Illustration: Somnath Bhatt.

Woke up blowtorches blazing. For real, not even nine a.m. and my crib was like melting. Couldn’t even see the rising damp in the living room, everything dry. Only the stains left: the saint, the gun, the dinosaur. Clear it was gonna be one of those days when you walking ’round and the sky’s all fogged up, things shiftin’ about like you hallucinating. Check it, even the breeze from the fan was hot, like the devil’s fuggy breath.

My old lady had left two reals on the table for bread. Add to that another one-eighty and I could pay a one-way ticket at least, just had to sneak on dirty on the way out, when things chiller. Trouble was I’d turned the place upside down before hitting the sack, chasing coins for a loosey. Trick would be to sink the two reals into some bread, fix up a coffee, head to the beach with a full stomach. Fryin’ at home just wasn’t gonna fly. For kids like us, riding dirty’s a cinch, the parley’s slick.

Hit up Vitim at his place, then we rolled up to Cueball’s and dropped in on Mish and Mash. So far everybody in the same boat: hard up, dopeless, wanting to chill beachside. But Mash saved. Spent all night lending his buddies a hand with the package, so they threw him some bud. Crumbs left over from the kilo. Even got his hands on a capsule full of coke. Trouble was he wanted to bum around at home ’stead of coming with us. Mash’s crazy. No way he gonna sleep under that star. Folks said on the beach he could just kick back, eyeball some babes, go for a dive to cool his dome. Be cruisin’ by the time he got home, sleep like a baby. Mash said he’d throw a joint our way, but he was gonna chill at home, for real. Luckily, Vitim stirred him to snort a line to keep rumbling. Think that’s all he wanted, a partner to blow with so he wouldn’t roll alone, feelin’ down. Those kids straight-up love that junk, never seen a thing like it. Ten a.m., the sun’s slaying, and they stickin’ their sniffers in snow.

Never done cola. I remember one day my brother came home from work lookin’ all troubled, boladão, then called me to fire up with him in the back. Could tell straightaway he wanted to talk man-to-man. Reason for his bolação was a friend he grew up with had died, outta the blue. OD’d. He was on his bike, blasted outta his mind, prolly mission-bound, when he went down. Hit the ground stiff. Kid was my brother’s age at the time, pô. Twenty-two! Never seen my bro like that, the two of them real tight. Then, he had words for me: best stick to weed. No coke, no crack, no pills, none of that shit. I should stay away from loló, too, ’cause that huff will melt your brain. And then there was all those kids who died of cardiac arrest ’cause they OD’d on that crap. That day, swore to him and to myself I’d never snort coke. Never mind crack, you crazy, that shit’s lose-lose. Sometimes I’ll do loló at a baile funk, but I take it easy. Now I see he was straight, you gotta stick to weed, even booze is junk. Get a load o’ this, on my birthday I was crazy-wasted, clowning. Why? Cachaça! Worst thing is I can’t remember nothin’. First, I’m boozin’ at Mish and Mash’s joint, playing cards, next thing I know I’m at home, filthy. ’Nother day, they lay it all on me. Said I been messing with some girls on the street, even followed a young piece down an alley. Talk of all kinds of dumb-ass clowning. Some fool catches me pullin’ that and I’m sure to get my ass beat. Clap your eyes on that.

Driver didn’t blink twice when our crew climbed in the back, bus was like full-up, with mad people, beach chairs, everybody sweaty, tight as tuna. Shit was grim. What got me through was just spacing, watching Mash and Vitim, the two fools bruxed outta their minds, chomping on their cheeks. Seriously, don’t get why dudes do drugs just to get down on themselves, all paranoid ’bout everything. Like that time when Cueball and me was blazing on tia’s terrace. Then Eightball sprouts outta nowhere with two paraíbas who’d just come down from their homeland. Shit, menó . . . The paraíbas went all out, snortin’ one line after another, their eyes this wide, their teeth gnashin’. Then one of them bombed-out fools starts hearing sounds where there ain’t none and we laughin’ our asses off. Eightball, who’s a joker, too, loosened his lips and started spinnin’ that some cops was hiding on the next terrace over the way, ready to pounce. The paraíbas shat themselves in no time, flew off the terrace. Shit was rich! Fools dartin’ about on the street, buggin’ out, ducking behind walls, shit-scared the cops would sprout.

Real raid came ’bout a week later, that’s when they took Jean from us, too. No joke, I don’t even like to think on it, y’know, he was a good kid. All he wanted was to play his game, and boy was he a natural. Folks still saying to this day he coulda made it to the big leagues. Kid had a spot playing ball for Madureira, soon enough he’d be called to Flamengo or even a team like Botafogo. There, set! Seriously miss that son of a bitch, for real. Player was even playin’ at his own funeral, four of his girls standing next to his ma, crying. Those police are all-out cowards, steppin’ in on a holiday, guns blazin’, folks out on the street, prime time to hit a kid. Should straight-up pump their blue asses full of slugs.

We hit the beach with the sun full-on blazin’, babes sunnin’ themselves, tails in the air, real chill. I dashed to the ocean, pulled some mad dives, cut through waves. Water was lush. Couldn’t believe it when I came out and spotted the gang lookin’ like they just stepped in shit. Trouble was some police in the area, scopin’ us. Everybody ready to skin up, and there they be. Those beach cops are rough. Some days they lay the pressure on extra thick. To me, it’s only one of two things: either they all smoke hounds itchin’ to get high on other folks’ weed, or they pushers wanting to sell grass to gringos and playboys, or hell knows. All I know’s that when I see a cop break a sweat I get uneasy. Ain’t good, for sure.

When motherfuckers finally cleared out, ’nother perrengue: nobody’s got skins. Real drag, ain’t it, menó? Bunch o’ iron lungs and no skins in sight. Worst thing is we wasted all this time just on determinin’ who’d go after the rags. Nobody wanting to ask the playboy potheads on the beach, all triflin’, acting like they hot shit. When playboys on their own, they eye you kinda scared, like you schemin’ to jump ’em. But when they with their buddies, they act like they the ones gonna come after you. Shit’s foda, effed up.

Mish and Cueball tried their luck but came back empty-handed. These two kids nearby looked like they fierce into tokin’. Been showin’ off ever since we hit the beach. Somebody comes by with Matte Leão, they buy it, with cookies, they buy it, açaí, they buy it, freeze pops, they buy it. Must of had some crazy-ass munchies. Already spotted a couple of boys eyein’ them, waiting to strike. And fools just standing there, panguando, thinking they in Disneyland or some shit. Not to mention the dudes dressed as workers studyin’ anybody with a bag, just waiting on the right time. That’s what really gets me, shorty, menó. They just standing there, heads in the clouds. Then, when Mish and Cueball roll up to ask them something, all humble like, they get worked up, start shufflin’ like they gotta guard their gear, glancin’ about to see if any cops around. Bitch, please! Somebody really should mug these motherfuckers. Wasn’t for my ma, I’d swipe all kinds of stuff off the blacktop, no joke, just outta spite. Trouble is my old lady’s real uptight. Specially after what happened to my brother. She’s always goin’ on ’bout how if I end up in juvie at Padre Severino she’ll never look me in the eyes again. Shit’s wack.

If I hadn’t stepped up, we woulda been screwed, for sure. Menós took another spin but no dice. Just some cheap napskins from a guy at the kiosk hopin’ to blaze with us. Nobody wants to hear ’bout napskins no more, now it’s all ’bout Smoking papers. Back in the day, folks used anything to smoke, notebook paper, bakery bags. Now it’s all this fussy memeia. I hit the sidewalk and the jackpot: got my hands on a red skin. If you skillful in the roll, you can even cut a piece in half, make two blunts. Blew buddies’ minds.

And it was dead easy, too, I just asked this rasta hawkin’ reggae bracelets. Brother was solid, even threw me a cigarette. Told me to stay smart, that the pigs feelin’ vicious these days. Somebody had popped a Bolivian in the sand, so the brass was comin’ down hard on the beach, fearing more people might go down, ’haps even a local or a gringo, and then shit would fly, y’know? Making headlines and TV programs like Balanço Geral, that kinda chaos.

But the pigs out to lunch, ain’t nobody dying here. Nah. Stuff was chill, the biz had been ’bout monies owed and now the fool who zeroed the Bolivian was takin’ a break from the beach. Rasta said to stay on my toes if I was plannin’ any tricks, but I said I was chill, just wanting to dig the beach, smoke my spliff on the down-low. He said I should never lose faith in God. Rasta was fly. Child of the Maranhão. Said weed up there’s bountiful, everybody smokes, he started when he was ten, just like me.

After the blunt, I started trippin’, watching seagulls flyin’ on high. When I looked straight at the sun, everything glowed, way mellow, way marola. When I couldn’t handle the heat no more, I doused my buzz in the water. That was the best part: catching crazy waves, just rockin’, lettin’ my body marola on the water till it dropped me in the sand. Then we all started battling to see who could stay underwater the longest. Mad perrengue: we all a bunch of smokers!

But steppin’ outta the water, we peeped the wildest thing: playboys who nickel-and-dimed us on the skins was takin’ selfies, acting like they divas or some shit. When they went to look, nothing left to see. Two young kids flew by, taking their backpacks with all their stuff, then ducked into the mobbed beach. Playboys stood there like bait, cells in hand, panguando. Then another kid rolls by and swipes their cells, too. That’ll teach ’em not to be suckers. Laughed our asses off, the menós and me. Jokers split with only their sarongs in hand. Then I started thinking ’bout them hotfootin’ shorties. They all hustlers, and the rasta said the beach was crawling with fuzz. I was rooting for them to dodge the pigs, you feel?

Next we know it’s near dark and we got mad-ass munchies that, no joke, was like forty beggars and twenty Catholics all rolled up in one. Time to split. And that’s when shit went nonlinear. We’re walkin’ all chill like, on our way to the bus stop, when we spot some cops coming down hard on a couple kids. Thing was they saw us, too, no time to even turn ’round and take another street. Up until then, menó, we didn’t owe them nothing, crime was all in the mind, no fear. Just kept walkin’.

Just as we’re passing the lineup with the kids facing the wall, sons of bitches tell us to roll up, too. Then they come out with this gab that if you got no money for a bus ticket you goin’ downtown, you got way more money than a bus ticket, you goin’ downtown, got no ID, you goin’ downtown. Shit, my blood boiled double-time, no joke. I thought, I’m screwed; by the time I tell my old lady a pig’s snout ain’t no power outlet, she’ll have beat my ass.

Didn’t think twice. Ditched my flip-flops right then and there and scrammed. Cop yelled he was gonna get me. I felt sick, for real, just tore off, shitting myself, didn’t even look back to see what was up. I thought of my brother and of us playing ball together on the street. He was always quicker than me, mad-fast. I was runnin’ almost as fast as him, outta despair. Nearly cried with rage. I knew Luiz was no X9, that he’d never exnine on nobody. My bro died as bait, for nothin’. Instead of any one of those fools the world’s full-up on. Always fills me with rage.

My body went head-to-toe cold, sure I’d been made. My time had come. My old lady was gonna be left with no sons at all, all on her own in that house. I pictured Seu Tranca Rua, my grandma’s protector, then Jesus, my aunts’. Don’t know how I was managing to run, menó, for real, my whole body felt tight, everything stiff, you know? Everybody on the street lookin’ at me. I turned my head to see if the pig was still on my ass, but he’d turned back to pat down those other boys. I was in the clear.


Excerpted from The Sun on My Head: Stories by Geovani Martins.

Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux June 11th 2019.

Copyright © 2018 by Geovani Martins.

Translation copyright © 2019 by Julia Sanches. All rights reserved.

Geovani Martins

Geovani Martins was born in 1991 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He grew up with his mother and grandmother in the Rio neighborhood of Rocinha. He supported his writing by working as a sandwich-board man and selling drinks on the beach, and was discovered during creative writing workshops at Flup, the literary festival of the Rio favelas. The Sun on My Head is his first book.

Julia Sanches

Brazilian by birth, Julia Sanches has lived in the United States, Mexico, Switzerland, Scotland, and Catalonia. She translates works from Portuguese, Spanish, Catalan, and French. Her translations have appeared in Granta, Suelta, The Washington Review, Asymptote, Two Lines, and Revista Machado, among other publications.