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3rd July
posted by amber

It was rainy the day she left the favela, a soft tropical drizzle which slowly inundated the islands formed by the high spots of the dirt floor. Fat Paulina had been out but suddenly returned, bursting into the back room of the shack, saying, “Pack your bags and go, your royal majesty.”

“What do you mean?” Maria had asked, foolishly hoping that Eurico had changed his mind and come to take her home.

Rosilene came in, peroxided hair a yellow cloud around her head and a spiteful expression on her face. “She means that your dear son-in-law has been ignoring me. I bet the bastard has another girlfriend. So the deal is off. You’re on your own, camadre.”

“I can’t walk,” Maria protested.

“Sure you can,” said Fat Paulina. “You walk to the outhouse every day.”

That had been as far as she could manage to travel, negotiating with her two canes and two pain-wracked legs over the warped planks laid across the mud, the garbage heaped everywhere. If she could have walked further, she would have walked right out of the favela.

“Out you go,” said Rosilene, taking Maria’s arm and dragging her out into the rain. Fat Paulina came after, with her canes and her shawl, which she’d brought with her on that day, four months earlier, when she thought she’d only been going to see the doctor. She’d brought a purse too, but that was empty now and so it didn’t matter if Fat Paulina didn’t return it.

The favela was built on a hillside, shacks crowded on a series of terraces joined by rickety stairs of wood and rocks. She hobbled down the length of the terrace and then, with assiduous care, started down the first set of steps. It took her so long she could see the day advancing as she descended, the breathless moist heat of mid-afternoon paling toward evening.

Before she reached the bottom of the second set of steps, the weather changed, the rain stopping and the clouds thinning out, so that the lavender of twilight showed through. Small birds wheeled and darted in the air, but she couldn’t spare a glance for them, concentrating as she was on her footing on stairs made treacherous by the rain.

As she picked her way lower, men lounging on the front decks of their shacks stared at her, women wearily trudging home from work eyed her, rude children pushed against her in their haste to climb or descend the steps. After each set of steps, she sat and rested. Although standing again took immense effort, she had to give her legs some respite, had to stretch them out to try to relieve the pain and fatigue.

If she hadn’t been in the favela for as long as she had, Maria might have worried about being robbed, but she’d seen that the favelados rarely stole from each other, not out of any sort of honour among thieves, but because there was nothing to steal. If someone had a bit of good luck and carelessly flaunted it, there was a risk. Fat Paulina might have lost her radio, for example, had she or Maria not always been in the shack. Now that its batteries were worn down, it was no good to anyone, just another piece of trash to litter this dump.

Who would try to rob her? The only valuable things she had were the canes. But now she’d thought of them, she began to worry. If they were stolen, she’d be helpless.

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