Creative non-fiction / July 2011 (Issue 14)

The Beautiful Branca

by Michal Slaby

The beautiful Branca was the first child born to Sir Lima. The first of ten. I'm sure she was and remains his pride and joy. I wouldn't know. I've never met the man. Or Branca. Everything I know about her and her family comes from the boy who lived down the street from them. The boy who grew up to be a priest. A professor. The boy who to this day at the sheer mention of the name Branca leans back his head, inserts hand into shirt and begins violently pumping the fabric as if pistons were about to explode through his chest. I wish he wouldn't do it. If he tears a hole in his shirt I won't buy him a new one. His tastes are too expensive. That's his Hong Kong upbringing. His vow of poverty hasn't done much to squash it.

Branca lives in California now with her husband. Her old torch-bearer, Fr. Rebelo, lives outside Boston. I'm not sure when they last saw each other but it couldn't have been long ago. Rebelo does weddings for the family. He just did one for Lima child number ten. I don't remember any of their names. In fact, old Sir Lima announced at that wedding that henceforth a Lima marriage would not be valid unless performed by Rebelo. That's one of those chummy deals that's kept Hong Kong in business through the ages.

I've never been to Hong Kong. I was in Macao once. I lost 25,000 dollars at the casino. I won it back later in Vegas but while I was in Macao and out of money I went for a walk. To clear my head. To get away from the tables. To my great amusement I stumbled upon a street named after Sir Lima. The street ran right into another street named Rebelo. There was a bank on the corner.

The bank on the corner of Lima and Rebelo was a big bank. It had a glass tower reaching up into the heavens like every other building in the area. It was an old bank. Its first two floors were refreshingly free of the massive luxury watch billboards and perfume ads that littered the eye in every direction. The walls were made of stone. Walking further I realized it was just a facade. But the wall that ran perpendicular to Lima and Rebelo had a gallery on the second floor. It was the one old thing of substance I could see. The one part of the old building you could actually stand on. For a second I imagined myself in 19th century China as if I were a young Rebelo in love with a young Lima whose father owned the bank and whom I was dangerously wooing from the street with a bouquet of flowers. The world was beautiful and full of hope. Until the garbage truck honked for me to get out of the way.

China is full of noise these days. People everywhere. Doing everything. Anything they can to make it. I know there's a cost to the churning. Families split apart. Like the Limas. Ten kids all over the world. San Jose. New York. Vancouver. London. Paris. Tokyo. All born in Hong Kong. If the rich can't keep it together what hope is there for the poor. I've seen the peasant families on TV. Parents who see their children once a year. Until the kids run away from their grandparents and find work in a bar somewhere.

What's going on in China is nothing new. The world has always been a machine. A giant pendulum clock. Time ticks. Fortunes rise on one side. Fall on the other. People at the bottom get crushed. China's just bigger. More obvious.

I want to meet the beautiful Branca someday. In Hong Kong. On the hill. With a view of the harbor. I’m sure she's just as charming as Rebelo himself. Chinese face. Portuguese name. British accent. Living symbol of a land in flux.

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