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How I miss Rio. Rio de Janeiro the most stunningly picturesque city on Earth with its dark green mountains and generous bays, embelezado with broad white, sandy beaches. Rio forever in my heart. Rio my a minha pátria, my homeland, where I spent the most wonderful days of my life with linda, linda mãe, my beautiful, beautiful mother. Clambering up Corcovado Mountain together, to our favela amongst the trees.
Thinking back, I realise that she was not much older than I was, maybe fifteen years. Who knows?
Her greatest gift to me was English.
We had a precious VHS. One where a panel on the top popped-up into which the tape was inserted then pressed down to do its magic. Then, on our little TV, I could begin my lessons, learning English from American movies.
To keep us alive she worked in a bordel and sometimes turned tricks on the beachfront at Copacabana.
When she had a good night she would bring home a new movie and fresh groceries and we would have a feast. Sometimes the tapes were borrowed or rented. But others she bought. These had to be kept hidden along with the VHS and TV. There were a lot of light-fingered neighbours on our mountain. And more than once the authorities tried to clear us off. Particularly those of us whose barracos were in sight of the funicular railway that carries the tourists to the top, through our luxuriant jungle, high into the clouds, to Jesus. Can't let the tourists see how real people live.
Oh, how I loved her. Learning from those movies was my penance for all my sins. My penance for being her burden. My penance for when she was so badly hurt by that lousy pimp that she lay in bed for days on end.
Towering above us was Cristo Redentor, Christ the Redeemer, beloved of all the world. He who came to sacrifice himself so that all who believe in Him can have eternal life. She put her faith in Him and venerated our mountain, for his love and protection.
She is in his arms now. Pray God I can still be saved to be reunited with her for all eternity.
Oh minha mãe, I have promised God to avenge you. His blood will wash away your suffering.
Has that sargento de la policía called for Father Jorge to vouch for me?
Maybe it would be unwise to ask Father Jorge to hear my confession just yet: 'Bless me father for I have sinned. Today I murdered a man.'
Midnight Cowboy, I loved that movie. When I discovered that: 'Everybody's talking at me. I don't hear a word they're saying, Only the echoes of my mind' meant: 'Todo mundo está falando para mim. Eu não ouço uma palavra do que está dizendo, apenas os ecos da minha mente'. It spoke to me personally, in my efforts to understand. From the moment I understood these words, English flooded into my brain and I started to dream in my new language. I'm thinking in it now.
Minha querida mãe, my dear mother, just fifteen years apart, no wonder we were so close. As a man I've pleasured many a tourist woman more than fifteen years older than myself. But I do prefer these Argentine gauchos. Naïve boys from the country. My life has been lived through Midnight Cowboy. And somehow the role of 'Ratso' suited me. To others I've been Enrico or Senhor Rizzo for most of my life. Up-market of course, I couldn't abide all that filth and untidiness. I'm a sophisticated man of the world.
I wonder when that stupid cop will give me some water to get this blood off my suit.
Damn Salvatore! Such a good find. Such good hands. I've been looking for one like him ever since I came to Buenos Aires.
The tourists here are so naïve, such easy touches. Back in Rio they're on their guard. The guides even tell them not to go out at night. But here they're up at all hours, obsessed with the Tango.
Stupid people with too much money.
Well I'm here to help. My next scheme is great. I'll get some cards printed introducing myself as chief guide for my tour company. I suppose I could use the same one as I use for suggesting restaurants and nightclubs to tourists, to get my commissions.
I'm so convincing and trustworthy: 'Here take my card and just mention my name they'll look after you. A special deal.' In my neat brown three piece tweed, with elegant little moustache greying like my hair, butter wouldn't melt in my mouth. Overpriced tourist joints love me. I'm well worth the commission. A good little 'Ratso' but trustworthy, like Ratty from Wind in the Willows.
Minha linda mãe, my beautiful mother, and I loved to watch that together. Sometimes we would sing. She imagined me famous someday, maybe a singer, like José Carreras. That's why it's another of my personas. Who wouldn't trust a singer?
Anyway, when I get out of this jam I can get rid of a pile of forged currency to pay for my trip. It's easy for someone like me who knows their way around the tourist traps. I'll just promote the same tours as others, undercutting the price. I'll give a money-back guarantee. That's the key. I take the mark's deposit at short notice then cancel the tour: 'sorry not enough starters'; and happily give 'their money' back in return for the 'ticket receipt'. Simple. On second thoughts, I won't give them my card. That would be stupid - they need to have nothing except the forged cash. See, if you think these things out properly they usually work.
It all went like clockwork this afternoon. Exactly as planned. As I told Salvatore, 'the old trains are best because we can sit near the door'. As it turned out the two Australian men had an interest in trains. It was so easy. I just gave up my seats to their women and stood with them. They were very happy to include me in the conversation. At first it was too crowded and I knew it would be tight when they told me when they were getting off. But Salvatore was perfect. He picked up my hint when I made a fuss about which stop they wanted and I moved around sideways to get the mark into position. At the stop before theirs Salvatore was like a bailarín: waiting til the last second; leaping up as if he had forgotten his stop; bouncing into the one with his wallet in his jeans back pocket; grabbing the wallet while the mark was still recovering; and diving out as the door closed. Magic!
But I almost had a heart attack when the mark realised what had happened as he left the train next stop. I thought I was gone when he forced the doors back open. Fortunately he looked on the floor thinking it might have dropped, before he looked, suddenly realising, at me. By that time he was too late, he had to retreat to join his friends on the platform, I was safe.
On the other hand, I suppose, if he had caught me I wouldn't be in this sticky position.
That wallet. The cash was hardly worth the risk. But $150 is better than nothing. And that bastard was so quick at cancelling the cards. Salvatore was so pissed off when he was almost caught trying to use one. I did half suspect it was dangerous, that's why I let him have them. Anyway Salvatore wasn't going anywhere if he got any money.
He didn't even see the little bit of paper in the lining. But he is more suspicious these days and must have seen me palm it.
The stupid Australian had written his login and password on a scrap of paper and hidden it in his wallet. Idiots like him often make a note of their password.
How much might he have? More than enough for my trip. They're all millionaires. They get about in jeans and open neck shirts but they fly around the world. They like to 'slum it', travelling with the locals to get the feel of a place. Give me a break! How can they know what it's like to grow up in a barrio bajo? Or to make a lousy living selling your body to filthy tourists like them?
This blood will ruin my beautiful suit if I don't get it off! And I'm a victim, being held in this cell is all wrong. Maybe Father Jorge will demand that they give me some water.
That sargent policía keeps looking in at me: People stopping staring, I can't see their faces, Only the shadows of their eyes. Now I can't get that damn tune out of my mind!
I had the name and password right there in my hand. All I had to do was get to the internet café and transfer the money. I was that close.
Maybe I had cheated Salvatore just once too often? But if he was going to be my 'Joe Buck' he had to turn those tricks, it's a fact of life. He needed to work his way. If it was good enough for my saintly mother, it was good enough for an innocent country boy like him.
I didn't even know he had a knife. Stupid fool. I might be smaller and starting to go grey but I'm strong and fast. And I grew up in a Rio favela and had more than one knife fight. I still have the scars. He was a good boy until he met me. Pure. But when he tried to get the password, and with it my money!
Maybe his soul is on its way to heaven?
Going where the sun keeps shining Thru' the pouring rain, Going where the weather suits his clothes, Backing off of the North East wind, Sailing on summer breeze And skipping over the ocean like a stone.
Where is Father Jorge? I need to get out of here. I need to get to Rio.
Father Jorge will certainly confirm my story. He believes I'm a businessman, a tour guide. He knows I'm one of the faithful. Attending Mass regularly; lighting a candle and praying for the soul of my mother.
It wont be much longer 'til I'm free.
I'll just stick to my story: 'He suddenly attacked me with a knife. No, I don't know where he came from. No, I had never seen him before. He looked like a 'gaucho'. He might've been trying to pick me up. He seemed to lose his temper when I ignored him. Yes, of course I struggled to get away. No, it was his own knife, but somehow he fell on it. It was simple self-defence...'
On the up-side, now that I've despatched one soul I can happily send that, boceta de uma droga empurrando cafetão, (expletive deleted) of a drug-pushing pimp, who got my mother hooked, to eternal damnation. So I'm going back home now, to keep my sacred promise to minha santa mãe, may she rest in Heaven.
But first I need to get the blood of Salvatore off me.
What did that detective de policía just say? How do I come to have in my possession a piece of an Australian's torn name tag with part of his name and part of his phone number? A tourist who had reported his wallet stolen earlier this evening by two men: one fitting my description; and the other resembling the deceased?
I did indeed have my wallet stolen on the train in Buenos Aries by two men fitting the descriptions in the story. The central character might have been innocent, until I saw the look on his face when I forced the doors back open to look for my wallet. Then, as I retreated to the platform and let the doors close too soon, it all fell into place like a jigsaw.
My friend Craig still believed our charming interlocutor innocent. But Craig has long been a barrister who needs to believe his clients to be innocent. So he has a poor record when it comes to being conned, as incidents in China with students who wanted to practice English and drink coffee for the first time; and sham Indian train officials; have proven. He brushes off such incidents as affordable lessons or charity towards those less well off.
But despite such incidents adding additional spice to an otherwise bland tourist experience, I hate to be taken for a ride. So in this story I imagined my principal trickster growing up in Rio - where we had glimpsed the shacks of the poor through the trees on the train up to see Christ the Redeemer - perhaps the child of one of the young 'working girls' we had seen plying their trade along the beachfront at Copacabana. Then I gave him an inevitably misanthropic life, driven by discontent; malice; and self-deception - with he theft of my wallet his final undoing.
Obviously Salvatore's name is no accident.