Love for Sale
She fell in love with a Sergeant Descoup, who would take her for long walks in a bean field behind the cemetery, and she would give herself to him with a mature love. Descoup never wanted to visit her at home and she didn't want him to visit her there either, ashamed because of her children, and he because his military superiors might find out that he was the lover of a Creole woman.

Saraminda was born of that romance. Her mother immediately spotted characteristics of her other grandmother in her. Saraminda lived in utter poverty until the age of fifteen, when she appeared in Marie Turiu's night spot, the Tour d'Argent, frequented by prospectors and Cayenne bohemians, where auctions took place and there were get-acquainted parties for the recruitment of women who would go off for nights on the claims spreading out along the new gold frontier in the Brazilian Contestado.

On that night Cleto Bonfim, from the Calçoene region, was there. It was a night of grand festivities --- the smell of cigarette smoke rising, the brawling of men who ordered rum or brandy, drank and then threw their glasses, the Brazilians wanting hard liquor and the French ordering wine, whatever its provenance, Bordeaux or Burgundy, and the Creoles drinking either one without any preference.

The night went along with quarrels, women and drinks as the music flowed from a saxophone, violin and old piano, the same one rescued from a shipwreck on Cape Orange, played by Jean-Marin, who had been a musician in a cabaret called La Nuit de Lyon on the Rive Gauche in Paris.

Cleto was drunk. He'd gone up against Indians and adventurers and in the end became the owner of the richest claim, which he left every few months for Cayenne in the company of Clement Tamba to pick up merchandise and supplies and deposit the gold he'd extracted from that land. On his return he brought back a retinue of women bought at auction to enliven the nights and chase off the big mosquitoes in the shed on his claim. He had a great liking for women. He was experienced. He knew all the maneuvers and tricks they used to get at his money. He succeeded in escaping from a lot of them, but he paid others for their time and illnesses, and still others he drove off in a rage.

It was a night of great merriment. The wine had already brought on euphoria, the music was frenetic, the tables were lively, and the auction of women was beginning. Marie Turiu, owner of the place and a well-known procuress, started the bidding.

"These pretty girls would like to get to know the gold country. They're open to invitations and offers. Nothing in life is ever accomplished without the happiness pretty women give it." She guffawed, opened her arms, and made her pitch. "Who'll bid for this item: fifteen and with the flesh of a goddess?"

Saraminda came out onto the platform with a firm stride and the air of someone acting in a play. She was something beyond imagination. She stood out from between the other two girls, a French redhead and another pretty Creole. Everyone took notice of her unfettered breasts, her fleshy hips and legs, her smooth and shiny straight hair, and that touch of emerald green in her eyes that contrasted with her dark skin.

She didn't wait for any bids. Bonfim was surrounded by companions, people he trusted, hired thugs and friends. They were men of different types, long-haired and short, all with a steady gaze, armed, and glasses in their hands. As was his custom, Cleto Bonfim had two pounds of gold hanging around his neck, the nuggets stretched out on a thick cord that went down his hairy chest, exposed so that all could see what he always liked to show off. It contrasted with his thin body and the expression from a face where random hairs grew. He was wearing a faded military jacket.

Saraminda, with no thought of past loves, resolute and uninhibited, stepped forward toward the audience and raised her right hand, her forefinger pointing upward, and proclaimed:

"I'm not part of the auction. I belong to Cleto Bonfim. I'm going with him and I want to belong to him. I know where he is and, as far as I'm concerned, the auction is over."

Marie Turiu looked at her, shocked. At his table Cleto was taken by a great surprise. He didn't know that woman and he didn't have any close connections in the city or acquaintances who could tell him anything about her, nor did he consider himself a fellow who was an apt target for seduction. Even with his head all dizzy, he tried to put his ideas in order and make some sense out of what was going on. Was it a coup on the part of Marie Turiu or a prank by one of his friends? Recovering from his surprise, he got up, went to the aisle, and joining in the spirit of the festivities, replied arrogantly: "I won't accept any woman who gives herself away. I do the choosing and I've always done a good job of it."

General laughter and cheers were heard. Saraminda wasn't upset. She was impressive in her firmness and in the way she'd rehearsed her role. It was something new in those festivities with their primitive gestures and tastes.

"I'm not a woman who's giving herself away. I've chosen. I belong to you, Bonfim."

There was a silence followed by much applause. The drunks came to, turning their attention to every corner in the room.

The kerosene lamp gave off a yellow light that reached the ceiling and spread out over the room. They were all exchanging curious looks that converged on Bonfim. The three-piece band started up again frenetically and to each reply it gave a fanfare.

"Where did you get that idea of throwing yourself at me, woman?" Bonfim asked from the center of the room.

"Don't ask what can't be asked," Saraminda said. "I don't know why, but that's what I want, and," she changed tactics, becoming a timid little girl, softening her voice and finishing with a honeyed tone, "I want to go to your claim, by ... your side..."

Bonfim no longer knew by now how many bottles of wine had gone to his head or if what was going on came from drinking. He went up to the stage, looked at Saraminda, and spoke. "If you're after my gold, woman, I'll give you some, but don't try to pull one over on me."

Saraminda looked at him seductively, pursing her lips, and didn't consider herself defeated. "I don't want your gold, Bonfim. Gold is what I am. I've never owned anything and don't know what it's like to own something. But something tells me I should belong to you. That was the mission my destiny gave me. Come."

Cleto Bonfim was puzzled. He'd never seen such a woman, since the initiative had always belonged to men. He'd been told that Creole women had the habit of getting someone and not being gotten. But as he experienced that situation he didn't find it normal. He climbed up onto the platform, took out his famous string of heavy nuggets and placed it around her neck. "If that's what you want, here you go." There was general applause. Saraminda, her breast adorned, began to weep, and he saw from up close the beauty of her bust and skin. Then she drew back and closed up like a morning glory. Her eyes grew dim, and from her lips, changed as if by magic, came sweetened, unctuous words replete with meaning, like the mating dance of doves:

"Thank you, Bonfim..."

She could have waited for the men to bid for the women with the gold that was bursting out of the Contestado of Amapa in Brazil, but she refused. She offered herself and settled the matter without a price before the auction started, which surprised even Marie Turiu. No one knew how she'd discovered who Bonfim was, that man who when he came to Cayenne bought tons of provisions, dried meats, fish and merchandise of all kinds for daily consumption on the claim, from kerosene to French perfume in cheap vials, jars of vaseline for men to comb their hair on holidays, wines, canned goods, medicines, tools and bags of oakum, saw-dust. At night he would visit entertaining places, bars, bawdy houses and dancehalls. That night he was in the Tour d'Argent to watch the Parade of women they talked about so much in the city. It wasn't his first time. He was a celebrated customer, always accompanied by his retinue and, invariably, by Clement Tamba, whom everybody knew to be his friend and business partner in the Contestado.

After placing the string of nuggets on Saraminda, Bonfim went back to the table he'd left. The crowd toasted him. The men and women were all excited in the smoke, with drinks, music and seductive pleasures. Saraminda remained motionless alongside her companions, timid, not leaving the platform, with a decision waiting to be made. She didn't look like the woman who'd appeared there a while before. She didn't go with Bonfim.

She stood there motionless, enjoying the stares, hiding her soul.

--- From Saraminda
José Sarney
Gregory Rabassa, Translator
č2007 Aliform Books
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