At the end of the afternoon, the big digital clock on the corner announced that it was one hundred degrees. Day or night, it was all the same, and inside the car it was invariably sweltering. For hours, they'd been inhaling a nauseating mixture of odors: sweat, half-eaten sandwiches, and bus exhaust. It didn't matter whether they drove faster or slowed down; in the middle of rush hour, the air entering through the window didn't camouflage the stench or take the edge off the heat. The wet burden of sweat clung to the body like the cold skin of a reptile. They were almost happy when the call came from an address only a few blocks away.
The building was old and the hallway leading to the elevators had seen its original shops divided into little stalls, where unkempt entrepreneurs sold bric-a-brac and offered their services as plumbers, gas repairmen, electricians, manicurists, tailors, or card readers. Even though the building was located on a busy section of the Avenida Copacabana, the stalls inside were almost exclusively patronized by the residents of the more than one hundred apartments in the building itself. Only two of the four elevators worked, and the floor-indicator lights were broken or turned off on both.
They exited on the tenth floor and went down one flight of stairs. They didn't want to be surprised. They didn't know exactly what they were protecting themselves against, but they'd learned to be careful. The man in front moved slowly down the dark hallway, eyes focused on the strip of light emerging from the door to apartment 910. One of his hands aimed his gun at the ceiling and the other felt the way along the wall. A voice emerged from the half-opened door, but the breathing of his colleague just behind him obscured the words. The call had mentioned murder with a firearm. He thought about how well those words applied to his everyday life. Ever since he'd been sent back to regular duty, he'd seen nothing but violence, and murder with a firearm wasn't even the worst of it. In the little training he'd had before hitting the street, they hadn't allowed him to fire more than half a dozen times -- to save ammo, they'd said -- but the training had included something they called psychological preparation. The girl who taught the classes used the word "psychology" like she used lipstick: to pretty up her mouth. The kid didn't know anything about psychology, but he did understand violence. He'd lived with it since the day he was born. His twenty-two years of life, all spent in the favela, had accustomed him to all kinds of violence, from criminals and drug runners as well as from the police force itself. He'd moved out less than a month before. Cops were being killed; the precinct had, in fact, taken him out of there. Slums were no place for a policeman. There, the law of God was the only law above the drug dealers.
Now he was less than two feet from the door and he could hear a man's crackly voice, the tone never varying, like a child reciting a lesson to his teacher. He felt the sweat running down his neck: sweat from nerves, not heat. He didn't hear any other voice; maybe the man was talking on the phone. The door was only slightly ajar, and before he stuck his head into the light, he cupped his hand around his ear to listen more closely. Behind his back, he pushed away his partner -- the breathing was too loud. He risked a quick glance. He could see only a small corner of the living room. On his first try he made out part of a wall, the end of a small table, and something that looked like an old man in a wheelchair. He waited a few seconds and looked again. The old man was still talking. It was indeed a wheelchair, and he wasn't talking on the phone but with someone sitting in front of him, outside the policeman's field of vision. He made a sign to his partner and pushed open the door, hoping that it wouldn't make a sound. The few inches yielded a wider opening into the room. Now he had an unobstructed view of the old man and the wheelchair, but he still couldn't see his audience. He knocked softly on the door with his knuckle. The old man didn't move or change his tone of voice; he just kept talking. The old man was, in fact, talking to someone seated on the sofa. The other man's shirt was stained red.
From A Window in Copacabana by Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza. Copyright 2001 Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza. Originally published in Brazil in 2001 under the title Uma Janela em Copacabana. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced without written permission from the publisher, Henry Holt & Company.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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