There were four courtyards in my grandpa’s house.

The house itself sat in the main courtyard, where the gate opened to the street, and we peeped over the low wall to see heads slowly passing by. Sometimes, from the veranda, we could smell the river―a smell of cloth and clay. On the open parking spot, there was grandpa’s brown VW Variant.

On the left, divided by another wall with an arbor, there was the universe of avocado trees and the Petit Trianon. We picked the avocados to make little four-legged cows with matches. I don’t recall exactly what the Petit Trianon was for; it was a small room kept closed most of the time, but I could see it in my dreams.

Still on the left, divided by another wall, with another arbor, there was a hybrid universe: a greenhouse with orchids, chickens, guava trees, and a pomegranate tree, almost neglected, down on the very end, away from everything. It was the most colorful courtyard. My sister once fell down from a guava tree, stuck her belly on a tap, and ended up in the hospital.

To the right of the main courtyard was the last one, almost forbidden. There was a wall, but the arbor had a small wooden gate that we liked to jump over, just for fun. There were lots of weeds, tall trees, shades, unutterable things creeping along the roots, the noise of insects that we could never see. It was hot, and it was vacation time, invariably, but it could also rain, and the rain kept waiting for our feet to go over the carpet of old leaves, rotten fruit, slow and mushy worms.

The four courtyards of my grandpa’s house got encompassed in a compass, and when I first stepped in a caravel swarming with adults, I had it in my pocket: if not as a guide, at least as a charm.

ADRIANA LISBOA was born in Rio de Janeiro, lived in France (where she performed as a Brazilian jazz singer) and currently resides in the United States, in Colorado. 

She has published twelve books, among which six novels, a book of poetry, a collection of flash fiction, and works for children/young readers. 

Among her honors are the José Saramago Award for her novel Symphony in White, a Japan Foundation Fellowship for her novel Hut of Fallen Persimmons, and the Newcomer of the Year Award from the Brazilian section of IBBY (the International Board on Books for Young People) for her book of poetry for children, Língua de trapos [A Tongue Made of Scraps].

Her work has been translated into nine languages, including English, German, Spanish, French and Arabic, and published in thirteen countries.

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