We arrive at Guarulhos International Airport ten hours after leaving Lisbon, my mother looking for the nearest smokers’ lounge, the two of us in tears laughing. Somewhere in the arrivals area my father is waiting for us with the widest wave. He has lived abroad ever since I can remember, from Ukraine to Angola and this time São Paulo. It is the first time I am seeing his other home. Outside the airport, the air is warm and stiff, hard to swallow. We get inside an Uber, our transportation for the rest of the week as my father can’t drive due to visa restrictions. Besides, it is the safest way. São Paulo is bigger than I anticipated, all tall and grey with spurts of green spread out, as if nature was claiming back the land. It takes us an hour in traffic to get to the hotel.
It isn’t a typical hotel, not one designed for vacations anyways — here businessmen and people like my father stay for long periods of time. Made up of two tall elevator towers right next to the regional airport and far from the city centre, the place feels detached and I’m immediately nervous for him. It’s got multiple conference rooms for fancy children’s clothing sales and wedding receptions, as I would later see. In the lobby we are greeted by a photoshoot, everyone smiling in garish turquoise. My father introduces us to the receptionist and takes us around the place: a breakfast area, an empty gym, a shallow pool. We make our way to the elevator and ride it forever.
During the day we go downtown and visit everything from the contemporary art museum to a brightly colored neighborhood. People walk the most beautiful dogs I’ve ever seen and suddenly all the pet spas and cafes I pass by make sense. At the national park, my father is excited to show us the coconut water stands and we fill up our bottles along the way. Skaters and children in rollerblades zig-zag us. If you bump into someone and apologize they say imagina - imagine. Which is to say that the Portuguese language feels different from what I’m used to, wider, and my name is pronounced fully: fran-cis-cah. There’s no swallowing syllables here.
The weather is predictable and every day is the same, incredibly sunny at first and charged with rain and lightning in the evening, although still stuffy and humid. I enjoy the sights and following the shade patterns on the ground. However the evenings are my favorite: I ride the elevator and roam through the hotel while my parents watch the international news channel upstairs, each turn I take looking exactly like the one before. I think of my father’s life and it feels like a movie, although I'm not sure what kind of movie it would be. I don’t know if any of this makes me happy or sad but I could cry.
I make my way to the room through the small kitchen, my sofa bed and the miniscule bathroom. In my parents’ bedroom I watch heavy thunder cover the city with Al-Jazeera muffled in the background. Later in the evening President Lula surrenders himself to the authorities.