Lady in White – A Brazilian Urban Legend
There are several version of the Lady in White. This is my favorite:
Dean (not his real name) should have known better, but he did it any way. Perhaps it was his celebratory mood, or maybe it had to do with the excessive number of caipirinhas he had been drinking. Either way, Dean, a forty-eight year old divorcee, flattened the few remaining wisps of hair across the front of his smooth head and followed the lady out of the bar.
The next day, when Dean failed to return to the hotel, his associates called the police. They reported that Dean was a purchasing executive for a major supermarket chain, and he had just closed a major deal to export beef to the US. It was their last night in São Paulo and they had been out celebrating. Dean met a woman. A beautiful woman with dark eyes, milk-colored skin, and a dimpled smile. She wore a simple, sleeveless, white dress that reached down to the floor. They didn’t remember her saying much—or anything for that matter—but they found her exceedingly charming nonetheless.
The police had heard similar stories before. They would hear them again. Dean was just another victim of Dama Branca.
The Legend of the Lady
The legend of the Lady in White begins in the middle of the 1800s, inside the home of a poor shoe cobbler. His shop stood just outside of São Paulo, but he knew if he could open a new shop in the heart of the city people would realize the quality of his work, and he would be poor no longer.
For many years, he fantasized about his new shop, but the little money he made always went to feeding and supporting his wife and five little children. He was a man filled with dreams, but little ambition, which are the worst kind of men to live with, for they are always complaining about their lot in life and blaming others for it. So it was with the cobbler, and he often grumbled about all the mouths that sat around his table.
As the years went by his oldest child grew into a beautiful young woman. Breathtakingly so. She had dark eyes and dimples, smooth skin the color of rich caramel, and long, curly hair that bounced around the small of her back as she walked through the streets. She attracted the attention of many suitors.
The cobbler loved his daughter very much. Out of all his children, she was his favorite. She was kind and funny, and whenever she came to his shop they would laugh and share stories for hours on end. Despite the many men who longed to win her heart, she had never expressed interest in marriage. The cobbler was content to let her continue to fill his home, and his life, with laughter, and so he refused every suitor that asked for her hand.
An Unassailable Proposal
One of the largest sugar plantations in the State of São Paulo was a three day ride away from the capital city. Its owner was said to be excessively cruel to his slaves, and throughout the countryside, there was considerable gossip about the mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of his first wife. The man was short, had bulging eyes that resembled cloudy marbles, and, while not quite ugly, he was very far from handsome.
He often came to São Paulo on business. It was on one of these trips into the city that he happened to look down and discover a small gash in one of his boots. A vain man, he decided to stop just outside of the city to pick up a new pair.
That is how the plantation owner came to be in the cobbler’s shop, sitting on a stool, slipping his foot into a new boot, when the cobbler’s daughter walked through the door and into his cruel little heart.
The man returned to the shop every day for the next three weeks, bringing gifts for the cobbler’s family, and especially for the cobbler’s daughter. For three weeks, the rich man assailed the cobbler with proposals, offering a larger dowry with every visit. For three weeks, the cobbler’s resolve to give his daughter away wavered as his dream of owning a large shop in the heart of city crystallized.
Few people attended the wedding, and those that did cried. None harder than the bride herself. She wore a simple white dress that her mother had made for her, and even the tears flowing down her cheeks couldn’t dampen her beauty. After the vows were said, the plantation owner whisked his prize out of the church and into a carriage, giving her barely enough time to hug her family goodbye.
It was a three day journey back to the plantation, and by the time they got there, they were both certain that she could never love him.
She was everything he was not. Young, beautiful, and kind. That was why he wanted her, and it was why she could never want him.
His small heart burned with jealousy. His station and breeding were far above hers. For that reason alone she should love him, or so he thought. He was powerful and rich, attributes which he was certain made him a worthy match for any woman in Brazil. If she could not love him, he figured it was because she loved another. An intolerable problem that he resolved to fix.
She fell into a deep depression. She was lonely and far away from her friends and family. Although she rarely slept, she often laid in bed, pretending to sleep throughout the day. Only when she was certain that her husband had left the manor would she make her way down to the kitchen to find something to eat. The slaves that worked in the kitchen became familiar with her routine and always kept a table filled with food for her.
A Kind Mistake
One day, while eating pastries, she looked out the window and saw a group of slaves drinking from a bucket. On a whim, she picked up the plate of pastries, walked outside, and offered the remaining pastries to the slaves. They declined, but she insisted. She found it ridiculous that all that food would just sit there all day, every day. It’s not like she could eat it all.
The slaves ate the pastries, timidly at first, but with each bite appreciation spread across their faces. One slave, a young man, ran to the kitchen and grabbed a cup, poured in some sugar cane juice from the bucket, and offered it to her. She drank the sweet juice gratefully, and when she handed the cup back to him, she thanked him and patted his arm. She took the plate, and returned to the kitchen, her spirits having been lifted a little bit. Perhaps she didn’t have to be so lonely. Perhaps she could make friends on the plantation.
She didn’t realize, as she returned to the kitchen, that her cruel husband had watched the exchange with the slaves.
The next day, when she came down to the kitchen, she found a surprise waiting for her: Her husband. He locked her in place with a menacing stare, a look that scared her so much that she didn’t even consider running away. He silently pulled her into a chair and chained her to it. From underneath the table, he produced a plate, and on it rested the head of the slave that had given her the cup of sugarcane juice the day before.
“Yesterday, my slave stole from you,” he said. “He wishes to return what he took.”
She tried to speak, to yell, but she only choked on her sobs.
Her husband pulled another plate from under the table, grizzled pieces of meat stacked in its center. “Unfortunately, he had already digested it, so you will have to make do with…him.”
She looked closer at the meat, slowly realizing what she was looking at: the cooked flesh of the man she had met the day before. The man who had smiled at her and offered her a cup of sugarcane juice. Dead. Cooked and sitting on a plate in front of her. She looked up into the face of her smiling husband, evil shining in his eyes, and for the first time saw that he wasn’t just a man with a malicious soul; he was a demon.
The plantation owner tried to force his wife to eat the flesh of the dead slave. She refused.
Even when her stomach roared with hunger, and he promised that all would be forgiven, that he would allow her to eat whatever she wanted, if only she would try one bite. She refused.
Even when, she had wilted away to nothing more than a dehydrated bag of skin and bones. She refused.
A Dream Come True
Less than three months after his daughter had married, the cobbler finally opened his new shop. Located on the corner of the busiest street in São Paulo, it was easily three times larger than any other cobbler in the city. Within hours of opening his doors, he realized that he would need to hire more people. There was no way for only him and his sons to keep up with all the orders. Finally, he would be the most famous shoemaker in the city. Perhaps, even the country.
A cart stopped in front of his store. A delivery, the carter had said.
When the cobbler opened the coffin, an emaciated corpse stared back at him. He barely recognized his daughter, and if it wasn’t for her dress, then maybe he would not have. She wore the white dress that his wife had made for her wedding; it was sleeveless and had little white flowers stitched into the neckline. He remembered how beautiful she looked in that dress as he picked up and embraced his daughter’s corpse.
The Lady in White – A Brazilian Urban Legend
Every few months, a man will go missing in São Paulo. The story is always the same. A beautiful woman in a sleeveless white dress is seen leading the victim out of some bar. No one can ever remember her speaking, but they always remember her smile. They always remember her dimples.
Almost every country has a story about a ‘Lady in White’. A ghost that comes back to take vengeance on certain kind of men. I’ve heard a couple of different versions of Dama Branca, aka Mulher de Branco, but this one is by far my favorite. I’ve taken some liberties with the details, but tried to keep the spirit of the story in tact. If I got a little carried away, forgive me — I’m a sucker for a good story!
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