FML PEPPER 13 Translated from the Portuguese by Ana Luiza LibĂ˘nio
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. (John 12:24)
REBECCA 2 years ago “Ugh! You…” Suzy shakes her head in denial, brooding over the topic that has been eating up her soul, her cheeks going from a light shade of orange to bright red. “You can’t control everything Rebecca! No one can!” “Wanna bet?” I say, picking on her a little bit more before I give my best sly smile, perfectly wrapping up my mischievous wink. Let’s see how blushed she can get. I feel my heart squeeze. I’ll miss that… “You're too stubborn! Life will show you…” I see that bold reply dance in her lips, stagger in the air and then blow in the wind. Suzy suddenly looks up, distracted by the brushstrokes, drawing scary lines of light across the sky. She sprints toward that petty carnival. “When I mentioned having a ‘good-bye night’ I didn’t expect you to take it literally, Zuzu!” I grimace, as we go through the ramshackle welcome arch with its rusty letters hanging like a garland about to fall on our heads. If the entrance looks like that… “I heard good things about this carnival.” “Where? Have you read it on the city’s obituary? Check out that great—air quotes—Ferris wheel and the carousel. See? All that’s left standing are poor horse skeletons. How about the roller-coaster? I’d say Tutankhamen rode it!” Suzy rolls her eyes at me, ignoring my joke. She stalks off straight through the sugar candy, the target shooting, and the fishing booths. I try to seem cool, but the decadent environment creeps me out; it’s uncomfortable in a weird way. The old rides seem to howl desperately, rattling chains everywhere. Shadows come to life; they swallow the light behind me. From the corner of my eye I see them growing, and then they sneak away and disappear amid the peeling paint and the crackling of the rides. A shrill cry emerges from the ghost train ride and scratches my ear drums and my nerves. I’ve got goosebumps all over my body. “It must be around here,” she thinks out loud, pushing her hair out of her face. Dry leaves swirl around us in a badly coordinated ballet and are taken away, blown in gusts of wind. “There’s nothing around here besides that clown staring at us and smiling like a psycho,” I show her the poster right in front of us. “He looks like that psychopath doll. What was its name? Right… Chucky!” “Hey, enough now, all right?” Suzy complains. “I’ll just ask for information.” “Really? Everyone’s leaving. Even the guys in the booths are gone. There’s a storm coming!” I confess my desire by blaming the sky and its heavy clouds. “Let's just come back another day. And I’d rather come earlier, by the way.” “No!” she retorted, sharper than ever. “It’s the last night of the carnival in town. I need to f… There you go! Found it!” Suzy is thrilled looking at the kamikaze.
“No way! We’re either falling from it or dying of tetanus,” I grumble wide eyed, looking at halfdozen brave people—or maybe nuts!—screaming their lungs out louder than the scary rattling of the machines. “That’s not what I meant, silly! Over there,” she looks somehow sly, raising her chin to show me the yellow tent behind the kamikaze. “Madam Nadeje?” the frowning is not, by any chance, because it’s difficult to read a sign in pretty bad shape. “A fortune teller? You brought me here for that?” “Beth guaranteed the fortune teller is amazing. She nailed pretty much everything and she did it in details. The lady told her some private stuff and…” I recover from the initial shock and suddenly hear myself cracking up. “Would you mind telling me why you’re laughing like that, Rebecca?” Suzy crossed her arms and flattened her lips. “Just because you get the information you need by tapping your nimble fingers on a keyboard doesn’t mean there aren’t people who are psychic!” “People who are psychic?” I’m cracking up again. “Do you really think a person with a serious ‘paranormal gift’ would work down here in this joint?” I raise one of my hands rolling my finger in contempt. “She’s nothing but a crook, you fool!” “You say that because you’re…” she squints her eyes and then finally speaks, although hesitating: “You’re…” “I’m what?” I raise my eyebrows. “Could you make yourself clear?” “You’re skeptical. You don’t believe in anything! Neither in destiny nor in luck!” she notices a switch in my body language and after a while silent she ends up saying: “Do you think numbers explain everything, and that you can control whatever you want? Wanna know the truth? No one can!” “I believe in the results of actions, in what I see, in what I can touch! The day I meet either God or Luck in person, I change my mind, okay?” A loud thunder, like a demonic laughter, reverberates in that creepy carnival. Something weird, acid, burns inside my veins. I shake my head and step backwards. “Faith is not something you see! It’s something you feel! How many times do I have to say that?” Suzy insists, unshakeable, and more than ever decided to have the last word in that asinine discussion. I bite my tongue, holding back a knee-jerk response. Suzy and her stupid habit of blindly believing in everything! I want to make her see that an unshakeable belief is too much innocence and that it only leads to trouble. I’m living proof that people use power to get what they want, trampling on family, life, and love. My dreams were stolen from me when I was a child. I’m a product of that behavior, Suzy isn’t. She didn’t have to grow up among the bad guys. She’s good. She’s even somewhat naive. Maybe that’s why I care about her… “Sorry, Zuzu. It’s just that… I mean…” I whisper not looking at her. “It's just that it’s so obvious! It’s nothing but a trick. Crooks just want your money.”
I don’t want to argue. Not tonight. My heart now really squeezes. We will move in different directions and as much as she promises we’re not going to lose contact, I know that’s not how it goes. It never is. “One day you’ll believe in God and in people, Becky. I just hope it’s not too late,” she finishes her speech pulling me from my hand when another gust of wind and dust hits us. “Come! Before the rain falls.” I follow her steps without questioning. We pass by the kamikaze and walk toward Madam Nadeje’s tent. It’s an Arabian-like golden tent reminding the scenery in an Aladdin film. There are golden ornaments hung in every corner and it’s falling apart just like the entire carnival is. “I’d like to have a session,” says Suzy to the security guard. The robust man with aquiline nose and wearing a dark, worn out suit watches the entrance with his arms crossed. “Are you of legal age?” “Yes. Just turned 18.” “Documents, please. Two hundred reais, stand here for inspection,” the man gabbles. “What?” I look at him, my eyes are so wide open they almost pop out of the sockets, then I grab Suzy’s shoulders strong. “Are you crazy? It’s a lot of cash!” “Rebecca, quit it! You’ve gotta respect my decision,” she growls, obstinate. To my surprise I realize Suzy is kind of upset; I let go of her. Shit! I can’t just let these crooks take my friend’s money! My “crookdar” screams “it’s a scam.” I can smell one miles away. Why am I so sure? Because I myself am a crook. Since childhood I know the tricks of a crime. I went to scam school. Stealing is my art. I’m a natural. It’s either a gift or a curse; haven’t figured it out yet. The thing is numbers are the air I breathe, and technology runs in my veins. I can hack any bank account right now, and crack any PIN number in the blink of an eye. “Inspection? Why?” I’m sarcastic with the grouchy guy. “If we were some kind of armed terrorists, wouldn’t the great Madam Nadeje have already foreseen it?” I get a pinch on my waist. “Ouch, fu…!” The security guard frowns and, with his eyes squinted he analyzes me top to bottom. I stare back. He then uses a flashlight to inspect Suzy’s handbag. “Wait up!” I shrieked when he shows Suzy the way and holds me back. The weird uncomfortable feeling grows inside me. I feel ridiculous, like an idiot, but I can’t just leave Suzy on her own with these crooks. “I’ll pay. I’m going with her!” “One session at a time” he says. “I mean… Not for me. I’m just coming along!” The man shakes his head and thrusts out his chest. “Everything’s gonna be all right, Becky,” Suzy comes forward, obviously scared with my heated reaction.
To be honest, I was scared myself. But there’s something wrong going on here. I can feel it. “One at a time,” the guy repeats with anger in his eyes. If he thinks he scares me with this badass face… I don’t step away. “If you want a session, girl, you just have to wait your turn.” “Let’s go. I don’t like it here,” I think I’m begging her now. “Enough! You’re nervous for some other reason.” “That’s not the case!” I yell at her. “This here…” “Shhhh. I don’t care what this is,” she looks deep into my eyes. “I wanna check it out. Stay cool. I’ll be back.” My friend flattens her lips and letting go of me she follows the security guard, heading inside the tent. “No!” I see myself running, passing by them like a thunder and storming into the tent. “What? Rebecca!” Suzy puts her hands on her head, she’s exasperated. The inside of the tent punches me in my brain; it’s a nest of information. And there’s way too much objects exhibited. Numerous golden pieces of decoration reflect the light—it’s almost hypnotizing. I wink pressing my eyes strong in an attempt to align mind and vision. Suddenly, I see myself in many different shapes and sizes of mirror. Turning around, I browse the place and the many wood and iron statues, pottery vases with plants and glass vases with yellow and red flowers, fake Persian rugs and colorful pillows spread on the ground. Lit candlesticks and incenses suffocate—not only my lungs but my mind too. Focus and reason are slipping away. Shiver runs up my spine to my neck. I understand why I’m so uncomfortable. It’s a sign. Of danger. “Hello,” says the feminine voice, bringing me back to reality. In the middle of the tent there is a round table covered in a golden angel print red cloth. Behind the table, an old lady with vivid black eyes has her hands on a bright crystal ball. “Wow!” I say with irony in my voice and looking into the mirrors around. “Where are the cameras? I know you’ve got a computer screen in that crystal ball, smarty-pants.” “I said quit it, Rebecca!” Suzy’s cheeks are maroon now. “Respect my privacy, will ya?” “Sweetie, only in your mind does privacy exist,” I mock her. The security guard walks straight pass her in my direction. But I’m not daunted. “Ma’am, aren’t you ashamed of robbing an innocent girl?” I lost it. That’s the only explanation I have. And now I need to find an excuse. My hormones! Or is it because the deadline Jean Pierre gave me is just around the corner? “Okay! I can explain,” I raise my arms in surrender and stare at Suzy. I want her to look into my eyes. “What that henchman has in his hand is not a flash light, honey. It’s a camera that already sent the crook all your data. She now has access to everything: your relatives’ names, where you live, what you do, what you post on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and what not. In a few seconds all your life will pop up ‘like magic’ on the crystal ball screen!”
“That’s insane!” Suzy is puzzled. She looks hesitantly from me to the fortune teller who, in turn, only smiles. “Only because you are a…” she chokes, but doesn’t say what she knows. “Not everybody is dishonest, damn it!” “Shit! I know this con.” “Stop it!” “This lady is going to beat around the bush until she gets all she needs to make up a bunch of things and then you’ll buy it, stupid!” “Stupid…” Suzy steps back and a tear comes out her sweet eyes. Damn it! What have I done? “Let go of me!” I struggle, but the security guard holds me tight. “This girl is out of control since she got here, Madam Nadeje,” he explains, angry. The lady won’t say a word about it, and tilting her head she scans me with eagle eyes. Her gray hair contrasts with her dark skin. “Damn it! I just want to protect you!” I squeal as I’m forced out of the tent. “I'm sorry, dear. I didn’t mean to…” “I'll talk to you when I’m done here,” she wraps up the conversation dry, not looking at me. Watched by the henchman, I can only pace worry-circles, waiting for Suzy outside. It turns out to be enough time to memorize the Gorilla Woman’s lines—the stupid show going on beside the tent. The weather is getting bad, and Suzy never comes out. Ten minutes. Thirty minutes. The wind is stronger. Thunders cross the sky and it starts to drizzle. I put on the hood and protect myself, all squeezed under the small canvas that’s sort of a marquee surrounding the fortune teller’s tent. The lights on most of the rides turn off, even the Gorilla Woman’s speakers are now off. The few people still hanging around disappear from my sight. The carnival is now deserted and silent. Great! “How much longer?” I ask the security guard; he barely winks. “It all depends on the client. Madam Nadeje’s sessions don’t follow a schedule.” “You mean it all depends on her access to the client’s data. The connection in this joint must be bad because of the weather, right?” The man squints but doesn’t say a word. I scowl and start counting the endless minutes. It’s late in the night when Suzy finally reappears. I’m just ready to rebuke her, but it all fades in the air when I look into her puffy eyes and notice the lashes trembling with tears. My heart breaks. “Suzy, don’t… Everything’s gonna be just fine. You can’t go on believing what a fortune teller tells you,” I grab her hands when I notice she’s sobbing. “Come on. Let’s go before the sky falls on us. Where’s your car?” “In the parking lot, next to the fish market,” her voice is weak, almost a whisper. “And yours?”
“Close to Mario’s Cold Stein. Not sure it’s okay to park there, though,” I shrug and try to look mischievous. “By the way, we should’ve had beer and codfish rolls there instead of putting ourselves in this trouble.” “Aren't you afraid of getting a ticket or even having your car stolen?” “Chill out. All I’d need to do is hack the DMV system and be clean,” I give her a quick, playful smile when I notice she’s worried. “And people are not willing to take cars away on rainy days. It’s all statistics.” “Great! And there you go with this story again,” she mumbles with a puff. “Dude, you’re stressing out for nothing! There was a traffic jam on the way here and I was super late already, so I just took the first spot I found, 'kay? I’m not the one to blame if instead of going to a cool bar by the ocean you decided to bring me to this horrible carnival in the coolest area in Niteroi.” “She said Gabriel is just using me,” Suzy doesn’t seem to be listening to me. Frowning she confesses what really dragged her down. “Madam Nadeje says he made a bet with his friends. He’s gonna break up as soon as we do it.” “You didn’t have to spend money to find that out,” I reply sarcastic. “Everyone knows he’s a douche. I told you long ago,” Suzy steps away looking down, and I feel bad for lecturing her. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to…” Shit! I can’t say one thing right! As soon as we go through the wire fence, the lights in the carnival turn off. Some of the street lights are off and the gas station—the only place that looked safe in the area—is shut and dark, the surrounding is all sort of dark. We walked fast in an uncomfortable silence through the empty sidewalks and crossed the large avenue, then the secondary streets. Trying to avoid the insistent drops and the puddles in the way, we finally reach the wastewater treatment plant tagged wall beside the lot where Suzy has parked her car. There’s this cement tower which we see right away because of the endless cables and wires entangled around it. “When is your dad going to get another one?” I tried to break the ice right after we approached her car, pointing at the cabalistic license plate reading KQN-1313. “Everyone at home loves the number thirteen,” she murmures. “And for one who doesn’t believe in luck, you're being quite superstitious.” “It's not a matter of luck or misfortune,” I reply rolling my eyes. “I just don’t like the number.” And out of the blue Suzy starts crying. Bewildered, I grab her in a strong hug. Her gasps break my heart and my eyes start burning. The wind goes wild and our faces are whipped by dust. It gets harder and harder to keep my eyes open—which comes in handy to hide the lonely tear that rolls down my cheek. “Everything’s gonna be just fine, Zuzu. Gabriel doesn’t deserve this.” She tilts her head and steps away from me. I watch her get in the car panting. “The deadline Jean Pierre gave you is tomorrow, right?” the question comes from nowhere. “Please, don’t give in to blackmail. It never ends.” I’m puzzled.
She never questioned my life style. That’s probably her second best quality: she doesn’t judge me nor condemn me. Suzy, the girl with a brownish skin, narrow eyes and exotic features, the very well mix of a Brazilian man with a Thai woman is, no doubt, the best friend I could ever have. “Why are you asking?” I choke when I find out the reason for her fear: the robbery my mom and I are doing tomorrow! The fortune teller was probably angry at me and, as she noticed Suzy’s naiveté, she just “predicted” bad things for my future. Most likely she invented terrible things about me, then Suzy, in turn, related it all with tomorrow’s scam. The poor thing has been used as the bearer of bad news just to puzzle me. “Why don’t you give up? Please, forget it.” “Seriously! You can’t believe in what that Madam-whatever-crook says, right?” “But Jean Pierre… “It’s the last time with him, all right? We’re gonna pay off our debt once and for all.” “But… How about Ms Isra?” she insists. “Your mom is too old for this.” “Mom is doing great and healthy.” “But don’t you regret what you do? It’s too dangerous! You have your whole life ahead. And Ms Isra, she…” “Good grief! Everything’s gonna be just fine!” I put my hands on my head. The conversation is quite too much now, and I’m like agonizing. “I'll be in touch as soon as I’m in Barcelona.” “But…” “Enough of ‘buts’, damn it! How many times do I have to repeat that lightning never strikes the same place twice?” Suzy groans and looks down. “I’m traveling to Belo Horizonte in two weeks, back to school. Then during vacation I’ll go to Nikiti,” she murmures few minutes later with some weird and heavy emotion. “Don’t you think about your future, Becky?” “What do you think I’m doing?” I mock her. “You know what I’m talking about. A profession, for God’s sake! What if you went to the same college I go? That would be so awesome…” “You’re nuts!” I make a face. “College? Me? In the middle of nowhere? I feel bad just by thinking of myself living far from the ocean, stuck in the mud, with grass and cow shit, in a university campus lost in the map of Minas Gerais. Ugh!” “I’m going to Belo Horizonte, not to the rural area, dummy!” she fumes, tense, but gives up the subject as soon as the drizzle turns into thick drops of rain shooting the parking lot roof making a terrible noise. “Hop in. There isn’t one living soul around here. I’ll drive you to your car.” “In addition to not being in your way, you’re the one who should be rushing away before the flood. My Mitsubishi is high enough to get through all the water. Not to mention that I’m not afraid of walking in deserted places.” “You simply allow chance to change your luck,” she rumbles.
“It’s just that bad luck is not in my vocabulary,” I roll my eyes. “I believe in statistics, and I’ve just told you, criminals are not out in the rain. They are smart guys. They’d rather chill out dry in their homes.” That’s true in part. Armed robberies do go down during storms, all right, but cars stuck in floods are three times more likely to be assaulted; however, I could never add that to the comment, Suzy being stressed as she was. “The probability is almost null.” “Almost null is not null. And there’s a first time for everything.” “Seriously? Junk food and cigarettes kill more than pickpockets. And let’s be honest here? You’re the one who loves those two things,” I mock her. Suzy stares at me furious. She opens her mouth like she’s about to hit me back with something, but then she gives up. “Talk to you tomorrow,” she says, starting the car. “Not tomorrow. You know I can’t,” I frown. Shit! What’s with her tonight? Why is she so picky? “Talk to you tomorrow,” she repeats very positive before hitting the gas toward the exit. “Suzy!” I yell in vain. The Peugeot leaves, roaring. As soon as her car disappears from my sight, the thick drops fall on me as a heavy storm now. Scary thunders shout in my years as if warning me. I start rushing not knowing whether it would be better to run in the creepy dark or be guided by the shooting of thunders weaving an intricate web of electricity in the sky and threatening to fall on my head at any moment. I walk as fast as I can, dodging the puddles along the uneven way. There’s so much water one could say it’s been raining for days, even though it has just started. Is it a waterspout? Starting to feel uncomfortable with the deserted environment, I risk embarrassing myself running away. I just don’t want to get the flue nor get stuck in here because of a flood. At least that’s what I tell myself. However, the weird, distressing, and heavy feeling of being observed rules the way my legs move. “Ouch! Shit!” In the middle of the way I feel a pinch on my right foot and losing my balance I almost fall face down to ground. My beautiful, new Arezzo sandal gets stuck in a hole, sinking in a dirty puddle with paper wraps and cigarette buts floating in it. I can only curse as I dive my hand in there to fish my sandal out. Peeved and limping I reach the protection at the oldest fish market in the area and lean against the interesting wall made of tiles with crabs, squids, and shrimps painted in green and light blue shades, imitating the sea. I take a deep breath. The rain still echoes in my ears while I check the damage: two strips of my sandal were ripped off and a scratch on my foot burns like hell. Great! The damn storm gets even worst. Even though I can’t see much further, I calculate the rout not yet submerged through which I’m gonna have to walk barefoot. I laugh at myself. Maybe I should swim! I feel the urge of someone on a land suddenly being evacuated: deserted sidewalks, closed gates, slamming windows, streets becoming rivers, fast cars not respecting the traffic lights, very few buses passing by. Run away. The words reverberate in the air, imperative, at every breath or at every vociferous thunder.
The very rare people I see around perfectly understand the message and don’t challenge the titanic strength of nature; they seem to be desperate to get back home before they’re stuck in another memorable flood in the “City of Smile,” which, by the way, can be very enchanting in many ways, but whose chaotic traffic can only make us cry. Every single shop is closed—no heart pounds downtown; life has faded away. As a bull deeply focused on its attack, I run fast toward the area where my car is parked. I’ve left back my sandals, caution, and alternative routs. Never mind if the puddles I step into are small or huge; I’m already soaking wet. In fits and starts I make it to the market at the corner and then take that street in a rush. Breathless, I lean over with my hands on my knees for a while. I need some extra air and pant deep and strong, but it’s not enough. Damn it! I need to exercise more! My lungs are complaining, gasping in a weird way. I don’t think it’s the lack of oxygen. For some reason, I think it’s some sort of warning. I look around and see nothing. There’s absolutely no one wherever I look, except me, my car at the end of the block, the creepy howling of the wind, and the endless water shooting my head. Something brightens up and calls my attention. I look up fast, panting, and observing the curtains in the windows of the old detached houses with peeling facades and many-decade-old tiles. They are still. But my heart isn’t. I shake my head puzzled by my own reaction. Taking a deep breath I resume my running through the flooded sidewalk. Sprinting through the iron gates of the old constructions, I reach my lonely car parked between the best bar in town and a shop of Santeria supplies. My mouth is dry. I reach my pocket for the keys, and as a thunder I hop in my Mitsubishi and slam the door. With my shirt I try to dry my face in a useless action; it’s also soaked. I key the engine and hit the accelerator. All is normal. All is well. The air is back in my lungs and I feel like a moron for even thinking that something out of the ordinary could happen. Smiling inside I feel more confident. Nothing happened, just as I expected. Misfortune does not exist. Nor does luck. Life is a two-pan scale, and statistics are the weights. They tilt life either way. It’s simple like that… A very strong thunder echoes in my ears and following it a blinding bright light reveals in a second a red ghostly figure. “What the hell?” I narrow my eyes by reflex. When the red spectrum suddenly grows in my window, I lose focus of the storm. Fuck! Where did this come from? My heart pounds furiously, my body freezes, and the hair on the back of my neck bristles when I see in the rearview mirror what that was. Or who that was. Madam Nadeje?! What is this damn fortune teller doing standing still in the middle of this horrible storm? I hit the brakes.
KARL 2 years ago “Invincible, projected No. 1 UFC fighter, always knocking out his opponents in the first rounds, projected to fight for the Las Vegas belt,” says the announcer as he raises my bloody hand. “Salute the one and only: Karl Anderson, the Beast from Minas Gerais!” My aching body is lifted and thrown up many times as soon as the announcer confirms another victory and the so expected classification for disputing the title. The Ibirapuera Gym shakes furiously as the audience cheers. I can hear howls of joy and shouts of euphoria. The crowd shouts out my name. I’m in ecstasy with goosebumps all over my body. “Beast! Beast! Beast!” The voices in unison are like a mantra for my spirit in jubilation, and they massage my ego, inflating and hypertrophying the already puffed muscles, tripling their sizes. I can’t hold back the smile that splits my face in two. The adrenaline is a sort of narcotic syrup in my system, I feel the blood heat in my veins, warming up my body from head to toe. I could hit the “pause” in my life and freeze this unique and unforgettable moment. At a glance I see Annie waving like crazy with a broad smile in her face. She obviously doesn’t know whether she moves in my direction or holds my sobbing, emotional mom. I smile back at her. My eyes then look away, but this time they can’t find what’s missing to make everything seem perfect: Bea. Where’s she? I ask myself the moment my feet touch the ground and people fall on me. “To the victory!” my coach is thrilled. He raises my arm and everyone cheers. “You are invincible, dude!” says Leo. Not getting rid of my smile, I grab the towel Leo hands me and wipe off the blood from my hands and dry the sweat from my face before I resume my search for her. It’s getting more difficult. The edema is growing, affecting my right eye. I see the crowd coming like a herd. Strangers smile, suggesting things I forget right away, and they greet me; friends hug me, fooling around and cracking me up. Girls go crazy steeling mouth kisses, kissing me on my neck, and rubbing themselves on me, touching the “theoretically” forbidden parts of my wiped out body. I’m rejoicing. I can feel my presence is strong; my life gets me fucking horny. I own the world. “Where is she?” I ask in the middle of the crowd. “Miguel’s having a fucking awesome party, man! Booz and chicks all night long. We can get you some girls for fun,” his attempt to change my focus only reinforces something I already know: he’s a lousy actor. He’s always been. “Where’s Bea?” I insist with a bad feeling. He gulps. I frown. “She didn’t come,” he confesses without the courage to look me in the eyes. “What do you mean?”
“She didn’t show up,” he scratches his forehead noticing the change in my expression. I lose my balance. She didn’t watch the fight? Even though she knew it was my final fight? “Don’t fret, Karl. We’re gonna do what we always do. Party on and tomorrow you guys figure it out, dude.” But this is not an ordinary night. It was a decisive fight and Beatrice knew that. She knew how important her presence was for me. “Give me the motorcycle key,” I demand. “Where are you going? You can’t ride like that!” “Just give me the fucking key!” for some reason I panic. Something bad must be going on with her. Bea would never do this on purpose. I need to know what’s going on. And it’s gotta be now. Leo shakes his head and although he can’t believe what’s going on he puts the key on my shaky hand. “This is your night, dude!” he mourned. “You dreamed about it all your life. We have to celebrate.” “Go ahead. I’ll reach you later.” I struggle going through the crowd and head to the locker room. I grab the first shirt I see, put it on and disappear taking one of the exits. Then I fly away to my girl’s building. My reactions are quite slow, which is normal after a fight. The injuries start to make me uncomfortable and as the wind hits my body, my muscles cool down. The only barrier protecting me from the several pain crashes. As I rushed out the gym I simply forgot to take the painkillers. My right eye is killing me and I stink of blood and sweat. Whatever! I need to see Bea! It’s past two in the morning when I reach Vila Mariana. As I turn the corner, two mean looking guys watch me. I reach Bea’s street—it’s now completely silent—and leave the motorcycle on the sidewalk. A window opens on the other side of the street as the engine roars. For the first time in my life it bothers me too. The 1000-cc announces my arrival and I feel momentarily uncomfortable with that. Right now I wanted to be subtle, silent, like a feline. But I’m not. With a limp I walk up the stairs of my sweetheart’s building. Then something calls my attention: The green bike just across the street as powerful as mine. It’s not the first time I see it there, it has happened before when I showed up unannounced. Don’t be silly, Karl! My mind rebukes me for such nonsense, but a light chill runs my skin. I look up and can easily find her window amid the other dark glass squares and balconies filled with plants. The light is on! Butterflies are flying like crazy in my stomach. There’s definitely something wrong going on. The doorkeeper frowns when he notices my conditions. I’ve known him for a long time; he opens the gate and tries to start a conversation, but I just pass by like a thunder. I ignore the pain killing me and the elevator and take the stairs two steps at a time. It seems like I’ll never reach the fifth floor. When I’m finally there, I don’t need to knock. The door opens right away. “Hi, Karl” Amanda greets me, and I just nod. I’m not sure it’s because of the repeated strikes, but I’m sort of lethargic. “How was the fight?” says the roomie, putting her hair back in a strained manner.
Jesus Christ! I’m so tense my mind went blank and I forgot that I just won the most important fight of my life. Right now I should be treated like a god by the media, enjoying my friends, and mainly celebrating with Beatrice. Now it seems to be a surreal and distant dream. “I won,” I say; my voice is weak. “What’s going on with Bea? Where’s she?” Amanda looks down and doesn’t look at me before opening the door wider. I come in. The air fails me when I’m facing this guy with his arms crossed, standing by the bedroom window. He’s got well defined features, and his dark hair is perfectly arranged with gel, a watch sparkles on his wrist, and he’s wearing expensive clothes. All my pride for being who I am and for conquering what I did instantly fades away. I feel embarrassed for how I look: my hands are still dirty with blood, my t-shirt is all crumpled, I’m trying to disguise the stink from my sweaty body, my right eye is deformed, my body is covered in bruises, and I’m still wearing my shorts and filthy sneakers. I take another deep breath and look back at him. I know him. I’ve bumped into that fop on the corridors at college and on the very stairs I’ve just ran up. I remember telling Bea how that green bike was super cool, and that was when she mentioned something about a secret boyfriend of Amanda’s. Tilting my head I can see my girlfriend sitting on the edge of her bed, her eyes are puffy like she was crying. She doesn’t say a word and can barely look at me. My entire body shivers. What’s going on here? And that’s when I slowly approach her. “Bea…” I whisper after finding my voice back, and I stroke her face with the back of my hand. She looks down and pants. “What's going on? Why didn’t you show up for the fight?” I got no answer. Silence is like two hands strangling me. I’m breathless. Then I look back at Amanda and she looks away; I stare at the guy. The world is spinning. Asshole! Something yells inside me. A cold sweat runs my neck as I understand everything. My swollen eye betrayed me, preventing me from seeing what my animal instinct had just perceived. My hands shake more now than at the instant before a fight. Frowning, that coxcomb won’t even blink. He won’t lose eye contact not for a second. Sonofabitch! I recognize that look miles away. It’s confrontational. It’s the look of a territorial animal. But this is my territory. Beatrice is mine. “So, you’re the one going out with Amanda?” I ask surprisingly polite, but my head is throbbing before the imminent fight. “No,” he immediately responds, not disguising the challenging tone in his voice. Can’t be true. Can’t be happening. I check my watch: Two twenty in the morning. “Then why are you here?” I ask, making Amanda put her hands on her head. The self-assured d-bag gets away from the window. He’s tall and scans me top down, but if we talk muscles, mine are double his. I’ll smash your prince face in seconds. I involuntarily make a fist. "Karl, don’t…” Beatrice jumps from the bed in front of me.
Her red eyes are now popping, three times their regular size. Fear and guilt deform her beautiful and delicate face. I feel my heart squeezing in my chest. “Come on, Igor” says Amanda. But the fop won’t move, and he lingers, staring at me. “They need some privacy.” I nod and smile a smile that won’t reach the eyes. Then I come close to Beatrice again. “I won, Bee-Bee,” I whisper, using the special nickname I gave her. “We have to celebrate.” “Karl, I…” she freezes when I stroke her hair. The danger alert goes off in my brain; I feel the adrenaline rush. It’s real. My touch doesn’t please her. I take a deep breath and try to think of a reason: I’m dirty and sweaty. That’s probably it. That’s all it could be. It has to be it. I’m freezing inside and I hold her strong in my arms. I’m the alpha here. I’ve just gotta take a polite piss on this douchebag’s face. “Karl, don’t…” Beatrice groans, and her body is stiff to my touch. My God! Where’s my girlfriend? I left her here last night and now I find an iceberg in her place? I pretend I don’t get it. I need her touch and care. I need her more than ever. “Shhh! I’ve got so much to tell you, babe,” I interrupt her, kissing her soft. She’s shivering but I pretend not to notice. From the corner of my eye I notice the Igor dude making a fist, angry. My expression tells my reaction, I can no longer disguise. I refuse to believe the shit that is about to happen… The signs, however, are too obvious. My blood pressure rises. Beatrice can’t be doing this to me. She’s my girl. She loves me and knows I love her. I squeeze my left eye—'cause the right one is gone!—making sure it's not all a nightmare. A bitter taste takes over my mouth and I know it’s not blood. It’s frustration, loss, desperation. How come life shifts from extreme happiness to deep fear in seconds? I feel like running away, disappearing. I’d do anything not to face the facts, get wasted, and come back on the next day. I took too many blows to my head, this is all probably just hallucinations… “Karl, we’ve gotta talk,” her voice is trembling, but not even close to how my heart is racing. I wasn’t prepared for this type of confrontation. It’s like defeat is involving me with no hesitation. I panic. “Talk?” I shake my head. “What's going on here? What the fuck are you hiding from me?” now I’m yelling at them. “You watch your language, beast,” the fop retorted, defending my sweetheart; for a while I’m paralyzed. My heart is pounding and I can feel it in my pulse and on the tip of my fingers. I’m gonna break his teeth, disfigure his bearded face, crash every inch of his fucking bones. I let go of Beatrice, step into his direction and prepare the attack like an animal. The beast inside me needs to be freed; it’s the only one capable of excommunicating my demons.
"Karl, no!” says Beatrice, once again jumping in front of me. “Be a man and talk instead of fighting!” she yells, her gray eyes are burning, perforating mine. I stop. “So, I’m not… A man?” my voice fails. The words burn my throat and crash my pride. Aren’t my muscles the proof of my virility? “That's not the point,” she mumbles. “We need to talk,” she repeats herself and a shadow covers her face. In almost a year of relationship I can’t remember seeing her like that. “Tomorrow, babe. We’ve planned to celebrate. We’ve planned it, remember?” “That was long ago,” she muttered. “Things changed. Only you never noticed.” What? What it she talking about? “Nothing changed, damn it! I’m still the same, and you are MY girl!” That coxcomb opens a sardonic smile, and my entire body bristles. I’m gonna kill him. “Not anymore,” says Beatrice shaking her head, looking real confident. I’m breathless. I’m shivering. No. I’m shaken by impotence and rage. How come? What the fuck does she mean? “Igor, give us some privacy.” “You're not staying alone with this animal not even a second,” he demands, outrageous. “I'm not leaving.” I give an evil laugh, and I’ve got to admit: that prick has got some balls. Let’s see for how long he’s gonna be brave after I rip his balls through his throat. “Come on, Igor,” Amanda takes over the scene. I had completely forgotten her. “Don’t make things more difficult.” “We can’t trust him,” says Igor, staring at me. “Go to hell with your fucking nonsense, asshole! And can someone just fucking tell me what’s going on here?” I raged and the guy attacked me. Perfect! I’ll just knock him out. Maybe it will rip off this fucking pain I feel in my chest. I make a fist and raise my right arm. But the punch freezes in the air. “No!” Beatrice gets in the middle, but she's defending him. She runs in his direction. The dude grabs her from her waist and pulls her close to him. I have no reaction. I’m speechless. I have nothing left. “It’s time he knows, sweetie,” he says, righteous and confident. Sweetie? How could I be so blind? When did I lose Bea? This fucking scene is the end. This is the fucking period for us, for me. “Know what? That you’re fucking my girl? Is that it?” I snap and grab Beatrice’s arm. She moans and sinks her face into his chest.
“Take your filthy hands off her!” he fumes, pulling her away from me and gives me a classical response: “And what we do is none of your business!” There’s a huge strength in his words. My fingers go lose and I feel suffocated. The counter-attack hit bullseye. I weaken. My left eye—the one left!—is burning like hell, it waters without my permission, then suddenly darkens. I’m not gonna cry. I can’t faint. I was just kayoed.