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￭ Escape Gates
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2009-06-30 | |
"Do you know what I brought you from Brazil?" Alex's grandmother asked, leaning her fragile and tiny body closer to his in the back seat of the car. "A piece of cheese," she declared, a broad smile crossing her wrinkled face, making her eyes narrower and become as small as two black jelly beans.
Alex looked at her open-mouthed and stared back at the window of the car that was taking them from the Philadelphia International Airport to his house in Richboro. "Damn!" he thought, rolling his eyes. Everybody else in his class at Richboro Elementary School had a grandmother who could visit often and speak perfect English. Why did he have to have one that could come from Brazil only every five years, who didn't speak a word of English and, worst of all, who brought him a piece of cheese as a present?
He sighed so deeply that his mother stared sharply at him through the rear-view mirror. She opened her mouth to say something, but closed it again, turning her attention back to the road.
Alex turned his face back to his grandmother and found the smile still glued on her face. He realized, with mixed feelings, that she looked kind of nice with her gentle face, her hair --white and gray like soft clouds -- piled up in a loose crown, her ears naked of earrings, seeming so vulnerable. He could have liked her if she were at least a little bit like the other grandmothers, the American ones who always brought candy for their grandchildren. But cheese! Who ever heard of grandmothers bringing cheese?
Didn't his grandmother know that she was supposed to spoil him? That's the way things were in the United States. He was always listening to his friends saying, "My grandmother gave me this candy," or "My grandmother gave me ten dollars," or "My grandmother took me to Toys R’ Us and told me to pick any toy I wanted." Oh, how he dreamed about grandmothers like that.
Alex sighed deeply again and stared back at the window. Maybe it would be better if he started counting telephone poles to make the trip go faster.
"What kind of cheese do you think I brought you?" Alex heard his grandmother asking and looked back at her, trying to conceal his disappointment. Before leaving for the airport, his mother had explained to him that things were very different in Brazil. Most of the people were poor, there was violence in the streets, and the public schools were falling apart. That's why she and Alex’s father had decided to immigrate to the U.S. nine years ago, one year before Alex was born. Maybe his grandmother was also poor and had thought the piece of cheese would be a nice present for him. Maybe she thought he was hungry like many children in Brazil.
Alex tried to force a smile on his face, but only managed to make a grimace. On the other side of his grandmother, Alex's grandfather looked at him and laughed, clapping both hands on his knees and throwing his head backwards. Alex studied him from the corner of his eye, not knowing what to think of him. He was a big, slender man, with blue eyes and silvery hair. Alex had heard his mother tell his daddy that Alex's grandfather was going out of his mind. He seemed to have some sort of disease that made him lose his sense of reality sometimes. Was he laughing now because of what his wife had said, or was he just delirious? Alex continued to stare at him suspiciously.
"What kind of cheese do you think I brought you?" his grandmother asked again, still smiling.
"I don't know," Alex grumbled, looking back at her. He felt like saying "I don't know and I don't care," but didn't dare. His mother would get angry at him, and he didn't want to hurt his grandmother's feelings either. It wasn't her fault that she couldn't think of anything better to bring him from her country.
"The cheese I brought you has many, many holes in it," his grandmother explained slowly, making her husband burst out again in a loud laughter, clapping his hands against his legs and throwing his head backwards. Alex glanced at him and, unable to decide if he was feeling well or not, looked back quickly at his grandmother.
"The reason I brought you this kind of cheese is that it reminds me of when your mother was a child," Alex's grandmother continued in her soft voice. "We lived in a big house, with big rooms, a big living room, a big indoor patio, and a big kitchen, too."
"Big, very big, " Alex's grandfather agreed solemnly, shaking his head back and forth.
"And in this big kitchen, sometimes there were very big rats," Alex's grandmother remembered, showing Alex the size of the rats with her two opened hands.
"Many, many rats," Alex's grandfather again shook his head back and forth, back and forth.
"I remember the rats, too." Alex's mother laughed from the front seat. "You used to put on such a show when you were chasing them, Mom."
"How did you chase them?" Alex asked slowly, feeling a pinch of interest grabbing him.
"Well, I had to go inside the kitchen and close myself in with the rats," his grandmother told him. "I didn't like the idea of putting poison in the kitchen because of the food. So, I would go inside and fight the rats with a broom."
"Your aunts and I used to climb on chairs and watch her fight through the door," Alex's mother told him, smiling. "The doors were old-fashioned, very tall and with glasses on their tops. So, we would climb on chairs and watch mother running around, shouting at the rats and trying to hit them with the broom. But the funniest part was that she was afraid of rats. Every time they scurried around her feet, she would shout for help at the top of her lungs and climb on a chair to run away from them."
"I wasn't exactly afraid, I just didn't like them," Alex's grandmother tried to convince him with a smile. "I was thankful, anyway, when your grandfather would come to help me."
"Was he good at fighting rats?" Alex wanted to know, feeling closer to his grandmother, but not daring yet to speak directly to his grandfather.
"He was very good," Alex's grandmother patted her husband gently on the leg as if complimenting a general after a hard battle. "He was the best."
"I would go inside that kitchen, grab the broom from her and attack the rats at once," Alex's grandfather bellowed. "The children were there, giggling behind the door. Your grandmother was over a chair, shaking more than a kite on a windy day. It was up to me to kill the miserable creatures. I would take that broom, aim it, and one, two, three, the rats were gone. Squashed on the floor and lifeless like old pieces of meat. They were nothing against me."
"You were wonderful," Alex's grandmother patted her husband's leg again and turned to Alex winking at him.
"What about the cheese?" Alex asked with a smile.
"Oh, the cheese! That's how I found out there were rats in the kitchen. When I would start to find all my cheese with big holes in it." Alex's grandmother laughed.
"Your grandmother was always too soft on animals," Alex's grandfather declared.
"I was not!" Alex's grandmother retorted in an exasperated voice, making Alex smile. "I could take care of the rats by myself. I just didn't want to. And I could kill spiders, too. Remember?"
"Spiders?" Alex was suddenly interested.
"Yes, there were many spiders in our house," Alex's grandmother observed calmly as if she were talking about the most common thing in the world.
Alex eyes widened.
"Big, black spiders," his grandfather recalled, showing their size with both hands opened.
"That big?" Alex whistled in admiration.
"I like animals. I don't like to kill them," Alex's grandmother confided to him. "But I had to kill the spiders. You see, sometimes they climbed even on your mother's skirt."
"The spiders were on my mother's skirts?" Alex looked back and fort from his mother to his grandmother.
"They were awful!" Alex's mother made a face. "One day I was ready to go to school when one of them climbed on my white uniform. I was so scared. I kept staring at that black, hairy thing and didn't know what to do."
"When I saw the spider, I told your mother to freeze." Alex's grandmother recounted. "Then I stormed to the kitchen, grabbed a broom, alcohol, and matches. I used the broom to send the spider flying to the floor. Then, I spilled alcohol over it and lit the match. The spider caught fire in an instant and start to shrink until it become a little black ball."
"Weren't you afraid?" Alex asked with a hint of admiration for the little old lady.
"I was. My heart went BANG, BANG, BANG! But I had to protect your mother."
"You were brave," Alex remarked, smiling shyly at her.
"Brave. Very brave," Alex's grandfather repeated. "She just didn't like frogs."
"Frogs!" Alex's grandmother puckered her mouth and shook her head in disgust.
"Were there many frogs in your house?" Alex asked in anticipation.
"Many, many frogs," his grandfather remembered, shaking his head as if talking to himself. "I haven't seen them lately, though. I wonder where they are living."
"Were they really inside the house?" Alex wanted to know.
"They usually stayed in the gardens, but they went inside sometimes," his grandmother explained.
"They gave us such a scare," Alex's mother told him. "Once I went into the bathroom, and when I was ready to get out I realized there was a frog in front of the door. I shut the toiled lid, jumped on top of it, and screamed as loud as I could. Mom came and tried to convince me that frogs were harmless, that I should climb down and open the door. I knew she was afraid of them, though. I kept staring at that big, green thing that stared back at me and I couldn't move even a leg. I could only shout nonstop."
"And what happened then?" Alex asked, excitedly.
"I had to call your grandfather," his grandmother recalled. "He came home right away and had to break down the door to rescue your mother."
"I came home and found your grandmother crying in front of the bathroom and your mother shouting inside it. I had to do something fast. Broke that old door with my feet as easily as I would break a nail." Alex's grandfather boasted. "And all that fuss because of a frog. Women!" He muffed.
"We are home," Alex's mother announced.
"Already?" Alex was surprised. He hadn't counted even one telephone pole.
Once inside the house, Alex's mother asked him to show his grandparents around. In the dining room, his grandfather stared out of the window at the next-door neighbor's garden.
"I didn't know we were so close to the park," he remarked. "I can even see the bandstand from here."
"It's not the park bandstand," Alex's mother came close to her father and explained. "It's my next-door neighbor’s gazebo. A place where he relaxes after swimming in his pool."
"Do you think you can trick me?" Alex's grandfather turned angrily at her. "I can see that I am close to the park. I am going there to meet my friends."
"Dear, I explained to you before that we were going on a long trip to visit our daughter. We are far away from home now," Alex's grandmother said softly. "Why don't you rest for a while? You must be tired after the trip."
"All right, all right," Alex's grandfather started walking to the den. "Can I turn the TV on?"
"Sure. I’ll show you how to do it," Alex's mother smiled relieved. "You can watch TV, but it will be in English," she calmly explained to him.
"I want to watch the TV Globo," Alex's grandfather declared stubbornly. "Why are you all treating me like a child? I can't see my friends. I can't watch the television channel I like. What is going on here?"
"Dear, we are in another country," Alex's grandmother reminded her husband, touching him lightly on the face and seeming suddenly very old and tired.
"You, too! You too are trying to trick me?" Alex's grandfather turned to her red-faced, his eyes sending sparks of anger.
"Grandfather," Alex took him gently by the arm. "Come upstairs with me to see my toys."
Alex's grandfather turned to him angrily, but suddenly his eyes became soft as if he had finally remembered who Alex was. With shaky steps, he started to follow Alex upstairs. When they were almost to the hallway, Alex stopped for a moment and called back to the frail lady downstairs, "Grandmother, I can't wait to see the cheese you brought me."
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