"Blazing Sun" by Tatiana Salem Levy ("O Rio sua") translated from the Portuguese by Alison Entrekin) Originally published in Granta 121: The Best of Young Brazilian Novelists.
This beautiful little piece is a unique coming home story that touches on the nature of happiness as it also examines the nature of Rio de Janeiro.
When the story begins, we learn the narrator has been away in Europe’s drier air for seven years. When she reenters her flat, it seems “that the interval separating my departure from my return never existed.” She opens the windows to freshen up the musty air; she immediately begins to sweat, and her “body feels at home.”
This begins to get complicated when we learn that the narrator never thought she liked Rio, was happier being away. Or, at least, she thought it didn’t matter whether she was in Rio or not because she had “always made people my home.” But she’s abandoned “you” in Europe and is suddenly comfortable in her solitude.
Why? Wonderfully, it seems the narrator herself doesn’t fully comprehend this, so this story becomes a kind of essay about Rio and happiness. How do the heat, the moisture, the body, the sweat, the humors come together to now give her a sense of place she never before felt. Indeed, she once felt the place was oppressive as it demanded that she be happy, that it is silly to complicate something as simple as life:
The people of Rio don’t accept sadness. They don’t know how to live with pain. Not feeling well? Take a dip in the sea, crack open a cold beer, go dance samba in Lapa. Sadness: only with music, only in community. Sadness: only with cheer.
That’s why I left, why I went away for so many years: nothing is more contradictory to happiness than the obligation to be happy. The requirement that one be cheerful in Rio can be as oppressive as the grey sky in Paris, London or Berlin. Everything in excess becomes banal. And I wasn’t able to be happy having to be happy all the time.
Now she recognizes that as the key: “Theory regarding the cheerfulness of Rio’s inhabitants: people walk to the beach in bikinis and swimming trunks. They share the pavement with men wearing suits and ties and women in high heels.” Meanwhile, talking to “you” on the telephone, “you” who wants to come join her, “Please wait a little longer.”
It’s a complicated back and forth. Solitude is invigorating and, naturally, lonely, and it is difficult to pick between two kinds of happiness.