By Gaspar Almeida
The morning air, crisp with frost, greeted him as he opened the door to step out onto the stone-flagged floor leading into the fold yard of his neighbourhood.
His ward had his family name, being the only five houses whose residents had the popular family name, Almeida Vaddo. The old hand pump, standing next to the house door, long since discarded for the modern tap water, had a long icicle hanging from the leaded spout. The attached well has been drained out due to carelessness, even though it was not silted. Geraldo Gilberto de Almeida bent down and, grasping it between his fingers, broke it off and lifted the frozen stalactite up to catch the rays of the weak morning sun which was just appearing in the east. The light caught within the prism gave off a rainbow-like brilliance. The small gate, which clearly displayed the words "Villa Almeida", creaked as it swung on its hinges; the noise alerted the beasts awaiting him in the yard and brought forth comment from those that seemed to think that feeding time was always overdue. Roldao stepped off the cobbles of the path onto the thickly packed straw covering the ground, feeling the hard, frozen, uneven surface made by the cloven hoofs during the softer weather. Crossing over to the stone building on the east wall and opening the door, he was greeted with the bleating of calves and the warm heavy familiar smell of animals.
The galvanised bin top clanged against the wall as the lid was thrown open, and a flash of brown fur erupted past his hand as a small rat, taking its morning meal was disturbed. His lips formed a soft curse as Geraldo struck at the rodent with the scoop that he used for measuring the feed. The next hour was filled with routine jobs that he performed at a measured pace with nothing forgotten. He enjoyed his morning tasks and the familiar duties gave him a feeling of satisfaction. Geraldo was not a man for showing a lot of affection, but the calves licking his hand as he provided for their needs and the cat rubbing its back against his leg were treated to a gentle touch, which disguised an inner tenderness, not easily recognised by the majority of humans. By the time he had finished his morning tasks, the sun had gained strength, scattering the shadows away and beginning to burn the white dew drops from the roofs, the trees in the garden and exposed areas. He felt good as he stepped into the warm kitchen and smelled the rich aroma of the sorpatel [pork delicacy] gently heating over the small flame. Sitting at the table, he looked into the fire and enjoyed the sweet hot taste of strong tea. Reaching into his pocket, he took out his box of matches, which he always kept in a small leather covering and proceeded to fill and light his first pipe of the day. This action matched the slow and easy pace that governed his existence. Clouds of light blue smoke filled the air as the careful ritual of lighting took place. The fire in the stove having formed a bridge while burning dropped with a clatter and brought his mind to everyday things. He had been day dreaming a little in the warmth of the kitchen, after having been out in the cold. Someone would have remembered today, he thought, but nothing had been said at breakfast...nothing much was ever said at breakfast. How long was it now? Is he sixty or sixty one? He could never remember. "Well," he said softly, "if I can't remember, why should anyone else?" He stretched his legs and stood. Walking across to the coats hanging on the pegs near the door, he put on his jacket and picked up his stick that was standing in the corner and clasped it his hand like an old friend. Geraldo walked out the door and across the road and surveyed the surrounding countryside. How this small village of Parra, has changed!
Things were barren at this time of the year, but he knew that the dormant life within the land would break forth again when nature worked its annual miracle. He turned and, with a measured pace, walked down the road a short way to where a black and white hare was waiting with anticipation at the prospect of its daily run. The dog "Blackie" ran among the trees in the groves with the first burst of released energy; it sniffed at various scents that greeted its nose, and after investigation, passed on to new delights.
Blackie stopped, its ears lifted as if to catch the sound of the familiar tread of boots along the road, a clear sound in the morning air. With another burst of energy, it exploded into action to join his master and follow at his heels, pausing only to check any interesting piece on the roadside. Lifting its leg, it marked its territory with the contempt of a dog certain of its position. At the junction of the lane, Geraldo stopped to poke his walking stick into a plastic bag--Dubai Duty Free-Fly Dubai--clearly written on it that some inconsiderate person had thrown into the hedge. He remembered his fond days of travelling from Bombay via Karachi to Basra to reach the shores of Kuwait in the early 1960's. Lifting it carefully, he carried it ten yards to the bin supplied for such rubbish, wishing that he could throw the mess into the offending person's garden. Litter was something that touched a raw nerve in him; he liked order and routine, with a place for everything and everything in its place. Nothing was ever wasted, pieces of string were collected, and plastic bags folded. Anything that he considered useless burnt in the backyard of his lovely red-Mangalorean tiled home, on days favored by weather conditions and direction of wind.
Geraldo was a cautious man, of habits developed from his early years when he had worked from before daybreak until after dark, to scratch a living from the land, to enable him to raise a family, and pay his way in life. Proud that he was self-sufficient, he asked for nothing and was in debt to no one. A God-fearing man, aware of his reliance on the elements and God, but critical of the administration of the village Church as well as the small chapel designated to the Holy Cross. Not that he voiced his opinions for all to hear, to anyone who knew him; He allowed his feelings to be known by his plain look, or silence which greeted certain subjects of conversation. The walk through the long, narrow road towards the fields and a small rivulet were thick with autumn leaves, and his tread was muffled, apart from the occasional twig snapping loudly under his heel. The dog with its tail and hind quarters just visible, could be heard scratching at the entrance of a 'Katanor' wild rat hole, which it had located with the smell of fresh earth, having been excavated by its inhabitants during the early morning to expand their subterranean home. As they came out of the woods, they stopped. The dog, Blackie, taking a drink from the spring which bubbled away throughout the year, emerged from the ditch, shook the water from its head, and then to sat down to scratch its ear, trying to dislodge a sticky burr from its fur. From his vantage point, Geraldo looked across at the motorway, an open wound across the countryside, carrying the noisy, smelly metal vehicles, moving like ants along the concrete ribbon, rushing with suicidal urgency through the peaceful rural area, unaware of the silent observer.
Geraldo had watched the road being built with interest, was sorry to lose his valuable land, but happy with the compensation paid for it. He had been amazed at the earth moving equipment, overawed by its size and capacity for work, puzzled by the numerous excavations, and finally, rather surprised at the results, after what had appeared to be total confusion. He reflected over his sixty years, remembering the view as it was in his youth, when fields and woods had been the only things that could be seen till the far ends of his neighbouring villages surrounding -- Nagoa, Anjuna-Assagao, Mapusa, Saligao, and the hilltop Monte-de-Guirim school buildings....as far as his eyesight reached. Many changes had taken place, but Geraldo would not openly admit to it, that quite a lot had been for the better. The sound of the church bell calling people to morning service wafted clearly over the sharp air; with his right hand, Geraldo pulled the large watch from his left waistcoat pocket to check the time,and gave the winder a few turns before returning it; then he proceeded to refill his pipe, carefully rubbing the tobacco between his palms, and methodically packing the bowl with practised fingers, and finally applying the flame. He puffed until he was satisfied that it was burning evenly before proceeding on his way. Outside the house door, he removed the thick mud from his boots with the metal scraper hanging on the wall. And then, using the stiff yard brush to remove the remainder, he went into the kitchen to sit in the 'Portugal' designed "Volter" armchair, just inside the door; removing his heavy boots, he placed his feet in the leather slippers he had been given at his last birthday.
Dinner was placed on the table at twelve o' clock. Meals like everything else were taken at fixed times, the word lunch was a term that was not used. Breakfast was served at eight, after the milking and feeding was completed. Dinner at twelve, teatime at four and supper at ten. Thus the day was divided into tidy and orderly periods, which varied only when visitors arrived to bring news or to pay visits. Sitting at the table, he picked up his knife and fork to tackle the first course of his Sunday dinner--a large golden piece of pudding, covered with thick steaming brown gravy. Following this, a joint of beef was placed before him; after sharpening the knife on the steel, which was placed next to his plate, he carved portions of meat for all present. There was a pie or selection of other things for anyone who required additional food, but usually Sunday dinner was enough for anyone, anyway.
Teatime would be at four o' clock. After having a cup of tea, he went to sit in the front room, with his back to the light coming from the window. Putting on his spectacles, he picked up the Sunday paper to read what the rest of the world was doing. He soon tired of the depressing communications and his head slowly dropped onto the cushion of the chair, as a drowsy feeling of wellbeing slipped over him. Geraldo awoke to the sound of people coming into the house--the clatter of feet running down the hallway, followed by the door bursting open as two grandchildren pushing at each other, both wanting to be the first to thrust upon him their carefully wrapped parcel. He tactfully took them both at the same time, as they climbed onto his chair, kissing him, and wishing him a happy birthday. The problem of which parcel to open first was resolved with his saying "Ladies should be first." This drew a comment from the boy, "Grandpa likes to keep the best until the last." As eruption of tempers ensued, he instructed both of them, "Change, and go and play". Laughter reached his ears soon afterwards as some new delight filled their minds and attention.
The afternoon and evening were filled with the visitation of friends and relations, bringing small gifts and greetings, until he heard the clock in the kitchen strike nine o' clock. He changed into his night pajamas, pulled his scarf from the hanger around his neck, adjusting it to ward off the cool breeze and performed his nightly routine of checking every latch at the windows, the long wooden 'addambo' (door lock) to the main door. Through the kitchen door, he took his very important asset--a long Eveready six-cell torch, adjusted the lights, and checked on the welfare of all his stock. His ever-present dog 'Blackie' moved around step by step, a little ahead of him. The cold night air brought a flush to his cheeks as he looked up at the clear starlit sky, the moon lighting the farm buildings with a soft glow.
Returning, Geraldo locked all the doors and made sure that everything was secure. Then, turning to the kitchen table, he picked up a piece of paper covered with crayon drawings. Written across the bottom of the paper were the words "Happy Birthday Grandpa...Have a good Day.... We are proud of you." He considered the writing, reading the words slowly again, and then, smiling to himself he said aloud. "By God! ...Yes!.....It has been a good day. A prayer on his lips and he laid his head on the pillow...."
|< Prev||Next >|