The flames of the celestial battlefield remained on the horizon, declaring the day’s imminent victory. Before the white wall, police cars were dark pieces of night, deserters of a lost war. They filled the whole right edge of the extensive patio leading to CORE, parked at near right-angles, skewed toward the exit as if yearning to depart. In the past, I’d say they looked thirsty for combat; now, they were just homesick. Only I seemed to want to be there, since I came from the opposite way. But that was just an impression.
I walked like a gypsy: black semi-cylindric bag in my right hand, dangling water bottle, toothbrush and paste showing in a small lateral net; white plastic bag in my left hand with two sheets, pillow and extra change of clothes; backpack with a pair of boots braided on the outside; two pistols carried on my waist touching the skin, and three spare magazines on the waist belt. During that endless approach, sweat dripped down my forehead and underneath my shirt, as if the sultry air were sucking my water out of me for its own refreshment. Every inch toward the unit put me closer to the Event Horizon of a black-hole: an outside observer would see me nearly motionless, steps getting slower and shorter, distorted by extreme gravity; in my head time flowed fast, as if my last seventeen years were dashing upon me and flinging thoughts into the future, a frail exercise of divination. How would it be to get back after an year?
The answer came gradually throughout the day: I saw some old friends again, met some new ones, went shopping for tactical gear, had lunch, ate a delicious cake, worked out. From 11 p.m. to 5 a.m., I slept. Like my father used to say, “How nice to do nothing and then rest!”
As soon as I woke up, I left to avoid traffic. In two minutes, I was at the Yellow Lane flying home. With my eyes still hazy from sleep, I see two cars speeding the wrong way, and I take a few fractions of a second more than I should to understand. My hand reaches instinctively for the gun. A little ahead, the highway squeezes through two favelas of the “Complexo da Maré”: “Vila do João” e “Timbau”. It is very common to see armed criminals in that junction. The cars I had seen were just the most efficient — or most coward — populars. Right then, I have my confirmation when the whole traffic does an about-turn and red break lights become glaring headlights. I feel like a child being dragged down by the undertow only to be smashed by the upcoming breaker. I vainly entertain thoughts of forcing ahead, disembarking, finding out what’s going on, combatting. But almost as fast as the thoughts come, they go.
With my father’s mocking words in my mind, I join the other sheep, do an about-face, and, through another route, go home to rest.
1. That would read “Complex of the Tide”, a huge complex of seventeen favelas at the very heart of Rio.
2. That would read “John’s Village”, the second largest favela of the “Complexo da Maré” and one of the most dangerous of Rio.
3. “Populares”, as it’s spelled in Portuguese, is just a slang we use to denote people that are not criminals or policemen, i.e., most likely, you.