The origins of After Life date back to an afternoon in 1992 when I
sat down on a sidewalk in the Brazilian port city of Recife, next to
a homeless adolescent. Hoping to interview her for a dissertation
about street children, I explained what the interview was about and
why I was doing it and that it would just be a conversation, recorded
if she didn’t mind. An uncomfortable silence followed. It was about
four-thirty, an hour before the sun would set, and the insects were
charged with life. Waiting for her to say something, I scratched at
my legs. When she was ready, Bruna Veríssimo, as she called herself
looked up and said, ‘‘Go ahead, ask the questions. I know how to
Disconcerted, I took out the tape recorder, and she began speak-
ing in a tone of restive ennui. Before the bells tolled five, she had
told of how she’d been raped by her stepfather at the age of eight,
run away from home, used drugs, endured violence from the police
been held at a juvenile detention center, prostituted herself, begged
and—for fun and free transportation—clung to the back bumpers
of racing city buses. And she explained the origin of the scars up
and down her forearms. Toward the end of the interview she men-
tioned that she had appeared in the newspapers, on television, and
even in a fundraising video made for a shelter. ‘‘A video about the
street children of Pernambuco,’’
she mused, ‘‘is worth more than a
porno flick.’’
As it happened, in the early 1990s a lot of foreign and local jour-
nalists were writing about street children, television crews were
filming them, photographers were snapping their pictures. Mean-
while, nongovernmental and activist organizations were denouncing
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