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By Fran Clark
Marta ran through the small field of orange lantanas and along the gritty path to the wooden house. She clutched the unopened letter in her hand, the envelope warm and creased. Thiago would be expecting her and the door, as ever, would be open.
“Take a seat, Marta. How is it town today? No, don't tell me. I moved out here to be away from the madness, I only wish you could have too.”
“Please, Marta, call me Thiago. I stopped being your teacher a long time ago and even then you very rarely attended class. Here, let me see the letter.”
Minha querida Marta
I miss you so much and I hope this finds you well. I spend my waking moments imagining what life must be like for you now. I still pray that you can forgive me one day for leaving you alone like this. I dreamt last night that you came to visit me. Perhaps one day?
It has been almost six months and by now you must have run out of money, or close enough. Your family turned their back on you because of me but if you are desperate then you must turn to them for help. Maybe you could go to your father and beg forgiveness. After all, he was right, I am a failure. God knows, nothing pains me more than to think you are lonely and afraid, Marta.
I know, you are saying, where was God when my husband behaved in such a brutal way? I have thought about my actions for a long time and wish I had an answer. I am no better than any of the criminosos I am locked away with. They act tough and threatening by day and by night they cry themselves to sleep like hungry children. I cry silent tears - but not for me. God knows I deserve my fate. But you, Marta. So pure, so innocent, I should never have made your life so stained. Perdoa-me, Marta. If I live to return to you I will spend my life atoning for my sins against you and your family.
Today a gift of books was presented to the prison. I was to teach you how to read. I have not forgotten. Please find a way to continue with your lessons. It will help you in the future. Maybe one day we can read stories to our children.
I hope my mother's health improves and she is no longer a burden to you. She loves you as though you were her own daughter, I know.
One sheet of paper is never enough to write everything in my heart but I leave you once more until I am permitted another letter. One day I hope you can write me back.
Com amor o seu marido
“You should think about that, Marta.”
“Think about what?”
“Letting me teach you how to write.”
“One day, Thiago. I have more important things to worry about.”
“You always make the same excuse. Eduardo is right. Education will give you a better future. You could move out of that place, make a new start for yourself. But you should be getting back. You mustn't wander too late in town. Get home before your mother-in-law begins to worry.”
Marta left, wrapped her shawl over shoulders. All the shops in the small town were closed. She saw Dores on the corner.
“Olá, Marta. Going home or coming to seek some fortune?”
Dores stood a little distance from the other women but Marta could see that they wore just as much make up as her. They were also as brightly dressed.
“Look,” said Dores. “The business men and tourists from São Ricos are already arriving in their fancy cars. What do you say, Marta? Paint your face and make some money so you can feed your husband's family. God knows he can't.”
“I've made my decision.” Marta tied her shawl around her waist and walked a short way up the street. A car stopped and she leant into the open window. The letter slipped onto the curb as she stepped into the back seat and the car pulled away.