[This is an excerpt from a work in progress. More details to be revealed shortly]
The park around Alameda metro faced an old fountain the size of a building. It was gray, emblematic, and yet cobbling apart. While most tourists would have come to the park to observe it, or to go to the houses or bar around the metro, it was the day of the Chinese New Year, and so those who were second or third generation Chinese-Portuguese, Portuguese proper, immigrants from different parts of the world who called Lisbon home, or traveling Europeans with a curiousity for a culture outside of their own, had crowded around the metro, waiting for other bystanders or friends or festival participants come. It was clear this was not China. The Year of the Rat was meant to start on January 25th, but to accommodate the Portuguese people, they had done it the weekend before. Excluding the mixes of races around the metro station, the dragon train that would pass from through the south of the city was smaller than it would be on the continent, made of flimsier paper, and being carried by a lot less people. A lot of Chinese diaspora would have preferred to observe the festivities being broadcasted in the mainland, just as they would have done if they were still living in Tianjin or Macau. Nevertheless, rumors of the corona virus spreading around the mainland had caused the Chinese government to cancel parades in all major cities, leading a lot of the Portuguese of Chinese origin to consider this parade as the best they could do.
Mother and her families were one of these such groups who took their time every year to come to the parade, for the sake of keeping the traditions in their families, just as their parents had done. She was with Her Stubborn Stalwart of a Sister, and Her Stubborn Stalwart of a Sister’s husband. Because the festivities were observed between ten in the morning to three o’clock in the day, it was impossible for Father to come; he was having to work at the hospital. As a result, Mother was alone with her extended family. It was about ten in the morning, but the parade seemed to have not started. It was for this reason that Mother, cracking her fingers, asked Her Stubborn Stalwart of a Sister, “Do you think it will start on time?”
Rather than answer directly, Her Stubborn Stalwart of a Sister asked, “What do you think?” towards her husband. She was smiling, her eyes preened back in such a way that the smile looked polite, almost smug, but not genuine. Unlike Mother’s prominent jaw and harsh cheekbones, Her Stubborn Stalwart of a Sister had a mousy face, which made her look perpetually young. When she put on these smiles, she gave the impression of a child being forced to respond in some way to the dictations of a teacher.
“Yes,” her husband said. This was no answer to the question, and by the way he looked out into the crowds, he might as well not have been spoken at all. There was a discernible height difference, which made it clear where Her Stubborn Stalwart of a Sister was looking; she was looking up, with her neck extended high. Something of his height made him look muscular, and because of the confidence that came not from his language, but from something out of the covenants of his very soul, he had a formidability to him, the kind that made men rarely dare to open their mouth to him, on the assumption that the first thing it would cause to happen would be a fight of some sort. He rarely smiled, he rarely looked humbly at others. His name wasn’t important; in Mother’s eye, he was always Their Family’s Victor.
He clearly had nothing else to contribute, and so Mother held out her phone. She groaned to herself, “Why hasn’t it started yet?”
“It’ll start any minute, tranquilo,” Her Stubborn Stalwart of a Sister said. Though, looking further back along the line, there didn’t seem to be any children in sight, only a lot of college-student-looking boys and girls in red jumpers, and Minnie Mouse on a float. “I can’t wait to see my son perform.”
“Yes,” Mother concurred. “My precious little nephew is a born performer. He’ll do well.”
Mother’s Stubborn Stalwart of a Sister looked up and down Mother’s face. She was puckering her lips, like she wasn’t sure if she should speak, and then she said, “I don’t know how, out of the hundreds of students at his school, my son was the one who got selected. He loves to paint, and to draw, not to dance and sing. I don’t think I’ve seen him dance or sing once.”
“That’s because you work too much. I’ve seen him dance and sing too much. And especially as a little boy.”
“Little boys love to sing and dance. But he is almost nine. A few years from being a teenager. Teenagers know what they like and what they don’t. Don’t they, my dear?”
Once again, Their Family’s Victor nodded, but solemnly, and with such an intent stare into the parade that one of the clappers and dancers looked back at him, and forgot what she was in the middle of saying. Mother observed the scene and then said, “He is eight. Not five plus eight, or thirteen. You are thinking too much. Let him sing. Let him paint. Let him draw all over the walls.”
“Hah,” Her Stubborn Stalwart of a Sister said.
Mother replied, “Hah, what?”
Her Stubborn Stalwart of a Sister said, “It’s easier to say such things with someone else’s son, not your own.”
Mother had something to say, but the parade was starting. Crowds of people walking in line with the dragon were passing through to the north of the metro, and inside of them were a throng of children, dressed in little suits, coloured red, blue, and purple. They were all walking slowly and waving to the people in the air. They stopped by a traffic light. They started to wave their hands about, launch kicks into the air, jump around, and dance, in file formation. The problem was that the three of them were not near this traffic light, but south of it, by the metro exit. Her Stubborn Stalwart of a Sister’s face had long since drained of calm, and she said, quite anxiously, “Why are they dancing there? Aren’t they supposed to keep walking? Quick, quick, go!” Without even looking at Their Family’s Victor, Mother and Her Stubborn Stalwart of a Sister started tackling through the crowd.
Mother shouted at Her Stubborn Stalwart of a Sister, “Where is my precious little nephew?”
Her Stubborn Stalwart of a Sister told her, “I don’t know,” but this was because the elbow of a random person in the crowd almost hit her, and she responded by shoving him, causing the teenager to almost drop his bubble tea to the ground. “We have to find him soon. The dance looks like it’s going to end.”
“My Precious Little Nephew’s going to kill me. He told me all day, ‘Tia minha, I can’t wait for you to see my dance. I did it just for you.’”
“Kill you? I’m his mother. He will want to kill me.”
“Didn’t you hear what I said? He said, ‘Tia minha, I can’t wait for you to see my dance. I did it just for you.’ Not ‘A minha mai, I can’t wait to see my dance. I did it just for you.’ ”
“Hey, you, move out of the way, please. I need to see my son.”
“Hey, you, move!”
By the time they had gotten to the front of the crowd, the children had finished their dance, and they were walking off, most likely towards the area where Mother and Her Stubborn Stalwart of a Sister had been before. One of the boys did appear to be waving in their direction. He was coming up to Their Family’s Victor and saying something, but from where Mother and Her Stubborn Stalwart of a Sister currently were, all that was visible was this fleeting row of little boys and girls, and then another dragon dance. They watched as this small paper dragon was lifted up by a row of men and women in white and orange dress. They slithered the green and red dragon up and down the street. The dragon mouth chomped up and down, being flung in the direction of random people in the crowd.
Mother complained, “We missed it! Why did I follow you? We should have stayed up there. Wai! You listening to me?” she snapped at Her Stubborn Stalwart of a Sister, who was not quipping back. Her Stubborn Stalwart of a Sister was folding her hands into a prayer stance, but this was not the body language of someone who was about to face neither Christ nor Buddha. She was short and small, but she was shrinking into herself nevertheless. In the midst of so many people, it would have been easy for her to be swallowed by the crowd. “Hey,” Mother said once more. “It will be okay. He is only eight. He will be in the parade next year. He won’t remember any of this, I know.”
“But I will,” Her Stubborn Stalwart of a Sister said, and then she said nothing else. Mother kept shaking her by the shoulders, and saying, “You will forget too!” or “Don’t take it so seriously, se faz favor!” Still, Her Stubborn Stalwart of a Sister was not saying anything, and there was the impression that she wasn’t going to say anything, at least for now. There was only one way for Mother to react to such quiet. She hugged Her Stubborn Stalwart of a Sister, tightly, warmly, and she did her best to fill the moment with words until her sister was ready to talk.
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