Absolution – Michael Anthony

The decrepit bus is packed with people carrying bags of food, others with stained boxes containing who knows what on their laps, and still others half asleep, their heads resting on greasy windows. With the hotel woman’s warning fresh in my mind, I make no eye contact. Nor does anyone else. We pass through one favela to another farther up the mountainside.

Peering out the window of the bus as it slows, I spot a woman in a tattered flower print dress trudging up a path alongside the narrow roadway. Seen only from behind, her arms and legs are the color of honey. Long waves of chestnut brown hair sway with her every step as she balances a wicker basket atop her shoulder. What color are her eyes? Ebony? Hazel?

Frustrated by the gridlock of cars and trucks and screaming motor scooters, the thick-necked bus driver leans on the horn while shouting out his window. Passengers chatter and laugh. With the bus now stopped, the distance between the woman and me grows. I’ll never know about those eyes.

A trio of teenage boys approach from the opposite direction. One picks up a rock and launches it, likely aiming for the basket on the woman’s shoulder. It misses, but not her head. The basket and its contents scatter as she crashes to the ground, her hands cradling her unseen face. Unintelligible comments ripple through the bus. Yet, no one moves. No one rises to help.

The woman curls into a fetal position as the three taunt her; kick her; and grab the spilled fruit. The image of melted ice cream flashes through my mind.

I yell out the window, “Hey! Stop!” With an audience, their tormenting escalates. Charging up the aisle of the bus, I shout, “Let me out!”

The bus driver barks, “Nao Corcovado.”

“Out,” I demand as I push against the door, which springs open and then slams shut the instant I’m on the pavement.

Music blares from a small café up the road where two men watch from the doorway. Bus riders just stare.

“Stop!” I shout as one of the toughs launches a vicious kick to the woman’s hip. Infuriated, I run the last few steps, driving my shoulder into one guy who tumbles into the gutter like a drunk. The second one darts for the trees across the empty lot. The third digs frantically in his pocket.

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