fernando pessoa

WHO IS FERNANDO PESSOA? That’s not actually his real name. His real name is something like Paulo or Oswaldo, but pronounced in that juicy Brazilian way. Oshwaldo. He has multiple identities and documents. He claims his father was Jorge Ben. He claims to be a capoeira enthusiast. And also a ninja. He claims to be a lot of things, but he’s really just a criminal. And also black. Though these things are not connected. He is one slick street artist though. I met him in an upscale neighborhood in Santos, down those treacherous mountain roads from big city São Paulo, where he used to sell contraband down by the stinky river. In Santos, it’s nicer and you can smoke pot on the beach and play volleyball with girls in polka dot bikinis and still hear Tom Jobim on the radio. That’s why Fernando Pessoa prefers Santos. There are also fine streets lined with Victorian mansions. These were owned by American plantation owners who fled south during the Civil War so that they could hang onto their slaves for a few decades longer. Brazil only abolished slavery in 1888, you know. This is where Fernando Pessoa earns his money, taking part in what he calls live theatre. He pretends to steal things, and then his business partner Seaside Jair comes along dressed like a policeman and arrests him. Local yuppies come out and are so grateful that they toss money into Jair’s hat. Then they take it back to their little shithole bunker in the mountains and cut up the proceeds. I only fell in with these rogues because I was on vacation and trying to get a picture of the ocean. I wanted to post it on Instagram. There I was, walking along by those Victorian mansions, when I witnessed the Fernando-Jair street play. I followed them back to their hangout, but rather than pull a gun on me, Jair, who has one of those long donkey faces you can’t help but love, thought it would be good to have an Italian-looking policeman as part of the skit. “Just like Bolsonaro!” Then the closet fascist euro bourgeoisie in Santos would be especially grateful and give us even more cash for the arrests. That’s how I wound up taking part in the scam. And once, a business lady from Morumbi even gave me a ride in her helicopter for putting Fernando back in chains, where he belongs. There are perks to this gig, you know. We don’t always do Santos, of course. We work the coast. Praia Grande. Vila Caiçara. Guarujá. Jair even says we should go up to Rio de Janeiro. Or even to Buenos Aires. There is good money to be made in racism, if you know how to milk it. As for Fernando, well, once I asked him how he came to bear the name of a legendary Portuguese poet. He told me he had once been arrested, and the jailer had handed him a copy of The Book of Disquiet. “That is when I started calling myself Fernando Pessoa,” he told me. “That’s when I became him.”

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