By João Vitor Campos-Silva
Seu Gracias is the greatest arapaima fisherman in the region. His naturalistic vein is as big as the great swamp that floods all land that meets the eye. His dream? He wanted to be a biologist, now see…
It was a rainy day when he vented to me on our boat, “Wow, JB… You’re smart, aren’t you?! If you go to college, it means you’re smart. And you also studied to get that doctorate… How I wish I was born as smart as you, I could also have become a biologist…”
Before answering him, an acute sadness took over me, a product of a memory hidden in a secluded part of my mind. Let me explain it briefly: Ulisses was the smartest kid in my school and one of my best friends. We shared, among many things, a dream of becoming a biologist. Ulisses was bright and one of a kind. I can’t remember a single test of his that wasn’t an A or a B grade. Me, on the other hand, I was a C student—nothing more, nothing less. All the good grades that I got, came after long hours of sitting and studying. But there was another difference between us, never noticed because it was also completely negligible. Alas, time made this difference latent when our paths changed: Ulisses’ mother was our school’s cleaning lady; mine was a retailer with better financial condition.
The thing is, Ulisses stayed at the same (precarious) school, while my parents—not without much hard work—sent me to one of the best local schools. At the time, there were no social policies that could have made that kid take off in his studies, so 11-year-old Ulisses became a wall painter, a profession that he holds with much dignity and distinction to this day. His dream of becoming a biologist was left behind.
Ulisses had an intellect much superior to mine, there was no comparison. He didn’t have the same luck as I did, born in a family with better financial means. I don’t mean at any time to make less of or even disregard the huge efforts I made to get to where I am today. In fact, the calluses my parents display in their hands opened up many more doors for me than my meagre intellect. Remembering Ulisses makes an immeasurable bravery come to life inside me to fight in this world, so that all the Gracias of our country have more opportunities. I hope that they can stop using the leniency of their intellect to cover up the brutal inequity that shattered his dreams.
Staring into Gracias’ eyes—that craved the intellect (which I never had) to become a biologist—, I ended our conversation, opened a beer can, and toasted, “Nah, Gracias… How I wish I was as smart as you to know exactly where to throw the harpoon and hit the tenderloin of an arapaima, to make sure that my family is fed. You’re amazing!”.