The Stunt Double


It all began with a game he played when he was still just a boy. He would scramble up the cistern with the silver cape around his neck, his blue plastic sword in hand, yelling: By the Powers of Grayskull! Then he’d leap to the ground—flying, sort of. His family worried because, before long, he was a young man with a five o’clock shadow, and the cartoon wasn’t even on TV anymore. And yet he played this game. Sometimes he seemed sulky and pensive, a fact his mother attributed to the cartoon’s cancellation.

When he turned thirteen on the 24th of April, he donned cape and sword and stood on the threshold of his house, his arms crossed and his look grave. So he remained for a long while. His grandmother, who lived in the apartment above the boy’s, said that this was the absolute limit, they had to take him to a psychiatrist. They took him. The straw that broke the camel’s back had come when the boy confronted a dog with his plastic sword, saying strange things: “Don’t even try me! Don’t look at me—don’t even lift your head in my presence, unless you want it to roll!”

The family made an appointment with a psychiatrist. The grandmother came. To begin, the doctor explained to the women how it all worked. She said there was no such thing as a crazy person, rather there were only people ill-adapted to the world in which they lived, suffering mentally or spiritually. In some cases, there were people who had deficiencies of some substance or excesses of another, problems that orthomolecular medicine could address. The important thing was to be open to entering the world of the afflicted person, to seek to understand them without judgment. She counseled them that she worked with dreams and, as the patient was an adolescent, she needed their consent to proceed with the treatment.

The grandmother looked at her daughter, finding all of this very strange, especially this business of dreams—if it was for the boy’s good, though, it was okay by her. As with all serious decisions, the grandmother had final say-so, so everybody agreed: the boy’s mother first, and then the father, who was always drunk and absent and who never realized what was going on.

The boy told them about one of his dreams. In the dream, he was dressed as Iron Man, the star of one of his favorite shows, and a pack of dogs attacked him. He unsheathed his sword and cut their heads off, one by one. Taken by a terrible rage, he also cut off the heads of passersby, those who had watched him without paying their respects.

In another dream, the boy lived in a distant land where everybody was soot-black, including the boy. The boy lived in the heart of the highest mountain, in the palace of a very great and powerful young man, a blacksmith by profession. His work in the forge was interrupted only when some hapless traveler crested the highest peak. Whenever one appeared, the blacksmith king demanded: “What did you bring, traveler? Why are you following this road?” Some of these pilgrims responded that they had come here by chance, searching for a path; others had heard that, if they entreated him, the Guardian of the Mountain and the Forge, all paths would be opened to them. At the latter, he would laugh jocosely and demand: “How can I open your path for you, if you don’t have any path to follow?”

He went on: “Still, you will find what you asked me for, only search within yourself and you won’t fail. But the path is yours to make. I can carry you in my arms, but the journey will be yours.”

“And if I don’t wish to go, may I turn back?”

So he laughed, and this time his laugh was a loud one, a laugh of disdain and malice: “There is no choice, foolish and faithless human. Whosoever comes here is obliged to cross.”

“You called me ‘human’—you, by chance, are not a man?”

“Don’t spout that rubbish your head seems so full of. You came here in order to know your own mysteries—mine, you are not entitled to know. Prepare yourself, for you are going to cross this mountain with me.”

And none who had made it this far could contain a cry of horror when they saw the abyss, nearly two meters across, that separated the two sides of the mountain. How could they cross this? A man on his own might be able to manage it, but with the weight of another in his lap?

Ignoring the travelers’ doubts, the blacksmith concentrated upon his fire. He took his sword from the embers, gazed along the horizon, and drew the blade right, center, and left. He held the blade aloft before replacing it in the forge. Then, kneeling upon the floor, he seemed to pray before spreading his arms wide and speaking in an unknown tongue. At last, he would take up the sword again and order the man waiting on him: “Follow me, traveller!”

“Where are we going?” the traveller wondered. “To the abyss?”

And so the traveler was forced to consider what more there remained for him to do. To bid his life goodbye? For he was certain he was going to lose it. Could he escape, then? Impossible, he decided. The man with the sword was a powerful warrior from a place called Ifé, and he could easily overtake the traveler. Overtake him, or else, in a flash of lightning, turn him into a rock or a maggot, or a solitary kernel of grain, or something of that sort. Or he might cut the traveler’s head off with the sword. No, it was more prudent to await the certain death of the abyss.

The blacksmith, grave and determined, approached within less than a meter of the deep hole that separated the two sides of the mountain and called to the man: “Come, your time has arrived.” He planted the sword in the stone and took this man of some eighty kilos in his lap. The man clung to the blacksmith’s neck like a baby. The blacksmith took his sword from off the ground, held it up to the sky, bent his knees and flew over the abyss. By the time he opened his eyes, the traveler was already on the far side.

The blacksmith gave him a final order: “Follow that sword and you will find the way! Don’t look back.”

“I don’t understand, isn’t this path the way back?”

At these words, the blacksmith laughed, saying only that his job was done.

The psychiatrist was impressed with the wealth of details in the boy’s dreams and asked what the boy wanted to be when he grew up. The boy said he wanted to do as the man from his dream: the man of iron who cuts off heads, sword in hand. At last, she understood: a Son of Ogum.


Cidinha da Silva

Cidinha da Silva is a playwright, scholar, and novelist. Author of #Parem de nos matar!, among others, da Silva’s titles include works written for children, young adult, and adult audiences. With Açoes afirmativas em educação: experiências brasileiras and Africanidades e relações raciais: insumos para politicas publicas na área do livro, leitura, literatura, e bibliotecas no Brasil, da Silva became one of the first Brazilian authors to explore affirmative action as a means of overcoming racial inequalities. Her work has been translated into Spanish, French, English, and Italian.

JP Gritton

JP Gritton received his MFA from the Johns Hopkins University and is currently a Cynthia Woods Mitchell fellow at the University of Houston. His novel Wyoming is forthcoming from Tin House books in September of 2019, and his stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Black Warrior Review, Greensboro Review, New Ohio Review, Southwest Review, Tin House and elsewhere.

Copyright (c) Cidinha da Silva. English translation copyright (c) JP Gritton, 2018.