4. Part 2 Seven-days-of-coincidences-and-the-incidental-guide-dog-sete-dias-de-coincidencias-e-o-cao−guia-incidental

Day 2. The Great Cosmic Joker plays some jolly japes – O Grande Curingão Cósmico prega umas peças divertidas

It was early afternoon when Tanja finally hobbled into the hostel, the big and second toe on her right foot heavily wrapped in plasters, Havaianas – flip flops – stained crimson red, and she found Kris reclining in one of the many hammocks hanging around the hostel.

“Hey you,” she said warmly, giving him a gentle nudge on the shoulder, causing the rede to sway gently.

“Hey you yourself,” he responded far more warmly than he had when she had first introduced herself. Sitting up, causing the hammock to sway even more violently, he asked: “What the heck did you do to yourself last night?”

“I don’t actually know,” she replied, a puzzled expression creasing her features. “I got out the taxi and then there was suddenly blood everywhere. I didn’t feel a thing,” “But it was funny,” she continued. “I went up to the apartment where I was couch-surfing and left a trail of blood all the way to the guy’s front door. He freaked when he saw it and I told him I’d clean it up, but he wouldn’t let me. He insisted on doing it himself.” She smiled at the memory of his face. “He grabbed a mop and spent half an hour cleaning up my blood.”

“Holy shit!” Kris interjected. “That must have been some trail of blood.”

“I know. It’s unbelievable. I was so embarrassed,” she finished sheepishly.

“So, obviously, we’re not gonna do much walking today as you said. And we’re certainly not gonna be climbing Cristo,” Kris lamented. “So, how about we go to the beach instead?” he suggested. “It’s a beautiful day.”

Although it was June and the beginning of winter, it was still 28º C, the equivalent of what both Kris and Tanja were used to in their respective summers.

“Plus, the saltwater will do wonders for your toes,” Kris added.

The albergue was right between Copacabana and Ipanema and for no obvious reason other than it was more famous, they decided upon Copacabana. The footpath was wide, about 10 feet, and constructed of a mosaic of dark and light coloured big−toe sized blocks of stone, arranged in alternate horizontal and vertical dark bars. Although the calçada was wide, it sometimes only allowed the passage of two pedestrians abreast due to such things as bollards placed at irregular intervals to deter the cars from using it, and enormous trees, replete with parasitic growths hanging like vines and sporting pale pink, yellow and white orchids growing from their boles, whose roots wrapped around and ran in rivulets down the trunk, at the base of which were garden beds warning that they contained poison to deal with the rat problem. The calçada had been oft repaired and bore the scars. This and the unevenness and areas badly in need of repair detracted both from its visual appeal and walkability.

“Look!” Tanja suddenly exclaimed, pointing up at one of the trees.

“What? Where?” Kris asked, wondering what had so excited her.

“There,” she said pointing.

Following the line of her arm, he tried to see what it was that had piqued her interest and then spotted it. Hovering above the branch was a tiny, metallic green  humming bird, called beija flor in Brazil  − literally flower kisser − darting around furiously, its long beak dipping into the occasional flower as it remained suspended in mid-flight, motionless save for its wings which beat rapidly. It was the first time that either had ever seen one and they stopped to admire its beauty and grace for a few minutes until it flitted away noiselessly. But where was the hum from its wings Kris wondered, after which he assumed it had been named. The new friends continued on the uneven surface of the calçada and reached the end of the road, entering a totally different sort of street. Where the one they had been walking on was leafy and relatively tranquil, Avenida Atlantica was filled with noisy traffic and the towering concrete and glass structures which lined one side tried and failed to compete with the majestic monolithic mountains behind them and which would surely blot out the sun long before it set and a narrow stretch of pale sand and the sparkling ocean on the other.

The footpath that bordered the beach was also made of the same black and white blocks as the one they had travelled on, but this one was patterned with great sweeping black waves. Ah! Copacabana! One of the most famous and vaunted strips of sand in the world, but Kris was a little underwhelmed by it. He had had such high expectations, but it paled in comparison to some of the beaches he had been to, such as the amazing Pink Sands Beach in the Bahamas, Anse Lazio Beach in the Seychelles or even the unusual black sands of Monterrico in Guatemala. Why was Copacabana so famous, he wondered silently. The Museu Histórico do Exército – Historic Army Museum – and Forte de Copacabana – Copacabana Fort, was situated on a small isthmus to the right and the pale strip of sand stretched to Leme on their left, the Pão de Açucar – Sugarloaf Mountain – visible in the hazy distance. The sand was a sea of red sunshades interspersed with islands of yellow ones and was crowded with people in micro costumes and many were the girls wearing little more than dental floss and tiny triangles protecting their modesty, the back of the lower portions of which appeared to have been consumed by their bountiful bundas.

The two friends ambled along the wave patterned walkway, surveying the sand for some spare space. A woman walking towards them caused them both to turn and look at each other with eyes wide, eyebrows raised in an oh my god expression. She was dressed in a bright yellow micro bikini and had not one ounce of fat on her body giving her the appearance of a perambulating skeleton. But it was not this that had caught their attention, it was more the fact that she must have been at least 70 years old, heavy makeup applied to a face that had obviously and unattractively been surgically altered. Her skin was stretched taut across prominent and skeletal features and there was heavy scarring around her now plump duck lips and ears, but her mottled, aged skin elsewhere hung in flaccid rolls, and she was also the proud possessor of an enormous pair of silicone breasts that would have made Pamela Anderson proud. She was tightly holding onto a leash in one hand, at the other end of which was a white toy poodle with its fur shaved, save for fluffy balls at its feet and the tip of its tail, all of which was dyed an unnaturally pink. This pampered pooch was also wearing a leather booty on each of its feet to protect its delicate pads.

The dog suddenly stopped and hunkered on its haunches and began coiling out a shit on the sidewalk, avoiding the eyes of anyone in the vicinity as if it was embarrassed to be performing this act of nature in front of an audience. Kris wondered what the garish owner would do in response to this soiling of the pathway; clearly she had nothing with her to remove the deposit as her hands were empty save the handle of the leash and if she had secreted something in her bikini it would surely be visible. He saw her swivelling her skeletal face from side to side head like a bizarre parody of the android in the Terminator before her eyes alighted on a piece of plastic that had been carelessly disposed of. Kris was greatly gratified to see her wrap the plastic around her hand and then wrap it around the coiled deposit, but could not believe his eyes when she picked it up from the ground and then carelessly cast it onto the sand.

“What the fuck?” he gasped unbelievingly, as he and Tanja turned to look at each other in dismay.

The pair, shaking their heads in pure disbelief, proceeded along the path for a few more feet before stepping down onto the sand and wending their way through the crowd until they came to a small unoccupied patch of sand and parked their posteriors. No sooner had they sat when a broad smiling black face greeted them with a cheery “Hola,” the sun reflecting off his shining black bald head. This was a very shrewd move on his behalf as the greeting was the same in Spanish as it was in Portuguese and it would make both nationalities feel comfortable and welcome and afforded him a better opportunity to sell his wares to the hordes of Argentineans and other South American tourists who flocked to Copacabana.

“Oi, boa tarde,” – Hi, good afternoon – Tanja responded in fluent albeit heavily accented Portuguese.

Kris’ eyebrows raised in surprise, not suspecting that she could speak the local language. The salesman informed them that he could satisfy any requirement they had, from deckchairs and sunshade to caipirinhas and salgados – savoury snacks. Tanja was about to say something when Kris interjected.

“Pode trazer dois cocos verde, por favor,” – Could you bring two green coconuts, please. It was Tanja’s turn to raise her eyebrows in surprise.

“Claro que sim, quer algo mais?” – Certainly, do you want anything else? He asked, obviously pleased with a sale.

“Não. Só, ‘brigado.” – No. Just that, thank you – he responded, dropping the first vowel of the word obrigado in Brazilian fashion.

The vendor bowed his head politely, acknowledging the order and turned and left the friends as he went to fetch the coconuts.

“I didn’t know you spoke Portuguese,” they both said in unison, laughing before they could even finish the phrase.

The two  started to talk at the same time again and stuttered to a stop. Kris put up his hand and politely signalled for her to go first, an offer she accepted.

“I was gonna order fresh coconut as well,” she told him. “I’ve never had it before.”

“Me neither,” he replied. “And I figured if we’re in Brazil, then it’s about time I did. So where did you learn to speak Porkandcheese?”

“What?” she asked, a puzzled expression on her face.

“Porkandcheese,” he repeated. “It sounds like Portuguese,” he explained. “I like to play around with words.” A smile split his lantern jawed features.

“Ok, porkandcheese it is. I like that,” she said laughing, “well, my boyfriend is from Portugal and I’ve spent almost a year there,” she informed him. “And you, where did you learn?”

“My girl… er, ex-girlfriend,” he corrected, “taught me when she was staying with me in Canada.”

At that moment, the man returned with their fresh coconuts. They thanked him and turned their focus to the cool green fruit, moisture condensing on its slick exterior. The three angled cuts expertly cleaved into the top revealed a near perfect circular hole brimming with opaque slightly sweet water. The taste came as a bit of a surprise to the pair as they both expected it to taste the same as they were used to in the hard, auburn haired fruit they both knew. It was cold and incredibly refreshing.

With coconuts in hand the pair must have looked like easy targets to the other voracious vendors on the beach, for they were soon inundated by a cavalcade of opportunists offering their wares for sale. Firstly, a purveyor of sarongs tried to interest them in his goods by laying them on the sand around Kris and Tanja so they could be better seen. Their printed motifs included, amongst others, a reproduction of the wave pattern from the footpath, the ubiquitous  Cristo and two different Indian elephant patterns. Indian elephant patterns? Wtf? Kris thought, shaking his head. The vendor obviously misunderstood his reaction and haughtily scooped up his goods and left, kicking sand onto Kris as he left. Too bad for the vendor as they were both actually interested in one. He was then replaced by, judging from his accent, an Argentinean hippy with long blonde dreadlocks offering his artisanal jewellery which he displayed on a rack made of thin pvc plumbing pipes enshrouded in black velvet. They politely refused his offer and he too left, albeit more graciously than the sarong salesman.

No sooner had he left their side than a samba trio sidled up to them smiling broadly, their hands playing furiously on their instruments. The lead sambista, cavaquinho − a small ukulele type instrument − in hand obviously took the pair to be lovers as he started serenading Tanja. His companions joined in, one tapping away on a pandeiro −a tambourine like instrument − the other with a tamborim − a smaller version of the pandeiro but minus the rattles − which he was feverishly beating with a multipronged stick with a steady takata – takata – takata – tak 2/4 rhythm.

Tamborim

Kris tried to avoid the eyes of the sambistsa, knowing they were merely trying to earn a little coin, but he had no interesting in parting with any more.

“A moçinha é muita bonita, né?” – The young lady is very beautiful, no? 6he lead sambista said looking squarely into Kris’ face. Kris was about to say something when Tanja piped up.

“A gente não é um casal, nos somos só amigos,” – We’re not a couple. We are just friends, – she informed him firmly with no trace of humour.

The lead sambista turned his attention to her, his face set to split in half by the huge smile which still lingered on his face, now resembling a death rictus.

Mas vocês faria um belo casal,” – But you would make a beautiful couple, – he told her recovering and turning on the charm that had obviously worked for thousands of other foreigners, seduced by his South American charms .

Clearly she didn’t agree with him and merely scowled back at him. His grin froze on his face awkwardly and he accepted defeat and led his troop of minstrels off in search of more fertile ground and they were finally left in peace. Once he had quaffed the cool coconut juice, Kris was eager to get his teeth into the succulent sweet white flesh sequestered within. He excused himself for a moment, green orb in hand, and made his way to the wave patterned footpath. The soft outer casing of the coconut broke easily as he bashed it on the edge where the footpath met the praia. Eyes triumphant, he jogged back to where Tanja sat, sweet and luscious prize in hand. Once he tore the broken shell into three pieces, his eyes registered surprise. Where was all the succulent snow white fruit he was expecting? A very thin and slimy looking coating on the inside of the shell was all that was there to be seen. Undaunted, he raised one section to his mouth and dragged his two front teeth across the inner surface and his disappointment mounted as his tongue very quickly registered the astringent taste, but as for sweet, juicy coconut flesh, it was conspicuous by its absence and totally lacked the coconut taste he knew. His shoulders slumped dejectedly and he collected up his three pieces, as well as Tanja’s now empty entire shell, and deposited them in a nearby220 litre bright orange plastic bin conveniently placed nearby. As he walked back towards Tanja, he noticed that many of the people on the beach, women as well as men, sported tattoos all over their bodies. He was shocked by what he saw engraved on the torsos and limbs of the girls because they weren’t of the small and discreet type that he was used to seeing, but were instead big, bold, bright and colourful. Statements! He saw entire lower legs and upper limbs completely covered with them; scenes from Rio imprinted on the skin, the names of current or even former loved ones inscribed for all eternity, an abundance of borboletas − butterflies and, Kris even had to double check and recheck, one who bore the inscription Boceta Bonita − Beautiful Cunt − in flowing, florid script across her chest. He shook his head in complete and utter disbelief when, totally out of the blue and unwarranted, an absurd question popped into his head: what type of tattoo should Tanja get here in Brazil? The question appeared completely crazy; he hadn’t noticed a single mark on her pale flesh, plus she didn’t look like the type to irrevocably mark her skin for a lifetime. He tried to push the ridiculous question out of his mind, but it refused to go, lingering right where he could not avoid it. As he arrived back at her side, the absurd question still taunting him, she stood up and started to strip off. Normally, an attractive women stripping next to him would provoke some form of hormonal response, but he paid her absolutely no heed. She pulled off her light summer t-shirt revealing two breasts only slightly smaller than the two coconuts they had just consumed, suspended in two pieces of cloth of near identical colour as the said fruit. The symbolism was completely lost on him; his sexual psyche was sleeping while it licked its wounds and recovered from its recent trauma. She slid her shorts over her curvaceous hips and shimmied, wiggling them down her shapely thighs and let them fall to the sand at her feet, but she may just as well have been a hairy macho man gyrating in front of him for all that it moved him. Obviously, if she had had any interest in him she would have wiggled her hips far more seductively and suggestively.

“I don’t know what tattoo to get here,” she suddenly announced as if on a capricious whim. “What do you think?”

His eyes widened in complete disbelief.

“You want a tattoo?” He asked, mouth gaping open stupidly like a fish out of water.

“Yeah, sure,” she responded. “I’ve promised myself I would get one from every new country I go to,” she answered earnestly.

Kris eyed her taut body and failed to find a single one of them. Seeing his confused look she lifted her left arm revealing two small blue fish in a 69 position on her inner bicep.

“I got that when I first went to Portugal,” she explained. “Me and my boyfriend are both Pisces.”

“Perhaps you could add another fish to that one because I’m a Pisces too,” he suggested.

Her facial expression suggested that she didn’t think much of that idea and she then turned around and lifted up the hairline from the nape of her neck revealing a dragon in flight. This really surprised him as he hadn’t for one minute considered her a tramp before now.

“And that one?” he asked, a confused expression clouding his face as he tried to assimilate this new situation.

“My grandfather’s name is Dragan,” she explained, pronouncing the first A long, in the manner it’s pronounced when reciting the alphabet. “I got this when I went to visit him in Bucharest. It’s kinda metaphorical.”

She then proceeded to recount her travels to Romania, describing the band of Romany gypsies that he travelled with. Kris was stunned into complete silence!!!! His grandparents were Romany gypsies and from Bucharest as well. The coincidences were piling up and he found himself once again contemplating the meaning of coincidences for the first time in many years. What did this current string of coincidences mean? There was certainly a strong connection between him and Tanja; they had fallen into a very easy friendship. He had no romantic interest in her; in fact he had no room for romantic interests for anyone in his cold and frozen heart, and she clearly had no interest in him and already had a boyfriend back in Portugal, but was there a reason the two had met and if so what? He told Tanja everything that was going through his mind, including all the accumulated coincidence, but she was dismissive of there being any significance whatsoever. She said that she was a scientist after all and valued rational thinking. He reminded her that he was also a scientist and then proceeded to give her a brief summary of his experience with coincidences and the paranormal, including his powerfully prophetic dream.

“Do you know that English guy?” she asked vaguely. “You know; that magician guy.”

“I’m not sure who you mean,” he said, shaking his head in negation. He really had no way to know who she was talking about; there were lots of magicians. “How about Derren Brown, do you know him?” he asked suddenly and her eyes lit up.

“Yes, that’s the one I meant.”

“There you go, that is exactly what I’m talking about,” he said, pouncing. “How the heck could I know you were talking about him?”

“Coincidence,” she said simply as if that explained anything.

They went on to discuss some of Brown’s performances and amazing feats of mind manipulation. Kris, due to his experiences growing up, was fascinated by the mind and its awesome power, which Brown had so skilfully tapped into. She believed that Brown’s tricks were no more than the result of using actors and that the whole thing was staged. Kris, on the other hand, had a totally different perspective; preferring instead to believe in the powerful potential of the human mind. She remained sceptical and there seemed little point in continuing the conversation so he announced that he was going to go for a swim and stripped off his t-shirt and flipped his Havaianas off.

“Are you coming in?” he asked her as he prepared to hit the cool the water.

“I want to get some sun first,” she told him, “while I still can,” she added, eying the voracious shadows from the multi-storey monstrosities which were methodically and metronomically devouring the road in their relentless march to the margins of the praia.

She estimated that they probably had half an hour at most before they would be in the shade. As he strode towards the surf, Kris took in the others that shared the beach with him. He was surrounded by so much silicon that Copacabana could compete with Silicone Valley. The silicone was not only in the chests of the women either. He noticed that there were some who also appeared to have turbo charged bundas as well and it wasn’t just the woman either who had taken advantage of the surgeon’s knife. There was one poser in his budgie  smugglers, as he had heard the small swimming costume called in Australia, flashing his ridiculously huge biceps, which were obviously surgical implants, the rest of his body showing no sign of physical activity. Kris was somewhat surprised that he didn’t also have an implanted six pack! The crowd around him that he had attracted were obviously marvelling at his stupidity not his physical prowess. Kris thought that some of the other men looked a little odd too, but couldn’t quite put his finger on what it was. Then it hit him: they had either plucked or waxed eyebrows, hugely feminising their features. Not only had they removed the hair from their eyebrows, they also seemed to have removed the hair from their chests as well; he could not find a single hairy chest amongst the male population of the beach beyond the sparse growth he sported on his own chest. What was the issue with hair? Kris assumed that the Brazilian wax originated in Brazil and he could understand it to some extent; girls wanting to wear ever smaller bikinis and not wanting to excite lewd and lascivious thoughts in the men on the beach. But the Hitler moustache or nothing at all, what was that all about? For Kris, the new fashion for complete removal of body hair left him cold. In his opinion, the shaved or waxed nether regions that had become so fashionable reminded him of prepubescent girls and that excited him not in the least. Obviously, he was in the minority in his circle of friends who had considered him a little strange when he had voiced his opinion. What a sad indictment of a society when the desire for the normal, natural state of a woman is considered kinky, weird, abnormal!

Kris had previously pondered his predilection for plush pudendas, lush pubic piles, and had come to the conclusion that it had probably stemmed from the time he had been staying with his grandparents when he was 12 years old and had found his grandfather’s stash of men’s magazines, carefully hidden in the basement. They dated back to the 70s and all the models had fine bushes between their legs and he had spent many an afternoon secluded with them, experiencing his first tastes of manhood. On the other hand, perhaps it could also have had something to do with his first sexual contact with a real live female. It was his baby sitter, who was primarily there to watch over his younger sister, and he had no idea how he’d ended up naked with her as his sister slept. He was then fourteen and the baby sitter was two years his senior and he was fascinated by the thick, brown curly bush he had found when he removed her panties. He had started by kissing her, first on the lips and then moved on to exploring her tight young body with hands, lips and tongue, finally burying his face between her hot and willing thighs. He was intoxicated by the bouquet he had found there and that powerfully pungent pheromone laden perfume pervaded his psyche long after it had faded from his upper lip, forever linked to his sexuality itself. The water was a pale translucent turquoise, wonderfully highlighted in the walls of the waves before they broke and the sky was a pale blue, devoid of clouds except for the contrails that were the result of the frequent air traffic that plied the skies of Rio de Janeiro. The contrails, Kris noticed were of the durable kind hat he didn’t remember seeing in his early childhood. These contrails seemed to last for hours, not dissipating in a few minutes, often filling the sky with a cloudy haze obscuring the sun. He had heard of the chemtrail theory, but was yet to be sufficiently convinced 100%. He was actually 100% sure of very little in this life, well aware of the subjectivity of the observer and he fully understood the expression: “the perceiver’s perception is their reality”, but he was fairly certain his name was Kris, everything else he graded in lower percentages, but each with a mechanism for re-evaluation if further evidence warranted. He had read water sample reports from where these ‘contrails’ persisted more than a few minutes and they had truly disturbed him. The water samples showed massive levels of barium and aluminium that should not normally be found in rainfall. Weather manipulation? Possibly, he really didn’t know, but he understood that these metals were highly reflective and if they persisted in the atmosphere for any length of time then surely they must have the effect of cooling the planet’s surface. Was this the powers that be’s way of ameliorating global warming? Or was global warming itself a scam? He had no idea, but was completely sceptical of his and every other government on the planet’s altruism. They were as corrupt and bought as could possibly be and he understood the strength and power of corporate lobby groups. What the truth was he doubted if he would ever know, but would never accept their words on face value. History had taught him that politicians said exactly what the people wanted and expected to hear with the words bypassing the thinking process of the brain. Kris strode purposefully towards the surf, eager to cool off and dived headfirst into the first wave that rushed towards him. In no time at all, the shadows had stormed the sand and stolen the sunshine from them so they decided it was time to move on.

“Have you ever had açai?” Kris asked as they made their way from the beach.

“Hey, I was just going to suggest one of those.”

Kris raised his eyebrows in a questioning gesture as if to ask, so, you still think these are just chance coincidences? But he said nothing.

“I love açai,” she informed him. “Actually, it’s the reason I’m here in Brazil,” she told him.

“You came to Brazil just for açai?” He asked. “Can’t you find it in Croatia?”

She laughed.

“No, I’m doing a research for my university on açai,” she explained. “I’m going to Amazonas next week where I will be studying the Euterpe oleracea and its sustainability as a commercial crop.”

“And I suppose that’s the name of the tree the fruit comes from,” Kris said, making an educated guess.

“Yes, that’s right, but the Euterpe olerace, is actually a palm tree and it does indeed produce the açai berry,” she explained and then gave an in depth breakdown of her research project, explaining that her field of specialisation was sustainable agriculture as opposed to conservation biology, his area of expertise.

They left the now shady sandy shore in search of açai which Tahlia had introduced him to in Vancouver and where he had fallen in love with the delicious purple pulp. He was hoping that it would be cheaper here in Brazil than it was back in Canada, where it could only be had in health food shops and the like and was hideously expensive.

Courtesy Teja Muha

They found açai na tigela – açai in a bowl – at the first quiosque they came to. The cost was R$6, about $3.40 Canadian Kris quickly calculated, a third of the price he’d paid for it back home.

The sweetened purple pulp came like a thick sorbet topped with toasted granola and sliced banana. Tanja explained that açai was always served as a frozen pulp because it oxidised rapidly and therefore it was not viable to sell it fresh.

“Do you have any plans for tomorrow?” Tanja suddenly asked once they had finished their frozen fruit delight.

“To be honest,” Kris began. “I haven’t thought that far ahead. I have no idea what I’m going to do for the rest of the month I’m here. I’m just sort of drifting along at the moment, taking every day as I find it.”

“Well, I’m going to Ilha Grande tomorrow. Why don’t you come with me?” She suggested. “I was planning on going alone, but it’s always better to travel with friends.”

“I know absolutely nothing about Ilha Grande,” he confessed, “But sure; why the heck not?” he concluded seeing as he had nothing better to do.

“Trust me, you’re gonna love it,” she promised.

She explained that the he would have to catch a bus from the Rodoviária − bus station − to Angra Dos Reis and then catch a ferry to the island. The bus trip would take about 2 hours and the last ferry was at 1.30 p.m.

“Here, let me write it down for you,” she said, reaching into her bag for some paper and a pen.

He took the slip of paper from her, thanked her and slipped it into his wallet and they continued on their way after wiping the sweet purple pulp from their lips. It was a Sunday afternoon and the promenade was heavily populated with locals and tourists alike and all the quiosques were bustling. The sound of samba wafted on the gentle breeze that blew from blue azure ocean. The couple soon discovered the source of the samba when they found a group of sambistas sitting around a table playing the infectious South American rhythm.

“Hey, why we don’t we stop here for a while?” Kris suggested, as he spied a sensual, slinky seductress swaying to the sultry samba sounds.

He was transfixed, surprised to find his loins stirring as he gazed at her dusky, coffee coloured form. Although the treachery of Tahlia was so recent he still found her sexy swaying irresistible. He ordered two cervejas and the couple lingered there listening to the music until it abruptly came to a stop. The obviously observant waiter came over and let them know that it was finished for the day. Throughout the performance, Kris barely took his eyes off the black Brazilian beauty and felt a pang of regret when he saw her wrap her arms around one of the sambistas and plant a kiss on his lips.

“Any idea what the time is,” she asked.

“Oh, I’d say approximately eight minutes past five,” he told her.

“What? Eight minutes past five?” She shook her head chuckling to herself. “Not five past or ten past, but eight minutes past five. That’s pretty exact!”

“It’s kind of a gift,” he told her with a casual shrug, reaching into his pocket for his cell phone and giving a self satisfied shake of the head when he confirmed the time. “There you go,” he said showing her the numbers on his phone.

The digital display showed that it was indeed eight minutes past five.

“I’m a bit of a stickler for accuracy,” he told her with a wry grin.

“That’s quite impressive, but I’m sure it’s just a coincidence,” she told him, dubious that it was indeed a gift.

She would surely have to test him on this in the future, she thought and tucked the thought away for future reference.

“Yeah, maybe,” he said without conviction because he knew the truth of his words.

He’d had many people test him on this, one colleague in particular who would fire a random request for the time until he too accepted that it was indeed one of his gifts. With that, Tanja explained that she had to be heading off as she had made arrangements to have dinner with the guy that she was couch-surfing with. Kris, ever the gentleman, offered to accompany her to the bus stop and wait with her until her bus came. Although it was a Sunday afternoon the buses were still quite frequent and it was not long before the one she wanted arrived.

He bade her farewell in the typical Brazilian fashion with a hug and a friendly kiss on the cheek, even though the custom was neither his own nor hers, but it somehow seemed appropriate here in Rio and he promised to meet her at Angra Dos Reis or Ilha Grande early the following afternoon. He watched her climb aboard the bus, pay the cobrador and push her way through the roleta − turnstile − that recorded the entry of every passenger with which the bus company could check against the takings. Employers in Brazil did not trust their employees and maybe with good reason! It was now late afternoon and Kris found himself at a loose end. What to do now? He drifted along the streets of Copacabana and found himself outside a supermarket and decided to pick up a bottle of cachaça to keep himself company. Alcohol was his preferred remedy for pain. He used it to anaesthetise his pain, to numb it, to wipe it from his mind, but the problem was that some pain was so intense that it required copious quantities to be effective. When the pain was so great, and he bathed it in sufficient alcohol to deaden it, he usually found himself waking with little or no memory of the night before. His dreams disappeared and he would have no clue if his sleep was undisturbed or not. But at least he had a respite from the malady that afflicted him. Now Tanja was no longer with him his previous melancholia returned and his mind again wrestled with the reason he was in Rio, or more precisely his lack of reason and his soul screamed for relief.

It was obvious that the building that housed the supermarket had not been designed and constructed for this purpose, but had been adapted many years later. The entrance was narrow and Kris found his entry blocked by two velhas gordas – fat old ladies – and a wiry, wizened velho – old man – surrounding a shopping trolley. He waited patiently for them to move out of his way and allow him ingress. Incredibly, they did not even acknoowledge his presence, let alone move out of the way and continued cheerfully chatting as if the still had their whole lives in front of them. Kris cleared his throat noisily to catch their attention, but beyond one of the velhas slightly turning her head in his direction, quickly returning her attention to her companions as if he was of no import. Kris was flabbergasted and his patience evaporated like a light mist on a warm sunny morn and irritation grew like an inferno in his belly.

Com licença,” – Excuse me – he grunted finally, irritation plain in his voice.

The three turned to him with a shocked look of surprise registering on each of their faces.

Desculpe,” – Sorry, they chorused as if they were shocked and surprised that they had inconvenienced him.

Kris passed them shaking his head from side to side and muttering curses under his breath as he entered the supermarket.

The interior was also very narrow, only about twice the width of the entrance and Kris very quickly located the aisle containing the spirits. Again he found his way barred, this time by a dark, plump lady in her 30s, whose cart and her ample girth almost filling the aisle. She had had a mobile phone to her ear and was talking animatedly.

“Fala devagarinho, filho. I entendi nada,” – Speak slowly, son. I understood nothing! – he heard her tell the person on the other end. Like the three at the door, she behaved as if no one else but her existed.

His patience, having already been stretched thin at the door, Kris was in no mood to wait for her to notice him and move and brusquely asked her to excuse him and allow him to pass. She reacted in the same manner as the three elderly people at the door – surprised and shocked to find someone wanting to pass, but quickly moved to one said apologising profusely.

Kris could not believe the prices as he surveyed the bottles and chose a 960 ml bottle of 51 cachaça with a price tag of R$5.00, or about CAD$2.50, he quickly calculated, finding the measure somewhat random, and then picked up a 2 litre bottle of  guaraná, the national soda and made his way to the cashier.

With cachaça in hand, already opened and on its way to do the job it was intended for he made his slowly way back to the albergue; he was in no rush, there was nothing but solitude awaiting him there. Suddenly, as he came to a street corner, he saw two men scrambling furiously with a fruit stall, eyes wide in panic, transferring everything to a long wide trestle, the produce spilling to the streets in their haste. Kris looked around for the source of what scared them so much and came to a rapid understanding for there, sitting at the traffic lights, was a vehicle with flashing orange lights atop and the words Guarda Municipal stencilled on the sides. Obviously, these were unlicensed vendors and the Guarda Municipal represented a very real threat to their livelihood. The pair finally managed to pack all the plastic packets of fruit and vegetables onto the wooden board and ran. At that moment, the lights changed and the car with the orange flashing lights eased forward in the traffic and Kris spotted someone who had obviously been less fortunate, for the vehicle was a tray back with the rear full of obviously impounded produce and a civilian sat glumly between two uniformed officers. Kris shook his head in sympathy. His father had been a brutal dictator and, as a result, his sympathies always lay with the underdog. This was one that hadn’t managed to get away. He was secretly pleased that the other two had managed to.

“Kris! Hey, Kris!” A shrill voice floated across the general hubbub of the street reaching Kris’s ears.

This was one of the magic things of life: no matter how much noise there is, we will always hear our own name when it’s called. Kris looked around him in bewilderment; who could be calling his name? He was struck dumb in disbelief when he saw who it was for there, right there in front of him, was someone he hadn’t seen in almost 10 years. Now this was pushing coincidence too far.

“Chris,” he called out incredulously as he approached his former schoolmate. “What the hell are you doing here?” he asked, pumping his former friends hand furiously, the cachaça already meandering its way through his blood stream exaggerating his responses and reactions and a huge, genuine grin grew upon his face.

The anaesthetic didn’t stop him from wondering what on earth fate was doing and what game could it possibly be playing on him. Not only did his former school buddy have a similar name, but they had been very close at one stage, each helping each other through the difficulties that puberty had placed in their paths until Chris, like so many other rocks in Kris’s life had left Toronto; another parental choice chasing the almighty dollar. But after Chris had moved to Ontario, their once solid bond was slowly eroded until it was dissolved by the tyranny of distance. This was the story of Kris’ life! It seemed that, save his parents, everyone he had ever loved or cared about had disappeared from his daily life and this had had a profound impact on his young, impressionable mind, proving to him that he should only rely on himself because others are mere transitory visitors in the trajectory of one’s teenage years and maybe their entire lives too for that matter.

“I could ask you the same thing,” Chris responded laughing.

“Hey, let’s find a bar somewhere and swap stories,” Kris suggested, to which his long lost buddy readily agreed.

They soon found a bar and Kris ordered a couple of caipirinhas to further lubricate their discussion.

“I don’t know if you’ve ever tried this, but they are great,” Kris told Chris when the arrived at the table.

Chris nodded his head in response.

“Sure, I tried caipirinhas back in Canada,” he told him, “which is kind of the reason I’m here in Rio today.”

“So, how about you tell me man, and also watcha been doin’ since I saw you last you?” Kris suggested.

“Well, where to start?” “He asked rhetorically.

“At the beginning, you know, since we last saw each other,” Kris proposed.

“Ok, good idea,” Chris said with a chuckle. “Well, you know how it goes, I finished high school, took a gap year and travelled the world, then studied biology.”

“No shit?” Kris responded incredulously. “That’s exactly what I did. Exactly! What university were you at? I was at UBC.

“Ah, I went to UWO in Ontario. No shit, you studied biology too?”

“Yeah, I studied conservation biology, and you?” Kris asked.

“No shit man, I studied conservation biology as well, what a coincidence,” Chris said shaking his head.

“So, what brings you to Brazil? Kris recounted his tale of woe and couldn’t help noticing the expression on his friends face as he told his story. It was Chris’s turn to be stunned.

“Tell me you’re shitting me, man,” he said with a look of total disbelief darkening his features.

“What? Watcha talking about?” Kris responded with no idea what his friend meant.

“Man, surely you are shitting me. You’ve just told my story except Talita lives in Curitiba and is coming to Rio tomorrow, but I sure as shit hope she doesn’t do to me what yours did to you.” ]

Kris, slightly befuddled by drink, still didn’t understand his friend.

“Whaddya mean I told you your story?” His face was a comical picture of disbelief coupled with outright confusion.

“I shit you not, but I was working for a tour company in Ontario and met Talita on one of the trips, about a year ago, but she had to come back to Brazil two months ago, that’s why I’m here!”

Now, this stretched credibility to absolute breaking point and beyond. What the hell was going on here? This was just too much! Meeting his friend, who shared almost the same name, had lived almost identical experiences, both meeting Brazilian girls at the same time and with almost the same name to boot! Surely that great cosmic jester in the sky was having a jolly jape at his expense. The newly acquainted amigos swapped cell numbers, promising that they would keep in touch and continued talking of this incredible coincidence, the sheer enormity of the odds of this happening were astronomical, beyond belief!

After who knew how long, after many caipirinhas with beer chasers, the dono do bar finally announced that the bar was soon to close. Remembering the cachaça and cola he still had with him, Kris suggested that they go back to his hostel to continue their reunion celebration, all thoughts of his imminent departure from Rio but a distant memory in his alcoholic haze. Chris, many drinks behind and still fully in command of his wits, albeit still dazzled by the evening’s turn of events, agreed, but cautioned that he wouldn’t be able to stay too late as Talita was due to arrive at Santos Dumont airport from Curitiba at eight in the morning and he was aching to see her and promised he would be there to greet her when she landed, but he was now apprehensive as well. Where before he hadn’t even contemplated that she would or even could ever be unfaithful, after the sheer scale of the coincidences with Kris, there now seemed to be a real possibility that she had been doing the same thing as Tahlia. Back at the albergue, the beer and cachaça quietly and efficiently meandered its way through Kris’s system, the pain in his heart becoming totally anaesthetised, and he no longer thought about Tahlia. His previous apparent disdain and distance from his fellow hostellers disappeared, his defences completely dissolved, and he drunkenly engaged not only his old schoolmate, but the other carousers as well. The hours disappeared like the wax in a candle and he had become so anaesthetised that he barely noticed when his buddy announced that he had to be going. When it was suggested that everyone went to a funk club in Vidigal, he was as eager as everyone else and ready to shake and groove with the best of them. It mattered not that it was already three a.m. and he was supposed to be on a bus to the bus station by nine a.m.

A white van soon arrived to transport the revellers to Vidigal and Kris, minus his old friend Chris, but with his newly acquainted cachaça comrades, climbed in with a light heart, but unsteady legs, the cachaça bottle in Kris’s hand quasi empty by now, the cola completely consumed!

~ ~

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