Sweet Victory

She dreaded the burning season, the cane-cutter’s daughter. Each year when the cane was ripe, its tough leaves set ablaze before cutting, flames conjured her Papai – out of the very smoke that killed him. In smouldering cane-fields, she pressed her hands over her ears, but his cinder-toffee breaths slithered between her fingers, "This work gonna ruin your lungs, querida.” She picked up her machete and swung at charred sugarcanes, cursing.
The year before, in desperation, she’d started running to escape her daddy’s soot-faced visitations. After each day’s cutting, she traded ashen overalls for shorts, and sprinted between stubbly fields stitched through with still-winking embers. Reaching green swathes of unburned cane, she’d ease up; feel her chest expand. Overhead: rustling cane-chapels; inside her heart hammering at her ribs; together they muffled Papai’s dire warnings.
The Sugar Plantation proudly sponsored a team for the famous São Silvestre Race: four muscled men running for glory – and she, fleeing her daddy’s ghost. Race-day, Papai tailed her all the way to the big city on the bus, wheezing in her ear, “Cane-smoke gonna kill you too, my angel.” As the plantation bus prowled the suburbs she pictured his brow rumpled with worry. Behind the start-line, she pinned a number on her chest, determined to outrun his scorched shadow. BANG! The starter-gun jolted her daddy’s breaths into panting rhythms at her shoulder. On baking asphalt between mirrored offices, she built up speed. “Faster, further,” her athlete’s soul demanded. “Cannot, cannot!” pleaded her legs and lungs. And in her mind, the spectators lining the streets were whispering cane-rows under a wide blue sky.
Her chest pressed against the finish-ribbon, tickertape cascaded from skyscrapers. She saw the crowds’ wide-open mouths, cheering, though all she could hear was her own deafening pulse.
Nine hot miles turned her into an athlete with champion lungs, anticipating life without sugar-soot. She raised her medal in calloused cane-cutting hands – to ecstatic roars. Her eyes welled; her athlete’s heart, strong and healthy, ached with joy. And Papai? Papai was silent with pride. From the corner of her eye she saw a twist of cane soot falling, a wisp fading against the sun.

Sweet Victory

Chelonia

Joined January 2008

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Artist's Description

From the burning sugar fields of Brazil.

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  • Natella2020
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