Cristóvão found himself lying on a couch, unable to use his arms. Cramps had paralyzed them. Meanwhile, something shuffled towards the door in the darkness. The doorbell that had just rang him awake, rang once more, dragging him back into reality for good.
“Alícia!” Cristóvão called, his voice stark, yet muffled. No one shouted back. “Alícia!” he made a feeble attempt to call her.
“Yo, Cristóvão!” she answered.
Alícia approached him with a pair of tiny food-fragrant bags. Burgers, Cristóvão thought, as he braved the challenge of moving his tingling arms. I was dreaming of something...
“Kate! Food’s here! Come and get it,” Alícia shouted.
“That’s not for me?” Cristóvão asked.
“Did you skip dinner?”
“I had church today.”
“Don’t tell me you crashed on the couch the minute you made it home.”
This was way too much action for someone who had just been shaken awake. Cristóvão didn’t answer, picking his glasses off the floor and carefully setting them back on his face. What had he been dreaming about again? That very evening the preacher had urged them all to keep an eye on their dreams, for they could contain God’s warnings.
The gringa rushed into the living room, nesting onto the other couch along with Alícia and the burgers. She had made herself home alright. Alícia noticed Cristóvão was staring at Kate and pointed to the bedroom with a flourish.
– You... go sleep in your bed. Your face is all wrinkled.
Cristóvão tried to protest, but Alícia was already dragging him by the arm.
– Come, I’ll tuck you in.
Cristóvão caught a glimpse of the digital clock on the wall. It was 3:03. Kate clearly wasn’t following the situation at all. She didn’t get that Brazilian guy who didn’t care to go out and have fun; neither did she get what grudge he could be holding against her. Besides, she couldn’t even pronounce his first name.
Alícia helped Cristóvão put his pajamas on and covered him with a comforter before turning off the lights.
“Good night,” she said, shutting the door behind her.
It’s too hot, Cristóvão thought, pulling the comforter away.
“Where did you meet her?”
“At a rave.”
“How do you meet someone at a rave?”
“It’s the only place to meet people in Europe.”
“So you bring a kid you met at a rave into my...”
“Cristóvão! Drop it. She’s 19.”
“And you’re not.”
Alícia was 22. Cristóvão was 26. She had never spent a whole year in college. Cristóvão graduated by 21 and, next thing he knew, he had passed the test to become a public servant.
Alícia had spent the previous year backpacking through Europe. When she got back, she was slimmer and malnourished, with hundreds of tales about “wild people” spurting from her chapped lips. Now one of these people had materialized into his flat–with no “return address,” as they used to say.
Kate had made it to Brazil using her own finite, cherished resources and she seemed determined to make the best of it. She and Alícia had a routine: partying all week long, bar-hopping every other day, and lying on the beach from the moment both managed to get up. Cultural trips were somehow squeezed into the squandering. On top of that, the gringa found some time to learn Portuguese with Alícia. She practically didn’t get any sleep.
Kate’s Portuguese lessons consisted of watching dubbed Teletubbies episodes and translating CSS lyrics. “Why not Ivete’s lyrics?” (1) Cristóvão had asked once.“ You have no clue about my methods,” Alícia had replied, clicking her tongue. Surprisingly, after a while the girl was able to warble the hip Brazilian wording around the house, as well as some basic terminology, such as colors, shapes, and utensils, all in baby talk. The Alícia Method included introducing students to old Xuxa (2) videotapes. Kate was thrilled. Cristóvão found it appalling.
“How can you call this an education?” he asked. “One would say it looks like she’s being brainwashed or something.”
“You’re beginning to catch my drift,” Alicia replied.
“Kids are the best language-learners.”
It crossed Cristóvão’s mind to shake Kate off that stupor. But in the end he surrendered to a kind of brotherly pride. Could his sister be a genius? Unless he was mistaken, the last major Alícia had picked in college was Psychology. Let them be, he thought. I better not meddle in that.
He couldn’t help himself, though. At the table, Cristóvão would slander Rio’s nightlife in flawless English, for it was so tedious, violent and inconsistent. And, with the aid of news print-outs and sneaky suggestions, he hammered into Kate’s head the fact that her fair skin was a magnet for rapists, muggers and murderers. He did a simultaneous interpreting of the local news on TV. At first, Kate was disturbed, but soon she would gaze at him with indifference and avoid him as much as she could.
“Let’s have café on the padaria,” (3) she’d say to Alícia in these occasions, mixing in some Portuguese as she stood up.
Alícia raised her white flag when she reached the chorus.
“Alright, so it doesn’t make a lot of sense, but who cares? It’s all about the groove, baby!” she acknowledged after trying to translate one of Kate’s favorite funk songs into English. They both laughed. The song was called “Camila macumbeira.”
“I hear Brazilians are into Occultism,” Kate said.
“’Into Occultism?? Ha, ha!” Alícia shook her head, amused.
“African Occultism and such, isn’t it?” Kate insisted. “Macumba, black magic. What about Paulo Coelho, too?”
“It’s a tricky thing to explain. It’s like, we’re into everything.”
After a few minutes, Kate was acquainted with Brazilian religious syncretism and had been invited by a friend of Alícia’s to watch a macumba ceremony.
“Just... please don’t let my brother know about this.”
“No worries,” Kate said excitedly.
Faded steps moved away from the doorframe. Cristóvão went back to his bedroom and sat on his bed. Of course he would never go near a macumba site, but there was no need to keep this information from him. The gringa’s petty little soul didn’t concern him, but his own sister showing such utter lack of knowledge about him...
God, it’s so hot!. He turned on the air conditioner and tuned into Redtube. He forgot there was a world beyond his door.
His sleep was cut short by someone asking if he was asleep. Almost two in the morning. Cristóvão opened the door. It was his sister. In the distance, someone barfed.
“Can we sleep with you?”
“Is your AC busted again?”
Alícia had a cigarette stuck under her lip as she stared back at him. No reply.
“You’re probably not turning it on right. Tomorrow I have a meeting at eight-thirty, but...”
He walked out of his room, ready to sacrifice some sleep.
“Ok... Alright, Cristóvão,” she stopped him, placing both hands on his chest. “Alright, that’s not the issue. It’s just that Kate doesn’t want to sleep by herself. Neither do I.”
Cristóvão squinted, trying to make his sister see that her statement was structurally flawed. That didn’t work. He tried to get more out of her then.
“Where have you been, anyway?”
Cristóvão, ready to pretend he was listening to the bad news, stopped in his tracks.
“You knew I was eavesdropping?”
“They spoke to us, straight to us,” she interrupted him. “They spoke English, Cristóvão. That didn’t play out like Marina told us. At all.”
He walked further into the hall, speaking with his back to Alícia.
“You should be pursuing God, not this wicked crap.”
Cristóvão started a prayer by holding both the girls’ hands. He asked God to forgive their sins, shed light on their path and drive away any malignant forces. But it took him awhile before he could get comfortable in the sleeping bag, while the two girls went out and were fast asleep on his bed.
It wouldn’t be so bad if they always slept in there. They keep their AC running all day long! This way they’d help me pay the bills! Is it always going to be like that? I hate sleeping on a sleeping bag… That parasite, on top of stealing my bed, she tells my sister it’s ok to sleep next to her. Could she be a lesbo?
When Kate woke up the next morning, Alícia was smoking in the balcony. Cristóvão had left early and the maid had orders to keep the table set for breakfast until noon.
“Somebody before us in this land...” Alícia hazily quoted.
“I want to hear none of this bullshit,” Kate said.
“Sorry. Still scared?”
“That didn’t scare me.”
“So what then?”
Kate just shrugged. Perhaps being in each other’s company all the time was getting old.
“I came to you because... Honestly, it’s getting worse each day.”
First Cristóvão told the preacher about his sister and the foreigner dealing with macumba. Then he told him about the dream he had the night before.
“They were dancing together like animals in our living room. They went outside to the balcony and the wind blew the door shut behind them. The skies above them were cloudy and growing darker and darker with a shade of green; something weird was about to happen. The girls couldn’t move. At the same time, their faces would get mixed up—one would become the other. At times, my sister was the redhead one and the other girl the blonde one. Then, in the distance, through the balcony, you could see Pedra da Gávea (4) materializing in the distance, that flat-topped rock, you know? It was treading on and on, very gallantly, taking its time to weave around the buildings... Until it stopped right in front of them and bowed a little. Then they saw it was wearing... a bow tie.”
The preacher squeezed Cristóvão’s shoulder.
“The Lord’s coming back, Cristóvão. This could be a sign. You should pray like you never prayed before. Pray for your sister, too.”
“That’s not the point. It’s just that I... Where was I in the dream?”
“That dream is a God-sent vision. God is everywhere.”
The preacher gently led him towards the exit.
“But... Sorry. I’m as tired as you are, preacher. It’s just that this dream was something else. I was never afraid of the monster. It felt as if... It was supposed to be light-hearted and funny. Like a flick, a romantic comedy. The bow tie... and the bouquet. It had a bouquet!”
Cristóvão was out on the avenue and bumped into a street vendor who was selling horns for the Sunday game. That was no bouquet, he pondered, but a box of chocolates.
The weather forecast indicated an improbable digit over 45. It’s probably a mistake, Kate thought. No, it unfortunately isn’t, she corrected her thought right away.
It was Saturday. She was running out of money. She was bored and drunk. Brazil wasn’t living up to its image. People were promiscuous and pretty, but not at the level she expected. They seemed more interested in playing little games instead of having sex—or playing music, for that matter. They seemed to want to get enraptured and become obsessed with each other; snogging wasn’t good enough for them. Wrong time of the year? Who knew?
She would have to leave soon and, if she didn’t collect some pretty spooky stories right away, she’d be forced to make up some adventures to tell her friends about—friends who’d be disappointed by the time they made it to Brazil, too. Hey, that might just be the way folktales work.
Kate headed to the kitchen, wondering if she should have taken up on Alícia’s offer. Even though she didn’t have anything better to do other than drink, watching a Christmas tree being lit up in the middle of a lake at night seemed appealing to her. Besides, if she’d assumed correctly, this sort of event was a family deal, which killed it for her.
As she was going back to her room, Kate heard a whisper coming from the living room. Squinting a little, she made her way into the dark stretch towards the balcony, avoiding the furniture whose location and dimensions she had already memorized.
That couldn’t have been a thief… not on the tenth floor.
He was speaking in his sleep. Nothing important. Just some random sussudio.
Kate leaned over the back of the couch and took a closer look at him.
He is such a waste. Yes, a waste.
She stretched out a couple of fingers and let them hover above his white shirt. In the second run, she lightly touched him.
What she had been trying to reconcile, the fact that had been weighing on her shoulders every time they went by one another, was his damn good smell. It was his own natural smell. It came from somewhere between his neck and shoulder bone. It wasn’t just her imagination. It was a physical connection so powerful it seemed to compel her to get closer to him.
She placed her beer can on the floor and touched her own lips. Then, with the moist tip of her fingers, she touched his mouth. It was big and thick.
As she ran her fingers through his face, she minded the long lashes on the eyelids that kept his grey eyes shut. At last, he let out a deep, languid sigh while he was still asleep. Fever built on the back of her throat; she moved over to the right arm of the couch, letting her red-dyed hair hook on his day-old beard. He seemed to smile. She came closer and put her lips on his.
“Alícia…” he replied.
Kate slammed the door as she left.
Under his eyelids, Cristóvão’s eyes started to move left and right.
A tall lean man on top of a hill, wearing ragged old garments, had a typewriter before him and was typing away as if he had never done anything else but type. He looked over his shoulder to glance at whom was approaching him from behind.
“Take a look at that,” the man pointed.
Cristóvão lowered his eyes to the indicated place, below them to the right. At the foot of the hill, a dark lake surrounded by odd-shaped mountains loomed.
They weren’t talking in any dialect known to man, but in some pre-Babel language in which they could understand each other perfectly.
“In the middle of the lake.”
The tiny silhouette of a girl paced around the surface of the water, bedecked in putrid algae. As if she were dragging all the sludge in the lake by the force of her hair, step by step, towards one of the surrounding mountains. Even though he was far away, he could see her.
Suddenly, Cristóvão winced. He’d just recognized it. The lake was Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas (5). He was on the top of the Catacumbas hill.
“You got her ready for it,” the man said nothing about guilt. “That’s all.”
“It? What is it?” Cristóvão stammered as he fell on the steaming ground.
“The thing you people keep underground. Haven’t you heard about it?”
Kate stood still then and everything had frozen around her, even the ash breeze that had made Cristóvão’s eyes burn.
“Kate! Get out of there, Kate!” Cristóvão said mechanically.
In response, the ground shook, as if trying to get rid of something, slitting open magma terraces. The shock wave rippled across the Lagoa.
“Nuptials require two witnesses,” the man said while falling from his stool.
The rhythmic thud went on, echoing around the nightmarish Rio like a loud ovation. With his face in the dirt to avoid the spectacle, Cristóvão tried to steady his mind. Pedra da Gávea was groggily drawing near. It brought along a humming sound that went on and off:
“...apavora. ...em ser tão ruim. Mas al... ...acontece no quando... ...ando eu mando a tristeza embora.”
Cristóvão, all of a sudden upright and alert, chanted:
“O samba ainda vai nascer, o samba ainda não chegou.” (6)
Lovecraft joined in:
“O samba não vai morrer, veja: o dia ainda não raiou.” (7)
The Pedra unraveled into an anemone. Disgusted, Cristóvão smiled, singing his heart out:
“O samba é o pai do prazer, o samba é o filho da dor, o grande poder transformador.” (8)
But why am I singing this? Why am I watching this?
Wheedled away, Kate reached out to her fiancé with her right hand, displaying something shiny on her ring finger. He grabbed her wrist and, in a flash, he was holding her by her five extremities, making her a star. But instead of hearing the nuptial waltz, everything went quiet again, except for the rhythm of the sloshing waves in the Lagoa.
Upon his awakening, sirens and screaming could be heard on the street.
Cristóvão took no notice of it. The last image he saw in his dream was overwhelming: she was spread-eagled, looking over her shoulder with an empty gaze that had no need for him any longer.
(1) Ivete Sangalo, famous Brazilian singer and Latin Grammy winner
(2) Maria da Graça “Xuxa” Meneghel, a famous Brazilian entertainer
(3) “Padarias” are a mix of bakery, deli and cafe where people often go to buy fresh French bread for breakfast or have a quick snack and some coffee.
(4) Literally, “Rock of the Topsail”
(5) A lagoon in Rio that is connected to the Atlantic ocean
(6) “Samba is yet to be born, samba is yet to arrive.”
(7) “Samba isn’t gonna die, look: the dawn is yet to come.”
(8) “Samba is the father of pleasure / Samba is the son of pain / It’s the great transforming power.” –Lyrics by Caetano Veloso, from “Desde que o samba é samba” (“Since samba has been samba”).
Simone Campos is a writer, translator and publishing professional. She was 17 as of her literary debut ― a novel called No shopping (2000, “At the Mall”). She contributed to many anthologies until her second novel A feianoite (2006, “Nasty Nights,” due to be released in English as e-book) came out, followed by her on-line sci-fi novel Penados y rebeldes (2007, “Afflicted and Rebellious.”)
Amostragem complexa (2009, “Complex Sample,”) her first short story collection, was completed through a Petrobras Cultural grant. In 2011 she published an interactive book called Owned – um novo jogador (“Owned – a new player,”) which was inspired by the videogame culture and released in digital and paperback formats.
She also draws inspiration from late writer H. P. Lovecraft, with whom she became acquainted in 2009 after he was referred to by (1) Neil Gaiman’s “Fragile Things” and (2) The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, a Japanese anime. Lovecraft has been in her life at least since “Nasty Nights.”
For more information, visit her official website.
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