Rich and poor meet in Rio..
A short story - a teenage tourist photographer and kite making father encounter dreams and unexpected generosity.
The tourists ride the cog-train up the side of Corcovado through the tropical undergrowth to see the views of the Redeemer set up above the chapel – an inflexible character set against the sky, made of cement and steel, holding his arms wide and stiff across his province of sea and mountains. His beatific calm is carved from a Romanesque face, his modernist skin holds no creases and in the sun everyone can see Christ is white.
Below the Christ, Paola swaggers and smiles in cut jeans, handling the camera like a photo-journalist, leaning and twisting to frame a face in the lens. Every time she snaps a face she imagines them famous and beautiful – even the ugliest she frames as an icon and whispers a name of film stars and footballers under her breath. She jumps and lands before the train stops on its journey to Christ and runs to the cabin opposite the platform, where she hands the camera back to the boss, old Everaldo, portly and black, sucking an unlit cigar he has nursed for three days. She crosses back clutching instamatic pictures of people from the moments before. On the platform she touts the returning tourists with their own image, squinting and gazing for a match.
The last picture she took before the accident was of a corpulent man, red from the sun and bald, wearing large shorts and t-shirt bearing the name ‘Oklahoma’. She framed him and called him Marlon Brando under her breath.
Her father, Mauro da Silva, was a street vendor who sold kites. He leant them against a wall. Nearly always, a kite flew above – a mysterious thing on a windless day. He sold them at the bottom of Corcovado near the cog train station to catch the tourists and to be near his daughter.
The kites were all made by hand. Mauro stretched discarded rags and scrounged bamboo and beads or collected coloured scraps from the streets. He made them where he sold them sitting on a mat against the wall, sitting in the shade, his ingredients spread out before him. He studied them through a veil of cigarette smoke before placing the pieces together, feeling and finding the balances of texture and colour he liked. Paola joined him everyday for a small lunch and gave him her opinion of his latest work in progress and Mauro leant his head to one side to listen, as if the weight of her opinion had tipped his skull.
Mauro’s kites sat easy in the air. The sun took the colours and drew the eyes of the people below, making them say – It’s a beautiful kite. It’s made for the air.
The kite that Paola loved was a blue fish. It possessed a tail of silver and blue and eyes like saucers. Its mouth was huge and gave everyone a view of its ribs inside – delicately curved with bamboo. If it flew it would fly gulping the air.
-Don’t sell it Papa, it’s too beautiful.
-If someone likes it I have to sell it. It’s why I make them.
-Not the only reason Papa.
Paola took the fish-kite and examined its eyes made from shells, its pearly whites and the little dark shellfish iris – its scales shimmered with beads against raggedy cloth, a fin of denim and t-shirt displayed a letter ‘P’ and the gulping mouth had cotton wool lips.
-You’re a great artist Papa, these kites should be in a gallery. People would pay millions – we’d be rich!
-And you could be re-educated so you didn’t dream so much!
Across the square Theo Alvaro owned an old colonial house. Two French windows gave onto a small vernadah. The Christ was invisible from his house, He was too high in the air, instead Theo could see the tangled roots and trees of the mountainside. He liked to take coffee on the verandah and watch the tourists disembark from the coaches parked in the square, and always, he looked to see if the kite maker had finished a new kite. On Wednesdays his sister visited with her little girl.
-Look! a fish that flies. He said to his neice.
-Can we buy it and fly it at the beach?
Paola can see the fish kite swimming past clouds. It circles around the Christ. It flips its tail across his face. In the streets the people stop to watch. They point and exclaim. In her dream the fish kite starts to swim away and as it does, tears fall from the stony face of the Redeemer. The city is drenched, people run from the torrent of holy tears. The streets begin to fill and fill until the sea and His tears become one and Paola tells the people the water came when the fish kite flew away.
-We need to give the Redeemer the kite or else we’ll all drown, she says.
So in the dream the people set out in boats and makeshift crafts searching for the fish kite. When the fish kite is found the beg for it to see the Redeemer. It swims back until the fish kite is swimming and splashing in the waves by the Redeemer’s feet. The tears stop, the flood recedes and the Redeemer breaks his concrete mould and stoops to pick up the fish kite.
Paolo wakes up puffy eyes, looking round for the kite.
-Where’s the kite? she asks her father.
-It’s not here. I sold it yesterday evening.
-You have to get it back.
-It’s gone. I’ve sold it to Senhor Alvaro from across the square.
-Papa, I had a dream about the kite. Dreams are important.
-Dreams are for sleep. What can I do? I’ve sold it.
-You can ask for it back. You know where he lives.
-I can’t sell something one day and ask for it back another day.
-I know you think I’m being stupid but it’s bad luck. I know it’s bad luck.
-It’s just a dream Paola.
The accident happened under a clear blue sky. Nobody saw her fall but everyone heard her cry. They rushed from the cabin. Everaldo searched for the camera and found it in the grass by the rails. Two passengers helped Paola up. Her ankle hurt, a tear rolled down her cheek and made a shiny path. Her screwed up forehead made a frown and lines of the frown carried blood like a riverbed. The blood ran from a cut that welled up like a spring somewhere in the blackness of her hair. The passengers loitered in huddles talking about the accident.
-She must’ve twisted her ankle as she landed and banged her head when she fell.
-The train’s very bumpy, they shouldn’t let the girl jump from the train before it stops; an accident was bound to happen.
-She seemed so happy the moment before.
At the bottom of Corcovado, Mauro mopped the wound with a cold wet cloth. Beads of sweat clung to her like syrup.
-Have you got the fish kite Papa? Her voice soft and distant.
The house loomed above Mauro. Its size was painted by his fears. He felt small. The crispness of its white stucco walls and the dustless red tiles seemed to suck all the cleaness from him. All that remained were his sweating feet and dusty sandals and stained t-shirt. He pressed the button in the silver box. The voice from it seemed distant and inhuman.
-Who is it?
-My name’s Mauro I make kites in the square.
Inside the house all that he had never had was set out before him and cut a hole in his heart. For his daughter he cut his pride. He told his story, his daughter’s accident, her fever that wouldn’t break, his prayers and fears. Outside the window he saw, on a distant hillside, a cluster of corrugated iron roof huddled together. He knew the roof he had made was there but in all the roofs he couldn’t find his own. Theo was talking and pointing at the kite he had sold. It hung on the wall. It looked good and for an instant Mauro felt a sense of pride.
-I need to buy back the kite. My daughter’s sick. She keeps asking for it. I don’t know why. But that’s why, that’s why I’m asking.
-I’m sorry. I really would like to help but I promised it to my neice. She saw it yesterday and fell in love with it. We’re going to fly it at the weekend.
-Could you take another?
-No, I’m sorry my neice really wants this one.
Mauro sat on a step and looked out towards Corcovado, throwing small stones watching them bounce this way and that. The sun was just dipping, making Christ black in the distance. He called to his sister to keep an eye on Paola.
-I’m going to fetch something.
He walked towards Corcovado along the dusty streets. The traffic growled and snarled. By the time he stood before the house he was dusty and thirsty. He took hold of the drainpipe and tested its strength and then began to climb. Maybe someone saw him but nobody raised the alarm. He hoisted his skinny frame over the balcony. The doors were unlocked. Inside the room was dark but he could just see that Senhor Alvaro had fallen asleep in an armchair, a half finished glass of brandy sat on a coffee table next to him. He walked up to the kite and lifted it from the wall.
The following day, Theo Alvaro stood before the kite seller.
-How’s you daughter?
Mauro squinted up. The man’s face, in silouhette was dark against the sun.
-She still not strong. Still has a fever.
-These are strange times my friend. That kite you sold me, someone stole it. Broke into my house, didn’t touch a thing except that kite of yours.
- People do strange things.
-Yes they do. Anyway I have to buy another one of your kites.
-Take your pick.
Theo Alvaro chose a kite, paid the price and tucked it under his arm.
-Take your daughter to this address. The doctors there will treat her. Show them my card and I’ll pay the bill.
Mauro said nothing but watched Theo Alvaro walk across the square wearing a crisp suit. He felt a mixture of happiness and shame, but he took a long drag of his cigarette and concentrated on happiness.
-I had a visitor today said Paola.
The bandage across her forehead cut sharp across her skin.
-A nice man. He said he was your friend. Look he brought me some chocolates. Have one. I told him how I’m going to be a great photographer.
The chocolate tasted sweet in his mouth but in his stomach it was too sweet. He sat and listened to his daughter chatter tucked inside clean sheets. He wanted a cigarette but he knew the staff would tell him off.
When Paola returned home Mauro showed her the kite.
-He gave you the kite afterall?
-No,not exactly gave.
-You stole back the fish for me? Are you crazy Papa?
-But you were so sick and you wanted it so much
Paola picked up the fish.
-Strange old fish, said Mauro.
-Strange old man, said Paola embracing her father.
The four men have buckets and pulleys and ropes slung about them. They look like mountaineers and window cleaners. They wait by the van in Cosme Velho near the cog-train to Christ.
-Hey Antonio! calls Paola to one of them.
-How’s it going Paola?
-Fine. You going to give Christ a face wash?
-So that’s holy water in your bucket?
-Yeah. Last time I’m doing this. I’m off to university next week.
-Yeah. In Sao Paulo.
-He’ll turn black if you don’t wash him.
-I guess so. Be someone else's job.
Nobody knows who first noticed. Maybe the first few mistook the object as a gull skirting around the head of Christ. But after first light it was undeniable that Christ was flying a kite from his right hand, shaped hollow, a fish holding its tail high and gulping the air. During the morning puzzled officers craned their necks wondering how to remove it. The tourists smiled and pointed and took pictures that revealed a silhouette against the bright sun hovering near the face of Christ who continued to gaze unerring and serene across the expanse of city and its mountains and beaches and horizons.
Mauro and Theo Alvaro looked at the picture on the front page of Christ’s right hand holding the line that rises to a blue fish that gulps the air giving it flight. Mauro took a long drag of his cigarette, shook his head and laughed.
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