The question sounds as if he’s chewing a living centipede, and she thinks about Daisy and that thought almost makes her cry because Daisy wasn’t a bad centipede at all, she was just doing the stuff centipedes are supposed to do, for instance when she bit that little boy the other day while he was sleeping or something. God rest Daisy’s soul. By the way, sometimes Mrs. Kidder can be very annoying. She said she had no idea whether Daisy indeed got a soul. How come, Mrs. Kidder? Mrs. Kidder and all the gang are supposed to know everything about anything, right? However, Mrs. Kidder sometimes can be very dumb. The Daisy thing is a good example. If that favela has so many centipedes, how could you be sure Daisy is really the Daisy? Mrs. Kidder once had asked. Simple answer: Daisy used to be the largest centipede around. And how did she know Daisy was a female centipede? Mrs. Kidder had insisted. Because Daisy used to live with the girl’s family and never bit anyone inside the house, and there was that day, Mrs. Kidder said she didn’t remember it, when the girl found the little eggs. More than that, many times the girl saw how Daisy curled its body to protect its brood, right? She showed it to Mrs. Kidder, right? But, yes, no baby centipede was ever spotted in the house, just the eggs, Mrs. Kidder was right on that. Mrs. Kidder can be very dumb but also can be very cruel, because then Mrs. Kidder said that probably Daisy had eaten all the eggs. Or the babies. Mrs. Kidder is also very funny. The girl knows Daisy was no stranger to Mrs. Kidder. The truth is Mrs. Kidder enjoys playing games. But the girl enjoys playing games too. Mrs. Kidder is the best friend a girl can have.
“What did you do to my bong, you little fucker?” the man says, his voice now sounding as if his mouth is a little dark bucket full of dried saliva, a toothless bucket, of course, because neither buckets nor his mouth have teeth.
“You should ask her,” the girl says. “She is impossible.”
The girl had already finished her homework and there is nothing else to be done at night. They have no TV set, computer, anything. They just have each other, but she also has Mrs. Kidder. It’s not her problem if he refuses to be friends with Mrs. Kidder, a very distinguished lady who came all way down to Rio de Janeiro just to spread kindness and love.
“Mrs. Kidder hid your bong somewhere. Why don’t you try to find it? You can walk, can’t you?”
“You don’t play games with me, you little sucker, or I’ll sell you to The Madame. I mean it.”
The girl is now playing with her dolls. The dolls yell at each other, and the fight saddens the girl, but what can she do? They are pretty old dolls, tired pretty old dolls who are not tired of fighting, though. They argue about anything. Mrs. Kidder doesn’t like to play with the dolls, not because Mrs. Kidder is not a child anymore, but because, the girl thinks, Mrs. Kidder gets jealous when the dolls are around.
“Gee, The Madame is in jail now, you should know it,” the girl says. “The new drug lord is someone else, I don’t know his name. I don’t think Mrs. Kidder knows his name either, otherwise she would have told me, you know. Mrs. Kidder tells me everything.”
“How many stones do you think The Madame will offer me if I sell you to her?”
“I don’t know. But you can visit her in jail and ask her.”
Now the dolls are friends again. They are very complicated dolls.
“What’s the new guy’s name?” the man says.
“I told you a million times I don’t know. You should know his name. You are his client.”
“I’m gonna ask him if he wants you. Unless you give me back my bong. Where’s the goddam bong?”
The man’s voice now sounds like his tongue is made of melted rubber. Words are so beautiful, even ugly words are beautiful, you can’t talk like that. Words are very precious, that’s the reason she doesn’t like to talk when she’s at the school.
Tourist Nº1 takes his headphones off and says:
“Poor guy. He looks like an anorexic elephant, if that’s possible”.
“Very authentic stuff,” says José, the Tour Guide.
José the Tour Guide never knows the tourists’ names. Instead, he assigns mental numbers to each one. His job doesn’t make him happy.
“The stench is even more authentic, I should say,” Tourist Nº 2 says. “This plexiglas can’t hold it. We should have had those creams medical examiners spread under the nose.”
“Not all coroners use it,” says Tourist Nº 3. “They are used to it, you know.”
“Well, I’m not a doctor. I hope the next sight-seeing activity is a nose-friendly one,” Tourist Nº 2 says. “Wait a minute. There’s a woman over there.”
“Yes, there is,” the Tour Guide says. “It’s her mother’s corpse. I mean, not a real corpse. A prop one, you know what I’m saying?”
“The stench could be hers, don’t you think?” Tourist Nº 1 says. “She looks real, very real.”
“No, no. It’s a prop corpse. They’d really spent some days living with the corpse here, until city hall people were warned by neighbors and came over and removed it. Crack-cocaine overdoses or something like that, I don’t know, had just killed her. It took a while until they’d noticed it, I mean, the family.”
“There’s a lot of things you don’t know,” Tourist Nº 3 says. “The programme says this kind of tour started in…”
“2014,” the Tour Guide says.
“Ok. Still, 20 years later, a tour guide does not know what’s being shown? I want my money back.”
“Wait a minute,” Tourist Nº 1 says. “If you guys have a doll representing whoever here…”
“The girl’s mother,” the Tour Guide says.
“The girl’s mother, ok. If you have that, what else here is, like, fake? This ain’t a reality tour.”
“I want my money back,” Tourist Nº3 says again.
“Shhh,” the Tour Guide says. “You are missing their exchange. Put the headphones back on.”
“You should be more polite, you know?” the girl says. “Mrs. Kidder appreciates good manners. She’s British, you know. No, you don’t know. Forget it.”
Now the dolls have become boring, and she decides to kill them. Before killing them, though, she explains very carefully that there’s nothing to worry about, sooner or later they will be alive again.
There’s something she doesn’t like about the dolls: they used to be afraid when Daisy was around. The dolls feared being bitten by Daisy. No one in this world can imagine a centipede biting a plastic doll or any kind of doll. Poor dolls. Dolls can have soft hearts, that’s correct, but their bodies can handle almost any dangerous situation, with the exception of the heat. Rio de Janeiro is very, very warm. So the girl would like to have a job so she could buy a refrigerator so the dolls could be feel safe from the heat and from the favela’s centipedes.
“They have another woman running business here? Fuck,” the man says.
She finds it funny, the time lapse between what she says and the man’s response. Sometimes he needs a couple of days until he can find an answer to one of her questions. She laughs when she remembers that day when she asked how old he was. He couldn’t remember. When she’d already forgotten the question, he’d remembered to answer it. A wrong answer, but that doesn’t matter. He never delays the answers to Mrs. Kidder questions, though. Now he is pretending he doesn’t know who Mrs. Kidder is. He does that very often. Of course he knows Mrs. Kidder. The other day he tried to punch Mrs. Kidder on the face when she swore at him. It was a pretty funny moment, the furious but tiny, frail, toddling man speaking in tongues and throwing his fists at random because he couldn’t control them nor could he stare at her, his usually frozen eyes floating on his face like a pair of dead seagulls on the surf. The girl knew that Mrs. Kidder was a big woman and, despite not being young anymore, Mrs. Kidder was able to defend herself against him or anybody else, for that matter. That day Mrs. Kidder threw out one more stone and, more than that, she kicked everybody out the house, all his stupid crack-head buddies, a bunch of living skeletons who got so scared that they never came back. Good job, Mrs. Kidder.
Now the man is crying. He’s able to cry without shedding tears, something the girl finds remarkable because the dolls do that too.
“Give me a drink”, he says, like an old baby.
He stands up from the ground where he spends most of his time at home and looks for things they don’t have at home: drinking glasses, a refrigerator, things that he himself had exchanged for money, and the money, for crack-cocaine stones. So she knows he will go out, and out he goes.
“I understand the addicted population…,” Tourist Nº 2 says.
“City Hall supplies a regular amount of stones on a weekly basis,” the Tour Guide says. “Haven’t you read the e-brochure?”
“I have. There’s no word on alcohol, though.”
“They don’t get alcohol.”
“What about food?”
“Her school provides all her meals, on-site. He receives food stamps, which he probably exchanges for stones.”
“Then the old lady must be starving,” Tourist Nº 1 says. “That’s interesting.”
“There’s no solution to the crack-cocaine epidemics,” Tourist Nº 3 says. “That’s Rio’s solution.”
“In the beginning, part of the money the city gets from you tourists was funneled to the public health care system that handled the crack-head population. After a while the city gave up. Those people can’t be treated.”
Now she can play host to all her friends. They don’t like to come when the man is at home. That’s why she likes Mrs. Kidder more than anyone. But she understands the reason they avoid visiting her when he’s around. Whenever she can, she visits them as well. They live nearby and they’re a very nice gang.
“Mrs. Kidder!” she says when Mrs. Kidder comes in.
“Who is this Mrs. Kidder she’s always talking about?” Tourist Nº 4 asks.
“An imaginary friend, I guess,” the Tour Guide says. “The family briefing I have here says nothing about eventual family’s relatives or acquaintances. The State Tour Company selects stuff you guys can understand immediately. With a little help from the interpreting software, that is.”
“This girl does not speak English, does she?” Tourist Nº 1 says. “Or is Kidder a common Brazilian surname? She says ‘Kidder’, right?”
“I think so,” says Tourist Nº 2. “Excuse me. I have a question.”
“Yes?” the Tour Guide says.
“Why can’t we talk to the subjects? This is a stupid rule, I should say,” Tourist Nº 2 says. “Let’s talk to her.”
“Why are you laughing?” Tourist Nº 3 asks the Tour Guide.
“Forgive me. Brazil and more specifically Rio de Janeiro needed centuries and centuries to get a sense of establishing and following rules, and now an American asks to bypass the rules. It’s just plain funny. I’m sorry.”
“The girl is obviously suffering,” Tourist Nº 1 says. “This is not just a matter of curiosity, you know?”
“She is suffering indeed. She and hundreds of thousands in the same situation all over the city, all over Brazil,” Tourist Nº 2 says. “That’s precisely why we are here. Next time you try a reality tour in Finland or something.”
“Anyway, it seems to me that probably the interpreters must know whether the girl does speak English or not,” Tourist Nº 1 says.
“I’ve told you this is machine-translated,” the Tour Guide says.
“Does she speak English?” Tourist Nº 4 says. “She’s the cutest girl ever.”
“And one of the dirtiest,” Tourist Nº 1 says.
“’Neglected’ would be the proper word,” Tourist Nº 3 says. “Is she available for international adoption?”
“I don’t think so,” the Tour Guide says. “She’s available to reality tours, therefore neglected she must remain.”
“I don’t think she does speak English,” the Tour Guide says. “They don’t teach English in public schools anymore. And she has no access to the Internet. She’s too young, you know.”
“But you have an Internet café over here, I saw it,” Tourist Nº 2 says. “Maybe she’s been learning it online.”
“I can see some books,” Tourist Nº 1 said. “Books and textbooks, I guess”.
“That’s right,” the Tour Guide said. “None of them in English.”
“What if that Mrs. …”
“Mrs. Kidder,” the Tour Guide says.
“Thank you. What if she is a representative, a field officer with a foreign NGO and is teaching English around?” Tourist Nº says.
“No foreign NGOs are allowed in the reality tour zones,” the Tour Guide says. “Otherwise there wouldn’t be poverty shows for your enjoyment, right? So let’s enjoy it while it lasts.”
“Are there expats living here? I mean, we’ve seen Americans and Chinese people, lots of them, side by side, on that big favela, how’s it called again?” Tourist Nº1 asks.
“Rocinha,” the Tour Guide says. “Don’t forget the Brits. They’re here in throngs. The gentrification thing has happened in the South Zone favelas, where they have the best view. Here, downtown, we have no foreigners. Rio has like what? Over two thousand favelas? The gringos moved into the fanciest ones. Actually there’s no reason to call those places favelas anymore. Here in Morro da Providência we have some South Americans, you know, Bolivians and Venezuelans and Argentinians… Our amigos can’t afford the South Zone favelas.”
Valeriy the poet showed up as soon as the man left the house. A very sensible and funny man.
Valeriy asked the woman if she needed something.
“Wait a minute!” Tourist Nº 3 says. “The lady, she’s not a doll. She’s alive.”
“I don’t think so,” the Tour Guide says.
“Is she a talking doll?”
“Then she’s definitely not a doll, because she’s talking or trying to talk. See her mouth? It’s moving.”
“You’re right,” Tourist Nº 4 says. “And our guide here has no clue on what he’s supposed to show us!”
“It’s not my fault, ok?” the Tour Guide says. “This is my first time with that family and my briefing says we have a doll.”
“I thought you’d referred to Brazil as an organized country,” Tourist Nº 2 says.
“You wouldn’t believe if told you how messy we used to be. Anyway, let’s see it from the bright side, my fellow tourists. That’s what crack-cocaine does, alright? It destroys a person to the point that you don’t know if a person is really a person or if a person is a corpse or if a person is a doll. I assume you all know that, but wait until we visit Downtown Crack-o-land. You’d wish they were dolls, the fucking zombies.”
The woman tells Valeriy she just needs some of his poetry. Valeriy’s poetry is a gay man’s poetry, and she likes it, despite not knowing the Russian language. She enjoys the effect of his words hammering her head. The poetry reciting sessions make Valeriy happy. He feels like a doctor managing a drug substitution therapy: crack-cocaine out, Russian poetry in.
Valeriy starts to recite his poems, but the girl can’t pay attention to him. She’s busy playing with Francis the Sailor. Francis the Sailor enjoys playing hide and seek. It’s very difficult to play hide and seek with him or anyone else because of the furniture: there are two mattresses, the man’s and the one she shares with the woman, there are the makeshift shelves where the TV set used to be and where her few books and textbooks are. But she can hide beneath the stacked clothes or in the bathroom or even outside the house, at the neighbor’s place.
“Where is the little mermaid?” Francis the Sailor asks, while Valeriy recites a poem. The woman shakes her head as if it were punched by several pairs of colorful sponge fists, and the girl is somewhere trying to keep her mouth shut, something very difficult to achieve due to the thrilling joy that overwhelms her.
“I’m here!” the girl says. “Francis the Sailor will never find where the little mermaid is!”
“Francis the Sailor?” Tourist Nº 4 asks.
“Don’t look at me like that,” the Tour Guide says. “I have no answers, alright? Let’s watch and have fun.”
“But your company should have briefed you about what you’re dealing with,” Tourist Nº 1 says.
“We’re Brazilians, ok? We should do this, we should do that, but we don’t do anything because we are Brazilians, period. Nowhere else in the world can you get something like this tour. Yes, this is something totally new. Yes, we need to improve lots of stuff. But, hey, you’re in Rio’s oldest favela watching a typical day of a crack-cocaine torn family. It’s a crack-o-rama if you will. Anything can happen to a crack-cocaine favela family, what else can I say? You see the girl running around like crazy? Perhaps right now she’s high, you know.”
“Crack-heads don’t run like that,” Tourist Nº 1 says.
“Whatever,” the Tour Guide says.
Now Petty Officer Bradley has joined the play. He tells Francis the Sailor to look for the girl outside. Francis the Sailor is not a smart man. He’s still looking for the girl in the empty house.
“Ordinary Seaman Bell!” Petty Officer Bradley says.
“Yes sir!” Francis the Sailor says.
“How many times have you two played hide and seek here?”
“We’ve played it many times, sir!”
“And how many times have you found her hiding outdoors?”
“About every time, sir!”
She loves Petty Officer Bradley’s imposing manners. Petty Officer Bradley never hesitates. Petty Officer Bradley just hesitates when Mrs. Kidder is around. Mrs. Kidder’s imposing manners can be very intimidating, even if you’re a Royal Navy Petty Officer.
“So you better find that girl outdoors right now,” Petty Officer Bradley says. “Unless you think the gallows are your destiny, Ordinary Seaman Bell!”
“No, they are not, sir!” Francis the Sailor says, before leaving the room.
The Tour Guide is feeling weirder by the minute. Nothing is happening, the girl is out of sight, and the tourists are clearly feeling weird too. They don’t want to stay here anymore.
Now they’re arguing. The Tour Guide shuts his ears down. He doesn’t want to know what’s going on. He wishes he wasn’t here. In his mind, he belongs to a happy place, full of the stuff Rio dreams are made of: laidback clients, beachfront cocktails, bikini-clad women, men in thongs, booze-fueled tips, raining yuans. No tourists searching for “culture”. No guilt-driven European and American sensitive scavengers looking for “authentic” stuff.
“I think I’ve had enough,” Tourist Nº2 says. “I want to get back to the hotel.”
“Me too,” Tourist Nº 3 says.
“I’ll go with you,” Tourist Nº 4 says.
“You?” the Tour Guide asks Tourist Nº 1.
“Yes, let’s go,” Tourist Nº 1 says.
“Praise the Lord,” the Tour Guide says in Portuguese.
“Tomorrow we have the favela extra-judicial killing sight-seeing, is that correct?” Tourist Nº 2 says.
“What?” the Tour Guide says.
“Just kidding,” Tourist Nº 2 says.
Valeriy gets worried when the woman stops shaking her head. He checks her out. Then he calls the girl.
“Dearest, where are you?”
“I can’t find her,” Francis the Sailor says.
“We need her right here, right now,” Valeriy says.
“I can sense something,” Petty Officer Bradley says.
“You can sense what?” Valeriy says.
“I am feeling weak,” Petty Officer Bradley says.
“So what?” Valeriy says.
“I don’t know,” Petty Officer Bradley says. “Never mind. Let’s find her.”
Valeriy and Petty Officer Bradley join Francis the Sailor to look for the girl.
“Where’s Mrs. Kidder? She can be useful,” Valeriy says when they leave the house.
“The old witch… Who needs her?” Francis the Sailor says.
This is the girl’s happiest moment. For the first time it takes more than an hour for her to be found. She knows it because she carefully listens to the TV soap opera someone is watching nearby. When she had found the perfect hideout, the soap opera hadn’t started. Now the neighbor’s TV is on the news show.
Tourist Nº 1 couldn’t help coming back to Morro da Providência as soon as the Tour Guide left the hotel.
Morro da Providência is a safe place, tourist-wise, so he had no problem reaching it. He gets disturbed when he arrives at the family’s place. The observation deck is closed, and it takes quite a while until he finds a safe spot where he can see what’s going on inside the house without being disturbed. He’s not sure what to do, actually. He wants to talk to the girl, yet he fears the possible outcomes of interacting with her.
The man is not in the house. The girl is sitting right beside the woman’s body. He can’t understand what the girl says. The real-time translation service is off. The few Portuguese words he knows are not enough. They should have developed a smartphone app for this, but they haven’t.
“Mrs. Kidder, have you seen him?” the girl says. “We need to tell him.”
“No, but I am afraid he will ever come back,” Mrs. Kidder says.
Mrs. Kidder feels very sad.
“You will need to be even stronger from now on,” Mrs. Kidder says.
The girl looks at Mrs. Kidder wondering how Mrs. Kidder knows the man won’t come back. But then she asks something else.
“Mrs. Kidder! What’s wrong with you?”
“The end is near,” Mrs. Kidder says.
“What do you mean?”
“Look, there’s something I want to give to you before leaving.”
“You can’t leave, Mrs. Kidder! You are my only real friend!”
The girl’s little arms reach Mrs. Kidder legs, and she dumps her face on Mrs. Kidder long, dark skirt and starts to cry. But suddenly Mrs. Kidder’s legs become softer than ice cream, and Mrs. Kidder slides away from the girl.
“This book belonged to me. Now I want you to have it, please. See, this is my name here.”
The girl holds the book, opens the first page and reads the name out loud: “Cynthia Harriet Russell Kidder. It’s the most beautiful name in the whole world.”
Tourist Nº 1 grabs his smartphone, opens one of its mobile browsers and types the name. The first web link triggers a shock wave that makes him babble and after babbling he feels suffocated and after suffocating he babbles again and after babbling again he cries. His trembling hands refuse to click further on the smartphone, and then his tongue sticks out and it’s the tongue itself that does the job his hands can’t do, and now his eyes shut, his tongue can’t do the job, he needs another part of his body to become his eyes’ burglar, and he fears his hand, if let loose, will break into his eyes and throw them away, what now?
His head still seems to function like any head is supposed to function, so he bangs it against a tree several times until he gets his eyes open, and if the head is functioning his brain can order his mouth to bite his hands until they obey him, and that’s what he does, and now his eyes can finally read again the web address brought by the name search, findagrave.com, and his hands can tell his fingers to click on it:
Apr. 16, 1840
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Cynthia Harriet (Russell) Kidder was the daughter of William P. and Eleanor (Dutcher) Russell. She was the 1st wife of Rev. Dr. Daniel Parish Kidder. They were married Wednesday evening, November 9, 1837, at Salisbury, Conn. by Rev. O. V. Ammerman. Rev Kidder was a minister in the Genesee Conference, New Jersey Conference, Newark Conference and Rock River Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church.
Methodist Episcopal Church
The Gospel In All Lands, Vol. 21, c1900, Page 87
Rev. Daniel Parish Kidder and Cynthia arrived in Brazil, South America, January 8, 1838. Mrs. Kidder died in Rio de Janeiro April 16, 1840. Mr. Kidder left for New York in April, where he arrived in June 1840. He died in Evanston, Illinois July 29, 1891.
William P Russell (1788 – 1865)
Eleanor RusselL (1789 – 1856)
Rev Dr Daniel Parish Kidder (1815 – 1891)
“Sacred to the Memory
of Mrs. Cynthia Harriet
wife of Rev. Daniel P. Kidder
Died April 16, 1840
Aged 22 years and 6 months”
Gamboa British Cemetery
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
He needs to pay attention to what’s going on with the girl, but now his hands look for other names on the web site, and there they are: Valeriy Frantzevich, dead on October 7th 1992, Francis Norman Bell, dead on November 22nd 1917, B Bradley, dead on June 23rd 1917. Where are they? Where is this Gamboa British Cemetery? He needs to click more and he needs to click fast. Right there, he finds out, now his whole body working in a terrified harmony, right behind Morro da Providência, Rio’s oldest cemetery.
The terrified harmony of his body makes him storm the house. He doesn’t know what else he can do.
Now the girl is crying, and there’s a book on the floor. The girl doesn’t notice him. He talks to her, but she doesn’t answer. She doesn’t even look at him.
He then carefully picks up the book. It’s a very old book, and there’s the full name of Mrs. Kidder on the title page, beautifully handwritten, and the title page says more: it’s a Bible by the American Bible Society, 1837 edition.
Tourist Nº 1 sees himself being buried in the Gamboa British Cemetery of Rio de Janeiro. And collapses to the floor.
Toni Marques was born in 1964 in Rio de Janeiro. A journalist, he is a former NYC correspondent of O Globo newspaper and currently is a story editor with Globo TV’s “Fantástico,” a leading weekly news show. He has published three books and is the co-editor of The Book of Rio (Comma Press, UK, 2014). His short stories have been translated to Spanish, French and Arabic. This year HBO Brasil will air the series “Magnífica 70,” based on his original screenplay. He was the curator of the first two editions of FLUPP, the first and only international literary festival hosted by shanty towns in Brazil.