Bicycle

Ben Paris

7.
“The tourists would be walking at the beach, where the benches are, tourists from your country….” Arlindo felt his shirt pocket for a cigar, then scanned the ground where he stood. He said to his daughter, “Go into the house and tell your mother to give you a cigar from the box.”

“How do you know they were from my country?”

“The gringos, I’m talking about. I don’t know where they were from. They’re gringos, estrangeiros, just like you.” Arlindo turned and shouted to Rafaela. “The matches too.”

The sun was breaking through the coconut leaves in rectangular slabs of light. “The kids would ride by on their bikes, a group of them,” Arlindo continued, “grab what they could, cameras, handbags, and take off into the neighborhood over there where they live.”

“How do you know it was Lazaro?”

Arlindo shook his head, feigning pity for his son-in-law. “Everyone knows. The fishermen playing dominos, when they’re not out in their boats what do you think they talk about?”

8.
The boy was on his knees in the garden. Franklin walked around the yard, feeding bananas to the monkeys in the jambo tree. Rafaela was in the front with Lazaro’s sister.

“How’s your mother?” Franklin said.

“Not good.” The boy spoke into the ground.

“What do you mean?”

“She’s sick.” Lazaro looked up. “Skinny. Doesn’t eat.”

Franklin peeled a banana, ate half, broke the other half into pieces, and placed the pieces on low-hanging limbs. “Take her to the doctor.”

He offered Lazaro a banana. The boy refused.

“She won’t go. She doesn’t want to know. God knows, she always says. She’s been going to that new church lately.” The boy tossed a handful of weeds into the pile on the patio. “That’s where all her money goes, to God.”

“You give her the money and she gives it to the church.”

Lazaro nodded.  He stood, brushed the dirt off his knees; neatened the pile of weeds with a broom. “It’s going to God she tells us.”

“Maybe you shouldn’t give her the money you make?”

“If I don’t, she goes out to the square where the gringos are, and…well, you know, she comes home late. Or....”

“Or what?”

“Or brings them home.”

9.
Senhor Arlindo lit the cigar. The smoke rose and hung in the streams of sunlight.

Flies landed on the wound. Franklin noticed the ants around the boy’s temple, moving in a single file toward the eye.

“We should at least cover him up,” Rafaela said. She looked at her father, then at Franklin for a confirmation.

Neither responded; the warble of the creek and the birds broke the silence.

“I’m going to get a sheet,” she said.

“Everyone knew it was going to happen,” Arlindo said. “It’s one thing to rob tourists, but the kid became a camel and they all have the same end.”

“Camel?”

“Runner. They carry things. Money, drugs. The bosses get the kids to do it because they’re immune from the law. Never a good end.”

“So everyone knew and no one said anything?”

“The kid was warned.”

“You could have told me.”

“You? What were you going to do? Go and talk to the bosses down there?” He pointed to the valley where Lazaro lived. “You’re probably dumb enough to do something like that. Get in their business and see what happens. You think they wouldn’t kill you too?”

“Talk to his mother maybe.”

“She was told. Three chances, she was given.”

“And?”

“God knows. It was all in God’s hands.”

10.
“If I had a bike….” Lazaro gathered the piles of weeds and leaves and placed them in the wheelbarrow. 

“I thought you had a bike,” Franklin said.

“It doesn’t work.”

“Bring it over. Maybe I can help you fix it.”

“I will,” Lazaro said. He maneuvered the wheelbarrow out the front gate. “Soon as I drop this off on the side.”

Franklin remembered how his own first bicycle was freedom itself, the first independence he had from his parents and brothers and sisters to take trips outside the neighborhood where he grew up.

After a few minutes, Lazaro knocked on the front gate, breathless, bicycle prone in wheelbarrow; rusted, no wheels. But it had handlebars, a seat, and a set of pedals.

“Here it is.” Lazaro smiled proudly.

“Yep, there it is,” Franklin said. He had his arms folded across his chest.

11.
 “So they killed him because, what, he was robbing tourists, running drugs and money?” Franklin said to Senhor Arlindo.

His father-in-law ignored him.

“You think that’s right?” Franklin continued.

Senhor Arlindo was turned the other way; his daughter was coming with his cigar. “People who ask too many questions get killed around here too.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

Rafaela arrived with a sheet of cloth. “Grab the other end, will you Franklin?”

“You hear what he just said?”

“Just grab the other end, will you?”

Senhor Arlindo lit the cigar.

Franklin and Rafaela stretched the sheet over the body. Franklin noticed that the boy’s toes were stuck under his feet in a way that would have been uncomfortable if he were alive.

12.
“Keep the chain oiled,” Franklin said. He had the bike painted black. He’d bought new wheels, brakes, and the new parts the bike needed. It glistened in the sun. The wheels and the spokes sparkled like diamonds. It had the knobby off-road tires Franklin would have liked when he was a boy.

Lazaro pushed the bicycle through the front gate of Franklin and Rafaela’s house, out into the street.  He lowered his eyes. “Thank you,” he said.

“The derailleur too,” Franklin said. “Just a little oil.”

Lazaro hopped on the bike, and rode away.

13.
Franklin would see him at the square and the beach, zipping over on the black and white stone sidewalks as if the bike were attached to his feet. They’d wave to each other, although if he were with his friends, Franklin noticed, Lazaro ignored him.

The last time Franklin saw Lazaro alive, he was on the street corner with two friends. A group of girls in their blue high school uniforms approached. One of them, the girl with the cigarette in her hand, broke off from the pack, and walked toward where Lazaro stood. He leaned his bike against a graffiti-covered wall, and walked toward the girl. They met in the middle of the road. He rested his hands on her waist. She put her arms around his neck. They held each other that way for a few seconds, angling for the right position, the feigned poise of adolescent romance; they giggled and then kissed, a long awkward kiss on the lips.

--end—

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