I'm starting to find some extra hours to write, which is really exciting. It might mean even fewer blog posts, though, as I'm trying to put stories together for a book, rather than little isolated incidents and thoughts like this blog has become. But, for now, I'm going to try to encourage you to become more active participants and help me out! What follows is the beginning of a story that I've been working on. I'd love to hear your thoughts and criticisms. Just post them in the comments section of the blog...
Pablo, on a good day, would probably be able to tell you that he’s 14 years old, that he’s got 6 brothers and sisters and his mom is raising them with stepfather number two (or three—he can’t really remember). Someone who knows how to ask the right questions, preferably accompanied by a burger and fries, would be able to elicit responses about his education level (just past second grade but he can’t really read), his interests (funk music), and how long he’s been addicted to crack (just over a year). The problem is, Pablo doesn’t have too many good days. And no one has ever bothered to ask him those questions. Usually, he’s just one of the many children that scatter the sidewalks of Rio de Janeiro with their limbs splayed in the sun, passed out from a night of drug use. Homeless, he only returns to his mother’s place from time to time, where if he can withstand the beating and the tongue lashing, he’ll eat everything in sight, sleep for two straight days, and then hightail it back to the streets, where he makes money for drugs by doing odd jobs, stealing, and washing car windows. Very few people know his name. His days are spent in utter inertia.
Yesterday, for example, Pablo decided to sleep near a telephone booth. It was a miserable, wet night. He couldn’t find shelter and was too tired to bother looking, so he slept with his head under the little protection the booth offered and let the rain soak into his clothes. They needed a good washing, one way or another. The telephone booth, located on a main thoroughfare that gets pretty crowded during the morning rush hour, also happens to be at a bus stop. Pablo didn’t wake up until nearly 4pm the next day, even though the sun and the summer heat were scorching. In spite of his unconscious state, Pablo managed to make a lot of people uncomfortable. Fifty-two people, to be exact, plus the uncounted commuters who were briefly moved by the sight of his skinny legs sticking out at such an uncomfortable angle.
The first to be disturbed by Pablo’s presence is the street sweeper, who, tired of these little street punks who throw trash all over the street in their attempt to find recyclable materials, gives him a vindictive jab with his push broom. Pablo is unresponsive, but the street sweeper immediately feels terrible and inflicts upon himself a dozen “Ave Marias” as penance.
Little Granny A-, out early to catch a bus for her appointment at the public hospital, and anxious to avoid the crowds, tiptoes nervously around Pablo’s body. She is sure he’s alive, but goodness, where are families these days? That poor, poor child. Asleep on the sidewalk. She opens a worn pocketbook and pads through wads of faded papers and identity documents until she finds a few coins, which she puts into Pablo’s open hand. She gets on her bus and notices a nice looking man looking down at Pablo. Maybe he’ll take the boy to get some help. She smiles, pats her handbag with pleasure, and settles back for a long trip.
The man standing over Pablo is Marcio, unemployed and feeding a slight habit of his own, who is briefly considering taking the coins from Pablo's palm. After all, isn’t that actually contributing to the delinquency of a minor, leaving money for them when everyone knows they’re just going to use it to buy drugs? He refrains, though, because of the growing crowd of people waiting for their buses.
The crowd of bus-waiters is comprised of 11 people at 7:45 am: Marcio, a young couple out apartment hunting, 3 cashiers, 2 students, a dentist, a bricklayer and one very pretty girl with a baby in tow. The women all look with pity and fear at Pablo, his dirty shorts and rumpled hair, the thin line of dried saliva that appears at the corner of his mouth to his chin. The men grip their newspapers, pretending not to notice, but all of them stand in direct sun so that their shadows fall on his little body. Coincidence?
By 8:15, the number of passerby is up to twenty-six, and no one but the street sweeper and Granny A have actually touched little Pablo. Most people are keeping a respectful distance, with perhaps a sneer of disgust disguised as an aversion to the sun. If they are wearing sunglasses, they sneak surreptitious glances his way, marveling at the deep cracks in his heels (made from months of walking the streets without sandals), the way he is sleeping with his head cranked to one side and his arms flailed out, twisted like a broken toy.