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Mário Araújo



Translated by Elton Uliana



THE COMPETITION


It was their father who, imitating the sound of a gun with his voice, gave the signal to start. The boy lagged behind right from the beginning, while she and her father thrust their legs forward, side by side; she was trying to perfect her incredibly fast steps to compensate for his much longer strides. The boy was behind mainly because, between the excitement and the distraction, he had delayed a couple of seconds before reacting to the starting gun.


Her head only came up to her father’s waist, but the fact is that, at that moment, she was barely looking at him, focused entirely as she was on her own performance. All she could manage was to feel his presence next to her, a dark, solid figure of great size, wearing the trousers he always wore. She was frustrated that his body needed to make much less effort than hers. Her father looked like he was floating in mid-air, but even so he still seemed invincible. It seemed as if he was moving forward pulled by the power of the real propellers that were her feet, attracting everything around them like magnets. She could swear that he didn't know where and how his daughter had learned to run as fast as that. The truth is that she learned a lot in the time she spent away from him and her mother. Hour after hour, day after day playing in the open field next to the house, dressed like a boy, wearing trainers – sometimes even barefoot – t-shirt and shorts, very different from the pretty little Beatrice the father saw at night, in pink or light-yellow pyjamas, or on Sundays, when she dressed up or went for lunch at their relatives’ house.


Now they were all in the open, her father, little Luke and her, and that would give her even more advantage, since she knew the field like the back of her hand. Her father shouted something and by the way the words were framed by his lips, he seemed to be smiling, but she didn’t quite understand as she was concentrating on her task and the wind was howling heavily in her ears. She felt annoyed when she realized that her lazy dad, in addition to being carried on the wings of her jet propellers, still looked relaxed and happy. She quickened her pace even more to the point where her heart was almost touching that little thing in the back of her throat the doctor calls tonsils, and her mother calls bells.


As for little Luke, she didn’t have time for him now, he was such a baby. She only hoped that he wasn’t sitting on the grass crying and forcing their father to interrupt the competition to help him. But she couldn’t hear any crying, perhaps because the wind was blowing in her ears, the wind of that open field, a wind that lived there.


She pushed faster and faster until she felt that, finally, a gap had been created next to her, a gap made of her father’s absence. She felt goosebumps and was scared of being alone, she was now with no one to talk to until the finish line. The finish line, although they hadn’t talked about it beforehand, should be the end of the open field, where the road began. The field separated their house from the main road, keeping the cars and the other houses far away, as well as the sound of the horns and also Dona Paula's grocery store. The excitement was such that she didn’t even want to look back to confirm her advantage. She didn’t need to anyway, because her father started coughing, panting, snorting and gasping, all practically at the same time, giving the impression, without the shadow of a doubt, that his defeat was starting right there. But she soon succumbed to curiosity and did look back, she saw his body in slow motion, shrunk by the distance, dressed in those same trousers and shoes he wore to go out as well as to work. She needed to do something quick to help him, Dad, I’ll lend you my trainers, Dad, I'll bring you the newspaper, buy you a birthday present, get your shaving things ready! But then she realized that as well coughing, panting, snorting and gasping, he was also bursting out laughing and yelling: Well done! Come on, come on! Then she grinned at him in return and continued to do what she had to do, when she noticed that little Luke had already overtaken him as well.


The shiver was still there, only now she was euphoric and relieved to know that her father was safe, and so he continued to run, despite his disadvantage. She powered through the wind with her strides and stamped on the ground with her trainers. The landscape trembled, like when a person shakes while taking a picture. She could already see the different types of cars streaming down the road, despite the sweat pouring into her eyes, she could hear the roar of the engines blending with the hum of the wind. From behind, further away, came her father’s words, generous words of encouragement that the wind distributed equally between both little Luke and her: let's go! let’s go! And the clapping, which should have been for her, but which the wind, nevertheless, insisted on sharing out.


It was then that she turned again to see her little brother and, in a secret that only she would know, lost a lot of time, wasted tenths, thousandths of a second, even whole seconds. She was flustered with his approach! The legs even seemed to bend backwards, she was jumping up and down without moving. It was like freeze-frame in TV movies, that moment of inexplicable hesitation where the bad guy stops with the gun in the face of the good guy. A secret that only she would know.


Little Luke passed by her as if he had been thrown, bright red and saying nothing. He crossed the imaginary finish line, which was where the wall perpendicular to their house ended, the wall that led to the main road. But before her brother got to the pavement, four hands grabbed him and hugged him, like in football matches. They were her hands and those of her father, who appeared from nowhere. And they returned home like this: little Luke, the winner, in his father's arms, and her hanging on to his leg, the leg that was dressed in his usual long trousers. Their father crossed the field with both of them and didn’t gasp or snort once. He was indeed invincible.



 

Born in Curitiba, Brazil, and living in Shanghai, Mário is the author of two collections of short stories, Restos (Bertand, 2008) and A hora extrema (7 Letras, 2005), winner of the 2006 Jabuti Prize, the most prestigious literary prize in Brazil. His first novel Breu was published in 2020 by Faria e Silva. His work has been translated into French, Spanish, German and Finnish.

Brazilian translator based in London, Elton is the co-editor of the Brazilian Translation Club at University College London (UCL). His published work includes short stories by Carla Bessa (Asymptote), Ana Maria Machado (Alchemy), Jacques Fux (Tablet), Sérgio Tavares (Bengaluru, Qorpus), essays by Manuel Querino, Mário Barata and Odorico Tavares (Art in Translation, Taylor & Francis); and forthcoming translations of stories by Conceição Evaristo, Carolina Maria de Jesus, Alê Motta and Carla Bessa (Machetes Under Our Beds: An International Anthology of Words and Writing by Daughters of Latin America, HarperCollins).

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