The first day of winter, maybe, although winter is pretty much the same as summer here, only a few degrees cooler. I woke to heavy skies, and the damp warm air when I went out to buy fruit (mamão, water melon and pineapple) told me there had been rain during the night. On my way back home the skies broke. The streets emptied except for the umbrella sellers whose prices doubled immediately. Roads flooded as the city’s sewage system collapsed. The rain lasted most of the morning, cooling the air above the old neighbourhood of Boa Vista where I live, bringing a fresh cocktail of smells to the city - the ripe pant of the overflowing sewers, the rich heave of plants growing and breathing and drinking the water.
When I got home my mother rang.
She asked me if I was seeing anyone.
Not just now, I told her.
We talked about relationships.
Don’t be in any hurry, to, you know, she said.
My mother is seventy three. I am thirty five.
To what, I said.
We’re not having this conversation, I said. It´s not happening.
What do you mean? I watch the soap operas. I know what’s going on.
You don’t, I said. You don’t know what’s going on. We aren’t really talking about this. It’s just a dream and when I wake up it won´t be real.
We went back to talking about Aunt Ivy’s hospital appointments.
When the rain cleared I walked down to the Casa Cultura to buy a housewarming gift for a friend. I walked through the praça, which was thronged with people buying fruit and veg or just sitting on the benches near the fountain. I thought how strange a city Recife is, that it can be so ugly and dirty and yet be so delicately ornate and fragile and romantic and poetic at the same time. Maybe it is this that makes it special, that it’s human and flawed - both heroic and troubled at the same time. As I crossed the river I looked south towards the Coelhos favela, where the river is bordered by teetering wooden shacks which stretch out on stilts into the water. I don’t know how the people who live in the shacks make their way in or out - I have no idea if there are streets that lead down to the river, or if they simply creep, Gollum-like, through the mud along the river’s edge.
I walked across the bridge and looked at the wrought-iron lampposts and the green water moving sluggishly underneath. As I looked I saw one, then two, then five and six small yellow butterflies fluttering across the bridge in front of me, carried aloft by the cool river breezes.
I bought a painted clay ashtray and a small hand-carved wooden box in the Casa Cultura, which used to be a prison. The shops are in what used to be the cells. There are always more shops and people working in the shops than there are tourists.
Later I went to Jordão - the path I usually take to the school had turned swampy and I had to take the longer way around.
Now I am at home, and the sky is soupy and thick with moisture and lights flash in the sky - lightning, which tells me and everyone else that there is more rain to come.