Absolution – Michael Anthony

For a knife? A gun?

Before he can find whatever it is, I plow into him as well. We both go down hard. He lands on my ankle. A burning pain shoots up my leg. I holler, “Get the hell out of here!” They flee down the street to an open-air market overrun with shirtless children, bandy-legged old women, and balding men with bent cigarettes dangling from their lips. The injured woman reaches for the lemons and oranges and mangos strewn about the dirt. Long hair hides her face like the dark mantillas old Italian widows wear to Sunday Mass at St. Lucy’s.

Trying to stand, I realize instantly my ankle is sprained, or possibly broken. Either way, I’m hobbled. The whoosh of air brakes announces the bus’s departure, leaving only a cloud of diesel exhaust in its wake. With no way to make it back to the hotel, I’m screwed if those punks return.

I spin to the woman. Her eyes are not the ebony I expected, but the color of a gray November morning haloed by the purest white. In that single moment, I see all of Brazil in her face. The left side is the serene beauty of endless golden beaches and lush rainforests – mysterious, perfect. The right side is the country’s wretched underbelly of poverty and squalor.

Blood, from where the rock struck, trickles down to her right eye, which sags towards a patch of grafted skin that stretches from cheekbone to jaw. Half her mouth is upturned; the other half cruelly contorted. Scarlet ridges snake up her neck, disappearing under her hair.

“Inglês?” I ask.

She shakes her head.

“Jack Crandall,” I say while balancing on one foot. Still no reply, I repeat, “Jack,” this time tapping my chest.

She nods nervously.

I limp to a crumbling block wall where I sit; hoping the pain will subside. She pushes her hair forward, trying to shield the scarred side of her face. Several locals pass doing nothing more than whisper.

The nameless woman points to my ankle, then motions as if snapping a twig.

I try to put weight on it. No way I can walk without help.

Hoisting the basket to her hip, she gestures for me to stand. She coils her free arm around my waist and leads me through thigh-high grass. The few people still outside the café turn away as we inch down a narrow path past a building plastered with signs for Guaraná Antarctica and Esso petrol.

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