Black dad

For him

My dad is Black.

When I was 11, we went to live in his adolescence, over by the dirt pitch in Morro Dunga, Jardim Miriam. When he left he still had a big afro, but when I turned 11 he was already balding, he’d say I was to blame and I’d laugh ’til I went scarlet. On the way to school I’d be walking past and I’d see my teenage dad shouting to them to pass the ball across the pitch, “there were about 10 of us, only Tavinho’s still alive”.

My dad worked in central São Paulo for a long time before landing a payment plan for the boxy white Gol that took us to and from Guarujá. My dad used to take the bus into the city, down as far as Avenida Cupecê to catch the first one of the day, “do you remember the dictatorship, dad?”, “yes, in those days they’d ask for your work permit before they beat you up”.

I used to ask about fighting the generals and all he’d say was how his ears used to get so cold.

I used to ask about the rallies and the secrets but he’d talk about how his hands would be freezing and hurting and how his fingertips used to go numb, “at the rallies?”, “no, on the way to work”. The cold, his ears so terribly cold because he couldn’t wear a hat, “you couldn’t wear one because you were a communist?”, “no, it wasn’t that”.

My teenage dad used to walk to work in the early mornings, head bare, hands clutched to his chest, he’d go rigid with cold so he wouldn’t get beaten to death. Blue-grey lips, lunchbox trembling in his pocket, one step after the other trying furiously not to break the silence, “hey, tramp, where you going at this hour?”, “to work, sir”, “to work? with that favela-boy face?”, “yes, sir”, “where’s your work permit?”

My teenage dad couldn’t wear a hat or even put his hands in his pockets, he’d go slowly and show them his trouser pocket so’s to not get shot. My dad still doesn’t put his hands in his pockets, sometimes he’s just a boy and when we walk together to the grocery store I ask: “aren’t your hands cold, dad?”, and he rubs one against the other, two stones trying to make a fire, “in this heat?”

My dad is Black.

When I was 11 we used to go to Guarujá in the white Gol, driving there and back in a day, I wanted to sit in the front but he said, “not yet”.

We’d be driving down Imigrantes highway and they’d stop us and look at the car and ask for my papers, “is she your daughter?”, “yes, she looks like me, right?”, the officers laughed and I laughed too, and the sergeant would turn serious looking at my birth certificate. He’d fold the document, hand it back to my dad and say he reminded him of someone, every time, “one of our guys, an officer”.

One day, I gathered up my courage and asked my dad: “why do you always look like some police officer?” He smiled, and I never saw my dad so unhappy.

My dad is Black.

I turned 13 and we went to live in my adolescence. I sat in the front seat furious, we were going to Guarujá again, always Guarujá, “won’t you bring anything with you?” my dad asks, “I already said I won’t”. The police officer: “stop, stop, stop”, always the same dance, the same highway checkpoints, “is she your daughter?”, “yes”, and the officer peers into the car like a dentist, me and my dad inside the open mouth, “where’s your ID?”, I look at my dad, I only came with the clothes I put on today, the officer lays a hand on his gun, “get out the car”.

My dad is Black.

The officer calls me over and I don’t understand, “young lady?”, I go with him, trembling, I don’t understand, “I need you to stay calm and keep looking straight at me, okay?”, I don’t understand, I try to catch my dad’s eye and ask for help and ask for forgiveness but the officer comes between us, “he can’t hear you”.

I bury my body inside my blouse and feel my dad’s cold, back there without a shirt, I feel the cold of his body, a boy again with only shorts on, his chest exposed to the gun.

I lower my head looking for my dad within myself and I say nothing, afraid my words might tear something down, might break something, but the officer says again, “you can tell me the truth”, all I want is my dad, his arm around me, “calm down, there’s no need to worry, I know this must be tough for you”, the officer is needling me, “he told you to say you’re his daughter, didn’t he?”

He talks and I look up in fear, in fury, running through the numbers, “take it easy”, the gun, the truncheon, his hand, “we’ll protect you”, I don’t understand, don’t want to understand, “you can tell the truth now”, I stay silent like my dad taught me, “he threatened you, didn’t he? I know, but you don’t need to be afraid, are you feeling bad for him?” I keep trying to listen out for my dad’s breathing far away and the officer says: “I’ll make it easy for you, you don’t even need to speak, just nod your head, or wink, any sign, just give me a sign and I’ll know he’s really abducting you.”

My dad is Black.

I am white, I see.

Translated by Laura Garmeson and Sophie Lewis.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on September 30, 2023 as "Black dad".

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