Outside the Edifício Copan sleeps a man.
On the steps of a church across from Praça Princesa Isabel, sleeps a man.
In a folding chair in the dusty median along the Via Prof. Simão Faiguenboim, sleeps a man.
In Praça Franklin Roosevelt, under a banyan tree, sleep four men, shrouded in felt blankets.
I miss the mundanity of these sights. The proximity to what some people call danger.
I miss the refusal of illusion. The recognition of what’s real.
In a hammock strung across an iron gate on the pedestrian mall off Avenida São João sleeps a man. People go from place to place, stepping around him, entering and exiting the stores on either side of him.
The greater danger lies in forgetting. In pretending. In turning these sleeping men into an aesthetic problem.
Under the Viaduto Júlio de Mesquita Filho, bunkered together in a maze of cardboard houses clad in torn plastic, each one little more than the size of a body, sleep one hundred and twenty-three men and women.
I am like them. I was. Some things happened to change me.
On the Rua Paim, on the slope of dirt across from the new condos, stands a man. He’s folded two thin strips of cardboard into shoes. He holds them in place under a pair of socks that have lost their elastic. They flap against the cobblestones as he walks. A cat with dirty fur and watering eyes clings to his shoulder.
There’s a man power-spraying the street up ahead.
There is no us and them.
Joshua Furst’s novel The Sabotage Café won the 2008 Grub Street Fiction Prize and was named a best book of the year by the Chicago Tribune, the Rocky Mountain News and the Philadelphia City Paper. He is also the author of the critically acclaimed book of stories, Short People. He is a founding member of the Kristiania Writers’ Collective and he lives in New York City where he teaches at Columbia University’s School of the Arts.