Roberta Liora Borger

City of Dreams

Simone watched the five o’clock soap opera as she finished ironing the laundry. She didn’t really like that soap opera, because it was geared towards teenagers and had silly plot lines and bad but beautiful actors. The show had originally been named “Work Out”, because it was set it in a gym, but when almost a decade after its debut, the producers had decided to change the main setting to a high school, the title had remained the same, since it had become a known brand by then. Simone always got a kick out of that fact.

Despite how bad the soap opera was, it was the only one Simone had time to enjoy. She always missed the six o’clock show because that was when the driver dropped off the kids from their English, judo, ballet, swimming, flute or soccer classes, depending on the day of the week, and Simone had to get them showered and PJed. During the seven o’clock soap opera, Simone was busy cooking dinner and forcing the children to do their homework.

The eight o’clock soap opera never started before nine, despite the announced scheduled time, because between the two shows the national news came on. By the time the soap opera began, Simone had to serve dinner to her bosses and then clean up after them. She always tried to sneak in a few minutes between courses, but Mrs. Marta always got angry if she called for her and Simone didn’t hear her because she was in the maid’s room watching television.

After years of practice, Simone had timed it perfectly that when the TV channel logo appeared on the screen after the cliffhanger, she was putting the iron and board away. She had just enough time to put the folded clothes in their specific closets before the kids came running in, ready to tell her all about their day. She enjoyed talking to Marina and André. Sometimes they could be a handful, but they were mostly good kids.

She finished her evening and night chores and ran to the bus stop so she wouldn’t miss her ride and have to wait twenty-three minutes for the next one. With any luck, she’d be home before midnight. The streets of São Paulo were cold and somewhat deserted, in the quiet, affluent neighborhood where her employers had their nice three-and-a-half-bedroom apartment, but Simone started seeing more people as she approached the busy Consolação Avenue.

Hopping from foot to foot to ward off the chilly night breeze, Simone waited at the stop with seven other people, four of whom got on the bus with her when it finally arrived. An hour and forty minutes and two bus transfers later, Simone finally climbed the last steps to her house. If one could call it that. The government called it Popular Housing, Simone called it the Slums. The dilapidated shack had only one bedroom, which Simone insisted her thirteen-year-old brother should have, a small, barely functioning bathroom, and a room that served as a kitchen, living room and Simone’s bedroom.

Simone walked in and dropped her purse on the small acrylic dinner table and looked longingly at the couch. Sometimes she felt so much older than her twenty-three years of age. Her back muscles constantly ached, her hair normally smelled like cooking grease, while the rest of her smelled like Pine-Sol, and her feet always hurt from standing up all day. At least her hands were soft, from routinely washing laundry and dishes. 

Taking a deep breath, she knew she would never be able to fall asleep without checking in on her brother first. As expected, Pedrinho was already asleep when Simone crept into his bedroom. Her brother’s form spread out all over the bed, with his mouth hanging open, brought a reluctant smile to Simone’s tired lips. As usual, her brother had discarded his blanket, which lay rumpled on the floor.

Bending to pick it up so Pedrinho wouldn’t catch a cold, Simone noticed her brother had gone to sleep wearing his sneakers. She found it odd, as Pedrinho was also wearing his pajamas, so it wasn’t like he had just fallen asleep. On closer inspection, Simone noticed she had never seen that pair of footwear before. They also looked brand new. And expensive.

Shaking her brother’s shoulder, Simone said, “Pedrinho. Pedrinho. Wake up.”

Groaning and moaning, Pedrinho tried to escape her annoying hand and turn to the other side. Simone stopped him and called out his name a couple of more times.

Finally her brother’s eyes focused on her and he mumbled, “Hey, Si.”

“Pedrinho, where did you get those sneakers?”

Freezing, Pedrinho looked down at his shoes, then back up at his sister. Simone could see the guilt in his face even before he spoke. “I… I got them.”

“Who from?”

Pedrinho murmured, but Simone still managed to hear his answer, “From Murilo.”

Holding back her anger, she demanded, “Take them off.”

“Si…” Pedrinho whined.

“Now, go. What did I tell you about accepting gifts from Murilo?”

“He just wanted to help.”

“No, Pedrinho, he didn’t just want to help and you know that. I’ve told you this a thousand times, no brother of mine is gonna be a drug dealer’s plane boy.”

“It’s not like that. He was just trying to be cool. He knows we don’t have money and he saw me playing soccer with Tião and Sampaio a few times. He said I was good but that I’d need better rides if I wanted to play in the school team.”

“Pedrinho, that’s bullshit and you know it. That’s just how it starts. They give you a little gift here, a little gift there. Then when you’re friends, they start asking for little favors. ‘Hey, you mind running down to the bakery for me and getting me a coke? Oh, by the way, keep the change and get something for yourself’. And then, ‘hey, can you do me a solid and tell whoever that I’m gonna be a little late?’ Then when they feel like they can trust you, they start with the little packages. ‘Hey, boy, run there and take this.’ That’s how you become a vapor. What do you think, Pedrinho? How do you think Murilo got where he is today? He started out as a plane boy, graduated to vapor and a few years later he was running the whole show.”

Pedrinho stayed quiet for long minutes and then slowly moved to take off the shoes. He handed them to his sister. “Sorry, Si.”

Simone drew in a deep breath and sighed. “I know, Pe, I know. But I told you a million times. You’re not gonna get involved with drugs, you hear me? You’re gonna stay in school, go to college and become someone.”

“It’s just, I look at Juca, and he’s making some really good bucks. And he’s not doing anything wrong. He’s just, like, taking lunch and delivering messages.”

“Yeah, Pedrinho, but no one stays a plane boy forever.”

“But maybe, if I was a plane boy just for a little while, then maybe you wouldn’t have to work so much. Besides, how would we even pay for college anyway?”

“Pedrinho, you’re smart. You can get into the state university, which is free. But even if you don’t, there are plenty of schools that are only four, five hundred reais a month. There are a bunch of people out there that work during the day to pay for college at night. You can do that too. And I don’t care if I have to work twenty-seven hours a day. You’re not gonna be a plane boy. Besides, this thing of just for a while doesn’t exist. Either you move up the ladder, or they take you off the ladder. Forever. You hear me?”

“Yeah, I get it.”

“Good. So, no more gifts? No more Murilo?”

“No, I promise.”

“Good. Go back to sleep, now. I’m gonna go out, but I’ll be right back, okay?”

“Where you going?”

“I’m gonna give these back to Murilo,” Simone answered indicating the shoes. “I won’t be long.”

“He’s gonna be angry with you.”

“Don’t worry. I’ll just tell him ‘no, thank you.’”

Lying back down, Pedrinho snorted with amusement. “Yeah, right.”

“Go to sleep. I’ll see you tomorrow. Love you.”

“Good night, Si. Love you, too.”

Simone stood by the door watching her brother make himself comfortable in bed and fall back to sleep. The light filtering from the living room made him look even younger and she wondered for how much longer he’d still feel comfortable with saying that he loved her. He no longer said it in public and if he became like all the other men Simone knew, pretty soon he wouldn’t be saying it at all. She was going to miss that.

With the sneakers in hand, Simone grabbed her keys and left the house in search of Murilo. She was pretty sure she’d find him three streets away, where the house he conducted most of his business was.

She saw him standing outside the iron gate; his house being just a bit better than everyone else’s shack; with four other guys whom Simone knew were also involved in Murilo’s dealings.

The men made way for her when they saw her coming and she had a perfect view of Murilo leaning against the gate, with a smirk on his face. He was much taller than Simone and probably ten years older than her. His black hair was hidden underneath a black cap and his brown eyes held no warmth whatsoever. He was a beautiful man, Simone often thought, with a carefully maintained physique. If he’d had any other job, Simone might have been happy to accept one of the many propositions he had made her way before, but as it were, she would never consider getting involved with a drug dealer.

She stopped about a meter away from him and stared as the left side of his mouth pulled up in a malicious grin.

“Siquinha,” Murilo greeted her, using the nickname he’d carved for her years before. “To what do I owe the honor?”

Simone threw the sneakers at him, catching Murilo by surprise. They bounded against his chest and fell aimlessly to the ground. “Here are your shoes back. Keep them. I told you once, I’m gonna tell you again. Keep you paws off my brother!”

Murilo slowly lost the smirk, his eyes turning even colder. “It was a gift. The boy can keep them.”

“We don’t want it. We don’t want or need anything from you.”

“He’s a good kid, Siquinha. And he’s a great ball player. He deserves shoes that actually fit him.”

“Then I’ll figure out a way to get them for him. You just leave your shit away from my brother. I don’t want you anywhere near him,” Simone stated, keeping eye contact.

“Careful, Sica, I’m gonna start to think it’s personal.”

“Of course it’s personal, you son of a…”

Before Simone could finish her sentence, Murilo stepped away from the gate, grabbed her arm and started to pull her away from his friends. It happened so fast, Simone didn’t have time to protest until they were several meters away.

“Let go of me,” she yelled, ineffectively trying to pry her arm away from Murilo’s strong grip.

Once they were out of the other men’s earshot, Murilo released her arm, but stepped forward, leaning down to get very close to Simone’s face.

“Careful, Siquinha,” Murilo cautioned. “I might put up with some of your shit, but you’re not gonna disrespect me in front my people, you hear me?”

“Go fuck yourself, Murilo.”

Without warning, Murilo slapped Simone’s cheek with enough strength to send her stumbling. He grabbed her arms and pulled her against his chest before she fell down.

“Shhhh, shhhh,” he murmured in her ear. “It’s okay, it’s okay, you’re all right.”

Simone raised a trembling hand to her face and felt the heat spreading across her injured cheek. Tears escaped from the corner of her eyes, more out of shock and humiliation than of actual pain.

“You’re not gonna disrespect me when we’re alone either, get it?”

When Simone remained silent, Murilo shook her until she finally nodded her head.

“Good. ‘Cause I like you, Sica, but there’s a limit you hear me?”

Simone nodded again and looked back into Murilo’s eyes. For the first time since she could remember, she was truly afraid of him.

“I admire you Siquinha, you know I do. You stepped up when you had to and you never complained about it, either.”

Simone understood what Murilo was referring to. When she’d been fourteen, her mother had passed away from untreated pneumonia. Pedrinho’s stepfather had decided that raising two kids, especially one that wasn’t even his, was too much work and had disappeared. Simone had dropped out of junior high and gotten a job to support herself and her one-year-old brother. She never questioned her decision because the way she saw it, there’d been no other option.

Murilo continued, “But I’m not gonna take any bullshit from you. You know very well that the only reason you and your brother are left alone is because everyone knows that if they mess with you, they have to deal with me.”

As much as Simone hated to admit, she knew what Murilo was saying was true. Since she’d been sixteen Murilo had been paying her attention and because she’d been the only girl to say no to him, he’d remained interested. There was no denying that Murilo’s known infatuation had provided Simone a certain status and security within their little community. It also kept men away, which could have been a bother if Simone had actually wanted to date someone. But since she was too busy and tired working and raising her brother, she appreciated her immaculate status.

“Now,” Murilo continued, “we’re gonna go back there, you’re gonna pick up the shoes, thank me for getting them and then leave, so you can get some sleep. I know you have to wake up early in the morning. Is that understood?”

Torn between anger and fear, stubbornness and gratitude, all Simone could do was nod her head one last time.

“Good,” Murilo praised her. He bent down and gave her lips a chaste kiss.

Turning Simone around, Murilo dropped his arm over her shoulders and walked her back to his friends, who were hooting and ribbing him over the kiss. Murilo smiled but didn’t respond to their teasing.

Doing as instructed, Simone bent down and picked up the discarded shoes, clutching them against her chest. She looked back at Murilo and stayed quiet until he lifted an eyebrow, almost as if he were daring her not to thank him. Simone knew that life for her and Pedrinho would become infinitely harder if she ever lost Murilo’s favor. And so, scared of what he would do if Simone didn’t comply with his orders, she gave him his “Thank you, Murilo,” in a quiet, haunting tone.

“You’re welcome, Siquinha. Have a good night,” he answered magnanimously.

Simone could see the other men leering at her, so she quickly turned around and made her way back home.

Once she was safely inside her falling apart house, Simone put the sneakers on the dining table, trying to decide what to do with them. She didn’t want Pedrinho to have them and give Murilo the satisfaction, but it also seemed like a waste to throw away a perfectly good pair of shoes just out of spite. In the end, she decided her brother might as well keep them. He really was a good kid and he deserved a little pampering every once in a while. Besides, Murilo might ask Pedrinho to see them and she didn’t like to think about what would happen if Murilo found out she had given them to someone else.

With her neck and lower back aching, Simone flopped down on the couch without bothering to change. Thankful she hadn’t even turned on the light when she’d walked in; guided only by the street light streaming through the windows; Simone’s last conscious thought before falling into an uneventful sleep was to remember to turn on her watch alarm for the next morning.

The alarm beeped incessantly at 4:30 the following morning, making Simone groan and switch positions on the lumpy old couch. She allowed herself ten minutes to stall before reluctantly getting up. With as resigned sigh, Simone kicked off the shoes she had slept in and moved to the small bathroom to take a shower.

Despite her wishes to stay longer under the fickle spray of hot water, she didn’t, knowing that if she did, there’d be none left for Pedrinho. Plus, she couldn’t afford to be late. She dried herself quickly to avoid the chilly São Paulo early morning weather, and dressed herself carelessly, aware that she’d have to change into her uniform once she arrived at work.

Simone stepped out of the bathroom, surprised to find her brother sitting on the dining table, looking more asleep than awake.

“Pe,” she said, drying her long hair with a towel. “What are you doing up? You still have another hour.”

“Yeah, I know,” Pedrinho mumbled. “But I wanted to talk to you before you left.”

Simone dropped the towel on the second chair and kissed the top of her brother’s head as she walked around him to make herself a cup of coffee. “What’s up, my love?”

“I wanted to apologize again about the shoes. I really didn’t think they meant anything.”

“I know, Pe,” Simone assured her brother as she put a small pot with milk over the gas burner to heat it up. “But you can keep them,” she continued, pointing at the shoes her brother had been longingly admiring. “I worked it out with Murilo.”

Pedrinho seemed to awake at the news. He sat up straighter and his eyes shone with excitement. “Really?”

Simone couldn’t help but smile at the way her brother got so happy over something she considered menial. Even before her mother had passed away, and Simone had been nothing more than a teenager herself, she’d never really cared about clothes or accessories.

“Yeah, really,” she told her brother. “Just promise me you won’t accept anything again from anyone without talking to me about it first.”

“I promise!” Pedrinho jumped up from the table and walked around it to give his sister a hug.

Simone kissed his hair again. “Now go back to bed. Otherwise you’ll be a mess in school all day.”

“Thanks, Sica.” Pedrinho grabbed the tennis shoes and ran back to his bedroom, but paused to look at Simone before closing the door. “Love you.”

“Love you too, baby,” Simone responded.

After Pedrinho retreated to his room, Simone quickly finished her beverage, burning her tongue and the back of her throat in the process, thinking about the full breakfast she’d have at her employers’ house after the kids left for school. She tried to eat as many meals there as possible so that she could save the groceries she bought for Pedrinho and weekends. It wasn’t hard, considering she had to be in by 6:00am on weekdays, and she rarely left before 10:00pm. Plus, she worked half days on Saturdays. Most people who worked as maids like her were live-in help and Simone had even been offered the benefits of such when she first got the job. It would have certainly been less tiring if she didn’t have to spend up to three hours commuting every day, but there was no way she could leave Pedrinho alone all week and she didn’t have anyone else who could take care of him. So she commuted, without whining about it, because she knew how lucky she was to have a job at all. In a country where the economy was changing as rapidly as it was in Brazil, there wasn’t much a girl with an incomplete 8th grade education could do.

Simone quickly rinsed the pot and her mug, then put her towel back in the bathroom. Stopping to check on her brother one last time before she left, Simone found him sleeping once again with his brand new footwear. She smiled, shaking her head, and closed the door slowly, careful not to wake him up.

As she walked the eighteen blocks to the closest subway station, she blew warm breath on her cold hands, contemplating as she did most mornings how much easier it was to take the subway to her bosses’ apartment. Despite the longer walk on her end and also when she got to their neighborhood, she didn’t have to change subway lines and the ride was much quicker. But the area where she had to get off every morning wasn’t one of the best in the city, and Simone would never be safe walking there alone after 9:00pm. So she had to suffer through long bus rides to get her back home.

When Simone was almost at the subway station, she saw Murilo standing on the following block, talking to another man. They exchanged a handshake, in which Simone knew something must have exchanged hands, and Murilo clapped the other man on the shoulder, before the guy walked away. Before Simone could go around the block and pretend she hadn’t seen him, Murilo turned around and caught Simone looking at him. He smiled and waited. Sighing, knowing there was no way to avoid him now, Simone continued to make her way down the street.

“Twice in a few hours,” Murilo exclaimed when Simone approached him. “What a rare treat.”

“What are you doing up so early, Murilo?”

Murilo grinned wider. “Sweetness, I haven’t been to bed yet.”

“Oh, right.”

He looked at his watch, big, gold and expensive looking, and frowned. “But you shouldn’t be up, either. I saw you just a couple of hours ago. You need to get more sleep.”

“Yeah, well, some people have to work for a living.”

“Siquinha, trust me, I work.”

“Sorry, I meant to say that some of us have bosses that we have to please.”

Murilo smiled again and spread his arms. “Ah, see? That’s why I much prefer my line of business.”

“Well, I still prefer to be on this side of the law.”

“Don’t mock, Siquinha,” Murilo warned her, suddenly serious. “You know how much money I make? And you know I never force anyone. The only reason I’m here selling is because there’s people that wanna buy. If it wasn’t me, it’d be someone else. If those rich playboys from the West Zone wanna fill their asses up with dope, then why can’t I take their money? I’m not forcing them to buy. Not even forcing them to use. If they wanna throw their allowances away, it’s their problem. Better for me.”

The worst part of Murilo’s speech for Simone, was that it actually made sense. It was all about supply and demand, wasn’t it? Murilo certainly wouldn’t have a business if there hadn’t been people looking for stuff. It wasn’t like drugs wouldn’t exist without him.

Murilo took a step closer to Simone and leaned down. “Fuck, Siquinha, I could take care of you so well, if you let me. You’d never have to work again. You could have anything you wanted. And Pedrinho could also have anything he wanted.”

For a moment, Simone allowed herself to wonder what it would be like to accept Murilo’s offer. No more working sixteen-hour-days. No more choosing between paying the electric or the gas bill. Her heart wouldn’t break anymore by having to deny her brother things she couldn’t afford.

Why couldn’t she accept? When had she become so moral? Simone had cheated in school, like all the other kids do in Brazil. She’d stolen books from the library. She didn’t go to church. She cursed. And she’d certainly drunk and smoked before she was eighteen. It wasn’t like any of the bars or clubs carded people. So why couldn’t she say yes to Murilo and just enjoy what he had to offer?

Sighing, reluctantly, Simone stepped back and shook her head. “Thanks, Murilo. I just… Thanks.” She shrugged.

Murilo sighed as well and nodded. “Well, if you ever change your mind.”

Simone gave him a tiny smile. “Thanks. I have to go.”

Without waiting for an answer, she stepped around Murilo and rushed to the station.

During the whole ride, Simone continued to replay her conversation with Murilo in her head. Despite her doubts, she knew she was doing the right thing. When she finally reached her stop, Simone forced herself to pay attention and be aware of her surroundings. It was never good to be caught unaware in São Paulo, especially in the neighborhood where Simone had to get off the subway.

It always amused Simone how much difference a couple of blocks could make. When she got out of the subway station, the neighborhood of Santa Cecília was bad and poor. Not as bad as her own, but she could see the old, abandoned buildings and the dozens of homeless people sleeping in the streets, on cardboards boxes, seeking shelter beneath buildings’ façades. But then, if she walked a couple of blocks north, Simone would get to Higienópolis, the rich neighborhood where the family she worked for lived. The buildings became taller, better cared for, with green lawns, doormen and double gates. Though she still saw indigents every now and then, they became scarcer and further apart, and in her short walk, Simone passed two mobile police kiosks.

The funny thing was that if Simone walked about ten blocks west, she’d be in Bom Retiro, a region most people knew as Crackland. The place where most of Murilo’s product ended up.

Simone greeted Mr. Domingo, the nice, elderly doorman who had the 10:00pm to 6:00am shift in the building where she worked, and slowly made her way to the back patio, where she could get the service elevator to the sixteenth floor. Dawn was slowly coming and Simone wished she could see more of the pinkish sky through the grey cloud of pollution.

She entered the apartment through the back door and quickly put on her uniform, so she could wake up the kids, make breakfast and get them ready for school.

A couple of hours later, Neide arrived. The sixty-four-year-old black cleaning lady came in once a week to give the apartment a good once over. During the week, Simone always kept the apartment in order, but it was Neide’s job to make it spotless and to take care of the work Simone didn’t have time to do herself.

Neide always wore a scarf around her head. She only had four teeth left in her mouth, but she was still one of the best cooks Simone had ever met. She’d been good friends with Simone’s mother while she was still alive and had stepped in to help after she’d died. Neide was the one who’d gotten Simone her first job at another house babysitting for the couple’s new baby, then gotten her this job, when her old employers decided their kid no longer needed a full time nanny.

While they stood in the kitchen sharing a cup of coffee and milk and slices of whole grain bread with butter, Simone told the other woman what had happened the night before.

“Child, I am telling you, you better be careful with that Murilo,” Neide cautioned Simone. “He’s a slimy one, that one. Always manages to slip away. You can’t never really catch him.”

“I don’t wanna to catch him, Neide.”

“Yeah, well, he sure wants to catch you. You know that the other day I was at the produce street fair, the one on Tatuapé, you know?”

Simone nodded, familiar with the weekly fair close to their houses that Neide was referring to.

Neide took a zip of her coffee before she continued, “So, I was there, talking to Mr. Antônio, you know, from the tomato stand?”

Simone nodded again.

“So, we’re talking and Mr. Antônio, you know how he is, throwing me his charm and giving me his lines…”

Simone looked down and hid her smile behind her coffee mug. Mr. Antônio was a charmer, but Neide smug grin as she told her story was the best.

“So then,” Neide carried on, “Mr. Antônio tells me that men do crazy things for love. And then, he tells me that just that morning, Murilo had stopped by to see him and had given him twenty reais and told him to give you whatever you wanted for free.”

Simone suddenly stopped, with her sandwich halfway to her lips. She clearly remembered going to the fair about two weeks before and Mr. Antônio giving her four tomatoes, two cucumbers and seven carrots for free. She’d found his generosity surprising and had insisted on paying but Mr. Antônio had assured her that she and her mother had been customers of his for so long now, he just wanted to show his appreciation. Simone had been deeply touched by his gesture. Suddenly she didn’t know how to feel anymore. Especially about Murilo. Why would he do that? And why wouldn’t he take credit for it?

“Shit, Neide,” Simone exclaimed, “why didn’t you tell me about this sooner?”

“Oh, child, I forgot. You know how my mind is these days.”

Simone had actually become increasingly concerned about Neide’s clear lack of memory. She knew there was a disease that messed with older people’s memory, but it wasn’t like she and Neide had insurance to go see a doctor. And even if Neide went to the public hospital, they’d still not be able to pay for whatever medicine was prescribed to cure the disease.

Simone spent the rest of the day thinking about her earlier meeting with Murilo and what Neide had told her about him. She felt confused towards him. She didn’t understand how he could be so sweet one minute and so ruthless the next.

Neide rushed out at five o’clock, running to get to the subway station before it was dark. Luckily the kids arrived not long after that, distracting Simone from her turbulent thoughts.

Mrs. Marta and Mr. Lúcio arrived home a little after seven, surprising Simone and their children. Normally Simone’s employers only got home around nine, in time to give their kids a goodnight kiss, before sitting down to have dinner. This evening, however, they came in early, with big smiles and carrying a big, beautifully wrapped box.

Marina and André rushed out to the entrance hall to greet their parents when they heard them arriving and Simone smiled at the unadulterated joy on their faces. She sometimes felt bad for the children because of how little time their parents actually spent with them, since they were always at work. Then she’d remember she was doing the same with Pedrinho, only worse, because she couldn’t afford to leave anyone to take care of him, and she’d just feel worse for herself.

The kids started jumping up and down, demanding to know what was in the box.

Mr. Lúcio set in on the kitchen table and said, “Sorry, Dé. This is actually for your sister.”

André looked crestfallen, but still curious to see what his sister had gotten.

Marina, not having to be told even once, immediately started tearing the wrapping paper apart. The box beneath revealed a brand new 32” flat screen TV. Marina happily danced around the kitchen, clapping her little hands, thanking her mother and father over and over again.

Mr. Lúcio leaned down and kissed the top of his daughter’s head. “You’re welcome, baby.”

Mrs. Marta smiled at Marina. “We know you’ve been tired of sharing the one in Dé’s room, so we figured, you deserve it.”

Mr. Lúcio looked at his son and clapped his shoulder. “This is actually a gift for you too, Dé. Think of it like this, no more Marina in your room asking to watch cartoons.”

André managed a smile and looked smugly at his sister. “Yeah, plus, mine’s bigger.”

Marina didn’t seem concern about the size of the television, as she was already pulling her father’s hand begging him to install it for her.

The family left the kitchen with the new TV, leaving Simone to stare blankly at the spot where it’d been, only moments before. A brand new television, just because. No Christmas, no birthday, no special occasion. A brand new television, because a seven-year-old was tired of sharing one with her nine-year-old brother. Simone thought about the old console TV she had back at her place. It was more than nineteen years old, and it had been broken for eight months, but Simone couldn’t afford to get it repaired. She especially couldn’t afford to get a new one. Right now the television served as a table for a pot of daisies Simone watered every couple of days.

Shaking her head to clear her thoughts, Simone gathered the discarded wrapping paper and moved to the living room to add two more plate settings. It looked like the family would be having dinner together.

Later that evening, Simone finished putting away the dinner dishes, then changed out of her uniform. She hurried to get her first bus, then fought to stay awake during the long ride home. She’d fallen asleep once, missing her stop, and waking up in Sacomã, a neighborhood in the South Zone of São Paulo, far away from her home in the East Zone. It had taken her over two hours and two bus tickets she could ill afford to get back on track.

When Simone got off on her final bus stop, she noticed there seemed to be more people around than usual. Not thinking much about it, she started to make her way back home, seeing more and more people milling around, the closer she got to a vacant lot that was near her house. Wondering if there had been another rape or something worse this time, she started to recognize some of her neighbors, all of whom gasped and started to cry when they saw her.

Getting a bad feeling from the pitying looks she was receiving, Simone started to move faster, pushing people out of the way, looking for what was causing such a commotion. She was almost at the lot, she could see blinking red lights from police cars and officers standing by, when someone grabbed her from the side and blocked her path.

She looked up to see Murilo standing there, with an indecipherable look on his face.

“No,” he said. “Siquinha, don’t.”

Ignoring the warning, Simone twisted herself in Murilo’s grasp to look back at the lot. Her breathing was heavy and noisy, as she remembered this was the same lot the kids from the neighborhood used to play soccer.

It took her eyes two sweeps, but finally they spotted it. A lump on the ground covered in a white sheet with a big red stain on it. Sticking out from under the sheet was a pair of brand new, expensive looking white snickers.

“No!” Simone yelled without even thinking. “No, no, no. Let me go. Let me go.”

Murilo held her back despite her protests and attempts to free herself. She tried kicking and punching him, but his grip remained firm, as he deftly maneuvered her away from the crowd and the lot. So intent in getting to the lump, Simone missed Murilo and an officer exchanging nods.

He was able to get her back to her house and to unlock the front door without completely letting go of her.

As soon as they were inside, Simone turned to him and asked, “What happened?”

Murilo replied without moving a muscle. “I was watching the kids play. Pedrinho wanted to show me the new shoes. There was a drive by. The Penha gang has been trying to get me for a while now. They want to take over this territory too. They missed me, but…” Murilo paused, but as if sensing that Simone needed to hear the words, he continued, “They missed me, but they hit Pedrinho.”

Even though she’d known it was coming, the news hit Simone like a bag of bricks falling on her chest. She stopped breathing, she stopped hearing, she stopped seeing. She could only feel. She was engulfed in a wave of despair deeper than anything she’d ever felt. When her mother had died, she’d had Pedrinho to keep her afloat, now she was adrift in an ocean of misery and torment. Without realizing, she dropped to ground, covering her head with her arms, shouting and moaning at the top of her lungs.

Murilo slowly knelt next to her, trying to calm her down, but she didn’t even notice him, as Simone continued to cry and silently beg God to let her die too.

“I’ll get them, Siquinha,” Murilo was saying when she could finally focus on his voice. “I swear to you. I will get you revenge.”

Simone stopped crying and for long moments, she studied the man in front of her. Without considering the consequences, she suddenly slapped him with as much strength as she could gather, and proceeded to hit his chest with her fists over and over again while shouting, “It’s your fault. It’s your fucking fault, you stupid, fucking, asshole, son of a bitch.”

Murilo never tried to stop or dodge her blows. He took them as a man accepting his penance. Eventually, Simone tired of her tirade. She laid back on the floor, curling herself around her knees and began to weep again.

She didn’t know how long she stayed there. After some time, her tears dwindled and her hiccups subsided. Through it all, Murilo remained where he was. Sitting next to her, without touching, but offering silent support.

“I arranged it with the police,” Murilo stated at one point. “Tomorrow we’ll go down to the precinct so you can answer some questions and then we’ll go to the Legal Medical Institute to see about… To see about Pedrinho’s body.”

Simone nodded.

“And I’ll be paying for the funeral, service, anything you want. So don’t worry about that.”

“I don’t want your fucking money,” she replied hollowly, but knowing she’d have to accept it. It had taken her seven years to finish paying the installments for her mother’s burial. Murilo could more than afford it.

“I know. But I’ll still be paying for everything.”

They spent the rest of the night in silence. Sometimes Simone cried, sometimes she screamed. Murilo never attempted to stop her. Simone never got up from the floor, and Murilo didn’t move either.

Many hours later, Simone noticed sunlight coming through the windows. She looked at her watch and saw that it was 7:18am.

“Give me your phone,” Simone demanded hoarsely, extending a hand toward Murilo.

He handed it to her, without questions.

Simone dialed absentmindedly and listened as it rang three times.

Her boss picked up with a breathless, “Hello?”

“Mrs. Marta, it’s Simone.”

“Simone! Where have you been? The kids are going to be late for school, Mr. Lúcio and I don’t have any breakfast. You can’t just disappear on us like that, Simone. It’s very irresponsible of you.”

“I… I’m sorry, Mrs. Marta. I… There’s… There’s been a death in the family.” Even as Simone said the words, her head and heart refused to accept them.

“Oh. Well, I’m sorry to hear that. When do you think you’ll be able to come back to work?”

Simone paused wondering how long it would take for the LMI to release her brother’s body. How long it would take to put a funeral together. Probably not long. It wasn’t like she was going to do a big thing. She didn’t even think that many people would come. Then it suddenly hit her that she couldn’t care less about her work. She had no desire or strength to get back to it. “I, I don’t know,” she finally answered.

“I see… Well, in that case, I’m afraid I’m going to have to let you go, Simone. I am truly sorry, but you know I can’t stay long without someone. The kids need care and I can’t be here full time, you know that.”

“Yes, ma’am. Of course. I understand.” But Simone didn’t. Mrs. Marta was a doctor who often acted like she preferred to be in her clinic than with her own children. Simone couldn’t understand why someone who had money and could afford to stay home and be a full time parent wouldn’t chose to do so.

“Well, you just take your time, then. And let me know when you’d like to come back to sign your paperwork and to get your last paycheck.”

“Yes, ma’am. Thank you.”

“Oh, and Simone?”


“When you come, don’t forget to bring the house key, okay?”

“No, ma’am.”

“All right, then.”

Mrs. Marta hung up before Simone could say anything else. After seconds of keeping the phone to her ear, listening to silence, Simone handed the device back to Murilo, sluggishly, almost as if in slow motion.

“You get fired?” Murilo asked.

Simone nodded.


Simone shrugged. A few days from now, she’d probably miss the kids, but for now, she couldn’t let herself ponder on something else she’d lost.

When she felt better, Neide would probably be able to help her find a new job. She cleaned for six different families and there was always someone’s cousin, friend or neighbor who was looking for a good maid. That was how the business worked. No one ever placed an ad. They always asked another maid if they knew someone who was looking for a job, and someone always was. The question was, would she want to go back to being a maid? Could she take it again? Maybe now she could finally take a live-in position and reap the benefits. Maybe she should send it all to hell.

They stayed quiet for a long while, until Simone asked, “Now what?”

“Now you get some sleep.”

Simone looked at him. “Will you be here when I wake up?”

“I don’t know. Do you want me to be?”

She studied the man sitting in front of her for a few moments, before she nodded. “Yeah, I do.”

Murilo nodded, as well. “Then, I’ll be here.”

Simone nodded one more time, then closed her yes.

“Murilo?” Simone asked after some time.

“Yeah, Siquinha?”

“Could you… Do you think you could get me a new TV?”

“A TV?”

Simone could hear the surprise in Murilo’s voice, but she didn’t stop to think about it. “Yeah, mine’s broken.”

“Uh… Yeah, yeah, of course. Anything you want.”

Without opening her eyes, Simone replied, “Thank you.”


Roberta Borger is originally from São Paulo, Brazil, where she studied Filmmaking and Screenwriting. After moving to New York in 2008, she earned a second Bachelor's degree in Creative Writing. Roberta currently lives in Pittsburgh, PA, where she’s pursuing her M.F.A. She enjoys long walks on the beach, deep and meaningful conversations and clichés. Roberta can be reached at