The Cost of Living by Deborah Levy

Just as it had happened with Things I don’t want know, I fell in love with this cover as soon as I saw it. The black and white picture against a vivid colour is a strong mixture of past and present that can also be lived on Levy’s writing.

Why I hadn’t bought it before? I have no idea. But I knew I would read them and I knew I would buy them the very first time I saw them. So how did I finally come across the decision of finally giving it a change? In Man Booker 50 Festival. It was the very first talk on Sunday, 11 o’clock and as usual I am great with faces and names, separately. With my notebook on my hand, my eyes try to adjust to the darkness and scrabbling the panel’s names. My awe rises with all the mental connections I am making, between books and authors. I remember thinking, ‘this panel could not be better’. I also remember thinking how strong Deborah Levy’s presence on stage was, even before realizing who she was. Which, let’s be honest was quite late. I probably stared for awhile because she smiled at me, right on the second row. The way she talked about her work was marvellous and her tone revealed her devotion to what she is accomplishing- constructing a female character that does not exist yet. That is real. That is her. I also remember her pearls. And all of these details turn out to be important when I first encounter her words in The Cost of Living.

After the talk I was supposed to run to my creative writing workshop with Kamila Shamsie on ‘How to set a scene’. Yet, I could not loose the opportunity of buy The Sellout and have it sign. And it’s in the queue that I realize whose Deborah we have been talking about for an hour in the darkness. I take her book instantly, a beautiful yellow hardcover. Immediately I want to buy the blue one as well, but it’s not available. When I take the books to sign I tremble with excitement and nerves. I believe I’ve never been as close to an author, to a high praised author before. After the autograph I only have time to tell her, ‘please keep this amazing job. We need it’.

After reading the book I am happy for having chosen the right words. We do need the construction of a real female character. And that is Deborah Levy.

Her divorce and leaving her house is placed as the beginning of this second yellowish part. A woman who has been taking care of her family and now still has to in a small apartment with particular corridors, which she names ‘Corridors of Love’.

The small daily details and how she gets through them run away from the expected cycle the writer tries to follow. In fact, it seems to me an autobiography that does not follow any rule. It follows a woman real life and struggle step by step. A 21st century novel, with a simple and direct message and a recognisable main character.

The lightness of Levy’s writing contrasts directly to the heavy experiences she is able to share with the reader. And the pearls, the bike, the flat and the meaningful yellow on the cover are elements, which I can guarantee, she presented on that stage.

It is a small and easy-to-read book, which I recommend to everyone who is going through a harsh time.

Man Booker 50: How to get published

It is no the third session of day I, once again At Royal Festival Hall’s Function room. Outside people wooo and shout both excited and nervously, England is playing against Sweden. The blinds are down and it is hot, yet, the room is practically full and considering both conditions the interview starts with a honest ‘we will have brief breaks to check the score’. And no, she is not joking.

… constitute this promising session’s panel and the advices I am about to share with you are as practical as helpful.

We start with a question: what are agents/publishers looking for?

If you read my second post (link to How to get a literary agent) the following question has already been addressed and thankfully there is coherence in the market and the answer is exactly the same. ‘I’m not looking for anything, I don’t event know what I am looking for until I see it’, shares Claire (another Claire, one of the people behind The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time). Again, all they want is to be surprised. But between hundreds of published and to-be-published voices how can writers fulfil that desire? The advice is simple, at least simple enough for those who enjoy, ‘read loads and voraciously’.

The first publisher is Juliet, responsible for the Man Booker winner in 2015, Marlon James. Agreeing with her colleague she elaborates, ‘setting in any time; good writing; strong and original voices, I like going for a journey as any reader’. As a publisher she is also open to literature in translation.

The third element decided to kindly address all the prospective novelists in the room: ‘Don’t take rejection personally. It’s a strange business. Most of you new ideas are not new’. At this point, some people in the audience feel almost offended. Personally, this reminds me of Shakespeare, whose ideas were not completely original but taken from other famous plays at the time.

Literature throughout times is then on the spot for the interviewer who dares to challenge white patriarchy, ‘in the nineteenth-century all books seemed to be written in Hampstead by middle-class white’. In Claire’s opinion, publishing is trying to be more diverse, adding ‘I say trying because they’re not been doing much’.

After hearing from agents and publishers the audience with their own personal struggles as writers demands to know: ‘Is it better to hand-in a finished manuscript to an agent or a publisher?’

The whole panel agrees it is not crucial to have an agent, but it is helpful. An agent can do the contracts, the writer’s rights… they will take care of the writer. ‘Agents are gate keepers’, Juliet is led to agree with the secret expression that publishers tend not to agree with. It is also important to highlight that agents do not make any money unless they sell your book. So they do have to believe in it. Yet, be aware, agents aren’t really there to help you with the writing of your manuscript. So do not send manuscripts to them before you’re confident about it.

There is one particular advice on Creative Writing courses that pleased me. There has been a long discussion about this courses, mostly because some people do not believe that writing can be taught. Others argue that the narrative voices are becoming less and less unique due to those workshops and writing groups. Although most of these critical voices don’t agree with making writing more accessible and as talent and narrative developer, they do like the idea of having a community of writers who meet and comment critically each others work. As a creative writing student myself, I do believe they are valuable tools, especially to try out new genres and forms which are out of our comfort zone. Also, as Claire shares with the audience, ‘more and more published authors have creative writing groups or courses. It is rare to publish people’s work without them.

Templates are once again one of the many writers’ concerns. In this matter both publishers advise, do send the first three chapters of the novel. About taking chapters from other part of the novel (middle, end…), Juliet firmly responds, ‘no, do not do that’ with no further explanations. Both agents and publishers want to see how the narrative progresses, if the voice and tone are constant, if they as readers would like to read the rest. Some people may ask for the whole thing or 30.000 words and then the rest. Also, do not send your manuscript’s chapters if you haven’t finished the novel yet. If it is accepted, they will need the whole thing right away. For agents, especially, it is almost impossible to sell the book only with three chapters. Avoid unnecessary rejections.

Between all this information we forgot to check how the match was going. Our last minute before we leave the room is festive, England has won.

 

Man Booker 50: How to find a Literary Agent

We are now based on Function room located on the 5th floor of the usual Royal Festival Hall. Two agents and one of their authors sit in front of us.

The first significant difference between the two is their age. While Claire Conville, has been in the publishing world for 35 years, Emma Paterson represents fresh names in the business such as Meghan Hunter, author of The End We Start From as well as the author of ‘Cat-person’ (a successful short-story published in December 2017 by The New Yorker). The other agent is Claire who brings the 2003 Man Booker Prize winner, DBC Pierre.

The first question is clearly directed to their daily life and if the first impression I get is that they don’t have much space nor time for personal life, the second, coming from Claire’s perspective gets even worse.

For those who are interested in the profession or are still waiting for an agent’s reply, this next part is elucidating. Most of their time is spent reading… e-mails. Claires wakes up at 4/5 am in the morning to start reading her inbox before heading to the office. As she says, ‘it’s a 24 hours cycle. Loads of e-mails and phone calls, looking after my authors, meetings with the team…’. Evenings are reserved for readings and launches, as for the weekends more work and reading.

By now heart-shaped balloons from Pride Parade fly all over the sky, passing London Eye and mixing themselves with the planes on their way to Heathrow Airport. The flag from Underbelly Festival dancing with the far away songs from the parade. And while I distract myself with the outside world, Claire’s list finally finishes with ‘loads of editorial work’. She believes that 80% of the manuscript should be ready to be published before being given to the publisher. And at this moment, right before the story that unites this agent and the writer, a question is raised: ‘What do you (agents) look for in a book?’

The answer is not helpful, but full of promise. To be honest, they do not know. In the end, they both agree that they want to be surprised. In addition, there is another factor involved, the first encounter with the narrative is told to be important, unforgettable and personal. Claire, advancing on the other agent’s silence explains: ‘I didn’t know [Pierre’s book] would win a Man Booker Prize, but I knew it could’.

When asked about the feeling on being chosen by an agent, Pierre laments ‘not everyone understood the book. Some readers still don’t. The good thing about being published is they will still read it’.

About his own process of writing Pierre’s reflection is distorted and well-known for those who put their stories into paper. ‘The minute you start think who the audience/reader will be you compromise. And so I tried to take that out of my head and wrote whatever I wanted, believing no one was ever going to read the book’. But when the work is finished that is a whole other story, ‘when I finished, there was fume coming out of the page, such was the energy I had put into it; when I finished I was happy so I sent it’.

Yet, leaving the author’s solitude was hard for this Man Booker winner, ‘by writing completely by myself I did not have anyone to understand it. We were completely alone. Me and my book. My book and me. It’s more difficult to find an agent than a publisher’.

Sympathetic with the writers who listen his words carefully he exclaims: ‘There are always people who want to write stories, and people who want to read stories’. He also adds, ‘there is something incredibly human under writing, the story has to tell the truth even if it offends someone. And that story connects people’.

There is yet another important note to take into account, agents will not send a novel out to publishers because it is talented. It has to be distinctive, word of advice?

‘The only thing we have is our unique self’.

On Q&A time, agents guarantee that all the manuscripts on their desks and computers are read and the writer usually gets an answer six weeks to two months after submission.

First step, finding the right agent. Do read acknowledgements on other books of the genre, most writers mention them. It is also advisable to write on the letter who inspire you as a writer, the courses you’ve done… everything related to the area you’re writing about because selling the manuscripts also means selling the writer authenticity and background.

In terms of presentation, it might differ from company to company/agent to agent but the submission details will be detailed on their websites. No manuscript will be rejected due to its presentation, yet those rules should be followed. And please, Claire personally asks, ‘don’t sent presents’.

In the very end, I finally follow the staff advice and go to the balcony to write. The sun is hiding and now there is no need for me to hid from it. The view is freely opened to seagulls and planes and children shouting and splash on the water fountain downstairs. It is noisy, it is full of life, it is central London.

Man Booker 50: Why the novel matters

The tickets were bought months ago and maybe that’s why when the day comes I do not know what to expect. Yet, the names ‘Man Booker 50’ does not promise less than great expectations.

I booked the first event at 10:30am on a Saturday more due to its name than to the author in question. If I aim to be totally honest, I did not know him by his name. It had escaped me even from my recently pursue for Man Booker prize winners. How? I am still not sure.

Winner of that same prize in 2010 and author of one of the most famous books about the T-word, everyone acclaims him for his sense of humor on this satire Pussy.

As I said, my tickets have been bought months ago and only then, entering the room five minutes after the starting time, I understand how close I am.

The meters that separate me from Howard Jacobson are not more than 5. And when he stands to read his talk, his mastery and love for words and language are notable. It seems I am even closer, metaphysically speaking.

I would not say he is indistinguishable, but I have to admit his sense of humour is beyond undeniable and his arguments find -the truth. The truth that, as Jacobson says at some point, no one knows what is. Questioning the truth, the writing, the arguments or the value of the novel leads us to an interesting pint about the artist’s will on his own creation. For Jacobson, the best novels are the ones and set away from the writer, where the author asks himself, ‘Where the hell did that come from?’. Being creative or creativity in general simply means doing stuff. Because again, the truth is,  and probably the only one authors can agree with and believe to be truly true, ‘it is not art we’re interested in, it’s ourselves’.

But if it is notorious how novels matter, it is also visible the format is in a fight. As Jacobson highlights several times in his talk, ‘not in danger, in a fight. The novel is in good health, what is not in good health is the reader’, a matter that Jacobson believes social media is to blame for. Blaming mainly twitter, for being T-word’s weapon, this argument comes back to the stage in the Q&A, when editors and publishers demand a page.turner manuscript to those who pursue publication. The fight plot vs language can be considered an academic discussion, especially by comparison studies. Page-turners are a virus which may be considered guilty for the lack of literacy today. They are the demand of generations who are now used to instant reactions due to our relationship with the green. There is a lack of patience on the reader who is not able to enjoy a book where the pleasure is mainly on its language.

If the most obvious solution is stepping away from the screen, the most obvious answer is a massive social and emphatic ‘NO’. Even if it is literacy and our own concentration the ones on jeopardy. In Jacobson opinion readers need than to be educated in schools and universities. Which makes me wonder, could that really work when most young people hate the English Literature classes? This is all connected, after all.

The interviewer, a literature teacher herself, defends twitter at least for the possibility of contact between reader and author. As you can probably tell, Twitter has now turned into a joke between stage and audience. To the argument presented he answers: ‘I have never wanted to be in contact with an author in my life. You want to be in contact with me, read my novels’.

During the talk, there are amazing mentions to Dickens, DW Lawrence, Kundera, Henry James and a few to Jane Austen and George Elliot. The interview question is predictable in the 21st century. He admits to admire them, especially Austen for her mastery in comedy and knowledge on women.

In the end there is time to ask about Orwell and politics. Jacobson believes a writer should not be judged for not writing about misogyny or colonialism. In fact, he believes they shouldn’t even be judged by the place they take when they do include them in their novels. If there is something to judge is their choice on using it on the narrative.

And of course there are questions about Pussy, which the author explains can not be considered a novel. Mainly because on novels, people tend to sympathise to the main character and he did not wish that with a person as Trump.

Yet, Trump seemed to opened an exception in Howard Jacobson writing. He admits that when asked if a certain character is a real person he always say ‘no’, hoping that the person is not annoyed with fictional features. Nowadays, people are more offended when ‘no’ is the answer. Which is directly connected to an endless discussion on autobiography and fiction to which he easily, and even beautifully, responds: ‘The moment you put punctuation in your own life it’s not life, it’s art’.

And speaking of endless discussions, literary translation is not forgotten, appearing at the end of Q&A.

Relying on his passion for language, Howards is a believer that a good writer teamed up with a good translator prove his argument. If it is good, if it is well written (especially within the European literature) the particularities of the author’s voice and language  will get through.

As I sit now, hiding on the shadow of Queen Elizabeth Hall, I face my notebook’s page hardly without touching my phone to check time or answer some messages. From this exact spot, again meters away from Howard Jacobson giving autographs and making a few more jokes I imagine, I look around. Famous Man booker winners walk up and down  Southbank like any other human being. Most of them strangers to the common and non-reading souls. And near the margins of river Thames all the winner novelists blend perfectly with the novelists- to-be.

 

*The podcast of this amazing talk will be available Tuesday 12th July at 10pm on BBC3*

 

If freedom is red

Date: 22nd April 1974

At school we learn what matters. And we stand up to talk about it. To repeat. Over and over. After each other or all together, “God, State, Family”. What matters. Over and over. Standing in our identical white gowns. Looking at the crucifix carefully placed above the black board. Right beside is a photo of Salazar, looking at us.

“It is never too much to remember, children”, Miss Ana says.

The bell rings and we all want to leave. My heart jumps with excitement. I want to run to my mother’s kiosk. But I can’t. The corridors are full of signs. “No running!” in red. And when it is in red, we must obey.

 

Date: 22nd April 1974

I run my way around my mother’s kiosk, my hands touching all the flowers they reach. I want to have their smell on me. It is so good! They are separated by colours. White, yellow, red. Resting on silver and dark green buckets. Balancing on the low ceiling or steady on the floor. Then I join my hands and put them to my nose, breathing in over and over. Until there is no smell left. And I have to do it again. I do not touch roses though, Mother says they sting. The thought always makes me wince. “Why did you call me Rosa then?”, I want to ask, but I don’t. I play with carnations instead. I like to play with flowers. I want to talk to them, but there are three or four people less than a mile away. Out of the cafe comes Dona Joana, she walks fast towards us. “Don’t you have homework to do, dear Rosa?”, she says with a tight smile, looking at my mother. I cross my arms and hide inside, right behind the popular vases of rosemary. I know how this goes. Next thing she is asking me about little boyfriends. Not today. From where I stand, I can hear every whisper.

“Did you know about Jose’s daughter?”

“No, I did not! Poor man, he does not deserve such disgrace!”

“Losing his wife and now this… that house of his must be a torment every time. She is never there to take care of it. The other day at the grocery shop…”

“HEY YOU!”- a male voice shouts.

Dona Joana jumps and stops talking. The carnation falls from her shaking hands. “I am sorry”, she says “So sorry. I have to go”.

I come closer to the door. My mother stops staring and pushes me inside. Still, I can hear him addressing the group, “What do you think you’re doing?! Talking? Disperse. NOW. Or do you want to go to jail? You do? Come here you! Was the conversation good? Huh? You think you’re smart? Lie down, you’re under arrest. Conspiracy against the state”.

Through the flowers, I start approaching the entrance. The carnation still on the floor. I see Dona Joana walking fast, faster than before. A young man being hand-cuffed. The others disappeared.

“Rosa, stop staring! Come here, back inside”, my mother admonishes half-whispering. I catch the flower, and hold the poor carnation as a baby, “It’s alright”, I whisper, “everything is going to be alright”. Before putting it back in its vase.

 

Date: 22nd April 1974

We’re sitting at the table. Dinner is yesterday’s bread and cheese again, but I like cheese. I don’t complain, it is not a smelly one. I don’t like the smelly ones at all. So, I sit very straight and wait for my turn. Mother is serving Father when she starts telling him about what happened, “Joana went to the kiosk today”

“Oh yeah, did she buy something?”, Father asks.

“No”, Mother says almost offended, “they do not have much money lately. You know that”.

No response from Father. I can tell he is not interested from the frowning in his upper lip. His moustache rising a little. It always makes me laugh, but I don’t. Father is keen on silence.

When Mother sits, we join our hands to pray and be grateful. I am grateful for the cheese.

“Apparently Jose’s daughter, the one that works for The Minister, had an affair with someone from… PIDE”, Mother whispers the last word and then continues, “poor Jose, maybe you could talk to him…”

“Who?”

“Jose! From the restaurant!”, she says and then sighs, “Never mind”.

Father looks at her, confused. Crumbs stick in his moustache, moving every time he breathes in and out.

“You should be careful, woman. Those conversations near the kiosk, so near the Council… You could get into trouble… And then what will become of us, uh?”, Father reaches for her hand.

“Another youngster was arrested today.”

“And more will be. These young people do not know how priceless freedom is. They prefer to talk…”, Father stands up to turn on the radio, “…and do those secret reunions of theirs. But PIDE… it is everywhere. And where PIDE is, so is evil. I hope you understand that, Rosa”, he says a bit louder.

I nod quickly, in silence. Mother makes the sign of the cross and Father finishes, “God save us from talking about this matter again”.

 

Date: 23rd April 1974

“Alright children, let’s start… Hail Mary, full of Grace,

The Lord is with thee.

Blessed art thou among women,

and blessed is the fruit

of thy womb, Jesus.

Holy Mary, mother of God,

pray for us sinners

Now and at the hour of our death.

Amen.”

We finish with the sign of the cross. Miss Ana looks at all of us. Her yellowish hair and blue eyes look less angelic when we use the wrong hand- the hand of the devil. Today, everyone is “Good boys and girls”. I try to keep my mischievousness quiet. No talking. No running in the corridors. No using the wrong hand. But Pedro doesn’t. He is always being called to put both hands in front of him and count out loud. I fear that, the 30 centimetres ruler made of wood. The slashing sound. The painful cries echo in the high ceiling of the classroom. And the marks are bright red.

 

Date: 23rd April 1974

I’m at the kitchen with Mother singing the song from the radio, when Father arrives. Mother peels the potatoes, I put them in water and Father brings chicken. “Smells good already”. Mother smiles. She always smiles when we compliment her food.

“Rosa, can you get the carrots from the table?”

I jump from the chair and take them. Slowly, with both hands.

“Don’t let them fall!”, mother shouts behind me. And I tremble a bit. It is heavy and without realising the tablecloth gets stuck between my fingers. My diary falls. Father picks it up, “What’s this?”

Between putting the potatoes and the carrots in the pot, Mother looks up to see, “Oh it’s Rosa’s diary. It was a Christmas present, remember? So that she could practice her handwriting. You’ve been practicing, haven’t you?”

I nod very fast. Father opens it and starts flipping its pages, carefully. His moustache is not up. He is interested and inside I beam. “I am writing a story”.

“I can see…”

“A story?”, Mother asks, “what about?”

“About the flowers and the kiosk and…”

“Us”, Father interrupts, “She is writing about School and look!”, he stands up to show it to Mother.

“She wrote about the incident. And the punishments.”

Suddenly, I am not sure what Father is thinking. Mother is usually easier to read. But she seems worried. About my story! I try to think about what I wrote before. Did I let my mischievousness out? I thought I was careful… I am ready to say this when Father takes me by both arms, shaking me. I remember the man being cuffed and Pedro. Father has never beaten me before. But I wonder if I will be able to be quiet and not defend myself or say I am sorry, if he does.

“Rosa, listen to me. You can not write these down! It is dangerous! If someone knows… we might go to jail!”

“Why?”

“Because it is against the Council! We have to be grateful! If it wasn’t for the regime, the country would still be in a crisis. Porra, we wouldn’t be able to eat chicken today.”

“Isn’t that good?”

Father looks at Mother before telling me, “It is… It could be much worse. We just have to be grateful for what we have.”

I think for a moment, everyone seems more relaxed. Yet, they still look for some kind of sign. This is supposed to be a lesson, they need to know I understood.

“Then, why can’t I write about it?”

“Jesus, why don’t you focus on writing down all the rivers and the train rails… this-” he holds the diary now, right in front of my nose, “-can cost our freedom! And God knows what else.”

This time, I make the sign of the cross. Without intending to, tears start rolling down my face. Mother intervenes, hugging me tight, while pressing my front head to her belly. Her hands rest in the hair above my ears. But I can still hear her whispering, “You can’t blame her for not knowing what freedom is.”

 

Date: 24th April 1974

Again, we stand. Today lined up. A river for each.

Tagus”, Pedro says.

“Douro”, Maria almost shouts.

“Guadiana”, I state.

“Minho”, Joao risks.

“Mondego”, Francisco announces.

“Vouga”, Sara finishes.

“Good. And… Pedro, can you tell me which ones have their source in Spain?”

Pedro looks around, as if looking for some inspiration. I want to whisper, but I don’t. I could, but I keep it inside. My mischievousness.

“I am waiting”, Miss Ana pressures.

Douro, Tagus… uh… Mondego?”

“Come to the front. Hands turned to God”

He walks slowly to its place, right under the crucifix. Together, we pray for him.

 

Date: 24th April 1974

It is past eleven, almost midnight. My mother sits on our rocking chair, eyes closed. But I know she is not asleep. The radio keeps playing the last soap of the day in low volume. I can never understand what this one is about. Mother says it is because I am too little, “that is why they stream it so late”. And perhaps, I am. I know it has horses and chickens. I can hear them! But how can they have horses on the radio? Do they record them first? Do they go and record the soap on a farm? Oh, maybe it’s in the market. Every Sunday there is one near the kiosk. Mother goes there with the flowers. But I only go to see the animals. I’ll pay attention next weekend. DO NOT FORGET.

I look at my diary after writing the last sentences. Father didn’t take it from me but I think I shouldn’t write anymore. About… real life. So today I am only writing about what we learned in school, and my mother’s sleeping mode while listening to a narrative with horses and chickens.

The soap ends, a song starts. it is five to. Another follows. I recognise his voice. Zeca Afonso. He sings, ‘Grândola, vila morena…’. Mother suddenly opens her eyes. They land directly on me. ‘Land of fraternity…’. “Time to go to bed”, Mother says in a rush. ‘It’s the people who lead…’, she stands up.

“Go on. I’ll go right after you”

I quickly walk to the bedroom. Mother following me. The song continues, ‘inside you, oh city…’

“And say your prayers! At least tonight…”, she adds kissing my forehead and leaving, not closing the door entirely. In the dark, I whisper,

“Now I lay me down to sleep

I pray the Lord my soul to keep

If I should die before I awake

I pray the Lord my soul will take.”

But I know she is not going to sleep. Through the door I can see, the kitchen light is still on. So is the radio.

 

Date: 25th April 1974

Father and Mother are in the kitchen. Static. Their eyes look huge, as if they’re surprised. I say “Good-morning” and kiss their cheeks, but they barely notice it. “What’s going on?”, I want to ask but I don’t dare. The radio is on already, but there is no song. Only someone talking and talking and talking. They say schools are closed and that catches my attention. I look at them, can I have a happy reaction? I study their faces again. Mother has a tight smile, I realise now that she probably hasn’t slept yet. Father is harder. His expression is one of concern, but his eyes look… hopeful.

“Are we expecting rain?”, I finally ask.

Rain is good for Mother’s flowers, Father listens to the news every morning and complains about the weather. Every morning. Then he leaves with a loaf of bread in his hand, another in his textile bag for lunch and bangs the door. “It was the wind”, he shrugs when Mother admonishes him. Which means every evening.

They both look at me, probably realising for the first time that I am awake. Mother kisses my head and prepares me breakfast. Father informs he is not going to work today, instead he is going with us.

“The kiosk is too close. When something goes wrong…”

“When?”, Mother asks, “What if it doesn’t?”

“Get your high hopes down, woman. And I am going with you! End of story.”

 

Date: 25th April 1974

We’re on our way to the kiosk. Soldiers go up and down Rua do Carmo.

We enter Jose’s restaurant. We’re safer there, Father believes. I look outside. There are long white sheets saying ‘FREEDOM’ in red. There are war tanks and soldiers talking to microphones. They are all facing towards the Council. We can hear everything inside. They give them time to surrender. Otherwise, no mercy. A soldier comes and tells everyone to stay away from the windows. But some people like Father go outside. And I want to! I want to tell Mother I won’t cry. I will be always holding Father’s hand. I won’t try to get even closer nor run away! But Mother is tense, everyone is. Hoping. And waiting. A soldier enters the restaurant.

Mother is bold and asks them, “What’s going on? What are you doing here?”

“Marcelo Caetano is there,” he points to the Council front.

“Have you been here for a long time?”

“Since 3 am. Actually, senhora… Do you have a cigarette?”

If Father was here his upper lip would probably lift, but he is not. And I admire Mother.

“I am sorry… I don’t. Everything is closed…”

“But we have these flowers,” Jose’s daughter interrupts and takes one from a bouquet on the closest table.

The soldier kindly accepts it. Mother fetches all the carnations she sold to the restaurant- no rain, no flowers- and gives them to everyone near us. The soldier takes a few more outside.

The door to the balcony finally opens. The silence is heavy. Just like in the classroom, we look at them. And they look at us. A decision was made. Portugal is free. The soldiers jump from the tanks. Joy is expressed in every face and gesture. Everywhere I look it is all I can see.

Some kiss the soldiers, others put the flowers in their guns. Everyone celebrates. Father is finally able to reach us. He kisses both of us and there is an unmistakable smile under his moustache, “No blood! Can you believe it?!”

I run outside. Mother catches me by the wrist. “Where do you think you’re going, minha menina?”

“Isn’t this Freedom?”, I ask pointing at the hand-painted signs. Father laughs. Mother lets go of my wrist. And I go. To help giving away the flowers. A soldier picks me up. Laughing like a crazy lunatic. I give him a carnation. He places it on the gun. Just like the rest. Freedom is red. And when it is in red, everyone must obey. It means I can run.