Nossa Filho Vermelho de Fátima by Salonee Verma
Translation: Our Red Son of Fátima
There are names and then there are names.
There was a kid in my sister’s class named Ángel, but he was earthy and he walked barefoot on the soil outside the supermarket, chanting fiercely cut lullabies and Madonna’s folk songs after thunderstorms. He might have been an angel. He might not have.
In that summer, it didn’t really matter. There was something godly about the way he scratched through melodies anyway, like he was reclaiming them for himself. He used to love sitting on the roof and pretending to smoke—he had asthma, but he was mystified by the bewilderment of near-death. He would offer cigarettes to his friends, except they were really just rolled up Tootsie Rolls gone stale and solid.
Nobody knew where he came from, or where he went after he graduated. Everyone figured he would light the world on fire with that smile of his. To find out what happened to him would be to break the love spell he had cast over the entire goddamn town with his whispers.
He used to do that thing where he would speak softly, so you had to lean in deep to hear him. Then, you’d smell the thunder on his skin. Then, you’d find his eyes were the color of soil in a forest fire. Then, you’d be enchanted for life.
The junior high classes had a running theory that his mother's feet were put on backwards. The elementary school thought he was the one who brought the hurricanes home. The cashiers at the market gossiped about his older brother, who had skipped town with his half-tree boyfriend last winter. Everyone was so entranced with his origins that they almost forgot to lower their voices when passing his roost on the market roof.
He was easier defined by things he wasn't, which is to say, he wasn't an iconoclast. He valued disruption, but he wore every sacred symbol he could find on his collarbone, close to his heart. Every weekend would find him holed up in some holy place or the other, clasped hands raised as a greeting. Never the same place twice. Sometimes we’d get wind of his presence in Vasco da Gama, the biggest city around, charming the rickshaws with his hips.
Ángel was almost a religion. We all had faith in the mythology of his charisma, so much so that even the churches and temples were sometimes filled with talk about him instead of God. It always seemed, no matter how sacrilegious, inevitable.
He was a God-fearing boy, most of the time. Other times, he grew into a quietly furious man. Not often, but often enough that the entire town would hear about it.
Did you hear? Ángel was on the roof again, screaming his songs. He said he was going to run away to join the revolution. Do you think he's serious? He said God wants it for him. Maybe he's serious. The girls would hate it. The boys, too. Maybe also the trees.
Didi had kissed Ángel once, but she told me he had tasted like the pineapples he sang about. No giant eyes draped across his body to speak of, either. Just soft brown skin and the scent of a storm brewing beneath his lungs.