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Global stories, local voices

By Walid Hajar Rachedi

Lire en français (FR) - version originale | lido em português (PT)

Photo de Walid Rachedi

December 31, 2009, the future shall come. This is the promise of a New Year’s Eve night on Copacabana beach. Izadora and her friends imagine, all in their own way, how will life be like in 2020?

June 2009. On this sheet of paper, Izadora reads her name. Like a second birth certificate.

For a moment, she remains glued staring at it, unable to believe it. If Fabiana, her sister, wasn't right there next to her, if she didn't hear her rejoicing for her on the phone — already making plans with her mother for the rest: “It's going to be a long way from Villa Kennedy. Wouldn't Aunt Lidya have a room for her in Santa Teresa ?” — she would think she was dreaming the whole thing up. But no, she was admitted to the university for real.

When she calls Edilson, he has his very own way of rejoicing for her:

“They're the lucky ones to have you! In terms of level, I ain’t worried for you. I just hope you'll be given a good welcome... They're dry-hearted people.”

Tongue tied. It's hard to make any kind of witty retort. Twenty-four hours in custody. Because of her . In order for her to arrive on time for her test — to the charge of dangerous driving was added the insolent refusal to give away the identity of the girl who fled right before the eyes of the military police. And if Professor Costa hadn’t shown up at the police station, hadn’t made a few phone calls, you can bet that his stay there would have been longer.

These people.

That's what her mother's afraid of, too. After a moment of tears and euphoria, when she saw this event as a gesture of Providence —  Graças a Deus!(‘By the grace of God’),” she kept repeating — she suddenly began to fear for Izadora. That by trying to aim too high, suddenly everything could be taken away from them. Like the world before Noah. She asked Pastor Eraldo if he could protect them from the evil eye. From theolho gordo (“evil eye”). He said he would pray for his daughters. But for it to work, she and Fabiana would have to come to the parish more often. How can you protect your house if you don't take out insurance? Izadora's mother heard herself say out loud. That Sunday, she donated twice to the collection.

In the evening, on TV, when Mariana Silva, former Minister for the Environment and first daughter of a seringueiro (“a latex harvester”) elected to the Senate, announced her intention to leave the PT, Lula's party, with an eye on the next presidential election, Fabiana joked:

“You'll see, one day I’ll be standing up there too!”

Izadora's mother looked panicked. She likes Mariana Silva though. Even if she doesn't really understand her fight for the environment... She's still a believer, and an evangelical to boot. A woman who shares their values. A woman with guts.

“Is it Professor Costa who puts ideas like that in your head? Politics, it’s ruining people”, she said. “Especially people like us.”

Fabiana didn't say anything, but Izadora felt her flex like a bow. She heard her silent revolt. Later, she will remember this scene and think that if her mother hadn't uttered those words in such a resigned tone, what happened next would have been less tragic.

***

November. Izadora moved into a small room at Aunt Lydia's house, on the heights of the Santa Teresa neighbourhood. Santa Teresa? Its colonial houses, pretty cobbled streets, even the favelas are colorful there... It's bacana (“cool”), bohemian, according to her college friends. Bohemian, certainly for the young people of the South Zone who ride up there in a bonde — this falsely vintage canary-yellow electric tramway — on the weekends, to have a drink with a view over Guanabara Bay. Bacana, not really... when it comes to heading home after school at nightfall. If Izadora could go to daytime classes, it would be a different story... But she's in the night group, the one for those who work during the day, older students, less media alta (“upper-middle class”), less white too... Izadora gets along well with the students in her group. They have the same concerns. They speak the same language. With those of the other group, when they work on a project together, it is sometimes complicated. They don't understand her constraints. They imagine that she’s had some kind of free pass. Some have deluded ideas about quotas as miraculous lottery tickets that would have exempted her from any kind of work. Quotas that some professors say would drag the level down, making an unsightly mix that would bastardise the race. She is careful to keep her reaction to herself. Has no desire to share the details of her journey as a fighter. Out of modesty. Out of abhorrence of self-justification.

Fabiana tells her it is her right to be in this university. A hard-won right. By their elders. Nothing will be given to us. Foco. Força. Fé. When she listens to her sister, in spite of her flowery dresses and the smile that never leaves her face, she sometimes has the impression that she's facing the soldier of a war which does not speak its name. Sometimes she would like to find the one with whom she shared childhood games, repeated the choreographies of the baile funk she used to go without her mother’s knowledge.

Like those of the daytime group, Izadora would also like to feel light sometimes. To be able to go straight to Aunt Lydia's house without wondering if once again, an intervention of the Military Police will prevent the vans from circulating. She would like to sip a caipirinha with the others in the vibrant bars of Lapa and then go dancing in a samba casa until night meets day. She would like to feel free, Iza.

Sometimes she would like to press the fast forward button. Waking up one morning: turning thirty. To have a home of her own. A diploma. A job. Someone to hold her. No longer thinking of the day after as an ordeal to face. Knowing her mother wants for nothing. Being a self-confident woman. Confident in her choices. Living, at long last.

*** 

December 31st. Celebration day. The cariocas put on their white clothes. More than a million people are heading for the beaches of the South Zone. Some are holding flowers that they will throw into the sea to honour the goddess Yemanja, protector of fishermen and sailors, a syncretism of African rites and Christian traditions. From the morros (“hills”), one has the best view of the fireworks that will light up the sky at midnight. For one evening, everyone gets their share.

Izadora too has put on her bright clothes. She is supposed to meet Edilson and some other friends from Villa Kennedy in front of Posto 6, at the end of Copacabana beach. But the crowd is dense and her phone is not picking up any signal. She wanders around for a while looking for them. Then she hears a female voice calling her. She turns around: it's Gabriela, one of her college friends. A blonde with laughing eyes. Rather funny for a girl from Sao Paulo. One of the only ones in the daytime group with whom she gets along well. She doesn't know if it's because of her Paulista (“from Sao Paulo”) accent that sounds like the one on TV, but when she speaks in class, she always feels like she's saying something clever. When she heard her talk about her ambitions, Izadora thought: She wants to be a journalist. I just want to make it to the end of the year.  She felt both jealous and admiring — of her voice, of her smooth hair... — to see her assert herself without any ambiguity.

It is with the same assurance that she takes her to a semi-private party on the beach. The space is delimited by barriers on which flags of foreign countries are hoisted. Entrances and exits are controlled by bracelets the guests wear around their wrists. Gabriela overdoes the familiarity with security to make sure that Izadora gets her prize. “I'm with my cousin Antonio and some friends of his from Sao Paulo, they're really nice you'll see!” At the bar, a dark haired boy with round cheeks and the same laughing eyes as Gabriela is waving at them. Next to him is a thinner boy with light eyes. He looks like the Chico Buarque who stayed forever young on her father's bossa nova record sleeves. A Chico Buarque with curly hair.

She can't tell what's special about him, but she finds him something else... Something in his style. Or maybe the way he looks around him, the way he looks at her... Yeah, at her. Izadora doesn't dislike that.

Other students join their group as they reach the bar and hug Antonio and his friend. When Izadora waits for the boy to speak a hesitant Portuguese, she understands that he is a foreigner. She doesn't have time to ask herself about his origins, as Antonio gimmicks: “This is Matteo. He's from Italy. From Rome. He has lived everywhere!” Matteo smiles with an air of someone who is used to being presented as the rare bird. Before Brazil, he’s already been to half a dozen countries on four continents. In São Paulo, the young man works in a language institute, but his dream is to make films. “He's bacana, isn't he!” enthuses Gabriela. “Bacana maybe, but not so clever: what an idea to bury himself in Sao Paulo,” jokes Izadora, who acts like one you won't impress so easily. The little Paulista congregation gently booed her between two bursts of laughter. At the entrance, a different kind of outburst emerges. “Why are you making trouble, I tell you I just want to talk to my friend and I'm leaving!” exclaims a familiar voice to Izadora. She turns around, the tone is rising between Edilson and security. All eyes are on them. Izadora rushes towards the entrance. Gabriela follows in her footsteps. She doesn't hesitate to lie to security to calm the situation. “But of course they are with us! We lost sight of each other in the crowd, my battery was dead!” But it’s not enough to appease security, who wants to see Edilson's ID and that of his two friends. “And why should I show it to you? Are you the police? Besides, this beach is public, isn't it?” Security maintain their position. Edilson, with fire in his eyes and in his voice: “Come on Iza, let's go, it's not a place for us here.” She's stunned, unable to act. In the meantime Antonio and Matteo have joined them. A friend of Edilson's with a bitter voice: “Let it go irmao (‘brother’), let it go. She’s found new friends…” The other continues in the same tone: “Yes, we won't bother ‘the student’.” Finally, Gabriela defuses the situation: “But we can go somewhere else, right, boys? We'll buy some drinks and we'll find a place on the beach to see the fireworks all together, ok?”

***

Half an hour later, once the presentations have been made and a few beers have been popped open, the atmosphere is relaxed in the newly formed group. Only Edilson seems to remain in his bad mood, which he openly manifests when Matteo and his improbable anecdotes from his first months in Brazil become the centre of the conversation:

“Ah yes, for the gringos, Brazil is always beautiful... The caipis, football, the beach, pretty girls... Come to Villa Kennedy, you'll discover another country.”

Matteo argues that at a time when the United States and Europe are feeling the full impact of the financial crisis, Brazil has never experienced such an economic boom, rising from 13th to 7th place in the world, that the country is well placed to host the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games in its wake... And that millions of Brazilians have been lifted out of poverty under Lula's government. Unprecedented.

Izadora likes to hear the bright-eyed Italian talk about this unknown country with the same name as hers. How beautiful is this Brazil dreamed of by Matteo, a country in which everything would prosper, with fertile soils and subsoils, where the illiterate worker could become president, where the original interbreeding of its people would protect it from racism, and its cordiality would protect it from the cruelty of men...

“This is the country of the future…” Edilson mocks.

Matteo, who did not perceive the irony of this phrase that has become proverbial in Brazil — that of a long promised future that never came to be — is enthusiastic:

“Exactly, the future is Brazil!”

And Gabriela, to set a lighter tone to the conversation, comments:

“I'd say that even in Brazil we're already in the future... Look at this one!” she amuses herself, pointing at a street vendor with glittery cardboard glasses which look like the number 2020 on the tip of his nose. An idea that boosts his business: people are queuing up at his canteen both for the fruit Caipirinhas and to take a picture of the future.

And the small group starts dreaming aloud of what 2020 could look like: Gabriela would like to have become a journalist and have lived in Paris. Matteo would like to have made films and see them projected in an art house cinema in Rome where he used to go when he was a teenager. Edilson's friends dream of a thriving business, of beautiful cars, of year-round tables in the posh nightclubs of Ipanema and Barra da Tijuca, of holidays in Florida, at Disney. Izadora points to the top floor of a building overlooking the beach, where she could see herself living:

“It would be a big apartment, a very big apartment... My mother and sister could come whenever they want. They would have their own room!”

Izadora sees a strange glow, something almost painful, passing through Edilson's eyes. She doesn't know how to interpret it. 

“And you, Edilson, where do you see yourself in 2020?”

To this question, Edilson stands up without a word. Then after a few steps, he turns around and with a forced smile on his face says:

“I'm going to get cigarettes... I'll be right back.”

None of his friends have enough time to point out they have cigarettes to share with him... Edilson has already disappeared in the compact crowd. Izadora looks for him, tries to find him with her eyes. To no avail.

2020 is a utopia. 2010, however, is finally shaping up with the sound and colours of fireworks. For a moment, a brief moment, the vision fogged by the foam of her beer and by these bronze, ivory and ebony bodies walking together towards the sea, her feet in this brown sugar sand, her face turned towards the sky with a thousand sparks, Izadora wants to believe that she was born in the most beautiful place on Earth. That the chaos will never prevail over beauty.

Her father's saudades.

So when the countdown comes to an end and everyone hugs to wish each other the best for the year, better still, for the decade to come, she gives in to the urge for that kiss she's had in mind since that moment when Matteo stared at her in that funny way. She gives in to his lips and his gaze, but she gives in even more to this crazy hope that the future Matteo talked about has brought about in her, a future that would only wait for her to be fulfilled.

***

In the morning, Izadora wakes up with a dreadful headache, her body aching as if she has been beaten up during the night. She buries her head in the pillow, a thousand images telescope in her head... The image of a dream, both foggy and strangely detailed, where surreal events and familiar faces intermingle. She has dreamt of huge demonstrations in Brazil, of the sound of pots and pans resounding from the windows of big cities, of a woman elected President deposed live on television, of the national team humiliated at home during the World Cup... Really, what an imagination! Izadora wonders where she got all that... With her eyes still closed, she pats her hand next to her bed. Strange, she doesn't recognize the texture of the floor... She opens her eyes, has the confirmation of what she had sensed: the bed she slept in is not hers. The room she is in is unknown to her. The pretty lace she's wearing too. But whose house did she sleep at? She walks to the window and steps on a device on the floor. She picks it up: it's a telephone. Or rather a kind of iPhone. She's already seen one in the window of one of those shops at Leblon Shopping where the latest technological gadgets sparkle like diamonds, but this model seems even flatter, more elegant.... She pushes a button at random, and the incomprehensible thing is that it's her picture in the background. And this date... What does this date mean? March 16, 2020... What the fuck is this bullshit?! She exclaims. She feels her heart clenching in her chest, a whiff of panic beginning to mount. She rushes to the window and pulls the long double curtain whose noble manner slips through her fingers. It's a huge bay window overlooking the beach of Copacabana... where she was celebrating the end of the decade 2000 only yesterday. And that reflection in the glass, who does it belong to? Who's the straight-haired girl who borrowed her face?

There's a knock on the door. Izadora jumps, hides her half-naked body behind the curtain. In the doorway, a familiar male voice:

Amore, you're awake...? Do you want me to make you a coffee before you go to work? I would have liked to go with you to the hospital... What happened to your sister is terrible... but this morning it's complicated at the agency…”

“Matteo...?! What the hell are you doing here? And what am I doing here?

Don't miss the next stories... !

About the author

Walid Hajar Rachedi

Co-Founder of Frictions and Director of Publication. I'm an author and a digital expert. And an incurable globetrotter. I've lived in several foreign cities. I speak five languages. And the greatest gift I can be given is to be told a good story.

  • Mini-série | Podcast
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    Nostalgia for the Future
    Ep 1/3 - Villa Kennedy
    Today is a big day for Izadora: it’s the beginning of the admissions tests for a prestigious University of the South Zone. Far from her world.
  • Mini-série | Podcast
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    Nostalgia for the Future
    Ep 2/3 – Run, Iza, Run
    Stuck in traffic, Iza is losing all hope of making it in time for her exam. But for Edilson, who's taking her, giving up is out of question!