Of the things I saw that Tuesday in Maré, the one I remember most was the fish vendor on the street. Despite the burned motorcycles, despite all the bullet holes, despite a BOPE officer being killed in a shootout hours earlier, he still put out his fish. I saw the stand, like a flower in the desert, standing along the side street of businesses that had shut down for the day. I saw the fish dripping wet at the scales and clear in the eyes, meaning you knew that the catch was fresh.
And his own eyes, were clear with determination. I recognized those eyes from the ring. It was the look of a driven fighter, one that refuses to go down. You knew, at that moment, that nothing less than a bullet to the head would stop him from working. Maybe if you looked close enough, you might have seen some worry, but mostly you saw focus, because he knew, despite all the carnage, people still needed their fish, and he was the one that provided it.
The official count in the newspaper is nine. I’ve heard as high as thirteen. My professor said that at least three were innocent bystanders. You have to understand how the BOPE are trained here in Brazil. A friend of mine recalls when the BOPE would drive around in their armored trucks, stick rifles out through shielded windows and blast demoralizing phrases through the loudspeakers. “Stay off the street, you fucking worms!” was something he remembered hearing while growing up.
They are trained to be vapid of most human emotions, perhaps the one that seeps through is the one of vengeance when a fellow comrade falls. It is that rage that turns the innocent into collateral damage, justifies any costs in reaching a goal. It is an emotion in which I have empathy, and in some strange way, I can relate when imagining one of my own falling in my presence. I feel for them, in this way, and I feel sorry that it is the only emotion given to them to filter all the pain in this world.
I’ve been sad these past couple of days. I cry at random times - while I am meditating, while I am on the bus or just walking down the street. I have to stop, give a moment of mourning, a prayer for those I worry for. Part of me just wants to lie down, and sleep, but I remember the fish vendor that day in Maré. I don’t know if he lost anyone. I don’t know how deep his politics run. All I know is that he lived there. This was his community, and I’m sure his heart broke in one way or another. He probably wanted to lie down as well, even more so than I, but he put out his fish. He understood, even when the world crumbles at your feet, there is still work to be done.