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Heart of Others, Land of None

Written by Bruno Vial

Edited by Julia Serrano & Iana A.

Translated by Renata Torres

Copyedited by Bianca Zamin & Julia Serrano

It was longing. Hulú Otávio enters the terreiro[i], and nothing they do will untie that knot, entwined like a vine in his guts ever since he touched his crossed feet on the land that wasn’t his. The claps of the trafficked people to that true land of theirs echo beyond, and he sees them as they are, and they see him as he is. Longing, a song that resonates loud, called him there. In the terreiro, in this land that is neither of one nor the other, the land that I am, they meet. The world will do that.

Don’t miss the way, he walks from the back to the front on the line, and Sete Flechas salutes him, Okê caboclo! Hulú Otávio, named half legend, half people, Okê. Sete Flechas is the owner of the terreiro, Greetings, son of The Forest People, you are far from home. We both are, caboclo. I’ve come to know the place, the samba get-togethers in Porto are quite good, but I need the energy of the land.

You bring goodness, my son, Sete Flechas pulls the smoke, Forest People from there is also coming here. The land changes with the people who come from there while little. The land listens and learns. Who knows, maybe your fiery hair lights up and today my son see what he’s looking for, right? And Hulú Otávio then gets his blessing. Sete Flechas invites him to stay, thank you caboclo, but I can’t, I’ll go sit down.

He takes the tears with him. The fire inside his eyes pours into water, touches the music, marks on the ponto[ii]. His elbow bumps another and legs touch. Hulú Otávio turns to apologize and stares at him. He, born from the land that I am, stares back, dark eyes with stars in them. The world will do that.


Diogo closes the door. The old house, his family’s household for so many generations, remains the same since the Cocos arrived in my land. The stone of its foundation keeps its integrity, even if it dwindles in front of the new buildings in the parish of Foz. Nobody approaches it, nobody bothers it. Old ways die hard.

He removes his shoes and puts them next to the other two pairs on the low wall at the entrance, formerly an altar for offerings, during the times when his family was feared and sought after for their dark services, but which now serves only as support. The smell of green broth comes from the kitchen and Diogo Coco hears witcheries, blessings and prayers from his great-grandfather, who stirs the iron pot with a wooden spoon.

“No children, Diogo?”

“No, paps. We don’t do that anymore.”

The great-grandfather grumbles. He already forgot. Diogo climbs the stone stairs of the house, cold even during the summer. In his bedroom, he puts on his Spotify playlist, opens the window to let in the sea wind, in the vain hope of the warm midnight-ing breeze entering.

By the seaside, on the almost empty boardwalk, he walks by with a delivery backpack. He walks fast, too fast. He is not paying attention and I need to show him where he is, what to see. Nonchalantly, a leaf crosses his path, twirls in the wind and makes him turn around. He sees him. And Diogo sees him, lighting up the sea from the pier. His room is warmer with that smile.


Hulú Otávio crosses Ponte do Infante, coming from Gaia. He walks through the Baixa, through alleys guided only by the written address, no need for a GPS. He never gets lost, finds the shortcuts between my ups and downs. He walks straight, his feet backwards, and goes fast. He rings the doorbell, another delivery. I need the code, sir. Je ne comprend pas, the client only speaks French. Les Ubereats vous ont envoyé un code, monsieur. It’s not that hard. Oh, bien sûr, une minute. He waits outside, it takes a while. Zéro, un, neuf, he delivers the package and leaves. A three euro tip. Not bad.

The night is short, I feel his tiredness, and his voice and determination mix with all my others. Soon the sun will rise on the wrong side for him. Another delivery, some Airbnb by the river, in Miragaia. So many outsiders, so many insiders. It’s part of what I am, being all these people. No one takes the time to observe, no one listens to my land. But he does. On the banks of the Douro, in the Ribeira area that crosses me and makes me proud, the Rio Doce comes along in the memory of his mom in the woods, teaching him, still so young, the ways, his heritage and nature, there on the banks that rise with the flood. I follow his feelings in the same flow of the waters. He breathes in the summer air, full of big-city pollen. But not so big, in his memory his father’s Belo Horizonte is much bigger, and he knew every street of it. Over here it was harder for him to find me and unravel me, but land is land, and I learned with his footsteps on me.

He closes the app and it’s time to go home. One last, long, leisurely walk. He opens the camera, takes a selfie for the friends who stayed on the other side. Red hair, skin like jambu, as says his bio on that other app. You can see there is fire in his eyes. But you have to look closely because his flame is almost out.

Past the Alfândega building, the advertisement for Frida Kahlo’s immersive exhibition shines. The sound of seagulls on the riverbank guides him through my streets, and he sees the white skin, highlighted in the imminence of dawn, of the one sitting by the Douro. The traffic light opens. A car draws his attention as it passes quickly, making him turn his head, he smiles surprised. Hulú Otávio smiles back at those stars.

“We have to stop meeting like this.”

“Indeed. I wanted to meet you in person. Fancy a cuppa?”

“I’m Brazilian from Minas Gerais, what do you think?”


“I do, yes, but how about a beer? Tomorrow there’s a samba get-together. Wanna go?”


I know of my lands that in the fado there’s a little joy. But samba needs a little sadness, they sing when Diogo arrives. From a distance, Hulú Otávio sees him and smiles, his earplug jiggling, the rings on his nose and eyebrow shining. He approaches with two glasses of beer, hands him one and winks, kisses Diogo. The alcoholic breath invades his mouth, their tongues dancing together like the gafieira[iii] they bring me. Hulú Otávio’s arm wraps around his waist.

“Better to kiss first, get it out of the way. It’s good that you came.”


Hulú grabs his hand and guides him through the people laughing, drinking, singing and dancing. Diogo drinks the beer, shakes his head and risks singing a line or two. Hulú takes him to a table. Guys, this is Diogo, from the gira. Diogo, the guys.

A guy in a red beanie fills his glass, spilling beer from the Super Bock liter bottle on the scratched red metal table, it drips and lands on his mechanical leg. In the absence of a Brahma, we have this, says the guy in a high-pitched voice. They discuss overseas brands, Antarctica, Skol, Itaipava. Someone compliments Heineken and the others boo. Diogo doesn’t follow, keeps drinking, Hulú’s warm hands clasped in his.


It’s almost dusk, and the sunset from the hill of Quinta da Macieirinha is one of my prides, the Douro deserves the name it has when admired from here.

“It will be three years since I arrived here in Portugal, here in Porto”—Hulú lies with his head on Diogo’s lap—“and I never came here. But then, we never stop, do we?”

 Diogo throws his arms back, leaning on the grass. A comfortable silence stays with them. 

“I have to agree. The garden here really has a magnificent view of the river. It’s almost ten and the sun is out, shining still.” Hulú Otávio stretches himself, sprawled on the ground. “It doesn’t even feel like I was shivering, freezing in the five o’clock darkness at the beginning of the year. It’s all wrong.”

“You shiver and freeze?”

The question comes with a laugh, but Diogo looks at him sideways.

“Do you feel hot and sweaty? Then it must be the same thing. I hate the cold here. Well, not all of it.”

Hulú pulls Diogo and kisses him, his tongue piercing clinking in the other’s mouth.


The room is a rental, an old house near the Church of Lapa. Dark and windowless, it smells musty. The noise of the fan fills the void, softening the heat and silence. Hulú pushes the clothes off the bed, and two black briefs fall to the floor. Diogo bends down to pick them up.

“It’s small, tight and dark, but it’s cheap. The owner is a witch, I mean, not literally a witch, not like you…”

“I see.” Diogo laughs, trying to find a place in the midst of the mess to put the clothes that are still on his hands.

“And that’s it, I pay little, there’s some money left.”

Hulú lies down on the bed, shirtless, wearing only his shorts. Diogo admires the sturdy body, the strong and thick legs, the feet pointing backwards, and Hulú laughs, you can close your mouth, come, lie down here. You can take your shirt off, aren’t you hot? Diogo throws his briefs on the bed and takes off his shirt, the veins showing through his skeletal and pale body. The black marks, his great-grandfather’s sigils, run across his chest and back. Tattoos, he says to the ones who don’t know. Hulú knows—mystical marks that protect the Cocos, the marks that bind him to his family.

In bed, he snuggles on Hulú Otávio’s chest. It’s so nice to feel your cold skin in this heat, he says with his eyes closed. Diogo’s hands travel over his smooth, hard chest. You won’t say the same in winter. They laugh, squeezing each other.

“My father should call from Belo Horizonte soon.”

Diogo stretches out in silence, runs his hand over Hulú’s earplugs.

“I told him about the Carmo Church that we went to, how much blood there is.”

“ Gold.”

“The gold from Brazil is blood in Portugal.”

The truth hurts, I’m bathed in golden blood.

“At the time of the discoveries, Portugal did bad things.”

“Invasions, not discoveries. We were already there, you didn’t discover anything. And “bad things” doesn’t even begin to describe the genocide and enslavement.”

“But my ancestors also suffered here in Portugal at the stakes. Almost all the Cocas, many even fled to Brazil.”

“Yes, very fine ladies, I even met some of them. But then, Diogo, oppression isn’t on a scale. Although I guarantee that, if it was, we in Brazil would be winning.”

The tension in my lands never completely dissipates—how could it, but Hulú and Diogo are willing to work through this.

The cell phone rings. The picture of Hulú Otávio’s father appears on the screen, a white man with thinning hair. Want to meet my father and brothers?


The great-grandfather yells at his father in the room downstairs. The house echoes the patriarch’s words, and I can’t stop it from obeying its master. Disgraceful and absurd! I won’t have Brazilians in my house as guests. My great-grandson is my blood and bones, how can you agree with that, Miguel? The father replies, argues, asks him to calm down, but the old man no longer remembers. He is bone and blood of Portugal! He is a Coco. He must be with a Portuguese from a good family. Hate shakes the stone and, in his room, Diogo and Hulú hear them, the first, embarrassed, and the second, furious.

So many cross the ocean to me, and for them I’m sorry for once seeing the mistakes of the past as the glories of victory.

“I’m leaving.”

“I’m sorry,” is all there is to be said. “I’d talked to him, he’d understood, but paps forgets.”

“I’m leaving. Otherwise I’m gonna go downstairs and set your house on fire, or you great-grandfather will end me. Don’t worry. It’s a shitty deal, I get it.”

Diogo takes him to the door. When it closes, the great-grandfather spits on the floor. Diogo’s sigils shine, his starry eyes grow. Outside, Hulú no longer hears anything. He runs on foot with the strength of his rage and humiliation, crosses streets like a blur, in an instant crossing half of me, from Foz to the Lapa Church, and throws himself on the bed. Old ways die hard.


The land that I am is muted and transmuted when they refuse to listen. Hulú Otávio sees the notification from Diogo’s message, but he needs to make a delivery. He crosses Campo Vinte e Quatro de Agosto towards the Bonfim neighborhood. The repairs of a burst pipe forces him to cross to the other side of the square, bumping into a blond girl who also deviates from the construction work. He apologizes, and hears her curse putain de merde, brésilien imbécile, without even looking at him. He demands an apology, the girl retorts and keeps walking, until she realizes she doesn’t know where she is. Hulú diverts her, makes her turn on the wrong streets, for hours and hours, he gets her lost, but he also misses the time of his delivery, misses crossing with Diogo leaving for the square due to a subway delay, cell phone in hand, staring at the message sent, the third unanswered.


Diogo flips open the ad pages. It’s his fifth interview, at eight in the evening, when the sun is almost hiding by the sea. Summer is ending. He imagines the heat of Hulú Otávio in the winter. He opens WhatsApp, the last message is a “we can try, I don’t know when the next get-together will be. I’ll let you know” from weeks ago. He archives the chat. He takes the job, earning little, paying cheap, there would be money left. He leaves the building in Trindade, the traffic lights blink, suddenly broken.

He crosses the street safely, protected by chaos. On the corner where Diogo didn’t stop, Hulú Otávio is a little drunk, leaning on the shoulder of a friend. You were happy, bro, and then you fucked up, you know how the Portuguese are, especially the old ones, the friend says adjusting his red beanie. 


I whisper on the passing wind, on speeding cars, on drunken conversations, on the late summer mosquitoes, hoping they will hear. They wake up in the middle of the night. The leaves are already starting to fall. Hulú Otávio leaves his room, goes to the back garden of the old house, wrapped in a blanket. Diogo goes to the balcony, wearing only his pajama pants. They stare at the stars, the full moon. It’s just after two in the morning, still ten in the evening where Hulú should be. They pick up their cell phones, starting a video call. The father answers. Dad, do you miss mom? Dad, is paps well? They look at the moon. Longing is a song that resounds loudly.


The land that I am is transmuted in harmony with whoever walks it. Hulú walks barefoot, his footsteps can’t be followed, with the delivery bag on his back. Around seven o’clock the sun sets in the direction of Boavista Avenue. The cold comes. Across the street, at Casa da Música, Diogo walks.

I tire of whispering. The traffic light turns red for cars on the roundabout, making way, the crowd gathers in front and they stop, the flock of pigeons flies away between them, drawing their attention. Here’s my cry, find each other, and they listen, scared to be face to face, I’m sorry, I was busy, I forgot to answer. No, it’s alright. I left home.

“If it was for me, I’m not sure you should have.”

“I love my paps, but he has to realize that the times are different, the city is changing. It wasn’t for you, it was for me. It’s time for another foundation.”

“Brill, smashing, cool.”

“You jest. But I thought of you. My place is nearby, do you always fancy a cuppa?”

“I’m Brazilian from Minas Gerais, what do you think?”

They go on smiling, holding hands towards Bom Sucesso. Old ways do die, after all. The world will do that.

And I change a little more, in their footsteps.


[iTerreiro is the place where Candomblé or Umbanda (religions of African descent) ceremonies are held.

[iiPontos are songs used to praise, call and say goodbye during ceremonies. They are usually accompanied by percussion instruments such as the atabaque and can have different, marked rhythms.

[iiiThe word originally comes from Brazilian Portuguese slang, meaning honky-tonk. Samba de gafieira is a partner dance like ballroom dance, but with different rhythms of samba.

Bruno Vial

Bruno Vial was born in Vila Velha - ES, in 1986. He moved to Brasília at the age of 18 and made his living there until moving to Portugal, at 33. Bruno went to Law school, practiced law, and hated it. A writer since his teen years, Bruno writes mostly speculative fiction. He is gay, cis, nerd, and obnoxious, and dreams about becoming a better, more person, but until then, he’s managing.


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