There’s a character in a Jorge Amado novel called Tieta (Tieta do Agreste). Even though my cook has her own proper name, for some unknown reason she is called Tieta. She has been cooking and doing things in this house for almost two decades.
Last week, she was peeling sweet potatoes for a soup when she started mourning with pain. I rushed from the living, deeply worried. My first thought was that she could have seriously injured her hand or fingers with the sharp Swiss knife she likes to use. I run to the kitchen and asked. No answer from her side. She was bend over the sink, her arms hanging motionless and producing frightful noises. As I looked around and no blood was visible, I decided to give her some time to express the pain or whatever she was feeling. I looked at the time. It was just a little past 9am. I returned to the living.
Then I remembered Tieta’s mother. She is an old lady and something could have happened to her. Believing that such pain could only come from losing her mother, I returned to the kitchen and asked her again. As no signal came from her side, I decided to conclude that I was right. I approached a chair, where she sat, and rubbed her back. I left her on the chair, still mourning.
A few minutes later the mourning turned into a more strident noise, forcing me to see what was happening in the kitchen. It sounded like the fact that I knew about her mother was making her vocalize her pain with more intensity, what I believe to be the usual behavior of someone in shock. I found her twisting and yelling on the floor, between the chair and the stove. I told her: “Don’t you think you would feel more comfortable on the chair?” As she didn’t had a visible reaction, I went to the front garden and asked the guard to go around and see if he could help her, since all my efforts seem to be in vain. In fact, I was getting worried with the house routines. I had been waiting for her to calm down for more than an hour. I couldn’t even do her job, since she was blocking my access to the sink and stove.
Half an hour later, he succeeded in removing her from the kitchen and making her sit in a sunny place outside. I do believe the sun has curative powers over depressed people. It was almost 11am, nearly two hours after the mourning and yelling started, when I grabbed a less sharp knife to finish her job.
Suddenly, a very composed Tieta entered the kitchen and said: “I can’t work today. I am not sick but I have to go home. I don’t even explain what happened since you, white people, don’t understand our ways.” Her voice was firm and her tone was even of defying superiority. After being reassured that her mother was okay, I told her to go.
As soon as I could, I called the guard Sansão, whose real name is Samessone, because that’s how they pronounce around here, in Portuguese, the actual English version Samson, and asked: “After all, what on earth she had?” It was then that he, very respectfully, confirmed what I would never have guessed: “She had been possessed by a spirit.”