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I pick my Margaret Laurence’s novel, ‘The Fire-Dwellers’ from my bookshelf, and mean to read it again. I open the old yellowish paperback edition, but cannot concentrate on the words. I close the book and put it back on a pile, along with my Simone de Beauvoir that I’m still reading, and a few fitness magazines.
While sitting in fron of the computer, I mean to turn it on, but don’t move a muscle. Next to my keyboard, I take a photo of a strong man on the beach. He’s wearing a pair of black speedo and looks confident. His folded muscular hairy arms are impressive, and so are his legs that are splayed apart. I think Valter used to be a cop. That’s what he told me the last time we chatted online.
Dear Valter, how I wish you were not just a photo of a virtual man, but real.
An unquenchable fire dwells in me as I daydream about this hot photo.
Moving towards the window, I open it to get fresh air. I smile as I touch the face of my idol printed in glossy paper. He has this black military-cut hair, a strong squared lower jaw, a dent in his chin, and pleading brown eyes.
In his chats he says he’s middle-aged and quite loving. He also says he has a medium-sized belly and is very hairy. I smile to myself and ponder about his invitation to meet me in person on the coming weekend. For whatever reason I still feel hesitant about it and have promised him to give an answer soon. But I’ve been postponing it to the limit. Somehow, I still feel insecure about meeting this man.
What if one of us gets hurt or disappointed with the other? I also feel afraid he might not be the person on the photo. Perhaps he is, but, is he really the kind, loving, and generous man who is seeking love? Besides, how come such a hot guy like him is still single and alone? Something is really off, I think.
There’s no need to say I’ve already had some dates with men I met online and, truth be said, most times we were both disappointed. Yet, I’ve still had a few good ones. Eduardo, who is now my best friend, met me at a restaurant on our first date. Even though we didn’t become lovers, we became great friends. Thanks to Orkut.
My little Bank of Brazil calendar is marked red with a big question mark for this coming weekend.
This coming Saturday is going to be the ‘Day of the Dead,’ or ‘Finados,’ as we call it in Brazil. There’s also going to be this cool event downtown called Zombie Walk. He said he’d love to go to see it. I know that he comes once in a while to São Paulo to visit his sister and nephews. She lives about twenty minutes away from here by subway. Downtown is also a cool place to hang out. My neighborhood is called Paraíso, and I live in a small apartment overlooking 23 de Maio Freeway, which offers me a fantastic view of the city, especially at night.
Well, I suppose he is implying that in case I say yes, we’d spend Saturday afternoon and Sunday together. Then, on Sunday evening he goes back to his hometown. As he is on probation, he needs to report to the prison authorities on Monday morning. He does that on every first week of each month.
His crime? He told me he got arrested for having punched an officer in the face. Actually, he was also an officer himself at the time of the incident. He punched his buddy and wrecked his car.
On that day, on a sunny weekend, he and a few friends were having a great time in a rented ranch. They were drunk and firing their guns. Some neighbors minded the noise and called the cops. A cop-friend came and tried to cool things down. Valter shot at the car, punched his friend on the face, and got himself immobilized by his friends. It was the end of their friendship and of his career.
He was then sentenced to jail for two years. In his last year, he was put on probation, which allowed him to stay home. He also preferred staying away from bars and his former cop friend. As he did a lot of voluntary work teaching physical education to poor kids, he was allowed trips within the state of São Paulo. In one of his trips he went to the beach with his sister and nephews. He took many photos of nature and his family. That’s how I got to find his profile and this hot photo.
Back to my small cozy living room, I pace around and look again at the city lights. I close my eyes in happiness and imagine Valter here beside me enjoying this cool view. I just need to send him a message and my dreams will come true.
At times like this, a good and close friend is most needed. I bite my nails and wish to speak to someone, just anybody. I pick up the phone and mean to call mom. I dial but hang it up right away.
No! She’ll ask me too many personal questions. Besides, she hates cops and thinks they’re all crooks–not to mention the idea of meeting men online. The rest of the story, God forbid she hears about it. Instead, I decide to call Eduardo, my ex-boyfriend. He can be self-centered, but he can be a great listener, andhe is quite practical. He will surely lecture me against the idea of picking up guys who are Bostancı Escort outlaws. But I trust Valter and believe in his judgment and honesty.
“Oh, hi dear! At last you’ve called me, Ken!”
“I hope it’s not too late for you, is it?” I bite my nails.
“Nope. Well, by your tone of voice, you’ve got a big load on you, don’t you?”
“Yes,” I ask him how he’s keeping himself lately.
As far as I know, he’s forever been working as a manager of a large clothing store. He confirms that. Then, I pour out my heart to him. He remains mute, which is bad. Then, he literally fires question after question about Valter, in particular, his character. I feel overwhelmed by this invasion of privacy. Then, he says he needs time to think about this case. He suggests we talk about it in person. So, we arrange to have coffee at a bakery near his place of work, downtown, at four P.M.
On the next day, Edu turns up at the scheduled time. He looks hot in his suit and sunglasses. He also tries to hide a medium-sized belly by untucking his shirt. I notice that he’s gotten stronger too. I suppose he’s been working out at the gym.
We sit and he removes his sunglasses. By the look in his eyes I can tell I’m in for a good lecture. I intimately wish I hadn’t called him in the first place. I take a deep breath and get ready for whatever comes my way.
He waits for our drinks to arrive. Then he drinks his coffee with no sugar. He says he’s checked on my Orkut page. By now I’m sure he must have also checked Valter’s. I nod and drink my coffee. I just wonder when he’s going to talk about the shots and fight incident. Edu, however, has more to disclose. I pause and bite my lips. I fold my hands on my lap and take a deep breath. I smile and pretend I’m still in full control of myself. He gently takes my cold sweaty hand and asks if I’m listening.
“Well, of course, dear!” I smile. “Go on.” I pull back my hand. I feel on the verge of tears. My throat feels dry. I should have ordered some juice. My heart skips a beat and I look into his eyes. “Go on, Edu. What is it?”
I’m one hundred per cent sure that whatever he has to say, Valter will prove to the contrary. He’s been so kind and sweet to me. It’s not possible to fake such feelings.
Edu goes on, and I nod. In my head, words like homophobic crimes, inconclusive proofs, trials, vanished young gay men, substance abuse, orgy parties, keep echoing in my head.
“Enough, dear!” I try hard not to cry. Oh, God! I simply cannot allow Edu to do this to me. It’s not fair for my sake and for Valter’s sake too.
My voice comes out hoarse, and I feel hurt and deeply wounded. He must think I’m still on denial, which perhaps I am. I refuse to listen to anything more about Valter. I feel dizzy and need air.
“Forgive me, dear. But I’ve got to go. Bye!” He nods and just tells me to be careful. Half block away I wonder if I’ve paid my share of the bill.
My elevator takes forever to get to my floor. I am panting and rush in the hall, feeling the walls, and staggering to my door. I don’t remember how I got home, but I do remember taking the subway, entering my building.
Where are my damn keys?
After a while, I look around and find myself on my sofa. I mentally retrace back my steps to my small apartment; I also remember having picked up my phone and cancelling all my private classes for the evening, for I teach private English lessons. I try to hold back my tears and feel a bitter taste in my mouth. Needless to say, I feel sick to the stomach.
God! I feel like I’ve just bitten a very sweet red fruit that Edu offered me. But it’s not the fruit of wisdom, I can tell. Why am I feeling this bitter after-taste in my soul? I try to get rid of its poison, but I cannot.
I feel I must confront Valter no matter what. But how on earth am I going to bring this subject up with him? Hasn’t he shown me enough evidence he’s a decent man? Hasn’t he already been so true to me? Surely he’ll be surprised by those terrible accusations. What is more, he’ll feel betrayed.
Oh, God! What have I done? I’ve betrayed our trust by letting doubts seep into our promising friendship!
After much thought and consideration, I realize this cannot go on. I turn on my computer and log on to my Orkut. I mechanically type something that is not me. I press send. Then I shut off the computer.
I take a shower, try to watch TV, eat ice-cream, clean my kitchen, everything in order to be happy with my life. But try as I might, nothing works. As I scrub my stove, my tears insist in falling. I lean against the wall and slowly reach the floor. I remain on my kitchen floor and sob. I hear the old yellow kitchen clock ticking. I check the time: midnight. I remove my green rubber gloves and decide to go to bed. I close my blinders and do not wish to see the city lights anymore.
On Friday, my day drags on dreadfully. I manage to teach all my classes, and the last one, I end it fifteen minutes earlier Ümraniye Escort because of a headache. As I reach the street to go home, I feel hollow inside. I feel like I am drowning in this sea of concrete, cars, people, smiling faces, and deception. Surely I’ve headed straight against this brick wall called reality. But no matter what, reality hasn’t sunk in yet.
Out of kindness Edu begs me to have coffee with him again. He says he needs to apologize. I say there is no need to apologize, especially now that steps were taken.
He holds my hands and says he feels sorry. I take a deep breath and announce that I’m heading for the beach tomorrow. He looks at me in surprise. He says it’s a good idea. Then, he corrects himself, looks away, and says he has to go. I laugh at myself, and wonder, who would ever go to the beach on ‘Finados’ holiday?
What a better remedy for this situation can I think of? I’ve got to run away from all this madness!
On the following day, I wake up at five A.M. and get my stuff ready: sunscreen, a straw hat, a beach towel, and my Simone du Beauvoir book. Her firm words of wisdom will bring me back to orbit. I look at my Canon camera and hesitate. Then, I take it along too.
Before a quarter to six, I’m holding my bus ticket at Jabaquara Bus Terminal. The bus should leave at six for Santos Beach.
I look around and notice how crowded this bus is going to be, for everybody wishes to go to the beach too. No respect for tradition anymore! I look in disapproval to all those people, who should be mourning the loss of their dead. I’m also mourning, but the loss of someone, living. How I hate their happiness and excitement. I wish it would rain, or this pain to be gone.
At my window seat, I close the curtain because I do not wish to watch the beautiful scenery as we go down the plateau. I lean my head against the cold glass window and a polite police officer asks to sit beside me. I suppose he’s from Santos and is returning home after his work shift. He sits and falls asleep right away.
After the ride down the plateau, we arrive at Santos Bus Terminal. I have to wake the cop up and tell him we’ve arrived at the terminal. He thanks me and exits the bus in a hurry. Then, the bus continues the trip in the city to the beach area. I look at the long canals and beautiful tall old trees. As soon as we reach the main avenue, I get off the bus. I imediatelly feel the salty breeze and lovely beach atmosphere. The air is cool and the waves lick the sand insistently, like lovers kissing each other.
Towards the distance, I see a ship and don’t know if it’s coming to land or moving away. I involuntarily wave and look around. Just now I realize I’m almost wetting my shoes in the salty water. I don’t care and just take from my bag the photo that I have brought along. I am at the very same spot that he was, by one of the canals. Then, I deposit it in the water. The little piece of paper is immediately swallowed by the violent surge, foam, and shimmering water. At last I am released from this curse. Someone sees me and makes the sign of the cross. I smile and walk away.
The fine sand feels nice under my feet. I take a long walk and shed tears freely as I glance at the beautiful endless sea. I find a quiet place among some rocks, and sit in this secluded spot. Gosh, how awesome the ocean is. I take out my book and read a few pages. I feel immersed in Ms. Beauvoir’s wisdom.
Suddenly, I feel my tears falling, as my poor heart beats because of the absence of someone dear. My physical body is firmly planted in Santos, on the beach, while my mind persists in pulling me back to São Paulo.
I close my book and go for another walk. Then, I have a drink of coconout water at a kiosk. I don’t feel hungry. Instead, I sit under a lovely shade and meditate for what seems to be ages. I close my eyes and hear the monotonous waves and at last I feel in peace.
Did I fall asleep? I look around and realize time has gone quite fast. I check my watch, and feel glad I’ve still got half hour before heading back. I usually come to the beach and return home on the same day. I stand up and feel dizzy from the heat. I walk towards the ticket booth and get my return ticket. I turn around and see the bus coming from São Vicente City.
As I board it, I see some people shooting photos of the beach. Then I realize today is the first time that I’ve come here and have not taken a single photo.
For sure, today’s visit to the beach has been the hardest one I’ve ever taken! I look at the view to the sea, this fantastic city, and wish things were different. Yet, in my heart I feel free and happy with myself. We end up taking a bit of traffic as we approach the city.
I get off the bus and walk in the large noisy terminal. I look around and realize it’s already getting dark. I walk slowly towards the subway entrance and make a mental note to call Edu. Suddenly, I’m feeling cheerful and wish to share my little happiness Kartal Escort with him.
Eight subway stations later, I get off at Paraíso Station. I cannot help but notice people here and there dressed up in Halloween costume. Then it dawns on me that people are heading for the Zombie Walk downtown. I check my watch and it’s seven thirty P.M. I feel a bittersweet taste in my mouth as I think of my empty home, of the gorgeous beach trip, and having missed him. Perhaps a cold shower and my bed will work miracles for me tonight.
More people are shouting and parade excitedly in their costumes in the long tunnel. I walk towards the opposite direction to the endless underground tunnel on my right. This place is quite familiar and I take the small escalator towards the exit to Domingos de Moraes Street. Others leave in a hurry and walk past me. I just walk slowly, lost in my thoughts.
As I get off the escalator to reach the bustling street, I notice a tall strong man dressed up in a Jason costume, from the Friday 13th movie. However, he does not have a bloody machette in his strong hand. Instead, a large bunch of red roses. This image is just quite odd but sweet. Some people ask to take photos with him. I stop by him and smile.
“Excuse me sir. If you’re going to the zombie walk, you have to go downtown. That’s where everybody is going.” He turns to me slowly. Our eyes meet.
“Ken?” His familiar pleading eyes stare at me. I wonder how he knows my… “You’ve finally come!” I freeze.
“Valter?” I say the first word that comes to my mind. “A-are you Valter?”
“Yes, it’s me!” He takes off his mask.
He has black paint around his brown eyes. I also notice a scar on his cheek and right ear.
“You found me, Valter!” I cover my mouth. He nods and has tears in his eyes.
“I could not help but look for you in the big city.” He smiles.
Some people ask to take photos with him and he has to put his mask back on again. He is very gentle and poses with them. A young boy feels scared. His mom tells Jason is but a man in a costume. Valter kneels down and lets the boy take off his mask.
“See, I’m a man, just like you.”
“So, you really don’t kill people?” Valter shakes his head. “You’re not a bad man?” The boy touches Valter’s face.
“No. I too have a heart.” He welcomes the boy, who gives him a hug. The mother thanks Valter and they leave.
“Ken, I went to the party downtown, but it felt empty in that big crowd. It felt so meaningless without you. I only knew you lived near here and, by a miracle, I found you…” I have tears in my eyes. He dries them and caresses my face.
“Jason, I mean, Valter, let’s put those roses in a nice vase.” He looks up. “I love red roses and, a nice story too.” He gives me the flowers and we hug. His embrace is quite reassuring and I feel confidence in this man.
As we walk down the street to my place, people can’t help but stare at us on the street.
“Happy Halloween!” We shout.
Neither of us say much on our way to my place. We reach Cubatão Street, which is unusually quiet and dark tonight. My overwrought imagination has the better of me–I hear his heavy black leather boots stomping the pavement in cadences. I smile and think of him as my executioner, taking me to be slaughtered; after all, it’s Halloween night!
We pause at the gates to enter my building. A couple of teens by the stairs stop chatting and look at Valter. The doorman discreetly calls me aside and hands me the mail.
“Are you all right, Mr. Nakamura?” He smiles and gives a stern look at Valter, who waits for me by the short flight of stairs.
“Oh, yes!” Just then I realize Mr. Souto’s concern for my safety. “He’s a friend, and he likes Halloween, Mr. Souto!” I then join Valter.
“You live in a big building, Ken.” The rubber soles of his old boots squeak as he walks on the polished stone floor. Ms Silva and Ms Vieira turn to us and smile. Thank God we’ve already passed them–these older ladies are the gossip of this condo.
Under the light of the main hall, I can see him better. Surely he looks scary and threatening.
“I live in the back tower.” We move towards it. “There are over two thousand people living in these three buildings.” He nods.
As we enter the elevator, two teen girls rush in to catch the same elevator. They naturally turn to Valter.
“Hey, you’ve got a cool costume! Are you going to a Halloween party, sir?”
“No, I’m coming back from the Zombie Walk. I came here to visit my friend.” He smiles.
“Are those scars on your face and ear real? Are they just make-up?”
“Don’t you see they’re real, moron!” The other girl says.
“Yes, it was an accident when I feel off a horse–barbed wire can be very dangerous.”
“Oh, God!” They say. He looks down. I look at the panel and sigh in relief, as they’re going to get off on the next floor, just below us.
“Good night and have fun!” They smile.
“Bye, girls! And happy Halloween!” We say.
We get off on the nineteenth floor, and I take out my key. The neighbor at the end of the hall opens her door, and her children peek out.
“Look, it’s Jason!” A boy in a ghost costume says.
“Hi, kids! Would you like some candies later?” I ask.
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