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16/12/2015

São Paulo Riviera

Kathleen Moura

Prologue

Eduardo is tired. He’s been making dogs for ten hours. He leans out of the van, elbows on his serving hatch. The river is pink, rippling grey – the sun a red-rimmed shimmer beyond. The club behind is buzzing thickly. Everyone who was going home has gone home. The kids in there now won’t be out for hours and they won’t want a dog. They’ll just be gazing and chewing, clutching round for a fag or a zoot or gum.

Chico turns off the funk that has been pumping through the van’s sound system. Eduardo rolls his eyes in thanks.

‘Elis?’ Chico says, flicking through his phone.

‘I won’t tell anyone,’ Eduardo says. ‘It’s our secret.’

Chico puts on his old, camp bossa-nova. He takes a plastic stool, moves it into the orange light of the serving hatch, the dawn around still soupy. He lights up a zoot, leans back and closes his eyes. His face drops and his youth shows. Eduardo likes his boss, in moments like this, when he isn’t pretending to be a gangster, dressed up in gold, surrounded by his girls and his mates and his uncles. When he is just a kid that likes Elis and smoking, smoking to Elis.

Eduardo turns back to the van, to the frying pan on the hob, ignoring the mess: the debris of rolls, the trodden-down sausages, the dark dried streaks of ketchup. He stirs his sauce with a wooden spoon. His special Japanese sauce. The one Chico has ordered him to make, to impress his new girlfriend. It’s thick and it glistens, Eduardo tries to take a sniff, tries to find the smell amongst the rotting stink of the river.

‘What the fuck do they put in that river? It smells like shit, or something,’ he calls out.

‘Dunno man,’ said Chico. ‘Looks nicer than the traffic though, right?’

The cars are there all around them; Eduardo can hear their roar. He can hear the city waking, feel the flickering of a new day. Babies wailing, dogs barking, concrete groaning against the heat. Not even daybreak and everything already crying, roaring, screaming to be heard. Everything but the river, which makes no sound.

‘It’s dead man, that’s why it stinks, it’s dead,’ says Eduardo.

He goes back to his pan. It looks about ready. Tomato ketchup, lemon, soy sauce. Eduardo doesn’t know much about Japan, he doesn’t think Chico does either, but he knows they use soy sauce. He licks some off a spoon.

‘It’s good, Chico. You want to taste it?’ he calls out.

‘Yeah, go on,’ Chico says.

‘On a dog?’ Eduardo asks.

‘Yeah, why not?’

Eduardo prepares a dog for his boss, taking more care then he has done all night. He feels sorry for Chico, sometimes. He’s a good guy, but it’s so hard to be good in São Paulo. The guns, the cars. The money – the absence of money. Eduardo hands the dog to Chico who is stoned now, beatific looking, baseball cap off to the side. He smells, from the club, from the dancing he does but doesn’t like.

‘You got to change that shirt before Melissa comes back,’ says Eduardo.

‘It’s the river man, it’s not me.’

‘You can’t blame everything on the river. Eat the dog.’

Chico closes his little pebble eyes, stretches out his chubby cheeks and takes a dreamy bite. He chews. He opens his eyes.

‘Fuck man. Fuck it’s good. You got it. You got it. It tastes like the sauces they have there. In Japan,’ Chico says.

‘Chico, you never been to Japan,’ says Eduardo.

‘Whatever. She’s gonna fucking love it man.’

Eduardo smiles. The sun is turning yellow and his shirt is already damp with the heat. Soon the whole city will be sweating, the concrete baking, the blue sky unremitting and vast. Another hot day. But a good dawn, a good end to a night’s work. He stretches and yawns. He can hear the wheezy roar of a bus, louder, heavier than the cars. He should get going, before they get packed out and he has to stand all the way home.

Chico jumps up. He’s excited. He’s stoned and excited and his gold chains jangle.

‘Eddie, this is it. This is what we’re gonna have when we’re in the Riviera. You’re gonna come with me. You’ll come to the Riviera too,’ he says.

 

Sofia’s eyes are gritty. Her body feels sticky, unnerved. She woke up at two and now it’s five-thirty. She sits on the balcony in her nightdress, looking down at the twinkling sprawl, going on and on and on. She fingers her phone. Her daughter is not back yet and didn’t pick up when she called. She’s dancing somewhere, Sofia tells herself, scanning the city stretched out before her, wondering under which twinkling globe her daughter has been flicking her hair and biting her lip and rolling her eyes. A night bus, stopping and starting, comes down from the North and she hopes Melissa is on board.

It’s a relentless city, beautiful at dawn, when the seething hot mess of it is still disguised, when the lights still glitter, red and white, and the sky is dark and tacky, lilac and blue. Soon it will be all grey, grey, yellow – smog and concrete and a piercing tormenting sun. The streetlights will blink off and a stream of gleaming cars will appear. The air will hang heavy with horns and there will be an underlying grumbling roar that reminds Sofia of the sound of the sea.

The night bus has reached the river. Sofia has watched it, waiting like this, many times. She is lucky, in some ways, to be able to do so. Her apartment is on the nineteenth floor. Nothing hides the city, stretched out in front of her. The newer apartment buildings are enormous and would eclipse her own, but they are being built behind, near the avenue, not on her strip of road. Sometimes, though, Sofia wished she didn’t know how far the city went on, wished her fears had less ground on which to roam.

A ringing thump echoes through the air. It drives itself through Sofia’s tired skull. She winces. The foundations for the new tower block are already being pounded down. The construction company has moved fast; there’s a ‘sold out’ banner across their poster of a happy family, eating dinner. But they shouldn’t be working now; there is a law against building this early, before seven. Sofia hears a baby crying from some apartment in the next door block, then the chuk chuk chuk of a helicopter, a black wasp on the orange sky.

So many people in so little space. How can they squeeze in anyone else? She’s watched São Paulo grow and grow, on and on and now up and up and up. It scares her, sometimes, how mammoth it has become, and her right at the centre of it. Sofia stands up and stretches. At least she has the sky and its colours, the pink and the black, the bleached white and the blue, the exhausted, pretty gold at the end of the day.

She leans out of the balcony to see if the bakery is open yet. It is; there’s Fabio, setting out the red plastic tables in the soot-grey street, the glow of the bar behind him. And there is the night bus pulling up, stopping. When it moves on Sofia sees Melissa, standing on the pavement, her tight white dress riding up her leg. Sofia closes her eyes, breathes out, waves to her daughter. Melissa doesn’t see her, doesn’t glance up at her home, she’s hugging Fabio in her over-friendly way.

Sofia makes a small plan: to wash and change, go down for sweet coffee and fried bread. She’ll tell Melissa off for staying out so late. Fabio will make clucking, calming noises. He’ll pour refills into their tiny glasses and Melissa will eat two or three slices of his breakfast cake. Then Sofia will get on the road to work, before the heaving morning rush, jittery and scratchy from the coffee and the night hours, but having at least breakfasted with her sweaty, smelly, beautiful daughter. She knows she will laugh a few times before seven a.m. That must be something, she thinks.

 

Hector is on the morning shift at Tiete transport hub, cleaning the night buses. They always need more work than the day shift. They arrive at Tiete scrawled with graffiti; black tags, fluorescent shapes, messages from the night kids. He fills a bucket full of soapy water and starts with the green 478-10. He knows this bus route well. It starts on Avenida Paulista, and travels, stopping and starting, down through Rua da Consalação and out across Perdizes, on under the mean, dripping, fly-over Minhacão, stopping at Barra Funda metro. It goes up behind Arcade Park before heading through the North zone, to the favela Brasilandia. He can see it all now, in his mind’s eye, the shopping crowds on Paulista, the suited men, the cheap drugstores.  The graffiti over Consalação cemetery, angels peering out at the road; the flower sellers opposite, by the hospital. The crackheads and homeless, partying, dying, by fires under the flyover. The quiet middle class streets with trees and tiles and security guards. The concrete sprawl of the favela, the danger, the guns, the hissing teeth.

Hector travelled that bus route for years and others too. Hector knows the veins of the city, the textures of its streets. He knows the dusty palms and the bright green shoots which creep, despite themselves, into the cracks in the concrete and blossom there. He knows the tarry hot smells of particular drains and where to suck in the scent of night jasmine. He knows the stink of the river, the sad decaying river, which cuts through the city.

East zone, West zone, North zone, South zone. He knows it all, he feels it all, even now: the stop and breath of the bus, the wheeze of the road, the currents of cars, the tidal traffic, the lapping pavements. Most of all he knows the people: the sallow faces, the smiles, the jokes, the dark eyes, the murmuring gossip. He sees the drip, drip, drip of the city making its mark on his passengers. They are weary in the morning sun but wired and alive when journeying out into the garish neon lights.

‘This one, it’s bad inside,’ says the driver, rubbing his eyes, loping down off the bus.

‘What happened?’ Hector asks.

‘We had a hold-up, near Brasilandia.’

Hector closes his eyes. His son works in Brasilandia; it could have been his son’s bus. He figures out the timings in his head. João would be fine, if he went training after work, as he often does.

‘Blood?’ he asks.

‘No. They were cool. Just the phones and the money. One girl had a laptop.’

‘Piss?’

The driver nods.

‘Stinks in there.’

Hector groans. He turns back to the shed. He’ll need bleach.

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