Once upon a time there was a yellow-painted house with a garden around it.
In the garden were linden trees, birch trees, a very old cedar, a cherry tree, and two plantains. It was under the cedar that Joan played. With moss and herbs and sticks made many small houses against the large dark trunk. Then I imagined the little dwarves who, if they existed, could live in those houses. And it made a bigger, more complicated house for the dwarf king.
Joana had no brothers and played alone. But every now and then they came to play the two cousins or other boys. And sometimes she went to a party. But those boys she came to and who came to her were not really friends: they were visitors. They made fun of their mossy houses and became very boring in their garden.
And Joana was very sorry for not knowing how to play with the other boys. I just knew I was alone.
But one day he found a friend. It was an October morning.
Joana was trapped in the wall. And a boy passed by on the street. He was all dressed in patches and his eyes shone like two stars. He walked slowly along the edge of the promenade smiling at the autumn leaves. Joana’s heart leaped in her throat.
– Ah! – she said. And thought:
“Sounds like a friend. And just like a friend.” And from the top of the wall called it:
– Good Morning!
The boy turned his head, smiled and replied:
– Good Morning!
They were both silent for a moment.
Then Joan asked:
– What is your name?
“Manuel,” said the boy.
– My name is Joana.
And again between them, light and airy, a silence passed. There was a bell ringing in the distance. Until the boy said:
– Your garden is very beautiful.
– Yeah, come see.
Joana got off the wall and went to open the gate.
And they went out into the garden. The little boy watched one by one each thing. Joana showed him the tank and the red fish. He showed her the orchard, the orange trees and the vegetable garden. And he called the dogs for him to meet them. And he showed her the house of the wood where a cat slept. And she showed him all the trees and the grass and the flowers.
“It’s beautiful, it’s beautiful,” said the boy gravely.
“Here,” said Joan, “it’s the cedar.” This is where I play.
And they sat under the round shade of the cedar.
Morning light surrounded the garden: everything was full of peace and freshness. Sometimes from the top of a linden tree fell a yellow leaf that swirled in the air.
Joan fetched stones, sticks, and moss, and they began to build the house of the dwarf king.
They played like that for a long time.
Until in the distance whistled a factory.
“Noon,” said the boy, “I have to leave.”
– Where do you live?
– In addition to the pine forests.
– Is that your house?
– Yeah, but it’s not quite a house.
– My father is in heaven. That is why we are very poor. My mother works all day but we have no money to have a home.
– But at night where do you sleep?
– The owner of the pine forests has a cabin where a cow and a donkey sleep at night. And for alms, let me sleep there too.
– And where do you play?
– I play everywhere. Before we lived in the city center and I played on the sidewalk and in the ditches. He played with empty cans, old newspapers, rags, and stones. Now I play in the pine forest and on the road. I play with herbs, animals and flowers. You can play everywhere.
– But I can’t leave this garden. Come back tomorrow to play with me.
And from then on every morning the little boy would walk down the street. Joana was waiting for him perched on the fence.
He opened the door and they were going to sit under the round shade of the cedar.
And that’s how Joana found a friend.
He was a wonderful friend. The flowers were returning to their corolla as he passed, the light was brighter around him, and the birds came to eat the crumbs of bread that Joan was going to fetch from the kitchen.
Many days passed, many weeks passed until Christmas came.
And on Christmas Day Joana put on her blue velvet dress, her black, neatly combed shoes at half past seven, and left the room and down the stairs.
When he reached the bottom floor he heard voices in the large room; it was the grown people inside. But Joan knew they had closed the door for her not to enter. So she went to the diner to see if the glasses were already there.
The glasses spent their lives locked inside a large dark wood cabinet in the middle of the hallway. This locker had two doors that never fully opened and a large key. Inside were shadows and sparkles. It was like the inside of a cave full of wonders and secrets. Many things were closed there, things that were not needed for everyday life, things that were bright and a little enchanted: crockery, jars, boxes, crystals and birds of glass. There was even a plate with three wax apples and a silver girl who was a bell. Also a large Easter egg made of red crockery with golden flowers.
Joana had never seen well to the back of the closet. I was not allowed to open it. She could only make the maid sometimes let her peer between the two doors.
On party days, out of the shadows of the interior of the closet came the glasses. They came out clear, transparent and bright, clinking on the board. And for Joana that clinking crystal noise was the music of the parties.
Joana circled the table wheel. The glasses were already there, so cold and bright that they seemed to come from inside a mountain fountain rather than from the back of a cupboard. The candles were lit and their light was shining through the crystal. On the table were wonderful and extraordinary things: glass balls, golden pine cones, and that plant that has spiky leaves and red balls. It was a party. It was Christmas.
So Joana went to the garden. Because she knew that on Christmas Eve the stars are different.
He opened the door and went down the porch stairs. It was very cold, but the cold itself glowed. The leaves of the linden, birch and cherry trees had fallen. The bare branches were drawn in the air like black lace. Only the cedar had its branches covered.
And so high above the trees was the huge round darkness of the sky. And in that darkness the stars twinkled, brighter than anything. Down here was a party and so there were many bright things: lighted candles, glass balls, crystal glasses. But in the sky there was a bigger party, with millions and millions of stars.
Joana stood with her head up for a while. I thought of nothing. He watched the immense happiness of the night in the high, dark, luminous sky, without any shadow.
Then he returned home and closed the door. “Is there a long time left for dinner?” She asked a maid crossing the corridor.
“A little while, girl,” the maid said. So Joan went to the kitchen to see the cook
Gertrude, who was an extraordinary person because he fiddled with hot things without burning and the sharpest knives without cutting himself, and commanded everything, and knew everything. Joana thought her the most important person she knew.
Gertrudes had opened the oven and was leaning over the two Christmas turkeys. Turn them and water them with sauce. The skin of the turkeys, stretched tight over the stuffed chest, was already golden.
“Gertrude, hear something,” said Joan.
Gertrude looked up and looked as roasted as the turkeys.
– Which is? She asked.
“What gifts do you think I’m going to have?”
“I don’t know,” said Gertrude, “I can’t guess.”
But Joan had the utmost confidence in Gertrude’s wisdom and so she continued to ask questions.
“And you think my friend will have a lot of presents?”
– Which friend? Said the cook.
– Manuel doesn’t. You will not have any gifts.
– You won’t have any gifts !?
“No,” he said to Gertrude, shaking his head.
– But why, Gertrude?
– Because it’s poor. The poor have no gifts.
“That can’t be, Gertrude.”
“But that’s the way it is,” he said to Gertrude, closing the oven lid.
Joana stood in the middle of the kitchen. He had understood that it was “anyway.”
Because she knew that Gertrudes knew the world. Every morning I heard her argue with the butcher man, the fishmonger, and the fruit woman. And no one could fool her. Because she was a cook for thirty years. And for thirty years she’d been up at seven in the morning and working until eleven at night. And he knew everything that went on in the neighborhood and everything that went on inside everyone’s house. And I knew all the news, and all the stories of the people. And he knew all the cooking recipes, he knew how to make all the cakes, and he knew all kinds of meat, fish, fruit and vegetables. She was never wrong. He knew the world, things, and men well.
But what Gertrude had said was weird as a lie. Joana was silent thinking in the middle of the kitchen.
Suddenly the door opened and a maid appeared and said:
– The cousins are here.
So Joana went to her cousins.
A few minutes later the big people appeared and all went to the table.
The Christmas party had begun. CONTINUES… Sophia by Mello Breyner Andresen Christmas Eve Porto, Figueirinhas, 1989 Adaptation