Irene was already at her stone. It was almost two years past over the collapse of Minas do Pejão, but the woman was there almost every day and people didn’t know very well what she was doing either talking to someone or even praying.
Sitting in front of the gate that gave access to the mine’s entry, she waited until six p.m. where she waited for her husband so many times, especially when he had left at dawn without his umbrella.
Jerónimo had only had a boss. He started working at the age of twelve and has died at the age of thirty six. Two thirds of his life has been spent in the galleries of the mine, digging.
Irene could still remember the day they were married, a Saturday at the five p.m. mess on the seventh April and he only had the Sunday to rest. On Monday, he had to get up at six o’clock a.m. to prepare lunch for him to take to the mine.
– You know Jômo… (that was how Irene called her husband) Francisco is very cranky lately. I don’t know what is going on but he vents about everything. I can’t wait for him to finish school in order to learn a trade. You know, I thought of talking to Carpenter Quim, so that he would take him as an apprentice. I know he can’t pay him much but it’s something… and carpenter is a nice craft! I don’t want him to go to construction labour. He is so frail… and has the trouble with his bones! Coming to the mines is even worse! What happened to you could happen to him! – Irene started crying uncontrollably.
– Oh, Jômo… I miss you so much, dear God! I wish I could have made you a proper burial. Now, I come here to the gate like a crazy lady… – she wiped her eyes to the fingers.
Irene stopped, silent and looked for a glimpse at the gates. Minas do Couto Mineiro in Pejão, Castelo de Paiva meant every day bread to the table for many families in the surroundings. To Irene, they were the “devil” that swallowed her most precious item and never spat it back.
– Our little girl hasn’t been eating very well. I don’t know if it is because she is turning into a woman… I don’t know. I will have to talk to her, of course… explain things to her, or she will get a good scare. You know, it has been a bit difficult to raise them by myself. I am not complaining because of the money because your insurance money is enough for our living. It is your presence that we miss. Sometimes the boy would need a good spank from his father, or some talk that only men can have… we miss you so much, my man.
She looked towards Douro river spotting two passing boats.
– I missed you this morning… – she laughed- … you know, just after washing I noticed my toe nails were so grown. – she laughed again – How I loved when you cut my toe nails! You were so handy. And then you would tickle the soles of my feet… – laughter turned into uncontrolled cry.
Irene felt a strong tightness in her chest, a pain so intense that her heart seemed to burst out with such tightness.
-Oh, I am getting all this out of my chest like a crazy woman… You know, Jômo, I’ll kill the pig next week.
The weather is becoming cooler to smoke the meat. I am a bit fearful but I don’t know if I should tell you this. Well, that’s why we got married. There can’t be secrets between us. You know Armando, the pig seller that usually kills our pigs, the last time he went there to kill the previous pig, came to me with some talk I didn’t like. He turned to me and started saying I am still a young woman and should end up with the mourning period and let go of the black clothing. He told me that black clothing won’t bring anybody back. He told me I was a pretty woman and could still get someone and move on.
Have you seen the nerve, Jômo? He’s lucky I respect him or I would tell him to eat shit with all that talk. Had I someone to kill the pig…on this grounds it is just him. This time, if he comes to me with such talks I swear I’ll take the knife from his hands and push him out!
While Irene continued her monologue, the siren from the mines signalled six o’clock p.m. the end of the daily shift. The miners started coming to the surface and heading to the gate. They came up using “the cage”, through the tunnel until they could see the sunlight at the entry of the mine. Coming from the “centre of the Earth” they showed up looking very tired, looking like having rock feet. As they passed by the widow they nodded their heads in respect. Her almost daily presence, sitting on a rock was a living memory of the tragedy.
– Your mates are already leaving, Jômo. I must go too, because the kids are surely arriving from school. I don’t know if I can come tomorrow. I have a doctor’s appointment because of my headaches. The doctor will check the exams she ordered. Maybe, she will come to the conclusion that I am crazy… – she laughed.
– I wish I could take you home, my man. God wanted you to stay down there forever keeping guard at the mines… – she wept again – I swear that all I want is to grow the kids up so that I can join you. Then, we will be together forever. I miss you so much, my man…
Irene took the brook through the pinewood which was the shortest way to her home.
I miss you so much… from the project A STATE OF MIND
Photo: Sérgio Moreira
Text: Adão Baptista