Read Childhood of the Dead Online

Authors: Jose Louzeiro,translated by Ladyce Pompeo de Barros

Tags: #FIC037000 FICTION / Political

Childhood of the Dead

BOOK: Childhood of the Dead
9.42Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub





Translated into English by





Published by Boson Books

3905 Meadow Field Lane

Raleigh, NC 27606

Previous editions titled:

An imprint of
C&M Online Media Inc

Translated from the Portuguese: Jose Louzeiro,
, 5th edition (Sao Paulo: Global, 1987) [ISBN 85-260-0181-7]

ISBN 1-886420-11-4

Translation Copyright 1995 Jose Louziero and Ladyce Pompeo De Barros

All rights reserved

For Information contact

C&M Online Media Inc.

3905 Meadow Field Lane

Raleigh, NC 27606

Tel: (919) 233-8164

e-mail:[email protected]


Cover art by Joel Barr

Design by D. F. McAllister

To Eduardo Tavares

The facts which substantiate this narrative were taken from our bitter daily experience. The author did not worry about arranging them chronologically nor did he abstain from describing brutal situations which show well the level of dehumanization at which society has arrived.

“There are 15 million needy or abandoned children in Brazil, waiting for help. They represent about one third of the 48 million 226 thousand 718 Brazilians [48,226,718] between the ages of zero to 18, geographically distributed as: North (3.83%), Northeast (31.64%), Southeast (42.91%), South (16.64%) and Center-West (5.08%).”

—Jornal do Brasil, April 5th, 1976



The morning was cool and clear. Pichote shoved aside the newspapers, looked at the day just beginning and at the people who rushed in and out of the train station. He got up before the policemen arrived, around six in the morning, to beat up whomever they could catch. This was the fourth time he'd slept at the station and escaped the guards. Dito would not believe it. When he woke up on the first morning it was still dark. In fact, he'd not been able to sleep well. On the second, he woke up with the noise of the newspaper vendors and the barman raising their shops' iron doors. On the next, he'd felt someone rummaging through in his pockets. It was a black dude, smiling and drunk, pocket knife poised. He didn't shout, didn't say anything, as the guy went through his pockets until he found the one thousand cruzeiros bill. Pichote felt like running after him, swearing, but he knew that would be risky. That's why he curled up again. He'd cried quietly, and crying, fell asleep. He then woke up with the noise of trucks delivering newspapers.

This time, what made him get up so early was the appointment with Dito, Manguito and Smokey. Crystal would show up, deliver the stuff; they would return to the station and go as stowaways to Sao Paulo. Pichote had never been there. The plan fascinated him. He couldn't remember greater excitement: to travel, to walk in unknown streets, with taller buildings than Rio. He was left speechless, just listening to Dito's descriptions. He rejoiced in having met him, and was even happier realizing they had become friends. Though he was the youngest in the group, it was he whom Dito had chosen.

Pichote was eleven and feeling rather cocky for his three years in the streets. Sinking his hands in his pockets, he hopped around the crowd arriving at the station, he twirled and laughed at their serious faces and at their severe looks. His canvas shoes were frayed, his pants revealed most of his skinny shins. He stuck a dirty yellow hand out to beg, a fat man shoved him with indifference, women who walked by talking loudly and laughing made an effort to ignore his presence; but Pichote did not give up, until an old woman in mourning opened her purse and took out a worthless bill. He held it with a smile showing his tiny teeth, two of them overlapping on the side of the mouth. Before walking away, the woman's eyes ran over his filthy clothes, his buttonless shirt exposing his belly.

He skipped about in the crowd, he sang dirty little songs, laughed, pulled a student's skirt, messed up the dessert tray the Bahian woman carried, stopped at the door of the bar, the owner sending him away; he slipped among students and decided to say he hadn't eaten in two days and had no change for coffee. The tallest student gave him some coins, another was hard pressed to find a small bill like the one the woman in black had given him.

Pichote had no complaints that fresh and clear morning. Now he just needed to get on a bus and pay for his ticket. He needed to avoid any problem with the ticket taker. To go from the station to the cemetery on foot was impossible. He'd already walked longer distances, but he couldn't get there on foot and be on time to meet Dito. No doubt about it: with the old woman's bill he would have a coffee and with the rest he would make sure to have a place on the bus.

Putting the cup back on the counter, which was almost as tall as he was, he ran to the line and disappeared in the crowd formed suddenly at the bus door. He shoved and got shoved. A young woman in glasses called him a punk; a man with an attaché case tried to thump him on the head. He dove in the confusion of legs and bodies, resurfacing next to the ticketeer with money in hand; the stupid-looking guy was grateful he didn't have to come up with change.

He pushed through turnstyle and sought the seat next to the driver. The running engine caused the entire chassis to shudder. The seats were progressively taken, when none were left, passengers held on as they could, some grabbed the overhead rail, others the edges of their seats. The driver vaulted into his seat like a gymnast, and engaged the gear. Pichote paid no more attention to the people elbowing each other in the aisle.

He looked at the streets full of cars, at the avenues, at the public squares and the sleepy air the city seemed to have. There were streaks of fog in the
tree branches around the church, there were cottony flakes floating in the waters of the lake where he'd often washed himself. The driver was oblivious to Pichote's little discoveries. He used the brakes brusquely at the avenue's light, in front of the movie theater and swerved violently into a curve underneath the overpass. Then, they passed mansions surrounded by trees, a police barracks, repair shops and one or two schools where students on the sidewalks waited for the bell to ring.

Close to the cemetery, Pichote pulled the cord and other people did the same. He stood up, almost sorry not to go to the end of the line, and hurried to step out. He took a side street where the cement sidewalk had holes and burned-candle stubs at the foot of the long lugubrious wall. Heavy iron gates were covered with sheetmetal painted in black.

He imagined the gates and the wall were to keep the souls from running away, just as they did in prisons or in the children's home, where he had lived for six months until Starry managed to spring him.

He stopped where the candles were more numerous, started to mash the melted wax with the toe of his shoe and to remember Starry's life, who was in there, way beyond the large tombs. At night was his soul able to jump over the wall and the tall gates?

He would have remembered more things about Starry, from the time he got to know him at the children's home, had he not heard Dito's whistle and seen him together with Smokey in front of a florist. He didn't know why they were there, but he hurried over.


“Hey man, you're already screwing up,” Dito said when Pichote arrived. “I didn't know where you was at.”

“I had to get some dough.”

“What about the other day's ten thousand cruzeiros?”

“I got me some chow, and for Encravado and Mother's Scourge. It was just enough.”

Dito found that funny.

“Never mind. There's still time for Crystal to show up. Cool it.”

“Why do we have to wait here?”

“'Cause we do,” Smokey answered, his pockets full of cookies.

“When Manguito shows up we go.”

“Where's he at?”

“Coming around by the side of the cemetery. I don't trust Crystal. He's already screwed us up once,” Dito explained.

“And why do we have to fuck with him?” asked Pichote a little alarmed.

“He has the dough, we got to chance it. Shut your face and everything will be fine,” Smokey insisted.

His friend's confidence pleased Pichote. He took the cookie Smokey offered him while Dito got another one. Pichote wished to ask for more but was afraid of being yelled at. Dito got more cookies again. Pichote watched Smokey go through his pockets.

“Want some?” Smokey asked.

“Give him more, this guy ain't had a nibble today,” said Dito.

Smokey found that funny.

“Eat, or you kick the bucket, man. You'll go there to stiff city, like Starry.”

Pichote was about to answer when Manguito showed up running, shirt in hand, sweating and breathless.

“Crystal is calling us to the bar.”

Dito sat on the curb. At first he said nothing. Manguito played with his shirt. Pichote and Smokey sat beside him.

“What's he up to?”

“I dunno,” answered Manguito, still breathless. “He said he has the weed.”

“And who is at the bar with him?” Smokey asked.

“From what I saw, nobody. He'll be playing pool until we show up.”

“Did you case the outside of the bar? That's what we wanna know, man,” Dito said angrily.

“Sure! Do you think I am dumb?”

“Then, let's go,” Dito said. “We'll go through the cemetery or we won't get there on time.””There's a good place on the other side,” explained Manguito, taking the lead.

The first to try climbing was Smokey. He was barefooted, his feet calloused; he supported himself as well as he could in the fence's iron curls; going up he waved for his companions to follow. Then, it was Pichote's turn. Dito helped him.

As they jumped into the cemetery they tried to hide behind the tombs and the tall grass. They sprinted in small stretches and went back to crouching to escape the workers.

They arrived at an alley of big trees planted in careful lines. Dito spotted an old man with a mean face and told the others to keep down. After a second sign they resumed walking. They'd already covered a good part of the way, but still had far to go.

“Jeez, so many stiffs around here!” said Smokey.

Dito looked at him but made no comment. He didn't want jokes at a time when they had to be so careful.

When they crossed one of the alleys they saw a cortege going by, men leading the coffin carrying flowers. Pichote's eyes opened wide. He didn't like being there, crawling among the tombs. And at each inscription he saw and could barely read, he remembered Starry.

He'd like to know where his friend was buried, he would like to put flowers on his grave on the way back. When Dito ordered them to walk faster, he forgot Starry. He mustn't lag behind, nor go too far ahead. It was silly to be worried about Starry, when he needed to be on the alert.

Smokey sneaked by his side. By now Pichote didn't recall why they hadn't gone around the outside. He'd like to know why. They were taking too many risks and for nothing. He'd ask Dito the reason for that as soon as they set foot outside the cemetery.

They reached the sector where there were no imposing tombs. Common now were the low graves, where grass grew. Some still showed old paintings, others were completely blackened. The flower vases had been broken or simply didn't exist. The inscriptions were covered by moss and there were no trees around to give them shade.

That state of abandonment left Pichote alarmed. If they had buried poor Starry there, then he had been practically thrown away. And despite knowing Dito would be angry, he could not avoid the question:

“Is Starry around here?”

Dito looked at him without anger, shook his head silently, while observing the alley of loose dirt, for he was sure he had caught sight of a caretaker behind a pile of dirt and bricks.

They crawled for a little longer. Dito told them to stop. Despite his effort he could not see the man again. He even thought he was wrong. But at the same time, he was sure he'd seen him. He couldn't be confused.

The space they had to cross, the last one before reaching the foot of the wall, was very open. They could easily be seen. That was why he had to be sure about that caretaker. And what was worse: if he were hiding, it would be because he wanted to surprise them. Perhaps he saw Manguito go by and wanted to catch them, take them to the administration office, and accuse them of coming to steal marble.

Dito watched and grew certain that was it. Even if they ran, they wouldn't have time to jump. Soon the employee would come, perhaps with two or three others. He was sure he would be able to jump over the wall easily but he didn't think Smokey and Pichote could do it.

He got a stone and threw it toward the pile of dirt and brick. He saw clearly when the man's cap appeared. There was no question he was waiting for them to run. He looked at Manguito, Smokey, Pichote, and thought it best to tell them what was going on. He did it as if telling a secret.

“We have to run as hard as we can. I'll help Pichote, you push Smokey up to the top,” he said to Manguito.

There was no waiting. The longer they waited, the worse it would be. He looked at Pichote again, saw him holding some drooping flowers he wished to place on Starry's tomb.

“Throw that away!”

Pichote shook his head.

“If we pass by his grave, I'll put the flowers on it.”

Dito knew that wasn't possible. They couldn't go about looking for Starry's inscription, even if there was one. But, by the same token, he didn't want to pass on to his friends the fear that had come over him. Few times had he felt this way, driven into a corner, with no chance of escaping.

What if the custodian were in fact a security guard?

The guard would wait for them to climb the wall, to have a better target. Why hadn't he thought about this before? The other option was to retreat cautiously to the alley where they'd seen the cortege following the coffin. They could probably hide. On the other hand, they wouldn't reach the slum where Crystal was. No. The idea of retreating didn't appeal to him. It was a kind of defeat. They'd have to reach the slum by the steep alley at the end of the stone paved street, where the stoolpigeons and dealers were. They'd want to know about things, would force an answer,and then all work would have been lost. There was only one way left: each one, by himself, would run to the wall and would try to jump over it. If the guy with the cap got out of his burrow, Dito would be able to hit him with a stone. If there were two, Manguito would help. They wouldn't be the ones to screw up a deal with Crystal.

Speaking as quietly as he could, Dito tried to explain the plan. Smokey's eyes appeared scared but, even so, he was able to show a bright smile. Pichote didn't seem bothered. The wall he saw two hundred meters away didn't look difficult for him to jump. He had already faced worse situations, and he couldn't be unworthy of his companions' trust, especially now.

“Do you think you can jump?”

Pichote smiled, showing only his tiny yellow teeth.

“When you get there, don't panic. When it's time to jump to the outside, don't fall apart because it seems high.”

None of this appeared to scare Pichote. He tightened his belt, and was ready to go. Dito, for his part, grabbed stones, looking towards the dirt pile. Pichote ran, at first squatting and later, freely. He was already close to the wall and not a sign of the man in the cap. Yet, they heard two dry shots.

BOOK: Childhood of the Dead
9.42Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee
Undertow by Elizabeth O'Roark
A Murder In Passing by Mark de Castrique
Amongst the Dead by David Bernstein
While We're Far Apart by Lynn Austin
Mending the Bear by Vanessa Devereaux
Cosmic Bounty by Unknown