29. May 2013 · Comments Off on Titi · Categories: L.. 13 to 15 years

For years I did not know that my godmother was my mother’s best friend who had become a cloistered Carmelite nun.

Ever since my mother could not be there for my confirmation day and entrusted me to Titi, I had assumed that she was my godmother.

I slept at my grandmother’s house the night before the event.  Titi put me in the other bed in her room.   She watched Ah Ngung rinse my hair.   She helped me into my white organdy confirmation gown.   She took me to the ceremony at the cathedral.   She shared my delight in opening my presents.

Whenever I returned to my grandmother’s house, I always slept in the other bed in Titi’s room.

There was a special perfumed soap in our bathroom which she asked me not to use.  I didn’t ask why because I had heard what everyone whispered about her love affair.

I never mentioned the soap to anyone.   I always associated its fragrance with something mysterious.  There was a side to Titi that fascinated me.

Every night, she lay in bed and silently prayed the rosary.  I can still see her, the moonlight coming in our open windows shining on her hands and glinting off her rosary beads.

She reminded me of the nun lying on her bier in our school chapel.  The nun lay surrounded by flowers and tall candles.  Her face was serene, her pale hands rested on her chest with a rosary entwined around her fingers.   The rosary’s black cross stood out like a witness.


As we sang the triumphant hymn In paradiso  I understood that we were ushering into heaven a life lived for the love of God.

Yet I felt a deeper sadness than I could explain.   I rebelled against the idea of turning away from loving the world, especially of giving up loving a man.  I have a dream that there is one man, the one for me, waiting for me somewhere.

There was a profound sadness in Titi that I sometimes saw in her resting face.

Titi observed the usual customs of our religion, but except for this nightly ritual, I thought her life was bound by secular virtues.  Good manners, proper decorum, appropriate dress, habitual kindness most of all to those less fortunate, and the myriad details and traditions about how we are to live graciously.

But Titi was not just the old maid who ran our grandmother’s household.   Once, for a short time, she was a teacher.   She had found the love of her life in the first blossoming of her youth, but too late.   He was already married.   The old rules of our society bound too tightly for them to love openly.

She had his child.   He raised their boy as part of his family.   The whole thing was handled discreetly.   Who knew the toll in suffering on all sides?  It was an open secret that everyone guessed and no one acknowledged.

Once I saw a movie with a similar plot.   It was based on a novel set in nineteenth century New York society.    However, there was a different outcome for Titi and her lover.  They never gave up their affair and loved each other until old age and death.

There has been a barrier between Titi and me since I came back from that year with my father.  Am I partly to blame?

Titi puts me back in her room when she could just as easily have given me my grandmother’s bedroom next to hers.

There are other small signs of tenderness.  She embroiders my initials on a set of my underwear.   She embroiders them on a sweater.

One day she takes me with her into town, to a section where there are mostly Chinese shops.   We go to a Chinese bakery.   She asks me to choose between a light and a dark cookie that is the size of a saucer.

She encourages me to eat this huge cookie on the street (a breach of manners for a lady).

As we leave the bakery, her lover appears.  Titi takes his arm, and arm in arm they stroll defiantly down the busy street.

I follow behind, eating this huge cookie that is making crumbs all over the front of my dress.   What is she trying to tell me?

The Mother Superior General of our nuns’ order is coming to visit our school.   I am to give the welcoming speech in French, without notes.

Titi watches me practice.   She asks why I am able to speak French but not Portuguese.   I don’t speak Portuguese although I understand it well enough.

I answer that I don’t know the Portuguese conjugation of verbs because I haven’t studied it.  Titi says when you are in doubt, use the infinitive.

But we go on as before.  She speaks to me in her limited English as do my other relatives.   Would it have made a difference if I spoke her language?  Would we have had true conversations and grown close?

Was it really about money or was it her way to keep me from going away?

I will never know.

Titi, Artur, Adolfo,Darling

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