It is Mother’s Day. It has crept up on us out of nowhere. We had hoped to buy Menna exotic gifts, overwhelm her with massages and beauty treatments, plan activities and sentimental demonstrations of our love. Everything is shut for hundreds of miles around though, and we’re on a roadtrip. So we haven’t actually got any presents and the main activity today will be driving.
Matilda gets very stressed about these events. All festivities are important to her but no reality can ever match up to the rarified aesthetics in her head. Consequently event planning for her is always a bitter exercise in disappointment mitigation. Today we fall particularly short.
I watch sleepily as Matilda creeps out of bed at six, clears her bedside table, places it at the foot of our bed, then carefully arranges a selection of cards and a fortune teller together with flowers that she has picked from bushes in the garden. She has not anticipated the rotating fan though and every time it swings around the cards flutter down to the floor and petals float away in the breeze so our room soon has the dreamy aspect of snowfall. I watch her silently rearranging her composition several times, getting crosser and crosser before she thinks to switch off the fan. Good problem-solving, I think to myself and drift back to sleep. Whenever I open an eye, Matilda is pacing around anxiously in the gloom waiting for her mother to stir. It takes a long while.
The kids were up late last night frantically sketching cards and in lieu of actual gifts they have crafted a paper fortune teller. When the fortunes are revealed – surprise! – they turn out to be Mother’s Day treats. I helped with the origami, but have not overseen the fortune writing and consequently the little rats seem to have put me on the hook for most of them:
#1: “Daddy will book the next three places we stay in!”
#2: “Daddy will buy you a bottle of champagne when the bars open!”
#3: “Arthur will try his best at school all week!”
#4: “Daddy will do all the driving!”
And so on…
Mother’s Day breakfast is the same as all of our breakfasts. Eggs declined, lots of fruit, a straw-like cassava pancake the Brazilians call tapioca and speak of with disproportionate pride, guava jam, weapons grade coffee. We fill ourselves up and plan the day.
We have now learned that Jericoucoura is effectively shut to us. Yes, we can drive there, but their lockdown is the strictest in this region – that is to say no shops, restaurants, no bars. No beds for the inbound traveller. Beach restricted. Roadblocks and identity checks. A hostile environment.
This was to be the zenith of our arc and now a thousand kilometers into our trip we are trying not to feel deflated and directionless. We turn southwards instead towards Pernambuco where there is a point break we want to surf. I book accommodation for the night at a random town that doesn’t even make it into our Lonely Planet.
It is unusually hot today, even for Brazil, and Pernambuco is as boarded up as a borehole, boarded up as an abandoned boardwalk, boarded up as all the other boring boarded towns we have been to recently. The surf is great though, a nice little pealing right hander that breaks on a coral reef. They can’t board that up.
The girls wallow in a rock pool while Art catches waves and I chat to a French guy in the surf who wants to air his grievances about the referee in that morning’s rugby match between our two countries. The Six Nations tournament is a hemisphere away and a mental shift too far for me right now and I am only able to nod stupidly and agree that the ref probably had been bribed by the English. Deprived of a decent argument with the Rosbif that God has delivered him on this of all days, the Frenchman drops in on me and steals my wave with Gallic insouciance, then surfs all the way into the beach and disappears.
Mother’s Day lunch is a bit of a flop. The only food in town seems to be spit-roast chickens which are being illegally sold in plastic bags out of a garage. Menna is in one of her vegetarian phases and will not compromise.
“You go ahead, I’m not hungry anyway,” she says in her martyr voice. I am painfully aware of Fortune #6 (“Daddy will buy you a lovely lunch”) and feeling my shortcomings I make us tour around for ages, hot and hungry, looking for vegetarian options for Menna, ignoring her protestations (“It’s Okay! I’ll just eat the crackers”), and eventually letting the heat get to us. Suddenly everyone is hungry and tired and sweaty and shouting at each other. Angry words float around the car together with the greasy aromas of roast chicken, hot tarmac and sweat.
In the end I find a filling station supermarket and send Menna in with my credit card to buy herself pitta and tomatoes while I simmer away outside. With Fortune #6 technically completed, we find a beautiful beach and sit in the shade under a mango tree. The kids and I tear into the roast chicken with our fingers, covering ourselves in grease and sand. Menna daintily nibbles at a pitta a few feet away. We are all happy again.
As we get back into the car we receive an email from the hotel cancelling our booking for tonight “por causa do COVID!”. I always like it when they capitalize the Covid, it makes it feel like a military acronym: “Collapse Of Vast Irradiated Deathfarm!”. Shit, we better not stay there then!
We now have nowhere to sleep tonight. As I am driving for the next five hours (as per Fortune #4), then I will need to default on Fortune #1 (“Daddy will book the next three places we stay in!”). It is another Mother’s Day fail. Menna starts wearily tapping on her phone. I try not to catch Matilda’s eye in the rear view mirror.
That night we take Mother out for pizza in the bar near our new hostel. At some point we have crossed a state line and no-one here cares about Coronavirus. The town square is full of kids engaged in complicated courtship rituals. We watch emissaries scurrying backwards and forwards, carrying messages between gangs of teenage girls and boys on opposite benches. Couples kiss in the shadows of doorways and emerge from behind curtains of bougainvillea, the air is full of romance. It is an ideal place for Mother’s Day dinner. There are three flavors of frozen pizza on offer in our restaurant and one of them is vegetarian – this is going well! I enquire gallantly about champagne, mindful of Fortune #2, but the guy just laughs. We get two Mother’s Day beers instead.