And the Indians?
What about the Indians?
What did you make of the Indians in Brazil?
Fuck the Indians in Brazil. They can burn the whole pissing forest down for all I care.
Some tourist you are! How about the yellow fever?
All I remember is Yamami.
I’ve always gone for really young girls. You get locked up for that sort of thing here. Oh, Yamami, my lost treasure. I went through a city called Cuiabá, then Corumbá. Parintins, Parintintins, whatever. I travelled in a boat called Baron of the Amazon.
And the fish there are enormous, right?
What do you mean, tiny?
Oh, please. Don’t believe everything you hear.
Jesus Christ. The boat being carried along by the current. Manaus is the capital and that’s where we stopped. The market at the mouth of the river is a river of fruit. Juicy apples. Gorgeous melons.
No, I didn’t take any photos.
I didn’t have time.
Anyway, there’s no point taking photos of all that crap.
I stayed in a hotel above the Rio Negro. Beautiful warm breeze. That was my dream, to get away from the cold here. To go to the other extreme.
I lived and breathed Yamami there.
Typical Indian girl, thirteen years old. Painted toenails, bare feet. Just the shadow of some eyeshadow on her face. A little tree creature, her red skin burning. Suddenly I was a cannibal. Not even anteater meat tastes that good.
And how about the wood?
I heard there’s loads of wood and rubber there.
Bullshit. They’ve got nothing.
I followed the track that wound down through the market. The market’s so jam-packed you can hardly move. All the shouting gets on your nerves. Never mind. The natives talk too much, but they mean well. And Yamami was all I could think about. There are other little whorelets hanging around in the rubbish. You want to go to Santarém, no problem. You don’t, no problem. Motorboats. Lots of people already gone down, never to come back. Boats sink with more than a hundred on board.
One wink at Yamami and then we left. I lit a cigarette, a smoke signal. Yamami, come with me. I’m a pale, telepathic white guy. I’m on holiday for Christ’s sake, unhappy and a long way from home. Yamami, my mistress, my tourism.
Other girls snaring the gringos. Sometimes Brazilians come along and get caught in the net. There’s a foul smell of fish and dead birds.
Her belly button lives on in my memory. Yamami’s soft little hand moving back and forth. The river breeze in the forest. Shut up in this lab all year working, is this any way to live? Testing urine samples day in day out – and for what? I want to escape my fate. I don’t want to die in the first world, I want to die lost on the horizon. Dazzled. Hidden in the hollows of Yamami. My delicate freedom. Yamami’s huntress smell, her tiny little breasts. Her eyes arrows in my balls. That happy, green and distant market.
My primal joy, Yamami. My smile.
And the crocodiles?
The crocodiles can go to hell.
There I can sit Yamami on my lap and no-one gives me any grief. There’s no-one keeping tabs on me. No government calling me a criminal.
I hear you get lots of street kids there.
Loads – they’re all over the place. Apparently you get abandoned girls in Rondônia, in Roraima. In Ceará and Pernambuco. For sale in downtown Rio Branco.
Yamami skipping, sucking on mango stones, getting me all sticky. Yamami sliding down the branches and vines of the swamp.
I became Yamami’s lover, out there in the open. I gave Yamami money, jewels, mirrors, necklaces. I made Yamami wear colourful panties. My girl.
Didn’t you like Brazil?
Yamami came to the steps of the boat to see me off. She and some of her friends. Yamami, Cauã, Jacira, Luanda. Yamami looked so pretty when she cried. Her feathers ruffling in the breeze. She was like a peacock as she waved goodbye, plumage framing her face. Parrot feathers. The market stinking of shit and the river carrying me away.
No, I didn’t fucking like Brazil.
Yamami has nothing to do with Brazil. Brazil is São Paulo, a far-off city that’s no different to this frozen continent, Yamami.
My empty body.
Marcelino Freire was born in Sertânia, in the northeastern Brazilian state of Pernambuco, in 1967. A writer and cultural activist, he is the author of six collections of stories, including Amar é crime (Loving is a Crime) and Contos negreiros (Slave Stories), which won the Jabuti Prize for the best short story collection in 2005. His first novel, Nossos ossos (Our Bones), was published in 2014, and won that year’s Jabuti Prize for the best novel.
Annie McDermott translates fiction and poetry from Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese. Her work has appeared in magazines including Granta, World Literature Today, Asymptote and Alba. In 2014 she was a translator in residence at the Crossing Border literature and music festival in The Hague, and in 2013 she was the runner-up in the Harvill Secker Young Translators’ Prize.
Translated from Portuguese by Annie McDermott.