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“Daughter of a Boto” by Katherine Cowley

“Seu pai é um boto,” Ana Luiza’s mother told her. Your father is a boto, a river dolphin. When she was young Ana Luiza would beg her mother to tell the story again and again.

“Era uma linda noite,” her mother would begin.

It was a beautiful night. The stars hung from the sky like flowers from a vine. I was wading in the river when I saw the botos, the dolphins. Some were rose-colored and some were as grey as stone. They slipped above the surface of the water. One of the dolphins swam to where I stood near the banks of the river. I touched the back of the boto and he transformed into the most handsome man I have ever seen. He gave you to me, and then he slipped into the water, turning back into a pink boto as he swam away.

“Did my father have a blowhole on the top of his head, even as a man?” Ana Luiza would ask.

“Yes, but I knew he was one of the encantado—the enchanted ones— so I would not let him wear a hat to cover it.”

“Am I a boto? Can I change into a dolphin?”

Her mother would laugh then, no matter how many times she asked the question. “You are not a boto. And I don’t want you to swim away from me.”

When Ana Luiza was ten years old, she learned about childbearing at school. That it was a matter of human anatomy, not gifts from mythical creatures. She would joke with her friends: “Meu pai é um boto.” My father is a dolphin. And her friends would laugh. Yet every time she looked at the river she searched for the botos, hoping that one would transform into her father.

When Ana Luiza turned twelve, she and her mother moved from the town of Thaumaturgo to the city of Cruzeiro do Sul. As they traveled down the Rio Juruá she saw pink botos several times, but they stayed far away from the boat.

From Cruzeiro do Sul they moved to Manaus. Ana Luiza had never imagined a city so large, yet somehow os missionários found them. She quickly learned that the Elders were not allowed to give or receive beijinhos, the little kisses of greeting and parting. Not long after Ana Luiza and her mother joined A Igreja de Jesus Cristo dos Santos dos Últimos Dias.

Ana Luiza went with the other youth in her ward and performed baptisms for the dead in the Manaus Temple. It was the most beautiful building no mundo inteiro—in the entire world—and she loved the Spirit she felt there. Then in Sunday School she learned about covenants.

“Deus criou o mundo, e criou um plano,” her teacher began.

God created the world, and He created a plan. He sent His Son, the Only Begotten, to live and die for us. Yet to receive the fullness of His blessings we must walk in His path. First is baptism, the gate. Next, the endowment, a gift of learning and power. And finally, the sealing, a temple covenant by which a family can be together not only for this life, but for all eternity.

Ana Luiza had already been baptized, but she knew that she wanted the other covenants, the promises made to God in exchange for promised blessings. At the end of the year Ana Luiza and her mother met with the bishop for tithing settlement. At the end of the meeting he asked if there was anything they needed.

“Bispo,” said Ana Luiza. “I want to be sealed to my mother in the temple.”

The bishop looked down at his desk, and Ana Luiza’s mother looked away.

“I’m sorry,” the bishop finally said. “But you cannot be sealed to just your mother. Children must be sealed to two parents, who are already sealed to each other.”

“But I want us to be a family forever,” said Ana Luiza.

“Perhaps someday I will marry,” said her mother. “And then you can be sealed to me.”

Ana Luiza pinched her lips together, trying not to cry. Perhaps. Perhaps she might someday be sealed to her mother. She did not like perhaps.

When they returned home, Ana Luiza prayed to God. “Querido e Amado Pai Celestial. Please, let me know who my father is, so that I can have an eternal family.”

After her prayer, Ana Luiza approached her mother. “Eu sei que meu pai não é um boto-cor-de-rosa.” I know my father isn’t a pink river dolphin. “Who is he really?”

“Não sei.” I don’t know.

“You must know. Then we can find him and you can marry him and we can be sealed and be together forever. Who is my father?”

Her mother paused, choosing her words. “I lived a very different life then. I knew many men. I really don’t know who your father is. So he is a boto.”

For the first time her mother sounded sad when she said the word boto.

Ana Luiza left the house in a rush, not even giving her mother a kiss farewell. She sat next to the river, dipping her feet in the water. This part of the river was black and dark. It came from the Rio Negro. A little downriver the Rio Negro combined with the Rio Solimões. The Solimões was light, almost the color of sand. When the Negro and the Solimões met they kept their own colors for kilometers before they mixed. No matter how hard she tried, Ana Luiza could not see the lighter water from where she sat. The river was too wide.

Until she met the missionaries, Ana Luiza had never known what a family could be—a mother and father, sealed together for time and eternity, and their children with them. But now that she knew the ideal, she still could not have it. Why couldn’t the missionaries have found her mother years before, before Ana Luiza was even born, so that she could have both a mother and a father? She could imagine what the missionaries would say if she asked them her question. They would say that God had a plan, a perfect plan, and she needed to trust in His timing. They would tell her that if she did her part to live the gospel, she could have faith that God would make everything work out for her good.

Ana Luiza kept her feet in the river for hours. As the sky began to darken, she saw unusual ripples in the water, and flashes of pink and grey. Perhaps it was the botos. She didn’t see nearly as many botos here in Manaus as she had back home. Some people said they were dying out.

Ana Luiza stepped into the river until the dark water reached her waist. A pink dolphin approached her, close enough for her to touch. She tentatively reached out, touching the animal’s skin. At the same instant, something touched her inside: a softness, a warmth in her heart, a quiet reassurance that everything would be right. The dolphin’s skin was soft, like a leather glove placed in water. She held her breath, savoring the moment. She didn’t know anyone who had touched a boto. She considered it a gift: a gift from the river and a gift from God.

For an instant, the boto’s pale pink skin turned brighter, pinker. And then the boto swam away. The pink and grey botos slipped beneath the water. Ana Luiza left the river. As she walked home to her mother she whispered, “Não importa que meu pai da terra é um boto,” It doesn’t matter that my earthly father is a river dolphin. “Eu tenho um Pai Celestial.” I have a Heavenly Father.

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