Brazil didn’t sigh, it sobbed. A fraction of a second after Gonzalo Jara’s attempt pounded against the post and dribbled across goal to end the penalty shoot-out, a nation wept. Not out of joy or with the relief of getting past a most stubborn Chile in the pre-quarterfinals or even due to the piercing pain that the Brasileiro had felt deep in his or her chest for the preceding 140 minutes. No.
They cried, overwhelmed.
The players, especially goalie Julio Cesar, broke down, overwhelmed with the thought of living in this country over the next couple of weeks as a World Cup in Brazil chugged along without Brazil. The overwhelmed fans shed copious tears as the Selecao’s campaign and the joy it had a caused over the last few weeks flashed before their eyes. Even the embarrassed neutral wasn’t spared.
Overwhelmed with the raw and electric outpour of sentiment all around, we displayed telltale signs and twitches of blinking back our emotions — a brow rub here, a cheek scratch there. My brow and cheek were worked overtime as Eliza, an octogenarian and my landlady Rebekkah’s mother, wrapped her frail arms and wrinkled face around my shoulder and howled. “Desculpe,” an awkward Rebekkah whispered apologetically.
The four of us — Rebekkah’s infant daughter Clarisa was also present, swaddled in a Brazil flag no less — had decided to watch the match in a central square in quiet Olinda, a former Dutch colony to the north of bustling Recife. There were about a thousand there (small change in a herd-loving country), spread over several little cafes, most of whom seemed like they had seen their share of hard times in life. Yet, when Brazil won, or to put it more accurately, when Chile lost, there wasn’t a dry eye around.
Rogerio, the owner of the cafe we were seated in, raised his megaphone to make an announcement but he lowered it almost instantly, for Julio Cesar had appeared on the wide-screen telly for a post-match interview by the touchline. “What are you going through right now?” the interviewer asked the superhero of this super-hour. It would be his only question.
Cesar didn’t utter a word for close to five minutes. He tried a couple of times, but backed out choking. Around me, Eliza bawled for a second time. “Drinks are on the house,” said Rogerio finally, when the beautiful misery that was the wordless Cesar interview had ended. His eyes matched Cesar’s in colour (red) and emotion (vibrant). So I gave him time before posing him this question: “When Brazil win, shouldn’t he, as a cafe owner, be making money instead of losing plenty?”
UNITY IN THE SELECAO
Rogerio did a Cesar on me.
For about two minutes, he gazed at the faces seated around him, all while filling his lungs with short, sniffling breaths. Then, through plenty of oral struggle, he stammered out an answer. “Because in a highly divided nation, by region, wealth and colour, the Selecao is the only uniting factor,” he said. “And because I am a romantic. I sincerely believe that if we win this World Cup, our nation will see better times.”
Despite being overcome with emotions, Rogerio picked up his megaphone, stepped out on to the streets and sang the following words in loop.
Eu sou Brasileiro, Com muito orgulho, Com muito amor.
All of Olinda chanted along, clutching their hearts and wiping their tears, when he did that.
On a personal front, that’s what made me most ecstatic. I thought I wouldn’t hear those words again. The thought of it made me muito sad. Popularised by a beer commercial in the late 80s, Eu sou Brasileiro, or, I am Brazilian, is the unofficial anthem of this nation and something that can easily pass off as the official song of this World Cup (I haven’t heard the official official song being sung even once. Pitbull who?)
The words are simple and the meaning is as powerful as it is reassuring (I am Brazilian and I say it with great pride and love). The tune is catchy to the point of being addictive when played in a loop. Right through the course of this World Cup, I’ve heard it in every stadium (even when Brazil isn’t playing), beachfront, cafe and bar. It’s a joyous song, bellowed out from the bottom of the singer’s belly.
But today, it was a much softer rendition, sung between stabbing sobs and flowing eyes. That’s how I’ll always remember it.