ISSN 2359-4101

Brazilian Literature in Translation / Literatura Brasileña en Traducción

Issue / Numero

year/año: 2012
issue/numero: # 03

The other people

Author | Autor: Ivan Jaf

Translated by Amanda Silva Leal | Illustrated by Andréa Corbani

The big glass ring reappears like the one inside an old suitcase among
yellowing pages of poems. Twenty years later.
Time goes back. I remember.
I am walking with my father down the road by the margins of a lake with
dark waters. He walks along staring at things I cannot see.
If we walk hand in hand my other hand will be empty. I will miss my mother. I
haven’t got used to her absence yet, but I know I have to. Better not to cry.
For a ten year old boy the world can be weird and heavy sometimes.
“Over there is the beach,” he says, pointing to the left. “A long beach. More
than thirty kilometers. You will see.”
He carries the heavy backpack with all our stuff. Sweat runs down his face and
soaks his shirt. He is a man who has just left a life behind. A lapse in time.
The place where we are is called Boqueirão . He is going to open a glass
factory there.
In the middle of the lake a man throws in a drag net.
His new sneakers hurt his heel.
A chicken crosses the road.
Two vultures look at us from atop a rock.
He sits on a fallen tree trunk, puts the backpack on the ground, and wipes his
sweat off with his sleeves. I sit down next to him.
He pats my head.
The sun is scalding. There are vapors rising from the ground. It is summer.
“The first thing,” he says, “is to have a beer. Then we’ll look for a guy named
Jovi and ask for a house to rent.”
At the sleazy bar people indicated a house at the back covered with old titles,
green slime, and surrounded by coconut trees. A fat cat was asleep on the porch.
My father called from the fence.
A short, plump woman came out, wiping her hands on an apron covered in
blood and fish offal.
“Jovi? He’s my husband. He’s on his way,” she said and pointed her finger
covered in scales at the lake.
He was the man that they had seen throwing in the drag net. Stocky, short
white hair, tanned skin, wrinkled face. He was carrying a basket. Some fish were
still flipping about in it.
“People told me you had some places to rent,” my father said.
Jovi scratched his head.
“Yes, I do. But they are all rented.”
My father wasn’t having much luck lately.
“There’s that one at Pedreiros Street,” his wife reminded him.
“It’s not even finished. There are only the walls and the roof.”
My father insisted:
“Let me see it. I don’t mind making improvements.”
“And how long do you intend to stay?”
That was a tough question for my father. I thought he would mention the glass
factory. He didn’t.
“A year.”
The cat stretched and came to check the basket.
“Have you already had lunch?” Jovi asked.
“I’m going to have a shower and put on some clean clothes. Albertina, fry up
some of those mullets for us.”
“It is not necessary…”
“I know it is not necessary, my friend. But it is darned tasty.”
We were walking through fences of barb wire and crooked stakes. Hornets
buzzed next to my head. Chameleons slid on the sand.
Jovi told us about Boqueirão:
“Some time ago, there was only sand and cactus here. It was a no-man’s land.
Then the city hall divided it into lots. They laid these roads, brought this red clay,
and gave the lots away to anyone who would fence them and lay foundations on
them. Fences and foundations started appearing everywhere.”
A man came from the opposite direction, stumbling on his own legs. He wore
large, dirty clothes, his trousers were held up by a string, his worn denim jacket
covered his t-shirt. He smelled of alcohol.
He passed, greeted Jovi, and he was already some distance away when he
stopped and shouted:
“Hey! You there - I don’t know you!”
My father turned and looked back. The man shouted again:
“Don’t look back!”
The old man put his hand on my shoulder and squeezed it.
“Never mind,” Jovi explained. “He is Cap Jack. He only stops drinking when he
is sleeping. He repairs cookers.”
In all the time we lived there I never saw him wearing a cap.
Pedreiros Street had a row of small houses on each side, each in the middle of
a thirty-by-fifty-meter lot, fenced off with barbed wire or bamboo.
The first, at the left corner, was a warehouse, a big rectangular shed. It was
a tall building with no windows and two large doors in the front. Inside it was a
long greasy wooden counter and floor to ceiling shelves with all kinds of things on
them. And more things piled on the floor, and hanging from hooks in the ceiling.
“This is Batista’s grocery shop,” Jovi pointed with his chin.
“He must have everything a man could need,” said my father.
“If he doesn’t, he goes to get it.”
Two old dogs were asleep under the marquee.
We went back into the street.
There wasn’t much activity on it. Smoke coming from the chimneys. Women
and children appearing at windows to see why the dogs were barking.
Three children were playing on a mound of clay.
Two boys were flying kites.
Everybody stopped to watch us go past.
“To make so many foundations a lot of bricklayers came from far away,” Jovi
continued. “Most of them ended up staying here and got a free lot. They created
this street. The house I am going to show you is the last one on the left.”
The buildings were new: walls without plaster, piles of bricks, tiles, sand, and
concrete slabs everywhere, among almond trees, cassava bushes, mango trees,
banana trees, vegetable gardens...
There was a smell of black beans with bay leaves.
We stopped in front of a thicket. Jovi spat on the ground and shook his head.
“Here we are. Let’s go inside.”
The grass cut my skin. My clothes were covered with burrs and mosquitoes
attacked my neck.
It was a very small house. Grass was growing wild inside it, sprouting from the
dark sandy ground.
A half-wall divided it into two rooms.
A lot of tiles were missing.
The only place grass wasn’t growing was in a corner of the room with the
door. There was a cement floor and a pipe jutting out of the wall. Facilities for a
future kitchen.
Jovi was embarrassed, holding his straw hat in front of his body as if he
wanted to hide behind it.
“I said it was unfinished.”
My father walked around the house. He was quiet. He stopped, passed his
hand on the wall:
“I don’t want to rent it anymore, Jovi.”
“Fine. I’m sorry.”
“I want to buy it. Tell me your price.”

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