Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: South America (02/05/09)
TITLE: Faith and Brutality in Rio
By Gregory Kane
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His sister Maria loved bananas. She particularly enjoyed the long strings that clung tenaciously to the inside of the peel, picking them out one by one and letting them dangle in the air, giggling when they danced in the occasional breeze that blew in from the sea. Sometimes Pedro would leave one of the long yellow fruits on Maria's mat for her to find when she made her way reluctantly to bed. The resulting paroxysm of glee invariably raised the flicker of a smile on their mother's face, no matter how despondent or bone-tired the day had left her.
Sadly Maria was spending more and more time lying on her mat. The sickness was progressing and all the médico could offer was a tatty piece of paper with the name of an expensive drug scrawled in a near-illegible hand. There was no way that anyone who lived in the favelas could afford the medicine— such luxuries were reserved for rich people in the well-to-do suburbs of Rio de Janeiro. Places like Ipanema where Pedro's father had been caught climbing over a wire-topped wall, his body torn to ribbons by one blast of merciless automatic fire.
It was a similarly deadly bullet that now clipped the edge of Pedro's camisa, sending him crashing into a pile of half-baked bricks, knocking the whole unsteady edifice clattering to the ground. Wasting time that was far too precious to squander, the panic-stricken boy looked round at the figure behind him who was already lining up for a second shot. Intuitively Pedro understood that the first round had only missed because at that very moment he had bent to pick up the banana skin. Fate was highly unlikely to grant him a further reprieve.
The next bullet shook plaster out of the wall just by his head, scattering a cloud of dust that filled Pedro's eyes with tears, hampering his ability to duck and dodge through the maze of side streets. Behind him the gunman was gaining ground and Pedro recognised him as one of the polícia— the man hadn't bothered to remove the distinctive cap they all wore. Only the month before, Luís, Pedro's best friend through school, had been murdered by a trio of drunken off-duty policemen, betting that at least one of them could still shoot straight. The execution hadn't been reported in the press; the magistrate had sniffed in disinterest when Luís' parents carried his bullet-riddled body into the tribunal. No one cared how many kids from the shanty towns didn't make it to adulthood— as far as the police were concerned, they were all potential criminosos anyway.
Suddenly Pedro burst into a wide open area, the grandeur of Corcovada mountain towering above. Somewhere on the top, he knew, was the majestic statue of Cristo Redentor, a celebration of Brazil's independence from Portugal and a statement of his country's adopted faith. Pedro couldn't see the towering figure of Christ, his arms outstretched as he surveyed the vast city, but that didn't really matter. Neither could he see the real Jesus way up in Heaven. “Cristo,” he gasped, “tenha pena de mim.” Forcing his legs to keep on moving, he raced across the waste ground, all too aware that he was by now an unmissable target for the policeman's pistol.
The shot never came.
Pedro burst through the door and buried himself in his mother's arms. Incredibly, the man had given up the chase at the very moment when the boy was at his complete mercy. It could only have been Pedro's desperate cry to Heaven. What other explanation was there? Tomorrow he would go down to the chapel and say a prayer of thanks. And he would pray for Maria to get better. And maybe he would leave behind a banana for Jesus. But this one he would make sure to buy with his own centavos!
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