Beatrice Bugané

Arraiá do Village


Beatrice Bugané is a writer from Brasília, Brazil. She’s a recent graduate of Brown University, where she completed a degree in English Literature. Beatrice is now at the MFA program in Fiction at the University of Oregon. This is her first published story. She can be found on Instagram at @bookswithbeatrice.

The entrance to the church was on the corner of Bleecker and Carmine, just down the street from the restaurant where Luciana and her husband had first met. The party was held in an adjacent room inside of the building, where otherwise, churchgoers gathered for meals after service. All her life, Luciana had attended community gatherings, small parties and get-togethers, associated to the church. The cross and the blood and the bread represented for her not only a belief in a higher power, but unity with others; a place to commune with those who were, in one way or another, like her.

If anything, church was more about other people, for her, than it was about anything celestial. Rather, to Luciana each of these things were one and the same.

This church was new; she wasn’t in Brazil anymore. Still, Sejam bem-vindos lay hanging on a string over the door, which was how they knew to find the place, and so it seemed to Luciana, through these words in Portuguese, that something of her past life was conserved.

 Her hand tightened over the slim, silver strap of her bag that hung from one shoulder. Jonathan, her recently-wedded husband, lingered somewhere behind her, making a donation at a table where two women donning straw hats sat smiling at him. It dawned on her gradually, as she took the stairs down into the church, as she turned around the bend of the entrance to scan the dancefloor and its surrounding tables, that she had not come dressed in proper attire.

Few had arrived up until then, but she saw, clinging to their bodies, plaid patterns of bright colors, ribbons sewn onto slimming, white or beige bodices, tight t-shirts; the women all had their hair pulled up in pigtails, and looked about half their age. She noticed, too, how a miniature scarecrow had been set up at every table. Luciana deduced that these were decorations tucked deliberately away at last year’s Thanksgiving, creatively transformed, here, to emulate the spirit of Brazil’s traditional festa junina, recycled from one culture and rapidly funneled into the next.

From the ceiling hung semi-circles of string from which colorful flags streamed down. One woman was dressed as a bride, as was common at such a festival, and this made Luciana smile; her own wedding was still fresh in memory—they hadn’t even gone to the honeymoon yet, putting it off a few weeks for convenience’s sake—and she thought about perhaps approaching this woman, talking to her, before she realized, of course, that her white dress was only a costume.

She wished, briefly, that there were other newly-weds around, or specifically, that there were Brazilian women who had married American men with whom she could connect.

Luciana remembered that in middle school, her class had been tasked with the honor of putting together that year’s dance presentation at the annual festa junina. Traditionally, the dance revolved around a short sketch of a wedding, composed of attending members who paired off to dance with one another. Almost always, the sketch follows a young woman who has become accidentally pregnant. Her future in-laws insist that their son marry this woman, arranging for a wedding that the groom tries to escape from. Other attendees, however, hold him accountable—as well as physically holding him in place—and the marriage eventually happens, after all.

 Growing up in Cachoeiro, which was not too far from Jaciguá, a farm town in the south-east of Brazil, the tradition of having members of a dance dress as though they were from a farm reminded Luciana of a roça, a part of home that she had tried very hard to get away from. While her parents had taken her to Jaciguá intermittently throughout her development, they were always quick to remind her that any behavior associated with the farmlands was undesirable. “Come on, Luciana,” her mother would say, whenever she was, for instance, too shy to ask questions for herself at any retail store they might frequent. “Até parece que você é da roça.” Her mother reprimanded her for retaining any connection to the farm, for acting as though she were from the farm, which in Luciana’s eyes was the latest, greatest contradiction. Hadn’t her mother grown up in Jaciguá? Why was it that she carried so much spite in her voice, whenever she commented on it?

Back in middle school, her classmate had dressed up in full-on bride attire for the event. Luciana remembered the thick layer of makeup that coated her face, the foundation lathered on like a mask against her skin; the round, rosy circles on her cheeks. Though exaggerated, the makeup gave her a look of a doll, which in retrospect had been quite fitting for the occasion. Luciana herself went dressed in a white-and-green checkered blouse, taking the time to tie red ribbons around her forearms. Having left the costume-making to the very last day, Luciana was aiming towards achieving the look of traditional attire in a makeshift way. Even so, it was particularly interesting to her now to recall the amount of effort she’d poured into her appearance in the last moment. It was as though she had refused her origins for as long as she could bear, twisting rapidly the other way at the last possible chance. Luciana suspected it was her wanting, her wanting to be a part of something greater; it had been, too, so much easier to identify with that longing more readily, back in her adolescence. The desire to conform glistening off of her, contagious. She’d pulled her hair into two low pigtails, and used her mother’s brown eyeliner to draw freckles onto her cheeks.

The boy who asked her to be his pair back in the eighth grade had done so weeks prior, in letter form. Sheepish and introverted, he was tall and handsome, and he’d been much too shy to approach her personally. Only in middle school could such an attractive boy, Luciana reflected now, remain so reticent. But at the time, Luciana had been satisfied, grinning at that message written in nearly illegible scrawl and holding the note to her chest. Later, when they danced together, she thought she could feel his hands trembling, and she sent a silent thank you up towards the sky, towards whoever was listening, for they shared an abundant height difference. This saved her the certain embarrassment that it would have been to look him in the eye.

That boy would later profess his love to her although, it being the eighth grade, nothing would happen between them besides the heart-fluttering traveling either which way.

The memory flashed through Luciana’s mind fleetingly, and she was left with a strange warmth. Mostly, it was curious to her, how much had changed since then; how little she could recognize the young girl who had appeared to her then in memory.  

That girl, despite wanting to be everything she wasn’t, despite dreaming, always, of living abroad, had with such ease, belonged. She wondered, now, whether this would ever be true for her again, given the path that she had chosen to follow, the life she had chosen to lead.

Luciana was a subdued, but natural beauty, with dirty blonde, straight hair and dark eyes, a bulbous nose and a wide jaw. Her lips were full and her lashes long; she was twenty-nine years old. But today, she was dressed in a simple, floral outfit that, though pretty, had little to do with the full and playful skirts most women wore here. Never mind: at the very least, she had come. Luciana arrived in New York a few weeks prior seeking anything but to connect with her Brazilian roots; and yet, Jonathan’s curiosity was what drew her there that day.

It wasn’t that she held anything overtly against the idea of going; it was rather more that she wanted to avoid it, tiptoe around the possibility of it, as though it did not exist at all.

They were seated at home in the living room watching the television when an infomercial about the World Cup came up on the screen. Luciana had just kicked off her shoes, was relaxing her feet against the edge of the coffee table, and peeking at her red-painted toenails, when the luggage of her past came barreling towards her. It always felt that way, when it happened, and it happened quite often; even if the circumstances were calm, low-key, simple, even when any mention of Brazil was in passing, Luciana felt the weight of it.

Their apartment was a compact, one-bedroom flat in Midtown, with a kitchen and living room in one, shared space; a bathroom with just enough space for a toilet and a shower, in which you often felt like you were in the washroom at the back of a restaurant; a bedroom with one closet that they shared. Sure, it was true: there was a lot of noise outside, happening, it seemed, all of the time. It wasn’t rare that you’d be woken up in the middle of the night by a wailing siren, or a sound like a charging subway train, which you were never certain was actually there. But the spot had its perks; it was close to everything—Central Park was just a stroll away! What was more: Luciana secretly, guiltily liked it, the noise, the over-stimulation; it thrilled her. She who was otherwise calm, sometimes complacent, she felt energized, electrified, by the city.

The place was temporary; they were hoping to buy a house in the suburbs after a couple of years, especially for when they wanted to start a family. Luciana would’ve been happy to remain there longer—she was living in Manhattan, at last! —but Jonathan had greater ambitions. “It’s not a question of ambition,” Luciana said, when he brought this up, “but of taste. I like Manhattan, and you don’t. Simple as that.”

They often joked about how their inklings were reversed; how she loved the city he was from, while he grew increasingly curious about the nation that she had left behind. “We should’ve had each other’s childhoods,” Luciana joked, experiencing a strange, ambivalent rush; half-longing, half-betrayal. Luciana, though, didn’t love New York as much as she needed it, but Jonathan didn’t know that.

The infomercial announced that Brazil’s first game, which would be against Switzerland, was taking place that following day. The green-and-yellow banners glowing on the screen flipped a switch in Jonathan’s mind. Luciana watched him carefully, noticed the sparkle in his eye, and her hands tensed up at once, growing stiff. She could surmise what was coming; she knew him, through and through.

“Hey, isn’t that party at your church happening tonight?” he said. A car alarm blared outside their window. “The one where there’s all that food and the fun music that people dance to? What do they call that dance again?”

Luciana turned her head slowly towards him. She set her glass of water down on the coffee table. “Dança da quadrilha,” she said. “Why do you ask?”

Jonathan leaned back against the couch. He rested one foot over the opposite knee. “Well, would you want to go, maybe? You know, so I can learn more about Brazil.” He looked hopeful, with the center of his eyebrows drawing upward, and she couldn’t help but judge him for his request. How much did he really think he could learn, in a single afternoon?

“Wasn’t getting married there enough?” she said instead. They had flown Jonathan’s family out, and many of his friends had traveled far, to arrive at Búzios, where they’d gotten married on the beach at João Fernandes. Wedding-goers had been instructed to wear flip-flops, khaki shorts for men, short dresses for women, because of the sand. Luciana had hibiscus flowers woven into her hair. It had all been her idea; admittedly, in part because she missed her country, but also because she thought it might be easier that way, to make sure everyone got to see it, rather than having to organize multiple trips down south over the years.

Her love for her nation was a push and pull. She both wanted to be with it and without.

“Oh, come on,” he said.

Luciana’s relationship to Brazil was… complicated, to say the least, perhaps like a growing teenager’s gradually changing sentiments towards her parents. A slam of the door one day, a warm embrace the next; unpredictable. It was that of a young adult looking back on an adolescence that maybe wasn’t quite as great as she had once remembered, someone who could now no longer shake that feeling, no matter how she tried.

Still, it seemed he would insist on this point. “We can just go for a little while, you know, and get a feel for things.” He leaned forward to push a strand of her fine hair behind her ear. “Maybe grab a bite to eat.”

Luciana stared at the television screen, which was now showing a commercial for toilet paper, and thought about how she had forgotten to buy paper towels for the kitchen. She lamented the fact that the World Cup had been happening at all; if not for that memory-triggering montage, perhaps they wouldn’t be discussing this to begin with. They would go on watching the news, which was refreshingly American-centric, and they would talk about the horrible things going on in this country, and she would remember, again, that she was recently married, that she, too, was of this nation now. In the morning, Jonathan would hit the palm of his hand against his forehead, crawling out of bed, at last remembering the party they had neglected to attend. He would kiss Luciana on the forehead and murmur some wavering lament, and then she would whip up some scrambled eggs for them both and they would forget about it.

But alas, soccer. The one thing, if anything, that Brazilians were known for abroad.

“Alright,” she conceded. “We can go for a while. But only if you’ll dance with me for a bit.”

“Deal,” Jonathan said.

Now, as she stepped into the church, she was surprised to find that she did not regret her compliance; the sensory stimuli washed over her in a way that induced not anxiety, but a pleasant, and comforting familiarity. It occurred to her that she did not quite know why she didn’t want to come in the first place. It was a feeling, like much of them, that she had left unexamined.

More than that, she told herself, in the next moment: it was particularly comforting that, were she to grow overwhelmed at any time, she could always climb up those steps, wander outside; be in New York again. She was moving around in a fragile bubble, yellow and green.

“Luciana!” a woman’s voice called from the right side of the room. Luciana turned her head to see Gisele wandering over to her, her hair up in pigtails tied with cobalt blue bows. Gisele maneuvered her torso around a complicated arrangement of chairs. She was dressed in a layered skirt that was red, white, and blue. Luciana blinked. What was this, the fourth of July?

Gisele was an active member of the church congregation, and her enthusiasm for her culture was overly sweet but also contagious, depending on the day. She was holding a clipboard to her chest. Feeling the woman’s arm wrap around her, Luciana felt herself growing increasingly amenable to her influence. Gisele was smiling at her, after all, so genuinely, so kindly, as though she were truly happy to see Luciana there. And there was something about the thought of having so many Brazilians collected in a single place; something about the possibility of opening herself up to them. Perhaps it was the lighthearted attire that drew her forth, made her stay, the agreement that everyone had made to play alongside a script that night, be somebody else. Regardless, she had not expected to have felt this way.

“How are you, my friend? How have things been since we last saw each other? I saw you leaving the library that one time, didn’t I? How long ago was that, a week? Six days! I remember now, I saw you at the last church service, too.”

Luciana gulped and nodded. Gisele, for all her best intentions, had not given her a chance to speak. She had been at the public library searching for novels by João Guimarães Rosa and Jorge Amado—mostly out of guilt, the guilt that came with the realization that she had not read a book in Portuguese in over five years. Her attendance at service was somewhat spontaneous. Luciana didn’t generally attend regularly, mostly because she preferred to pick and choose what she believed in. There were many veins within Catholicism that she did not agree with; she assumed the church wouldn’t be too happy about it, and neither did she feel fully comfortable standing in a holy place feeling like a fraud. So, she had figured, along the years, that perhaps it would be best to stay away. But every time she drifted further, the community feel of the church drew her in again before too long. It wasn’t exactly that she looked forward to seeing people—there wasn’t really an opportunity to speak to them throughout the service itself, and most of the time they were badgering you for money, anyway. It was really more that she felt intimidated at the thought of them noticing her absence; she didn’t want to be seen as a loose, or non-committed, person. She was terrified of being perceived as immoral.

Many of her actions were dictated by guilt; she was always making an effort to eradicate some uncomfortable, unidentifiable sensation. Some of it did come from the roots of her religion, a religion that continually required of you to repent and to regret. But much of it was leaver’s guilt. For the country and the culture that she had left behind.

“Things have been okay,” Luciana said. “Still getting used to everything, you know.”

Gisele nodded, commiserating. “Have you learned how to use the subway on the weekends yet? I assume that’s how you got here tonight. Ugh, it can be such a drag trying to go places, when the trains just change on you like—” she snapped her fingers here, “that!

“But you know what, you’ll get used to it.”

Luciana smiled, tight-lipped. Truth was, Jonathan knew how to get around, and she basically relied on him whenever they went out. It occurred to her that she had never used the subway by herself; not yet—she was still getting things set up at the office, so she hadn’t yet gone into work, either. On the way to the church, while on the subway platform, she had leaned into Jonathan and giggled uncharacteristically as a man on the other side, dressed in a glittering, green cape, danced to Frank Sinatra’s New York, New York, which played loudly on a handheld radio. He had a microphone set up and was lip-synching, hitting every beat with a snap of his limbs. Jonathan pulled away for a moment to drop a few coins into his hat.

“See,” she murmured into his shoulder after he’d danced back towards her, “don’t you just love it here?”

Luciana was a physical therapist who specialized in the elderly, or she had been, back in Brazil, before the markets crashed and the number of patients she worked with dwindled dramatically. For a few months, she had sat in her shared office space with two other specialists, treating, at most, a single person each day. Then the recession worsened; it got to the point that Luciana lingered by the door, her hand wavering over the doorknob to the office, thinking. What was even the point of coming in? After a string of excuses that lasted a week, her colleagues who shared the space with her had finally reached out, and she had told them, deadpan, that she would not be returning. Luciana had yearned to become a physical therapist so that she could help other people feel better in their own skin, amidst muscles and bones that sometimes refused to work as they should; growing up, her father had had a bad back that often got in the way of his well-being, leaving him occasionally bed-ridden. He had missed many of her school events as a result.

In Brazil, it’d been a while since she’d felt that she’d helped anybody. For some time, she grew to believe that perhaps that was just life: you set out in the hopes of helping somebody, one way or another, only to realize that no matter the effort you put into a task, you weren’t really helping anyone. You had instead gotten all tied up in that self-indulgent, feel-good illusion of making a difference. She found herself in this space where she questioned her every attempt at volunteer work, unable to avoid the thought that even if she hadn’t been the one to help, there would have been somebody else. There was always somebody else. And besides, wasn’t that how it seemed to turn out, every time? Good intentions, going through the motions and all, commuting to the location, meeting the team, doing the work; but no lasting impact.

Then, following a tip from a distant relative—mostly on a whim, she had come to the United States for an advanced degree. Doing that was like pressing re-start: it made her feel young again, and there it was again, the keen-eyed, pink-filtered hope, that something important could be done. How easy it seemed to get yourself going again: was it really as simple as moving someplace different? Or was that, too, only an illusion of starting anew? The memories and the feelings, attached to an identity, always caught up with you eventually. Still, there, at school, she met Jonathan; she fell in love within weeks of learning his name. They dated and lived together for a while in New England, and then, after the wedding, moved to the city. It had all happened quite quickly, really, now that she thought about it.

Luciana often reflected on how economic conditions had been enough to make her search for someplace new. In some way, she had balked in the wake of that recession, she had cast her eyes so far, beyond, even, her dear South America. Luciana could speak Spanish; why hadn’t she tried someplace else, Uruguay or Chile or even Mexico, before making such a drastic change? She had taken up English classes in the three months that she could bear to hold out in Brazil for; she arrived in the United States, then, with a heavy Brazilian accent that sometimes had her repeating the same words three times over.

There was an ease that many other Brazilians she knew seemed to carry, this ease in interacting with others and smiling at them, that she suspected was what foreigners called that Brazilian warmth. It was a sentiment passed on through languid conversation, the occasional touching of the shoulder or the hand, a kind of fluid interaction that made you feel right at home. “Brazilians are just more extroverted, you know?” a friend of hers had said, when comparing, with some lament, with some saudades for her own country, Americans and Brazilians. Luciana wondered whether anything about her communicated any of this. She was decidedly not an extrovert, but she wanted desperately to appear Brazilian. As much as she had spent more recent years in life trying to be anything but, in her deepest of hearts she wanted that more than anything, to appear, to be, Brazilian.

But it had been simplicity, really, which had swayed her in the end, which had pushed her to overcome the language barrier; the United States was simply the only country that could offer her the best shot at a good education, and then a good job market into which to insert herself. The language was much simpler, too, simpler than Portuguese, anyway. Even if it had been hard to learn, even if she hadn’t fully learned it. Her decision, then, had been straight forward: almost cold. She didn’t like that, but it had gotten her here, and now she was married, and well. She had made a life of it.

“Well, is there anything I can get for you?” Gisele asked. Luciana blinked; she had forgotten this woman who had been doting on her, she had traveled elsewhere in a matter of minutes. But as Luciana focused her glance upon Gisele again, she saw that the woman was standing with a hand on one hip. She saw that her eyes were already distant, wandering around the room, as though she, too, were thinking about the next thing.

It was rare, wasn’t it, to have two people speaking to one another and really doing only that, speaking and listening and sitting with the truth?

“Um, no,” Luciana said, reluctant to take up any more of her time, “I think I’ll be okay.” She longed to peel off and take a seat at one of the empty tables, have another moment to herself.

“You know what, you go and take a seat, and I’ll grab you a pastel de queijo, alright? I have some extra tickets I exchanged, so why not. Are you hungry? I’ll bet you are.” Gisele gestured towards the tables with one hand, beckoning her towards them. “I’ll be right back!” she said.

Luciana watched for a moment as Gisele’s figure receded into the building crowd. She blinked. The room had filled up throughout their short conversation. She turned to find her seat and promptly sank into it. Luciana sighed. She wasn’t sure what she was doing here, what she had hoped for, but whatever feeling had convinced her to accept Jonathan’s request, she had lost sight of now. Why was it often so difficult for her to connect? People and places, it seemed as though they merely washed over her, that she was there, trying to listen; but she could not pick up on any of the soundwaves over all that blooming noise.

On the far wall beside the entrance was bold lettering stating, Arraiá do Village. A perfect mishmash of the two sides of herself. This was a Brazilian community ensconced by New York City; it was, as she realized slowly, a mirror of her own internal landscape.

Then her eyes wandered towards the dancefloor, where couples had begun to conjoin; she watched as one couple moved left and right, back and forth, expertly swaying and turning, their arms moving inwards and out, to the rhythm of the arresting forró, the straw hat being passed between them, on his head, on hers, and for just a moment, though her partner was nowhere in sight, she thought, perhaps, that she could dance alongside them.




© The Acentos Review 2018