The Sun on My Head: Stories

The Sun on My Head: Stories


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A bestselling literary sensation in Brazil, a powerful debut short-story collection about favela life in Rio de Janeiro

In The Sun on My Head, Geovani Martins recounts the experiences of boys growing up in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro in the early years of the twenty-first century. Drawing on his childhood and adolescence, Martins uses the rhythms and slang of his neighborhood dialect to capture the texture of life in the slums, where every day is shadowed by a ubiquitous drug culture, the constant threat of the police, and the confines of poverty, violence, and racial oppression. And yet these are also stories of friendship, romance, and momentary relief, as in “Rolézim,” where a group of teenagers head to the beach. Other stories, all uncompromising in their realism and yet diverse in narrative form, explore the changes that occur when militarized police occupy the favelas in the lead-up to the World Cup, the cycles of violence in the narcotics trade, and the feelings of invisibility that define the realities of so many in Rio’s underclass.

The Sun on My Head is a work of great talent and sensitivity, a daring evocation of life in the favelas by a rising star rooted in the community he portrays.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780374223779
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date: 06/11/2019
Pages: 128
Sales rank: 719,185
Product dimensions: 5.25(w) x 7.75(h) x 0.55(d)

About the Author

Geovani Martins was born in 1991 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He grew up with his mother in the Rio neighbourhood of Vidigal. 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 translates from Portuguese, Spanish, French, and Catalan. She has translated works by Susana Moreira Marques, Noemi Jaffe, Daniel Galera, Claudia Hernández, and Liliana Colanzi, among others. Her work has also appeared in Two Lines, Granta, Tin House, Words Without Borders, and Electric Literature. She is a founding member of the Cedilla & Co. translators’ collective, and currently lives in Providence, Rhode Island.

Read an Excerpt




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.



It started really early. I didn't understand. Once I began walking home from school on my own, I noticed this shifting. First with the kids from the private school on the corner of my school's street — they shook whenever my crew walked past. It was weird, funny even, because at our school my pals and I didn't scare anybody. Quite the opposite, we spent our lives running from bigger, stronger kids who were braver and more violent. As I walked around Gávea in my school uniform, I felt like one of those boys who bullied me in class. Especially when I passed in front of the private school, or when an old lady crossed the street, clutching her bag so she wouldn't bump into me. There were times, back then, when I enjoyed that feeling. But, as I said, I didn't understand a thing about what was going on.

People say that, compared to other favelas, in the North or West, or in the Baixada Fluminense, living in a favela in the South Zone is a privilege. In a way, I see why they'd think this, I guess it makes sense. What people don't often talk about is that in the South Zone, unlike in other favelas, the abyss that marks the border between the hill and the blacktop runs much deeper. It's rough walking out of those alleys, sharing the stairs with pipes upon pipes, stepping over open sewage drains, staring down rats, swerving your head to dodge electrical lines, and spotting your childhood friends carrying weapons of war only to be faced fifteen minutes later with a condominium with ornamental plants decorating its metal gates, and spying teenagers at their private tennis lessons. It's all too close and too far. And the more we grow, the taller the walls become.

I'll never forget my first chase. It all started in the way I hated the most: me, so distracted I was frightened by the person's fear and, next thing I knew, I was driving it, I was the threat. I caught my breath, my tears, stopped myself, more than once, from cursing out the old woman who was so obviously flustered about having to stand next to me, and only me, at that bus stop. But instead of moving away, as I always did, I inched closer. She'd try to look over her shoulder without seeming to watch me, I'd draw nearer. She started looking about her, searching for help, her eyes pleading, then I came right up next to her and looked directly at her purse, pretending to be interested in what it might hold, trying to seem capable of anything to get what I wanted. She walked away from the bus stop, her steps slow. I watched her drifting from me. I didn't quite understand what I was feeling. Then, without blinking, I started following the old woman. She soon noticed. She grew alert, stiff, her tension stretched to the limit. She tried to pick up her pace so that she could reach someplace, anyplace, as quickly as possible. But on that street it was like only the two of us existed. Now and then I'd pick up speed, savoring that fear, full of the dust of another time. Then, I'd slow down again, give her room to breathe. I don't know how long it all lasted, probably no more than a few minutes, but, to us, it had seemed like a lifetime. Until she stepped into a café and I kept on walking.

The whirlwind over, I felt disgusted for taking it so far, thinking of my grandma and of how this old woman probably had grandkids, too. But my guilt was short-lived. Soon, I remembered how that same old woman who'd trembled with fear before I'd given her reason to certainly hadn't given any thought to how I probably also had a grandma, a mother, family, friends, all those things that make our freedom worth much more than a purse, domestic or imported.

Even though it sometimes seemed crazy to me, I couldn't stop, because they wouldn't either. My victims were varied: men, women, teenagers, the elderly. Despite this diversity, there was always something that brought them together, as if they all belonged to the same family and were trying to protect a common patrimony.

Then came the loneliness. It became harder and harder to cope with any day-to-day things. I couldn't even focus on my books. I didn't care if it was raining or shining, whether Flamengo or Fluminense were playing on Sunday, if Carlos had split up with Jaque or there was a special promotion on at the movies. My friends didn't get it. I couldn't explain the reason for my absence, and so, little by little, I felt myself drifting away from the people who mattered to me most.


Excerpted from "The Sun on My Head"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Geovani Martins.
Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Title Page,
Copyright Notice,
Lil Spin,
Russian Roulette,
The Case of the Butterfly,
The Tale of Parakeet and Ape,
Bathroom Blonde,
The Tag,
The Trip,
The Mystery of the Vila,
Padre Miguel Station,
The Blind Man,
The Crossing,
A Note About the Author and Translator,

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