When I was four, we lived in a tall building. I had big hair and a round belly and spent my days running around our apartment with my little sister and the girl from upstairs. I don’t remember her name, but looking at the photo, she looks like a Gloria. We wore panties and nothing else. We “planted” seeds on window sills, collecting the orange pips we’d spat out while lying flat on our backs in the pool of sunlight drifting on the carpet. We then claimed territory of our orchards. Gloria had the dining room window, my little sister Maria had the kitchen window and I had the massive living room window which stretched from the waterfall painting in the corner to the cabinet were all the fancy glass was kept.
Outside, beyond the cold glass framed by pale green curtains, was a huge parking lot, which was always half empty and always with the cars parked in different patterns. Maria, who was still too young to count, would echo me as I counted the cars row by row. We sometimes counted all the red cars, or all the white cars, or all the cars with cracked windshields or whatever we could think of to ward off boredom.
Luanda, was a noisy city. We could hear it all the time, at all hours of the day or night. Cars driving in and out of the parking lot, neighbours blasting music through open balcony doors, the peanut sellers calling from the pavements, and – if I’m not crazy – the roar of the ocean. The cold salty cleansing ocean. I sometimes didn’t understand why we didn’t just live there. In one of the shacks where they sold cold drinks to go with the spicy lemon fish that was grilled on the beach. We could sleep there at night and come out during the day and lay on the beach or sell shells while the lady sold her drinks. I would never admit it, but I was afraid of the water. It wasn’t just a game that we ran into the wet sand when the water was sucked in as the ocean inhaled and then ran screaming out back to the dry beach when it exhaled. I was terrified! Imagine getting caught by the wave and being spooled deep into the ocean’s belly for a lifetime of loneliness. I hadn’t heard of mermaids yet, so that was my fear. Loneliness.