Eleven-year-old Márcia climbed lightly down from her hammock, and silently squeezed between her still sleeping brother and sisters. Nando was four, Juliana, three, Eliana, six, and Isabel, eight. Jacqueline, twelve, had already left and Marcelo, fifteen, had not returned home last night.
Márcia stifled a yawn while pulling on her dress. Taking an orange and a piece of cheese, she went outside and carefully sat on the top plank of their stairs, held above the ditch layered with garbage. Suspended by posts on the front, with the back half clinging precariously to the gully, their shack huddled amidst hundreds of others, with no electricity, running water or proper sewer. Reeking garbage mingled and drifted with the stench of the polluted river saturated with raw sewage. The sun splattered the sky with ribbons of color and she watched it come over the shanty roofs, bringing to life the pale blue, grey or occasional red brick shacks. A mother holding a baby filled the baby’s bottle from the river and waved.
“Menininha, you must hurry.” Mãe said from the doorway. “Jacqueline has left. Run, my little girl. Isabel, wake up. You need to fetch drinking water.”
“Yes, Mãe,” Márcia said, gulping her orange. Navigating the pieces of stair with bare feet, she hurried down the wooden sidewalk that connected the streets of the favela. Only three planks wide, held up by posts driven into the drainage ditch, she hoped it remained vacant until she got to the dusty road. She would have to run all the way, if she wanted to get the cleaning done and not be late for school.
Working four hours, then seven at school was difficult, but if she and her sisters didn’t go, their parents wouldn’t receive Bolsa-Escola, the stipend the government paid for sending poor children to school, instead of work. It amounted to Cesta Basica, or a big enough basket to provide a family of four with basic groceries like beans and rice, but their growing family needed more.
The cleaning completed, Márcia hurried to school. During the last class, she painstakingly wrote to her new pen pal:
My name is Márcia Ana Costa da Silva. I speak Portuguese and English. My início- home is in a favela - shantytown, in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Sao Paulo means Saint Paul, and sometimes we call it Sampa.
My casa – house- is made of metal sheets and wood. One family has black plastic and cardboard on theirs. Their papai left and they are very poor.
Mãe, my mom, works sewing. I work cleaning and go to school. It makes me very tired. After school, I help my sisters Jacqueline and Isabel look after our brother, Nando, and our sisters, Juliana and Eliana.
My family moved to Sao Paulo because papai could not get work cutting sugar cane anymore. He sometimes helps build houses. Some days he takes my little brother and sisters to the dump and they look for recyclables. Papai is very sad those days. He says - as bitter as jiló, a vegetable that tastes very bad. He said it means life isn’t very good, at least at the moment. We pray and feel better. Some pais cry when they have no work. They have no food to give their family.
My brother Marcelo did not come home last night. We are afraid for him.
Arriving home, Márcia and her sisters were surprised to see Mãe and Papai. There was news of more murders of ‘street kids’ and they were worried about Marcelo. Many children, like Marcelo, worked in the city to help support their families, while actual ‘street kids’ succumbed to drugs and the violence of street life. Corrupt police officers shot them like vermin almost daily.
Marcelo had shone shoes since he was eleven and recently became the leader of a ponto—an area in the city where he and a small group of boys charged for parking. Many willingly paid because of massive overcrowding and heavy traffic. Besides reserving parking for customers, they helped carry packages, cleaned windows, and some less honest, stole from careless owners.
Papai and Mãe gathered the children and prayed. Heavy footsteps and a knock interrupted their pleas. The police officer gently related how Marcelo had protected another boy from a gang beating. Police shot some gang members, but Marcelo died from his injuries.
Márcia clung to her papai, as tears cascaded flushed cheeks and inconsolable sobs shook their family home.
Favela Início- Shantytown Home
Mãe- Mom Papai- Dad Pais- Fathers Nando-short for Fernando
Menininha-little girl, and can be a term of endearment parent to child.
Bolsa-Escola -Scholarship School
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