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never and always are (almost) the same thing

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"Acácio," they whisper and laugh, a single raspy laugh, deep in their throat, mouth quirked up and eyes turned upwards.

"I'm serious, Lunga."

"And when have I not been serious?"

It's Acácio's turn to laugh, a hint of impatience slipping from his smiling lips. He feels Lunga's hand around his wrist, pressing fingers and the slight scratch of long, painted nails. Their stare is too firm, eyes lined in unequal strokes of black, and Acácio gives in, turns his head an inch to the side, glimpsing low bushes instead of brown glimmering eyes.

Fingers press harder before Lunga lets him go and takes a step back.

"Let me know when you're back, Pacote," they say, turning around, their steps lifting a dusty fog that blurs the senses.

 

***

 

Ok, he's good with the other nine. It was him, alright: helmet, steady steps, arm straight out. A sure shot, to get it over with, fast.

But number six wasn't him, anyone can tell. It's almost offensive, to believe that mess is his to claim. Pacote has never been short of efficient.

 

***

 

"Can you get my boots?"

Lunga stretches their leg, points their foot towards the corner of the room. The boots are there, near the door, knocked over in a heap, since they stumbled in and undressed, leaving a visible trail.

Pacote — because he was still Pacote then, in this memory — gets out of the shower smelling like deodorant and grabs Lunga's shoes. In a comforting and impulsive gesture, he lets his thumb rub a stretch of worn leather.

Lunga doesn't give any sign they're getting up, doesn't raise a hand to grab the shoes Pacote offers. Instead, they stretch their ankles and lift their brows, waiting for Pacote to understand, to obey.

As usual, Pacote understands.

He kneels on the floor. He slips one boot on Lunga's foot, tightens the bootlace, does it again with the other side. 

He obeys.

"Thank you, darling," comes Lunga's drawl from the bed, a smile Pacote hears even before looking.

 

***

 

Acácio takes it slow.

He experiments with stretching his body, stretching his speech, stretching his days. Pacote is contained in a looped top 10 voiced by DJ Urso, but Acácio — Acácio has his whole life ahead, while there's life to be had. Acácio has time for sun, capoeira, Domingas's stew. 

As Pacote, he breathes in hot air inside his helmet and gets used to gunshot splitting screams in half. But how delightful to be Acácio, to hear the screams as they stretch on.

 

***

 

Music echoes in a thousand voices and Acácio doesn't know what he sees. The ground goes up, down, around, and it melts, water bursts from the school's ceiling, the towerless church bells toll. The psychotropic switches up wall colors and brightness and makes Bacurau's heat feel like a hug. There are children running around and the caskets are gone, but the smell of blood has permeated something: the air, the earth, the bricks, the wood. Bacurau was freed, but history's alive, the museum breathes, and once in a while someone trips over a slight bump in the road, as if the monster-man wasting away beneath it wants to remind them it's still there.

 

***

 

Lunga came back a hero to a pretend town.

It's not on the map, it's not even there.

There's no mayor, no name, no water. But there's people.

People who won't turn Lunga in, because who would want rewards from those who'd kill you without shame? Bacurau might be many things, but it has never been disloyal.

Church is a warehouse, but some still pray, and those who do, do it for Lunga, for Carmelita, for the souls who were slaughtered before salvation. In new Brazil, community is only formed through sacrifice.

Acácio admires from afar, from the margins. Lunga walks through the streets, sunbathes in the square, spends hours in the museum, visits Plínio's class, and around them there's the hush of silence and the reverence of whispers. They have dropped the war paraphernalia and, if a stranger saw them, they'd go unnoticed: skinny small frame, badly cut thinning hair, chipped nail polish and threadbare shirts. But Acácio sees what he knows everyone sees as well: the air shining around them, the light from inside, the heat they give out; it's the divinity of faith, reborn.

 

***

 

"Do you think they'll come back?"

"I'm just waiting. My machete thirsts for blood."

 

***

 

The stains in the museum's walls became an attraction among the children. When there's no one looking, they dare each other to touch bloody handprints, old weapon handles, what's left in the ground leading to the hatch.

At night, they tell ever fanciful stories about the resistance and the destruction of homicidal gringos. A legend starts spreading, saying Lunga found the machete buried in the dirt, that when they wielded it their hair grew long, their height grew tall.

"Just like She-ra," Marinete explains, having watched the cartoon on TV at the age of five.

 

***

 

There aren't enough people in Bacurau to avoid anyone. Fights last anywhere from thirty minutes to thirty years, but everyone sits side by side in the square to watch the sound car, and everyone sets an extra seat at the table for a neighbor in need.

Acácio admires Lunga from afar, but little by little the admiration comes closer.

They trip over each other turning a corner, taking the road, ducking in shadows.

Every time, Acácio moves away.

Each time, he takes one less step back.

Lunga pretends not to notice, or at least doesn't comment on it. Once in a while, they smile — at the sky, the earth, the people. Never at Acácio, but, deep down, never and always are the same thing.

 

***

 

It should be different, the day he gives in. A big production, another massacre, endless fear, an all-out declaration.

But it's eight PM on a Monday and the night is hot. Leaning on the side of the church, with a laugh, Lunga stretches their tank top's torn neck a little wider.

Acácio trips one last time and, out of nowhere (everywhere, again), stumbles into being Pacote.

"I'm back," he whispers or half-moans when their mouths meet.