What is it about nostalgia?
When the snare drums and lights in the background are something spiritual.
I roll over to mosquito bites and a mouth full of mango. I wake up to nobody but myself. Wash my face. My black afro hangs over my eyes, half frizzy, half curly. No one can tell I am not from here and this makes me feel at home.
6:02 a.m. Bom dia.
Last night, my phone told me the sun would rise at 6:07 a.m.
Upstairs, a neighbor turns on a playlist of bossa nova and samba to start his Thursday.
And without an alarm blaring, jolting me out of a deep slumber, here I am.
What is it about nostalgia? A longing for a house and a home, a worn sweater, a child that shares our names, a shared life. Fleeting moments I once had.
Here remains the desire of a love worth coming home to. Of someone calling my name.
One night in Portugal, I asked a friend what “Tenho saudades” meant in English and she placed her tongue on her front two teeth. “Longing,” she said after a pause. “A mix of love and sadness and melancholy. Something that might return, something that may never be, something new.”
This is how I feel.
Waves crash against the ocean, as an exhausted twilight waits to go home. A rather introverted sun starts to gain confidence on the horizon, excited lovers looking beyond living room blinds in the city. The sky blue with traces of pink e white e yellow. The hammock on my balcony sways with the cadence of the wind. I look at the night sky waving goodbye and swear I can almost count 27 stars.
Tiny and enormous houses peak out from the side of the cliff. I tally four houses. The one that stands out is a pink castle with a large balcony, six circular windows that look like discs, and a crumbling exterior, but only God knows what lies inside.
My present life exists in Vidigal, a neighborhood slum or favela. Here lie roads less traveled and communities that deserve to be seen. Men hug and grab each other’s faces, women kiss cheeks, motorcycles dance in the streets. Power lines overhead twist and overcome poles with such force that I know the favela and I will lose power later this evening. A grocery store, a barbershop, a restaurant, and a small park with children in the wind on swings line the entrance of the favela. A narrow street that hardly fits one car leads the way up the incline to the cluster of homes sitting on the edge of the hills, their colors like the rainbow. Below on the street roars the sound of children playing, cars slamming on breaks and anticipating an opportunity to pass, of women singing, men whistling… so robust that these sounds will later echo in my dreams.
Yesterday, I lived a life of sand between my toes, a beach football in the air playing a new sport called Altinha, attempting to keep the ball high in the air with three new friends with whom I do not share a common language. A boy with skin like mine and a head full of curly hair runs by whistling “The Girl from Ipanema.” I sing along, the boy’s mouth forming lines of laughter, gesturing an upward thumb, smiling, before he disappears into the Atlantic Ocean. The Two Brothers Mountain sit at the western end of the beach.
Jesus Christ and His statue upon a hunchback mountain look down on us.
And yesterday, I thought of the African Diaspora and the violent but reclaimed truth that I can be from almost anywhere.
What is it like… to live a life and have the opportunity to think? Time to sing in the shower, to fall unhurriedly in love, to listen without answering, to hug your brother, your mother, your father. Time to sit e taste e feel and ask yourself “what is it that I am wanting?” and wonder if you will truly appreciate it when it arrives.
“Olá.” The favela grocery store owner looks like me. Here I am, covered in sand, and she extends her arms and embraces me. She smells like the ocean and a day of hard work. Her arms are smooth, her embrace so warm that I could have sworn she was my mother.
How does that feeling translate to another continent, another country?
I arrive at Estrada do Vidigal 523, open all the windows and the balcony door, and turn on my favorite artist, Sango. A ¾ rhythm fills the apartment, consisting of Afro-Brazilian drums and guitars, the tempo bouncing of the walls. No one knocks or says a thing. Sango had a concert here in February of this year. Up the street in neighboring Rocinha, someone smiles. The album From Me, To You still on in someone’s living room.
In the shower, unable to get the sand off of my skin, I leave it.
This is how nostalgia feels.
I call the restaurant I had my eye on and make a dinner reservation for one.
“Não falo português,” I whisper. The operator happens to speak Spanish. “Venga,” he says. I arrive in 30 minutes in a long, graceful green dress with yellow diamonds and sandals that reveal my tan.
“Ninguém é jovem apos os 40 anós. Mas pode se ser irresistível em qualquer dade,” someone painted in the bathroom. Google translate will later convey that the wall says, “No one is young after 40 years, but one can be powerful and irresistible in any way.”
I sit. Dine. The waiter with curly hair asks me if I want wine. “Vinho tinto por favor.”
She returns and pours a small amount in my glass. I swirl the wine glass around in my left hand, how my mother, my aunt, and their friends do at dinner parties.
These are the stories I will tell my grandchildren when they ask what independence, an inner revolution, and adventure mean to me. What my adulthood became. What my youth was. A time where I had nowhere to be and nowhere to go.
What does nostalgia taste like then, at 6:02 in the morning?
Does it taste the same?
A strong hope and a wish with all my heart for a kind husband, bedtime stories to lovely children, a house, a home, and then I wonder if I will ever dream of these nights I had alone.
The windows and balcony door of the AirBnb are still open by the time I arrive. Sango’s Engenho da Rainha plays on the speakers, at a volume just low enough to eavesdrop on the hum of the ocean.
I lean back, placing my entire body into the hammock made out of rope and close my eyes.
And I surrender to whatever comes next.