I did not come to Rio for its world-famous beaches, churrasco restaurants, or pink sunrises over Sugarloaf Mountain. I came because it was as far away as my money could get me from Manhattan.
Far away from conference room meetings; weekly sales forecasts; drinks after work with a potential client; the dreaded phone call I was going to be late again and no, don’t hold dinner; the climb up the stairs to the third floor; the steel door left slightly ajar; the sad eyes peering into mine silently saying I should quit the investment firm and study design at Cooper Union; the claustrophobic nights staring at the invisible ceiling wondering if Ida still wanted a baby after what she had gone through the previous year; and, as far away as possible from the night we strolled Delancey Street, ice cream cones in hand until that shadow leapt from the alleyway.
Everything from that moment on is a blur; everything except a puddle of blood and melted ice cream on the sidewalk. No matter how many months or thousands of miles away, I cannot escape that image or the echo of my words, “Take it easy, man.”
That is what brings me here, the search for a world so different, so foreign, so isolating that not a single thing will resemble New York. Maybe I have a death wish; a need to confront another trigger-happy lowlife who will erase my guilt and leave me dead on some nameless back alley.
Knowing neither the language, nor customs, nor even what neighborhoods are safe, I check into a dingy hotel in one of the favelas that ring the city. The taxi driver looks incredulous at my decision before he speeds away shaking his head. Perhaps the seclusion and penitence I seek will be found in the dark hotel room that reeks of previous guests and unspeakable acts.
I rely on feeble hand gestures and the limited English of locals who take pity on this crazy American. After swallowing a cup of tar-like coffee and a coconut pastry in the tight hotel lobby, I ask the diminutive woman who runs the place, how I might get to the statue of Christ The Redeemer that looms over this favela with its arms outstretched high atop Mount Corcovado. She draws a map to a bus stop on a scrap of paper. In a nearly indecipherable jumble of English and Portuguese, she warns of favelados, who will attack for nothing more than a cross look.