Pedro Freitas Rocha
Once again. He woke up scared, sweating. The images were the same as always, and despite not recognising them, they were awkwardly familiar to him. Everything was happening in a strange city, people on the streets spoke another language, he found himself lost in the crowd that ran around. There was smoke in the air. Stunned, not knowing where he was, his head seemed to throb with the incessant sirens sound. He noticed that in a group which had gathered close to him, some were bleeding, one seemed unconscious, few managed to maintain any kind of calm. He couldn't distinguish the sounds he listened to, and did not understand what people said. Suddenly an explosion took him to the ground unconscious.
Joy was at his side, as always, and seeing him awake, touched his hair in a fraternal gesture before getting up and walking out of the room. The aroma of coffee came to him as an uplifting fresh morning breath, putting him up to face another day. She found him already sitting on the bed, stretching his arms as if preparing for a competition. She handed him the coffee mug and sat down in front of him. He took a slow sip, and not wanting to think about anything else, he thought Joy makes the best coffee in the world. Joy’s semblance was calm, but after so many years together he knew she wasn't.
They met in the last years of university, at a time when life promises were still sweet and plentiful, and although they were not the most optimistic, as well as everyone else, they did not imagine what was about to come. The memories of those times which arose between cups and friends came with wistful laughter, though they were less and less frequent nowadays. The hopes of the youth were now behind them, he said only the stubbornness remained, she named it principles. Disagreements aside, both agreed that this was the knot of their problems.
They missed most not what they lived, but where and how they led their lives, when they first dared walking by themselves. Their origins were different, also their trajectories and challenges, but they always converged in their ambitions and goals. They wanted to work with what they have chosen, to contribute to the communities where they lived in, to have the minimum dignity with the fruit of their efforts, and to be able to enjoy their short month of vacation as they wished. Some acquaintances from their youth considered them simple, others frustrated, and some said it was a waste to devote to so little. Today they attend more other companies.
They grew up in humble families in very different contexts, but in reasonably similar fashion, she in the skirts of a large northern capital, he in a poor village in the countryside of the country's richest region. The country was almost a continent, the varieties it represented filled everyone with life and travellers with multiple experiences, from the sea to the desert, from snowy mountains to tropical forests and endless central plains, from ancient cities to modern urban centers. The common denominators of such a plural universe were the joy of its citizens, and the cruel inequality imposed by a small privileged minority over the majority of the population.
Joy was raised on the outskirts of a large urban center where from an early age she experienced the neighbors’ solidarity and the police violence. Her mother worked as a maid for wealthy families in the city, and her father did sparse little jobs as a construction assistant. Despite her simple childhood, she managed to complete her studies in a public school. The commitment and seriousness she soon demonstrated took her where their parents had never imagined. She moved to the southern capital to go to university and majored in arts. Adaptation away from home was not easy, but the prospective she could find work more easily and lead a life of less bitterness than her parents’, gave her the impetus needed.
He grew up in the country’s richest region, but in a tiny country town. His mother had abandoned him and her husband shortly after giving birth, his father used to tell him. The father worked at one of the farms in the area, whose owner tolerated with strange benevolence his faults and the fact his employee was drunk most of his time. This landowner's wife, compassionate of the boy's bad luck - or, according to a village hearsay, guilty of her husband's actions - took on the task to educate him. When he got a little older, at school, he had to put up with the older and richer children who didn't leave him alone. He faced all difficulties with a surprising maturity, and from the moment he decided to leave that place as soon as he could, he started to accept with less rebellion the help the farmer's wife gave him.
They were introduced to each other in a theater class, in which they stand for Euridice and Orpheus. After that, they rarely parted. After university, he started teaching history in a secondary school, while she created a community center to work with children and women. It was years of hardship, and were it not for some savings they had managed to put together it would have been impossible to pay the bills, until a certain moment when he was approved to work in an administrative sector of the central government. Both believed they could help transform the reality around them, with small gestures and actions. The country has seen a steady improvement in recent years, making everyone believe it was possible to end inequalities and offer worthy conditions for all. It was when everything looked calm that things started to change, and without notice, the world turned inside out.
Violence was something they were used to, not only them but all the population, in several aspects. She grew up being despised for her color, for her belief and for being a woman. He, the son of a father traumatised by the past, had doubts whether his mother actually ran away or if she was taken from him. The news of conflicts between police forces and independent groups multiplied, as well as the growing cases of segregation among the different groups that inhabited the country. The very people who were proud of their joy, even in the rough reality of day-to-day life, were gradually saddened and divided. Joy noticed clearly when the situation came to a critical point, her space was invaded and ravaged during one night. He noticed transformations evolving gradually in the work environment, with an increasing number of closed-door meetings and spreading of taciturn semblances.
After having her community center destroyed, Joy became even more engaged in resisting what was going on. For fear, she did not reopen the place, even because the bills did not fit the pocket. Instead she started to work directly with those who used to go there. She was going house to house offering every kind of support possible, and ended up gathering a small army of associates. For his stability in service to the central government, he helped with the costs of her activities with pleasure, and in his work he also resisted in his own way. He organised a discussion group with other workers to organize the demands of their work center, seeking to minimize the pressures they suffered and trying to rivet their superiors attention, for they believed that even being linked to the central government their unity should have more autonomy to carry out their duties.
At a certain point in the country's internal conflicts, in the upheavals to which the population was submitted by the central government, the limits were lost by virtually everyone, and thereafter the situation only got worse. They passed laws that compromised the condition of workers, the public transport was reduced to junkyard, the health system was insufficient and restricted to a minority, the markets were not able to provide enough goods for all, and to contain the wave of protests the army and the police forces were reinforced. The central government was unable, from the height of its ignorance sustained by the division of people and increasing intolerance, to coordinate the necessary actions to place the country back on track, opening space for the provinces to assume absolute control of their territory. This may have been the worst blow to the spirit of individuals.
Armed conflicts broke out in several capitals and regions, popular forces were trying to resist demonstrations of strength by local authorities who saw repression as the only way to have the people under control. Criminal groups have allied themselves with social groups, most of them led by women who got tired of watching their children be murdered, from starvation or by bullet. That movement intensified the fighting and some believed that the people would take over the helm of this adrift country. The spectre of this threat, however, has caused violence to reach a surprising level of cruelty. People began to disappear mysteriously, headquarters of the resistance blew off during the night with strange frequency, access to food was reduced to levels of misery, except for some wealth zones protected by walls and heavy security.
At that time, Joy was sneaking between alleys and street trenches. Her work with other women in a solidarity network had become a network of support. They helped the wounded from the struggles with the police, articulated the distribution of food for the poorest, hid wanted activists, campaigned for education and awareness of the population who had been abandoned by the state. In the office, he silently obeyed supervisors after numerous retaliations. His discussion group with workers was banned, participants relocated to avoid contact and subjected to exhaustive services which had no practical purpose. What scared him the most was when they summoned him to the main office of his administrative center, for the invitation was not made by his boss, but by two armed men.
He was working in the warehouse for more than a month now, isolated from socializing with colleagues after the dissolution of his group, when two strangers paid him a visit. They politely asked him to accompany them to the main office. He did not utter a word all the way, and was terrified of what he could hear for anything he would ask. When they arrived, he almost fainted when his fears were confirmed, his mate had been arrested, and if he collaborated nothing would happen to her. They accused Joy of being involved with the articulation of groups of resistance against the central government and needed information. He remained silent for a moment, watched closely by the devouring eyes of the three men, until he rose to say that he knew nothing, and he wanted to see her right away.
His request was not well received. He felt a heavy hand on his shoulder forcing him down to sit again, and heard that he wasn’t picturing the situation well, that he’d better cooperate or things would not be fine for both of them. He really did not know much tough, his companion kept many actions out of his knowledge because she knew the risks she was taking. But he knew some of Joy's contacts, so he thought of something that could buy him some time. He told the men he could help, but needed time. He promised to help as long as they did no harm to her. One of the men who escorted him to the office growled in disapproval behind him, to which the authority contested, saying the guest knew what could happen to him if he failed to cope. Right after such subtle warning, he was dismissed as a street dog.
Then he went home to find it had been torn apart. There was broken furniture scattered around along with pieces of clothes all over, a few pictures they were given and the books were torn and pissed over. He was afraid he would never see Joy again, and he cried out of fear and anger as he organized the chaos their house was turned into. After taking a shower and organizing his thoughts, he left in search of a friend, partner of his companion, whom he knew could be of help. He found her in one of the safe locations Joy had indicated him in case something serious happened. They talked for a few hours until they came up with an idea. They would hand over one of the bases of resistance that had already been deactivated for not trusting the local neighborhood.
The next day he arrived early at work, he had hardly slept, he was exhausted and afraid. He told his supervisor he needed to go to the main office urgently. He was sent back to the warehouse where after a while he was once again visited by the two men from the previous day. He passed on the information he and his friend had agreed on the day before and asked to be taken to Joy. They told him to shut up and go home, that he would receive news after they checked what he had said was true. The plan worked out fine, the resistance base still had materials from previous actions, and the neighborhood confirmed suspicious movements in there. At the end of the day, he heard a car noise in front of the house, doors slamming and the sound of tires screeching. He ran to the door and found Joy on the floor, dejected. She was only able to tell him not to worry, that she was fine, before collapsing in her companion's arms. In the following weeks, he went to work in anguish, he felt he was being watched wherever he went, until the country halted.
In coordinated actions against the central government, the provinces articulated coups and became independent. The central government now controlled only the central region of the country, but for the provincial government officials little has changed. Bound by commercial and military collaboration agreements, they ousted the inept president and strengthened the local elites. They took advantage of the situation to institute extremely strict administrations, taking the population to a state even direr. State institutions have been completely reorganized, many workers were dismissed under vague accusations, with no right of defense, of keeping suspicious ties or treason. These were turbulent years.
At first, the newly instituted provincial governments surprised the resistance and they managed to impose their will. They approved constitutions in record time, controlled demonstrations with brute force, all with open international support that benefited from the new border arrangements. The population was more divided than ever. Defenders of the new states, most favored social layers, servers of the security forces, separatists and parasites, exalted the division, saying it was beneficial to get rid of the dead weight from other provinces. Those that continued to be exploited, kept in the category of survivors and not individuals, and those who had the courage to disagree with the atrocities committed by the rulers, those were compelled to conform themselves.
Joy and him struggled to adapt like everybody else, but it served them to deflect tensions from recent persecutions they have suffered. He was affected by the mass layoffs at the State administrative bodies and she deeply missed her family. A few months after the separatist coups, they fled to the north, and found shelter at Joy cousins’ home. He went back to teaching history classes at the same municipal school where she was offered the position of cook. After a few months, the adaptation proved to happen in a surprisingly good way, they established good ties in the school and in the neighborhood where they lived. In a short time, they had already gathered a small discussion group that approached the most several themes seeking to help those with whom they shared experiences.
The northern states, poorer than the rest of the independent provinces, managed to achieve a better social balance in the first years of the new order, offering more tranquility to its citizens, despite the permanent surveillance. Each province, concerned with establishing their own governments, paid more attention to internal conflicts than those related to the old country. But as soon as tempers about the division subsided, stronger southern states have convinced their inhabitants that the blame for the current circumstance came from the arrogance of the north.
The economic disputes among the provinces was the trigger for new conflicts. Joy did not mind working as a cook at school, she saw it as a privilege to contribute to a fundamental part of everyone's life there. She had contact with all employees, was liked by students, her humble and proud stance captivated everyone. Joy kept her old ties, the friends she had made at her community center in the south. In a little while, she resumed her activities with the resistance, defending the valorization of the old unity of the country, if not physical, cultural. In his classes he mirrored her movements, and instead of teaching fantasies of a new country, emphasized the histories of the other provinces, always linking these to the place where he and the students now occupied.
The new conflicts were not a surprise, but they were even more merciless. The Southern governments took a synchronized turn against the north in a lightning-fast movement. It was a massacre. The invasion came before the cockcrow on a hot spring day. A week later, the north government had been replaced by an intervening command, and the territory declared a southern administrative district. It was a quiet and silent night, a cool breeze was blowing through the open windows, until everyone was awakened by a series of explosions and uncountable shots. The blasts were seen around the capital where the main defense bases were located, the next day southern troops occupied the streets. For a month, the conflicts were constant in the main cities of the state, until one day the population was instructed to resume their activities normally.
At school, the atmosphere was of fear. The students often cried during classes and activities, some had lost relatives and the school helped to offer them support. Teachers were also frightened for the same reason as the students and for being under constant watch, fearful of the consequences of the invasion, which were soon to be noticed. It started with a staff overhauling, board meetings only happened with the clearance of the direction, armed security guards made frequent rounds in the classrooms, theaters and gyms, and an intervening committee coordinated the contents taught. Until one day the two of them received a notification from the main office direction in a sealed envelope at the end of the day.
The period of the invasion did not dampen their spirits. She argued that they resisted for principles, everything they were subjected to was unacceptable. Governors after governors, all of them lost sight of the most important element to be considered in each of their actions, the people who constituted the nation, shattered by greedy interests of the minority who held power and its ignorant parasites. Certainly Joy would not let herself be shaken by no reason, by anyone, and she was not afraid of the consequences of her acts. He followed her lead with his eyes closed, but did not hide a certain apprehension in some undertakings. He saw himself small in the face of challenges, and counted on her guidance to all the decisions he made. It was her who gave him the strength to continue, and although he was not fond of engaging in every discussion as she always proposed, he learned with her that only those who stand up for what they believe are considered fair and worthy.
The intervention did not interrupt the meetings they held with school servers and some students' parents, only made them happen in secrecy, which was nothing new to them. Initially, the meetings happened sporadically, following the developments of the invasion, but soon were happening regularly again. No one there was planning a revolution, or a coup. Even in contacts with the south centrals of resistance, the agenda of discussions were issues that truly and decisively mattered for the day-to-day life of each one of the attendees. They claimed basic rights, they called for an end to all kinds of persecution, and believed in the individual's autonomy even in a system that compels the people to compulsory work, programmed decisions and rare leisure activities.
They received the directory letter at the end of a working day. While leaving school, the looks of some colleagues confirmed they had also received it. In each envelope, a single southern letterhead paper containing a standard message, they should present themselves at the school gym at the first hour of work. Confirming other employees were also summoned on the one hand eased the expectation, they did not believe anything could be done in broad daylight to school workers, but on the other hand they knew that some of the summoned took part in their discussion groups and shared their ideals.
That night he barely slept. He had nightmares that seemed real, it was like reliving past experiences all at once in one dream. The father appeared to haunt him, the children of the rich families in his hometown threatened him, he looked for Joy and did not see her despite hearing her voice asking for help. Getting to a square, he saw her at a distance, on a platform, accompanied by hooded men and surrounded by a crowd. His efforts to get closer were vain, his screams were swallowed by the uproar of the streets. He ran around for help, he did not know where he was anymore. Suddenly, an explosion took him to the ground unconscious.
He felt at her touch the fresh breath of morning, it was as if for an instant everything else was nothing but a dream. The smell of coffee reminded him of when they started living together, it seemed like another time, distant. The hot drink and the sight of her in front of him was comforting, that was enough for him to live fully. She looked at him as if she knew exactly what he was thinking, and remembered also their first struggles together, the community services, and how they faced uprightly all the obstacles that brought them here. She was sure they had won, and it was enough for her. They finished their coffee in silence, got up and dressed. They looked at each other with a complicity built slowly over time, they were happy. They held hands and left without looking back. They didn't lock the door when they left.