Cousins

by Luiza Sauma

They hadn’t seen each other in 20 years. Ana didn’t even want to see her cousin. But Carolina was in London and she couldn’t get out of it.

“She hasn’t seen you in so long,” said Ana’s mother, “and she was very fond of you when we lived in Brazil.”

“I was five years old,” said Ana. “Of course she was fond of me.”

“Go and see your cousin, okay? Take her out.”

They met outside the Tate Modern. Carolina – who had spoken in such a friendly way down the phone, as if they were old friends – suggested meeting at 11am. Ana was there, on the dot. It was a bright, sunny Thursday, and the green in front of the museum was crammed with foreign students. Ana sat in the sun and kicked off her shoes, feeling the cool breeze on her bare legs. It was spring at last.

It had been a bad winter. (Do good ones exist?) Ana had not done a day’s work since she lost her job in January, unless she counted the photocopying she did at her father’s office – which she’d done for free, out of boredom. But now it was April and the light had come back to the city.

“Ana?” said a small, husky voice. Ana shook herself out of her thoughts and looked up at the sky, shielding the sun from her face. A middle-aged woman was smiling down at her, her face shadowed by the light. Her face was round and sweet, like a toddler’s.

“Carolina?” said Ana.

“Yes! How are you, cousin?” said Carolina in accented English. Ana got up and dusted the grass from her knees. They kissed each other on both cheeks, in the Brazilian style.

“Tudo bem,” said Ana. “E você?”

“So you still speak a little Portuguese?”

“Not really,” said Ana, wrinkling her nose. “I’ve forgotten most of it. I was five when I left, you know.”

“Of course,” said Carolina. “I was there at the airport the day you left. Do you remember?”

Ana looked at her own reflection in Carolina’s sunglasses.

“No,” she said. “I don’t remember anything.”

It was cool inside the museum. Cool, and not too busy. It was a late morning after all, when most people were at work, not whiling away the day looking at modern art. They took the lift up to the permanent collection and walked into the gallery. Dozens of priceless paintings hung on the white walls. Picassos, Kandinskys, Mirós.

“That one’s pretty… I don’t like that one… Urgh, don’t know what that one’s about.” Carolina marched quickly through each room, commenting on each piece. Usually this would irritate Ana, but she hadn’t slept the night before and couldn’t concentrate herself. “I’m not really a big museum person,” said Carolina. “I don’t understand art.”

“There’s nothing to understand,” said Ana.

“I like Modigliani, though,” said Carolina. “Do you think they have any of his paintings?”

An hour later, after finding the Modigliani, they were at an outdoor restaurant on the South Bank, having lunch. The sun was still spectacular; they both wore sunglasses.

“You’re so lucky to have been brought up here,” said Carolina.

“I think it’s better to grow up in the place where you’re born.”

“Nothing happens in Rio,” said Carolina. “People get mugged, they get kidnapped; we hear gunshots while lying in bed at night. I wish my parents had brought me here. Look at all this!” She swept her hand to the river, where St Pauls’ Cathedral stood on the other side, blinking in the sunshine.

“They’re just buildings,” said Ana.

“I think I would have done really well here in London,” she said. “So many opportunities, so many different things to do.”

“Are you kidding? There’s more competition.”

“I’m 45 and I earn nothing. I work part-time and my father pays my rent.”

“Over here, you’d just be another immigrant looking for a job.”

“Like you?”

“I’m not an immigrant any more,” said Ana, laughing. “I have a British passport. But I still can’t get a job.”

“So you don’t like it here?”

“I don’t know. I think I’d like to live by the ocean.” I think I’d like to live in a cave, she thought.

“See, you’re still a Carioca at heart,” said Carolina, smiling. She sipped her orange juice. They finished their lunch.

Luiza Sauma is a Brazilian-born, British-bred writer and journalist.

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