Bicycle

Ben Paris


1.
The rain that night against the corrugated roof was as loud as an approaching train. In the morning, she opened the shutters on the side of the house and gasped.

“What?” he said.

“Look,” Rafaela said.

The body was face down in the mud, next to a creek that doubled as a sewer; a purple patch of skin on the lower back, dark spot in the center.

She ran to the front of their house and stepped out across the muddy narrow street to her parents’ house.

He followed, stood in the middle of the road, pointed with his thumb. “I’m going around the side to take a look.”

She stood next to her father, Senhor Arlindo, who appeared at his front gate after she called. “Stay here, Franklin,” she said. “No reason to get involved.” She insisted on using his complete name when she was angry or stressed.

“Just a quick look.”

“Listen to me please.”

He turned and stepped over the rushing creek to the body, and leaned over it to see if he recognized the face. He placed his hand on a coconut tree to keep from slipping in the mud. A gathering of ants bit him before he had a chance to brush them off.

2.
He still hadn’t met his wife, Rafaela. It was the time before the internet, and Franklin hadn’t found his place in the world yet. Travel, going to cities where he’d didn’t speak the language and didn’t have any friends, was his way of looking.

In Beira Mar, a bairro at the edge of Salvador in Brazil, the bus stopped and he got off.  She was sitting on a bench, the ocean behind her a fathomless blue that postcards couldn’t reproduce.

Letters from home arrived now and then at the American Express office downtown. Telephones were scarce. Franklin was still young enough to make a point of going to the airport every other weekend to call family at the international telephone booth.

He sat next to her, and gestured toward the ocean with an open hand. She said something in Portuguese he didn’t understand. Children rode by on bicycles over the black and white stone sidewalks. A fisherman eviscerated a sting-ray on the sand. They were silent and awkward. She touched him lightly on the elbow, and stood.

“Daisy,” she said, and shook his hand.

“Like the flower?”

“Yes, the flower.”

They entered the place through the back. Scraps of plywood and old billboards, images of politicians smiling, served as a fence. Quail, the color of dirt, wandered around or snuggled in the dust. A baby girl, two years old maybe, squatted next to an outhouse in the corner.

On the floor in the bedroom, a comic book romance, with a ravaging muscular couple on the cover; Daisy kicked it out of her way as they passed.

She wanted money, she said, when they were done.  But a book that could help her learn English would do.

Through the bedroom window, a boy balanced himself on a rusted bicycle frame; no wheels, and no seat. He wore a t-shirt that reminded Franklin of home:  “NY Giants, World Champions, 1986.”

She snapped at the boy, and he walked over to the window. He held out his hand to Franklin and said in stilted English, “What your name?”

3.
Franklin stood over the body. He heard their footsteps through the leaves and twigs; the smoke from her father’s cigar, Rafaela’s voice.

“First smoke of the day, huh?” Franklin said, when they arrived.

His father-in-law, Senhor Arlindo, ignored him. Fisherman’s cap, extended belly, sinewy arms, Arlindo nudged the body with his foot and sighed. He crouched, secured his footing on a rock jutting from the mud, and felt for a pulse with the back of his fingers.

“Lazaro,” Rafaela said. “They must have dumped him here during the storm.”

“Daisy’s boy,” Arlindo said.

“Bastards,” Rafaela’s mouth twitched. “Was he even seventeen?”

 “I didn’t know you knew Daisy,” Franklin said.

“A lot of things you don’t know,” Arlindo said

“He was a good kid,” Franklin said, backing away from the bank of the stream.

“The kid was a thief, and that’s the least of it,” Senhor Arlindo said.

“Well, when we knew him he was a good kid, right Rafaela?”


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