Letter to Margarida: by Yovanka Paquete Perdigao

Photo credit: Christian Bardenhorst

Minha querida Margarida,

How do I even begin? This is the 14th time I’ve written to you. I know they’ve sent you my obituary, so right now, you’re probably at home with our daughter, crying over a dead body buried somewhere in this African soil without a marked grave to visit. Sometimes I wish it were true.

When they first brought me in, I counted the days on this very wall I sit against. The beatings, the torture, and finally the starving broke my resolve. I no longer know how long it has been since I felt the breeze of your kisses, but I can’t forget our last day. You were outside on the front porch when they arrived to arrest me. Cradling your pregnant belly in that fuchsia Brazilian dress that I bought you when we first got engaged. I heard you telling them I wasn’t home as I crawled through the garden and climbed its wall, only to find myself nose to nose with them. As they led me away in a white jeep, I remember your mother holding you back with all her strength as you screamed my name.

I was still your husband when I received your letters. Pieces of perfumed paper, written in your finest ink, fragments of a life I was no longer a part of. I desperately read and reread your last letter, the one you sent with Nina’s picture. She is as beautiful as you are. I love how you pinned her curls back, and the way her tiny fingers are delicately wrapped around the telephone. Then my heart sinks when I reread your letter and remember why she is sitting by the phone, why she is calling strangers, and why she is asking “Onde está o Pai?”

Margarida, my body is no longer what it used to be. It’s not the lean brown body that your henna hands caressed tenderly until the early mornings. My eyes have swollen under the rain of fists, but I still remember the shape of your lips, I still remember those eyes. Although I am no longer human, just the shell of that boy you met in Lisboa, I still cradle my wedding ring against my heart, imagining your almond eyes lurking in the darkness.

I am afraid Margarida. I thought joining the party would mean freedom for us, our daughter, our country and instead I am withering away in this “hospital”. Everyday more comrades are brought in, others disappear in the middle of the night. I’ve heard whispers of them being sent to Tarrafal, or worse, to the firing squad. It is only through the new prisoners that we know that the outside world still carries on.

I’ve become friends with a nurse, Olinda. She bandages my fingers next to the window so I can peer through it. I watch the streets brimming with life, the hawkers selling sorvete, the fishermen going to work, the women scurrying to the hairdressers. I watch it all as I become a shadow that no one notices fading into oblivion. But when the sun becomes merciful in the evenings, I watch the streets with even more trepidation. Like clockwork and without fail, a woman dressed impeccably in a blue satin dress walks by. It is not the woman that interests me, but the tiny little human she holds lovingly in her arms. A child, the colour of mahogany with plaited, coconut-oiled hair, dressed in the finest clothes and a tiny gold bracelet around her chubby hand.

She must be the same age as our Nina. I search her tiny face for signs that she is mine. I watch her every day. I watch her stroll, sing, and sometimes dance under the watchful eyes of the woman in blue, unaware that only a few stairs above, a poor soul watches their every move.

I can’t help but think that if it was Nina, she wouldn’t even recognise me. Maybe she even has someone else to call father. Although it pains me, the thought that you, my love and our little girl are forever trapped in memories, waiting for me, is too much to bear.

I count my protruding bones as a reminder that I exist, but I am fully aware that death is also near.

Querida. who knows, tomorrow I could disappear in the abyss of memory. But one thing is certain:

A luta continua, a vitória é certa* ”


*”The struggle continues. Victory is certain” was the rallying cry of the FRELIMO movement during Mozambique’s war for independence against the Portuguese. It was also adopted in other parts of Portuguese Africa during the independence wars. It is now still commonly used in other parts of Africa as a call to action as evidenced in the 2016 South African Fees Must Fall protests.

Yovanka Paquete Perdigao (@yova_nka) is a Bissau-Guinean writer and editor based in London. Born in Lisbon and raised in Ivory Coast and Senegal, her work is inspired by her experiences as a child refugee. Her poetry has been published in Brittle Paper, her translations in Jalada and her writing in the Guardian. When she is not writing, she is either translating or editing works, or managing the communications for London’s largest African literary festival “Africa Writes”.

Related country: Guinea Bissau

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