The year was 2002. I was fourteen, and I had never been to the countryside.
I was born and raised in a big city in the northeastern part of Brazil. I come from a family of police officers and soldiers, so they over-protected me, sheltered me, and kept me indoors as much as possible. It was like I was one of the inmates they had to watch, except that I could watch TV, and the food was exceptionally better.
So, at the age of fourteen, I had not gone too far.
My mom, on the contrary, at that point had visited the countryside many times. She had friends there. She had even been to those rural towns where rain is scarce. It is so rare that people celebrate when it rains. One day, when my mother was visiting a town in particular, it started raining. She saw people dancing on the streets, dancing in the rain. She said it was beautiful. They thought she had brought rain with her, and so she was invited to many houses, where they fed her their best treats, and regarded her presence as good omen. She was like a goddess. A goddess of rain bringing fertility to their land. Those were her best days.
It was Easter. The entire country closed so people could spend that holiday at home. Kids didn’t have to go to school, adults didn’t have to go to work. It was perfect, except that I had tons to study. After Easter, our exams would start. The first one would be our Portuguese test.
My mom was invited to go to a farm in the countryside. She insisted I should go. She said I’d be able to study there. So, we packed our bags, leaped in the car, and left.
We arrived later that same day. My mom’s friends were there. The house was spacious, and they showed us our room. Everything was perfect, except that I felt lost.
Up until then, I had spent my entire life in a big metropolitan area, which means that our garden was just a narrow strip of dirt on the left side of our garage, behind a bench. One day, when I was five, I decided I wanted to plant a cashew tree. My grandfather had to break a hole in the cemented area in front of our house, by my window. In that tiny hole I planted my tree. The poor tree died earlier than you think, but the hole is still there.
So, I didn’t know what to do.
I tried to remember everything I had heard people say about going to the countryside. People talked about reading, so I decided I would do that too. I didn’t have fiction with me, so I got my Portuguese grammar book and sat in a hammock outside.
It was a sunny afternoon, and the view was pretty, and my book was boring. I stayed in the hammock, swinging back and forth, until I realized there was no way I could read there. For no particular reason, I looked back, and caught my mom staring at me from a nearby window. I think she was waiting to see how long it would take for me to give up on reading.
I went back inside, a little disappointed, and tried to think of something else to do. I leaned on a windowsill and pondered that if visiting the countryside meant taking time to admire nature, I would do that too.
So, I stood there looking at the horizon, and day dreaming was something that actually came to me quite naturally, when I finally looked down at a pile of logs, and my heart almost jumped out of my chest.
There was a spider there. The biggest, hairiest, nastiest spider I’d ever seen in my fourteen years of sheltered life. It looked as if it had been observing me all this time from that pile of logs, because it stepped back when I made eye contact.
I tried my best not to scream. I didn’t want to be the stupid city girl who goes to the countryside and squeaks in horror after the biggest-hairiest-nastiest spider ever seen appears on a log. So, I stiffly walked to a man who worked there taking care of the grounds, and told him I had found the biggest. . . just a spider below the window.
Of course, he paraded the animal as if it were a kitten. Of course, people there looked at it as if it were a kitten. And, of course, I had to pretend that spider was a kitten, because that was what they did there. There in the countryside.
But, when the spider was gone, I had nothing else to do.
I tried to think of other things people did in the countryside, and remembered that people liked to go out for walks. My idea, in fact, was praised by my mom, who is addicted to sightseeing. She used to go sightseeing even back where we lived, and took photographs of trees and doors like tourists so often do, and pretended to be from Spain, even though she doesn’t speak Spanish.
The farm’s owner suggested we should go see a waterfall he had in his property. My mom was very excited, my mom’s friends where very excited too, and I. . . well, I was there. The same man who had previously taken the spider received very specific instructions on which path to take that would lead us to the waterfall.
He seemed a little confused, but in the end he nodded, and condescended. Those were his boss’ orders, after all. I was the only one, though, who saw he looked confused. Now that I think of it, I should have asked him why he looked confused. I don’t know. I could have told my mother, right? Whispered something about it, if I were feeling particularly shy. But I didn’t. Regretfully, I didn’t say a word.
And so we left, wearing our swimsuits underneath our clothes. And at first, we took photos of flowers and rocks, and grass and more grass, and then we took photos of us pointing at more flowers, rocks and grass. We walked, walked and walked, and that afternoon seemed endless, as the sun refused to go down. And it was still very bright, although it was already late.
I would have been drinking coffee & milk, as I watched my favorite evening soap operas. . . if I were at home.
But I wasn’t. I was in the countryside, crossing what soon looked like a jungle, and eating sour berries that we picked along the paths we took. The only way to comfort our hungry stomachs.
After what to me felt like an endless amount of time walking, we heard water. We took a left, jumped over a handful of bushes, and we ran overjoyed to our precious waterfall.
But it turned out to be something else.
There was a pipe up in a rock, and water streamed from it down in what looked like a man-made lake bed. A woman was sitting there, washing her dishes and her kid.
Disappointment crept into our faces as we watched dirty bubbles floating on the water. There would be no swimming that afternoon. So, we went back, and going back was as fast as a quick turn up the closest path. And that’s what we did.
When he saw us, the farm’s owner burst into laughter. He hysterically pointed out he had made us go down the longer path to find. . . nothing close to what we had envisioned. And pointed at our hurting feet. And pointed at my face, which was deeply red, as it always gets when I’m exposed to sunlight. Or when I’m embarrassed.
Our guide scratched his head. “Oh, now I see why he told me to go the other way. I thought to myself there was a shorter one,” he said with a sheepish smile.
His life was spared due to his naivete.
After dinner, I still didn’t know what to do. But then I thought: Some people go to the countryside to write! There were many authors -- William Wordsworth, for instance -- who appreciated the idea of writing surrounded by nature.
I’ve always liked to write. And, at the young age of fourteen, I already knew I was a writer. There was nothing else I was good at. I horribly failed at sports, I had no sense of mathematical logic, and my drawings were as good as they had been when I was four; the difference was that when I was four, they said I was a child prodigy. When I grew up, it seems the world had grown tired of my art.
They had a covered area with a table at the back of the house. Lighting there was also good enough, so I grabbed my notebook and sat down to write.
Despite a few jokes I heard earlier that day about keeping journals, I felt very proud to be writing down my thoughts. I was also very proud I had finally found a thing to do in the countryside.
My happiness, however, was short-lived; and so was my writing.
The back of the house was pitch-black, but soon I noticed an army of geese had just entered the pool of light where I was working. I say “army” because that is precisely what they looked like. They were in formation, side by side, and very synchronized as they flapped their wings and turned to me. I felt like a general saluted by a troop.
But there were at least twenty of them there, and geese are always so intimidating. The truth is that they can be very vicious creatures. I asked them what they wanted, and they continued coming closer and closer. So I ran back into the house, scared. I had been cornered by them, by the army of countryside geese.
The next day, we packed our bags and got in the car to leave. Someone gave me an apple; and I played with it, throwing it up and catching it back. And I did that a few times as we drove away. I felt happy. I had not known what to do when I arrived for the first time in the countryside, but I found out I had learned important lessons to keep in mind when visiting it again: (1) Always bring a novel in your bag, (2) spiders are to be regarded as kittens, but shouldn’t necessarily be petted, (3) never trust your guide, nor your guide’s boss, even if the latter is a friend, (4) and geese can form very strong armies, so they must be avoided at all costs.