is French for dumb or stupid, but my Bet was neither.
If anything, he was too intelligent.
He was noir however. French for black.
Although I never would have guessed it.
His mother was as white as I am. Perhaps a little bit swarthier.
Vestiges of Moorish blood from the half of her that was Portuguese.
Remnants of Lisboa.
Mingling with the sun-drenched Mediterranean burnishings from the other half of her that was Italian. Fragments of Napoli.
Lisboa meets Napoli.
Nothing dumb or stupid about a mixture like that.
But Bets father was pretty much as noir as they come.
And Bet was proud of it.
Although sometimes secretly insecure in the way that so many black Brazilians are tragically trained to be.
Yes, Bet was Brazilian.
And noir is the fugitive color of pride.
By the way, Bet wasnt really Bet.
He was Alberto Filho.
His father, who was more black, plus noir, was simply Alberto.
Alberto pai - the father - was affectionately known as Albertinho.
And Alberto filho - the son - was lovingly known as Beto.
A shorter form to be sure, but unbelittled.
And as such, the son, although less noir, cast a longer, stronger shadow than the father.
When his youth was spent, Beto moved away from the red dust and red meat and icy nights of the Interior where he had spent his youth.
He ended up in a baroque city overlooking a very blue Bay of All Saints.
Far from the noir of his father, he fashioned his own noir.
Not at all bête, he impressed himself on many (including, much later, me).
And the names sprouted.
Affectionate offshoots that twirled as elegantly as Bet himself:
Betinho means Little Bet.
Bet (a root that must not be confused with the extra-ed and circonflexed French term for dumb or stupid) + Inho (a Portuguese diminutive invoking tenderness; a suffix of endearment).
And when I came along,
anything but noir, but perhaps a little bête,
my English tongue lovingly translated the Inho into a Little,
leaving the Bet intact.
The result was Little Bet.
A fine result, really.
Because Bet was,
And though his ideas were as big as a full-fledged, far-flung galaxy,
his caramel colored body was as lithely smooth and delicate as a boys.
With my thumb and forefinger, I made a bracelet around his oh-so-breakable wrist.
As our love sprouted,
I grew lazy as lovers do
I divided the double-worded name into two.
Little and Bet.
I called him one or the other and rarely both.
"Hi Little". "Boa noite Bet."
But rarely both.
Trouble occurred when I flew to the other end of the other world and Bet (sometimes) wrote me letters.
He signed them "Your Little Bat."
Uncomprehendingly, I wondered
if he was bête.
But I later realized that my English tongue had broadened,
flattened and fattened
the clipped, precise
sheeps bleat of an e
into a flabby, nasal,
far from subtle a,
"But youre not my Little Bat," I explained ferociously, fighting to keep the frustration out of my voice. "Youre my Little Bet!"
Bet or Bat be damned.
But he insisted adamantly on the noir.
More trouble ensued.
From the beginning, I was dubious.
"You dont look noir," I argued.
And my eyes swept over the dense collage of pigments that rose
up out of his elegant dancers feet,
up through his chicken legs,
in and out of his underwear,
up into his soft mound of belly,
through his taut drum of a chest
into his stormy Atlantic Ocean of a face.
"But I am," he roared.
And then he fumed.
"Gringos dont know anything," Bet muttered darkly.
Words streaked with noir.
MICHAEL SOMMERS is a writer and photographer. Born in Texas (Austin), he was raised in Canada (Toronto) before taking off to the rest of the world (mostly Europe and South America). Aside from frequent forays to New York, for most of the last five years he has lived in Brazil (Salvador) . . . with (and without) Little Bet.