A Life Four Sizes Too Small

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Paulo look up at the moonlit, starry sky and say: "I wish I'm dead."

"That not true. You say it, but you aren't meaning it." 

He shake his head, shake his head at me, his best friend, and say: "Nico, this life's not for me. Too small, like wearing the clothes of my little brothers. I try to breathe, and can't. We never leave this place, not ever in our lives. We born here, we die here. I want to die right now."

"You want to die? Then you can't eat good, hot Pamonha anymore. What about the beautiful colours in the sunset? Football? That not breathing? That little clothes?  If you die, I'm all alone, Paulo. You gonna leave me behind?"

Paulo smile at me. I remember, I can barely see it in the light that come from the balcony of a neighbour's house. But I see it. 

"We born here, we die here. Who cares? You find a new best friend."

I shove him. "Not true. You my best friend, since always. Don't talk so. I hate to hear you say these things." 

I shove him again and get up and go home because I'm angry. He want to die?, I think. Good, let him die. 

But I don't mean it. 

Next time I go with mama to mass in the big, white church at the bottom of the hill, I confess so that God and Jesus and the Virgin understand I really don't mean it. I really don't.  

That's a few years ago now, and we still here in the slum, like Paulo say. Still in the favelas, in the small houses that climb up the hills, stack up one on the next. Living wall-to-wall, leaning on the neighbours for help, for support. Like I lean on Paulo and Paulo on me. 

But, I older now. I see more. I go with mama and brothers and sisters down into the busy streets to collect cardboard from the rubbish bins. Mama sell the cardboard to a man, and then we have enough money to buy food and pay some things. Some days, the bins are full of cardboard. Other days, almost empty.  

Sometimes we collect for so many hours the sun go to bed before we finish, and we sleep down in the city. We take blankets and lay in the entrance of a bank or a fancy shop. I like to look at the pretty, shiny stone of the walls and all of the little colours like sprinkles of confetti in it. Or just look at the nice clothes or shoes or machines in the windows as I fall asleep, my little sister or brother snuggled against me for comfort. 

Mama don't look at the stone or the windows, she look for a camera of security.  

Paulo tell me, mama want our murder on film. She want a witness, that why she always choose a place with a camera. That make her feel safer.

"But police don't care if you murdered, film or no film. You come from the favela, so what? Your mama try, but she hope too much." 

Police refuse to come to the favelas, that's why Paulo carry a big machine gun now. It almost too big for him. He's a security member and patrols with the neighbour men to keep the drug dealers and thieves out of the steep and narrow streets we live on. Paulo's face now in a permanent scowl, lines across the forehead straight and serious like the line of his mouth. He never laugh and almost never smile. But he still my best friend. 

Sometimes I'm afraid he get shot. "You careful, Paulo, yes? You careful when the bad men come?" 

Paulo just look at me, and then I know what he thinking. It doesn't make me angry anymore, only afraid.  Afraid for my friend who leave me behind. 

One day, it start to rain and it doesn't stop.

More and more rain every month. 

Paulo sit under a balcony at the top of the favela with his machine gun and watch the water run down the empty stairs like rivers swelling up. He doesn't feel like talking. I give him a chocolate and he put it in his mouth, but don't really enjoy it. He only eat and stare at the water.   

After a while, he say: "Go home, Nico. You get sick in this rain." 

"What about you? You don't get sick?"

Paulo shrug and I know it's time to leave him. He full of thoughts about his life that four sizes too small, with no room for chocolate or the pretty colours in stone. 

I go home, but in the night, we all wake to shouting and screaming, Mama keep us back from the door. I hug my brothers and sisters who cry because of the noises from outside. 

"What happen?" I ask, when Mama come back.

"Mud slide. The hill let go from the mountain. Not here, but close by." She wave her hand in the direction of maybe where I left Paulo. 

I take my shoes and run out into the night, Mama yelling for me to come back. 

"Where?" I ask neighbours standing on their balconies, roofs. They point me toward the top of the hill. 

When I arrive, I can't believe what I see. Many houses gone, or torn apart and filled like pastries with red mud. Security men dig and shout in the bright lamps they bring. I shout for Paolo, but no one answer. I know this is the place I leave him. 

I climb up the wreckage of the houses, and start to dig and throw refuse and rubble aside like the security men. 

"Paulo! Answer me! Paulo!" 

The rain still come down hard and I fall and slide many times. But I'm so scared that Paolo trapped under the mud that I keep digging and digging. 

Finally, finally, I find a limp hand that come out from under a long, hollow piece of concrete. I shout for the security men and they come, sliding and crawling.  

We uncover my best friend from where concrete and pieces of house and mud fall on him. I hold his hand as the security men yell and wave for the emergency workers and armed soldiers who wait with stretchers and blankets.

"Everything okay, Paulo," I whisper, and try to cover him from the rain. "They take you to hospital. They make you healthy again. Everything okay, Paulo."  

"Why?" he whisper, not listening to my words. "Why you pull me out of my grave where I was happy?"   

"Because you my best friend, Paulo. Since always. We're best friends."

Paolo look up at the blank, black sky and say: "Not anymore." 



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