Portia

Paulo Pasta, Untitled, 2022 Oil on canvas 160 x 120 cm
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By JOSUÉ PEREIRA DA SILVA*

Comment on Portia Carolina da Silva Castro, aunt of the poet Castro Alves

Afrânio and Jorge, my thanks!

It must have been around ten in the morning when we parked the car and entered the museum house. Right at the entrance we were met by two people: a doorman and a dark-haired girl, indigenous type, very friendly, pretty and smiling. We wanted to know the collection, we said. Do you know anything about Castro Alves? she asked us. My brother, always a bit of a joker, wanted to know if her question was about the city or about the poet who gave it its name. She saw how funny he was and, laughing, replied: “the poet, of course, and his story”. Yes; she knew something, he told her.

The nice girl, who said she was a historian, offered to guide us on the visit to the collection. We went up the stairs and started to see the collection. Right in the first room, she called our attention to the framed newspaper articles about the famous Bahian, a statue and some portraits of the poet, paintings or old photographs, with his unmistakable mustache. In the adjoining room there are more portraits of his family, his mother, his grandfather.

– And of Portia, don't you have any pictures?, my brother asked.

"Only that one over there," replied the girl.

He approached the photo, in fact a drawing, faded, of a very pretty woman, with strong and sober eyes; but sad, with a deep, almost transcendent sadness. Martyr look that seemed to exude a lot of hurt. I had never heard of her and, therefore, I did not understand my brother's enthusiasm for that figure. That faded drawing seemed to be the only thing of interest to him in that museum. The girl wanted to show us the other rooms in the museum; he agreed, but asked her to wait a little longer. He wanted to take some pictures.

The guide told him that he could not use flash; he then asked me to take a picture for him with my cell phone, an artifact that he, by the way, refused to use. I did my best to get him a good picture of that faded design, and then we went down a staircase to the lower part of the mansion, where, according to the guide, the kitchen with period equipment and the slave quarters were located. Down there were also some cubicles used to imprison and punish recaptured runaway slaves.

My brother, fascinated by the girl with the faded portrait, wanted to know from the guide where the women's rooms were. Because, as he had said, upstairs the rooms looked like parlors and workrooms. At the time, I even thought her question was a bit silly, but the girl said that the bedrooms were in the adjoining house, which had been partially demolished and did not belong to the museum. He still wanted to know if he could go there; she replied no because it was private property. I asked him why all that anxiety for the girl with the faded portrait and he told me that she was an aunt of Castro Alves who had a tragic life.

Hearing him say that, the guide became interested in the story and wanted to know more. He asked if she hadn't read ABC of Castro Alves, by Jorge Amado, or Missy, by Afrânio Peixoto. She said no; he told her that the two books were about the girl's story and that she should read them. She would look for the books and read, he said. I was a bit embarrassed by my brother's attitude at the museum, seeming to want to know more than the girl who worked there. But soon we finished seeing the other rooms, we said goodbye to her and left.

It was after eleven o'clock and we still had a lot to do that day. He had driven there and I had offered to take the wheel. I started the car and we headed towards Santa Terezinha, the next city on our itinerary. As soon as we left, I couldn't help but talk about his attitude at the museum. He laughed and told me that the girl was nice, but as a museum historian she should know better.

– And the girl in the portrait? Why does she interest you so much?

“Do you want me to tell you?” he replied.

- Clear! Account.

– So buckle up and pay attention in the direction I want to get Jequié alive and in one piece.

– You can rest assured that I understand the direction…

 

***

The case took place in the first half of the nineteenth century; one thousand eight hundred forty something. I don't know the exact date, but that doesn't make much difference. Portia Carolina was only sixteen years old. It was then a beautiful flower that bloomed when she and Leolino met. But at that time, girls were married very young, usually with husbands chosen by their parents. Leolino was married and traveling with his troops when he set up on Portia's father's farm; rich and powerful man, the maternal grandfather of Castro Alves. He is even known for having led a battalion of volunteers and slaves here in Bahia to fight against the Portuguese in the war for independence, which Bahians celebrate on the XNUMXnd of July.

We're back to what matters. When Leolino stayed at her father's farm, there were other girls there, some of her age; it was a time for merriment, fun, with a bonfire in the yard of the big house, dancing, games. That's why so many girls – her cousins ​​and friends – were in the house in those days.

Of all the girls, Portia attracted his attention not only for her beauty. She wasn't just beautiful. She was also ingratiating, forward; salient, as they said then. And she exuded sensuality. At first, he found the girl's spirit of leadership funny, who in this regard stood out well from the others, who were more shy and less forward than she was. But it was not just that; she had something provocative, defiant, above all, because she dealt with men as equals, something unusual at that time. The little devil, with her deep gaze and the ironic smile of a sphinx, was not intimidated by the grown men. Leolino was taken by her. He knew the risks; he was a married man. She knew it too, but she liked him and didn't think about the consequences.

They hardly spoke, but the chemistry between the two was fatal. After the revelry of that night, everyone retired to sleep. Leolino tried to sleep, but he couldn't close his eyes. He got out of bed and decided to walk outside a bit to put his thoughts in order, to dispel the dangerous thoughts. I don't know if I could. But his daydreams were interrupted by the figure of a half-naked nymph, only in her nightgown, there, in front of him; he did not believe his eyes. But it was her; he guessed his thoughts and his desires were the same as hers. They made love right there, intensely, madly and passionately. Having done what nature ordered, they knew that there was no turning back from that risky step. Neither did they.

He would abandon his family and take the girl with him, which she fully agreed with. They would look for a place just for them; a place far away and quiet, where they could live the idyll fully and peacefully. They fled.

But Colonel Silva Castro, the girl's father, would not leave them alone. Upon learning of what had happened, he set his troops in pursuit of them. He wheeled, searched, found and laid siege. Initially it was repelled. Leolino had the help of Exupério, his brother who was good at aiming and a top marksman. He prepared himself like a Trojan to defend his fortress, to protect his Helena from the wild, from the Recôncavo.

After a few unsuccessful attempts, the colonel seemed to have given up, leaving them at ease. One day, however, Leolino needed to travel with his brother, a long journey, and he left his armed staff protecting the walls, the borders of his domains; from the improvised palace where he had hidden Portia and the fruit of “forbidden” love, a robust boy already approaching his first birthday.

Colonel Silva Castro was not one to give up and kept his scouts around. And, in the absence of Leolino and Exupério, he launched the attack. He encountered resistance, but not enough to make him give up. He broke down the security walls and broke into the compound. Upon seeing her father with the henchmen enter their home, Portia used the last resort at her disposal. She showed him her grandson, a beautiful, healthy boy. But she couldn't quench her father's thirst for revenge; worse, it seems that her grandson's existence spurred her on. And in front of the immobilized mother, she ordered the death of her grandson, who was sacrificed right there with the cold blade of a machete.

Tied up, Pórcia was driven insane and ended her days as a prisoner in a room in her father's mansion, always under surveillance. Leolino died some time later fighting to avenge his beloved and his son, in which he was helped by his brother. It was so.

 

***

"Do you understand my interest now?"

- Yes. What a tragedy, huh!? Human beings are capable of doing horrible things...

- So it is. The irony of all this is that she is remembered less than her father – a hero of Independence.

* Joshua Pereira da Silva is a retired professor at Unicamp. Author, among other books, of Critical Sociology and the Crisis of the Left (intermediate).

Originally published in the book autumn tales (Author's edition).


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