I manage to grab a seat on the subway and scoot in against the window. The windowsills on the Rio subway cars are just the right size and depth for slipping your elbow up into a makeshift pillow and sleeping all the way to your destination. Which was what I was planning on doing on Wednesday. But this strange old man sat down next to me, with his large umbrella and stubbly face. Strange because he stared at me for most of the ride. While pretending to smoke a pipe. He'd bring the pipe up to his mouth, cupping the bowl with his hands, inhale, and then gently bring the pipe back down as he exhaled...air. There wasn't anything in the pipe, not that smoking is permitted on the closed subway cars!
It was almost weird enough to disturb my commuter's nap. Almost, but not quite, and I didn't notice when he left…
I have a choice of seats on the bus this Friday evening: fat spillage from an overweight lady leads me to choose the one next to the elderly woman with a splash of freckles across her face. She seems a little overly friendly, though, and not wanting to have a conversation, I move up to my own bench as the bus empties. But this woman isn't deterred, and begins saying curious things to me. I've never had someone of this age be threatening to me before, but if she were a 20 something man, I would have assumed I was being set up for a robbery.
" (mumble mumble) money. Five reais…"
"I'm sorry, I'm afraid I don't understand you. Did the trocador not give you the right change?"
" (mumble mumble as she holds up five fingers) Reais…" with a menacing look in her eyes.
I fumble in my bag for the plastic butter container I know is in there. This is a nearly foolproof way throw people off guard and get them off my back. "Would you like a brownie?" I ask, knowing that Brazilians usually say no on the first offer. "They're fresh, would you like…"
"Yes. Gimme one."
So I do and she thanks me before asking where I'm getting off…
Like I'd tell that to a stranger. Or get off the bus anywhere where I might be followed. Silly woman. God bless the bars on this street, because they offer not only company for pedestrians after dark, but a nearly fool-proof getaway if you feel someone is just a leetle bit creepy.
He stops his bike a few feet ahead of me on the sidewalk, next to a large tree that surprisingly isn't sprouting orchids. (A block away, one tree is hosting no less than three different varieties of orchids: yellow, white and a deep purple-brown.)
"Psst. Gimme your cellphone and money."
Naked from the waist up, it's pretty obvious he isn't carrying a gun and he isn't touching me. Not going to happen, dude, I think as I run into oncoming traffic and cross the street.
As he rides away for another victim, the would-be mugger calls out over his shoulder:
"You didn't have to run away!"