We seat. She serves us. Her phone rings. It sometimes scares her as it vibrates loudly inside of her pocket. She has two children she has finally managed to bring from the northeast to live with her in Sao Paulo. She lives in my grandmother’s house. They lived till last week somewhere else in a poor and far away neighbourhood of Sao Paulo. Jessica, the 17 year old daughter has a boyfriend who also lives with her and her 12 year old brother Jemerson. Sometimes the police comes to the house because neighbours think Jessica is being abused by her boyfriend. It turns out that she hits him. Jessica calls daily to ask Claudia for money. Now they had a fight. The phonecalls scare Claudia because they are usually violent calls. Violent in that they are always related to some aporetic situation.

Claudia tells me Jessica had been very offensive and that Claudia had hit her. I am shocked. I attempt something simultaneously silly and fundamental. It is something I really believe but saying it out loud while I am being served simply feels completely wrong. I explain disturbed that violence breeds more violence. I say it wondering what on earth I even mean by that. I say that under no circumstance a person should hit another. Claudia explains me she had lost her temper. I say it and I believe it though while I am being served, while posing the silver knife in some artifact also made of silver which is called in Portuguese “a rester” it feels idiotic. A silver knife rest in a silver “rester’, I seat being served in a dinning room while Claudia, a poor lady, who like many other northeasterners who had left it all for a dream of a better life serves me and my family. What do I even mean by violence? She explains that Jessica had now abandoned the brother and left with the boyfriend taking with her all the furniture her mother had bought for this far away shack they were living in. So now the brother, Jemerson, lives in the centre of Sao Paulo, in some equally crappy place with an uncle that he barely knows and he visits Claudia in the afternoons. My grandmother suggests that he should come visiting during lunch time, so that he could eat. Claudia with so little is moved.

Jemerson also gets into to troubles in school all of the time. He beats his younger classmates because they make fun of him because he is older.

Claudia works like crazy. Every night she parties. And she studies to become a hairdresser. And she dates complicated guys that come from economically underdeveloped countries in Latin America and in Africa. Men who came to Brazil also looking for a better life. She never really knows which language they speak. They never really call her back.

I ask her how many siblings she had? It is complicated. Her mother had so many children she once explained. For every new partner her mother had she named the children of that man with the same first letter so she would remember who the father was. Sandro, Sueli, Sonia etc. My aunt knows many names. Many died. My aunt knows most of these stories as they are told to her during breakfast. I am never awake that early and I never really know how to react to them. In fact none of us do. We just hear.

Claudia tells the story of her sister Monica who died because of the flood.

They were all sleeping in a room and the flood came. The mother was sleeping and the young Monica could not wake her up in time so she was taken away by the flood. Claudia has tears in her eyes. Then she says.

“My mother is crazy. She had sooooo many children. Once we killed one.”

We don’t say anything. I am first appalled. I dont even know what this could possibly mean. She says something else. Then I ask details. I am speechless. the story is so unclear. It is also told in a mixture of incoherence and different words we from upper class sao paulo dont know.

“She left us taking care. We were little too. We gave her baby food. She had “ventre caido” (fallen womb).”

It is not the first time the ladies from the northeast of Brasil who work in my grandmothers house refer to that. I never understood what on earth it meant. It seemed to change meanings depending on the story. It seems to be used for something that kills and cant really be explained.

I ask what does it mean in this context.

“we gave her to much baby food?

My aunt asks whether the baby had chocked and she says that yes.

The story is so surreal. We seat being served in some fancy building in Sao Paulo listening to that. This story different than so many others does not bring tears to Claudia s eyes. It leaves me and my aunt so speechless that it takes us hours and in fact even days to talk about what it really meant.

And what it really means, is that incredibly painful fact that we often try to hide. That inequality whatever form it is, leads us all to accept that some lives are worth more than others.

But it is lunch time. And we don’t touch this. We drink our coffee which Claudia says laughing that it tastes like medicine. It was gift from a friend to me. It is expensive coffee with cardamon. I drink it and I try to push the whole thought aside of my mind as I have done it in so many other places of the world.

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