30 April 2012

Itapetininga: A Momentary Transfer

Imagem cortesia da Prefeitura de Itapetininga
Walking in the streets of Itapetininga was like a dream painted with roses, in the shadows of Saints as we passed through the praça, listening to all the dancing tongues.

Sister Neptune and I were not companions. Itapetininga was no longer her area, and we were in no hurry to go anywhere on this P-day-meets-holiday excursion. We were missionaries, but we had not come to preach to the masses as we wandered through narrow cobblestoned streets. Instead, for a rare moment, we had come together to watch Itapetininga ebb and flow with the passing time, to look at jewelry, and to eventually meander into a sweetshop for no reason at all.

“What do you want?” Sister Neptune asked.

I looked at each doce, studied each one. There was no label on anything, and even if there were, this was Brazil—what were the odds I would understand? What words did I know that had anything to do with sweets? Creme de leite. Amendoim. That word for hazelnut I can never remember.

What are those? Sister Neptune asked the woman behind the counter. She responded. I didn’t understand anything other than morango. I never did like strawberry…

At a glance, it all looked delicious—chocolate and cherries, cakes with mounds of frosting and nuts, pudding in tiny pink plastic wine glasses, little pies with so much whipped topping you couldn’t see the filling flavor (I hoped it was lime!) All of it perfect and pristine. All of it expensive. I wanted to try all of it to know exactly what I wanted. But this wasn’t the U.S. There were no try-me spoons.

Finally I decided on a sugar-coated something with a golden walnut on top. Sister Neptune bought the thing with the strawberry and we say at a metal café table. She continued our conversation.

“I just don’t understand why President would let someone train who doesn’t keep the rules and doesn’t want to repent, but I’m doing my part to repent and I still haven’t trained.” She took a bite out of her chocolate strawberry thing. I carefully bit into my lump of sugar and discovered it had a light brown nut-flavored filling. It was good, but I couldn’t place what it was. I chewed thoughtfully.

“Not training doesn’t have to be a punishment,” I said. Sister Neptune offered me a bite of her doce and I nearly pulled the whole strawberry out with my teeth. I handed her my sugar lump and she took a small bite, avoiding the walnut.

“I know,” she said reluctantly, sorting through her own thoughts for a moment before continuing. I couldn’t blame her for her frustration, but I wanted her to feel better about herself.

“I’m not perfect,” she said finally. “I don’t pretend to be. I know I do a lot of things wrong. But I’ve already decided that I’m going to do better. I have a clear conscience about everything I’ve passed through.”

I was looking at the glass counter, wondering if I should’ve gotten the pie. If it was lime, it would’ve been worth it.

“And I’m not going to worry about how things turn out because I’ve done my part,” she said finally, finishing her strawberry.

“I think President was only thinking of you,” I said simply. “He was going to put you with Sister André were you would be the senior companion, but you still wouldn’t be happy. I think he thought about you and your situation and decided that the best was to make you happy was to leave you in the Interior, so he put you in Miracatu.”

She didn’t say anything—probably deciding if she agreed with me or not. Whether she did or not was irrelevant in almost every imaginable way. President could change his mind again, and for all I knew I could be the one going to Miracatu.

Transfers were never easy. You spend all of your time, pouring your heart and soul into an area, and into the person by your side, only to have it all disappear with one phone call. When you wanted a change you embraced it, because anything had to be better than what you were leaving behind. But when you were happy, it was like taking a beautiful piece of yourself and tucking it away in a box, or trying to catch it in a photo and put it into a journal. Plucking the love in a moment and watching it turn into a memory the second you touched it—the way a pressed flower loses its color.

I looked at Sister Neptune, and I knew I was there for a purpose. I saw the hand of God in the stretches of the in-between. We were companions in a momentary transfer and I’ll never forget the way life looked through her eyes.
* * *

I don’t know that I will ever go back to that loja de doces, but I know I can never go back to that moment with Sister Neptune. I can never trade the nut-flavored sugar lump for what I hoped was pie, creme e limão. There were no try-me spoons, and for that I was grateful. I would never have chosen to go to the Interior with an American with a strong accent. But in a moment in which life and God went against the choosing, I saw the world with rosy eyes, through the eyes and heart of another.



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