Yesterday evening Lucy Greaves was announced as this year’s winner of The Harvill Secker Young Translators’ Prize for her translation from the Portuguese of Adriana Lisboa’s story ‘O sucesso’. The prize was judged by Naomi Alderman, Margaret Jull Costa, Ángel Gurría-Quintana and Ellie Steel. This is the first piece Lucy – who also works from Spanish and French – has translated from Portuguese.
They hadn’t tried them yet but the girls both knew, from the adverts, that Hollywood cigarettes were awesome. One of them had a classmate whose dad signed off the Hollywood adverts – the ones with the most gorgeous people on earth doing awesome things on boats and motorbikes, with the best soundtrack ever: ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ by Journey; ‘Breaking All the Rules’ by Peter Frampton; ‘Heat of the Moment’ by Asia; ‘More Than a Feeling’ by Boston. (The adman’s daughter had a tape with all the songs on – her dad had recorded it for her. It made the two girls dead jealous.)
They hadn’t tried Hollywood cigarettes yet. They’d try them soon enough, and before long they’d try other substances that were even more Hollywoodesque. For the time being, the closest they came were the Hollywood Sportline clothes that the girl from the poorish family wore, the one who went to school with the adman’s daughter. The clothes didn’t suit her preadolescent, ill-proportioned and slightly overweight body. The other girl, also preadolescent and ill-proportioned, came from a really poor family. She was all legs sticking out of very short shorts, and her hairstyle was modelled on Olivia Newton-John’s (she wore the same kind of rolled-up white headband).
That summer Sunday afternoon in Rio de Janeiro was hardly very Hollywoodesque either – at least for the two of them. At home everything was so boring, there was absolutely nothing good on telly except the same programmes they’d seen three hundred times with little variation. Being twelve was so stupid. A childish world behind them, toys recently tidied away in the drawer along with an easy way of relating to things and people that had disappeared in a flash. A glittering adolescent world ahead of them, almost within reach – but not quite. Not quite. The place they were in was called hell. Twelve-year-old hell. Disobedient bodies, disobedient reality. And out there real people were having tons of fun with Hollywood cigarettes, with their shapely adult bodies that Hollywood Sportline clothes fitted like red, white and blue gloves.
We should buy a pack, the chubby one said. I wanna know what they taste like.
You got any money? the other one asked.
I get my pocket money on the twentieth.
Let’s go and play ball, her friend suggested.
They were friends because they lived on the same street. They’d known each other since they were seven, since the embarrassing playing-with-dolls phase. The leggy one liked football. The chubby one preferred volleyball, but they’d played volleyball last time and the deal was that they had to alternate.
Before going out, they checked themselves in the full-length mirror on the chubby one’s wardrobe door. She straightened her fringe. She brushed her long hair, of which she was quietly proud. Her friend adjusted her shorts, hoiking up the elastic waistband to show a bit more of her legs, of which she was clearly very proud indeed. They grabbed the ball and went outside.
The chubby one thought football was a stupid sport. She went along with everyone else’s enthusiasm about games, for now, because she didn’t want to be so different. Anyway, she thought Paolo Rossi was cute, even if he did get Brazil knocked out of the second round of the World Cup. And Brazil had had the advantage of a draw, she grumbled – even in stupid sports, it’s always better to win than lose.
Her friend, who was also the owner of the ball, knew everything about football thanks to an incredible fifteen-year-old brother with whom the chubby one was secretly in love, although there was no hope of the feeling ever being mutual. From the top of her long legs, the ball’s owner was saying that Brazil were the favourites, they had a hundred percent success rate in games up until that tragic day in the Sarriá stadium, when Italy, that load of crap, won their only – their only! – game of the World Cup. Damn it, we had Zico, Falcão, Sócrates, Junior! It was the best team since the World Cup of ‘70! The chubby one shrugged her shoulders.
They wandered down with the ball. Despite the dazzling early afternoon light, the cobbled street, which saw scarcely any traffic, was dishearteningly monotonous. Life seemed to consist of nothing more than the passage of time. Such a slow passage of time that ill-fitting clothes on ill-proportioned bodies would take a long while to become anything other than that. Everything exciting and worthwhile was out of reach. But the sweet voice of Steve Perry from Journey sang ‘don’t stop believing’ so they had to keep on believing. Even if that was as vague as the English lyrics, of which the only words they understood were ‘don’t stop believing’. The leggy girl managed to do fifty keepy-uppies. Her friend only managed five.
They’d been in the street for about half an hour, having a kick-about, making that opium of the people double as the opium of preadolescence, when the two boys arrived. They leaned on a lamp post and stayed there, chatting and looking their way every now and again. As far as the girls could see out of the corners of their eyes.
The two girls stood up straight. They pushed out their chests to make themselves seem more developed than they were. Their high-pitched laughter became an experiment in seduction. The leggy girl’s talent for football became a furious demonstration that she was beautiful and desirable, even if she wasn’t. Any aptitude the chubby one might have had with the ball, somewhere in her plump legs covered by the red Hollywood Sportline tracksuit, became a brave attempt to prove that she was beautiful and desirable, even if she wasn’t.
The cobbled street was far from being the ideal stage for a demonstration of ball control, but they did their best. Their thoughts were almost identical: maybe the two boys (fourteen, fifteen years old?) want to play too? They might be standing there feeling too shy to come any closer. How stupid! Boys are so silly! (But they thought this with a smile.) Without for a second looking at the boys leaning on the lamp post, they tried to draw them in their direction with the magnetic force of their own excitement.
The ball rolled and bounced clumsily over the cobblestones. The street had been decorated during the World Cup. Here and there, scraps of decoration were still hanging on lamp posts and trees. The rags said Italy 3 – Brazil 2, Paolo Rossi getting the scoreboard going five minutes in, Sócrates equalizing with a brilliant pass from Zico, Toninho Cerezo’s pass out to the wing that ended up at Paolo Rossi’s feet – 2-1 to Italy, Falcão equalizing and it was just the equalizer we needed, but then a corner (come on, ref!) and Paolo Rossi scoring the third. That was what those scraps of faded yellow and green flags were saying.
Until the chubby girl kicked the ball a bit too hard and it ended up right where they were both hoping it would: at the feet of the boys leaning on the lamp post.
Now they’d have to speak to each other. Now the boys would have to do something about their shyness, their embarrassment or whatever it was that kept them standing there, and that stupid Sunday afternoon would finally have some meaning.
What they did, however, with surprising agility and not an ounce of shyness, was grab the ball and leg it off down the hill. Hey! shouted the two spectators, almost in unison. They looked at each other sheepishly. Until the chubby one said: They took the ball. And it was like they only really twigged at that moment.
The girls ran too, in pursuit of the boys, one pair of long, bare, flexible legs, one pair of plump legs sheathed in red tracksuit material, but down there, at the bottom of the hill, the road split and they couldn’t see which way the boys had gone.
We should ask if anyone saw them, the chubby one said, panting. A doorman in one of these buildings?
Holy shit my dad’s gonna kill me, the other one said, also panting.
Let’s ask if anyone saw them.
But neither of them moved. The sound of their ragged breathing filled their ears. They were still trying to catch their breath. The leggy one looked one way, then the other, her white headband askew.
Leave it. We’ll never manage to. Catch them.
The two girls turned back. Slowly, like fans leaving the stadium with their heads hanging after their team has lost a match, they started back up the hill. The cobblestones absolved themselves of all responsibility, pleading their innocence under the sun. In the stretch where the two girls usually played ball, a blue VW Beetle was trundling itself slowly in their direction. They moved onto the pavement.
I get my pocket money on the twentieth, said the chubby one. I’ll pay half, OK?
My dad’s gonna kill me.
Your dad doesn’t need to know. We’ll get the money together and buy another one the same.
They went back to the chubby one’s house, still smarting from that romantic disappointment – the first of many. The chubby one led the way to the kitchen and spread butter on two bread rolls (hey, bread makes you fat, but so what?) which they carried up to eat behind the closed door of her room where they could hide that strange mixture of shame and anger, as well as the hurt caused by those two well-dressed boys who were only interested in a free football. How could they have been so pathetically trusting? How could they have got their shared fantasy so wrong?
At that moment, the chubby one silently decided that the next day she would talk to the girl at school, the adman’s daughter. She was going to offer to be in one of the adverts for the Hollywood Success campaign. There wouldn’t be an age limit, would there? And yeah, she’d lose a bit of weight first, she’d just skip a meal a day for a while and that would be that. She would wear one of those red PVC catsuits and the camera would do a close-up of her face framed by her perfectly permed hair when she removed her helmet, after getting off the back of a motorbike. Someone much cuter than her friend’s brother would notice her, the girl from the Hollywood advert, and send her a fan letter. Then her life would really get going. With cigarettes, perms, TV adverts, extreme sports and gorgeous fans.
She put on the tape she’d recorded from the radio, nice and loud, and the indefatigable Steve Perry sang once more that they must keep on believing. They were sitting on the bedroom floor, their backs leaning against the wall. The chubby one’s mum banged on the door.
Turn that music down!
She didn’t say anything, but she did as she was told. Then she turned it back up a bit. It wasn’t conscious, but she already suspected that, whenever possible, it was important to resist institutionalized power. However minimally. For future reference, if you like.
She tore off a bit of bread with her teeth. The bread, crispy in the morning, was now a sad, rubbery substance, and the butter tasted slightly off. The girls looked at one another.
This bread’s totally gross, said the chubby one.
Yeah, said the other, and laughed.
The chubby one laughed too, and they carried on eating in silence.
Photograph by Tiffany Terry