1976 – Somewhere, a small town, in the south of Brazil, Latin America – Tina Charles: "Dance Little Lady Dance..."
Pussycat: "Where the Mississippi rolls down to the sea
And lovers found the place they'd like to be
How many times before the song was ending
Love and understanding
Just ten years old, he hears the music he could not understand on people's radios, those two at least, as he comes back home with his mom and younger sister and very small brother as they wend their way along the beaten dirt road to their small lean-to Sister Maria had built them.
On his back, a bundle of scrap wood they had been to the lumber's to collect. It happened most Saturday mornings. The scraps were thrown on a pile for the poor. A mad scramble it was. The first to get to the pile collected the most.
The father always absent and a drunkard, probably away on a selfish journey on his drinking binges.
Pitiful sight to see but they trudged on, spurred by the mother. Source of heat, he knew. They needed the fire wood to cook their scant meals.
On somebody’s radio, Tina Charles crooned her famous song and he pretended to sing along. The language fascinated him no end and perhaps he knew then that one day he would master it.
Back home to decide what to put on the wood stove. Shall we cook the neckbone or stir a polenta with the scraps of corn flour? The not having it enough touched him to the core at that young age. If it was a Saturday and they’d been to the Lumber’s to collect scrap wood, then it would mean the mother had not been to work doing her cleaning jobs and then no money so she would send him over to the grocer’s to buy scraps of pork meat and cassava.
Those were hard years, he recollects. The constant fights in his family. What family was that? His battered mother suffering hell for a bad choice she had made. The kids, his young siblings, that had died. Of hunger? The constant lack of everything. Lack. Lack. Lack. To this day he thinks he grew up fatherless. He envies Nemo.
At school, the young man fared poorly. He did not accomplish much. How could he? He did scraps of learning here and there. His awareness of his surroundings and of himself made him want to grow wings and fly.
Twelve years old at the no-named protestant church. He was baptized and became different. He heard that life was different and that there was a bigger world out there. He did listen. He had ears. One of the most important steps he took.
For when he was sixteen, he went to work as a bagger at a local supermarket - he had tried knocking on that door so many times before - and became known. He could sing in that foreign language. Of course, people did not believe him at first. They said he was making it all up. He was not. “Please, don’t go, don’t go, I beg you to stay….”.The beginning of the eighties.
Poor thing was taunted by the boys. He was cute and not without his attractions. He remembers that once when invited to attend a language class, for he was a good example, he saw himself in a classroom with the more well-off kids in town. He was thoroughly embarrassed his trousers had a hole in the crotch. Yes. It was bought with his wages. He had bought his pants at the Jumble Sales - clothes sent from Europe to the poor of Brazil. They had to sell those clothes. Those people would not confer on them their due value. Teach’em how to fish.
Word spreads that the mulatto boy speaks the oh-so-en-vogue language. Ah, unbelievable at first but he was offered a post at some small firm – a publishing and book distributor – to translate telexes. He endured hell for they were different. He was different, he had darker skin and he did not have a South-European surname. He says he still remember his colleagues from work. Some he says are doing very well. Have kids of their own. Here he became a book-worm. Reading was all he had.
Word spreads further afield. He now begins to teach English - the language he had learned with his Church - to those his home-towners who liked travelling and visiting distant places. He remembers being given a few American cents once. And dates from Jerusalem. And being sent postcards from places he would only dream about. Interestingly enough he set foot on some of those very countries. Yes, he did.
This is when, in his late teens and mid-twenties, now that he had been expelled from the Church on account of his differentness. He thought better of it and said he would choose himself when faced with that choice: Sophie's Choice? Maybe not. He'd been asked to either choose his being different other than the conventional or the Church. Incompatibility. His life-style and the church. Naturally.
He was noticed, dark-skinned, exotic boy. He was. By all who happened to walk by him. He had now a reputation to keep. That was difficult and hard and a pain for him. For he had to do with his life the way it was allowed him to. In the margins. At night when it was dark. That is when he was abused and sometimes even beaten by those very bullies he now sees in those holes they dug for themselves. Yes, all of them. He says he now watches from the outside.
He remembers he had to leave his mother and siblings to live with his godmother because it was easier for him to go to work. He supported his family. There is no word here of his step-father some horrible bully his mother had found when finally she decided to leave her abusive husband.
The first person he engaged in an intimate relationship was one of his cousins’ friend. He was in love and totally into that person. Starry night. The field. The warmth of that body. The kiss that has not left his memory. Is he still drawing breath? He must be. This is one of those warm nights walking hand in hand on the fields they were surprised by the whole gang of boys who suspected….Take it on the chin.
He climbs up the social, professional rung and on and off at the same company, he toils. Up until the day he saved enough for a trip to Europe. He wanted it so badly. He made it to Europe and met his pen-pal from northern Europe. He wanted to go to England. He had a friend there who had gone before. Only because he had a letter from his friend did the customs officers deny him entry to the hallowed country. Of course he had plans of working and making a life for himself there. Not allowed to. Hopes dashed. He spent the night in a cold police cell. Next day he was sent back to where he had taken the train. The Eurostar.
Back in his country to the same old routines. His mind fast at work. He climbs higher. This is when he is promoted to publishing assistant and his job involved travelling to Europe to visit book fairs. He never told his boss he had been denied entry to the country a year or two before. Upon arrival, it was a dramatic scene, since his boss had made it to the other side of the passport control and he did not. Interestingly enough, England was the country he visited most in his travels.
He was still exotic when in pubs in Soho. Attracted the obvious attention as was expected without being swarmed with proposals. He enjoyed it through and through. That prompted his boss to remark would he ever go to a museum instead.
His life changed when the internet arrived.
to be continued.