There are many sounds in Brazil that I am terrified of. Gunshots, fireworks (which sound very close to gunshots), and the screaming cigarho bugs that begin their screech at three in the morning, are a few of these such noises. But the worst of them all is that dreaded intercom doorbell.
When family is home the fing is only a minor threat. Normally there is somebody else who is closer to the interphone or is not otherwise occupied who can answer. Sometimes I can coax my five year old host brother to answer it so that upon not knowing what to do with the guest on the phone, he hollers for his parents who deal with the situation, and I’m off the hook. And then there are times when I can just put in my headphones and act like I didn’t hear it. But there are always those moments, those solitary moments, when the buzzer rings unadvised and I am frozen in my tracks.
The house is empty, and I know it is, yet I wait hoping to hear footsteps coming down the hall upstairs, or a door swinging open signifying relief. But I am met with no response from the house, and the poor patron at the gate, whoever it may be, is left with the same ungratifying silence. It is at this point that I must make a crucial decision, one which can have future ramifications that I cannot foresee. I can let the buzzer ring, acting as if there is nobody home, and let my ignorance comfort me. But what if my host parents told the visitors that I was home, in which case I would be dishonest and both I and my host parents would be disappointed. It is a risk too often not worth it. So then my other option is to pick up the interphone, and briefly converse with the visitor in Portuguese.
My fear is completely unfounded. I am at the stage where I am conversationally fluent and can read at a relatively high level. So the language itself isn’t a barrier. Also the conversations are so simple that I hardly need to concentrate. But then there is the worry that I won’t know what to do upon hearing the request of entry. It could be that I won’t understand their accent, that they will speak too fast, or speak about something that I am not yet aware, in which case I will not have a response and be left awkwardly breathing into the phone.
Then there is the decision of whether or not the visitor should be let in. By pressing that small button I am granting whoever it is that I can hear but not see into our peaceful compound, where not only my family lives but another lovely woman. The fear that I may let in somebody with malevolent intent is definitely present. But then there is the fear that this visitor could be delivering mail and needs a signature, or needs payment (of which I usually don’t have), or perhaps would like to enter the house, and in doing so disrupting my fortress of solitude.
All of these thoughts and fears run through my mind in seconds, and I ultimately make a decision. This decision doesn’t just affect me, but the person at the door, and my family. The responsibility of three people put onto such a simple interaction. But I’m no longer afraid to answer the door.