Lunch. Usually my second favorite part of the day but in Brazil, this time of day becomes isolating. As usual, I chose some food from the cafeteria line and found an empty seat across from a Brazilian girl with glasses and dark curly hair.
As I sat down at the lunch table, she smiled and her braces sparkled, catching the light. I smiled back and said hello in my best Portuguese.
“Bom dia!” I said and hoped the pronunciation was right.
She shyly returned “Bom dia!”
We ate in awkward silence for many minutes, trying to ignore the desire to connect. She started playing with her phone and I suddenly felt cut off, technology putting up yet another wall between us. But instead, she expectantly turned her phone to face me, turning it back to herself once more before I could see, double checking what she was showing me. In the translator app on her phone, she had typed “Has someone told you you are beautiful?”
With one translator app, she tore down the barriers between us as if they were nothing but curtains.
Heat filled my cheeks and I shook my head. “Me??” I asked incredulously, pointing at myself. I looked around the cafeteria, sure that the comparison with the famed Brazilian beauties sitting around us would show her how mistaken she was.
She quickly turned the phone around, self-conscious. Pointing at each word, she works her way through the typed sentence. Frowning she nodded, then pointed at me and smiled with a broad, genuine smile. “Sim,” she said affirming her Portuguese words. I was speechless, and blushing from my scalp to the ends of my toes. “Obrigada,” I managed to remember my manners, but want to tell her that she’s wrong, that she’s the beautiful one, not me. Looking back, I think this was probably for the better, I never could take a compliment.
She smiled, pleased with herself and her translator. She then typed quickly into the translator, “Do you like brunettes?” I had no idea what she implied but thought immediately of my boyfriend. I nodded “Sim, es mi novio,” in a mix of broken Spanish and Portuguese, and hold up my cell phone, my background a picture of myself and my boyfriend, who happens to be a brunette. She smiled and scrolled through her phone before handing it entirely to me. A picture of the most beautiful bride I could imagine fills the screen.
“This is you?” I asked.
I was awed and completely forgot that she couldn’t understand me. She nodded. I scrolled through the pictures, so many pictures, of their wedding. She busies herself talking to her newly arrived friend in Portuguese. I ignored them and continued to scroll. So many pictures. Eventually, I felt awkward holding her captive by keeping her phone, so I gave her phone back and pulled out my own translator app.
“You are so beautiful, thank you for letting me look through the pictures, these were beautiful.” I type.
She smiled and nodded like she already knew.