The Bewitching Braid

The Bewitching Braid

Henrique de Senna Fernandes
translated by David Brookshaw
Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 212
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  • Book Info
    The Bewitching Braid
    Book Description:

    The Bewitching Braid, set in Macau in the 1930s, is a tale of forbidden love between a Macanese boy from a privileged family in the 'Christian' city and a beautiful water-seller from the 'Chinese' quarter of Cheok Chai Un. Against a background of small-town prejudice, the story traces the trials and tribulations of the couple in their attempts to be accepted in their respective communities and to understand each other across their cultural divides.The novel is a fascinating look into the inner world of the Eurasian inhabitants of the city, and their relationship with their Chinese and Portuguese legacies. Here, Senna Fernandes depicts the emergence of a new, more liberal Macao, in which its Portuguese and Chinese traditions were harmonized by true love.The original Portuguese version, A Tranca Feiticeira, was made into a successful film in 1997.Henrique de Senna Fernandes is widely regarded as the best writer of novels and short fiction set in Macau. As a member of the Macanese community, he is uniquely placed to write authentically of the lives of the people of Macau.

    eISBN: 978-988-220-038-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. iii-iv)
    (pp. v-x)
    David Brookshaw

    One of the characteristics of Portuguese overseas expansion in the sixteenth century was the early appearance of mixed populations in the territories that came under some form of Portuguese political or economic control. Most of those who journeyed with the annual fleets that left Lisbon for the Indian Ocean were soldiers destined to defend the forts and trading stations that were vital in Portuguese efforts to gain and sustain a monopoly in the spice trade. More often than not, these soldados never returned to Portugal, preferring to settle down with local women, while often involving themselves in trading activity, or...

    (pp. 1-6)

    Whoever goes down the Calçada do Gaio and wishes to take a short cut to the Rua do Campo, turns the corner and inevitably has to cross a labyrinth of narrow thoroughfares, dominated by an untidy and uncharacteristic mass of dwellings that make up Cheok Chai Un.

    It wasn’t always like that. Cheok Chai Un, with an area bordered by the Rua Nova à Quia, the Rua do Brandão, the Rua do Campo, and by the rear wall of the Santa Rosa de Lima College, where some of the remains of the old wall of Macao can be seen, was,...

    • 1
      (pp. 9-13)

      Adozindo hailed from the Largo de Camões, so he was a true son of the Santo António quarter of old Macao. The same went for his parents and his other closest relatives.

      He lived in a large yellow house with a long balcony that overlooked the square, enjoying the shade of huge red acacias. In summer, from early morning, it was bathed in the twittering of birds in the Poet’s garden, the cry of the cicadas, mixed with the crowing of the cockerel. In winter, the house groaned under the weight of the humidity and with the sadness of an...

    • 2
      (pp. 14-18)

      Among the water-sellers who ‘drew the water’ most energetically from the well at Cheok Chai Un, was A-Leng, at the time twenty-two years of age, brimming with health and life. She fetched and carried tirelessly around the well from early morning, filling buckets of water, transporting them, one on either end of the long pole she placed over her shoulder, balancing herself gracefully, her body taut with the weight, her supple hips sculpted in a sensual curve, rolling inside her tight tun-sam-fu.

      For her, there were no seasons in the year. She was always working, in winter, she wore a...

    • 3
      (pp. 19-23)

      It was a beautiful autumn day for fishing, the sky was limpid, the scenery all lit up in metallic tones, something that only happens in October and November. The Handsome Adozindo had sneaked out of the house early, so as not to bump into his father. It was half past seven and he was making his way down the Praia Grande, where he would board a sailing boat with some friends for a few hours’ fishing in the waters off Macao. He was carrying his fishing equipment, a rod and new lines, hooks from a specialist shop in Hong Kong,...

    • 4
      (pp. 24-27)

      All afternoon, Adozindo chewed over this latest offence. In his injured pride, he felt as if a large thorn had penetrated right through his self-esteem. It was a case of impertinence, and she needed to be taught a lesson! The Handsome Adozindo had been made a fool of by a nobody. The jeering laughter, the raised stone, tormented him to such an extent that not even the promised rendezvous with some plump, dovelike breasts was enough to sweeten his mood. He wasn’t used to being humiliated by a woman. No, he wouldn’t allow the incident to go without an answer,...

    • 5
      (pp. 28-34)

      He didn’t have the courage to risk a fourth unbecoming incident. A stain had blemished his reputation and he was astonished at such an unusual display of resistance, an aversion so unequivocally demonstrated. He had suffered a humiliating rebuff.

      For some time, he went around anxiously, his ear to the ground, to try and detect any insinuating comment recalling the unhappy incident. But he concluded with relief that nothing had filtered through to ‘his folk’. He avoided Cheok Chai Un and when he left his house, he would walk down the Calçada do Gaio before prudently catching a rickshaw.


    • 6
      (pp. 35-39)

      That triumph over the water-seller’s distrustful heart made the Handsome Adozindo jubilant and fed his bravado. At night, over billiards, he was profuse in his rejoicing, and bought beers for everyone, even those he hardly knew.

      His friend Florêncio, the one who was happy to feed off his crumbs, guessed there was a woman behind this. He was astounded. With a wealthy widow, the coveted Lucrécia, passionately in love with him, what more did he want? What better slipper could he find for his foot? He really was sailing too close to the wind.

      ‘So who is the new “she”?’...

    • 7
      (pp. 40-45)

      At 5.45 on the morning of that fateful day, 13th August 1931, at the end of a radiant dawn, the entire city was shaken from end to end by a horrendous explosion. Doors and windows were blown in by the rush of air, accompanied by the crash of glass as it shattered into thousands of razor sharp splinters.

      The population, terrified and gripped by panic, came out into the streets in their underclothes or whatever garment they had to hand. Cries mingled with incoherent exclamations. No one knew what was happening.

      It wasn’t long, however, before news spread like wildfire....

    • 8
      (pp. 46-50)

      The Handsome Adozindo slid like a thief over the cobblestones of the sleeping streets. He had come from the Rua Nova à Guia, avoiding the light from streetlamps, and had come down the last side street, his footsteps muffled by the rubber soles of his gym shoes.

      She lived on the very edge of Cheok Chai Un, opposite the back wall of the Santa Rosa de Lima College. In his wanderings round the quarter in search of her, he had never discovered where she lived and now, ironically, it was she who had shown him.

      His heart was beating ever...

    • 9
      (pp. 51-54)

      Well, it had been hard, but he had achieved what he set out to do. He had proved worthy of his title and was still their resistible Handsome Adozindo. He could now perfectly well cast off the defeated water-seller and devote himself completely to the adorable, wealthy widow, for the good of his social standing and pocket. That was what social convention and cold logic dictated.

      But he was paralysed by a reluctance to take such a cruel, drastic decision. He told himself that he hadn’t yet satiated himself on A-Leng’s gentleness or her physical attractions, and he hated the...

    • 10
      (pp. 55-64)

      He thought it ridiculous to make such a short journey by rickshaw to the Rua do Hospital. But it was at his father’s insistence, because it looked chic. At the end of the street, he jumped out, paid the driver, and began to climb unhurriedly the steep gradient of the Calçada do Monte.

      He had never found it so difficult to go and meet Lucrécia as on this occasion. His feet felt like lead, and as he approached the barred gate, he felt ever more reluctant to go through it. It would have been much easier if his father hadn’t...

    • 11
      (pp. 65-68)

      He stalked off, furious with the governess’s open disrespect, but at the same time, he felt strangely relieved. He hadn’t promised anything, hadn’t given an answer and therefore had time to think. He bridled at pressure put on him to take this or that decision. It was, after all, his life that was at stake.

      He slipped and slid on the smooth cobblestones, and almost tumbled over. He felt increasingly irritated: the impudence of a common servant showing him the door! It had never happened before!

      He’d never taken Lucrécia seriously. She was a plaything, one of the many the...

    • 12
      (pp. 69-73)

      Shut away in the comfort of his room, Adozindo barely slept a wink. My! What a night! Everything had conspired to make him unlucky. A complication involving women that the Handsome Adozindo hadn’t bargained for, and all on the same night! Somewhere along the way, he had lost control of the situation.

      He’d behaved abominably with both of them, he had to admit it! His thoughtlessness, up until then unpunished, had exceeded any reasonable limit. He could picture Lucrécia’s fury when she recovered from her indisposition and realised that he had disappeared precisely when her suffering was greatest. It had...

    • 13
      (pp. 74-76)

      He beat on the back door because he had forgotten his key, and A-Sam, perplexed, let out a cry of horror. She had never seen the Young Master looking so dirty and ragged, his hair all ruffled. He spoke to her brusquely, told her to keep quiet and asked where his parents were.

      They had all gone out, only the servants were in the house, came her offended reply. He rushed up the outside stairs and insisted categorically that no one should raise the alarm or call the doctor. He knew what to do, he said abruptly.

      His body told...

    • 14
      (pp. 77-80)

      That night, there was much agitation on the Estrada da Victória. An entire family was mired in shame. The mother, grandmother, aunt and cousin Catarina wept and fainted more than once, in dramatic displays of hysteria. Papa was foaming, his eyes popping with fury. Aware that he was incapable of attacking his son physically, he had smashed glasses and ripped up pictures and a chair. His skin had turned a shade of purple. The passers-by stopped in front of the house, alarmed by the thundering voice that filtered through the closed windows.

      All this uproar left Adozindo shaken. It was...

    • 15
      (pp. 81-84)

      They struggled across the streets, while the attention of many was attracted by this unusual and unexpected scene. The Handsome Adozindo, without his customary arrogance, lugging his heavy suitcase, followed by the Chinese girl, barefoot, her tam-kon over her shoulders, her baskets swaying, blindly following her man through this strange city.

      It was their bad luck that there were no empty rickshaws around. On the other hand, this would only have attracted yet more curious stares. Fortunately, most people were at work and Florêncio’s house was nearby, in the Rua do Volong. He was hoping that his friend, who was...

    • 16
      (pp. 87-91)

      Luckily a rickshaw appeared and the driver went to fetch another two, the third to carry the rest of their luggage. It was a caravan that attracted attention, but there was nothing to be done about it. Not knowing where to go, he thought of a hostel in the Rua das Estalagens, where, in more carefree times, he had enjoyed the company of girls from the red-light district. A-Leng, who didn’t know the city, didn’t say a word. She just followed him.

      It wasn’t a respectable place, more of a doss-house than anything else. But it was a resting place,...

    • 17
      (pp. 92-96)

      He hadn’t adapted at all well to the house, which was short of comforts and far below the standards he was used to, and he couldn’t hide his humiliation. On the other hand, he had to admit that it was better than the hostel or the hovel in Cheok Chai Un. Even the trench that served as a latrine was more inviting after it had been thoroughly sluiced with buckets of water. He remembered vividly how he had puked at the sight of the privy in the hostel, a true nightmare for someone who had grown up enjoying the highest...

    • 18
      (pp. 97-101)

      He didn’t stop her leaving for he was sure she would come back. He smoked half a packet of cigarettes, watching the door and listening for the slightest sound, and he began to get worried. She hadn’t been play-acting in order to soften him up and awaken his sense of pity. It had been for real.

      ‘If that’s how you want it, let’s see which of us can last the longest.’

      He went to bed somewhat unhappy and feeling rejected. She’d be back the next day, he murmured so as to convince himself. He woke up several times during the...

    • 19
      (pp. 102-110)

      She had gambled everything when, carrying her bundle of things, she had left the house, deliberately treading in the mud and puddles in the street. She was taking a risk by abandoning him, but she couldn’t see any better solution.

      For three months, she hadn’t had a moment of happiness. Only bad moods, silent rancour or unbecoming outbursts of anger. He was quite clearly ashamed of her, blamed her for his misfortune. It was too much!

      If he still loved her as he used to, he would know how to find her. She still vaguely harboured such a hope, although...

    • 20
      (pp. 111-117)

      The shipping company was situated right on a dilapidated old pier, which was badly in need of repairs. It wasn’t very grand, much to Adozindo’s disappointment, but then his opinion changed when he saw how busy it was.

      Apart from an ancient, tiny cargo boat that travelled the triangular route between Macao, Hong Kong and Canton, there were two sailing ships belonging to the company that served the ports along the shores of the Pearl River delta.

      Stevedores and coolies, men and women, all subjected to the same arduous work, were carrying heavy packages on their backs, with rapid steps,...

    • 21
      (pp. 118-123)

      One evening, when he got home from work, he found her singing as she huddled over the board, pressing his white shirts with the wood-burning iron. That same morning, she had woken him with the same catchy song, which left him truly mystified.

      An unpleasant experience suffered in the middle of town was still weighing upon him. He had come face to face with his father, who had made a point of stepping away from the pavement so as to avoid passing him, his ungrateful reprobate of a son, who had set up home with that ‘whore from Cheok Chai...

    • 22
      (pp. 124-128)

      Their wedding was a simple affair, devoid of any pomp, and followed straight after A-Leng’s baptism, in which she received the name of Ana, which was easier for her to remember. It was eight o’clock, one weekday morning.

      He had always dreamt of a stylish wedding, a church brimming with high society, there to catch a glimpse of the Handsome Adozindo’s chosen bride, the girl who had managed to drag the eminent Don Juan or Casanova to the altar. And afterwards, a sumptuous reception, with dish after dish of savouries and sweets cooked up in the best culinary tradition of...

    • 23
      (pp. 129-136)

      The months passed slowly and monotonously while they waited for the end of the pregnancy. Adozindo occupied his time by throwing himself heart and soul into his work and the many and varied activities that his boss was involved in. He wasn’t an easy boss to put up with. Most of the time he was friendly, but he was conscious of the fact that the boy was his subaltern, and that he was the paymaster. Occasionally, he would be abrupt and rude, mainly when he had lost the previous night at mah-jong or pai-kao.

      These displays of impatience and angry...

    • 24
      (pp. 139-147)

      Their son grew up and grew bigger, and a second child came, another robust boy who, in his first months, sucked his mother’s breast with a noisy, voracious appetite.

      The appearance of two children increased their commitments and responsibilities, tied the couple more closely to their home life, he, in the struggle to achieve a more affluent economic position, she, in her effort to ensure the good health of their offspring and to make the house as attractive as possible. They threw themselves into this task, seemingly without any higher ambitions, or much of a social life beyond that which...

    • 25
      (pp. 148-152)

      In spite of the isolated life they led, the couple were well informed and didn’t need to ask what was going on in town. On her visits to the house, the Queen-Bee brought news of all the goings on in Cheok Chai Un and the Bazaar. In the market and on the pier, the day-to-day happenings in other corners of the Chinese city were relayed. Valdemero, Olímpio and their neighbour, Tina, told them all the latest news and gossip from the Christian city. Romantic attachments, weddings, baptisms, funerals, rivalries within the civil service, abuses of authority, scandals and fisticuffs, cases...

    • 26
      (pp. 153-158)

      One Saturday, Adozindo decided to devote the afternoon to his wife, who had been insisting on the need to do some shopping in the Bazaar. It was a long time since he had been out with her because he always had some work to do for the firm. So on that day there was no gathering of his friends, except that Valdemero had turned up and decided to join them on their walk.

      The children had gone with the Queen-Bee, whom they were very fond of, and would only come home at night. So they would be able to enjoy...

    • 27
      (pp. 159-163)

      After mass the following day, he did indeed take a detour from his usual route home. He struck out in the direction of the Rampa dos Artilheiros, by descending the steps of the Calçada de São Lázaro. He was more determined than ever, and was still chewing over Florêncio’s affront. He answered his wife’s puzzled curiosity with a mysterious curl of his lips.

      When they got there, he pointed to the house. It was even more graceful at that hour of the morning, with the sunlight on its freshly painted walls. Although it wasn’t a new building, it had a...

    • 28
      (pp. 164-169)

      The had never demanded any revenge or at any time even hinted at anything like it. Everything had happened upon Adozindo’s initiative, and the incident could have had more serious consequences. But the knowledge that she had been defended touched her deeply. She had regained her lost face, and the hateful man who had refused to even offer her a drop of tea had apologised in front of witnesses. They were beginning to be ‘proper folk’, but not yet totally so.

      The other fact confirmed this. D. Capitolina’s refusal had caused a deep hurt. The feeling that she, A-Leng, was...

    • 29
      (pp. 170-177)

      Big Fist Joaquim didn’t approve of his mother’s volte face. At heart, his opposition came from the antipathy he felt towards Adozindo. Clumsy and coarse, he tried to place obstacles in the way of a lease by imposing ridiculous and unacceptable conditions, before even showing them the house.

      His brusqueness irritated Adozindo who almost forgot his good manners. Negotiations ground to a halt and were on the verge of breaking down. Indignant, he withdrew claiming that he didn’t know how to talk to a stupid boor. Valdemero agreed, declaring that the employee of Melco was an oaf, an intractable numskull....

    • 30
      (pp. 178-187)

      A few more years rolled by. Papa Aurélio had aged considerably, and had a marked stoop. His heart was still strong but his knees were full of rheumatism and he found it hard to walk.

      He was a man of regular habits, and every afternoon, upon leaving the office to go home, he would sit for at least half an hour on one of the benches in what was left of the Vasco da Gama Garden, around the monument to the great navigator. There was one for which he had a special preference, and he would make his way to...

    • 31
      (pp. 188-193)

      The paper kite was fluttering uncontrollably, veering to the right all the time, and responding only sluggishly to the commands of Adozindo, who held the big reel of line. It was a magnificent Malay, one of half-a-dozen that had been bought in Hong Kong to the delight of the boys, Paulo, aged eight, and Jaime, who was nearly six.

      It was an extravagance to buy such expensive kites for such young children, who couldn’t make full use of them. But without openly admitting it, he had bought them for himself because he couldn’t resist this type of summer sport, in...

  7. ... LAST WORDS
    (pp. 194-196)

    On the eve of my departure to Portugal, where I was going to complete my studies, I ran into Adozindo by chance, sitting on a bench in the São Francisco Garden, in front of the main entrance to the Santa Rosa de Lima College. He was waiting for his elder daughter who was still at her piano lesson. I had been doing the rounds bidding farewell to friends and was soaked in sweat after so much hurrying here and there.

    Adozindo was much older than I was, but we knew each other because, during the War of the Pacific, I...

    (pp. 197-198)
    (pp. 199-199)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 200-202)