by Tony Noland
They had to park in a garage a few blocks away, but better a distant lot than a nearby curb. Together, they walked to the club, laughing and bubbling, but with the purposeful stride of rich people in a poor neighborhood. The women moved to the inside of the cobblestone sidewalk, away from the street; just as automatically, the men moved to the outside, with Henrique leading, Joao-Carlos trailing. All of them fell into step and position without conscious thought. In a bad part of town, it was how you walked.
And this was a bad part of Rio... not so bad as it used to be, but still bad. During the daytime, you could give one of the street boys a few Reais to "watch" the car, but that was chancy. You had to give them something, or your windshield would be smashed before you'd gone ten meters. If you gave them too little, they might not keep the other boys from throwing the rocks. If you gave them too much, they might take the money and run away entirely, in which case the other boys would really wreck the car, just for spite.
Two Reais was enough, so long as you were polite to the grubby little bastards. Trying to scare them or slap them away was like shouting at the tide on the beach. If you were polite, that left the impression that when you paid again on returning to the car, you might be generous. It was worth it to leave a decent impression with the street boys. They were like dogs, with a pack memory. The individual boys came and went, but when you returned to this street again, the pack would remember you. Even if you drove a different car, they would remember the man who paid willingly and well, and the man who kicked and insulted.
Three blocks on, they came to the Academia da Cachaca, its canopy of lights and swell of music like a grandmother with open arms. The women called out to each other, the men smiled and licked their lips. As they entered, under cover of the press of patrons, bodies brushed and lingered, hands moving lightly and quickly with the first flirtations of the evening.
Fried plantain and cassava, grilled beef, smoked pork, crab dumplings, all washed down with sweet-acid caipirinhos made with top shelf cachacas, although Maria Jose, that stuck-up bitch, insisted on caipirivodkas. Not all the teasing from the women could shake her resolve, and although the men roundly declared her to be a traitor and no better than a witless tourist, they each wanted her all the more. The women knew this, and hated her. Under the table, messages and threats, promises and apologies were offered and accepted with ankles, knees and fingers.
After the food came the drinking, the real drinking, the cachaca alone, the soul of Brazil. First was the usual expensive array of cachacas, then the I-dare-you foray into the ultra-expensive stuff, the R$100-a-shot cachacas, the kind of thing that even they could not afford to wallow in. Besides, even if they'd started there, none of them could truly taste what made it worth the extra ninety.
Then, of course, came the dip into the drink-like-a-gaucha rotgut, what sold in the supermarkets for eight Reais a bottle. One of the men, sometimes Henrique, sometimes Jesus, would claim to like the raw, benzene taste, to prefer it to the sissy expensive stuff, and would order a second round. The men would argue, the women would laugh and refuse to drink it again, which left each of the men to drink up his woman's in addition to his own. Then some good stuff to get the taste out of their mouths.
And so on, and so on.
More drink, perhaps more food, brought to the table to be smelled and poked at and left to cool and harden as the night wore on.
At the end, Henrique and one of the other men would go to get the car, so the women would not have to stagger the dangerous blocks back to the garage. Henrique never looked his state, no matter how long the evening had been. His drunkenness lent him an air of recklessness that was as good as bravery. Whichever man had been sober enough to accompany him would do the actual driving.
The car pulls up to the club, the friends tumble in. Back to the highway, back up into the hills, back to the gated community, and then to their beds, in twos and threes and fours.
And in a few days, at the Academia, or at a great little out of the way churrascaria, or even at one of the shitty tourist places down along the Avenue Atlantica, they would do it all over again.
Of course they would do it all over again. What else was there to do?
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