Talking to My Thoughts Through a Flip-flop
Rachel Magarinos Torres (+Video)
Two old friends meet for coffee at a bakery in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, after one of them has been away in Vancouver, Canada, for three years. Together they pour out their hearts.
This story is about saudade, something that all immigrants have to learn how to live with. The Oxford Dictionary defines it as “a feeling of longing, melancholy, or nostalgia that is supposedly characteristic of the Brazilian temperament.”
When I look at this flip-flop, I always ask myself why I’m displaying it on my living room wall. Yes, it’s a beautiful pink and light blue flip-flop, but it’s too worn to be displayed like this. However, every time I look at it, my mind time travels.
I am now sitting in a bakery in Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro, waiting for a friend. It’s 4:00 p.m. on a weekday, and I’m wondering why the streets are so crowded. People are coming and going in all directions, walking fast without looking at each other. I’ve just arrived from Vancouver. Are there so many more people living here than in my Vancouver neighbourhood, or are the streets here just narrower?
While I’m talking to my thoughts, my friend arrives. I feel very happy to see her. She looks excited to see me. We hug each other for a long time, and then find another table to enjoy coffee and some traditional Brazilian pastries like pão de queijo, coxinha, pastel, and bolo formigueiro. Afternoon is always the best time of the day for a coffee.
“How are you?” I ask. “What’s happening here?”
Even though I lived in Rio for over four decades, it’s hard to recognize the city after my time in Vancouver. The night before, from the window of my apartment, I heard the noise of gunshots. I saw their strangely beautiful, colourful lights. It was not the first time that I had seen them, but for the first time, they didn’t look that beautiful.
My friend tells me about the poverty and the civil war that the country is facing as a result. How it has turned worse over the two last years: “This year, 2018, more than 1,500 people were murdered in Rio de Janeiro. Those are the deaths that were registered; I would expect many more unregistered cases. Real estate values have dropped for the third consecutive year. What about Vancouver?” she asks.
I tell her that in Vancouver people use cell phones and laptops in the streets, and even on the bus.
She laughs in surprise. “What? And no one steals them?”
I also tell her that many kids walk to school by themselves since they know the way. Instead of high fences, each school has an open playground. “Vancouver is an expensive city to live in because of the home prices, and it has many problems with drug addiction and homelessness, but it’s still safe,” I conclude.
“What a great experience you had,” she says. “Why don’t you return and live there? I will feel saudade, but I’ll be comfortable knowing that you’re okay. I wish I could have the same opportunity.”
At this moment, I realize that people on the streets are running because they are afraid. They live like prisoners in their own homes.
Leaving the bakery, my friend says that she forgot something. She runs back and returns with a present. I’m surprised. It’s a pair of flip-flops from my favourite Brazilian store. What a nice gift! Comfortable, beautiful flip-flops, which I’ll never be able to find in Vancouver.
Whenever I look at this flip-flop on my living room wall, I praise myself for being brave enough to endure my ever-present saudade and build another life far from family and old friends.
Rachel Magarinos Torres decided to immigrate to Canada at the end of 2018, after having lived for two-and-a-half years in Vancouver and spending six months in Rio thinking about it. She now lives in Vancouver with her husband Paulo and her son Daniel, and lots of saudade for family and old friends. The Shoe Project gave to her the opportunity to revisit this feeling and keep it organized inside her.