Rio de Janeiro, 2014.07.14
1. Rice, Beans and Fried Eggs
Jessi heard the dogs barking from a mountain across the town. He got all worked up and started barking too. The neighbours filtered him out, except for Cindy Clone. He got worked up and started complaining about noise in the neighbourhood. It was a losing point in his book. Besides, it was his way of telling everyone he didn’t belong. After all, he was only visiting. He was there to help. “So, you’re just visiting then,” I said. He was. “I leave Thursday. I come here once or twice a year to make sure things are going smoothly and give the boys a moral boost.” (In the meantime, Avó was blending shakes for the table. She added a banana for an extra boost.) The newlyweds were leaving too. They found a condo across the town. No one called it that.
Cindy didn’t mind the food. He went back for two refills and served himself three fried eggs, even though the USDA Food Guide recommends no more than 4 egg yolks per week. His girlfriend was shy, skinny and half-Portuguese. She barely ate. She was more concerned with translating. She needed to be appropriate. “Oh, I have nothing to do with the project,” she told me. “I work at the school too, but in a different department. Actually, I work at a different school.” She offered to dry the dishes. “I’m just here with Cindy.”
The community had been fighting for its existence. The entire lot was declared a national park. The papers praised it for its “irrepressible beauty and boundless trees” (in fact, the hoods above the rocky cliff had no soil for trees. Down the valley was all forest, but no body lived there.) It turned out “boundless trees” was the name the architect had chosen for his new green roof design. “Boundless trees” was also the new metro line the city was extending to the community.
“Our plan is to make the project financially sustainable within three-to-four years,” Cindy was saying. He asked me for a sustainability teaching kit. “We need to be teaching sustainability to these kids,” he said. (The colour inside him was growling. The actual project manager was from the community. He seemed calm.)
I could tell Cindy had no idea the community was fighting for its existence. It’s because he’s not the main character. Wilma is. She was not at lunch.
2. The Day After the Cup
The radio was on the morning after the Cup. (The one that never happened and nobody won.) It was Bossa Nova, and then somebody started whistling. The dog was still sleeping when they announced that Germany won. (Right, Germany won. It was a good thing because only Argentina was enemy. Germany was France’s enemy – “Ah non mec! Anyone but Germany.” I was under the impression it was anyone but Holland. I was wrong. Plus, Argentina parties better. It’s a Latin culture. It made sense.) Merkel spoke. She was proud of her boys.
Wilma was already meeting with the City. Bruna, her niece, was still in bed thinking about her teacher. (It was his beard. It tickled. Nothing felt quite the same after.) She put on her glasses and started reading egonotrumetrics. (Yes, she liked ego-no-tru-metrics. It was something she would never have to explain.) Árvores was playing soccer (or bouncing a ball up and down the neighbourhood steps). It felt like the day after Christmas, except there was no tree to clean up after. He needed to fit in. He had no idea the community was fighting for its existence. He had just moved south from Salvador and could barely notice the difference.
“Where did the day go?” It was getting dark. Avó was making dinner with cheeks that shone like wedding bells. Wilma was in another meeting. (This time, with the Association. They needed advice on how to govern.) “I’ll give you one piece of advice for your life,” she told them. “Make the best of what you have now! You look for more and it’s all gone.” She believed in building, not finding. (Although she managed to find stuff all the time. More than most people, I would say.) Her association made standing petals from broken eggshells. They were purple and stood on carton stems, settled deep into blocks of sand through bottlenecks wrapped in press paper. Every article was a wonder. She needed to sell the project or find somebody else to manage it for her. They needed patents and lawyers if they were to ever go live. But for now, they had to lay low and keep fighting for the community.
3. The Beach
“I’m heading down to the beach.” (Yes, there’s beach in Rio. It changes people.) Vovô was slaying pigeons. (Two guys had left a bag of snow in one of the trees at the party the night before. It wasn’t anybody’s fault.) Bruna blamed the potion. (“That’s how it starts,” she told me. “You never realize you’ve gone off track until you’ve fallen off the cliff entirely.”) Wilma turned a blind-eye to the whole thing. (That doesn’t mean she didn’t know what was going on. She had taken potion herself as a teen, back in the day when it could have cost her life. She knew. But for now, she was too busy signing contracts.) Her nails were impeccable. Her hair held up despite the heat. She was quiet until she spoke. She consumed the room until I asked her to leave. (To my surprise, she was apologetic – cordial and apologetic. She smiled at me as she took everyone outside with her. She handed Bruna the keys and told her to lock up when we’re done. She asked me how much time I needed. I said not long. In fact, I had no idea. She smiled again. She made eye contact. I didn’t care whether she liked me or not. She seemed to respect that.)
“We didn’t pay for any of it,” she had told me earlier. “They come to us.” It took me a while to figure out what the drawings meant. They were prototypes for office spaces. It was a new housing concept: compact, affordable, multipurpose. It had the aura of an architectural revolution. But they were having trouble scaling the stairs. “You know there’s a formula for that, right?” She shrugged. “I’m sure there is.” I offered to help her find it on the internet, but she said not to worry. Later she asked me for a link.
They came back later to see if we were finished. It was getting dark and they knew I had a long way to go. We asked for more time. First, 10 minutes, and then 15. They didn’t seem to mind. We asked for more time not because things were going well. The entire process dragged on like no other. I still hesitated to cut it short.
4. "Boundless Trees"
Nobody really got it. The trees were truly boundless. Avó knew. She used to play in them as a child and could never imagine walking to the city like today. Not without a ticket.
There was still an edge back then. She remembers walking along the wall. It was sunny. There were birds. It was not Brazil. It was a place she could not explain.
She could not blame the love for what she sees today. Her cheeks shone like wedding bells for 9 children, out of hope and maybe fear of oversight against a city that only mountains could protect. The barren cliffs of mountain.
"Casa 48" was first published by Sidereal Magazine (Issue 1, Winter 2014).