Bicycle

Ben Paris


4.
The beach in Beira Mar was a spectacle on Sunday. Venders walked by selling peanuts, cashews, ice-cream. A fishmonger lugged buckets of mackerel. Kids played soccer in the sand. Franklin watched a couple make love, discreetly as they could, chest deep in the sea. He and his wife, Rafaela, sat beneath the almond trees. An informal group of conga drummers played and sung samba at the edge of the shade. Young women, bikinis and brown skin, stood, danced a short samba, sat back down, laughing.

Two kids stopped at their table selling hard-boiled quail eggs. The boy carried a large cardboard box, and the girl a single flat of eggs.

“Just to help us,” the girl said. “Fifteen cents each. Discount if you buy the whole flat.”

Her nose was runny. She was no taller than the plastic yellow chairs they sat on.

“Come here, darling,” Rafaela said.

The girl stepped toward her. Rafaela put her palm on the girl’s cheek and wiped her nose clean with a napkin. “Are you sick, baby? Where’s your mom?”

The boy took a plastic flat from inside the cardboard box, and opened it to show Franklin the brown-speckled eggs.

“I remember you.” The boy’s hair was longer and curlier than it was years ago when Franklin first arrived; eyebrows thicker, a fake tattoo fading from the nascent bicep muscles.

Franklin glanced at Rafaela to see if she was listening.

“Is that your sister?” Franklin said.

The boy nodded his head.

“Selling a lot of eggs today?”

“Slow day,” the boy said.

“How many in the flat?”

“Thirty."

“How much?”

The boy held up four fingers.

Franklin paid. The boy placed a flat of eggs on the table and opened it. He took a bag of a salt from the cardboard box and spilled a small pile inside the flat. Franklin tapped an egg on the table and peeled the shell off. He dipped it in the salt and offered it to the kid.

“Don’t like quail eggs,” the boy said.

“No?” Franklin ate it, picked up another, tapped it, and started peeling in a single motion. “I do.”

The boy pulled his sister by the sleeve. “Let’s go.”

“My mother’s over there,” the girl said to Rafaela, pointing.

Rafaela turned one way, then the other.

“There.” The girl pointed again.

“He knows her,” the boy said to Rafaela.

Daisy was leaning against a high, white condo wall, just off the beach.

“I know,” Rafaela said. “Tell her you’re too young to be by yourselves selling things on the beach to strangers.”

“I’m with him.” The girl grabbed her brother’s sleeve as the kids were walking away.

“Pathetic, these women who send their kids out to work for them,” Rafaela said.

“It is unfortunate,” Franklin said. Then, “How did you know?”

“My father warned me the first time he met you. A gringo in new clothes walking through our neighborhood with a puta who’s already had three children isn’t hard to forget.”

“But you stayed with me anyway,” Franklin said.

“It was too late.” she said. “We’d already been together, what, six months before you met my father. You didn’t know what you were doing anyway, did you?”


5.
Senhor Arlindo took his fingers from the body’s neck. The creek was still dangerously high. It had flooded their house in the past. Franklin looked into the sky for signs the rain was done.

“Is it like you imagined?” Senhor Arlindo said to Franklin.

“What?”

“Brazil, Beira Mar. Is living here in Brazil the way you imagined it would be when you first decided to stay? The beach. Bossa nova, samba and all that. You were always going on about it.”

“Not sure what you mean?”

Senhor Arlindo smoked his cigar.

“I’m not sure what that has to do with anything. The kid’s dead.” He looked at Rafaela, then back at her father.  His head was covered in a cloud of smoke.

6.
A tapping on the front gate of Franklin and Rafaela’s house.

Franklin peeked out the second floor window. The boy, Lazaro, stood in the sun, a flat of quail eggs in one hand, his other arm around his sister’s shoulder.

“Who’s at the door, Franklin?” Rafaela called from the yard.

“It’s us!” Lazaro shouted. “We have quail eggs!"

People always stopped by the house selling things. Franklin bounced down the stairs. “If you want to buy them, go ahead. I certainly don’t,” he said to his wife.

Rafaela opened the gate and stepped outside. “What a surprise,” she said. The girl grabbed her around the waist, pressed her face into Rafaela’s body as if she were being saved from something. Franklin remembered the first time he saw her, urinating naked in the yard. Lazaro, taller now than Rafaela, bony elbows and knees, the same bronze skin, peach-fuzz mustache, smiled and tried to move away. Rafaela grabbed the boy by the wrist and hugged him. “Trying to get away without giving your aunt a kiss, are you?” Lazaro pulled away, but she placed a kiss on his cheek before he could.

Franklin joined them in the street. They stood under the passion fruit vine that ran the length of fence and gate in front of the house.

“We brought you some eggs,” the girl said.

“I’m sorry, sweetheart, we just spent all our money. We don’t even have enough to buy cooking gas.” She pointed at the empty gas canister on the porch as proof. “See. It’s sitting there waiting.”

“No, no. A gift.” The girl handed the eggs to Rafaela. “For you.”

Rafaela accepted the eggs and hugged both children again.

Franklin stepped from the sun in the street to the shade of the yard, like stepping into air-conditioning. Rafaela and the kids followed. They sat at a plastic table on the porch. The girl picked up a pen and started drawing on a newspaper. The boy, Lazaro, sat quietly. He glanced around the porch and said, finally, “Nice plants.”

“Do you like plants?” Rafaela said.

“Yes,” Lazaro nodded.

“I like plants too,” the girl said. She held up a drawing. “Look. It’s a flower.”

They laughed.

“Do you have any work I can do?” Lazaro said, looking at Franklin.

“Not really.” Franklin walked to the side, thought about the sewer for an instant; he made a point of regularly raking out the accumulated junk to keep it from stagnating, but didn’t want to impose it on the kid. “Do we, Rafaela?”

Rafaela looked around the yard. “The weeds and leaves maybe.” She gestured at the garden beds that lined the periphery of the house.

“The weeds and leaves,” Lazaro said.

She glanced at Franklin. “Fine with me. But you’ll have to wait until next week to get paid.”

“The wheelbarrow’s over there. When you’re done, dump it next to the creek, on the other side of the coconut trees.” She pointed to the bank on the side of the house.

Lazaro kneeled in the dirt. Rafaela tore sheets of paper from a notebook, and handed the girl some crayons. “Draw me another flower,” she said.

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