Bosco Propócio Afonso: ‘Memories of Margarida’
Original in Portuguese by: Bosco Propócio Afonso
Translated into English by: Carmen N V Peres
(Original title in Portuguese: As Memórias Da Margarida)
“Goa is a part of India, which has changed a lot, isn’t it?”
“Yes!” Margarida agreed with her house helper who was an elderly lady.
“Mana… where is Filipe?” Margarida asked Josefine again.
“Bai Margarida... It has been a history now. It’s been more than ten years that Dr Filipe passed away. Those days will never return. Perhaps, it seems like God’s lesson that the grandchild of Dona Esmeralda married the son of Dr Filipe last year.
Margarida did not want to continue on this topic with her and so she changed the subject. It was just the second day that she had landed in Goa and was still feeling jet lagged. Josefine was the house maid / orphan. It was an open secret that she was born of an illegitimate relationship between Margarida’s grandfather and one of the servants of the house. She was only seven years older to Margarida.
“Can you please bring me a cup of black tea Mana?” Margarida requested her with great firmness. Josefine walked out of the grand hall where Margarida was sitting and admiring the vast golden rice fields and the far away hills of Ponda.
The house of Pereira Albuquerque was one of the palatial houses of the village. Joao Pereira Albuquerque was a well-known landlord, who owned many lands in the village. His family was known to have been granted the Coat of Arms. Their family was also known as one among those who were converted to Christianity by the Jesuits in 1580. They belonged to the family of Saraswat Brahmins of Curtorim, who have been regarded as one among the oldest families of the village.
“Wake up bai, your tea is ready”, said Josefine.
“Just a minute Josefine!” replied Margarida.
Even though Margarida was sixty-seven years of age; her body did not show any traces of aging. Instead she still looked very beautiful and possessed the grace of a noble lady.
She moved away from the arm-chair in which she was resting and walked towards the dining room of the house…
The dining hall was the biggest room of the house, where the dining table had thirty chairs, all well carved with beautiful designs and in the best conserved state. Margarida fixed her eyes on the chair where her father used to sit, which was now empty. The memories of 5th November 1950 clearly flashed in her mind.
Her father was the Regedor of the village, a person who was very nice and a man with gentle heart towards all his villagers. Margarida was seventeen years old then and was the oldest daughter of all the children; hence she was the dearest in the family.
Jose was one of the tenants of the Pereira Albuquerque and Filipe was Jose’s son. Filipe was a lad with great strength in his arms, well built with dark eyes, with muscular shoulders, fine nose and his shinny skin texture, though tanned was very attractive. Filipe had two younger sisters. He was one of the most intelligent youngsters of the village and was twenty years of age. Though they belonged from the lower strata of the society, Filipe seemed much nobler with his fine manners. His striking violin skills brought him an invite for all the ladainhas in the village.
Filipe would often visit his landlords in their palatial houses. Margarida used to always look at him and admire his ways. She was his great admirer, until a time when she realised that she could not resist her heart for him. She realised that she was in love with him and knew that her love would not be accepted in the society of which she was a part of, but love is always blind!
One day while Margarida was on her way to the Lyceum for her classes, she noticed Filipe riding his bicycle and moving towards her. She immediately called out to him and asked him for a lift. Filipe was nervous as he had the idea of what would happen, but out of respect, agreed. As they were passing by an isolated area, Margarida suddenly interrupted Filipe.
“You can let me down here Filipe!”
“But this place isn’t safe”, Filipe insisted.
They were right before the chapel of St. Sebastian, which was an isolated sphere of the village.
“I know Filipe. Listen to me.” she continued with a pleading, “I need to ask you something and I want a sincere reply to it.”
“Sure, what is it miss?” replied Filipe with a questioning expression.
The young lady gathered her courage and said, “Tell me Filipe, do you like me?” Margarida in a calm manner and in few words confronted Filipe. Filipe though nervous was content by her honest nature.
“Miss, do you know what your question is? Do you?”
“Oh Filipe I only need a reply to my question, tell me!”
“Oh dear, what I want is not possible.”
“What do you want then?” her heart began to thump rhythmically.
“Leave it, please!” Replied Filipe turning his back to her quickly.
Margarida in a moment began to perspire and felt herself becoming warmer. She sensed as if she was letting out heat from her body with small droplets of sweat leaking out of her pores and forming streams down her tiny pink face. Her ticker began to beat wildly and in a few moments, she approached him and their lips met. Filipe could not resist her any more. The silent movement of their lips consummated them in its unresisting passion, which she had long awaited for.
Pereira Albuquerque’s neighbour Dona Esmeralda who was passing by the chapel saw the passionate scene. She was furious with what she saw before her eyes. The fact that a person from a lower caste kissing a girl from the higher class, was difficult for her to gulp or believe. She immediately visited Pereira Albuquerque’s home and narrated the scene that she saw to Margarida’s mother.
Dona Hilda could not believe her ears. She rushed to the altar in the house and started counting the beads of her rosary.
The evening was getting old, while Dona Hilda sat in her high armchair of her balcão and waited impatiently for her daughter. Suddenly Margarida showed herself home.
“Good evening mãe, hmmm… after my class I had to go to my friends’ place in Margao.”
Dona Hilda with her lips sealed and a gaze of her fixed wide-eyes looked at her daughter. Tears rolled down from her brown eyes, filled with sadness and resentment which changed the lines of her fine-looking face.
Margarida suspecting something experienced a chill run down her body and gently uttered, “What is it mãe? Why are you quiet?”
Dona Hilda trying to supress her feeling could not control any further, gave out a loud cry, “Ai, Ai, My God! What had I done that I had to face days like these?” She gave loud cries of mourning.
“Mãe! Please tell me. What is the matter?” questioned Margarida with great anxiety.
“Dona Esmeralda had visited me and told me that she saw you with Jose’s son behind the chapel of St. Sebastian. Is it true??”
In a state of hysteria, she questioned Margarida in a choking tone, while tears rolled down her wet cheeks. She maintained her tone as she did not want others to hear about this matter.
Margarida stood still in shock. Her pink flushing face immediately turned pale. She had no words to deny any of the facts. Her frozen gaze bent low was a sign of acceptance of the news to be true.
“Come with me my child! Come to my room!”
Margarida followed her mother like an innocent sheep.
Dona Hilda’s eyes had tears running down her soggy cheeks, making her neckline wet.
“My dear, are you aware of what you are doing?”
“Mãe, Filipe is a respectable person, very intelligent and worthy without any doubt.”
“My dear, don’t forget that he is a son of our tenant.”
“Yes mãe, but he is very intellectual… it’s true that his family is not of our social strata, nevertheless he is very smart and will soon be joining the Goa Medical College to pursue his studies in the coming year.”
“Listen Margarida, I know it all! I am fond of him too and many of his acts of goodness have reached my ears. However, I do not want the whole village to talk about us.”
“I know mother, but I can’t live without him. I am in love with him.”
“Margarida, in that case it is better you go to Portugal with my brother Jaime. That will do you good. Out of sight, out of mind!”
“No mãe, no! Please no! I can’t!” she pleaded as she cried bitterly.
“My dear, falling in love at this age is a child’s play. Let go of it! If you don’t, then I will have to tell your father. I am sure you don’t want this house to be on fire, do you?”
Dona Hilda walked out of the room with firm gesture.
Margarida returned to her room like a winter withered flower. She rested on her bed and decided to write a letter to Filipe. She hunted for words but found none. Feeling desperate she found herself staring at the black paper in her hand. She moved about in her room peevishly and rested herself on her bedroom window, which gave a picture of the distant hills. She could see the birds setting down for the night and the sky was changing its beautiful bright orange colour to a darker shade. The night was setting in. Margarida had a strong desire to meet Filipe as they had decided earlier but did not know how.
In the evening, as usual the family always came together at the altar of their house for their daily prayers. After the Angelus, they all proceeded to the dining room. Dona Hilda eyed her daughter like she never did before but with sealed lips continued to have her dinner in a tranquil state. Margarida ate silently. That night was a difficult one for Margarida. She was feeling sleepless as her heart sank in the deep of the night. She unlatched the window and opened it wide, feeling the cold air brush her tender skin. She leaped out of the window without a pin-drop sound and walked briskly towards the chapel, where Filipe was waiting for her under the starry night. Filipe lying on a bench was admiring the twinkling stars above.
“Oh Filipe it’s all over!” cried Margarida, as she drew close to him. “Dona Esmeralda saw us in the evening and reported everything to my mother”.
Filipe was expecting for a hug and a kiss from his beloved, but was struck by the words which resounded in his ears. His gleeful face changed its contours and he stood still in shock and fear.
“Oh my God! Please save me! I don’t know what I will answer your father.”
“Filipe! Filipe! Don’t worry. My father does not know anything about it as yet. But my mother has warned me that she will tell him only if I don’t let you go.”
Filipe stood speechless and after few moments of pause, went close to her, took her hands in his and looked straight into her eyes and said, “What do you want me to do? You know that I love you, don’t you?”
Margarida was thunderstruck and kept staring at him. He pulled her in his arms and comforted her with his warm touch. He moved closer and kissed her. This time the only the witnesses was the moon and the stars.
The night seized them in its silence and the cries of the foxes from a distance, though far, seemed close. The pleasant odour of the ripening rice fields spread a warmth in the village. As the night grew older, it was lit by the full moon light that made the shadows clear. And the two of them sat under the mango tree in front of the chapel in the stillness of the night, where suddenly Filipe broke the silence saying, “I love you a lot my darling, but then I don’t want to be the reason of a tempest in your house.”
“What do you want to do Filipe?” She spoke in a childlike manner.
“Return to your house dear!” saying this, he took her hand and placed a gold pendant of Our Lady in her palm.
Margarida opened her palm to see the beautiful little piece shining brightly in the moonlight. Her eyes glittered wide as tears made their way out down her cheeks.
“Good bye dear.” Filipe stood to leave.
“Good bye Filipe! If it’s God’s will then we shall meet tomorrow at this hour.” And they walked their own ways…
Margarida rushed home silently and with great difficulty managed to get into her room. She gave a sigh of relief as she headed towards her bed. When, all of a sudden she froze as she saw her parents sitting on her bed. She felt her body getting numb.
“Where had you been Margarida?” asked her father.
She glued her eyes down and said no word. Her heart was thumping rapidly like it never did before.
“Look at me Margarida! Where did you go?”
She said nothing again.
“Margarida I have told your father everything as I thought it is the best for us.”
“Oh no! Why? Why mãe? Why did you do this?” Margarida began to weep convulsively.
“Is it true?” asked the father in a loud voice.
She said nothing but stood still like the statue of Our Lady.
“My dear, I have decided that you will go with your uncle Jaime who is returning to Portugal next week,” declared the father, and left the room without saying anything more and the mother followed him without any words.
Margarida cried the entire night. The cock crowed his song in the morning while Margarida was still sleepless, saturating her tears on her pillow. At sunrise, one of the housemaids knocked on her door to wake her up but she had no desire to do anything. She had the pendant in her hand. She woke up, brought a handkerchief with her name embroidered on it. She wrapped the pendant in it and kept her kerchief in one of the drawers of cômoda.
It had been fifty years that she visited Goa ever since. She remembered about the pantry attic of the house. She entered it and walked to the corner, pulled up a floorboard that was still loose; spotted her embroidered kerchief and pulled it out. It was dusty as she had placed it there before her exile, about half a century back. She gracefully unfolded it in her hands. She had a recollection of her young love, which could not be attained. Her heart thumped rapidly now as it did in her youth. How beautiful it is to be young and in love!