The Day That William Bonner Cried

Cidinha da Silva

Translated from Portuguese by Daniel Persia and Ana Luiza de Oliveira e Silva

Jornal Nacional was nearing its end, which meant it was time for one last segment to close out the spectacularization of news during television’s most-watched hour.

The anchor—quite the silver fox with his alluring voice, impeccable suit, and charming gray hair—announces a shocking case in the sertão, in the hinterlands of Brazil.

A teenager with a miserable life is caught stealing candy from the local snack post. The reporter assigned to the case sees a riveting story that will enthrall faithful viewers. To compose one final drama before the 9 o’clock novela, the reporter decides to take news of the robbery to the boy’s mother.

After filming the boy with his head down, sitting in silence at the police station—the young perpetrator’s face blacked out, as he was a mere thirteen years old—the cameraman zooms in on the solitary bonbon, sitting on the detective’s desk. The cameraman then accompanies the reporter to the house of the boy’s mother, who moves the anchor to tears and ends up stealing the show.

On the way, the camera highlights the impact of prolonged drought, poverty and neglect. When they arrive, they greet the boy’s mother, who invites them in. There is only one room in the house; the reporter sits on one of two tree stumps, crosses her legs, and tries to find her balance. The mother sits on the fork-bed—two narrow tree trunks holding up an old, slim, crooked mattress, the only bed in the house. The only other items are a clay water pot with an aluminum mug on top, like the ones in public school, and a faded portrait of a couple hanging on the wall. The man is wearing a suit, the woman a white dress—probably the boy’s parents’ wedding day.

The reporter, apologetic, delivers news of the robbery to the boy’s mother. Thick tears run down the grooves in her face, worn by the sun and the harshness of work in the field. The camera catches every detail. The woman raises her big, callused finger—with its unfinished fingernail, flayed by the hoe—and says, “Let me tell you something, ma’am: if he stole it was out of shamelessness, foolishness or pure desire. But it was not hunger, no ma’am; hunger he’s lived with since the day he was born!”

 

Note
William Bonner currently serves as editor-in-chief and anchorman for Jornal Nacional, Brazil’s most-watched news program, aired by Globo.

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