Arthur Dapieve “Música negra” / Black Music

[Translation by Alex Forman]

They wore Bin Laden masks. Five skinny brothers and a very short white pygmy. Green nylon jacket, gruff-sounding terrorist points his Uzi at me. All are heavily armed. One has a small, retracted Uzi; three AR-15s with handles on the rail section; white pygmy carries a robust and pricey Sig Sauer. I’m surprised there’s no banana ammo clip curved forward on an AK-47. White pigmy shows his bare boney chest. He breaks the silence: “Maicon Filipe?” It is the second time in thirty minutes I hear my name said like that. “Michael Philips,” my damn voice cracks. And he boxes my ears. God knows is it my debile voice, or the fact that I corrected the guy. His punch floors me. Two others lift me up by the arms and put me back in the chair, round-backed trembling. One holds a pistol to my neck. It must be a Rossi. White pygmy speaks again, his tone is indifferent: “Maicon Filipe? US citizen, thirteen, only son of Tomás Gordon Filipe, Exon exec, residing at 196 Praia do Flamengo, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Penthouse duplex.” I had just learned not to correct anything or anyone. “Yes, that’s me,” damn voice, cracks again. White pygmy doesn’t hit me this time. He turns to Green nylon, gruff-voice, “We got our kid.” Green nylon, gruff-voice sounds relieved: “Dotty should have told us the boy was black!”

White pygmy’s official communiqué: “It was you we wanted, Maicon Filipe.” “What do you want with me?” damned voice, cracks again. White pygmy’s masked leftfielder knee-kicks me; right knee which is sore already. I fall on the ground again. Nearly. An order with the knee-kick: “Talk like a man!” “I’m a kid!” Voice is thick, vibrato this time. Brutish like Ben Webster. Bin Ladens remain silent — I don’t understand if it’s because of what I said or my variation in pitch. Finally, leader of the terrorist cell speaks: “And who here isn’t a child?” Everyone laughs. Masked dude on the far right laughs so hard his body is contorting forward and back around his AR-15. Six terrorists talk at once about people I don’t know; using lingo I don’t know. It’s trouble understanding the fast talking poor. I’m not sure they are speaking Portuguese at all. It could be Arabic for all I know. There are skinny black Muslim dudes, aren’t there? White pygmy Muslims too, right? US Muslims in Afghanistan, yeah? I’d seen it on Fox News.

Suddenly awake, I hear shots outside. Lots of shots. Some closer. Some more distant. I imagine Brazilian police coming to save me; I fear Brazilian police coming to save me. I don’t know about the Sahara I haven’t seen Osama Bin Laden on TV, but I do know the reputation of Brazilian police. Nervous, I count shots like sheep, hoping I’ll fall off. One shot from a firearm resounding. Five rounds like a whip snapping. Another canon. Twelve pops from a chainsaw. Or thirteen? I lose count. It is a lot of shooting. I know what the guns look like from riffling through the pages of my father’s magazines, but I had no idea what they would sound like. Is it the Sig Sauer sounds like a canon? Uzi snap of a whip? Chainsaw buzz from an AR-15? Or do I have it backwards? AR-15 canon fire, Uzi buzzing, Sig whip lash? This seems less logical, but why? And I fall asleep considering this shit. I got used to the gunfire. People will grow accustomed to anything.

Jo materializes before me. It is my second morning here. Someone unties me while Jo provides stale bread with cold butter and a jelly jar of skimmed milk, way they take it in Brazil. Astroblema, and not the stocky brother – to my relief, is Jo’s backup. But he’s got on the same green nylon jacket as when he climbed the steps of the school bus and asked for me. Scar on his face shiny with sweat. He doesn’t bother to point his Uzi. Jo’s eyes are red and puffy. She sniffles now and again. Astroblema starts, with his gruff voice, energetically: “Heat is on, kid.” I don’t get it. My toast is cold. “Say what?” “Shit man, didn’t you hear the pop, pop, pop?” I don’t understand. I stare at my cold toast. “Popcorn?” “No way, man, gunshots!” To them I am the perfect idiot, “Oh, yes, I heard shooting…” And so, I think it perfectly natural to add a perfectly idiotic question. “…was it the police?” Astroblema laughs. Jo wipes her nose, and then laughs too. “Goddamn police! … no way. Mato Fechado tried to invade Bufalo, but we held it. They got one of ours, but we cut up three or four of theirs down below…How long we got to fight this war.” Astroblema directs this last sentence to Jo. She sniffles and shrugs her shoulders. “Did anyone from here die?” “I just told you, loser. They killed one of our own.” “Who?” Jo breaks the silence with a moan. I jump out of my chair. Getting used to Jo’s moans is not as easy as sleeping through gunfire. “Do you remember Buiú? The strong one! He was with me last night. They got him. A shot to the neck, here. Just one.”

Buiú. Short, strong, black. Nice to meet you! Goodbye! Less one thing to go wrong for me. I never personally knew someone who died. Mother’s parents were already dead when I was born. I didn’t know them myself. But I’d seen Vovó and Vovô in their photographs. Vovô is a skinny black man with a thin mustache. He is always smiling, eternally erect in a white suit at home in the living room picture frame. Vovó is sitting by his side. She wears a flowery dress, and is always very serious. Vovô dies first. Tuberculosis. Vovó dies soon after. Of sadness, says my mother. Vovô’s name was Sidmar. Vovó’s was Tereza. Just like in the song, Uma Nêga Chamada Tereza . I knew the song, but Vovô Sidmar was a diehard Vasco fan. Grandpa George is a Yankees fan. He and Grandma Liz are still alive and well, in Brooklyn.

Buiú. Well, I knew Buiú personally and then he died. But I didn’t know he was called Buiú, here in this room, in this shack, alive, glazed eyes, carrying an AR-15. I didn’t care for Buiú. Afraid he’d kill me like over nothing, but he didn’t need to die. Could’ve just disappeared. Disappeared right from my sight and everyone else’s forever. Not to be seen any more by anyone. Maybe in living room photographs or memories or dreams. I’m not religious, I don’t believe in ghosts. I am 13. Maybe Buiú’s girlfriend dreams about him sometimes. If he even has a girlfriend. Is the dream Buiú same as the live Buiú? With that glassy expression, does Buiú say the same things in the dream that Buiú says in life? Glassy-eyed, does he say I love you? Who does he say it to? Te amo Jo? Her eyes are red. Aren’t they? I start thinking Jo and Buiú are boyfriend and girlfriend. So I ask a question to change the conversation in my head: “What is Buiú called?” Jo and Astroblema look at each other. “Buiú, duh!”

Just at that moment, He-man rushes in. He is holding his Sig like he is still in combat. Behind him two other skinny black dudes whom I never seen before without masks. One of them carries a loaded shotgun. A good looking piece. It reminds me of one that I’ve seen on the cover of an Ice-T album. Was it Ice Cube? It sure wasn’t Vanilla Ice. The other has a F.A.L. light rifle slung over his shoulder. These two have the same glazed expression as the deceased. Are they three brothers? Will these two die next? Will I die next? He-man paces back and forth tense like he is considering the possibility. Jo and Astroblema are quiet, like they’re also thinking about it.

He-man finally sits on the chair in front of me usually kept empty for the boss. He is breathless. He is sweating buckets. His blue eyes are now suddenly twice their original size. Even his zits are inflamed. I am scared. Jo grabs the nearly empty jelly jar from my hand and leaves the room in a hurry. He-man continues Sig at the ready, breathless, staring with his extra-wide blue eyes. I see that the nameless skinny brothers with glazed eyes are also looking at me. I remember a bad joke: only in Brazil the dealer gets high and the prostitute cums. There is a third crazy thing in the joke, but I can’t remember it .

My heart explodes in my chest. I think my time has come. So this is it. Stale bread and cold butter, skim milk in a jelly jar is my last meal. I lower my gaze. Looking down is a basic necessity for someone as tall as me, even if I’m sitting. I feel sorry for myself, really sorry, so I don’t feel the least bit shameful if I snivel a little. “I don’t want to die,” damned voice cracks, making the sentence even more pathetic. Don’t know if it is what I said, or how I said it, but He-man snaps out of it “Did you hear about Buiú?” I nod. “Shit, Maicon, shit.” I raise my head hearing my name. He isn’t saying it right, but in this parallel universe it is my name. I don’t sense any hostility in He-man’s tone. He is more emotional than when we’ve met before. Maybe it isn’t my time yet. Hope beats in my chest. I hang my head with understanding.
“It is so fucked up, Maicon. The Mato Fechado attacked us with everything they’ve got, which was a lot. Must be a snitch in Búfalo. If I find out who the motherfucker is…” The room is quieter still. “Obviously we’re not bitches, and we are waiting for them, like we’ve been every night. Our guys have anti-aircraft jacked on the stairs, and respond by mowing them down, you get me? Two of them fell there in the middle of Itapiru. A buy on the street today tells me one guy was ripped in half by a .50. Ha! Would’ve loved to see that…. We are there for a long time trading rapid fire around the stairs. Rat-tat-tat, pop-pop-pop. They don’t retreat to their hill, we don’t retreat to the top of ours. Then, dude, they split up and about fifteen jump the scrapheap to climb the pirambeira behind the terreirão, and catch us by surprise. But Buiú, is there behind a tree, na tocaia, good man. Rat-tat-tat, pop-pop-pop. Their guys flee back over the wall, but Buiú is hit in the neck. He falls, blood gushing out of him, until his heart stops. Straight out of a movie. I don’t see it, I am further up, but Acácio sees it all. Fucked up, isn’t it, brother? Acácio was right there and hits one with a shotgun. Messed up shit yo, Maicon, but we’re still standing.” I don’t know what a Itapiru, pirambeira, terreirão, and tocaia are but I understood everything and I ask, in a low thick voice, “When will Buiú be buried?” “He was already. We weren’t going to give him up to the people of Mato Fechado, or to the cops to do it right with a death certificate and everything over at the Catumbi cemetary. He doesn’t have documents, family, a girl nothing. For dust you are and to dust you shall return, isn’t that it? We…. Brought the body up here and buried him in the terreirão, by the woods. He would have liked it. Cool kid, God bless.” I question whether Buiú would have liked any of it. But it is grim to think the corpse is out there, so close. Not that I believe in walking dead or ghosts, it is enough to have known someone who died. I don’t need to risk tripping over his body, buried in a hurry. On the other hand, I appreciate the information that he doesn’t have a girl. If he doesn’t have a girlfriend, Jo is just crying over a friend. Or for some other reason. I ask something else, but my voice cracks, “And now what?” “And now, Maicon, we need you more than ever.”

I feel almost part of the group when I hear him say this, as if we are a team and the coach calls me off the bench with 17 seconds left in a decisive game. He-man pulls a made-in-china cellphone from deep inside his shorts. I can’t help thinking that the cellphone has been near his sweaty balls, but I am not in a position to feel disgust. I am dirty, I’ve peed and cum on myself for two days. I take the cellphone and wait for his orders. “Call home.” “And say what?” “Say you are fine and ask about the ransom. Two hundred thousand bucks in small bills. Tell them to hurry. And talk fast, kid.” I dial my home phone. Mother answers. I force a deep voice: Hi, mom, it’s me, I wanna talk to...” From nowhere, I’m punched in the right temple. I drop the cellphone. I sit swinging like a bowling pin in the chair, but don’t fall. I moan and crack: “I’m a kid…” Again I'm hit in the same place. An almost tender, daddy-slap. I am an idiot. Did I just say I was a child? I deserve to be spanked. Even by that white, greasy blond-haired, third-of-my-size, undernourished pigmy. “In Portuguese!” He-man isn’t American. The skinny dude with an F.A.L strapped to his shoulder picks the made-in-china cellphone off the floor and extends his hand back to me with a gesture that seems almost kind. It surprises me and a “thank you” escapes my lips in English; I’m not slapped for it. I take the phone. At home, mother is screaming hysterically. I am not religious like her, but just then I pray for my voice to deepen to sound like a little man, and I say in Portuguese: “Mommy, Mommy, Mommy…. Nothing has happened. I dropped the cellphone. I’m okay. I want to talk to Dad please.” My prayer results in a tone of voice that apparently reassures my mother. Dad must be standing next to her. I hear his baritone voice say “Hello.”