I’m standing on an outdoor patio overlooking the city of Rio de Janeiro. A cool evening breeze blows in from the South Atlantic, carrying away some of the city’s heat and leavening the metropolis with the scent of the sea. Below me the beach of Copacabana scythes into the black ocean like a gleaming Saracen sword. Above and to my left the giant statue of Christ the Redeemer stands with arms outstretched, gathering the sins of the city onto himself.
I sip my Caipirinha and smile. I’m finally here.
Beautiful isn’t it?” my companion says, gently touching my arm.
“Like you,” I say, turning towards her.
The girl smiles and gives me the up-from-under look, her eyelashes cutting a reverse horizon across twin emerald suns.
“Thank you,” she says.
I pull the girl close to me. I smell the blue orchid shes wearing in her hair. The heat of her body simmers through the mirage of her thin dress. I take another sip of my drink, look at the city below and try taking it all in. This moment will never come again.
“I’m hungry,” the girl says. “Let’s get something to eat.”
“I’ll meet you in the dining room. I need to use the bathroom first.”
“I’ll meet you there.”
The girl leans forward and gives me a kiss. “Order some champagne,” she breathes.
“Very good Madam,” I say.
The girl laughs and walks away. After I enjoy watching her walk away I turn around and look at the city again.
“Here’s looking at you,” I say, toasting the massive statue of Jesus.
The concrete statue doesn’t reply. He’s too busy gathering up sins. I shrug and walk down to the hotel’s dining room.
“Table for two please,” I tell the MaitreD. “I have a reservation.”
“Are you a guest of the hotel?” he asks.
“May I see your room key?”
The request strikes me as odd. As I fumble in my pockets the MaitreD stares at me through a mask of polite boredom.
“Here you are,” I say, pressing the plastic card into his hand.
The MaitreD silently takes my room key and runs it through some sort of scanner. After a moment he looks satisfied.
“Thank you sir,” he says. “Please follow me.”
“What was that all about?” I ask.
“What was what all about sir?”
“The thing with the key?”
“Security sir,” he says, a faint smile playing on his lips.
The MaitreD escorts me to my table. After I sit down the wine steward comes over. I order a bottle of Bollinger. Money’s no object tonight.
After a minute the sommelier arrives with the bottle and pours out two glasses. I thank the man and he goes away. I look at the champagne flute and watch the tiny bubbles stream elegantly to the surface. I read somewhere that dust and imperfections in the glass allow the champagne bubbles to form. The germ phobic customers at my old job would inspect their wine glasses with an electron microscope if they could. No bubbles for them I guess. Sometimes you need a little dirt in order to live.
I don’t touch my glass. I wait for the girl. It’s only polite.
After a while the stream of bubbles in the glasses slows to a trickle. I look at my watch. The girl’s been gone too long. Twenty minutes too long. I get up from the table to go look for her.
A hand reaches out and grabs the edge of my jacket.
“Can I get some service here please?” a man barks.
I look down. Its one of my old customers from The Bistro.
“What are you doing here?” I ask incredulously.
“What am I doing here?” the man says. “I’m rich. What are you doing here?”
“I’m on vacation.”
“Well, the man says. “You’re still a waiter. Tell the bartender to get me another martini.”
“How about you go fuck yourself instead?” I say, pulling the man’s hand off me.
“What did you say?” the guy sputters.
“You heard me, I say,” moving away.
I walk out of the restaurant and into the hotel lobby. The girl’s not there. I walk over to the ladies room. I ask the women coming out if a red haired girls inside. None of the women speak English. I don’t speak much Portuguese. I walk into the ladies room. A lady screams. I call the girl’s name. No answer. I look at the woman who screamed and try apologizing. She screams again. I walk out.
I head back to the restaurant. I can hear a commotion building behind me like a gathering storm. The MaitreD is standing by the hostess stand, still wearing his indifferent mask.
“Did you see my companion?” I ask him. “A red haired girl with a blue orchid in her hair?”
The MaitreD says nothing.
“Didn’t you hear me?” I say.
“What’s the matter with you?” I scream.
The MaitreD smiles a thin smile. “She’s gone sir.”
“Gone?” I say, “Where did she go?”
“I cannot tell you.”
“Security,” the MaitreD says. His index finger intersects the lips of his thin smile, forming a sinister cross.
“Shhhhh,” he whispers.
“This has something to do with you scanning my key,” I say. “Doesn’t it?”
The MaitreD just smiles his thin bored smile. I grab him by the hair and drive his face into the hostess stand.
When I yank his head back up the MaitreD doesn’t look bored anymore. Blood and teeth dribble out of his mouth.
“Where did she go?” I repeat.
To the favela!” the MaitreD cries. “To the favela!”
I let go of the MaitreD. He falls to the floor crying. Part of me thinks I shouldn’t have hurt him. Another part of me, a colder harder part, doesn’t care. As I head for the main exit two large security men wearing blue blazers block my path. Without thinking I pull a black automatic pistol from under my coat and point it at them.
“Get out of my way,” I say. The men step aside.
I run into the streets. “Which way to the favela?” I ask a passerby.
“Christo!” the man shouts, staring wide eyed at my gun.
“Onde está o favela?” I shout.
The man points to cluster of shacks hugging the lower slopes of the mountain. Police sirens wail in the distance. I holster my weapon and start running downhill. My shoes clatter on the pavement. Asphalt gives way to cobblestones. Cobblestones give way to dirt.
Soon I’m in the slums of Rio de Janeiro, the favela. I smell burning trash and urine. Angry eyes peek out of windows. The fetid air fills with catcalls and insults. Hard looking men rise up from the shadows. Suddenly I remember I’m thousands of miles from home. My fingers fumble for my pistol but its gone. I must have lost it when I was running.
Men are chasing me. I dive down an alley. I run as fast as I can but I can’t seem to run fast enough. I cut through a little restaurant, a hole in the wall place, knocking down a few patrons and exiting through the back of the kitchen. I don’t hear the men following me anymore. Breathing hard I prop myself up against a fence and try and catch my breath.
“You want a date mister?” a female voice calls out. “Want a date?”
I turn around. A hooker’s wobbling towards me, teetering on a pair of plastic high heels.
“You’re American?” the whore says. “American yes?”
“Ten dollars,” the whore says, thrusting out a hip. “I fuck you for ten dollars.”
“Did you see a red haired girl down here?” I ask.
“What girl?” the whore says. “I not pretty for you?”
I look over the girl. She’s about twenty with black hair and the tattoo of a dragon inked across the top of her breasts. Her eyes are older than mine.
“Very pretty,” I say.
“Ten dollars,” the whore pouts, holding out her hand.
I shake my head and start walking away.
“Sometimes you need a little dirt in order to live!” the whore calls after me.
I ignore her and walk through the favela all night. I never find the red haired girl. I’m deranged and inconsolable.
When the sun rises I’m passing through a garbage dump on the way back to my hotel. I’ll probably be arrested the moment I get there. Suddenly I realize I’m not the only thing living amidst the refuse. Birds and people are taking advantage of the early light, rooting through the garbage, looking for food.
I look down. On the ground next to my foot is a blue orchid. I kneel down and pick it up. I hold it in my hand. It’s my moment in time, the one I’ll never see again. I put the orchid in my pocket and start for home. High in the distance, high above the city of men, Christ the Redeemer gazes down impassively, gathering everyones sins unto Himself.
I wake up. I’m not in Brazil. I’m safe in my bed at home. Outside I can hear the hydraulic sighing of the garbage truck as it stops in front of my apartment. Hard sounding men shout at one another. Plastic garbage cans rebound off the pavement.
I swing out from underneath the covers and head into the kitchen. I put the coffee on. As I wait for it to brew I think about my dream. I miss my old waiter dreams. Simple dreams where I remember forgetting a customers order twelve hours later.
Outside my window its raining a hard cold rain. I feel sorry for the garbage men. I remember reading somewhere that rain droplets condense around particles of dust high in the atmosphere. No dust, no rain. No rain, no nothing.
Sometimes you need a little dirt in order to live.