A SUPERSTITION OF THE POOR

The following story is the recreation of a story written many years ago by the Young J. Its original title was "Notes From A Diary." A major motion picture with different characters, and an entirely different spirit, but with certain vague conceptual parallels, appeared after the writing of this story, and dissuaded the author from pursuing his idea any further. However, the impact of that movie has faded with time, and there is no longer any reason to obscure a very different sensibility and take on its account. That is, to say, the condition of eclipse has ended; history has returned the original artistic space to the author.

March 23: Rio de Janeiro is quite a city. What a different feel! We arrived via VARIG last night, after miles of darkness flying over a country which didnít seem to exist. "Are you sure this isnít the sea?" I asked Dirse, who was born 24 years ago in this land, never knowing it was her destiny to meet me.

"No, this is Brasil," she told me. "Right now, weíre probably over Goias or Minas Gerais."

"It looks like thereís nobody down there," I said.

She said: "Thatís how itís always looked to you."

I asked her if she was talking about me or my country. She just looked away and stared out the window at, what for me, was emptiness. I do love her passion, which sometimes inhabits silence. And I more than tolerate her views, I positively rejoice in them no matter how inconvenient they are to me. Her political incorrectness is simply charming; paradise itself would be a bore if there wasnít someone to pluck feathers out of the angelsí wings. As long as they can still fly, whatís the difference?

Finally, after an hour that seemed to be a container for infinity, we saw the tiny candles of towns appearing in the night, leading us, like footprints, towards significant concentrations of human habitation. And then, the great bowl of lights that was Rio de Janeiro appeared beneath the red wing lights of our airplane, crying out to the universe that there was life here, after all. It seemed to me that we were about to crash into a field when suddenly a runway appeared below and we were back on the earth, glad to end our momentary, awkward imitation of the birds. Dirse and I hugged, and she said: "Welcome to my country."

Since then, we have spent two days in the hotel waiting to be transferred to the secure compound, although the hotel itself is quite safe, patrolled by soldiers with automatic rifles who smile little, and would frisk their own mother, which is most reassuring to us. Though Dirse warned me against it, I went out onto the street for a little breath of fresh air and saw the dark faces we have come to help: pure black faces, straight from Africa, boisterous, curious, and sometimes hostile; Indian faces with that impassive beauty cracked open like a vault by the extroversion which surrounds them; white faces that could be European, like foam on the surface of an ocean of color; and everywhere, a most incredible mixture of the races: mulattos, mulattas, mestizos, mestizas, zambos, zambas, hybrids of both extraordinary beauty and ugliness, Galateas and Calibans, genetic masterpieces and genetic disasters, surly chimeras and brilliant pioneers of the cosmic race. It is like a rainbow blowing up in your face. For the last two nights, I have not been able to shut them out of my mind, even with my eyes closed and covered with an opaque cloth in my bedroom; they have swarmed into my consciousness like the army ants which eat huge paths through the jungle, devouring flowers the size of plates. "Where are you from?" they asked me.

Iíve been told to say I am from Ireland, but I told them: "From the U.S."

Some of them stretched out their hands to me and said, "Well, good luck. If you manage to put up with us, weíll find a way to put up with you."

Those who didnít like me merely shrugged and said, "It canít be helped."

When I told Dirse about my walk, she slapped me saying I had risked my life. She made me promise never to go out on my own again.

March 28: Two nights ago we finally got an apartment in the secure compound. It has polished wooden floors, ceiling fans, wicker chairs, a sofa and a painting of a protective, fatherly soldier holding a little girl in his arms. Judging from its quality, it could have been painted by an elementary school student. But if thatís so, the bed in our room must have been made by a fetus. Any time you move at all it protests with a loud squeak and bounces for what seems like a minute before becoming stationary again; there is barely room for one person to sleep in it, let alone two. Perhaps if what they say about Latin lovers is true, the bed wasnít made for sleeping. As long as one of the partners is on top of the other there seems to be room for both. There is also a piece of metal spring protruding from the mattress like a fishhook, I found out last night what it is like to be a trout. As for the stove, Dirse is afraid to use it because the gas comes out with so much force that she imagines one day it will blow up like a bomb. Well, who says food has to be cooked? Anyhow, this is the secure zone. Tomorrow I meet with the Civic Action program.

March 29: A most amazing meeting today! Dr. Robert Chafing and Colonel Bradley Barry, along with Captain Joao Mendez of the ASB (the Brazilian Security Apparatus) and Dr. Elias Bari of the "Doctors of Content", briefed us on our mission. With me were ten other members of the Hand-to the-World program, as well as our coordinator from the State Department, Mr. Jack Rabey. We are all to work in Bairro Capanga, a favela, or slum, beyond the inner wall but still within the broad perimeter. Our purpose is to provide quality medical care to impoverished city residents who are essentially disconnected from the healthcare system, and to improve the image of our country in an SRA (susceptible-to-revolutionary-activity) zone by means of our active and beneficial presence in the community. We have been told that there is a resurgence of malaria and dengue, as well as chronic dysentery, Type 3 resistant TB, occasional outbreaks of typhoid and cholera, all sorts of parasitic infections, venereal diseases galore and AIDS (up to 40% of the population) as well as skin-disfigurement virus (SDV) which seems to have been released from deforestation in Acre into the general Brazilian environment, and specifically brought back here by the sons of several old-time residents. Weíll be accompanied by a light platoon of the ASB and quartered in an old stone house that was abandoned by its owners years ago when the area became infested with bandits.

According to Colonel Barry, we have arrived at a moment of intense excitement, as a new folktale has just begun circulating throughout the city, probably originating from Pernambuco or Recife in the Northeast. Thereís always something going on that way. According to the legend, after Cuba was liberated from the Communists after the death of Fidel Castro, the CIA found records of an extraordinary effort to produce a clone of Ernesto "Che" Guevara, the Argentine doctor turned revolutionary who was the military genius and principal ideological architect of the Cuban Revolution. Apparently, semen samples were collected before his ill-fated expedition to Bolivia and preserved, possibly to facilitate the artificial insemination of his wife should he die in battle, so that she could have another child by him after his death should she wish to. Somehow, the samples were sent on to Sweden, sometime around 2000, where they came into the possession of a Dr. Gustav Johansson, Europeís foremost expert in cloning. Dr. Johansson insists that the samples were misplaced and lost sometime around 2008, but according to the latest urban legend, which is spreading through Brazil like wildfire, a clone of Che Guevara was produced sometime early in the new millennium; and that clone is now being trained and prepared to renew the revolutionary struggle which was interrupted by his death, and to lead Latin America and all the nations of the Periphery in an apocalyptic upheaval against the US and the United World Center. Some even say that Che is already here, in Brazil, the most logical flashpoint for the great conflagration, his glaring eyes looking out upon the enemy, which is us, his wild hair blowing in the wind, like a prophet who walks on bullets, a gun in his hand, no match on the battlefield for our armored cars, our helicopters and our predators, yet more powerful than all of them combined, because it is like the staff of Moses, that can part the seas.

According to Colonel Barry, there is nothing to this legend, but it has nonetheless, become a force to be reckoned with because people believe in it, and it gives them hope. The ERB, the rebel army which was in tatters only six months ago, is said to be regrouping, and its urban cells revitalizing, on the basis of this legend, which is inspiring beaten men to try again. More than this, Colonel Barry fears the impact of this new myth on the gigantic masses of the discontented and the volatile," the shapeless, latent force of the poor", whose apathy, if ignited, could be as devastating as an avalanche; and if, injected with leadership, as lethal as a car bomb.

Whereas Mr. Rabey prefers to see the legend as a sign of collapse in the revolutionary movement, because, as he says: "When tangible and plausible forms of resistance become impossible, men resort to mystical solutions, to delusions of divine intervention, to superstitions of salvation, to millenarian pipedreams which actually represent a withdrawal from active participation in changing their fate. This happened in the case of the Taki Onqoy movement in colonial Peru and in the case of the Ghost Dance movement at the end of the Indian wars in the United States. Instead of shooting, the Indians danced in circles, fainting and hallucinating, and prayed for a giant dust storm to bury the white race. We all know how that turned out." Rabey noted the tendency of the "imaginative and superstition-ridden" Brazilian mind to concoct all sorts of alternative realities which waylay them from the real world (which is good for us), citing the case of other urban myths, like the legend of Silvio the crack-dealer, who could breathe underwater like a fish and make himself invisible to the police; or Ana Alves, "the violated", who wandered around the slums every night getting raped to protect other women, because once a manís penis went into her vagina, he could never use it again and was impotent for life; or the true-life story of the crazy homeless people who found a discarded piece of medical equipment with radioactive cesium in it in a garbage dump, and because the cesium gave off an eerie green glow in the night, they thought it was a magical and divine substance, and rubbed it all over their bodies and even ate it, until they became sick and died. For Rabey, the Che legend is more of the same, a wonderful case of "the modern production of mythology" which should be of great interest to urban anthropologists. He dismisses the threat, stating that Che Guevara, in real life, was a flawed revolutionary who got lucky in Cuba but reaped the just deserts of his strategic unsoundness in Bolivia. "Lenin and Mao were formidable revolutionaries," Rabey said; "Guevara was nothing but a rock star with an assault rifle. He makes a great poster and T-shirt." According to Rabey, after his death, once he could "no longer shit in the pants of the ideal people had of him", Che was practically deified, "the fate of many fools", and now in Bolivia, the land that killed him, peasants even light candles for him and make him offerings of cigarettes in order that he grant them a wish. "He has become a minor god, like Pan, who he resembled in life." Rabey believes that the Che myth will make waves for a little while, then once he does not appear, or an impostor surfaces to discredit the new religion, this millenarian movement, as all others before it, will evaporate: "Like the people who wait for the earth to be destroyed by a comet on a specific day at a specific hour; after the hour passes, they feel pretty silly and just go home."

Colonel Barry disagreed with Rabeyís dismissal, insisting that from the military point of view, psychology cannot be completely pushed aside by material factors. "Myths can be as dangerous as trenches and foxholes, they can give shelter to the enemy. Real people can shoot you from inside a myth. We are experiencing a period of heightened agitation on the basis of this runaway urban legend. In this context, the importance of the Hand-to-the-World program as an image-changer for our nation, and a rage-squelcher here in Brazil cannot be overemphasized. We need to counteract the escalation of revolutionary energy with a perceptual reconstruction of the meaning of our presence, and the motives of the ASB."

By the time the meeting was over I felt more like a sociologist than a doctor; more like a part of the military-police apparatus than a disciple of Aesculapius.

When I told Dirse about the meeting she just told me, "Your Mr. Rabies knows next to nothing. That Che Guevara was a hell of a fighter. The very thought of him coming here to fight would be enough to make me throw in my lot with the guerrillas. With those eyes like a French kissÖ"

I told her, "You shouldnít make jokes like that, not at a time like this." Sometimes it isnít easy to live with such a livewire. Sometimes, the hot pepper is just a little too hot.

April 5: It was hard to say good-bye to Dirse, especially given the intense nature of my assignment. Sheíll stay here in Brazil in the secure compound so that weíll be able to see each other on my days off. I told her, "Hold the fort down while Iím gone." She cried, and I told her, "The bedís only big enough for one, anyway." She punched me. God, how I love people who arenít normal! I should have gone into psychiatry rather than foreign medicine.

Captain Mendez escorted us out of the secure zone in a lorry preceded by a jeep with a machine gun mounted on it and followed by an armored car with a machine gun that merits the name of "cannon", and tubes that looked like organ pipes in a church for launching rockets. When I asked him for a pistol for myself, to put in my belt, since our armed escort only succeeded in making the situation seem more alarming than it already was Ė to us it seemed like we were divers being given an empty can of shark repellent, which simultaneously lets you know that there are sharks in the water and that you have no defense against them - Captain Mendez protested, "Donít you trust us to protect you?"

I answered, "Well, just in case a soccer match comes on." Three weeks before, in Sao Paulo, there was a major prison break while guards were gathered around TVs watching Brazil play Argentina, so Captain Mendez knew what I was talking about. He had no choice but to laugh.

"Here," he said, giving me his own pistol. ".38 caliber, clip holds eight bullets, hereís two spares. Hereís the safety. Donít shoot one of your patients, god damn it. Do you know how to fire this thing?"

"Of course," I told him, "I come from the land of the cowboys."

"John Wayneís been dead a long time," he said.

"Donít worry. Iím good with gadgets, machines, all this kind of stuff. Iím a typical Yankee. Benjamin Franklin, Eli Whitney, Robert Fulton, Thomas Edison, the Wright Brothers, Henry Ford, Bill Gates and now thereís me. Hereís the trigger. ("Careful!" he told me.) I can turn on a light switch and I can flush a toilet. How hard can it be?"

The captain patted me on the back and on we went. Past the trench and barbed wire and sandbags of the compound, down the walled through-road with its sniperís towers and observation balloons, and out of the inner wall, with its trenches, strategic pillboxes, and minefields. As we moved out towards Bairro Capanga, we had to stop and wait for a moment, a funeral was passing by, a huge crowd of mourners carrying a tiny wooden box on their shoulders.

"Whatís going on there?" I asked the captain. One of his soldiers came back from talking with the mourners and told us, "Funeral. Yesterday, a kid ran onto the minefield to try to help a stray dog who she had begun to feed, so that even though it was wild it sort of became her pet. Anyway, the dog tripped a mine and got blown up but it was wailing so pitifully she ran out after it to try to carry it back and she ended up stepping on a mine too. It blew her leg off and made a huge hole in her stomach, they say her guts were dangling out like pig intestines which you hang up to dry. They say thereís no doctor around here for miles, and they couldnít get past the checkpoint to get to the hospital."

"From the description," I told them, "it sounds like the wound was fatal. Barring a top-notch field hospital and helicopter evacuation services, no one could have saved her."

"Imagine," the captain said: "Feeding a pet dog, even though they donít have enough to eat themselves. But they breed like roaches, and for them, condoms are a sin. Negroes are too hot-blooded to think when they get the urge, they just jump into bed and pop!, out comes another one! One more mouth to feed. We really made a mistake not to go ahead with the forced sterilization program, but they measure their worth by the size of their dicks and the number of starving brats they put into the world, so whoís going to rope them like cows just so you can pull out the plumbing?"

I found the captainís comments disturbing, but since our lives depend on him and his men, it would be well not to be repelled. Aversion is one of the easiest emotions to detect.

After a while, the parade of tragedy passed, headed off to some pitiful spot of dust to bury a girl who loved a dog. The world will go on without her. Flowers will bloom without her; the moon will still come into the sky even though sheís not here to look at it. It makes you wonder, when you look at the stars at night, whoís not looking at them, and why?

With the road clear ahead of us, we kept on driving towards the neighborhood we have been assigned to save. Above us, like a guardian angel, a robot plane, the Predator, appeared, its frightening form leaving no doubt as to its capabilities. Some shapes you know are lethal, just by seeing them Ė there is something about the body of the black widow spider, something about the menacing triangular head of the pit-viper, something about the perfect knife-like body of the shark, gliding through the water without shame or fear. And itís the same with the Predator, with its teeth of machine guns and its claws of missiles. Somewhere far away, behind its camera eyes, a pair of human eyes was glued to a video screen watching the misery around us, searching for the slightest trace of opposition. Itís strange, sometimes, how morally terrifying safety can be.

It was nearing dusk when we finally drove up a dirt road into a hellhole that looked more like an encampment than a neighborhood. There was a little wooden sign on a tree that had forgotten to die which said "Bairro Capanga." It looked like a hurricane had struck, or like some great ship in the sky had exploded and rained its debris all over the earth in the form of the dwellings in which these people lived: shacks made of cardboard, wood, and tin; tarps turned into roofs and strung across trenches and ravines; little caverns dug into the sides of hills, with furniture made of boxes, and crosses hanging on the walls; external cooking - ovens of stones with tiny fires glowing inside them, leaking smoke into the air, or makeshift stoves fueled by tanks of propane gas; outdoor toilets which were wooden boxes with holes in them built over pits; outdoor showers, made out of water cans with holes punched into the bottom, surrounded by clotheslines covered with rags; a well for drinking water down the road; pools of stagnant water and open sewage to the side, and the huge garbage dump which they called "Pearls to Swine" looming behind them in the distance, like an enchanted tower, like the home of a mad alchemist who could transmute one worldís puke into another worldís gold; a ziggurat of waste where men and vultures fought like gladiators for life, where desperation gave pathetic pieces of junk the value of diamonds. All around us, as we entered the slum, lay emaciated dogs, saving their energy for an emergency, it seemed. An angry woman yelled at us for nearly running over her chickens, though, in fact, they never even came close to the road, as a stray goat, dragging a tether attached to nothing, stood puzzled by a spiny plant on a hillside, which had drawn its sword.

I had been forewarned, but this first impression of Bairro Capanga was more than the imagination could steel one for.

As we drove up along the dirt road, absolutely intimidated by the people we had come to save, they gathered around to watch us pass. My colleague, Dr. Vega, who had features not far removed from the roots of these people, made a brave show of it, and waved to the sullen, skeptical witnesses who watched us arrive, forcing something approximating a smile onto his face. But there was no response; absolutely no response, it was as if we had driven into a land of statues. To me, the eyes of our new patients reminded me of the telescopic lenses of snipersí rifles. There was nothing in their hearts; in the midst of the tropics we had entered a world of ice.

For a moment, our convoy struggled to get a grip on the dirt road that seemed to want to disappear back into the mountain; it was like a mistake on a piece of paper that wanted to be erased. A feeling of dread overcame us, the thought of stalling out here, of our vehicles failing us, of displaying our helplessness before such freezing eyes was enough to induce panic. For a moment, we felt like prisoners being led to the gallows. One doctor even urinated in his pants. But then, thank God, the engines triumphed, the wheels dug like picks into the trail that would not help, and finally, we bounded over the crest of a hill, and coasted down the other side to the great stone house we had been assigned to occupy. To us, it looked as reassuring as a castle with a drawbridge.

April 7: Two days here, and not a good beginning. When we rumbled up into the circular driveway outside the great stone house, we were met by a detachment of the army, whose vehicles were parked inside a barbed wire enclosure in the back. A violent dog by the name of "Teeth" greeted us by lunging against his handlerís leash, like a madman trying to burst free of a straitjacket. Apparently after the great stone house was abandoned by its owners years before, it came to be inhabited by a number of families from the neighborhood, and in its heyday may have accommodated up to fifty people. During "wash-outs" Ė the driving rainstorms which wreak havoc on the most flimsy of shelters in the bairro - many more people from the neighborhood would crowd inside, welcomed by the stone house families who didnít know how to say no. Captain Mendez says that these people love to be generous with things that donít belong to them. Anyway, at those times, according to what we hear, the place was so crowded that you couldnít even walk without stepping on someone. Once the plan to move our civic action team into the stone house was formed, it became necessary to send in a unit of the police, a property-protection squad, to recover the residence from the squatters. When they refused to leave, the army sent in back-up, and, in fact, several canisters of teargas had to be fired through the windows before the residents could be convinced to leave. An old man named Don Cristovao died in the turmoil from a heart attack. Once the house had been "cleaned up", the army left a detachment behind to prevent reoccupation until our arrival. Now that we are here with Colonel Mendezís platoon, they have told us that they are packing up and moving on to a trouble spot near Vassouras tomorrow, and that from now on, our security will be in the hands of Colonel Mendez. We feel like shipwrecked sailors in a lifeboat, alone on a vast, unfriendly ocean wracked by storms.

Yesterday, we convoked a neighborhood meeting at a place called "The Fountain", where the neighborhood well is located and where the people often spend hours hanging out and exchanging news. "It is their own version of the Roman Forum," Mendez explained to us. "Or Behind The Scenes [which is a popular magazine that specializes in gossip]. Poor people love to talk about whoís sleeping with who; the women compare the size of their loversí penises, and the men ask around to see whoís giving it out." When we showed up, Dr. Bari explained to the people why we were here and what we proposed to do for them, but he seemed like one of those mentally ill people who you sometimes see on the trains, talking to himself, or to some imaginary angel or demon. The people just went about their business, taking water out of the well, watching us from a distance with their arms crossed, then turning away from us and resuming their conversations in quieter tones, until finally they lost all respect for us, and began laughing with each other again and drowning out our offers of help with all the latest news from the bairro. They couldnít read the leaflets that we handed out to them.

One man said, "Youíve come too late to save Don Cristovao. But if you want to, you can dig him up, and try to bring him back to life."

While a woman told me, "My armís already covered with mosquito bites, do you think I want the bite of your needle on top of it? But if you really want to help me, carry this jug of water back to my house." I did it, while some of the other women laughed and said, "Thatís a nice puppy dog." It seems that sometimes the willingness to help is interpreted as stupidity, or softness, which is even worse. One of Mendezís soldiers accompanied me just to make sure nothing happened. "I do this every day," the woman told me, when I gave her back the water when we reached her house, which was a dilapidated shack - and that is all she said.

After this first encounter with the residents of the neighborhood, Dr. Bari said, "We need to give them some time to get used to us."

April 15: The stay in Bairro Capanga remains harrowing. The resentment against the government, against the US which supports that government, and against the nations of the United Center which jointly maintain the Periphery, is strong. The people understand politics only vaguely, but they live by the distorted perspective which reaches them through their suffering, like the light of the sun filtered into the depths of the ocean. They receive the truth of the world through their pain. Whoever is not poor must be blamed. Besides this, the stone house which we now occupy was theirs till only a couple months ago, and the wound of losing it is still open. They find it amazingly ironical that we have come to help them, and that the first act of our mission of mercy has been to take over their stone house and render fifty of them homeless. Word is that the neighborhood is filled with jokes about us. They wrestle with every outrage of the universe with muscular arms of black humor, inherited from the first taste of chains that brought their ancestors here; they turn the most devastating nightmares into jokes and find a way to laugh, which is like finding water in the desert; they bound away from unlivable despair like antelopes from lions, with the fleet feet of their sense of humor, which does not dispel their anger, only save them from their lack of power. We have come with vaccines and medicines, but they already have the medicine of cynicism. According to our informants, people are going around in the bairro now, punching each other, stepping on each otherís feet, and even spitting at each other, saying, "Hi, Iím Dr. Bari. Iíve come to save you." No one seems to be offended, they are having a great time with this new comedy they have invented.

Since no one is coming to us, and Dr. Bari has rejected Captain Mendezís suggestion to round up the townsfolk and force them to be vaccinated, "because our mission is just as much political as it is medical", we have begun to do things on our own. We have begun to dig drainage channels to clear away some of the stagnant water which is breeding mosquitoes, and weíve asked for help from the Sanitation Agency in constructing a modern sewage system here; but the paperwork still has to be filed, and after that, it could still take up to ten years to get any results. Weíve also been wandering around the bairro, always accompanied by military support, looking at the people and attempting to make visual diagnoses even though they wonít submit to examinations. We already think weíve discovered two cases of TB and possibly three of SDV. But Dr. Bari is considering suspending these forays, due to the superstition of the people, who may believe we are trying to perform some sort of magic against them by staring into their eyes and robbing them of their souls, or else trying to hypnotize them as part of some covert government operation to gain control of their minds. "We have entered a completely alien mentality here," Dr. Bari told us; "a world of magical realism, where fantasies reign supreme. Since they have not had access to modern medicine for years, they have developed other ways of coping with disease. They pray to spirits; they go to healers who sprinkle water from the sea over them; they burn images of sickness, which they have made out of newspapers, in fire. They donít believe they need us and, in fact, by coming to us they believe they would be condoning the takeover of the stone house. In an act of solidarity with the dispossessed, they are boycotting us, and denying us their sick bodies to treat. With so little to live for, there is nothing to inhibit their self-destructiveness."

Our staff was divided as to whether we ought to force people who might have contagious diseases, like TB and SDV to come to treatment, or attempt an AIDS quarantine like the United Center had imposed in Central Africa, but Dr. Bari overruled our concerns by reiterating the primacy of the political aspect of our presence. "We do not have the solid footing to implement a policy of coercion at this time," he insisted.

Captain Mendez, after mulling things over for a while, agreed. He says that even though his well-armed platoon can easily handle any disturbances arising from the bairro dwellers themselves, he could not handle a guerrilla detachment infiltrated into the bairro and striking from under the cover of its disgruntled populace; and that the key to our security, from his point of view, is in not alienating the residents to the point where they might become active collaborators of the ERB. "They are stubborn as donkeys," he said. "Better that they kill themselves with TB than that we drive them into the arms of the guerrillas by trying to cure them." Nonetheless, Mendez arrested a young local this week, which did not in any way endear us to the bairro, or further his strategy. The man, by the name of Capoeira, was spotted near the stone house, slashing the air with a knife. According to Mendez, he was going through the motions of grabbing someone in an armlock from behind and slashing his pockets to take his wallet. Mendez believed the young man was a thief, who probably infiltrates downtown Rio, and that he was practicing his moves; our captain did not hesitate to detain him. According to irate locals, the boy was simply a harmless louco who played with his knife in order to feel more powerful, in the same way that kids pretend they are superman. One man said, "If he was practicing slashing someoneís throat, or stabbing them in the heart, you could arrest him, but he was only holding them by the wrist and slashing their pocket; what a tame fantasy! If he is a thief, he is a humanitarian. You should give him a medal for not wanting to kill. Your jails are too terrible for a boy so innocent, it would be like dropping a bomb on an ant. Just send him home to his mother."

"What do you mean Ďyour jailsí?" demanded Mendez. "They are Ďour jailsí, yours and mine both, we belong to the same society and are ruled by the same government, and we both have a stake in punishing crime."

The man said: "Is there a law that says you canít stab the air?" He walked away and some women who were standing nearby sang strands from a song: "Sow injustice, sow injustice, reap a hurricane. Crops of blood come from your greed. My tears will become a gun." Mendez had tears in his eyes, he felt helpless at that moment, and turning to Dr. Bari, said: "Weíre surrounded. Weíve walked into a pit of vipers. Say your prayers, because who knows how this will all end."

Dr. Bari went out the next day to make a special effort to break through to the people. Some years ago, he had learned how to do origami from a Japanese nurse in Sao Paulo, and so he went about the neighborhood making shapes out of paper for the local kids. You should have seen the look on one motherís face as he patted her child on the head. Like a rich man who discovers squatters trespassing on his property calls in the police, who beat the intruders with clubs and tear down their makeshift habitations, driving them, homeless, into the desert of a land that has no place for them, so her eyes called in the police of the poor: the spirits, demons, and winds that come to the aid of outraged hearts that have no tools with which to defend themselves in the world. She cursed the well-meaning doctor with her eyes; with her thoughts she stuck a hundred needles into his image, and threw it into the flames. But she said nothing. After her child came back to her with the little bird Dr. Bari had made for him, she took it away and threw it into the air: "See, it donít fly," she told her boy. "What kind of bird is that?" Dr. Bari thought, next, that we should give the people a feast at the stone house, but Captain Mendez said, "Are you kidding?, they wonít come. They wonít set foot in this house again unless we give it back to them. Theyíll just smell all the good food cooking on the grill, and hate us for eating it while theyíre hungry."

Meanwhile, besides working on the drainage ditches, I have taken up the custom of helping Mina, who is the woman I first helped, in her daily chore of lugging the water-filled jug back from the well to her home. For the first few days, I was a laughingstock in the bairro. They called me "Minaís pet." "Make him work for you. Heís going too slow, make him walk faster!" some of the other women joked. While the men said: "Be careful, you know what he wants! He wants to give you an injection with his Ďsyringe.í"

One day she just turned around and asked me: "Why do you keep on helping me? You know, I have a man and he is in prison. Youíre not the kind of man I like. I like men whose skin is even darker than my own."

"Iím just helping you, because you said it is hard to carry the water to your house. Iíve come to help. If nobody wants the services of a doctor, Iíll help in other ways." I told her that her house was wide-open with all kinds of cracks and holes. She needed air, she said. I offered her mosquito netting. She said it would make her feel like a fish being pulled out of the sea. I told her that her kids were beautiful, and that health was the worldís greatest treasure. I offered her a jar of quinine tablets, and a liquid vitamin formula in a vial with an eyedropper which boosts the immune system, which I explained to her means the bodyís ability to defend itself. "Does it work against bullets? Against teargas? Poor Don Cristovao," she said. "Funny thing, white men dig the hole and throw you in, then give you a ladder to climb halfway out." I left the medicines behind on top of a chest of drawers without drawers on which she had left the plastic statue of a black virgin, seven candles, and a Bible, which she could not read, but put into her childrenís hands whenever they were sick.

Every night in the stone house I withdraw from the others, who are increasingly attempting to fill in the void of our floundering mission with each otherís company, and I reflect: My compassion must not have motives! These people have an incredible sense of hearing, like a blind man, they can hear the pin of a motive dropping in another room; they will not lend their diseased bodies, yearning for health, to political window-dressing, they will not cooperate in the expiation of a great sin by allowing the landslide that has buried them to apologize. What am I saying? I am in a place where the compasses in my heart no longer point to what I have learned. It is all very sudden, very disconcerting. I am losing my bearings in this hellhole which is the only logical product of the way I have lived until now, the equal and opposite reaction to the world I come from; all this reminds me of the day when I was nineteen, traveling across America to cure myself of wanderlust before the dawn of seriousness; the day, as a wild young man in search of himself, that I was traveling in the Colorado Rockies, riding my motorbike through the fog, when suddenly I could see nothing, not the mountain, not the road, nor the sheer cliffs which lurked on the side of the road, dropping off thousands of feet to the stone-filled valley below. There was nothing but fog as far as the eye could see, it was as if I had passed into another dimension and was no longer on the earth. I should have stopped, but I didnít. I was young. Slowly, I nudged my bike along through the netherworld, through the mists that obscured everything except the sound of my beating heart which became the only thing I had to go by. Somewhere, right beside me it seemed, I heard the scream of an eagle. Had I, by becoming totally lost, joined him and become a creature of the sky? I feel, now, as I did then, that on all sides of me is a terrifying chasm into which I may fall Ė in this case, a moral chasm. Are there eagles here, or is there only fog?

April 16: I donít want my compassion to come out as condescension. I donít want my heart to be constipated, and to have to force love out of it. I donít want to be fake. If I canít love naturally, let me not love at all. If I can only hate these people, because they donít fall for my fake love, let me hate them, let me scowl at them and look at them like they were bugs, just like the army. There is nothing worse than being a hypocrite. Sick people who will not even take our medicine Ė what have we done to them? I understand the economic and political theories, the reasons why places like this must exist, but it looks different at ground zero than it does in a book. Are there other kinds of doctors that this place needs, other kinds of medicine? Doctors who fix societies, medicines which heal nations? In our orientation, Dr. Chafing told us that population control is the key. The revolutionaries want to redistribute the wealth of the world, but there are too many people to redistribute that wealth to, it would be like trying to use your local duck pond to irrigate the Sahara; isnít it better that there are many poor than that there are only poor? Anyway, think of Animal Farm. Why should we fold: so that the pigs can drink champagne while the horses continue to drag the plow? Dr. Chafing says Malthusian dynamics will smooth out the edges of the world system. Overcrowding will crash the human immune system in the Periphery; biological stressors will create rampant susceptibility, which, in part, explains the international AIDS epidemic and the appearance of new diseases. What hunger and disease do not do will be finished off by the wars fought between resource-hungry peoples; we must simply maintain a hard line regarding nuclear proliferation so that these wars do not contaminate the world at large. Revolutions will also erupt, exposing excess populations that the economy can no longer provide for, to the weapons of our allies, who will practice a new form of population control which utilizes helicopter gunships, machine guns, and cluster bombs. Regions which have rejected the idea of vasectomies will be sterilized by bullets. Once the population is trimmed, the system will be able to be more inclusive, and the call for rebellion will quiet. There really is no emergency, after all, once you get used to the idea of turbulence as a corollary of productivity in the context of scarcity, and keep a proper sense of detachment from the dying; once you cease longing for some stable, utopian "end of history" and become comfortable with the wild arcs of history, swinging like a pendulum back and forth between peace and war, and contentment and rebellion. There is no need to panic wondering "What will happen, what will happen, what can we do?!" Solutions are as inevitable as are the problems that make us seek them. Once you stop demanding that the solutions be pleasant, or soft, you will see how easy it all is. There is nothing to worry about as long as your heart is as hard as iron. Malthus had this all figured out, centuries ago.

Besides Dr. Chafingís presentation on Malthus, before our departure for Bairro Capanga, I remember a philosophy course I had back in college on the ancient Greeks. Heraclitus of Ephesus once said, in some ancient fragments found just in time for my graduation: "The chariot of the world is pulled by the horses of StrifeÖ Struggle builds the world, peace asphyxiates itÖ Times whose roots do not reach deeply into the soil of strife give no blossoms to the worldÖ A ship is made of wood; tranquility is made of war which is at rest." Maybe justice is only our means of trying to run away from history, and deny the inevitable.

I wonder why ideas that fit a few months ago now seem so uncomfortable, like clothes that have shrunk in the wash.

The medical staff is upset that we have not had a break yet, not the time off back in the secure zone which we were promised. We thought we would be allowed to spend weekends there. I used to think about Dirse, but missing her only makes me feel naked here. Itís better to have nothing to go back to. When you are in a dangerous place and you want to cry you know you have to change your focus.

April 18: Today we went around with masks and gloves spraying for mosquitoes. "How come youíre wearing masks and gloves?" a woman asked us. "Shouldnít we get some, too?" We explained about the dangers of the pesticide, but also calmed the people down about its effects if they did not come too close to it. "You arenít mosquitoes, are you?" Captain Mendez asked. "Well, then, you donít have anything to worry about." Somebody spread the rumor that we were spraying a chemical to make the people sterile, and Dr. Bari had to explain that that was not accurate. Still, no one has come to us for a vaccination or an exam. One of Captain Mendezís men found a plot of Q2 beans on a hill behind some shacks. This is genetically patented stuff, and may have been obtained without a license, but he decided not to uproot it, because he now believes he doesnít have enough men to safely deal with an uprising. "Weíre walking on pins and needles here," he explained.

April 19: A furious man, waving his arms all around, confronted us in the morning about the spraying, claiming that we were using a chemical which made men impotent. It seems he could not satisfy his girlfriend the night before. "These people live in a universe of fantasies," Dr. Bari exclaimed. Again, we had to insist that the accusation was not true. Finally, a woman came to drag the man away, telling him that it wasnít the spray, it was because his girlfriend was inexperienced. "Animals!" Captain Mendez said after they had left.

Then, before the day had ended, an old man by the name of Joaquim came by. He is blind in one eye, which lacks an eyeball, and simply stares out into space like a white stone in his head, while his other eye he keeps half-closed as though he is afraid that some piece of dust will blow into it, rendering him completely blind. To top it off, he limps from arthritis in the knees, it seems. "Have you come for a medical exam?" I asked him, hopefully.

"Che is coming soon," he told me. "I can feel it. I know these things. Your days here are numbered."

"Whatís this bull crap?" demanded Captain Mendez. "Che Guevara is as dead as a doornail."

"They made us another one," the old man said. "And heís coming to kick you all out. Go on, shoot me, doesnít the truth deserve a bullet?"

Some woman and her husband came up to lead Dom Joaquim away. "Donít hurt him," they said, "heís crazy." But then, as they were departing, the woman said, "Heís as crazy as Teiresias."

"Whoís that?" Mendez asked me. I guess I have the reputation of being the intellectual here, because once they found me reading a book in the dark.

I told him that Teiresias was a blind prophet mentioned in the Odyssey.

"Must be someone else," Mendez told me; "how would they know something like that? They canít even write their own names."

April 21: Today, I took a bold new step to end the isolation. I moved out of the stone house into a tent which I set up at a distance of about one hundred yards. Mendez was outraged and told me he couldnít defend me that far from the house. In the night, he has the fence locked, the doors barred shut, the APC parked in front with a guard, and a man in the window and another on the roof. He also strings up trip wires across the path leading to the house, in lieu of mines, to slow down anyone who might think of rushing us in the night. But I explained my position to Dr. Bari: that we were viewed with hostility by the neighborhood, especially in view of the way that we had taken over the stone house; and that the only way to break down the barrier between us was to stop residing in that house, which had become a symbol of the injustice we had perpetrated and a symbol of the division that existed between us. We lived in the closest thing they had seen to a palace, while they lived in ramshackle shelters, in pits and ravines and hillsides. To them, we seemed only one more manifestation of the vast chasm that existed between rich and poor, and they despised our medicines as much as you would despise a few dollars thrown to you as compensation by a driver who had just run over your child.

Dr. Bari decided to let me go ahead with my plan, since we were making no progress and I had the best record, so far, of getting along with the populace in view of my daily water-carrying for Mina. "Here, take this cell phone," he told me. "Press 1 for an emergency, and Mendez will come out to help. You already have a pistol. But please, try not to use it. Do you have a flashlight?"

I was amused by his concern, as if I were his son.

The others accepted my decision to move into the tent only because they thought it was a stratagem. If they had known that I am doing it as much for myself as for the success of our project, because I cannot bear the stress of feeling hated, and knowing that there is a good reason for me to be hated, then they probably would have said no. But perceiving me as a valiant manipulator, they are impressed.

April 30: Well, quite a life Iíve had since the beginning of the tent. Itís made the world anew, like the invention of the wheel, or better yet, the lever, which took less effort, being nothing more than a stick lying around since the beginning of time which someone finally picked up and used. I have come to the conclusion that most of the great breakthroughs of history are only manifestations of the obvious.

At first, the skepticism of the bairro dwellers wasnít dented by my move out of the stone house. I guess if my home was a pile of dirt, and you just flew down from a cloud saying you wanted to help, Iíd make you crawl across a field of broken glass before Iíd trust you, too. Word is, in this bairro where nicknames gush into being like spring water from imaginations driven to states of hyperactivity by the poor fruits of reality, that the people began to refer to me as "The Farter." I was reputed to have left the stone house not because I was sensitive to the source of their rage, or because I wished to take a step closer to them, but because the others could not stand me and had driven me out. And the most demeaning reason they could come up with was that it was because I had a problem passing gas. Thus, my expression of solidarity, which might have necessitated a diminishment of their resentment towards me, which is dear to them and difficult to part with, was transformed into a comedy of grotesqueness, and I become even worthier of their contempt than before. "Wonder how long till theyíll let the stinker back in?" they joked with each other.

When Mina asked me one day, as I helped her with the water jug, why I was living in the tent, and I told her, a little curl of amusement appeared on her lips, a smile that had the cruelty in it of not wanting to reveal itself, and she said, "Now all you have to do is become black. Why donít you try going back into the oven for a little bit longer? Youíre undercooked." And she added, parroting the lyric of a popular song which parodies the promises of politicians: "Vote for me and Iíll give you a car of silver and a road of gold, and you can drive a hundred miles per hour to everything you never had."

With their barbs, they delighted in the possibility of exposing me as a sham and breaking what they thought were the weak legs of my gesture. One night, the thud of stones flying into my tent kept me awake. When I came out, I heard kids laughing, but saw no one. The next night, there was the howling of coyotes: the most unbelievable coyotes I have ever heard, who at times could not restrain themselves from giggling. The following night, a child of about ten came running to my tent, crying out for help, saying, "Doctor, doctor, come quick, my grandmother is dying, she canít breathe!" I was so excited by the prospect of finally being able to help, and by the sudden dissolution of the barrier which had separated us from the populace until now, that I failed to register the childís bad acting, and followed him blindly into the night with my medical bag until he suddenly disappeared in an arroyo, vanishing into the darkness with all the agility of a snake diving back into its hole. After searching for him for a moment, I realized that I had been made a fool of, and when I returned to my tent, I found that it had been cleaned out in the meantime. I lost my laptop, a watch, a flashlight, some personal supplies and clothing, some tins of food, a couple of books and some magazines, my sleeping bag, mosquito netting, and some extra syringes and medicines. Luckily, I had my journal in my medical bag, and took my pistol and my cellphone along with me. My tent had been in the process of being dismantled so that it could be carried away, as well, when I came back and the thieves, who I never saw because they must have posted a lookout, made off into the darkness. Surveying the disaster, I felt as though a great hole had been gouged out of me, as though I had been cut open and all my dreams of being a great humanitarian had been torn out of my chest and thrown onto the ground and stepped on, and I was completely alone in the world with nothing at all to live for, and nothing else to be but that which I had tried to transcend. I stood, for a moment, at a terrible crossroads, with the emotional choice of abandoning my efforts, and returning with my tail between my legs to the stone house as an inferior version of Captain Mendez, or else sucking it up, and accepting the burden of paying for centuries of other peopleís sins to become the person I wanted to be. What is more difficult for the caterpillar: to keep on growing wings, which hurt like being on fire, or to cut them off, and spend the rest of your life crawling when you know you could be flying? Finally, I remembered some words from the ancient Stoic philosopher, Epictetus: "Yesterday, a thief stole the iron lamp from my altar. If I could tell him something, it would be this: tomorrow, when you come, you will find an earthenware lamp in its place: for a man can only lose what he has." Wiser in the ways of the world, I decided to persevere.

The next day, Mina said nothing to me and I said nothing to her as I carried the water for her from the well. I had the feeling that the whole bairro was watching me, looking for a sign of weakness. I was grim, but walked well, making sure that I did not appear humiliated. Swimming in shark-filled waters, not a single drop of blood can seep out of your wounds.

That night, the trials continued. No one felt sorry for me at all. There were several loud explosions right outside my tent, at first I thought it was a guerrilla attack. I slipped out, not by the tent flap, but underneath the back of my tent with my gun in my hand, to discover that it was a group of teenagers hurling high-powered firecrackers in my direction. The artificial bombs surged into being with a brilliant white color that seemed to want to devour the world, then exploded fiercely, leaving behind a pungent smell that made the bairro seem like a battlefield. Angrily, I fired my gun above the teenagersí heads and shouted: "Thatís too much! Donít push it!" They all bounded away like antelopes except for one who had something that looked like a tube of cardboard in his hands, who froze before he could run. "What, you came here to be our doctor, and now youíre going to shoot us?" he demanded.

"Sure," I told him. "No oneís coming to me to be treated. It looks like Iím going to have to make my own patients. Donít worry, Iíve got plenty of bandages and disinfectant, and a forceps and scalpel, which they didnít manage to steal last night, so I can remove the bullets from you - if they donít pass all the way through, that is."

"Are you joking?" he asked me, disconcerting for his ability to believe that such a monstrosity was an option.

"That shit youíve been shooting off tonight is too much," I told him, again. "I havenít done anything to you. I canít help it that I was born white. Is that a sin? I still believe in the things that seem absurd when they are betrayed: that race, religion, and nationality donít matter, that weíre all human beings, and that when someone bleeds, itís my duty to bind their wound. That crap youíve been throwing tonight is as powerful as hand grenades, it could maim someone. Yes, Iíll shoot in self-defense if that shitís thrown at me again. How far do you want to push things? Iíve come here to help, god damn it, but that doesnít mean Iím going to wear a god damned crown of thorns. What, you think Iím going to shoot you in cold blood right now? Is that what youíre accustomed to?"

"Pretty much," the kid answered.

"Just go home," I said. "You know, by the way, that firecrackers like that are illegal, and you could do prison time for that?"

"Theyíll never take me alive," he said, imitating some gangster or guerrilla or movie star, but completely meaning it in his juvenile way. "I wonít swim peacefully into the alligatorís jaws." That was from a song.

"No need to go down in a hail of bullets," I told him, "just put that crap away. Whatever you may think of me, I donít deserve it."

At that moment, quite late I thought, my cell phone rang with Captain Mendez demanding to know if I was all right. Theyíd heard the firecrackers and hadnít come out of the stone house because they thought it might be a major guerrilla attack. In fact, they now had every man up and all the pre-set firing positions occupied, with the APC and jeep also manned and ready to roll into action, and a Predator on hold, back at base. I said, "Itís OK, no guerrillas, itís just some kids being a pain in the ass and shooting off firecrackers."

"If itís really the guerrillas, and theyíve got a gun to your head, tell me one more time, Everythingís OK, itís just kids shooting off firecrackers," he told me.

"No, really," I said. "Itís OK. You can all go back to sleep."

Then, turning back to the kid, I told him again to go back home. Smiling faintly, like somebody who feels better after puking, he backed away, then when he got to a ridge about eighty yards away, he turned around again and shouted, "Look at this one, doesnít it look like an angel lighting a joint?" And he fired off a rocket which raced fizzling and hissing over my head, then erupted into a beautiful pattern of pink explosions that somehow made the vast night seem like it cared, like a house in the winter that has a fireplace. You can see stars filling the sky above Bairro Capanga if you dare to look up from the paths where you could be killed for a dollar.

After that momentous night, I graduated from being "The Farter" to "O Pistoleiro", the "Gunman." It was a step up in the world of Bairro Capanga, and a step closer to being "the Doctor." When I helped Mina with her water that morning, a group of young men, who seemed like they could be older brothers of the teenagers who had accosted me the night before, appeared on the side of the path and began to follow us. As they got closer, I put down the water jug.

"What happened, water weighs the same as always," Mina told me.

"My armís feeling sore," I told her. I was now free to draw my gun if needed.

The young men came up to us. "Whatís wrong, Samson?" one of them asked. "You arenít going to impress a lady like that, youíve got to carry the water even if your arm breaks." They all laughed.

"You look strong," I told him. "Why donít you carry the water for her?"

"My lady will get mad at me," he said.

His friend said, "Poor people got to learn to do things for themselves, too much handouts make them lazy." They knew all the rhetoric used against them.

The other guy said: "If she kisses me I will. How about it, Mina? Two kids hasnít worn you out, yet. You look just as fine as before Roberto started dealing to keep you."

"Just move on, all of you," Mina told them, "and stop your probing. Put your dorsal fins back down."

"Help her with the water," one of the young men suggested, again.

"My arm hurts," I told him.

"Damn, this waterís heavy!" Mina protested, exasperated, not by me, but by the young men who had descended on us. "Go on," she told them, "move along, so he can get back to helping me. See, thereís something between shoot-on-sight and be a dumb-ass. Now go on, not every white manís radar is broke!"

Shaking their heads, with strange souls halfway between panthers and clowns, they ambled on as though they were only out for an innocent stroll. They reminded me of cats who, failing to reach the top of a piece of furniture whose heights they have leapt for, walk away as though utterly disinterested. But their games could just as easily turn into hunts. All of us knew what had just transpired.

As I left her at her shack, Mina told me: "Donít pay them no mind about what they said about Roberto. I never asked that man to do what he did. It wasnít to keep me, itís cause I wasnít enough. He went and started to build his new world without me. And besides the crack, he killed a man who didnít deserve it. Heís got life," she added. It was all pretty discreet and understated, but I wondered: did she actually care what I thought about her, to know that she was the kind of woman who wouldnít use a man? And was there a reason that, although she had a man, as she told me when she first met me, she now wanted me to know that that was only in the most technical sense, and that, in actuality, he was no longer in the picture? And why did she tell me that he had killed a man who didnít deserve it? To diminish his rights, in some way? To lessen his claim over her? To make the act of going with her, for the man who chose to do so, seem less an act of stealing her from a good man than an act of rescuing her from a bad one?

All night long, I could not sleep because of the few words she had spoken, my heart was pounding with excitement, guilt, and confusion. I love Dirse, I am sure that I do. She has been such a valuable counterpoint to everything I have learned, she has humanized the world I live in without driving me from it, made it possible to live on the bridge between Heaven and Hell without bearing the guilt of wings the rest of the world cannot have, or burning in the fire along with the damned. She has been challenging at every moment - mind-expanding, supportive, fun, and sexy, but most of all, she is vulnerable underneath her bravado - and the thought of hurting her by going with another woman is horrifying, like shooting into a crowd with a machine gun. But somehow, here, in Bairro Capanga, Dirseís colors have faded. Her idealism seems bland, like food without spice, her passion too theoretical. She is utterly rambunctious, like a spirited pony, when placed beside businessmen, but here, she seems so tame, like a grandmother with her hair in a bun. But then, how was I only a month ago?

Mina, meanwhile, captivates me with her regal reserve and occasional smile that is like every flower in the world blooming at once. Something about her dark arms seems so vigorous, so fierce, so overpowering, like it could break you, and maybe that is what I want now, to be broken so that something that is stuck inside of me can come out. Or am I only being the typical man, looking for greener grass, craving an adventure? Is Dirseís tan skin not dark enough to drown my whiteness in? I donít want to break hearts, I donít want to make mistakes.

Next morning, Mina didnít give my world a chance to become more complicated. She acted utterly aloof, as though fleeing from her comments of the day before, and didnít even say thank you. She, like everybody here, is wonderful at pretending. Wonderful at pretending that nothing happened: that no one robbed you, that no one wanted to mug you, that no one is sick, that thereís not drugs here or guns, that hints of something more than carrying a jug of water forever never took place. A meteor could land here and next day, as long as you were here to observe their reaction, people would just walk around the crater as if it had been here since the beginning of time. They will never let you know that they can be affected, because that would be giving away more of their power, and they have already lost too much. Minaís not going to be a white manís taste of dark meat any time soonÖ

At last, the decisive chapter in the Tent Chronicles occurred when the skies finally let loose with a burst of rain that took everyone by surprise, and sent the whole bairro rushing for its makeshift shelters as fast as it could run. Torrents and torrents came down from mid-afternoon all through the night and into the next morning. "Call Socrates, the carpenter," I heard one man calling to another. "Get him started building the boat." Sometimes, in this bewildering world, itís hard to tell whatís a joke and whatís a mad idea that is actually believed with conviction. It wasnít hard to imagine someone here beginning the effort to build an Ark and to gather up the chickens, goats, pigs and dogs wherever they could find them to sail away to a new world, just like in the Bible. I spent the day in my tent, as the water pounded the canvas ruthlessly, leaking in from an imperfection in a seam, then flooding in underneath the fabric, although I thought I had chosen the site well from the point of view of drainage, and turning my floor into a pool of mud. At one point, I had to go back to the stone house to get an entrenching tool, and with it, I dug channels to help carry some of the excess water away from the tent. At another time, in the middle of the night, as the wind howled like some kind of primeval beast hateful of humanity, I had to reestablish my tent which had fallen like a collapsed lung and buried me under its insufficiency. As I did so, the rain lashed into my face with a special joy, it seemed determined to rip away all our vanities, to strip us naked in the storm, to test our souls and spirits; as the poem said, "to make man savage again." Literally with nothing on but my undershorts as all my clothes were by now completely soaked Ė and I would have taken my shorts off too but for the possible affront to the women of the bairro who were nowhere to be seen, stashed away in their own semblances of shelter, which did not prevent me from respecting them, however Ė I battled the elements to restore at least a vestige of protection. At last my tent was back up. I laughed to find myself as miserable as a wet cat, and thought that my tent was nearly as effective in fulfilling its purpose as the numerous social programs that had been invented to end poverty. What a strange, fierce storm! More aberrations of the weather? Well, as the Nomad Doctrine states, "The end of productivity merely to cut down on greenhouse gasses is patently absurd; nations with power shall migrate into the shells of underutilized regions to follow shifting patterns of fertility. Global climate change does not place limits on the existing powers, it simply encourages their mobility." So I guess little kinks in meteorology like this are no skin off the Centerís back. It will just pick up and move when circumstances demand.

Next morning, as the skies cleared, and the rain faded away into merely a light patter on the canvas roof, I stepped out of my tent wrapped in a blanket, looking quite disheveled and mad, I imagine, as anyone who had lost a nightís sleep fighting against the windmills of the rain might appear. "Heís still here!" I heard someone saying.

"He went back to the stone house while it was raining."

"Just to get a spade. I saw him digging a drainage ditch."

"He spent the night in the stone house."

"No he didnít, I saw him putting up his tent. It fell down. Look at him, does he look like he spent the night in the stone house? He looks like a drowned rat."

Pretending I hadnít heard anything of their little conversation, I asked the people who were standing nearby how their shelters had held up in the storm. They just shook their heads as if to say everything was OK, which for them communicating with me, was actually quite loquacious.

Without really thinking it all the way through, my stubbornness has reaped tremendous rewards. The fact that I didnít bolt from my tent during the storm to run back to the stone house seems to have convinced the people here that I am not fronting with them, but that I do have some sort of principles, after all. Now I have the feeling that they regard me as something utterly strange and exotic, like a unicorn, and they donít quite know what to do with me.

Mina said, "Some storm last night. No need to carry the jug for me today, I put it out last night. Look how full it got, in spite of the narrow neck." I helped a few families improve the drainage around their shelters. They told me that under ordinary circumstances, their places hold up fine, but this was like being in "a tsunami", which is a kind of disaster theyíve only heard about, so that itís easy for them to imagine that this was the same. One old man has been going around all morning with a fish saying that it fell from the sky. The others say he is crazy and tell him to stop carrying it around and to just cook it.

It is hard to believe, but this is a quantum leap.

May 2: Captain Mendez was antsy all throughout May 1, which is a popular day for revolutionary action, but nothing happened. About the rain, he expressed satisfaction that some posters of Che Guevara which have begun to appear around the bairro had been washed away, "as though God, himself, wants to be rid of this Communist for good."

This morning, I had the breakthrough I have been dreaming of since I came here. Mina showed up with a friend, Gabi, who has a very sick little boy who is obviously suffering from a severe gastrointestinal disorder, most likely a parasite. He is crapping the life out of him, is listless and utterly drained, and his skin is disconcertingly hot to the touch. A quick temperature reading showed that he was up to 105 F. I undertook treatment at once, which included emergency measures to decrease the boyís temperature, an IV for fluids, injections of nutrients and antibiotics, and taking samples of the boyís blood, urine, and feces for testing in our lab. The boyís name is "Little Joao", and his mother kept on crying throughout the treatment, asking me, "Have I brought him in too late?"

A doctorís skill lies not only in his medicine but in his presence. I told the mother, "You should have brought him sooner, but it is better that you brought him late than never. I will do everything possible to save him. I remain hopeful."

"Do you have a son?" she asked me.

"No," I admitted.

"Then you canít imagine what it would be like to lose him," she told me.

"No one in this world, whoís lived more than a few years, hasnít lost someone they love," I told her. "Thereís no place in the world thatís free of pain. Some people build walls around their pain, to shut away everyone elseís. Some people build bridges from their pain to other peopleís pain. I am a doctor, and that is the path Iíve chosen."

"Doctors want money, thatís all," Gabi told me, not impressed. "Big cars, big houses, swimming pools: use sick people to buy it all for them. Highway robbery." Even though her child was in my hands, she couldnít keep from blurting out her feelings.

"If I wanted money, I would be back in the US," I told her.

"Thatís right," Mina said, "he could be reeling in the dough doing liposuction for those dinosaurs that eat everything we donít have. If heís here, he must want to do something."

"Probably failed the medical school. They sent him here cause nobody with money wanted him anywhere near them. Not with a scalpel in his hand. Not over their heart."

"Some people want to help people," Mina protested. "Once you stop believing that thatís possible, whatís left? For every hundred outsiders who are con artists, there has to be one whoís for real. There canít be nothing but rotten eggs in the world, or the word Ďrottení wouldnít exist. Weíd just say Ďeggs.í"

"Huh?" Gabi asked.

"Give him a chance," Mina insisted.

May 4: Little Joao is going to make it. It was a scary couple of days. He came to me on the verge of death, just a few hours from shitting himself out of existence. If on a planet the size of the earth there was nothing alive except a single mouse, thatís how much life was left in the body of Gabyís baby when she finally decided to bring him to me. I donít write this to brag. I didnít save Little Joao, modern medicine did. In the same way, it isnít a bacterial parasite which nearly did him in, it is a world which utterly ignores places such as Bairro Capanga, and allows them to become breeding grounds for diseases which the rest of the world did away with years ago. The pitiful condition of the child under my care, so gratuitously inflicted, outraged me. I felt both fury and tenderness as I worked to save him. Like the rain that pounded the bairro only a few days ago, penetrating every barrier devised to resist it, there was no shelter from his motherís despair.

Throughout the treatment, I was impressed by Gabiís devotion to her son. She would not leave his side, not to go home, not to sleep or to eat. Mina had to make her food and bring it to her. She also brought her a blanket, with which she covered her. Nothing I could say could induce Gabi to desert what she felt was her post. "In case anything happens, I have to be right here," she said. "I can hold his hand and pray. I can bring him back, or send him on a boat of roses into the next world." In fact, her prayers began to drive me nuts, but who was I to tell her to stop, even as they began to bounce around inside my head like the maddening echoes of a million people saying the rosary. At other times, she would sing the sweetest of lullabies, a beautiful melody with the words: "Baby donít go nowhere, till Mamma leads the way." It was amazing, she hardly knew this child - he hadnít been in the world long enough to know in any real sense - and yet she stood by him with the utmost loyalty and passion, as though she had known and loved him for a thousand years and as though that much history of togetherness was at stake. And I thought: kids like Little Joao are a dime a dozen; all over the world they are dying like flies, thousands of them every day. Does every one of them have a mother like this? Is that much grief radiating from our planet? Carbon dioxide radiating from our factories can change the climate of the world; what about all these tears?

By the end of it, six or seven women were hanging out in my ramshackle clinic along with Gabi, holding candles and joining her in prayer and song. They looked like a band of angels who had forgotten to erase their dark faces in recognition of where the power lies. For even Heaven obeys the strong.

May 7: Today Gabi got Little Joao back with some medication in the form of droplets, and a series of follow-up visits planned. She gave me a huge hug, then made the sign of the cross and bowed at the waist, something between a religious devotee and an actress who has just given a great performance; and several of her friends touched me. Mina said, "Well, finally youíre the doctor you came to be."

I said, "Finally you let me be."

May 15: Things have been going forward at a tremendous pace ever since Little Joaoís recovery. Itís like a dam had broke, and a flood of people with all sorts of ailments, some terrible and life-threatening and others merely fantastic products of hypochondria, has come surging my way. At once, I struggled to bring the rest of the civic action team in on the development, and to get the people of the bairro to utilize the more substantial facilities in the stone house since my tent is underequipped and overwhelmed by their numbers, but the people will not go to the house that was taken from them. Instead, they have agreed, only after much pleading on my part, to accept visits in their own homes from some of the other doctors, but only if I am unavailable; and a woman named Eva, with the help of neighbors, is rearranging her cavern-like home in the side of a hill to serve as an expanded facility for my activity. We will put a couple of beds in there, and store some equipment, which will be guarded 24/7 by some young men who may belong to the Quilombolas, one of the gangs here that is favored because it does not prey upon its own. If you were to draw a parallel from the animal kingdom, it would not be a tiger that stalks men, but a poison snake that bites only those who step on it. As a sign that my situation in the community had now radically transformed, as I came out of the tent one morning I discovered some of the items that had been stolen from me returned, left outside of my tent flap with a note written in the most wretched Portuguese: "Compootor gon nau, tu lat. Sold all redi. We traid for u, tu lat. Sori. Mak things rit, ani hau." In the envelope in which I found the note, apologizing for the fact that my computer was not among the returned items, was some money - only a small amount and far from the cost of the missing lap top - but a gesture, at least; and on the bill was written: "Sori, all thats lef."

At that moment, I felt like the luckiest man to ever live.

When, jarred and moved by the disparity between the intentions and competence of the letter I had received, I asked Mina if she thought the bairro might be interested in connecting to a literacy program, in addition to the medical program which it had already been offered, she said, "Why not? We got a lot of things to write to the President about. Now he throws our letters out, because he canít understand them. After we learn to write better, heíll throw our letters out because he does." Sensing that I wasnít sure what her final take on the subject was, she smiled and said, "Thatís an improvement." Weíve put in a call to the Department of Educationís Literacy Campaign, which, is, in fact, the program Dirse is working with while Iím in Bairro Capanga.

True to expectations, now that the neighborhood has finally opened its door to us, it turns out that there are all kinds of maladies tearing up the place. Several individuals have tested positive for TB, and we are medicating them and working on establishing a hygiene protocol that this community can live with, since none of the sufferers wants to be removed to a sanatorium, and forced extraction from the community seems counterproductive from the political point of view. We are confronting widespread symptoms of intestinal boreworm infection, which is highly treatable with appropriate medications, and we are simply awaiting lab results. Several varieties and stages of respiratory affliction and bleeding through the urinary tract may be related to opportunistic infections facilitated by AIDS. More testing is being conducted. Poor nourishment is also a major factor in debilitating the immune system, and contributing to these types of pathologies. And then, there are the SDV cases. Where AIDS is involved in the background, treatment will be arduous. Where it is not present, a regimen of medications, some taken orally, and others applied as salves to the affected areas, may drive the symptoms beneath the surface, leaving a condition similar to herpes which passes through dormant and active periods, but which will not degrade and lead to massive, irreversible disfigurement. In my tent, I treated 3 cases which were not severe, and one man who is still known as "Face", because of his handsome visage, but who underneath his shirt is a morass of hideous sores and puss. Working on him was messy business. Though I detest using a mask and gloves for psychological reasons, cases of doctors in Africa who have wished to express solidarity with Ebola sufferers by refusing the protective barriers which separate them from their patients, have only succeeded in proving that there is a great difference between solidarity and sentimentality. From saliva, blood, and/or particulates of mucus sprayed their way, they caught the very disease they were attempting to eradicate, and were lost, along with their critical expertise, in the midst of a sea of hands crying for help. Afterwards, I talked with Dr. Bari about improving our ability to safely do away with biological wastes.

By far the most distressing case of SDV which I have had to deal with so far involves a woman named Maru, who used to be a great beauty they say, but whose face has now been utterly ravaged by the disease. Her man, in fact, who had been away working as a laborer in Maranhao, and who they thought might never return, did return one day, only to drive her out of the house as soon as he saw what had become of her. Now she lives alone in a little cave which the self-proclaimed priest of the town, Brother Lazaro, made for her before he died. Brother Lazaro had actually worked for the church once, but the official priest of Bairro Capanga, before he fled from the neighborhood due to the unruly nature of the people, had succeeded in initiating the procedures which resulted in Brother Lazaroís excommunication. Brother Lazaro, it seems, had some strange aberrations of belief: for example, he preached that Maria Magdalene was Jesusí wife, and that Jesus by her had a son, of whom he, Brother Lazaro, was a descendant; he also believed that Judas killed Jesus, not for gold, but because Jesus chose peace on earth before justice on the earth, and that now the spirits of Jesus and Judas have merged into one to form the complete savior. Brother Lazaro called them two halves of the same soul, the day and night that need each other. The bottom line is that he was a liberation theologian, and that went out of vogue years ago.

After Brother Lazaroís kindness, Maru was essentially left on her own, brought food by her mother and shunned by everyone else. One night, when she tried to go back home, her man got up out of bed where he was lying with another woman and chased her away with a machete. The woman he was with threw stones at her. Mina told me: "It would break our hearts except she looks so bad it dries our tears up. Itís like seeing a ghost, you just get the most awful chills and want to run away."

"Once you lose the will to remind yourself that someone else is a human being, it isnít hard to drive them away and make them live in a cave," I said.

Mina knew what I meant. "Are you saying sheís the Bairro Capanga of Bairro Capanga? So if we go to her, the world is going to come to us? Well, go on, then, see her. But donít get yourself sick. Wear your mask."

For them, Maru is like a fire-breathing dragon, if she exhales you will be poisoned by the mist of her disease, if her teardrop falls on you, it will burn through you like acid, if she coughs, you will become her twin, if she touches you, it will be like making love to a cadaver at the bottom of a grave. Since their knowledge is imprecise, they protect themselves with the severest of boundaries. Not knowing whether they face a house cat or a lion, they dig a moat deep enough and wide enough to keep a lion away. I, being a doctor, with precise knowledge, can come closer.

It was, nonetheless, with awful trepidation that I let Maruís mother guide me to her outcast daughterís cave, while Mina and a member of the Quilombolas stood a good fifty yards back. It took a great deal of coaxing from her mother to finally get her to step out of the cave into the light where I could see her face. What a disaster! Her face was a barely recognizable mess of bloody sores, with her right cheekbone exposed by the flesh that had fallen off; it was nearly formless, without definition, like the face of someone found at the site of a terrible auto wreck after flying through the windshield, except that there were two plaintive, angry eyes looking out from beneath it all, signs of life crying for help, but not expecting it. I could tell she was waiting for me to withdraw in horror. Even her mother was averting her eyes. I admit, at that moment I forced myself to a new level of bravery. But I knew within that awful wreckage was a soul: a soul that could not have forgotten the taste of life. I was very focused and businesslike, it was the only way I could control my emotions, but for her, even though I was well-shielded by my mask and gloves, and acted as a doctor and not a saint, it was as if I were Jesus kissing her on the forehead, curing her of abandonment. I looked at her not with disgust or pity, but with compassion and professional attentiveness. I ask myself, since it was such a struggle, how? I believe it is like adjusting a showerhead, a showerhead of emotions inside your soul. If the spray is too wide, your first instinct of revulsion will come out and your ideal of love will express itself as sugary pity, offensive to the patient, since it is really only the manifestation of revulsion overpowering love and hijacking it; if the stream of emotions is too narrow, on the other hand, you will come off as cold, purely a technician, and the patient will feel despised like a frog that is being dissected. But if you find the right width of emotions within your soul, you will have compassion without pity, professionalism without coldness, respect for the disease without terror, love for the patient without affect. The adjustment happens in a moment, and is not fundamentally intellectual; it is very nearly physical, in fact, something like what the lens of the eye does as it searches for just the right level of tension to bring an object into focus.

The mere fact that I was able to deal with Maru in this way - to cleanse her wounds, to use the lancet, to disinfect the sores, to do some scraping, to apply medicinal salves, to place bandages, to give injections of antibiotics, to dispense pills and spare bandages, and to take blood samples for AIDS testing, without displaying either horror or the selfish ambition to use her as my ticket to Heaven - was overwhelmingly healing for her. The treatments will continue. Depending on the results of the AIDS testing, she will either be sent to our civic action affiliate hospital in Rio proper for more elaborate treatment, or else worked on here by Dr. Soares, who will do a patch-up procedure on the right side of her face, until the situation is stabilized to the point where it will make sense for her to undergo a more substantial program of reconstructive surgery. This might be arranged through the International Program for the Support of Battered Womenís surgical team, since the civic action budget considers plastic surgery, except in the case of landmine-related incidents, to be beyond its scope.

The day after my first visit with Maru, my overpowering stream of patients dried up. "Iím glad to see no oneís sick today," I told Mina. "But we must begin to screen all the kids here, beginning with your own. Weíll need physical exams, along with blood, urine, and stool samples, to test for various diseases and parasites and also to get a picture of where we stand with regard to nutritional issues."

"Thereís people sick today," Mina told me. "They just donít want to come and see you. Theyíre afraid now that youíve been treating Maru, you might have the SDV on you, and pass it on to them. They like you and donít want to hurt your feelings by letting you know what theyíre thinking, so theyíre just staying away."

Knowing this, I called a meeting, which a good number of people showed up for, and I explained to them how SDV is transmitted and how it is not transmitted. I explained to them what procedures I had used to protect myself, to dispose of or clean my clothing, and to disinfect and wash myself in the wake of treating Maru. "Granted: nobody wants to be bitten by a cobra," I said. "But what would you say if, to avoid the possibility of being bitten by a cobra, you spent your whole life flying in an airplane above the ground? Wouldnít you call that exaggerated? Well, that is, essentially, what you are doing now. Maru is not the homem-marinho," I told them, referring to a mythical creature which some poor Brazilians still believe in, a sea monster that murders people on the beach, devouring their fingers and genitals before disappearing back into the ocean. "She is one of you," I said. You must protect yourselves from the contagious disease which she carries, but you do not have to sever her from your world. You can be safe from her, without throwing her away. I will tell you how."

The people listened with interest to my explanation. Then one man, skeptical, as most of the residents, of any form of official information, said, "Doctor, we are now beginning to understand that you are a sincere man. But where do you get your information from? Are you sure it is not from some government agency? We feel they do not want the people to know the truth, and that, in fact, when they tell us we cannot get a disease in such and such a way, it is because they want us to be careless and get the disease in exactly that way, so they can finally be rid of us. They are using biological warfare against us, and their strongest weapon is misinformation."

Without dismissing his fears, I told him that various independent studies had produced this information, which I had read in medical journals during my studies, and that I believed them. The fact that I disagreed with the studies in one detail, regarding the assumed longevity of the SDV agent outside of the body, which I believed might, in fact, survive even longer than supposed, pleased my audience immensely, and boosted my credibility.

I was then asked for my opinion on the reliability of Erva Acari for preventing AIDS. This is a supposed miracle drug which the media in the Center views as a product created by the poor and embraced by the poor, in a land where mysticism and backwardness reign. What people in the Center donít know is that Yerba Acari - with some beneficial anti-inflammatory properties, but utterly unsuited to tackling HIV or cancer - is big business in the Amazon, and that it is controlled by multinationals operating out of the Center. They are deliberately marketing it in areas of extreme desperation, areas which are medically deprived, such as this one, where the people spend extravagant percentages of their income to acquire it as a shield against terrible diseases which it cannot resist. It is now common, in many areas, for people to mix Yerba Acari into a drink before making love, doing so in the belief that it will protect them from AIDS even if their partner is infected.

Without wishing to devastate those who might already have used the drink, given the fact that disillusionment from the placebo effect can sometime produce catastrophic crashes in the immune system (Jackson 2002; Rodriguez 2018), I nonetheless provided the sternest warning possible against the use of Yerba Acari as an AIDS preventative. In fact, its tendency to thin the blood, leading to an increase in instances of the commonplace and small-scale hemorrhaging which ordinarily accompanies sexual acts, increases the possibility of the spread of AIDS. I stated, for the benefit of all concerned, that an AIDS awareness workshop ought to be conducted as soon as possible, and I promised that I would do everything possible to make sure that we were able to obtain, from our program, up-to-date and effective drugs for containing the HIV virus.

In the same spirit as before, someone said: "Donít accept any of that crap they already banned in America. All that stuff they wonít throw out because they donít want to lose money, so they send it to us. Donít give me a pen knife to fight the tiger when the rest of the world is using guns."

I assured him again that I would do my best to make sure that we got a competent AIDS prevention and treatment plan up and running here.

At the end of this week, I had a case of a different kind, an old man whose mouth was filled with rotting teeth. There was nothing I could do but pull them, then give him an injection of antibiotics and send him away with a bottle of antiseptic mouthwash. As I pulled his teeth, he exclaimed, "Jesus Christ, you should be working for the CIA! I would tell you everything I know."

"Sorry," I said. "Iím a doctor, not a dentist."

He said: "I thought they were the same."

May 20: More progress. Evaís cave finally became available, and my new medical station has been moved inside of it. The lighting is dependent on candles and a small hole in the hill side which sends a single ray of light in around 3 PM, which lasts for about fifteen minutes, all of which gives the place the look of a religious shrine much more than of a medical facility. A statue of Jesus has been inserted into a nook in the wall, beside the image of some African goddess, and the sick lay offerings of fruit, coffee, and even elaborate meals which they have prepared, at their feet, so as to gain the best of both worlds: that of modern medicine, and that of the world that developed in its absence. I am not sure which, for them, is the tightrope, and which is the safety net. Since the lighting does not serve at all for making informed diagnoses or performing any complicated procedures, I have had a small, gas powered generator Ė properly vented, of course - brought in which can be turned on to light a powerful lamp when called for; and an outdoor examination area, hemmed in by curtains, has also been set up for fair weather days, so that natural lighting can be exploited whenever it is available. Besides this, I have a hand-held light which an assistant can hold for me. What the cave does have is beds, a table, some equipment and supplies, and most of all, the acceptance of the people who are willing to embrace it as a part of their community. The hygiene is obviously substandard compared to a conventional clinic or a hospital, but we are taking the issue seriously and doing the best we can. My efforts to convince my colleagues to abandon the stone house in order to restore one half of it as living quarters for bairro residents, while utilizing the other half as a more substantial clinic than the one I have just opened, have been rejected due to security considerations. According to Mendez, we cannot "give up the stone house", because we need a dependable and defensible base, especially during the night time: more so than ever, now, in view of several recent news developments.

The mounting problems presented by the Che legend led World Justice, this week, to interrogate Dr. Johansson, the alleged creator of the Che clone, in Sweden, and to impound his laboratories and archives. Under maximum binding vows Ė that is, with perjury punishable by death, not only applicable to the perjurer but also to his family and friends Ė he admitted to the fact that he did, indeed, create a Che clone 29 years ago, which was raised for a brief time in Sweden. He lost track of the child after three years, when it was given to handlers whose plan was to raise it in an unspecified foreign country, before sending the young man on to a revolutionary training program that would be both military and political in nature. However, according to Dr. Johansson, something had obviously gone wrong, because a contact from the "life preparation group" came back to him a few years later, asking him to make another Che clone. According to Dr. Johansson, the contact would not say, specifically, what the problem was, but Dr. Johansson had the feeling from how he behaved that the operation had somehow been compromised by international intelligence agencies, or rent asunder by an internal dispute, and that the Che clone had been "dumped" like stolen goods until things cooled down, probably into some orphanage; and that when the handlers had come back to recover him, he was gone, already given away, and they could not pick up his trail. Dr. Johansson was unable to grant the contactís request to make another clone, because, in the meantime, his genetic sample of Che had become degraded through improper storage.

According to Mendez, this is the worst possible development that could happen: encountering proof that the maddening legend has an actual basis in fact, without encountering Che, himself, so that he can be neutralized. All throughout the Periphery, and most especially in Latin America, in spite of official news quarantines, the word is out, and the mood is growing wilder by the minute: ominous and jubilant, with the threat of extreme violence mixed in with the revelry. "We are living," according to Colonel Bradley, back at base, "in a hybrid moment that is a cross between the Carnival and the impending eruption of a volcano." You wouldnít know it from here, in Bairro Capanga, where we have been making extraordinary progress. But in Fortaleza and in Salvador, there have been riots, replete with furious crowds brandishing placards of Che and Molotov cocktails, and several tanks have been burned; in Uberlandia, a formidable military base was infiltrated by guerrillas, who passed through its minefield, no doubt thanks to inside information, and surprised several attack helicopters stationed there before they could be flown away; then, with a group of well-trained pilots, they flew two of those captured helicopters to the army base at Sao Paulo do Norte, and, before anybody could figure out who was who and what was what, they opened fire on the defenders, who were simultaneously assaulted by a guerrilla column on the ground. At the same time, urban commandos blew up a police station in Sao Paulo itself, and knocked out a power station. Although Sao Paulo do Norte held, it was in a state of crisis for nearly a day, and the whole region has been badly shaken. Even worse, the guerrilla column does not seem to have been destroyed during the withdrawal phase, as its daring warranted; in fact, it seems to have the capability to simply disappear back into the countryside after striking its blow, in spite of the fact that its support networks were supposed to have been uprooted by the paramilitaries over a year ago. Finally, as if this were not enough, an American Forest-Protection Colony in Rondonia was overrun just two days ago. The ERB seems to have come back to life with a vengeance.

I told Captain Mendez, as the civic action team held an emergency meeting in the stone house, that it is useless to proclaim victory in the Periphery when the source of the war remains. It is as useless as bailing the water out of a ship while doing nothing about the hole in its side. One generation of guerrillas is destroyed, but another grows in its place. Repressive terror quiets the world until injustice overcomes the fear, and foolishness is resurrected. And once again there are men who, with bare chests, will face bullets because the blood of those who died in vain is dry, and the blood of those they love is still fresh. "I am surprised by how amazed you are at the ERBís recovery," I said, "which parallels everything we know about the nature of disease. When you treat the symptoms and not the cause, your victories are doomed to be ephemeral."

"This is why we are here," admitted Captain Mendez.

"Are we repairing the dike, or merely putting our finger in the dike?" I asked him.

"Sometimes," he said, "the world is saved by a gesture."

I agreed, but added: "Gestures are also dangerous. They awaken ideals which were asleep. Then, like passengers whose legs have been cramped all night long as they sit in tiny seats on a train, these ideals want to get up and walk around. They want to get off the train and go out into the world. When expectations are raised, the possibility of disappointment is also raised. Gestures always seem more significant to those who do not depend on the substance which has been invoked by them. The effect of gestures can be overestimated. The people love them because they think that something more is meant to follow. If there is nothing after, the gesture becomes worse for them than a water cannon sprayed into their face."

"Your point, doctor?"

"We need to be real, Captain. Bairro Capanga needs to be more to us than a speed bump we are attempting to construct across the highway of revolution. These people need to be more to us than mere neutron rods, inserted into a nuclear reactor core to prevent a meltdown. We are living among mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, uncles, aunts, nephews, nieces, cousins, lovers, neighbors - our human brothers and sisters."

I think I sometimes have the tendency to give sermons and that I provoke resentment on account of it, especially when I demand, from people, things they lack the inner power to give. People have always said I have the tendency to get carried away by my passion. If I think it is right to live on the moon, I will try to do it, even though it is impossible, even if it means I will be left completely alone, dwelling in a crater. They have compared me to Don Quixote, charging windmills with his lance. Or am I being self-flattering? In the end, I am merely stubborn, not idealistic. It is Dirse who has pushed me in this direction, then lagged behind. No, I have moments of unreasonable romanticism, but thus far have always returned to common sense. My heart throws itself against limits, like a wild horse on a rope that wants to be free, but my mind understands limits; it is, in fact, the rope. All I know is that I felt acutely uncomfortable there, among my fellow doctors and Captain Mendezís soldiers, as though I were asking them all to jump off a building and fly, and leaving them no choice but to do that or to have devilís horns. No wonder I yearned to go back out into the bairro as quickly as possible , to escape their silent, offended faces. And I am sure they were waiting with equal fervor for my departure.

As far as I can tell, the highlight of the meeting was when Captain Mendez expressed relief that two civilian contractors who were found at the edge of the bairro with bullets in their heads had merely been killed by bandits, and not the guerrillas. "Thank God!" he exclaimed. How precise our humanity has managed to become; how exact our cues for grieving!

Meanwhile, in medical news, I conducted an AIDS awareness workshop which was so well attended that it made me feel like Peron or Gaitan giving some fiery populist speech in the plaza, although all I was doing was imparting technical medical information; I actually needed a microphone and amplifier to finish. At the end, free condoms, immune-enhancers, post-exposure response meds, and informational pamphlets based principally on diagrams were distributed. The day before, a truck had rumbled up from the secure zone filled with supplies, a Pawnee A-37 attack helicopter cruising the skies above it. One teenager laughed, and said: "Donít anybody try to take our condoms, or weíll blow you up!" The thought of protecting a shipment like that with violent force amused the neighborhood beyond words.

May 23: Incoming results are showing massive numbers of bairro residents are HIV Positive. Our treatment program for all other conditions will have to be designed to take into account the compromised immune systems of many of our patients. I am speaking to the people in realistic, yet spirited terms, about all this, so that they do not succumb to panic.

Although the bairro has no formal chamber of commerce or civic action junta, an unofficial council comprised of some of the more active citizens, members of the Quilombolas, and some who are considered "elders" is taking shape to help integrate our projects into the community. Together, we will continue the program to eradicate mosquitoes Ė test results are also beginning to return showing the prevalence of malaria, which is another immune-system-depressor; in addition, we will attempt to cover over and isolate the effects of open sewage systems which present a major health hazard, especially to some residents. The long-delayed program of childhood vaccinations is going to start soon, and a massive video screen for long-distance literacy training is going to be installed, since the Department of Education believes this location is far too dangerous to insert its personnel into.

Speaking of literacy, yesterday I discovered a most amazing, and moving thing. First of all, to put it all in perspective, Mina has two beautiful kids, a boy of eight and a girl of six. The boyís name is Helder. He was named after the famous liberation theologian of bygone days, Helder Camara, the Bishop of Recife, who once said: "When I fed the poor they called me a saint. When I asked them why there were poor, they called me a Communist." He had sought to use the gospels as a basis for the nonviolent transformation of Brazilian society and the defeat of poverty, which starts with the indifference of one class of men towards another, and from his point of view, is a result of the failure of men who call themselves Christians to live up to their faith. Mina, though a Christian in her own eccentric way, named her boy Helder, not in honor of a priest, but in honor of a man who fought for the poor. Her daughter was named Zenobia, after the Middle-Eastern warrior queen who battled against the Romans, and made that mighty empire quake. When I discovered, in Minaís shack, a stack of charming childrenís books, filled with pictures, which she must have made a great effort to obtain over a number of years, I exclaimed, "How thoughtful of you, to get these for your kids!"

"What do you mean?" she asked. "I got them for me. I mean, we look at them together, now, but I got some of them before they were even born."

"When you were a kid?"

She glared at me, then just shook her head and went on doing what she was doing.

And I stood there, stunned, suddenly realizing my terrible social gaffe, and the terrible plight of this highly intelligent, deeply curious woman, who had never learned to read. So she had taken the only books that she could make any sense out of, the ones with pictures in them to stir her imagination and serve as keys for opening the stories that were locked shut behind the padlock of her illiteracy. In this way, she broke, like a burglar, into the world of Gulliverís Travels and the Arabian Nights, Aesopís Fables and the Greek Myths, Pinocchio and pirates, the history of her country, and the crafts and culture of Africa. In this desert, without the water of written words, she survived like a cactus, refusing to let her mind die from neglect. But the hurt of deprivation was plain to see in her eyes. She knew she was missing a leg, and that in other parts of the world, people were dancing.

I told her: "Your kids will read, Mina. And you, too."

She kept on doing what she was doing.

May 25: The atmosphere intensifies. Now, in Rio, itself, in the Penultimate Zone, that is, just two levels out of the Secure Zone, a major demonstration demanding an end to foreign colonization and forced labor migrations took place, replete with placards of Che and banners saying, "Heís Back!" The army, out in force, let it go on for a few hours in order to better gauge the dimensions of the rebellious sentiment, before finally legging loose with canisters of tear gas. The diehards who persisted even after the gassing - a handful of masked agitators, some of whom were armed with more than stones - were treated to a dose of live ammunition, until the streets were again calm, if, indeed, the term has any merit in the middle of "hurricane season." According to Captain Mendez, Brazil, as well as many other parts of Latin America, is sitting on a powder keg.

All of this has led me to wonder: what is it that brings about a revolution? A man or a condition? A leader or a situation? Why should these people who live constantly in a state of poverty, lashed by hardships that the rest of the world has left behind, stung by awful limitations in the shadow of other peopleís opportunities Ė opportunities not only to possess, but to squander, and to decadently misuse Ė care, at all, about the clone of Che? What can he possibly do for them that they cannot do for themselves? He is one man. They are billions. It is their backs which bear the whip marks of injustice, and only their backs which can carry the weight of making a new world. What do they need him for? It seems, he should be as superfluous to them as an insect crawling on the back of an elephant. And yet, his picture is everywhere, his name is in their chants, his fiery eyes are in their hearts, the thought of him standing beside them is what gives them the courage to pit the armor of human flesh against the steel of tanks. In some ways, though they are great and he is small, he towers above them! What is this all about? Is it the natural reaction to years of destruction, this utter lack of confidence that requires a savior, something stronger and greater than they feel they are? A god, resurrected from defeat, and made invincible by the flowers they have laid on his grave? Though they are the ones who must move the earth, have they been conditioned to feel so incapable that they are willing to believe that one man not tainted by the sin of submitting to a gun, can do what they, in all their vast numbers, cannot do? Do they truly believe that this Che is a genius, an Einstein of the bullet, an Archimedes of flowing red blood? Or the prophet of a God, like Moses or Jeremiah? That something he knows or thinks or can conceive of can overcome the odds, overthrow the rule of firepower, which is the master of billions of pounds of flesh, with some esoteric insight, teach the wheat how to break the scythe? Or is he merely a reminder of what lurks within them, a spark to ignite the endless, dry forest that has the power to burn, but not the confidence to start burning? Is he merely a part of them, the one atom that can move the rest?

The people are poor, desperate, and angry, and yet, they are afraid and confused. Somehow, when they raise the placard of Che above them, their fear fades away, they stare like him into the face of that which oppresses them with his bold eyes, with the savage pose of his gentleness. From his hand, only, they will take the rifle they have feared to hold for all these years: the rifle that breaks the hypnotic bond between dominant and submissive, that erases the boundaries of safety and makes the world dangerous again, which means, once more, that seeds can grow. Creation is being revisited. The first age belonged to jaguars, the next to birds, the next to monkeys; maybe this one will belong to men.

May 28: Today marks another watershed. I already thought I was accepted by the community, but each time I think this, another level of acceptance is unveiled and I realize I have merely been a dearer form of outsider.

Today, Mina asked me to go with her to the garbage-dump-mountain that looms, in the distance, above the bairro: "Pearls to Swine." Of course, it got its name from the Bible, the part about casting your pearls to swine. It seems that poor people from around here, either from this neighborhood or from others nearby, gave the mountain that name in a simultaneous act of cynicism and awareness, which encoded both their knowledge of how the world viewed them and a statement of how, in order to survive, they were forced to transform worthless things, which the rest of the world had discarded, into treasures, like pearls. The government, itself, refers to "Pearls to Swine" as "Urban Refuse Station Number 6", or, when it wishes to be more informal, as "the Garbage Mountain."

It all happened very simply, Mina coming up to me at the end of a screening clinic for children, to ask me if I would go with her. "Tomorrow is the convoy," she told me, simply. "Will you join me at Matthew 7:6?"

"What are you talking about?" I asked her. "Are you inviting me to a Bible study group?"

She laughed and said: "No, to the mountain," and she pointed to the ominous, grayish-black mound rising up in the distance. "The garbage trucks are coming tomorrow with a big load. Probably about noon. Weíll start out at dawn from Colina dos Bluns so we can get there on time."

"How do you know the trucks are coming?" I asked her.

She said: "How does a horse find water?" And she added, "Donít forget to bring your gun."

When I told the civic action team about my plans later that afternoon, they unanimously urged me to reject the invitation. Captain Mendez, the most vocal critic of the idea, told me: "You must realize by now that our civic action program, which is finally, in large part thanks to you, beginning to achieve popularity here in Bairro Capanga, is undercutting the revolutionaries. If the people see that the quality of their lives can improve without the desperate measure of resorting to violence, they will stay on the side of the government; why provoke repression when they have the hope of bettering their lot without going out on a limb? Because of this, you must also see that our program here is sure to have been noticed by the revolutionaries, and to have become a potential target. And you, as our most effective member, must be especially high on their hit list. Before they let us defuse the ticking time bomb of the poor, which they hope to use to shatter the structures of power which exclude them, they will take aim at us. I consider it likely that this woman you have taken a liking to may, in fact, be working for the ERB, and that this trip to the refuse station may be nothing more than a set-up: a trick to lure you away from us, to a lawless and unprotected place where you may be shot down like a dog, or else kidnapped and held for ransom. Even if the guerrillas are not at ĎPearls to Swineí, itís filled with gangs and bandits. I wonít let you go."

"Weíre here on a mission," I told him, as Dr. Bari listened. "To provide services to the people and show them that they have not been utterly abandoned. Without taking risks, we wouldnít have made any progress here, at all. Sometimes, you canít stop. The only way to hold on to what youíve won is to keep on moving forward. You canít rest on your laurels, thatís like taking arsenic. Dr. Bari, you must allow me to go with Mina. Iíll have the chance to meet more people, and to do more work."

Reluctantly, after about an hour of philosophical arm-twisting and impassioned reminders of Hippocrates, the doctor agreed. Crossing himself, he said, "May God accompany you every step of the way."

Captain Mendez said: "Donít do anything stupid. Well, going there to begin with is stupid, so what I mean is donít do any other stupid things. Youíve got intelligent eyes, I hope theyíre not deceptive."

Heart pounding, half believing what they had said, I prepared myself for the trip.

June 2: As agreed upon, I met Mina and two members of the Quilombolas outside her shack about an hour before dawn on the day of the expedition. An old woman known as "Tia de Todos" had already arrived to watch over Helder and Zenobia, who Mina did not want to risk on the trip. With me, I carried a pack with some medical supplies and rations, a canteen of water, a knife and "all-purpose tool", my pistol in a holster, and my cellphone. I also brought along a good hat, for we were bound to encounter a lot of sun on the way.

"Good," Mina said, laughing, as she looked me over by the light of a lantern in her hand. "You are ready to go hunting the Coruqueama." I had no idea what that was, but it seemed like one more of the many myths that live alongside them. Mina, herself, brought along two empty sacks made of canvas, a dangerous looking machete, a small, frighteningly sharp knife, water, some food in a knapsack which she had cooked for us to last the entire journey, and a hat. The young men who came to accompany us had long flowing shirts and baggy pants that seemed to have room for concealed weapons. Besides this possibility, they carried tools for digging.

"Bye mother, bye mom," the kids said as we prepared to leave. She hugged them in the dark, and said some kind of prayer for them, which wasnít entirely in Portuguese. "Bye, Mr. Doctor," they told me. Helder, young as he was, said, "If anybody starts any trouble with my mom, donít hesitate to use that gun at your side." The Quilombolas, whose names were Benedito and Gabriel, laughed.

By dawn, as the first tints of reddish light were oozing into the horizon, we were at the crest of Colina dos Bluns, which hadnít been easy to climb in the moonlight. When I asked how the hill had got its name, Gabriel made the motions of smoking a joint, and I realized that somehow the English name "blunt" had worked its way down here, and that this hill was a hang-out for drug users, hardly a place to be in the middle of the night. But for some reason we encountered very little traffic on our way up the hill; only one guy who was sitting alone, smiling, and talking to the night. "No, God," he said, "I wonít join them looking for the shit thatís fallen out of rich peopleís asses. Youíve given me stars, and Pari-CA." It seemed like some blood was coming out of his nose, but he just wiped it away and said, "You can just put your hands into all this like water - right into the midst of your worst problems - and pull life right out of the pool; nobody can keep it from you."

"Cocaine?" I asked our guides.

Gabriel said, "The jungles of the north have a lot more to offer than that."

On the other side of Colina dos Bluns, we came at last to the reason for the neighborhoodís silence as we left; most of it was already here, in a little valley beside the ascent towards the refuse station, waiting for daylight to begin the journey up. "My god," I said, "itís like a scene from the Bible. Like the Exodus."

"Except that the whole worldís Egypt," said Benedito.

"And weíre going to a garbage dump, not the promised land," added Mina.

Here was gathered a rag-tag mass of men and women, children, and old people, all equipped with empty bags hanging over their shoulders, some with out-of-place grocery carts that must have come from many miles away, and judging from their appearance, from many years ago, from the big stores in Rio where people cruised up and down the aisles looking for the kind of food that these people could only dream of. There were also collapsible shopping carts, hand-trucks, dollies, poles for suspending bags from, baskets for carrying heavy weights on the head, and even a handful of donkeys and horses, already equipped with padding thrown over their backs. Most impressive of all, a group of about twenty people had somehow managed to scrounge up some dilapidated pick-up trucks, and they were offering to help others carry their finds from "Pearls to Swine" for a fee.

"Capitalist users!" somebody told them.

The truckers answered: "Brother, you know how it is. You got to dig for every penny. Weíre in the same boat as you are. It was a big headache to come by these trucks, and to drive them without them falling into pieces is no easy thing, itís like flying a plane with one wing. So give us break, and pay or carry your own crap down."

As the vanguard of the column had already started up towards the dump, we got into motion, Benedito and Gabriel shaking hands with other young men along the way, who seemed to be a part of the same gang. Many people recognized me, and said, "Good morning, doctor, how thoughtful of you to come, in case anyone gets sick along the way."

But when someone complained of corns on his feet, and sat down on a rock beside the path for me to take a look, Mina stopped me before I could treat him. "Call on the doctor another day," she told the man. "I see how slick you are." And she pointed to his friends, who were still moving up towards the dump. "Youíre going to play footsies with us and hold us back so your buddies can get the jump on us, and then weíll be the last ones to arrive at the top." She pointed to her head. "I got you figured out." And they both smiled. Sometimes, cat and mouse just have to stand back and give each other credit.

"Well, I guess I can keep on walking in spite of the pain," he said.

"Pearls to Swine" is a most amazing structure. It is really something of a gigantic landfill that rose up out of the earth, and decided, after filling up the hole in the ground beneath it, to start growing in the opposite direction, climbing into the sky. It is a huge mountain of garbage and earth, growing taller every year, with spiraling roads winding, like terraces around its perimeter, leading to the immense plateau that is its peak Ė a field of garbage fed once or twice per month by an enormous convoy of garbage trucks rumbling out of the staging areas of Rio de Janeiro and vomiting the refuse of another worldís insatiable, and well-provided-for, lust for living. One day, of course, the mountain will reach its limits: it will either culminate in a tiny peak ending in a single scrap of refuse, or else collapse in a giant avalanche of garbage that will bury all roads leading to it. For now, however, it stands mighty and receptive, like an island that has erupted itself into being in the middle of the sea and is ready to be inhabited; indeed, it is something of an architectural miracle, comparable to one of the ziggurats of ancient Babylon towering above the city of clay, or to one of the stunning pyramids of ancient Mexico, rising like the awakened body of a God from the cushions of the earth. The people are filled with stories about it. Some say that the engineers who maintain the mountain used photographs of Mt. Etna and Mt. St. Helens to design its garbage-retaining crater; others say that its roads are based on the terraces of the Incas or, alternately, the Chinese; some say that a gang of thieves hid millions of dollars in the dump ten years ago, before the paramilitaries wiped them out in a massacre, and that the moneyís still there waiting to be found; others say that the mountain is a gigantic booby-trap constructed by the government to lure the poor and destitute who come to scavenge there to their deaths. They say that one day, it will collapse and swallow them all, and "then theyíll be done with us once and for all."

As we pushed our way up the winding path towards the top, under a sun that was already excruciating by mid-morning, we saw some pretty young women waiting under umbrellas on the side of the road.

"Looking very fine today," Benedito said to one of them.

"Not for you," she said.

He laughed.

"Hookers?" I asked Gabriel.

"Why, youíre interested?" asked Mina.

"Just asking."

"Trying to pick up a truck," Gabriel explained. "If theyíre nice, the driver will take them up to the top, and theyíll get the first look at whatís coming in."

So strange, I thought, to dress so beautifully for garbage!

After a while, as the sun rose to an even more punishing position in the sky, we finally heard the sound of the garbage trucks coming from the rail junction outside Central Rio, a whole fleet of them, appearing in a valley, shining in the sun like the weapons of an army. At about the same time, the drone of the Predators appeared, a cluster of three swooping in low, as another three flew high above. One man, exaggerating their capabilities, hid his face as they passed by. "I owe a parking ticket," he said, a joke which made the others laugh, and which was further rendered absurd by the long scar across his cheek which bragged of another class of exploits. "You see," he told someone who was still laughing at him, "they can read the date on a penny from ten miles away. What chance do we have, except to shine their shoes?"

"Che will change all that," a young man said.

"Not in front of the doctor," Gabriel warned.

"Heís cool," said Mina. "But youíre right, why put him on the spot?"

"Say, what if thereís not room for us at the indent?" asked Benedito.

For a moment, Gabriel looked concerned, but at last we reached a large clear space on the side of the road, which otherwise had no room for the trucks to share with pedestrians. This was one of the indents built on the way up, which allowed the hordes of people who preceded and followed the garbage trucks to step off the road when the trucks were driving up and, later, coming down. Although it was already crowded in the indent, there was room for us to squeeze in just before the first of the trucks arrived. Actually, a squadron of four APCs led the way.

"All right! Air Force is here to kill the vultures; armyís here to kill the rats!"

The soldiers, upright in the mouths of their metallic burrows, with machine guns at the ready, looked hardened and unreachable. Then came the garbage trucks, huge, lumbering vehicles, with pedestrians who wanted an easy way up clinging to their backs. Beside a few of these drivers sat the beautiful women who we had seen before, the "bonecas del bairro", whose kisses were given away for things the other world had no use for. Many of the trucks were covered with graffiti, including the tags of local gangs, a few love notes, like "Luzia, donít forget me", and frequent, bold repetitions of the three letters that were the current rage in Brazil: "CHE."

"Hey, any good shit today?" someone called out to one of the drivers, who he knew. The people and the drivers were not enemies: the people appreciated the disguised bounty of the trucks and the willingness of the drivers to bring the garbage to dangerous, forsaken parts of the world such as these; and the drivers, whose lives revolved around the collection and transport of despised things, were both amazed and happy to be able to play the role of Santa Claus merely by adhering to their tedious routine. "Some good furniture we didnít compact!" one of the drivers said. Another driver said: "Some outdated electronics. You might be able to get some use out of it." But besides that, there was rotten food, and all the usual refuse which has given garbage its noxious reputation.

As the trucks passed by, I became aware, for the first time, of the awful smell of the place we were walking to. I had noticed it before, but it had seemed bearable. But all of a sudden, now, as new waves of garbage were arriving in the trucks to revitalize it, it became overwhelming, and I began to wretch and to gasp for breath.

Gabriel laughed, and said, "Welcome to Godís bathroom."

Mina was covering her face, now, with a handkerchief, but her eyes were mirthful at my plight, until, suddenly, they seemed to show fear, and she bent down beside me as I fell to my knees, struggling to get inside my back pack.

"Whatís wrong?" she asked me. "Youíre coughing too much. Are you all right? Stop laughing, boys, he doesnít look good. Are you choking?"

I waved her off as she began to pound my back, which only made things worse. Hands fumbling, I finally fished a spray-pump from my pack, and shot the soothing medicine into my throat, then lay silent as cut grass on the ground, retreating into myself.

"Doctor, doctor, are you OK!?" she asked me, shaking me by the shoulders. Again, I pushed her away.

"Easy," I said. "Let me be for a moment." She withdrew and watched me, like a vulture watches a dying man from a branch, except that she was a vulture filled with sympathy. Or is sympathy too feeble a word? At last, I got back onto my knees, and placed a surgical mask over my nose and mouth. Seeing how impressed they were by my new appearance, I handed out masks to Mina, Benedito and Gabriel as well.

"Iím OK, now," I told them. "The smell, all the dust and the particles flying through the air," I explained. "I have a weak respiratory tract."

"Physician, heal thyself," mused Gabriel.

"Sometimes, by not healing ourselves, we learn to heal others," I told him.

"You want to be sick?" he asked.

"Of course not. But if I was never ill, sick people would be nothing more to me than curiosities: like specimens of flowers in the jungle; like exotic butterflies. All those nights I lay alone in the dark with this condition, thinking I was dyingÖ When you cannot breathe, you understand the plight of people living without air. But itís not bad, now, there have been advances; I keep it medicated. This outburst is unusual."

"You are sure you can go on?" Mina asked, concerned. "We can go back. You are with the government, I am sure we could catch a ride with one of the trucks on its way down."

"No," I said. "This is an important day. In fact, I have already delayed you long enough." I got back to my feet. "Letís go."

"You donít look well," she said.

"When pain comes for you, you can choose to be glass or to be iron," I said. "I wonít let myself be glass. Not in a world that needs so much."

"Youíre pale," she insisted.

"Remember," I told her, "the baker took me out too soon. Letís go."

The trucks were at the top now, and with the rest of the crowd we pushed towards the heights, towards the fields of fresh garbage that were being dumped into existence, unveiled from the back of the vehicles for our examination.

From the west, a band of vultures appeared, circling above us, like obscene angels eager to beat us to the new growth on the mountain top. "You ever had roasted vulture?" Gabriel asked me. I grimaced. "Tastes good," he said. "The poorer you are, the better it tastes."

"Tastes just like chicken," added Benedito.

"So does everything," retorted Mina. "They say rattlesnake tastes like chicken. Boa tastes like chicken. Caiman tastes like chicken. If you ate an elephant, it would probably taste like chicken, too."

Some people on the way up, holding their noses or covering their faces with T-shirts, or rags, pointed to our masks, asking where we had got them. So I ended up giving away the last of them. One woman shared liquid from a bottle with us, which she spread over her mask, bidding us to do the same. It smelled like alcohol mixed with water and some herb, and it did a good job in shutting out the stench and giving our senses a refuge.

At last, we arrived at the pinnacle, a wide entranceway ordinarily blocked by a steel grate fence, whose gigantic gates, crowned with barbed wire, had now been swung wide open. A little guard tower, locked shut with gun slits in the walls, stood above the path: the home of the "comandante of the dump." The gates were usually left open a few days after the arrival of the garbage trucks, and sometimes, for weeks on end. According to locals, there was one time when they were left open for two years straight. But, in truth, the garbage dump was never really off limits, since the fence, itself, had been made a mockery of by the resourceful residents of the adjoining neighborhoods, who had gashed it open in numerous places with wire cutters, and even burrowed tunnels underneath it. In one place, an artist had cut a gap in the fence in the shape of an angel.

As we worked our way past the gates, after a while we came to a ridge, and beneath it saw, stretching for a vast distance, a huge, moon-like crater filled with piles of debris and refuse, which was already covered with swarms of people, as industrious and crazed as ants who have come upon an open jar of sugar. The last of the garbage trucks were in the process of threading their way out of the pit, and I could not help but mutter: "This is straight out of Danteís Inferno."

But Mina paid no attention to my shock. Rather, she surveyed the scene with the keen eyes of someone who has left judgment behind for a moment, because, at times, action is more important than keeping everything in mind. With the unquestioning vigor of a woman cutting off the husk of the yucca, separating what is to be eaten from what is useless, she dispensed with the philosophy, the political context, the existential horror of the experience which amazed me, and got right to the point of attending to her survival. Sometimes the cosmos gets in the way of a piece of bread.

"There," she said, pointing to an uncrowded patch of dump.

"Why there?" asked Gabriel. "Maybe no oneís there because the trucks didnít leave anything there."

"Where all the people are is where the good stuff is," surmised Benedito.

"Come on!" she said, immensely impatient. We followed, drawn by the robustness of her certainty. "By the time we could get over there," she said, addressing Beneditoís objection as we bounded down into the pit, "all the good stuffís thatís over there will have been taken."

"Maybe they wonít be able to carry everything off," Benedito protested.

"Come on!" she said again.

Soon, we found ourselves walking over a field of soft, mushy earth, and decomposing matter, littered with all kinds of debris, which made the going extremely difficult, since the surface was rough and uneven. "Look out for broken glass!" I warned her, worried for her bare feet as I inadvertently crushed a jagged shard from a shattered wine bottle beneath my own. "Here, Mina, wear my shoes!"

She laughed, and said something from some movie that was popular in Brazil maybe a dozen years ago: "Thank you very much, but the gentlemanís coat donít fit the lady." And we kept on picking our way across the field. One time, Benedito plunged into a hole where the ground had not been properly packed, and we had to pull him out, dirty as a pig that had been bathing in the mud.

Gabriel wiped Beneditoís face off with a rag, then, as Benedito pulled away in irritation, said, "Wait, itís not coming off. Oh, sorry thatís your face. I forgot, you were the color of shit to begin with." And they both laughed while I restrained myself from laughing because it seemed that there were some wavelengths of their existence that were not for my eyes or ears; things they could smile about which only made me feel alone.

"Well?" Mina asked, turning back towards us and giving us all a big smile. "What did I tell you?" Suddenly, we came upon one of the firm paths used by the trucks to work their way through the dump, and there we saw fresh tire tracks, maybe from two or three trucks, and the clear signs of newly-dumped refuse straight ahead of us, which Minaís sharp eyes had spotted from the top of the ridge. "First crack!" she exclaimed in triumph, and she motioned the young men to come up with their digging tools and for me to take charge of the canvas bags she had brought along.

With my nose and mouth covered by the formula-drenched mask, it was my eyes, alone, which were appalled by the sight ahead of us: the mass of rubbish, slimy and repulsive to imagine sifting through, already claimed by seven vultures which had descended on it like harpies to pick out scraps of decaying food and bones no longer edible for men. Somehow, only their perverse, iron stomachs, their diabolical pact with everything rotten and dead, could withstand the putrefied crumbs of last monthís banquets, could walk unphased among the skeletons of joy that had long since decomposed into nothing. "Rats!" said Benedito in disgust, kicking at something darting past his feet. "Hey, Mina, itís a real gold mine here. Thereís some avocado pits and some fish spines. And hereís a f*cking box a cake was in!"

Gloves were already on Minaís hands; she told Benedito, "Cough up the pitch fork," and he gave her the tool so that she could begin to sift through the garbage. She bent down to pick up something which we didnít see in her gloved hand, examined it like a jeweler checking the value of a stone, then discarded it back into the heap.

"Maybe the street people got all the good stuff before the trucks got up here," mused Benedito.

"No, the paramilitaries have shot them all," said Gabriel. "They see somebody going through a garbage can, and heís a marked man. The only ones left are the ones who are living down in the sewers, or the ones who have come back here. The streets of Rio are nice and clean. Copa- Copacabana Ė what a beautiful country we live in!"

"The bag," Mina told me. I brought it closer, and opened it up. Something flew in, then something else.

"What are you putting in there?" asked Gabriel. "Pigís bones?"

"Scrap metal," she said. "Shit from a bed frame. And this plastic, theyíll pay us for it."

"Shouldnít they have recycled this stuff back in Rio?" I asked them.

"Recycling here is half-ass," said Gabriel.

"Besides that, itís political," said another young man who came up to us from behind with an old woman, a middle-aged woman, and five children who ranged from teenagers to about five years old. He shook hands with us, as another two families began to come up, as well.

"Ulises," Gabriel said, introducing him to me. "This, you know, is the doctor."

Ulisesí handshake was strong. "Yes, Iíve heard about you."

"Political?" I asked.

"Sure," said Ulises, a tall black kid of about twenty with a finely shaped head and sparkling, unstable eyes that were like those strange days that alternate between intense sunshine and sudden shadows, so that you have to keep opening and shutting your shades to let the right amount of light into the room. "For years, theyíve used recycling not so much for the well-being of the planet, as for the sustenance of the poor. It creates an alternative economy, a source of income for those who there are no jobs to sustain. By leaving recycling disorganized and unenforced, they create the illusion, among the poverty-stricken classes, that there is an option for making it, which doesnít involve reshaping society; by creating a bogus Ďinformal economyí, they turn paupers into capitalist-wannabes. The soul of putting out fires is behind it all. Itís all a great big mind game; the same as your civic action program."

At that moment, I could feel the tension rising. Was it my imagination, or did Gabriel and Benedito suddenly become more distant, and withdraw into the depths of their ethnicity, which in a single moment can overpower weeks and months of something which you thought was friendship.

More things from Minaís hands fell into the bag I was holding open for her.

"Iím a doctor," I told Ulises, at last. "My calling is to help the sick. Iíve come to Bairro Capanga to follow my calling."

Ulises stared hard into my face, as though he were a tracker examining the footprints of a creature he did not know, left in the back of my eyes. Now I know why some cultures have the notion that it is possible to steal souls, his gaze was that fierce, like cutting into a fruit with a sharp knife. Finally, he smiled, and said: "The world is won and lost in peopleís minds. By what they think. Stuff a false reality into their brains, tell them there is a key to a door, when there is not even a door but just a wall, and they will spend their lives searching for that key rather than trying to break down the wall. Tell them that down is up, and they will live on their knees. Itís all about the mind. Bullets, bombs, victories, defeats, are only the shadows of what people think. Youíve come to Bairro Capanga with your black bag full of medicines thinking that you are helping to make the world better, but in the end, you are just like those soldiers driving tanks through our streets Ė your good deeds are like bullets aimed at our hearts, you riddle the clarity people need to act with sentimental gestures that contradict the truth. You spread the governmentís propaganda in the form of pills dispensed to the sick, whitewash beasts of prey with vaccinations given to the young, coat ruthlessness with mercy. You spare a handful of babies, with your murderous stethoscope, so that you can enslave generations. Every time you save a life, it is as if you were smashing our kneecaps with a sledgehammer."

"When a motherís child is sick," Mina told him, without taking her eyes from the garbage pile, "ideology doesnít mean shit."

"See. This is what happens," said Ulises. "Peopleís minds fog up. ĎOh, such a wonderful government, looking out for us, letís be patient, wait just a little bit longer, turn the other cheek. Rome wasnít built in a day.í Civic action is like strychnine. At least the bayonet is honest. The orgy of the machine guns, the clattering of helicopters prowling for thoughts of freedom, slashing the sky to pieces with their spinning blades that are like guillotines. Look at this scene! Just look at it! What a disgrace! Look all around you. At this battlefield of humiliation! People driven to the edge of life, locked out of the world. Instead of fighting to get the world back for themselves and their children, here they are, on their hands and knees, scouring a garbage dump for the means to sustain themselves, searching for bits and pieces of their own lives, thrown back to them by thieves. Leaping with joy every time they find something that wasnít good enough for the people who took the earth away from them! Look at them Ė lost souls- desperate to find the slightest trace of value here Ė clawing, scratching, digging like animals for a few dollars worth of junk Ė fighting with each other, competing with their neighbors, hiding what they find from their friends Ė placed down here in the pit of poverty and set against each other like birds in a cockfight, when they should be marching together to reclaim their worth. Hey! What are you all doing here???" he shouted, his eyes suddenly savage like a band of slaves burning down a plantation house. "Look at you! Crawling around in a garbage dump while others rule your world!"

"Take it easy," Gabriel warned him, "donít stand out like that."

"There is a time for the fish to hide in the sea; and there is a time for the fish to swallow the fishermen."

"Chill," Gabriel warned him. "You know there are spies around here. The bastards arenít dumb."

"Starting with our very own civic action doctor," said Ulises.

"Look," said Mina, standing up in a torn raincoat, with a broken pair of sunglasses sitting crooked over her eyes. "Top notch glasses, all they need is a new frame. Actually, just a pin. Good coat," she added, "it can be sewed up to be as good as new and get a decent price after itís been cleaned."

Though to the others it seemed that Mina was merely being self-absorbed, I realized that she had actually thrust herself as a rampart in the path of Ulisesí rage, attempting to smother the rising crescendo of suspicion and anger that was surging from his breast towards me.

"Bottles Ė they didnít compact them!" one of the children who had come along with Ulises exclaimed, dragging up a jingling trash bag from underneath a heap of worthless clutter.

"Good," the kidís mother told him, "we can get some money for that."

Another woman warned a man who was wandering too far ahead of them all, "Donít scare away the vultures until we can kill us some. Donít just let all that good meat fly away. Donít any of you boys got a gun?" she demanded.

Gabriel, Benedito, and Ulises shrugged. I was there.

"The doctor does," Gabriel told the lady. "Hey, doctor, why donít you shoot us a few vultures."

"Do it fast," agreed Ulises, consumed by a strange dark mood that made me anxious. "After the first shot, the survivors will bolt. But theyíre slow birds, slow to get up into the sky. Once youíve got the first one, you have to keep on shooting, and get as many of the others as you can before theyíre out of range. Have you ever shot a gun before?"

"I can use it," I said, handing the bag of junk I was holding for Mina to Benedito, and slipping the pistol out of the holster.

".38, 8 rounds to a clip," said Ulises. His quick and knowledgeable eye was unnerving.

"Make every shot count," said the woman, coming up beside me. "Weíre hungry. If you miss, I am sure you will continue to eat. We wonít."

"Compensate for the kick," Ulises said. "With a .38, it shouldnít be too bad, but if youíre not used to itÖ After all, you are a doctor." He said it as if he didnít quite believe it.

Mina, herself, was now on pause, watching me like the rest of them. Dispossessing me of the idea that the look in her eyes was one of disapproval, she said: "Well, go on, then. One of those vultures will be for us. I can fix it up just fine. They eat things we canít, and Godís genius somehow turns it into meat that we can."

I slowly moved towards the vultures, who were used to the close proximity of people in the garbage dump, but who nonetheless began to fidget and reposition themselves as I drew nearer. Then, suddenly, as one began to shake his wings in nervousness, and the woman behind me shouted out the warning, "Hurry, heís going to take off!", I opened fire. He screamed awfully as the first bullet struck him, but continued running without getting up into the sky. I kept after him, pumping several rounds into him, not knowing if his continued movement meant that he retained the ability to escape, or if this was merely the thrashing about of a dying creature. "The others! The others!" shouted the woman in despair. Desperate to please her, I managed to shoot one other vulture just as he became airborne, a shot which brought him crashing to the ground, but did not kill him. I rushed forward, firing wildly into his fleeing body, then suddenly, felt my finger squeezing the trigger without a reaction, except for the impotent clicking of a gun that was now nothing but an empty piece of metal in my hands. Two out of seven vultures; not a rich harvest.

As I reached for another clip to reload my useless gun, I suddenly saw Ulises approaching rapidly from behind, a drawn and absolutely frightening-looking machete in his hands. At that moment, the words of Captain Mendez burst into my head: "I consider it likely that this woman you have taken a liking to may, in fact, be working for the ERB, and that this trip to the refuse station may be nothing more than a set-up: a trick to lure you away from us, to a lawless and unprotected place where you may be shot down like a dog, or else kidnapped and held for ransom." Foolishly, I had emptied my gun in the presence of this revolutionary firebrand who now had the perfect chance to finish me off. "As our most valuable member, you must be high on the guerrillasí hit list," Captain Mendez had told me.

All in a single moment, I felt fury at my stupidity, terror at the sight of the giant blade coming towards me, and an awful solitude, like a sailor shipwrecked on an island of irony; a man who had left the comfortable life he could have had in America to try to help humanity but was now destined to die a horrible death of machete blows, because he could not overcome the hurdle of the races, or extract himself from the political meanings of compassion, which was viewed by both sides as a weapon, and not allowed by either one of them to just be itself; and here I was, the only white man for miles, about to be slaughtered by people who history had made incapable of trusting anyone; and then buried in a garbage dump, like a dead stray. But something fierce in me resisted the death of the poet, who laments his fate with the goldwork of self-pity. I dropped my barren gun and picked up a broken block of concrete which lay imbedded in the chaos beneath my feet, and I lifted it against Ulises, who just passed by nonchalantly, on his way to finishing off the wounded vulture. The world changed at that moment, and I felt deeply ashamed of myself.

I looked over at Gabriel and Benedito, who seemed embarrassed by the misunderstanding, and Mina, who was just smiling, with her arms folded, as though something funny had just happened in a church, where you canít laugh. But there was a sweetness in her smile, that was like the reassurance of fingers running through your hair.

"Well, one thingís for sure," said Ulises, coming back with a dead vulture dangling from his hands to give to the lady. "You never trained with the army." He seemed pleased by my poor performance at shooting, which somehow vindicated me in his eyes.

The woman and her family took charge of the two vultures, which they began to cut up into strips of meat, and to cook right there.

Meanwhile, Mina continued working the dump. I helped her, clumsily, until I was called over to treat two people who were suffering from different causes Ė one young man who had gotten a knife-like piece of glass imbedded in his foot, and one old man, exhausted from the climb up the mountain, who was having chest pains. On the foot I performed a minor operation, disinfected the wound, put in stitches and covered it over with bandages, then improvised footwear to help protect the injury. The old man needed water and rest; I also gave him a blood-thinner, and found a ride for him back down the mountain.

Late in the day, we heard a barrage of gunshots coming from one of the roads leading down from the mountain. I went to the scene with several Quilombolas, and Ulises and a few tough-looking characters who gravitated to his side within minutes after the discharge, but amazingly, there were no serious wounds, except for a few scrapes and bruises. "We had a fight with the indios," a black kid told Ulises. "Those damned indios from Bairro Curumbim, they tried to tell us where we could go and where we couldnít go, like this damned mountain belongs to them." Curumbim

"Who opened fire?" Ulises demanded.

"They did - and we did. They were threatening us, so one of our guys took out a knife, and one of theirs did, and then, somebody started shooting and it was like that. Pop! Pop! Pop!"

"And you mean to tell me with all those shots, not one guy got hit?"

"Hey, malungo," one of the blacks told Ulises, "this guy here whoís telling you the story should be in the Olympics. Once the guns started firing, he set the world record for the hundred meter dash. The bullets couldnít catch up with him."

"Those damned indios," the kid complained, "they get all crazy and look at you like stone, and then next thing you know theyíre shooting."

"They were just trying to scare us," another kid said. "They were shooting over our heads, into the air."

"Indios are worse than the whites," the other one protested. "They are like rocks. You never know whatís going on inside of them."

"Malungo, this is uneducated," Ulises told him, at last. "The society is dividing us. In the work place, in the economy, even here in this garbage dump they are tricking us into making barriers between ourselves. We all belong to the same class, but we are encouraged to see ourselves in ways that diminish our strength rather than increase it. Thank God no one was hurt." Ulises and a few of his friends went down the hill looking for the Indians to have a talk.

As the twilight came, we feasted on strips of vulture meat cooked over an open fire, and Minaís corn bread and some kind of paste made with dough and berries. She said that it was a good day scavenging, and after supper and some singing around the campfire, we worked our way down the mountain with the multitudes, many of whom continued to sing, walking late into the night until we finally reached a place known as "the hill of owls" outside Bairro Curumbim, where the exchange post was located. Here, Mina cut down some reeds to make sleeping mats for us, and gave me a blanket to cover myself with. She told me, "Thanks for coming. I feel a lot safer with you around." We slept for a few hours, then continued on to the exchange post once the sun had reasserted itself.

The exchange post is like a military base in the middle of the sticks. Looming above several clusters of hovels which seem to die on the way there, it is surrounded by a trench, and two perimeters of barbed wire, has several lookout-towers, at least four gun emplacements housing high-powered machine guns, and its safe is inside an underground bunker made of concrete, reinforced with steel. At night, they release dogs inside the compound. Besides this, there are a number of buildings and living quarters for the post workers. All of them have iron grating over the windows.

Mina and me, along with several other companions from the previous dayís excursion, found ourselves waiting in a long line for several hours outside the evaluation center, until at last we reached one of the receiving windows, where a hardened clerk, whose soul seemed trapped inside an exoskeleton, awaited us. This was all new to me. One by one, Mina placed the contents of the canvas bags which I had carried down for her from the mountain top in front of the clerk, for his appraisal. For each item, he entered a value on a piece of paper. "You brought this junk all the way here?" he asked her, looking at the pieces of scrap metal she laid on the table in front of him. "You should have left it up there. Youíve spent a lot of energy for nothing."

She smiled in a way that reminded me of a cat showing its teeth, and told him: "You donít know me, yet, do you? Well, you will. This metal is worthÖ", and she quoted him a figure.

"Price reflects supply," he countered. "Since last time, stock is up, which means the value is less. Itís a basic law of economics."

Again, she smiled. "I know those laws more than you do. I live closer to them. You just think Iíll give it up cheap because itís too heavy for me to lug around until I find a fair buyer. Well, I will. I mean, he will," she said, pointing to me. "Look at this," she said, extracting a beautiful, antique candelabrum made of bronze, which she unwrapped from a protective cloth. "Yeah," she said, not taking her eyes off him, "thatís giving you bug eyes, ainít it? Whoíd imagine someone would throw it out, but if your eyes and lips and nose is made of gold, and your chest is made of gold, and your stomach is made of gold, and your ass is made of gold, and your legs are made of gold, you donít mind losing a piece of gold hair from off your head."

"Now thatís got value," he agreed. He named a price, but she only laughed.

"What do you take me for, a cretin?" She withdrew a book from among her possessions, which had the title How To Appraise The Value Of Antiques And Collectibles, and waved it in his face. "I know my shit," she said, decisively. She then demanded a higher price for the candelabrum. I was amazed by her cleverness, and by her talent for bluffing, because she couldnít read the contents of the book in her hands, it was just a brilliant prop to fool the clerk, to deceive him into thinking he couldnít take advantage of her.

"Thatís too much," the clerk said, "we need a profit margin to keep the post afloat. You know that." He named another price, less than what sheíd demanded. She came down some, but not much. He made another offer, and on it went, she negotiating on the basis of the subtle emotional cues she could pick up from his tone of voice and his level of resistance. Even when he seemed to have reached his limit, she could tell if his Ďnoí was made of iron or of rubber. Finally, when she sensed she had the best deal she was going to get, she said: "Iíll give you the candelabrum at that price, but you also have to take my scrap metal, for the price Iím asking, because I know itís the right price." And she added, "Donít be cheap, honey, Heavenís got barbed wire fences and guard dogs, too." And, again, she smiled. When she wanted to, Mina could freeze the world with the light that came from inside her, stop it in its tracks, turn it into a photograph, a picture of the world as she wanted it. The clerk smiled back; she made it easy to lose to her. "Fine," he said, "deal." After this breakthrough, Mina got an excellent price for the sunglasses, picked up some more earnings from some stray pieces of plastic, and then, unwrapped an impressive-looking glass tube filled with wires, and laid down a ring. "Eyes of a hawk," Gabriel said, standing behind us. "Were you looking in the same garbage dump as us?"

The clerk picked up the ring, and looked at it with an obvious effort not to be impressed.

"Big eyes. Looks like Sonia Braga just took her clothes off," Benedito laughed.

"You know, this isnít an emerald in here," the clerk told her. "Itís green tourmaline."

Mina named a price.

"I said itís green tourmaline," the clerk repeated. He looked down as he said it. "Look, just think about it," he told her, "who the hell would throw out a ring with an emerald of that size? Unless you robbed it from somebodyÖ"

"Ainít nobody whose going to come around these parts with an emerald like that on their hand," said Mina. "Donít sweat me."

"And you just found it there, sitting in the dump?"

"Inside a vacuum cleaner bag," she said. "In with all the hair and dust." I remembered seeing her cut a whole bunch of them open, like slitting the bellies of fish you are going to gut, but I hadnít seen the ring come out, just giant handfuls of gray dust.

"Smart girl," said Gabriel, shaking his head in admiration. "Somewhere, somebodyís crying, but itís not us."

"Or maybe not," said Benedito. "You arenít so careless with the things you love. Maybe, back in Rio, someone is just getting over a month-long hangover, and asking herself, ĎSay, didnít I used to have a ring with an emerald in it?í"

"At least sheís got clean carpets," laughed Gabriel.

Mina said: "Come on, I thought we were on a roll, here. You want the ring, or not? Iím not taking chump prices for it."

The clerk called for a jewelry assessment specialist on his phone, then looked over the glass tube as he was waiting. "What the hell is this?" he asked. "Itís not a cathode tube. It doesnít have the appearance of any extraction source which I know of. Looks like something from a lab. You didnít pull it out of a machine?"

"It was in a cardboard box with a bunch of other tubes, but it is the only one that wasnít shattered."

"What do you want for it?" he asked.

She told him.

He said, "Youíre crazy, thatís too much!"

"How do you know itís too much, if you donít even know what it is?" she replied.

"Do you know what it is?" he countered.

"I think it comes from an IQ machine," she told him.

"What?" he exclaimed.

"It measures peopleís intelligence. That way, corporations can decide who to hire. This tube, right here, is the key component of the machine."

"Oh yeah?" he demanded. "And how does it work?"

"Thatís for you to decide," she said. "If youíre smart, youíll be able to figure it out. If youíre not, you wonít. If you donít buy it at the price Iím asking, it means your IQ is too low to realize how valuable it is." He looked at her incredulously until, no longer able to keep a straight face, she finally smiled, prompting him to laugh.

At that moment, the jewelry assessor came by, looked at the ring under a lens, and poked it with a small tool, then took the clerk aside. After a minute, the clerk came back and made an offer. "Itís an emerald, he says, but itís low-grade. Itís too soft, and itís only semi-lustrous."

"Green tourmaline, huh?" Mina dueled with him for a while, until the clerk finally came back with a good price, as she finished tying the ring, which she said she was going to keep until she got the money she deserved, to a cord, securing the cord around her neck, and then dropping the ring down into her blouse, out of view between her breasts. "Oh, now youíll pay," she said. "Now that itís been rubbing on my bosom." He laughed, as she brought the ring back up into the light of day. "And how much for the tube?" she asked him.

He gave her a low price, and she accepted. As she later told me, it was probably junk, she thought from a scientific machine from the university lab which was spent; some years ago, sheíd heard a scavenger who prowled around hospitals and laboratories for discarded scientific junk, explain to her the criteria for judging the worth of parts like these. Some, which were still functional or had traces of rare metals which could be extracted, could be very valuable, but this one, Mina was sure, was worth next to nothing. However, she explained to me, she had used it to get the best possible price on the ring. When I asked her what she meant by that, she said, "You saw how I used it to lighten the guy up with my comedy routine. The more you can get these guys to laugh, the harder it is for them to screw you over. Itís something in human nature. Itís harder to shoot someone down after youíve granted them a smile."

I asked Mina about the things that still remained in her bag - four pairs of pants, a blouse, and a raincoat - but she said she was taking them back to Bairro Capanga to work on them with her friend Zoila, who was a seamstress. "If we give them up here, weíll get a lower price, because they canít be sold like this, and theyíll deduct the cost of the labor needed to repair them from what they give to us. Since we can do this work ourselves, itís better that we hold onto them for now. Weíll bring them back here once weíve fixed them up." In the bottom of the bag, there was also a dirty doll, which Mina said she was bringing home to clean up, and then give to Zenobia. "Weíre going to bring this doll back to life," Mina said. "Maybe a brand new blond doll came along to take her place, but this one, here, donít deserve to be lying in a heap of garbage. You know about queen bees?" she asked me.

"What about them?" I asked, wondering what the connection was.

"When a queen is born, first thing she does is go and sting all her sister bees to death, so that she wonít have any competition, can rule the hive. Poor doll," said Mina, shaking her head.

Minaís biography always came to me that way, from between the lines. Like raindrops, after a storm, falling from leaves of utter silence.

The exchanges done, the clerk gave Mina a piece of paper, which he stamped, and we went down into the basement, past a locked door and armed guard, to another office, where, once more, we had to wait.

"No," the lady ahead of us was protesting, "you had no right to change it into reais, you keep jipping me, you play the exchange rates with my money to steal whatís mine! This check is in dollars! I want the money to stay in dollars, I want to earn interest in dollars! You donít even use the international exchange rates, you have some crazy tables of your own! Look at you, you eat like a king, I can tell. I need every penny that God sends my way."

"Look, mam," the payment clerk grumbled, "youíre lucky to be getting remittances from the Center, not everybody is as lucky as you to have a family member working abroad."

On it went for a while, the woman accusing and the man deflecting, until finally the lady took a piece of paper and stormed out of the office, cursing Herod, Judas, the mayor of Rio, and the president of Brazil, all in a single breath.

Mina handed the clerk, still furious, her own piece of paper, and said, "Rough day?" to set the man at ease, so that instead of continuing his war against the woman by mistreating Mina, he would use Mina to prove, by treating her with chivalry and kindness, that the woman was at fault for the incident that had just transpired. I continued to marvel at Minaís quick-mindedness and brilliant social radar, and wondered how far such a woman might go were the terrible weight of poverty to be lifted from her shoulders. This was a woman without schooling, without the ability to read, without labor-saving devices, without freedom from worry, without shoes on her feet in a place of thorns, and yet, she could not help but shine, even here; she reigned, like the queen of an asteroid, like the goddess of a lost piece of the world hurtling through the darkness.

Expertly, Mina negotiated an economic package to encompass her new assets: some reais, in cash; some checks, proved with receipts, to be kept for her in the exchange postís vaults; some local scrip, including "constant value notes" with anti-inflationary guarantees; and some "elastic scrip", linked to fish harvests off the coast of Brazil where the "sea enrichment project" was being implemented. Without reading newspapers, Mina grasped at the mysteries of the world by listening to the government radio when she could and tapping into the constant stream of gossip which surrounded her, from which she seemed able to draw surprisingly accurate conclusions, employing a spectacular instinct for sifting through the distortions, fantasies, and embellishments, in which the truth lay hidden. The clerk was generous with her, allowing her great flexibility in preparing her package.

"Good luck, Mrs. de Mello," he said as we left. "Good-bye Mr. de Mello."

"Stop grinning," she told me as we walked away. "Just because he mistook us for a married couple..."

Back out in the light of day, and soon joined by Gabriel and Benedito, we finally started on our way home.

"You arenít going to buy anything at the post store?" Gabriel asked her as we left. "Now that youíre the new Mrs. Rockefeller?"

"No," she said, "you know what a rip-off that joint is. Before you know it, every penny they give you theyíll take right back. No, boys, outside weíll find something."

Sure enough, just down the path, in the bustling market of Bairro Curumbim, vendors were out in full force, swooping in on the crowds coming out of the exchange post with all sorts of offers. Since I hadnít brought any money with me, Mina bought us all some sausage and corn rolls.

"What beautiful eyes," an Indian woman told me. "Your father or mother must have been an Indian."

"What?" demanded Gabriel. "This guy is as white as a sheet. Heís a gringo. Mrs., the smoke from cooking these delicious sausages must have got into your eyes."

"No," she said, "heís an Indian. I know my kind."

Mina looked at me, and put her hand on my face, turning it this way and that. "You know," she said, "thereís moments when your eyes do look a little Chinese Ė just a little Ė like maybe, in a sea of white genes, your great grandmother was Chinese, but she was the only one in the whole family tree, and they changed her name from Qiu Shiu to Mary Ann, but a drop of her came out in your eyes, anyway."

"Youíre all crazy," said Gabriel. "The guyís white. Straight American. Isnít that right?"

"Yes," I said. "I mean Ė I donít know my whole family tree. My parents died when I was a baby. I was raised by friends of the family, who I learned to call Mom and Dad. For me, genealogy seemed more like an act of self-absorption, or maybe just like the door to a closet I didnít want to open because you never know what skeleton you might find inside of it. Nobody ever said anything about Chinese or Indians, though. I always assumed my ancestors were Irish and British."

"Well, I tell you, you have the beautiful almond eyes of an Indian," the woman told me. "And to prove it, I am going to give each one of you another piece of sausage, because I can tell from the way you ate the first piece that you are starving, and Indians donít let other Indians, or their friends, die of hunger."

"Sure, whatever," said Gabriel. "His name is Chief Swims-With-The-Alligators."

"Which would be us," said Benedito.

"Are there any toys here?" Mina asked the woman.

"Oh, yes, Mrs.," the woman said. "That way, thereís some wonderful crafts and amusements for the children."

Mina smiled, and led us on. "Helder will be jealous if he doesnít get a toy, now that Zenobiaís got a doll," she explained.

"Go on, spend that money," said Gabriel, "thereíll be another garbage delivery in a month."

Over on the other side of the market, by a series of tall, old trees, a man who seemed as old as the trees was hyping up the qualities of a handmade kite to a woman who smiled politely, and then moved on. "No, not the kite," said Mina, "show me something else. They break too easily," she told us, "and in one minute turn from a source of joy into one of disappointment and pain. Itís horrible to see a child so excited, and then to see him crushed." She looked at a little skeleton made of wood and carefully hand-painted, which jumped up and down at the end of strings whenever you pushed down on a lever. It was all mechanical, without batteries or wires. There was also a nicely-made little car with wheels, with an inflated balloon, which was clasped shut with a band, attached to the rear of the vehicle like a rocket propulsion system. When you removed the band, the air rushed out of the balloon, propelling the little car forward at great speed. Mina laughed, and tried it several times, blowing new air into the balloon after every ride, as though she were thinking of buying it for herself. There was also a water pistol, a slingshot, a toy telephone made with cups and a wire, and rubber balls which you could bounce to extraordinary heights. "Now that youíve killed us all with water," said Gabriel, as Mina put down the water pistol, "what toy have you decided on?"

"Iíll take the car," she said, at last. "We donít have enough water in Bairro Capanga to play with it." She also bought a pack of spare balloons, since she imagined the little car would need frequent replacements of its fragile propulsion system.

Then, we continued on our way. A man in a battered, but still-functioning jeep, asked if we would like a ride to Bairro Capanga. "The sun is very hot today," he said, "and itís quite a way from here."

But we had spent enough money already, and Mina thanked him, and said no.

"We black folks stand up well to the heat," Gabriel told him.

"What about the white guy?" the man asked.

"So now heís white again?" asked Gabriel.

However, before we left Bairro Curumbim behind, Mina suggested that we take advantage of the public shower which they had here: a few outdoor sprinkler heads with tiny streams of water, out in the open air, behind walls made of dried mud that were about four and a half feet high. Washing with buckets of water, or dampened sponges, like back at Bairro Capanga, was so Spartan compared to this luxurious possibility. So we all agreed, paying the keeper of the showers, since water had a price here; and taking turns, so that our belongings would never be left unattended. Gabriel and Benedito went first, while Mina chatted with some women from the neighborhood, who were excited to hear gossip from the garbage dump and from Bairro Capanga. Then Mina and I went.

She went into one roofless cubicle and I into the adjoining one. As our clothes were draped over the sides of the mud walls, a terribly sensuous feeling overcame me: to know that I was naked, and but a few feet away, this woman who had begun to fascinate me no end, was also standing naked. As the shower stream splashed on her face, sparse as it was, she closed her eyes and tasted it, she reveled in its touch and made me jealous of the water which was caressing her. "Can you see over the top of the wall?" she asked me suddenly, opening her eyes.

"I can," I said. "Iím trying not to look."

"Thanks a lot," she said, as if I was implying that she was an eyesore.

"No," I said, "I mean, I would love to look, itís just that-"

She laughed before I could finish my sentence. "Just go ahead and look," she said.

I hesitated.

She didnít rush me, her hands moved freely all about her body, washing it with a blatant insolence, as though they meant to mock my hands which wanted to touch her body more than her own hands did. At last she said, "The scar. That big scar you have on your face. The two of them. They donít stand out too much, but in the lightÖ When I was looking in your eyes."

I nodded. "It was from the crash. I flew through the windshield. I was a child. They used to have laws about air bags and car seats, but as part of the deregulationÖ Anyhow, I went smashing through the glass, my face was badly cut."

"Youíre a handsome man," she told me. "Were you born handsome, or did they make you that way after the crash?"

I laughed. "Who knows?"

"Youíve had some pain in your life," she said, turning her back to me. "Flying through a window as a kid. Being raised by foster parents. Abandoned, just like Bairro Capanga. We all feel like our parents died long ago, and weíre being raised as the foster children of the earth. I never knew a white man who could mix with us like you do."

She turned back towards me, and her eyes were irresistible. They were divinely soft, without being weak. They were loving, without being submissive. A part of her soul was at war with sugar, but still, she found her own way to be sweet. I walked slowly towards the edge of the mud wall that separated us. Her eyes said that it was all right. I looked at her, at her beautiful black form, which did not bow to the standards of beauty of the leisure class. She was strong, even stout, but her breasts seemed to have the power to nourish every righteous soul in the universe, her hips were wide and seemed like they could bear a new world. The hair between her legs made no apologies. She came over to the side of the mud wall, and said, "Doctor, I think I love you now, you bastard." As the water splattered noisily on the floors of the shower stalls, without the presence of our bodies underneath the streams to quiet them, we kissed, kisses as juicy as eating mangoes, as long as the time a butterfly spends on a flower. "Mina," I said. "I love you. God damn it, I love you!"

"We canít do it here," she said, as my hands grasped her body more, and my eyes careened towards recklessness. "Even though they say we black people are so horny we would do it on a bus, or in the church while the priest was saying Mass." She pushed me away from her gently, and said, "Weíll find a place and a moment, soon enough. You can be sure of that, meu caro."

Gabriel and Benedito, if they were white people, would have been as red as tomatoes when we rejoined them; you could tell that everyone had seen us kissing over the tops of the mud walls, but they merely kept their heads down and struggled their very best to appear as blind men. I felt embarrassed by my passion, but Mina, noting it, gave me a little pinch, which didnít require words.

When we got to Point Damiao and its cluster of white crosses, where a mudslide some years ago had destroyed an entire hillside of homes, we came upon a group of young men blocking the path from Curumbim to Capanga. As we approached, we could see them putting masks over their faces.

"Do you know them?" Mina demanded of Gabriel.

"Iíll find out soon enough," he said, walking up to them, as I felt for the gun at my side.

After a few minutes of talking, he came back. "Theyíre with the Papaos. Theyíre charging a toll to pass on to Bairro Capanga. They know people coming back from ĎPearls to Swineí are likely to have something, and they want a cut of the action. I just brought the toll down."

"And what, your boys put up with this?"

"Itís easier when everybody respects the other guyís turf. This is their piece of the world. We might be able to blast them out of it, but why not play by the rules? We are kings of our pile of shit, and they are kings of theirs."

"And will they oppose us if we donít go by the path, but climb up the hill to go around them?"

"Youíve got the energy to do that?" Gabriel asked.

"We did the work to get this money, crawling around in that pigsty in the sky. They did nothing, but now they want a piece of it? Iíve got kids. Iíll dig through shit for the sake of my kids, but not for these bastards whoíll just end up spending whatever they get from us going to some cantina and drinking until they puke. Come on," she said, "letís go up the hill."

Gabriel called out to the Papaos: "We got too many responsibilities back home, we canít part with the little we have. Weíre going the other way, up the hill. Are you going to take shots at us?"

"If you want to climb, go right ahead," the Papaos answered. "Just donít come down again before Mucambo, cause all that belongs to us. More power to you."

"Quilombolas!" said Gabriel and Benedito.

"Papaos!" yelled the masked men on the path.

We began to climb.

"You see, nobody wants Armageddon," said Gabriel.

We made it back to Bairro Capanga that evening, thank God, without further incident. Helder and Zenobia, who jumped out of bed to welcome their mother, were thrilled by their new presents. "Another time," Mina told me, knowing that I desired her. But we were tired, and the kids were around. "I promise," she said. Then, thinking that that was not enough, she whispered: "I want it, too." She held up the raincoat in front of us as if examining it, and as both of us stood behind it, sheltered from the view of her kids, she kissed me meaningfully on the lips. "Thank you so much for all youíve done," she told me.

I reported to Captain Mendez and Dr. Bari at the stone house, after nearly being shot down by an anxious soldier as I approached. "God, were we worried about you!" exclaimed the doctor. "We were regretting our decision to let you go every minute you were gone!" I told them we would talk more in the morning, and then went back to sleep in the tent with which I had taken my first true step towards Bairro Capanga.

June 6: It is amazing how complicated life is, how chaotic Ė how many strands of different colors it is made of Ė and we frantically search for themes to simplify it, dig desperately into the earth like treasure hunters for handles to grasp it with, invent all manner of conceptual jars to store it in, bottles in which we wish to cram the sea. So many things are happening at once, all tangled up like knotted ropes, stuck to each other like glue, how can one separate them enough to write about them Ė is the very act of writing about them an act of treachery, a misrepresentation, a way of imposing an order that does not exist on the universe and therefore distorting the real nature of existence?

If anyone I know and value here were to read these words, they would think: "Only rich people have the luxury to think like this. To fly around in skies beneath which there is no food; well-fed eagles with their eyes off the ground."

After my return from "Pearls to Swine", I underwent such an exhaustive debriefing with Captain Mendez that I felt as though I were being interrogated. He wanted to know if I had seen anything or heard anything at the garbage dump, if there was any evidence of the guerrillas, who were believed to be trying to bring the local gangs into line and to use them as recruiting grounds. "Did you hear any seditious talk while you were there?" he asked me. "Usually, the refuse station is a very unruly place. The peace is kept only by means of the tenuous agreements of a handful of gangs which are run by warlords, of sorts, and there are usually plenty of fights and robberies in spite of their arrangements. However, guerrilla control tends to be more effective in maintaining order. If there were no major disturbances at ĎPearls to Swineí while you were there, it could mean that the guerrillas are moving in. That could be very bad for us."

I felt trapped in the middle of a situation that two groups of people I cared about saw in very different ways. I told the captain what I had observed, but without some of the more telling episodes which might have compromised the Quilombolas or other people who I have met. I have also begun writing two journals, one of which is placid and diversionary, and one, in code, which is disguised as a novel I am writing in my spare time, with parts of my entries disguised as fiction, and other parts of it able to be fished out of the text by means of a mathematical formula (somewhat akin to the methodology used by the so-called "Bible Code"), which I keep in another place in the guise of medical dosage calculations. All of this is in case my journal should be confiscated at some future date.

However, not wanting my protectiveness of certain disaffected or potentially revolutionary residents of Bairro Capanga to translate, down the road, into a surprise attack against my colleagues in the stone house, including Captain Mendez who, in spite of his prejudices and his owned mind, has treated me well, I sought, through Mina, to have a talk with Gabriel, and to clarify things. I told him, when we met behind Minaís house soon after my request, that I had been thoroughly questioned by the army, and I told him that I wanted to protect Bairro Capanga from reprisals, and that for this reason I had denied Captain Mendez certain information; but at the same time, I did not want to be responsible for leaving Captain Mendez in the dark, if that meant setting him and his platoon of soldiers up for the kill.

"I donít know anything about the guerrillas," Gabriel told me, not very convincingly.

"Nonetheless," I told him, "they used to say, when I was growing up, that no one on the earth was more than six people removed from the Queen of England. You may know someone who knows someone who knows someoneÖ"

"So if I do?" he said. "If I talk to the wind, what should I say?"

"Leave these people alone, thatís all. We doctors are trying to help, and the army is here to cover us. Letís just call this neutral ground. Let me tend to the sick, and donít force me to take sides. Iím here to make people well. I donít want anyone to be killed because I say too much, or because I say too little."

"It would help if they gave the stone house back to us," Gabriel said. "Couldnít the army put up some prefabs? In ten minutes, they could assemble better housing than we have to live in."

"Theyíre afraid," I said. "Thatís why theyíre clinging to the stone house."

"Taking it from us is what made them need to be afraid of us," said Gabriel. But then he said, "Iím only a punk, I donít have the discipline to be a guerrilla."

"Iím not pointing my finger at anybody," I told him. "I respect you." I extended him my hand. "Iím beginning to really love the bairro. I want peace, thatís all."

"Iíll tell the dogs and cats," he said. "Iíll tell the doves in the trees, what few of them we have. Iíll tell them all to spread the word. Iíll wait for the breeze to come by, and Iíll say words as wide as sails and maybe the wind will carry them to the guerrillas, if there are any around here. We like you, too, doctor."

We parted on good terms.

But we all hear gunshots in the night, and Captain Mendez insists that they have the carefully channeled sound of bullets being fired on a practice range. There are not the sudden bursts of gunfire, with a trail of straggling shots disappearing into the night, which are the signal of real gun battles stemming from gang quarrels. "Guerrillas are training nearby," he has told us, sweating as he speaks. He is calling for an increase in nighttime Predator patrols, and waiting for headquarters to respond. In the meantime, he does not want to take his platoon out on foot patrol to investigate, for fear they might stumble into an ambush, or be overwhelmed by numbers.

Besides all of the political discomfort, upon returning from "Pearls to Swine" I returned to my medical work, and also began pressing the Department of Health, and our supervisors in the State Department, to grant me hospital space back in Rio for dealing with my most difficult patients. "We are basically a small-town clinic dealing with a large number of serious cases that require big city facilities," I protested. "I need access as soon as possible. You will have to open up the pathway to Rio to a regular flow of medical traffic from the outlying districts and the favelas if we are to fulfill our medical duties here. Otherwise, we will be limited, in many cases, to simply doing hospice work." I have also pressed upon the State Department the necessity of implementing "integrated solutions", meaning developing a total health package which, besides treating simple illnesses, will address the problem of eradicating disease-carrying pests, expanding and safeguarding the water supply, guaranteeing the people of Bairro Capanga appropriate forms of nutrition, and improving their housing. Besides this, the literacy program is due to arrive soon. Mr. Jack Rabey told me he is working on scheduling a series of meetings with me in the near future for the purpose of discussing these ideas.

In my most shocking recent episode, a man named Romao who seems to be suffering from rickets, who is completely knock-kneed and who has lost all his teeth, and whose skin is also bleeding and scaling, probably from a vitamin deficiency, came by and told me: "Doctor, my family is very poor. My daughter is a disgrace, there is no husband, and my grandkids are running around like a litter of newborn puppies without a teat in sight. I need money. Since I no longer have the strength to climb the mountain of garbage, and I made some plantings on a hillside that was too steep, and the seedlings just got washed away in the rain, and the last time I tried to rob somebody they just laughed at me and said, ĎWith all the vigor that youíve got left, Don Fogey, you probably couldnít even cut a stick of butterí, Iím coming to you for help, because youíre a good man. As I see it, Mr. Doctor, Iíve got one thing of value left, with which to help my grandkids, but I need your help to develop it. Itís like owning a tree whose wood could bring a good price, but not having the axe to cut it down. Youíre the man with the axe." When I asked him what he had in mind, he said: "Doctor, some people, when they are born in this world, inherit a mansion, some inherit a million dollars in the bank, some inherit a skin color which does not hold them back. But all of us, poor and rich alike, thanks to God, inherit two arms, two legs, and all the organs inside of us which we need to keep us alive. In his great generosity, God has given us two kidneys and two lungs, and also two eyes, so that we can keep one from each pair and sell the other. Do you remember the old story about the man who traveled all over the earth looking for treasure, until he finally came back empty-handed to discover that he had a gold mine in his own backyard? Well, itís even better than that. We have the gold mine in our very own bodies! I have heard that, all together, one can get over $100,000 for the riches of our bodies: for the gold of our lungs, the silver of our kidneys, and the sapphires of our corneas. But those greedy bastards who call themselves doctors in the organ-harvesting program take more than half of your income when they perform the operations; they peck at you like vultures, sew you back up, and in a few years youíre as destitute as ever, without the strength to keep rolling the boulder of poverty up the hill. But you, doctor, as I said, seem to be a good man. Therefore, Iím coming to ask you, as one man who God has made equal to all others in spite of what it seems, to perform the operations for less than those greedy bastards, those moneylenders in the temple of life, so that I can keep the money which my organs win for me. Iím willing to jump in front of the bullet for my grandchildren, but not for nothing: not that I wouldnít, but because they canít live on nothing. Mr. Doctor, please donít say no. I know you can help me!"

The manís request horrified me beyond words. He noticed. "Whatís wrong?" he asked me. "Is there a ghost standing behind me? A man with two heads? Lucky bastard," he jested, "heíd have an extra brain to sell!"

I told him: "To have multiple harvesting procedures, such as you mention, especially involving the lung, would be traumatic even to a young and healthy subject. My friend, I can tell, just from looking at you, that it would be far too much for your constitution to bear. Even if it werenít, there are certain standards of good health required for an organ to be acceptable to the donor program. I consider it likely that you would fail the medical tests used to determine eligibility. Finally, I, myself, am not a trained organ-removal surgeon. Those are complex and dangerous surgeries which require specialists, and well-endowed hospital facilities with advanced equipment and the highest levels of cleanliness. There is no cheap way to have them done; and no safe means for bypassing the harvesting establishment." As he seemed distraught by the news, I reached my hand out to him and clasping his firmly in mine, told him that I would give him an examination and begin treating him, at once, for the conditions that he had; as for his grandkids, I would find a way to help him help them out as soon as possible. "You must believe me, and not lose hope," I told him.

Later, after about five hours of wrestling with multiple layers of security procedures over the wireless computer in the stone house, and the phone, I managed to electronically extract some money from my account in Rio, and have it printed out in the form of a government credit check. A day later, I changed it with a black marketer in the bairro who was introduced to me by Gabriel, and used it to purchase supplies for the old man and his family. When Mina heard of his plight, she also chipped in some of her earnings from the garbage dump.

"Itís getting bad around here," she said. "People worry about their neighbors, but thereís only so much they can do. Weíre like one big herd of antelope on the plain. Lion of poverty comes, we all run. The ones who are fast on their feet get away and live for another day, but only because the slow ones fell, and the lionís busy eating them. Who was it this time? Who went down today? The bigger the city, the better, because then you donít know the person who just died. We know these people. It makes it harder to run."

On another note: one thing I realized is that being a doctor makes it hard to have sex, until you can disassociate from the misery and the disease youíve seen, or else use that misery as a springboard to its opposite. Then, in a way, it can boost your sex life, because you leap out of the burning building of horrors which is your profession at its most challenging moments, straight into the water of love, you dive away from the fire into somebodyís arms; you run to the shelter of a healthy body, a whole body, a body that is not bleeding or covered by sores, an attractive body to remind yourself that the human race is not only hideous, not only broken. And in the middle of this flight, this wild, passionate need to rediscover beauty, you try to keep your perspective, that there is a person in the middle of this obsession, a soul in the midst of this act of erasing monstrous sights from your mind.

After our return from the garbage dump, Mina and I hovered about each other for a while like frustrated teenagers, searching for an opportunity to love in a crowded bairro, filled with gossip and the wide-open eyes of her children. I also struggled with my responsibility towards my patients, and with the aftereffects of being exposed to their pain, which made me crave solitude and reflection.

However, one night, once her children were asleep, she showed up at my tent, and asked to come in. She found me sitting there by a kerosene lantern, sipping on a cup of tea and writing in my journal. "Can I come in?" she asked.

"Iím sorry," I said.

"For what?"

"To seem so remoteÖ So that you could even ask that question. Come in, please!"

I put down my pen.

"Keep on writing," she said. "Itís a wonderful thing Ė writing. Iíd like to watch."

"Would you like a gourd of tea?" I asked.

"Write," she said.

For a while, she watched me writing in my journal, as though I were Baryshnikov leaping across the stage to the music of Tchaikovsky, or Michelangelo chipping a formless block of stone into the body of David. "Iím envious," she said, at last. "Like I am of seagulls, when I watch them flying to the sea, over the checkpoints that keep us cooped up in the bairro. I think of those beautiful waves coming in to wash all the pale tourists, and I think, that oceanís mine, those waves are looking for me, Iím the one whoís supposed to be in that water swimming. My brown body caressed by God, whoís taken the form of water. He wants to hold me. The seagulls can go, but not us. Not without a pass. Not without walking past a lot of loaded guns. Thatís how I feel whenever I hold a book in my hands, whenever I face a blank piece of paper. It drives me crazy. Iím like a jungle, meu caro, a jungle filled with parrots from which not a single sound escapes. More than the holes in my shack, thatís what I want to fix."

"The literacy program is coming here, soon," I told her. "But in the meantime, I can start to teach you how to write. Itís not as hard as you think. It takes time, thatís all."

"Illiteracy is like the armor plating on a tank," she said. "Like the tanks that patrol the perimeter. Donít you think? Is it true that some books have changed the world?"

She came over to sit beside me, and we began to work together on some blank pages. "Itís like art," she said, as we drew letters together. Then, as we put them together to make words, "Itís like alchemy." Finally, because she wanted me to appreciate her ingenuity, she said, "Here, see if you can translate this. This is how I write, though I want to write, now, as the world writes." And she drew a big X, a picture of a cup with a hole in it losing its water, and a picture of a clock.

"I donít know," I said.

"Donít waste time," she said. And then she drew another picture. It was a picture of a baby coming out of the womb, a horse running, and then an old man. She looked at me.

"What does it say?" I asked.

"Life goes by fast. Though it seems so slow, sometimes, meu caro, like when you have a headache and every step seems like a lash from the devil, and the pain seems to want to stay like a mountain; but in the end, before you know it, life has passed you by. Your empty hands have the legs of a horse. You dream your way straight to the grave."

"Youíve developed your own form of writing?" I asked her.

"Unfortunately, itís not the same as the writing in the books. Here. See if you can translate this." And she drew the picture of a woman who looked very much like her handing her heart to a man who looked very much like me.

"You are following in the footsteps of o velhinho Romao?" I asked her. "You want me to harvest your organs?" Then, as she looked at me with disbelief, then a smile as though I had just tickled her bare foot with a feather, I reached out with my hand to touch her face, and she did the same. "Mina," I said, caressing her cheeks, and looking into her eyes that were like the world being made by God, who made the earth in just six days. "I have been thinking about you constantly."

"You think too much," she said, and her lips were pressing into mine, hot and moist; she was more hungry for love than she was for bread. "Come on," she said. "Donít be shy." She looked over at my sleeping mat, and said, "Itís like a blank page that wants beautiful words to be written on it." We stripped, I removing her clothing, she removing mine, in a sweet and not entirely smooth ballet of desire; then, holding hands, like Adam and Eve, we stepped over to the mat, crouched down on it like tigers who have laid aside their savagery to play, yet whose play would kill the deer, and began to demolish our solitude with passion and gentleness constantly changing places. We wounded each other with fierce attacks against loneliness, hurled at each otherís flesh, and healed each other with soft apologies, spoken by skin. We were like thundering, out-of-control horses racing across the plain of lives that seemed empty on all sides of our kisses; like horses running wild; but riders suddenly appeared on their backs to hold them in check whenever they came close to trampling the tender flowers of a heart. By the time we had finished, we were both coated with sweat and as wet as if we had fallen into a river; our bodies were slippery, yet stuck together, it seemed; our eyes stung from the torrents of sweat pouring from our brows, but we didnít need to see, we were like two blind lovers in the darkness living in a world of feeling. We could see with our hands when they were on each otherís bodies; and what we saw was what has kept the human race from giving up.

"Meu querido, youíre not going to have a heart attack, are you?" she asked me, laughing.

I pulled her more tightly to me; even though I was still inside of her, I wanted her to be even closer.

"Who says oil and water canít mix?" she said.

We spent a few hours together, lying there naked, talking to each other like embers left over from a fire, before joining forces to once more bear the full brunt of passion. Something about it seemed purely functional, like going to bathroom; something mystical and transcendent, like searching for the Holy Grail. By the time we were through, her name was carved into my soul, and mine into hers. The roughness of the texture of her hand seemed to sing as it let go of mine. She threw her clothes back on and, blowing me a final kiss, ran out into the night, muttering, "Iíve left the kids alone too long! Irresponsible me! What if theyíve had nightmares, and woke up? Good-bye, meu querido, weíll do this again some time!"

While I had been lying naked with her between sexual acts, I had thought of Dirse, and I felt like a criminal, not only guilty of the crime of cheating but also shameless, because I realized I was happy in spite of being treacherous. I had not betrayed a rose for a weed, I had betrayed it for a sunflower. For a golden sin upon a hill. As Mina left, regrets tried to exploit her absence to return, but they were like children trying to open a safe. I felt satiated, peaceful, joyful in the most quiet, lasting way. I knew that this was my woman. Like the poet said: "I have waited for you since the dawn of time, traveled towards salvation in your form." I wondered what kind of man I was. A romantic, or a callous egotist? A patriot of love, or a betrayer of affection? A loyalist to the ideal of soul mates, or a vandal of expectations below the peak? The universe is much larger than a woman. But women give us the capacity to explore it. They give us the courage and the motive; the story of the quest for treasure, whether it is a chest of gold or justice on the earth, always has a woman in it, somewhere. Whatever fairy tale is mine to live, trivial or great, stained or noble, Mina is already its queen.

June 8: Mina remains the focus of my thoughts. I canít get away from her. While I was holding my stethoscope to the chest of an old woman who was having trouble breathing, thoughts of Mina came crashing into my mind, like shooting stars, and the old woman smiled at me as though she were being loved for the first time in many years. Something in my eyes? Something on its way to Mina which passed through her first? I forced myself to concentrate, but the woman was already breathing easier. People who are in love heal the world. The sun shines because of the one he loves, but the whole world receives the day.

Since our last night of steamy loving, Mina and I found the privacy to hold hands and to kiss behind the shelter of the big tree whose enormous roots interfere with Lourdes Oliveiraís garden, but which no one dares to cut down because they imagine they see the face of a kindly old woman in the bark, who they refer to as "The Mother of a Thousand Miracles." Mina tells me: "Before you came, my beloved doctor, she was our doctor. The people would kneel here and pray to her. They would leave offerings to make her happy, and after they had finished begging for mercy and left, the poorest of the poor would come here to take away the presents that were left. In that way, the ĎMotherí was like a big Christmas tree, such as the ones you gringos put in your homes and have introduced to our country, along with your Predators. The supplicants who left the presents didnít mind that they were taken, because they believe that acts of generosity to others help to win the good graces of Heaven. By giving to those poorer than themselves, they were making themselves worthy of being saved. And those who took the presents did not fear the Motherís wrath, because they felt she would understand their need; and that for her, offerings were not physical objects which could be stolen, but acts of giving which had already taken place."

Observing my expression, she said: "I know you think this is just folklore, but a lot of people have been saved right here, by the foot of this tree."

"Do you have documentation?" I asked. "Statistics? Records of how many people were cured, and from what conditions?"

She said: "While there wasnít any doctors here, what could statistics do except f**ck you up? When youíre dying, you donít need no fly in the ointment." And she added: "I came here, as a young woman, when I was having my period and it wouldnít go away, and I just kept on bleeding, so that there was even blood running down my legs, like Iíd been stabbed. After my mother beat me because she thought Iíd had an abortion, but I hadnít even been with a man at that time, and after the midwife told her that I was still a virgin and she realized something else was going on, they carried me over to the tree, and people were running all around me saying, ĎWhatís wrong with her? Did someone try to rape her?í, and they laid me down there, wrapped in a blanket, and prayed their heads off, so that Heaven itself was rattling like glasses on a shelf when thereís an earthquake. And Dona Claudia, the healer, arrived at last, and stuffed a rag into me covered with herbs, and made some prayers of her own which she said came all the way from Africa and had been preserved in her family since the days our people were first loaded onto the slave ships. And within two days, the bleeding had stopped, and though I was almost as white as you are, I was on the road to recovery. My beloved doctor, I canít tell you how it was: I was like those beetles whoíve fallen onto their backs, and are prisoners of the laws of physics, just wiggling their legs in the air; but then, somehow, they finally flip over back onto their legs, and walk away like nothing happened." Mina put her hands gratefully on the tree. "I know you believe in syringes and antibiotics, and scalpels and microscopes. But you only give them to a fraction of the world. Mother was here when you werenít. Itís that simple. Iím sure that sheís the one who saved my life, along with her disciple, Dona Claudia. Now what, I suppose you want to cut her down?"

I shook my head, no. "No, Mina, Iíve come to help, not to take over," I reassured her. I remembered the study of Angier and Proctor (2010), which documented the healing benefits of belief systems and the dangers of creating a "paradigm gap" in the development zones, in which modernization uprooted "archaic sources of vitality" through "intellectual penetration" without being able to follow through by delivering the material conditions required to make its own approach successful. I put my hands on the tree, as well. I remembered a song I had enjoyed as a youth: "So I try to be like you, try to feel it like you do, but without you itís no use, I canít see what you see." [1] Another world. Should I try to drive it away? Should the sun make war on the moon, even though it knows that it wonít be around in the night?

I felt a moment of tremendous affection for that strange, broad-branched tree erupting in the darkness, I thought I could hear it breathing, for a moment, with the breath of all the people who had found life beneath it. Precious lives, saved by something, were the fruits it bore: fruits of people like Mina, brought back from the dead. For one moment, I embraced the tree, like the hips of the woman I loved.

June 11: Mina. Mina. Mina. I spend my days attending to the sick but she is everywhere, like the sun in my sky, looking over my shoulder, looming above me as I live on the ground, waiting for me. I see everything, the beautiful and the degraded, in the light of my love for her.

The other night, driven by a raging lust, we finally found a place to meet which was closer to her home, because she is uncomfortable being too far away from her children while theyíre asleep. It was a little dip in the ground surrounded by high grass which is behind her friend Zoilaís home. Zoila has a sewing machine and a terrible dog who they call "the Blender" to protect it, a hungry, angry beast that has eyes like a pistol in the act of firing, who is restrained by a tether that looks like it will break any day. The dog knows Mina, who spends a lot of time over there, and she has, in fact, helped Zoila to repair the clothes which we brought back from the garbage dump, as well as to invent a fantastic new dress, which would be perfect for a rich child, out of the mangled tatters of a womanís evening gown which another refuse scavenger found in the wasteland. In spite of being one of "the Blenderís" favorites, Mina could not prevent him from barking up a storm as we hid in the high grass behind Zoilaís house and satisfied the cravings of our flesh.

"Hurry up!" she said. "I guess this is going to be a case of Ďwham, bam, thank you mamí!" Sure enough, Zoila was up prowling behind the house in less than five minutes, with Blender dragging her along behind him like his prisoner, the frayed rope that held him back in one hand, a big carving knife in the other. "Whatís going on back there?" she called out. "Look, weíre all in this together! Donít make trouble for me. Who are you? Go away! Go away, or Iíll let my dog loose!"

As fast as we could, we put our clothes back on, and suddenly Mina stood up above the grass and said, "Take it easy! Itís only me, Zoila!"

"What are you doing back there, sister, trying to pick up some ticks?"

"Iím with the doctor," she said.

Embarrassed, I showed myself, standing up beside her. But Zoila was even more embarrassed. "Nice night," she said. "Lots of stars. If you stay a little longer, maybe you can count them all." Then, as she turned around to go back to the house, she told Mina: "Next time you come over here to look at the constellations, just tell me, so I donít let Blender out. Sorry to interrupt the astronomy!" she told us. And as she left, we could hear her telling Blender: "Shut up, already, love is a beautiful thing. Not everybody in the world wants to steal my sewing machine."

After that, we decided to try again, because the first time had been as fast and one-sided as in the days of the cavemen. Since prehistoric times, feminism has got one foot in the world, and with it, the idea that the vagina is more than an escape hatch for manís anxieties and despair has gained some ground. No more is woman to be jumped on like an animal, mounted, used and left. Leda, raped by the God who has become a swan: "A sudden blow: the great wings beating still above the staggering girlÖ" [2] Now, pleasure is no longer to be taken, it is to be earned with pleasure. For this purpose, among many possibilities, there is no better means of attainment than í69í Ė the supreme gesture of sexual fairness, the position of choice for the open-minded and the equal. It was an amazing experience, to be looking at a groin rather than a face, and yet to feel utterly intimate and personal with these private parts: in contact with a soul. I was overwhelmed by the idea of having my face buried in the place from which Helder and Zenobia had emerged into the world, to be staring into the gates of life, the gates from which we all come, the very center of the universe, the holy site where manís heart comes, crawling, to be healed from indifference, and to grow taller than death. After loving, death is nothing, it is like the bite of an ant on oneís toe. Throughout the experience, amidst the sounds of mouths feasting, hot words and meaningful words escaped from the passion. Then the feelings building up in our loinsÖ You know you are in love when that avalanche of helplessness carries you away, and you surrender completely to it; a god seems to possess you and in his voice which sounds like yours you hear yourself shouting "I love you!", and you see smoke coming out of your heart. You are no longer alone, which is both liberating and terrifying.

I wonder, now, if I am noble to be here struggling for the health of these people the world does not care about, or only lustful? Brought here by the idea of Mina, then bound by the reality of her lively face and her hair-trigger body. Have I come here with the wings of an angel, or merely been dragged behind my penis to do the right thing?

For some time after our climax, I sat beside her, observing her nipples which seemed to have grown twice as large. In the heat of love, everything grows in size: the penis, the clitoris, nipples, human capabilitiesÖ

But I do not intend for my journal to become a form of Kama Sutra. I am in love, thatís all. Madly in love. Living on an island of love, the shape of Minaís hips, in the middle of a world that is filled with diseases and injustice.

Next day, sure enough, as Zoila had hinted, I discovered that both Mina and I had been hitched onto by ticks while we were laying in the grass. Fortunately, the invaders do not belong to any known disease-carrying species, they are simply irritating pests, who, once they have gorged themselves on your blood, resemble little stones buried in your skin. We spent about an hour, when there was time, working them out of our flesh and cleaning the points of penetration.

"At least itís better than getting syphilis," she said. "I count on you, doctor, to be very safe," she added.

"You can depend on it," I assured her.

She crossed herself, and said, "Iím not seeing anybody else. Only you."

I nodded, and we hugged: hugged into being a pact of security in a world that has become so twisted, that love, itself, has become like the barrel of a loaded gun.

Mina, of course, is one of the lucky ones around here whose HIV test came back negative. Our kisses are joyous; yet also, in some way, they separate us from the many who cannot kiss without being damned.

June 15: Agitation in the community is increasing. Throughout Brazil, the tension is rising, like billows of smoke from a giant fire that is about to start. The turmoil now does not seem like a manifestation, but a premonition. The world has not yet gone up in flames, but the matches of millions of hearts have been struck in the dry forest of poverty, vast multitudes on fire are walking about on streets made of paper. The sky is filled with the huge black clouds of an impending conflagration, darkened by silence that is at the breaking point.

In news from Rio, armored vehicles are now roaming through the shopping districts; there is a photo of a soldier with a bayonet standing guard by a store window filled with beautiful manikins dressed in elegant fashions: guarding the honor of a fantasy. The death penalty has been approved for pick pocketing, and Predators are patrolling the skies above the beaches. There have been rumors of guerrillas in a boat who plan to come in from the sea and make off with a catch of tourists to hold for ransom, but this seems to be a folktale of the rich, as wild and unlikely as the paranoid myths of the poor. The government has now, also, imposed an official ban on "verbal and visual representations of Che", except as approved by the Stability Board in the case of news reports and official and semi-official statements deemed consistent with public security. In the last week, over two hundred youths have been rounded up and sent to Ilha de Pedra Prison for the crime of wearing T-shirts emblazoned with Cheís romantic, revolutionary image; for brandishing his uncompromising gaze in a world that does not wish to change. Another thirty have been arrested for graffiti, most of them for spray painting the word "Che" on public buildings, one of them for attempting to sneak his likeness into an approved street mural. Two hundred families have been seized and taken from their homes for the crime, during the last several months, of naming their newborn children "Che", which is considered to be a clear indication of subversive sympathies, and a special police unit has been charged with sweeping through all bookstores and libraries in Brazil, to remove all volumes related to the famous revolutionary, except for Dr. Jose Benitezís Che Guevara: How Spin Doctors Of The Left Transformed A Tyrant Into A Hero. The Ministry of Education will be ordering extra copies of that book with which to deluge the market. Meanwhile, the National Internet Filter Project is progressing; within a year, all unapproved sites which mention "Che" will be blocked from access from Brazil, at least in theory. Until then, Internet Compliance tracking systems will tip police off as to who is visiting subversive sites, and offenders will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. The Minister of Internal Security has justified these extreme measures by stating: "We are in the midst of a profound psychological crisis, perpetrated by self-delusional visions of apocalyptic change with the modern myth of a defunct revolutionary, transformed from flesh and blood into an invincible demigod, serving as the trigger. We are on the verge of a great irresponsible and doomed upheaval, based on the fantasy of a revolutionary god who is purely a product of the imagination. It is our duty, as patriots and humanitarians, to liberate the people of this dangerous myth, to dismantle this trigger which could ignite Brazilian society, to remove this perverse source of inspiration which is egging the masses on towards actions which will benefit no one, and harm all strata of society."

According to the new laws, even the incoherent carryings-on of Dom Joaquim, here, in Bairro Capanga, would count as acts of sedition. Gleefully the old man told me, the other day, that the new laws were beautiful to see, like blood pouring out of a beast of prey that has been shot as it tries to hunt men. "When you see red streams pouring out of the tigerís side, you feel joyful because the chances that men will live have been increased. These laws are signs that the beast is wounded. Che has hit him like a bullet. No longer is Che just a fly, buzzing around his hide. Che is beginning to reach him Ė to hurt the tiger. Otherwise, he would not need these laws. And imagine, Mr. Doctor, this is just the beginning. The throne of revolution is empty, our King is coming, but has not arrived, and already, the beast is bleeding."

"Violence is a terrible thing," I told the old man.

He said: "Isnít hunger violent? Isnít living like this, depending on a garbage dump, violent? Other people have fields of corn, jungles of sugar cane, rolling hills of cattle to live from. They say some people just sit at machines all day long pushing buttons and they are the ones who live like kings. And we have a garbage dump. Mr. Doctor, doesnít everyone have the right to defend himself? When they drop poverty on you like a bomb, donít you have the right to point a rifle at the sky?"

"Guns make a lot of noise," I said, "but their accomplishments rarely live up to the racket they make. In terms of what they actually do, war is like a shovel, and peace is like a bulldozer. Which moves more earth? The stride of patience is ten times longer than that of rage."

"Tomorrow things will be better," Dom Joaquim said, parroting a famous saying. "What a big bullet! 60 mm. Ė what a big hole it makes in a man! Tomorrow, tomorrow. How many generations, locked in a tomorrow that will never come? What a cold prison tomorrow is! Tomorrow Ė itís an invention of those who have today! How many people must die, waiting for tomorrow!?"

"You are in favor of civil war, then?" I asked him, alarm in my voice.

"Itís up to them," Dom Joaquim said. "As St. Camilo once said, the Revolution can be peaceful if the wealthy minority which rules our land does not resist." And he added: "He who loves his fellow man has fulfilled the law." St. Camilo? A Colombian priest who joined the guerrillas in the 1960s, and died a year before el Che gave his life in the jungles of Bolivia?

"You should be careful how you talk," I warned him.

"Are you going to report me?" he asked.

"Iím here to heal the sick," I said. "Youíve got enough problems here with AIDS, hepatitis, malaria, SDV, TB, parasitism, and dysentery, you donít need to add bullet holes to your list of maladies. You know, Dom Joaquim, you could use a physical exam."

The old man laughed, and told me, "I donít want to be fixed, young man. This battered place I come from," and he pointed to his teetering body, "is also the place my visions come from. What bird speaks on behalf of the dead? The pretty one? No, the frightening, black one - the raven - the one who gives you the chills." And he laughed again. "Mr. Doctor, I know I look like a fell out of an airplane without a parachute Ė my power comes from that. Thereís only so much that God can give to any one man. To receive the gift of clairvoyance, he had to take something away from my body. He had to make a hole in one part of me to fill up the other part of me. I chose to have a hole on the outside so I could be full on the inside. Look, I donít have this eye," he explained, gesturing towards the awful sightless eye which I couldnít bear to see. "God took it out; he put it inside me and pointed it towards the future. And my legs, which arenít going to win any gold medals: Iíve given them to the world, so that it may walk far if it listens to what I say." And suddenly no longer coherent, he said, "We are special here, my friend. Because God has chosen this to be the place where el Che shall return, to take the reins of the Revolution, and lead his people to freedom. Here is the place where the seed of the new world shall be planted, from which the giant tree of liberty will grow until its branches spread to cover the entire earth. At last, shade from injustice! Rest your weary feet, you travelers through the ages! Walking through the darkness with candles in your hands! Mothers nursing your children with the milk of sorrow! Playgrounds Ė there shall be playgrounds for your children, daughters of your hell shall push them on swings, laughter will caress your bones with thanks. The walls of Jericho shall crumble Ė yes, his eyes are like a trumpet - the eyes of el Che! Damn them, Iíll talk about him whenever I please, like I talk about the graves where my friends are buried!"

"Please, donít pay attention to him, heís crazy," a woman said, taking Dom Joaquim by the arm and beginning to lead him away, after first wiping his saliva-drenched jaw with a handkerchief. "He doesnít mean no harm."

Another bystander reassured her: "Donít worry, this is our doctor. But keep an eye on the old man, and donít let him near the soldiers. Now that they have new lawsÖ"

Somehow, the old manís ravings always leave me flustered and on edge.

But his madness, in the end, is only the tip of the iceberg. On top of all the stress of attempting to organize things here in the community, and to iron things out with the bureaucracy back in Rio Proper, so that I can get transport for my worse patients out of here and get them into hospitals, I have had to deal with the increasing tension of Captain Mendez, and the complicated case of a teenager named Sebastiao.

Captain Mendez, taking advantage of the breakthrough our medical team has made with the people here, managed to talk to a small boy of about ten years of age, and to lure him with the promise of money to go to the area which he imagines is a guerrilla firing range and bring him back shell casings. A nice, flashy coin for each casing is the reward. Well, the kid came back the other day with a bag full of casings, some of which the Captain recognized outright, and some of which he was able to identify by measuring, photographing, and using our wireless connections with headquarters. Apparently, he had casings from M-16s, AK-47s, Bronstein 60 sniping rifles, and Salgovic Slow-Firing Multipurpose Weapons, which are breechloaders favored by many guerrillas to help conserve ammunition by slowing down the rate of fire; in combat, they are typically supported at the platoon level by one or two automatic weapons. On top of that, the Salgovics, due to a brilliant adjustment mechanism, are capable of accommodating a variety of ammunition types, which is especially favorable to guerrillas who frequently depend upon captured ammo to bolster their precarious arsenal. The Bronsteins, Captain Mendez assures us, besides firing traditional, high-caliber shells, are capable of firing armor-piercing bullets. Depleted-uranium armor can repel them, but the kind of armor utilized in many Brazilian tanks and APCs could be penetrated, and these rifles are also effective for engaging low-flying helicopters. In lieu of shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles, they are the next best thing. "The evidence is irrefutable," he lectured us, as the small boy went away with a pocketful of shiny coins: "A guerrilla unit is actively training in this location. We have been set down in a nest of vipers."

"What are the ramifications for us?" Dr. Bari asked, greatly perturbed Ė not white and shaken like one or two of the other doctors, but upset, like a musician who is told that there is a fire in the theater where he is giving a concert, but who does not want to put down his violin. "Are we going to be pulled out of Bairro Capanga? Is the army going to bomb these people who we have been trying to save?"

"Civic action is likely to be a target," Captain Mendez said. "The guerrillas donít care about the people our program is helping. They want to use these people, to turn them into tools to overthrow the government. If we win their trust, if we succeed in turning their hate into affection through the services we are providing them, we will make it harder for the guerrillas to recruit them to fight against the government. We will dull the blade which they guerillas wish to plunge into the heart of Brazil. For the guerrillas, government doctors are more dangerous than soldiers; medicine is deadlier than tanks. They must destroy every trace that we care, so that the people feel hopeless and abandoned and come to believe that there is no solution to their woes except for the guerrillas; they must bury every last piece of evidence that we are not devils, so that the people will enthusiastically receive the guns they place into their hands."

"We have sworn an oath to help the sick," said Dr. Bari. "We are willing to take the risk. We want to extend our nation, so that it includes everyone. It is hard to be a patriot when your children die from some unnecessary sickness that just one injection could overcome. We are not talking about brain surgery, here, we are not talking about rescuing the crew of a submarine trapped beneath the ocean! We are talking about things so simple that their absence is astounding! For Christís sakes! Itís the least we can do to reunify a world split in two. The least we can do to be human beings! To go to bed at night without despising ourselves!"

"If they didnít lose millions of babies every year from that crap," the Captain said, speaking of the poor, in general, "from dysentery and pneumonia and parasites, they would lose millions in other ways. The land simply canít support such an enormous population. They would starve, or be driven to crime or revolution, trying to seize from others things of which there arenít enough to go around; and theyíd end up being shot. One way or the other, theyíre going to die. As the gardeners say, to keep a plant healthy, it has to be periodically pruned." At that moment, as if it were a word coming out of his mouth, a helicopter flew overhead, army-green and muscular, with the needle of a machine gun protruding from its body, like the stinger of a wasp which makes your skin hurt just to look at.

"So, are you saying we are here for nothing?" protested Dr. Bari, always overwhelmed whenever he awoke to the fact that he was not swimming, but only being swept along by the current.

Captain Mendez replied: "No, we are here to improve the situation at Bairro Capanga, to cut down a part of the forest of discontent so that the fire, when it reaches here, wonít have anything to burn, and the forest on the other side will be saved. We are here to defuse the explosive. Your good deeds will deny Bairro Capanga to the revolution. You and your doctors, whether you know it or not, are the bomb squad. Although the resources to save the ĎThird Worldí do not exist, the resources to save strategic bits of it, to serve as ramparts for the more privileged regions of the earth, do exist. Though you may be appalled by the political nature of your mission, it is actually this political motive which has enabled you to come here in the first place. Your good hearts will not only serve Military Headquarters, but also people of flesh and blood. Though they are only strategic pawns, they are human beings, nonetheless, and it is surely better to help them than to deny them treatment because they are a part of our plan to control the world. I am sorry to speak so bluntly, I feel like I am telling children there is no Santa Claus, but I think itís important to have a realistic attitude." He added: "I donít think Military Command will decide on pulling us out. I think we will get more troops to cover our operation, which will also give us the ability to make sweeps through the neighborhood. The good will which your work engenders will eventually translate into intelligence which will prevent us from being blindsided, and enable us to weed out guerrilla sympathizers."

The whole discussion made me sick; in one moment I went from feeling like a man of principles, a humanitarian, into feeling like bait in a trap. Like a siren, waiting by savage, sharp rocks amidst the pounding waves, singing for sailors to jump off of their ships. "Come hither, come hither, my darlings! To my arms!" For a time, I was not unlike my patients, crapping the life out of me from the stress, which chose my intestines as its medium of expression.

"Oh!" said Mina, coming around one day at an inopportune moment. "A lot of terrible weapons have been used against poor people in Brazil Ė tasers, water cannons, tear gas, sonic warfare devices, machine guns, rockets, hand grenades, land mines Ė but this is a new low! I thought poison gas was banned by the Geneva Conventions." Nonetheless, she came back later with some strange concoction sheíd made which she swore would bind me up in no time. Grimacing, I accepted her compassion. The remedy was so awful that the thought of having to have any more of it cured me almost at once.

In the context of all this political tension, a 17-year-old kid by the name of Sebastiao showed up at Evaís cave where I was at work, his face contorted in agony. "Whatís wrong?" I asked him, driven to a new level of attention by the obvious severity of his condition.

"His stomach," one of his friends told me. "Heís got a big problem."

At that moment, Ulises appeared with two more friends and everybody became quiet. I hadnít seen him since our complicated and uneasy times together at the garbage dump. "This is Sebastiao," he told me. "Heís not into anything deep, heís just a brother from the bairro. Do you understand what Iím saying?"

"What, has he been shot?" I asked. "Stabbed?" Turning to the boy who was clutching his stomach, and who now lay sprawled out on the floor in front of me, but who showed no signs of bleeding, I started to lift up his shirt.

But Ulises stopped me. "One minute, doctor," he said.

Once more, I was looking into his intense, unpredictable eyes.

"You need to make a promise," he told me. "That what you see here, stays here. You swore, as a doctor, to heal the sick. Isnít that true?"

I nodded.

"What you see here stays here," he repeated.

"Are you threatening me?" I demanded.

"Iím just telling you that big mouths are the same as hand grenades. People who talk too much end up killing others. You know how is Rap?" Ulises asked.

I nodded, it had got around, traveling all over the world, taking the shape of different cultures and learning to speak in different tongues. It was an affront to the beautiful rhythms of Brazil, but it hadnít replaced them, only joined them when creativity preferred a rawer voice, when the hand of art wished to reach for a knife instead of a guitar.

Ulises said, "Just because someone goes around parroting a Rap about shooting cops doesnít mean heís going to do it, any more than steam coming out of a pot means the pot is going to jump off of the stove and hit you. Sometimes, if you want to keep the world the same, steam is the best friend you can have."

"He needs attention," I told Ulises, impatient of talking as the kid lay writhing in front of me.

"You know, for some people Che is a military leader and they are waiting for him to lead them in war. For others, he is just a fad, a fashion, like a kind of hairstyle. Heís another form of steam. It isnít right to send a kid to jail just because he gets caught up in a fad."

There was a lot going on here between the lines. Finally, I told Ulises, "Iím a doctor, Ulises, and the people of Bairro Capanga matter to me. I want to help him. I donít know what you mean to say, if he got wounded on the guerrilla firing range, or shot by the army, or if he stole a medal from a general and swallowed it so the theft wouldnít be discovered, and now itís stuck in his intestines, or if he, himself, is the clone of Che Guevara, but Iím here to help him. Whatever I discover about him from treating him that seems too much for me to keep silent about Ė weíll talk about it Ė you and I. If I canít keep quiet and if thatís a problem for you, Iím sure someone can be found to do me in. Now will you please move away and let me get to work? Heís not well."

In a moment, the boyís shirt was lifted and I saw what the problem was: he had the words "CHE" tattooed into his abdomen, which, in a nearby location, not right at the tattoo, was discolored and swollen.

"I donít give a damn if heís got a Che tattoo!" I exclaimed. "He could have a Mao tattoo, or a tattoo of Karl Marx, or Zapata or Fidel Castro or Lenin for all I care! Help me get him up on the table," I urged. "The one outside." Ulises and the boyís friends dutifully helped to carry him over to the table and to lay him out there, where I could get a good look at him in the light. At the same time, Ulises motioned for a couple kids to stand guard, making sure that no one who they didnít approve of approached us too closely.

After a while, as I stood over the boy, pushing his body with my fingers, and observing the degrees of pain which different pressures, on different locations, caused him, and also feeling the nature of the swelling, Ulises asked me: "Whatís wrong with him?", as a friend of the boyís blurted out, "Doctor, is he going to die?"

"Shut up!" another one of his friends said, crossing himself.

"He needs medical imaging," I said, at last. "At the stone house we have the equipment."

"At the stone house is the army," Ulises said. "Now that thereís the new laws about Che, they are obligated to take him to prison. This is in your hands, doctor. Youíre going to have to save him by yourself. We wonít let you take him there. He doesnít deserve to be put in jail and tortured. I told you, itís just a fad."

"He might have Lehman ORR," I said, referring to an acute condition involving appendicitis linked to abdominal overreaction response, "meaning, his appendix is about to implode and poison his whole body Ė or it may already have ruptured. On the other hand, he could have a porous cyst from bull-worm infestation, which is leaking internally and located over the appendix, which would obscure the diagnosis." I pointed to some lines, like strands of a red spider web radiating from the swelling. "Blood poisoning is underway. This is an emergency. He needs the condition treated surgically with all possible haste, and then massive doses of antibiotics. But first, he needs an accurate diagnosis. He needs medical imaging. This facility," I told Ulises, gesturing to my clinic at Evaís cave, "is not equipped for either imaging or surgery. We will have to risk taking him to the stone house. His life depends on it!"

"Heís not going there," Ulises said. "Itís better to die in the bairro with all your fingernails and your teeth than on a Ilha de Pedra." It was clear this young man wasnít going to change his mind. His resolve was dangerous, like a panther that is agitated. "Look," he argued, "whatís the treatment? You have a scalpel? You have disinfectant? You have gas to put him to sleep?"

"Yes to the first two, no to the second. I could give him an injection to dull the pain."

One of the boys pulled out a flask of rum from a pocket in his pants leg. "Give him this, then operate, doctor."

"No!" I said. "Thatís crazy! To take his appendix, a scalpel isnít enough. I need blood, I need all the equipment to control the bleeding. I need the IVs, I need some hygiene, thereís flies all over the place here! Besides that, Iíve never done an appendectomy, surgery is not my specialty, he would need Dr. Bari or Dr. Tavares."

"Then heís gone," said Ulises. "Weíll start digging the grave now."

"Donít try to force my hand!" I told Ulises. "Iím a professional, and I know my limits! Iím not going to butcher him like a pig!"

I picked up my cell phone to put in a call to Dr. Bari, but Ulisesí hand reached out, and staring hard into my eyes, he said, "Donít."

At that moment, Mina showed up with Helder and Zenobia, she had heard that a difficult situation was unfolding at the cave, and she just stood nearby, looking as hard at Ulises as he was looking at me. He saw her, but didnít acknowledge her.

"Dr. Bari is a good man," I told Ulises. "We can be discreet. The soldiers donít have to see the tattoo. We can do whatever we need to do, and keep it to ourselves."

"What if itís not his appendix, but bull-worm?" Ulises asked me. "Whatís the treatment then?"

"Surgery, or a needle connected to a draining mechanism. The cyst is drained, and collapsed. If it ruptures before itís drained, the patient will be overwhelmed and die. Massive doses of antibiotics, and medications to kill the bull-worm are needed to complement the procedure."

"Then, since we canít save him if itís appendicitis, we have to gamble that itís bull-worm," said Ulises. "Set up the procedure. You donít have to cut him open, just stick him with a needle."

"I need imaging to verify that and to get an accurate location so that I donít rupture the cyst, if thatís what it is, or cause accidental damage elsewhere. I just canít start pushing in a needle without seeing what Iím doing."

"You have to do the procedure right now!" exclaimed Ulises. "Ready or not! Life isnít always so well regulated! Preparation is a wonderful thing when you have time, doctor, when you donít, itís lethal; the blind man who thrashes around has a better chance of saving himself than the seeing man who wonít act! Dick! Do something! Dick!"

"Shut the f**k up!" I shouted back. "You donít know what youíre talking about! What you are doing is the equivalent of telling someone to hammer nails into glass! Great idea! You have to let me talk to Dr. Bari so that we can set up a discreet procedure over there Ė Iím telling you, heís a good man! Heíll cooperate!"

"Nice little sheep, donít know how the world works. Theyíre the ones I fear the most," Ulises said. "He wonít think nothing of chatting with the soldiers."

"I need to call, or the kidís going to die," I said again.

"Well, then, thatís one malungo less in the world."

"Youíre going to stop me from calling?" I demanded, incredulous.

Mina stepped up at that moment, as a neighbor held Helder and Zenobia at a distance. She glared at Ulises. He glared back. "Let him call," she said.

"Heís that a good lover, huh?" asked Ulises.

She slapped him across the face.

"Mina!" I exclaimed.

Ulises smiled broadly. "You belong to Bairro Capanga," he told her. "This is your home, Mina. This is your people, here. Youíre going to sell them for a good lay?"

Again, she slapped him.

"Iím not falling down yet, am I?" he asked.

"Donít talk to me that way, Ulises," she said. "You think I like hitting you? But your words are slapping me just like that. This man, here, has a great soul. Donít talk about me like I was some cheap whore. You know who I am. You know I donít give it out like that. You know that if Iím in love, now that Iím no longer a foolish girl like I was, itís because someoneís beautiful soul is hanging over my head like the sky." Turning towards Sebastiao, she said: "Ulises, this boy here is one of ours. Bairro Capanga. How are you going to let him die like that?"

Tears welling up in his eyes, Ulises said: "You know the laws. The police are on a rampage. The Che tattoo. At least heíll die in the place he was born. He dreamt of leaving, of living in a mansion by the sea. Uneducated malungo. But Ilha de Pedra ainít no mansion by the sea. Theyíll have the boy hanging from the ceiling by his balls, the agony heís in now wonít be nothing compared to what theyíll put him through. Itís better that he stays here Ė that he passes through this moment of pain, to whatever it is the Universe keeps on the other side of this shit hole. Itíll be over soon. Pain like that canít last for long." And Ulises, fighting hard not to lose it, said: "Poor bastard! To die for a tattoo that he doesnít even understand, just to be cool! To take the pose of a revolutionary, without any consciousness, and then to be doomed by the pose as though it were for real! What a sick irony! How Fate loves to f**k us in the ass!" And he walked away for a moment, with my cellphone in his hand.

"Get Braulio," Mina suddenly ordered Eva, who was standing beside us, arms folded, tears pouring down her face. "Get Braulio, and tell him to bring his shit!"

"What shit?"

"To make tattoos! Just hurry!" Mina demanded, as Eva stood there trying to figure out what her friend was up to. Rapidly, hopefully, she bounded away.

Ulises drifted back. Everyone stood around for a moment, without speaking, like awed spectators of a comet passing through the sky. Watching someone die is profound, it makes time stand still. Throughout the tension and paralysis, I kept myself busy by giving Sebastiao a painkiller, then an injection of antibiotics, and finally recording the doses on a new patient chart which I started, as a kind of prayer that Sebastiao might live, after all.

At last Eva came back with Braulio, who was dressed in a black T-shirt with the picture of a skull with a knife in it dripping with streams of blood, and a black case in his hands, containing all of his tattoo-making tools. Mina had a private word with him, and then sent him forward.

"Blood," I said, observing the skull on Braulioís T-shirt. "Skeletons donít usually bleed. Believe it or not, itís a good sign." Turning to Mina, I said: "Well, whatís up? Is there a plan, or are we just going to watch this boy die?"

Braulio set up next to Sebastiao, as though he were a surgeon.

"Donít do anything stupid," I warned him. "Itís better to do nothing than to act in ignorance. His situation is very delicate."

"Does he have laser, to remove the tattoos?" Ulises asked incredulously.

"No," said Mina, "in this damned place once youíre tattooed, thatís it, youíre branded like a cow. Remember Felicidade who got that tattoo, ĎJoseís Bitchí on her belly, and ĎI belong to Joseí on her butt, and ĎI love Joseí on her breasts, and then he left her?" She shook her head. "Branded like a cow."

"So what the f**k are you doing?" Ulises demanded of Braulio. "Adding a new tattoo? Going to write ĎGood-byeí in his skin?"

"Careful," I said, "you shouldnít be working over that area, itís distended, and itís infected, you canít use too much pressureÖ"

"Look, heís on the verge of dying anyway," Mina said. "This is the only hope he has."

"Yo, what are you doing?" Ulises asked Braulio again.

"Is he a deaf-mute?" I asked Mina.

"No, heís just Braulio."

"This is surely the dude to carry the secret messages," Ulises said. "Nothing could get him to talk. ĖThatís just a joke, doctor," he told me, "understand?"

As the semi-conscious Sebastiao winced and occasionally protested, Braulio worked him over, first of all re-tattooing the letters ĎCí, ĎHí, and ĎEí into his flesh, over the old tattoo, to make them fresh, then adding two new letters ĎRí and ĎIí to the end of the word, to change "Che", the revolutionary, into "Cheri", the name of a girl who might easily be the boyís sweetheart.

Ulises and I stood, united in amazement by Minaís cleverness, over the body of a boy who seemed doomed to die, but who might now have a chance to live.

Mina gave Braulio some kind of bill, but he shook his head and gave it back to her. He smiled faintly at his accomplishment, as others pounded him enthusiastically on the back, and punched him with affection.

"All right, then, hurry up, get him onto a stretcher and letís take him over to the stone house!" I commanded.

Ulisesí dark hand came my way, with my cell phone in it. "Dr. Bari," I said. "Weíve got an emergency on the way. It looks like appendicitis or more probably acute bull-worm infection. Urgent treatment is required, beginning with imaging."

Dr. Bari said: "Weíll set up! Bring him over! God damn it, to hell with Captain Mendez and to hell with revolutionaries, thereís a life to save!"

And we all headed over that way.

As it turned out, Sebastiaoís problem was bull-worm infestation, and after draining, and a heavy regimen of follow-up medications, we brought him back from the edge of death. To improve the boyís cover, Ulises recruited a girl to come by and visit him, whose name was really Alicia, but who pretended to be "Cheri", and she kissed him and held his hand, and when the soldiers werenít around she told him, "You bastard, you owe me an arm and a leg for this."

Captain Mendez told Sebastiao, as he gradually improved, "Well, you may be miserable, my friend, but at least youíve got a pretty girlfriend. Tell me, did she make you tattoo her name into your flesh, or was that your idea?"

"My idea," he said. "I was head over heels in love."

"Well, we all make mistakes," he said, laughing. Then, on a more serious note, he added, "Just donít tattoo her name into your heart, son, it will be the end of you." And pointing to his own chest, he said, "Ana. Right there. Iíll never be the same."

June 19: Well, at last, I finally had that serious talk with Ulises. He dropped by as I was sitting outside of Evaís cave, sipping on a gourd of tea while seated on a tree stump.

After exchanging greetings, he squatted down beside me and said, "Do you know, doctor, that words that are spoken to the wind sometimes carry to far-off places?"

Staring straight ahead, I answered him with a smile. We were going to get down to business.

"Some people, somewhere, have heard that you feel caught between two sides, and donít want anybody to be hurt. You just want to do your doctoring. You donít want to give up anybody to the torturer, and you donít want to give up anybody to the guerrillaís ambush. Youíre too smart to not see whatís going on. You want some kind of pact."

"Space to work in," I said.

"On paper, a truce sounds wonderful," he said. "Who could say no? Only a war-monger. But then, again, think about it. Imagine, doctor, that on the other side of a river there is a very sick child who you want to save. You have your bag full of medicine. You have your expertise. No one on the other side of the river wants to save the child, or knows how. Youíre the one to do it. But the river is flooded, doctor, there are huge currents. Itís been flooded by days of rain, itís surging through its banks like the water that breaks through a dam, which sweeps everything before it. Even a man who could swim like a fish would have a hard time getting to the other side. But fortunately, doctor, there is a bridge. A high bridge spanning the raging river. By crossing it, you can get to the other side. You can save the child. But then someone comes along who says, ĎPlease, doctor, do not use the bridge. I will be very upset if you use the bridge. I am renovating it right now, painting it and reinforcing its girders. You will get in the way of my work if you attempt to cross it now.í Tell me, doctor, and be truthful. What would you do under those circumstances?" Ulises looked into my soul without mercy.

"Iíd cross over the bridge," I said, without hesitation.

He nodded, and accepted a swig from my gourd of tea. He drank it, as I did, through a metal straw, in the style of the south. Handing the tea back to me, he said: "Bairro Capanga and Bairro Curumbim, along with Bairro San Judas and Bairro Esperanca - together we form a bridge, geographically and socially, which connects the ERB enclaves in the west to Rio. Itís well known. You say you want peace to reign on the bridge. You want to right the wrongs of history on the bridge, to bring education and healthcare to the bridge, to improve the economy of the bridge. But what about the world across the river, the world the bridge leads to? By performing good deeds on the bridge, you want to take it out of the struggle, which is the same as closing it; and if you close the bridge, the people who want to cross it to come to the aid of the world on the other side of the river that is still dying, that is still hungering, that is still being beaten like a donkey with a stick, will not be able to. The poor are all in this together, doctor. They have been educated not to succumb to strategies which will divide them. Everyone wants peace, but peace without justice is surrender; it is the perpetuation of injustice. Likewise, if you bring justice to one small island in the sea of misery in order to solidify the grip of injustice over the rest of the ocean of humanity, you are as much an oppressor as the one who drops cluster bombs in the slums. Doctor Ė you are doing wonderful work on the bridge Ė but to the people who need the bridge to cross over to their friends who are in need, you are complicating things. They canít stop using the bridge, just because you are here. Do you understand?"

I sipped up a strong dose of tea, and said nothing.

"Look," he said, after a difficult moment of silence which he did not rush to fill. He didnít want things to be smooth, he wanted them to be real. "No one will bother the doctors. Although they are part of a government strategy of deceit, they, themselves, are well-meaning people and they are helping our neighborhood. As long as the soldiers limit their activities to protecting the work of the doctors, and do not start putting their noses where they do not belong, theyíll be all right, too. The minute they begin to launch foot patrols in Bairro Capanga, to prowl and to probe, or put up fences and checkpoints to cramp the peopleís movement here, there will be trouble. We also want compensation for the stone house. The people expect their defenders to produce results, not just sit back and accept their loss. Maybe you can get something done for the displaced families if you go back to Rio with the patientsí convoy, which you are organizing to take the sickest of the sick to the hosptials Ė talk to somebody, shake up the bureaucracy. These things I have told you Ė the wind told them to me," he said. "Whispers and voices Ė you hear them everywhere people are suffering. I, myself, am not involved. I just have open ears."

I smiled, and handed him the gourd of tea. He knew I was too smart to believe him.

"If the police come looking for me," he warned me, "Mina will be the one to pay."

He handed me back the gourd. This time, I did not drink from it. "Leave Mina out of it," I told him. "I wonít mention you to anybody, but itís not like you are the worldís most talented chameleon. Your passion makes you stand out. You are not the color of the tree youíre hiding in, you are the color of what youíre feeling inside. Someone else could betray you. Then what Ė youíd still put a bullet in Minaís head? Leave her out of it."

He only shook his head and said, "Sorry, doctor, thatís the way it is." Then, observing my look of outrage, he laughed, and said, "We all love Mina, sheís a great human being. Sheís a true sister. But this," he added, eyes narrowing, "is war, doctor, and war is a very hard thing. Iíve given you a very precious jewel for safekeeping Ė information. I need very valuable collateral to back it up Ė the woman you love."

"And you could actually kill her?" I demanded, my indignation undiminished.

"Itís your mouth thatís the trigger," he said. "Sheís perfectly safe as long as you can control what you say." Then he added: "Thereís no shortage of shitheads around here to do the dirty work. Even in movements that want to wash the world clean you can find degraded people, doctor. Sometimes, itís disconcerting. This is the best I can do," he told me.

Silent, ingesting yet one more harsh dose of reality, I finished the tea in the gourd.

"Well, then, now that we understand each other," he said, standing up, "why donít we cement our agreement with a soccer game. I invite you," he said. "Weíre one player short."

I looked up at him. He extended me his hand, which I had mixed feelings about taking, because on the one hand I felt like beating him to death for what he had said about Mina, but I also saw that he was acting according to the laws of the jungle, and sensed that he was an honorable participant in the apocalypse. He was certainly not one you wanted to have as your enemy. After a moment, I stood up and took his hand: it was my best option. Even so, I tried to crush it. "Donít touch Mina," I said.

He smiled, as he disengaged his nearly mangled hand without a word. "Sheís a true sister," he agreed. "Come on, the guys are getting together at ĎDona Pernambucoísí field. You know how to play?"

"Iíve watched the game on TV."

"Itís beautiful, right? Besides being an art, itís a wonderful way to stay in shape and to practice teamwork. It could almost be a military training regimen, and who would ever suspect Ė just a bunch of young guys hanging out and kicking a ball around, as though politics was the last thing on their minds." He smiled. This time, I followed him without fear.

We walked down a long dusty trail that, at one point, was almost like a cliff, and at last descended abruptly to a vacant lot overlooked by a dilapidated shack, in front of which stood a feisty, wizened old lady, haranguing the young men who were already warming up. "You good-for-nothings!" she complained. "If it wasnít for you, this field could be filled with corn. But your sport matters more than our stomachs! For a stupid ball, you make us hungry!"

"Dona Pernambuco," one of the young men was explaining to her, "this land, here, is a piece of shit; the best you could do is grow shrubs for a few stupid goats, and surely, weíre worth as much as them."

"The money you pay me for my lot is a shame!" she complained.

"This is our sport," another of the men said, "our pride and joy. The world spits on us, but when we kick goals into the nets of their goalkeepers they have to take note."

Ulises came up to the woman and gave her a hug. "The Russians have novels," he said, "the Italians have operas, the Greeks have plays, and we have football. Look, donít take it so hard, Dona Pernambuco. Weíve brought the doctor along in case your blood pressure goes up too high." And he hugged her again. "Come on," said Ulises, turning to me. "Weíve got two teams on the field, the Quilombolas and the Samba Fiends. Iím with the Samba Fiends, good doctor, and since youíve only watched soccer on TV, weíll dump you on the Quilombolas." Gabriel and Benedito, among other familiar faces, smiled at me.

"Is it true, doctor" they asked, "that youíre new to this?"

I nodded.

"Well, then, if youíve got gringo feet, we better put you at midfield. Even if we lose some in our transitions and set-ups, we wonít depend on you to score a goal, and we wonít have to dread you making a mistake in front of goal."

I thought, at first, that their dismissal of my athletic abilities must be rather exaggerated, but within a few minutes of the whistle, I realized that their fears were well-founded. Ulisesí team, a band of disciplined, rough-looking characters, was fast and precise. My own team was just as rugged in appearance, but more playful and egocentric, with a few characters who habitually squandered scoring opportunities by trying to be stars. "Hey, does the word Ďpassí mean anything to you?" cursed a striker who was open, as one of our midfielders dribbled past three defenders only to lose the ball in front of the goal. Meanwhile, I found that I could do nothing with the ball except kick it past defenders and try to outrun them to the ball. Several times, the ball was stripped from my feet as I tried to pass defenders. Once, the game ground to a halt as everybody broke down laughing at the way in which my effort to pull off some fancy footwork merely left the ball wide open for a defender to steal. "I hope this guy is a better doctor than he is a football player!" one of the Samba Fiends laughed.

"If he wasnít," a Quilombola told him, "weíd all be dead by now."

I knew my limitations, and made no attempt to hog the ball, but my efforts at selfless play proved equally ineffective. My passing was imprecise; my balls rarely made it to players of my own team, and when they did, they usually forced them to break their stride, or to swerve off of their intended path, completely destroying their rhythm. "Thanks!" the Samba Fiends told me whenever they intercepted one of my passes. "Weíll pay you tomorrow!"

Even the grumpy Dona Pernambuco for one moment gave up her relentless criticism of the beautiful sport and could not restrain a smile from coming to her face as she watched me flounder on the field. "Itís true," she said, "the doctor is really bad! He is a prodigy in reverse!"

Finally, one of the Quilombolas came over to me, a kid who called himself Pele in honor of the soccer great who would forever reign at the pinnacle of Brazilian history; and the kind yet horrified way he looked at me when he asked me, "So it wasnít a joke, this really is the first time youíve ever played soccer?" was nothing less than hilarious. By this time we were losing 2-0, with one goal scored by Ulises and another by an alert kid who went by the name of Zezinho, who kept glancing constantly over to the sidelines to watch a gauze cloth blowing on a stick, to check the direction and force of the wind. His goal was a brilliantly sliced kick that curved past the fingertips of our goalie into the top corner of the net. Stymied by my inability to handle the ball with my feet, which made them feel like they were playing with a man down, my team finally decided to try me in goal, because they knew that gringos were good with their hands, which they used to play baseball, basketball and American football. "They canít do anything with their feet except to run," Benedito told them. Others from my team resisted the idea, protesting, "If he is as wretched keeping goal as he is at playing midfield, weíll be losing 10-0 in a matter of minutes."

"Come on!" the Samba Fiends urged, maliciously, "give him a chance. Give him an opportunity to redeem himself!" It was their hope that I would prove utterly disastrous, and allow them to put the game out of reach.

However, by now, all of the ribbing had got to me. Admittedly, though I tried not to show it, I was angry to be the butt of so much ridicule, for I have always prided myself on my physical hardiness and my determination to make my body the equal partner of my will. Gabriel and Benedito explained to me about the area in front of the goal where I could use my hands, and pointed out the lines which indicated where that privilege ended. Then they patted me on the shoulders, gave me words of encouragement, and left me there on my own to face the magic - the clockwork passing and the unsparing shots - of the Samba Fiends.

At the very first, the Samba Fiends tested me with an absurd shot on goal, lofted like a dirigible over the defenders towards the net. Its accuracy was surprising, but it was so slow that even a turtle could have got to it. I caught it like a high fly in baseball, and rolled the ball back out to one of my defenders while my team cheered, as though I had just performed the most amazing save in the history of soccer.

In subsequent minutes, my defenders worked like maniacs to keep the Samba Fiends from getting a decent shot at goal; it was almost comic to see their desperation, as though they, themselves, were defending an empty goal. Thanks to them, before halftime arrived, the Samba Fiends only managed to get off two more shots on goal, one of which was pitifully slow and wide of the mark, which I merely allowed to go out of bounds. The other also lacked force and I was able to fall on it in front of the goal as a striker rushed forward hoping I would not be able to control it.

"Great job!" my team told me, as though I had only one leg, and anything I did was worthy of praise. They offered me a drink of rum and coke, mixed in an old coca cola bottle which they passed around. I took only a tiny drop to be sociable, for I could not spare even a slight diminishment of my meager skills. And then, before we had a chance to get too comfortable, halftime was over and we were back on our feet, out under the hot sun. This time, the Samba Fiends were determined to get to me.

Nonetheless, for the first fifteen minutes of the half, my defenders, who had recovered some of their vigor during the break, held up well. Gradually, however, as our offense continued to lose the ball with over-audacious attacks that merely returned the initiative to the opposition, which dominated the ball and applied constant pressure against our defense, the Samba Fiends began to wear us out. The ring of defenders sheltering me from their attacks began to slow down, to make mistakes, to stop hustling as exhaustion unraveled their spirit. For a while longer, things went well, because the Samba Fiends so underestimated my ability to guard the net that they wasted several scoring opportunities with ridiculous shots that were off-target or easy to block, because they did not spend the time to set up really dangerous plays. They were like the boxer who throws wild one-shot haymakers with the right hand rather than taking the time to set up the knockout punch with the left jab. But at last they learned that they were not going to get a cheap goal on me, and that is when things began to get really difficult.

Zezinho took a subtle pass under the legs of a defender and tapped it at once to Ulises, who kicked a blistering shot low and to my left. I dove as though taking cover from a bomb, and punched it away with my knuckles. I heard cheers and cries of amazement, as I staggered up from the ground, completely coated with dirt, my arms and elbows scraped and bloody. "Take it easy, doctor," jested Ulises, "youíre the doctor. If you knock yourself out, who will treat you?" Not long afterwards Zezinho maneuvered against a defender: first he tried to go forward, then as he could gain no ground he stopped the advance, turned around and began to retreat as though looking for help; but as the defender followed him closely, he spun around, gained a step on him, and got off a rapid-fire kick, which I barely had time to deflect. It went over the net, like an offering to the sun, and the Samba Fiends followed with a corner kick that was almost headed in by someone they called Bronstein, who seemed to teleport himself in front of the goal from nowhere. I blocked the shot but could not control it. Luckily, one of my defenders managed to clear it as the Samba Fiends surged forward like a school of piranha fish who have heard a splash in their river.

Finally, one of my defenders blundered, his exhaustion made him unable to recover from a body fake, and without thinking, he simply grabbed the shirt of Ulises as he flew past towards a one-on-one, and pulled him to the ground. "Sorry, malungo," he said, "reflexes got the better of me."

"No problem," said Ulises, wiping the dust off of his clothes. "Thanks for the free shot." Ulises was awarded a penalty shot, and from what I had seen on TV, it was practically impossible for a goalie to block this kind of one-on-one shot from close range. The best the goalie could do, it seemed, was to try to outguess the kicker and to jump either left or right at the very moment that the kicker was making contact with the ball in the hope that luck would favor him, and the ball would fly towards the side of the net he had opted to cover. As Ulises surveyed the net, I felt as though I were standing with the clay pigeons in a shooting gallery. "Well, doctor, youíve put up a good fight," he said, "but now itís time to bring you back to earth."

"Nail it!" his friends were yelling to him.

For some reason, I felt I could not let him score. I got up on my toes, I felt an animal surge of energy rush through my body, he, too, was intense: we faced each other like two duelists on a cliff. And then he was stepping up to the ball with his right leg swinging back to strike the blow. At that instant, I gave a little fake to the left, as though I were about to dive left, then dove right. Sure enough, Ulises, picking up the cue of my body, directed his shot to the right, which is exactly where I dove with furious intensity, skidding across the ground and driving the ball away from the goal. "Holy Mother of God!" he cried out. "You son of a bitch, youíre catching on too fast!"

And his friends, laughing at him, said: "Youíve been bested by a gringo! And this one isnít even in a helicopter!"

Excited by the miracle, my own team rebounded for a moment, and our self-destructive ball hog, Cosmo, took the Samba Fiends by surprise by dribbling into their midst, then uncharacteristically passing to a teammate outside of the swarm of defenders which had congregated to confront him. Pele got the ball, brushed past a flat-footed defender, and blew a shot past their goalkeeper to make it 2-1. "Quilombolas!" my team cried out, raising their black fists to the sky. "Take that, Fiends! And get ready for the next one!"

But the Samba Fiends did not buckle. They cooled our impassioned players down with their brilliant passing, controlling the ball until the moment of wild inspiration had passed. When some of our players got impatient, and tried to press them, they managed to put together a series of quick passes that terminated with Zezinho getting another shot on goal. Once more I blocked it, crashing to the ground like a Hollywood stuntman. By now, a large crowd of spectators had gathered around the playing field, and I became aware of the wild cheers of the bairro residents who were delighted to see how I had taken to their sport. "Look out, Fiends!" somebody was yelling from the sidelines. "The kamikaze doctor has got your number!"

But time was running out. Our team was behind 2-1, and we needed another goal. Inevitably, we began to take more risks and to put more players up front, leaving ahead of me only a couple of defenders whose legs were clearly shot. For a while, the Fiends weathered our desperate assault on their own side of the field, then, waiting until we were dangerously open, launched a determined counterattack on top of seemingly tireless legs. I saw my defenders utterly outplayed, and as a pass flew into the open space ahead of me with Zezinho charging towards it at full speed, I rushed out to try to get to it first, to deny him the opportunity of facing me alone. I barely outran him to the ball, but I was out of the zone where I could handle it, and had to kick it by him. But another Fiend was rushing for it, and I had to loft it over his head, then rush forward to try to prevent yet another Fiend from reaching it. "Kick it out, kick it out!" my teammates were yelling frantically. "For godís sakes, doctor, donít play with it, hurry up and kick it out of bounds!" Behind me the net was wide open and the Fiends were charging at me from all directions, and though my determination was great, I knew my skills lagged far behind and I was in danger of being stripped of the ball and made a fool of, like the great Colombian goalkeeper Rene Higuita in the classic 1990 World Cup match between Colombia and Cameroon, when that beautiful spirit, one half elf and one half lion, fell from Heaven and was cast back to human form. Where the idea came from, I do not know, but seeing the Fiends thundering towards me like a stampede of bulls made me realize, in a flash, that other parts of the field must be opening up, and seeing Cosmo standing alone close to the opponentís goal, filled me with the spirit of fighting back. I started to dribble the ball forward which checked the advance of a Fiend for one moment, giving me the space I needed to loft a hard kick, with my teeth gritted, in the direction of my striker. As I later learned, he maneuvered at the last minute to avoid an offside call from our amateur but zealous referee, then broke forward in the direction of my kick, which was way off target, but which he nonetheless chased like a galloping horse and brought down with a brilliant leg thrust up into the air. He staggered from the effort, then recovering quickly, dribbled past a defender who was rushing back to cover him, slipping around his momentum; one on one with the goalie, he faked him off balance, then fired a shot past him as he was leaning the other way. The goalie fell down to his knees, clutching his head and shouting: "Son of a bitch! Beaten by a god-damned wannabe!"

Meanwhile, the crowd on the side of the playing field was now cheering madly, as though this was a World Cup final, and somebody even had a Brazilian flag out and was waving it around in the air; and two pretty girls with bare midriffs were gyrating their hips and screaming, "King Cosmo, where it counts!"

"Please be quiet," one of his teammates said, "or we wonít see a pass for another year."

Meanwhile, Gabriel and Benedito were slapping me on the back, saying, "Doctor, what a miracle! Have you been saying your prayers, or have you injected yourself with some kind of medication?"

"Two minutes!" the referee told us, waving a clock in the air which we later found out was broken.

You could see the Samba Fiends were not content to settle for a 2-2 tie. Their jokes stopped, their brows furrowed, from jesters and kids they became serious like soldiers. "Come on!" they told each other in the voice of tigers. They surged forward, as some whistles appeared from the side, and a drum, making our little game sound like the Carnival, or like some magic spell being cast. Our defenders, who were now playing like bowlegged sailors staggering off the gangplank after a year at sea, dug into themselves for one last drop of adrenalin. But you could tell they were about to break. Finally, Zezinho got open at a distance and fired a cannonball of a shot in my direction, which fortunately sailed over the goal. "Antiaircraft!" one of the Quilombolas cried out in relief.

A kid brought the ball back to us, and my teammates said, "Send it downfield, doctor, use that golden leg of yours to get it as far away from our net as you can." They were trying to run out the clock and lacked the stamina to keep the ball away from the Fiends by running and passing. Nonetheless, Cosmo made an effort to go for the ball which I kicked downfield, but even he was now at the end of his rope, and accidentally kicked it out of bounds as he was trying to pass a defender. The Fiends came back with the ball one last time, determined, still somehow able to put together combinations of sharp passes. We had the area in front of the goal pretty jammed with defenders, but suddenly Ulises hurled himself through their ranks, as Zezinho lofted a ball above him to set up a header. The pass was long, but an exhausted defender grabbed Ulisesí shirt, anyway, drawing a penalty with only seconds left, and leaving me, one more time, face to face with Ulises. With the score tied 2-2, and only seconds left, it seemed certain that the Fiends would take us down by a penalty kick.

Like two lions meeting in the bush, Ulises and I faced one another for the second time. This time, you could tell, my adversary did not intend to lose. He didnít say a thing, his body was alert, weapon-like, filled with electricity. Slowly, he advanced to the ball, then a decisive urge filled his body, it became suddenly explosive. I faked left, then, this time, dove left! Ulises, who did not fall for my fake as he did before, read my movement as a feint and aimed towards it, since he believed I was actually intending to dive in the opposite direction. But this time, I dove in the direction of my feint! Even so, the ball came hard, and I barely managed to deflect it with my arms, which tingled for some time afterwards. "Son of a bitch!" Ulises exclaimed in shock, while the rest of his teammates merely dropped their jaws. "The bastardís a f**king mastermind!"

I didnít feel that way, but I couldnít help enjoy my accidental incarnation as a soccer star.

"You would make one hell of a peopleís soldier!" said Ulises, after the whistle signaled the end of the match, and he was finally able to reach me through the swarm of teammates with which I was coated. "Youíve got the brains and the physical strength. Too bad youíve decided to devote your life to healing people," he jested. He gave me an embrace.

"And Mina?" I demanded one more time.

He put his arm around me and took me off to the side, as bottles of soda and water canteens blossomed all around the field like flowers in the spring. "Look, letís forget about that," he said. "Nothing will happen to her. If the police come looking for me, the wind will blow them away, thatís all. Sheís off the table. OK? You love her, I respect her. Sheís off the table. Just be cool, thatís the deal."

We shook hands on it: two men from different worlds, equally sweaty.

With this soccer match, I climbed one more rung of the ladder that leads to the soul of Bairro Capanga.

June 23: At last, the huge breakthrough of getting a convoy to bring my most severe cases to the hospital network in Rio which has been enlisted to support civic action programs throughout the state. A lot of push was needed to get this far. Before my departure, I had two more cases of note. The first involved a little girl who was brought to me by her distraught mother, because she had stepped on a discarded needle up on the Colina dos Bluns, and the mother was afraid the girl might end up being contaminated by AIDS or Hepatitis or even Tetanus. The motherís desperation was moving. We cleaned the wound, bandaged it, and gave the girl antibiotics and took a blood and tissue sample. The results of the "fast test" entry-point analysis are encouraging, but weíll need more time to be absolutely certain. The other case involved a woman giving birth. She insisted that I be present even as Dr. Vega delivered the baby, which turned out to be a healthy 6 Ĺ pound child with the lungs of an opera star. Before I left, she said, "Thank you, doctor. Do you know what I am going to call the child?"

"No," I admitted.

She squeezed my hand.

"Cheri," she said, and she gave me a wink. This woman was one of the spectators who had watched us as we struggled with the case of Sebastiao.

"Iíd like you to be her godfather," she added.

So now I have my very first goddaughter.

To bring my patients back to Rio, the army sent 3 APCs as an escort, one army truck containing two stretchers, and three prison buses with cage-like windows and poorly applied coats of gray paint. The seats inside were torn and covered with stains. "Look," one of the escort team told me as I complained about the condition of the worse of the two buses, "these are people who are used to crawling around in a garbage dump. For them, this will be like a palace on wheels."

Little by little, my patients arrived, escorted by friends and by members of the Quilombolas, who were coached by our doctors. A few patients were brought up on stretchers from Evaís cave and from their homes.

All in all, I had ten severe cases of TB who would ride in one bus with open windows and a fan blowing away from the driver. We would commit them to a treatment program at the Sanatorium St. Teresa, about fifty miles out of Rio on a hill overlooking the sea. We had seven cancer patients requiring intensive care, who would be delivered to an oncology unit in Rio; fourteen uncontrolled cases of AIDS; five patients requiring surgery beyond our limited capabilities to perform, who would be sent to an affiliated hospital in Rio; three cases requiring advanced physical therapy; three patients slated for operations on their eyes, for which we had no specialist; fifteen patients scheduled for advanced internal testing; and twelve cases of SDV which demanded a higher level of intervention than that which we could provide. The SDV patients, including Maru, wearing a veil like an exotic harem dancer, yet utterly frightening to her neighbors, were loaded onto one of the buses, and all of the others were crammed onto the third bus. The sickest few were laid down in the back of the army truck.

"Doctor, are you sure we are not being shipped off to prison?" one of the TB sufferers asked me.

Someone else said, "Isnít it true that the Nazis had a program of eugenics, and that they killed off old people and the sickly, so that everybody would have blond hair and blue eyes and muscles like Samson? Arenít these buses like the trains that took the Jews to Auschwitz?"

"Youíre going to be fine," I told them. "Youíre going to hospitals and clinics. Iíll be there, to look after you."

"Look at how the soldiers back away from the people with SDV," Ulises observed. "Theyíre terrified of them. I bet they donít have the guts to frisk them. They donít even have to see their faces, just the sight of the veils makes them run."

Most bystanders thought he was only deriding the soldiers for their lack of compassion, but I saw his comments in a different light. I had visions of the guerrillas trying to use SDV patients to smuggle weapons and explosives past military checkpoints. "Donít get any ideas," I told him.

He looked at me, and laughed. It was the laugh a mountain gives when the clouds that envelope it pass, to reveal another mountain peak, just as tall, in the distance. "Take good care of them, doctor," he said. "People say that the poor peopleís hospitals of Rio are like a black hole. That they are only morgues, in disguise."

"Iíll look out for them," I agreed.

Mina came up to me, with Helder and Zenobia walking shyly by her side. She encouraged them to say good-bye to me. Then, Mina and I shared an overpowering hug; she held me with the power of a woman doing work but with the passion of a woman who has thrown everything to the wind. She looked deeply into my eyes. "Youíre not going to leave us, are you?" she asked me.

"No," I promised. "Iíll be back. For Bairro Capanga; and for the woman I love."

Her gaze did not release me. "I know you are discreet, not dishonest," she said. "I know you are not alone. Will she make you forget me? Will her arms that wrap around you bury me?"

"I love you," I told her.

"When you are in front of me," she said. She kissed me strongly, then turned around and walked away before I could see a tear.

The other bairro residents looked everywhere they could, except at us. At the sky, at their feet, at the buses, at dreams inside their head. But soon, our attention was recaptured by the task at hand.

"To hell with it, doctor!" exclaimed the driver of the bus full of SDV patients, leaping out of his vehicle as though it were on fire. "You really think Iím going to drive these monsters all the way back to Rio? Iíd rather get f**ked in the ass by a guy with AIDS. Iím sorry, Iím a bus driver, not a saint! If I wanted to die, Iíd drink poison!"

"You wonít catch SDV merely by driving the bus," I told him.

"Right, but if youíre wrong, itís my life thatís ruined, not yours! I might as well stick my face in a vat of acid, god damn it!"

"Drive the bus," a fierce-looking soldier told him, striding up to the disconsolate driver. "Weíve been given a mission, to bring these people back to Rio. Itís part of civic action, and civic action is a military duty. Youíre under orders."

"Iím a f**ing civilian, not a soldier!" the driver retorted. "I was contracted to drive a bus, not a piece of hell on wheels! No one said anything about SDV! This is a misrepresentation. My company could sue you! God damn it, after we use this bus weíll have to burn it!"

"The seats have been covered over with plastic sheets," I told him. "After they are removed, you will only need to spray the bus with disinfectant Ė 2 parts AV-7, 8 parts water -and air it out for 72 hours," I told him. "Itís a very simple decontamination procedure."

"Drive it!" the soldier shouted.

But the driver would not. "You can shoot me if you want," he said, and it seems he meant it. "A bullet would be faster and quicker. And the hole will be easier to cover over, so my casket can be left open at the funeral."

For a moment, the two men stared at each other as though they were about to come to blows, while other soldiers in the convoy wandered away, fearful that they might be called upon to take the driverís place. Finally, I said, "Go to the other bus, and ride back to Rio with your friend." Both men looked at me with surprise.

"Iíll drive the bus," I told them. Discounting my experience with motorbikes, which are very different anyhow, I said: "I am only used to driving cars with automatic gears, and driving on well-paved roads, but somehow, Iíll make it. Show me how to use the clutch on one of the other buses."

"And Jesus said to the leper, ĎBe thou clean,í" muttered the driver. "Amen."

"I am not a saint, I am a doctor," I retorted. "I know the scientific principles of contagion, thatís all. Show me how to drive the bus, and Iíll do it myself."

Twenty minutes later, we were pulling out of Bairro Capanga, led by two APCs and followed by another. After a while, an attack helicopter appeared in the sky above us, buzzing us repeatedly, while the gleeful pilot waved and gave us the thumbs-up sign.

"Someone made the coffee too strong this morning," one of my SDV patients told me.

Another said, "Careful, doctor, see that valley on the side of the road, where all the crosses are? Thatís where another bus went off the road." They could tell from the way I was wrestling with the clutch, and from the occasionally desperate appearance of my face, which some of them could see in the rear-view mirror as I wildly spun the steering wheel which seemed to revolve endlessly in my hands, that I was not the most polished of bus drivers.

Finally, another patient asked me to turn on a radio on the dashboard which the panic-stricken driver had forgotten to remove from the bus. "It will take our mind off of the fact that the road has no guardrails," they said. After a while, a love song came on. The lyrics were: "How I long to look into your eyes, how I long to be kissed by you, I want to live in the palace of your caresses, I want to be the queen of your lust, I want your lust to have a heart." Behind me, in the mirror, I could see a bus full of people cryingÖ

At last, we came to the outpost checkpoint, a newly installed fortification which had not been present when we first came out of Rio Proper. There were two bunkers on the side of the road, a heavy iron gate, and coils of barbed wire creeping about everywhere, like swarms of serpents mating in the grass. There was also another barricade formed by parked trucks Ė a kind of laager fort updated to the era of petroleum - and a squadron of APCs with machine guns serving as gun emplacements. A very short, strong man demanded to look at all our papers, even though we had a military escort. The leader of our unit rolled his eyes, and complied with his demands. But when they brought dogs out to sniff the buses, our leader finally said: "Were you taught that rapid and effective movement is the essential attribute of convoy self-defense? You are hanging us up here in the open, exposing us."

"Who will attack you here, at our checkpoint?" the short man demanded.

"Even if no one attacks us here, you are giving time for guerrillas to set up an ambush down the road." Then, observing one of the manís dogs smelling the ass of another, he said: "Looks like one of your dogs has explosives up his butt. Better shoot him."

"I am going to report you," the short man said.

Again, our leader rolled his eyes.

When it came time to move on, we were further delayed by the fact that the barricade of parked trucks was rendered inoperable by a stalled-out vehicle which was meant to serve as its gate. "Well, just move one of the other trucks," our leader said.

"None of them have gas," the short man said. "Otherwise, they could explode if hit by enemy fire."

"Well, donít you have a tow truck?"

"No."

"What about ropes and cables? Use one of your god-damned APCs as a tow truck." We couldnít drive around the barricade, because deep pits had been dug on either side of it.

Finally, after a long struggle beneath the lifted hood, the truck was restored to operation, and lumbered away down a looping side road, leaving a gap in the barricade through which we could pass.

"Imbecile," our leader told me, gesturing back in the direction of the short man, as he walked up our column, assessing its readiness to proceed. "Itís idiots like that that give the guerrillas a fighting chance."

We drove for a while longer down the road until we finally reached the more formidable fortifications of the "inner wall", with their minefields and pillboxes, where we were again subject to an inspection, this time conducted with far more competence and professionalism; at least it was faster. Our leader handled all the paperwork, and then a soldier came onto our bus. He had hardly set foot in it when he jumped out again.

"He must be with the paratroopers!" said one of the SDV patients. My bus was filled with laughter. When the soldier gave the hand signal that indicated we had been searched and cleared, they laughed again. "What a professional! He did what usually takes ten minutes in a matter of seconds!"

Once we passed through the inner wall, behind which Rio Proper lay, we proceeded along the highway to a medical staging area, from which my patients (and others like them, from outlying civic action programs), will be brought to the various clinics and hospitals slated to treat them. I spent the night in the doctorís quarters, but managed to place a phone call to Dirse.

Her excitement at hearing my voice, and knowing that it came from so close, was painful to me. Things I have not told her are destroying me from within. I have followed the logic of my life and the dictatorial decrees of my heart, but as I have walked in the world, hand in hand with my truth, secrets have come into being, secrets born in a pure place that have begun to turn rotten, because I donít know how to talk about them, I donít know how to love two people at the same time.

If Jesus wanted us to love the whole world, why is it a sin to be in love with two women? Why is it that I can hurl myself into the abyss of poverty and hopelessness, throw myself off the ramparts of privilege to heal the sick and hold the damned, follow the example of Christ and Buddha as best I can, and yet, still end up feeling like a lowlife, a wretch, a seedy, shady, worthless piece of shit? This horrible self-loathing has been lurking at the bottom of my love for Mina, cursing me from within my happiness like a prisoner in chains, because Dirse was first, and she will be hurt, and doesnít deserve to be hurt. I am dreading meeting her again. I am desperate to stay with my patients, not only because they are fearful being in a new place and need my help, but because I can use them to avoid Dirse. One look into my eyes and she will know. What have I done?

I have never felt so alone. In the middle of a world of despair, on the brink of an apocalypse, I am in turmoil because of two women. "Whatís wrong?" Dirse asked, troubled by my voice.

"I am exhausted from my work," I told her, unable to open up.

She spent five minutes sympathizing, which made me feel like the devil. Old memories flooded my heart: parties, dances, kisses, books read together in chairs placed side by side in the same room. Intellect and flesh, laughter and idealism. Nostalgia seized me by the throat. Then I saw the tear that Mina hid from me as I was leaving.

"I am a doctor," I reminded myself. "Tomorrow, thank God, I am sure to be very busy."

June 28: Getting my patients placed and attended to has not been smooth. In the last days, I have felt more like a battering ram than a doctor, trying to smash down bureaucratic doors which are as heavily fortified as castle gates. There is an incredible malaise which hovers over the healthcare system for the poor here, in Rio de Janeiro, an attitude of utter defeatism and disinterest. So much death has been seen that no one any longer seems inclined to lift a finger against it. The resources allotted to these despised beings are pathetic; doctors who once cared no longer care, they are like soldiers given stones to fight airplanes, who after a few earnest battles have learned their lesson and just prefer to go home. The hospital has become a hospice, the hospital bed a coffin, the doctor a kind of priest administering the last rites. My furious rants have become legendary in only a matter of days; merely in attempting to perform my duty I have become a kind of Don Quixote, absurd and out of touch with reality, charging windmills with my lance, liberating convicts as though they were fellow knights, bowing down to prostitutes as though they were queens. The doctors and nurses here are stoic when faced with my tirades, you can see they have absolute faith in the ability of their system to wear me out; they watch me as though I were a moth wildly beating my wings against the window trying to get in; they know I wonít be around forever. My wings will tire and one day I will drop out of the sky and stop being a pest. The window that keeps compassion out has never lost.

Besides circulating among my patients and dividing my time between several sites, as I struggle with staff to insure that all of my charges receive the treatment they have come for, I have been reduced to performing all sorts of tasks which should be the province of others. I have had to bring fresh towels to the patients, water, and ice from the ice machine; I have had to change sheets and bandages, help patients to the toilet, replace IVs and catheters that were incorrectly inserted, and hunt down fresh needles Ė yes, fresh needles! Can you imagine, they were going to use the needle from one patient on another, after only the most cursory rinse beneath a stream of warm water! So a major portion of my efforts, here, has revolved around finding out the competent doctors and nurses in each facility, and then dragging them into the care of my patients. I am aware that by twisting their arm to help my people, I may be pulling them away from others, and the thought does torture me. But this is the nature of advocacy, and the people of Bairro Capanga count on me. Letting people down is for me the greatest sin there is Ė worse than robbery or murder. I am hopeful that Dr. Tavares and Dr. Cumberland from our civic action program, who have expressed a desire to leave Bairro Capanga which is stressing them to the breaking point, can be convinced to stay on with the civic action program and work here as our contacts in Rio Proper. That way, I wonít feel that our patients will simply fall through the cracks of a system that doesnít care whenever we send them here.

The discomfort of many of our patients is heartrending, and it is not easy for me to assuage their fears. One of them, just before they put him under for an operation on his liver, made me promise that the doctors would not also give him a vasectomy while he was unconscious. "They want to sterilize us," he told me. "To turn us all into dogs without balls. They want to take away our manhood, deny us the joy of having children. They say we have too many children, but the truth is, their hearts are too small. They say there are too many people at the table for the size of the pie, but the truth is, they take pieces fit for giants. Our semen is not the problem, their huge mouths are the problem. I donít want my manhood stolen because of a lie. I want to give Josefina one more child. I want to watch her feed the baby at her breast." I promised him that no one would cut his sperm ducts.

Meanwhile another patient, this one with full-blown AIDS requiring massive intervention, told me: "Please, donít leave me in the night, doctor! I know itís a lot to ask, but couldnít you pull up a chair over there, and just keep watch. You can keep the lights on if you want to read, so you donít get bored."

When I asked him what the problem was, he told me that the daughter of the President of Brazil was known to come around in the nighttime, giving lethal injections to the patients as they slept. "Singlehandedly, sheís killed over a million Brazilians. Itís well-known. She is the great depopulator, she is working for the army. They lure us to come here for healing, which is where they finish us off. She learned this from the Nazis when they escaped to South America after the Holocaust."

I had to spend an hour with him exploring this urban legend until I could finally allay his fears.

Then, up in the seaside facility of St. Teresa outside of Rio, which we could only reach after passing through a variety of checkpoints and roadblocks, I had to struggle to get my TB patients settled in. "Doctor," they said, "they said this place was beautiful with windows overlooking the sea, but all the windows have bars. It makes the sea less beautiful. And the patio where they say we are free to take the sun, is like a wind tunnel. This is not a sea breeze, it is a tornado. As for the blankets Ė look, this one, here, it still has blood on it. What kind of nuns are these, not only are their bodies closed, but so are their eyes and their hearts." I had to work hard to charm one of the sisters into being more attentive to my patients. By writing her once a week and establishing a regular correspondence which will compensate her for the lack of romance in her life, and take the place of the beautiful flowers she has cut beneath her altar of Jesus on a cross, I hope to keep her involved in my patientsí care. For these nuns are also resigned; their lethargy is encouraged by visions of a better world beyond. They do not dread neglecting the ill, for they imagine that every one of their mistakes is backed up by a golden place of light, stretched below their negligence like the net underneath a tightrope walker.

I still have not seen Dirse, though we are talking by phone. She considers me to be nothing more than obsessed and ravaged by worry over my patients. But soon, we will have to meet each other face to face. Soon, I must stand up and accept the consequences of my actions; reap the fruits of my disobedient form of love, whose sweetness I could not resist, and whose bitterness I may not be able to endure.

July 2: My world is hell, I wish I was dead.

Two days ago, I returned to the secure zone, dreading the meeting with Dirse. On the way, driven in an armor-plated cab attached to the embassy, we passed by a bookstore from which a file of men, with hands placed on the tops of their heads, was being led out by a band of plainclothesmen armed with machine guns.

Our driver rolled down the bulletproof window and asked an officer, "Whatís going on?"

"Books about Che. A whole shelf of them, in a backroom. Covered over with book jackets about the Mambo Kings and the History of Hollywood."

"For Godís sakes, please put the window back up," the passenger beside me in the cab, a member of the diplomatic corps, urged the driver. "Suppose someone starts shooting?"

When we arrived at the guardhouse outside the fortifications of the secure zone, we were all asked to step out. We were sniffed by dogs, then walked into a screening facility; and as our bags ran on a conveyer belt through a scanning station, we were asked to step up to the retinal scanner, adjust it to our height, and hit the on switch. Several moments later, the officer told us, "Youíre all on file, with clearance." Another officer handed us back our passports, visas, statements of purpose and data cards. We, ourselves, picked up our bags on the other side of the scanner station, then returned to our cab to continue on our way, over the drawbridge and into the compound.

"Very lax," said the diplomat, who was upset that they had not asked us to take off our shoes, or sent us through body-cavity imaging. "Supposing we were terrorists? Iíd like to be able to have peace of mind in at least one place in this wretched country."

The driver shook his head, and instead of replying, merely put on some music: "Iíll Be Watching You." Every breath you take, every move you make, every smile you fake, Iíll be watching you. [3]

In my apartment complex, I was as much a stranger as Ulysses returning to Ithaca after twenty years; the security team, which did not remember me, demanded to see my papers all over again and subjected me to another retinal scan and data card review. Then, all smiles, they welcomed me home, and asking me about my work in Bairro Capanga, but rapidly losing interest when I refused to give them a slice of melodrama but instead confined my story to medical details, they called the elevator for me. Back up in our apartment, I found only an empty room, with fluttering curtains betraying the presence of windows that were left open. Dirse was a lover of the fresh air. After a moment, I found the note on her desk: "Called in to work today, will be back at 8 PM. Why donít you drop by to pick me up?"

I sat down to eat a sandwich she had left for me, nearly choking on her thoughtfulness, then wandered around the home I did not live in anymore, stepping on the landmines of her things Ė her books, her clothes on the hangars, some of which had histories which ripped my heart out, her perfume lingering in the air, footsteps of an angel in the clouds. I looked out of the window at the streets below, and thought, "How easy to fall out and not have to tell her." But then I thought of my skills as a doctor, and the people I could save. It was my duty to carry on, even if I was a dog.

My stomach knotted, my bowels once more struggling from the stress, I descended from my high-altitude refuge around 7 PM, and headed out of the secure compound to the Penultimate Zone where the Literacy Headquarters of the Department of Education was located. When soldiers came over to question me about loitering in front of the building, I gave them my data card, and after withdrawing it from a police laptop with favorable results, they urged me to wait inside. "Go right on up, doctor," the security man at the front desk told me, "they are working late up there. Maybe you can convince her supervisor to let her off ahead of time."

As the elevator doors for the fifteenth floor parted wide open, I found myself in an enormous room that looked almost like a factory floor, filled with a sea of cubicles, each with a teacher with headphones seated in front of a computer. It was the center of the long-distance literacy program, teaching the poor to read without risking personnel in dangerous areas. On one computer screen, I saw a group of young adults seated, repeating after the teacher in the cubicle: "The army. The army is our friend. The army helps us. I like the army. You like the army. We like the army. They like the army."

Another teacher was saying, "Sit down! Sit down now! Pedro, youíre not paying attention!"

Somewhere else, someone was saying: "Dia Ė d-i-a Ė Dia. Bom dia."

"Iíve lost the connection," a literacy teacher was telling a supervisor.

"Where?"

"Station 785. Mato Grosso."

"Weíre always losing them, god damn it! God must want them to stay illiterate!"

As I wandered, amazed, through the aisles of the complex, a woman came up to me at last, Ms. Edith White, one of several floor managers, asking me if I needed help. She led me at once to Dirse, who I immediately recognized from the back, from the enormous personality of her hair and the theatricality of her gestures. Again, my heart sank. She did not deserve the news I had come to bring her. But if I was so rotten, wouldnít I be doing her a favor by telling her that I was now with another woman?

"The lesson is almost over," Ms. White told me.

I felt sicker than ever.

I heard Dirse telling the class, "Excellent! Excellent job! In another year, youíll all be writers!" And then she was turning off the station, and taking off the headphones which had seemed to compress her.

"Dirse, someoneís here to see you," Ms. White told her.

Dirse spun around, and with a look of joy that was like a bullet to my heart, leapt up and sprang into my arms. "Such a long time!" she exclaimed, not listening to the shouts of my body, which tried to warn her, by retracting, that I was no longer worthy of her affection. "Such a long absence! You were supposed to get breaks, you were supposed to come home on weekends! They lied! Theyíve been working you like a mule. Look at you, youíre white as a ghost!" She stepped back, and smiled, then, refusing to release my hands, looked at me with concern. "You need rest," she told me. "You donít look well, my love." My love! A knife to the heart!

"Dirse," I blurted out, battling against my paralyzed voice. Hurry! I thought to myself, before you succumb to the weakness of others, and settle for a double life! Before you demean her with a charade! "Dirse! I have something to tell you. Something that will cause you a great deal of pain."

By now we were in the elevator going down, trapped with other people, she looked at me in disbelief; she had already guessed. But we did not speak again until we were alone.

"Who is she?" she asked as we stepped out onto the street, into the fresh air which, this time, she did not savor.

I stared ahead into space, hating myself. Already, the woman in her was coming off like make-up at the sink. The little child she used to be, reading books in the middle of the storm of an uncaring family, was returning. I felt like a monster, like the father she had run from, like the brothers who she saw lying to their sweethearts. I was the man who was differentÖ

"A woman from the bairro?" she asked. "One of those pretty black girls? To her you must seem so amazing, like a god. A doctor from the outside, a lifeline. What a card to pull out of the deck. Have you built her hopes up?"

Still, I found it hard to speak. I was dying inside, because she was.

"Whatís her name?" she asked at last.

"Mina," I said.

"Mina who?"

"Mina de Mello."

The fact that the woman had a last name struck her like a hand across the face. You could almost see her tasting the blood in her mouth.

"Did you at least give her an AIDS test before you f**ked her?" she demanded.

"Sheís HIV-negative," I said.

"Youíre a pig!" Dirse told me. She pushed me, with terrible anger, pouring like blood from an artery of pain. "A pig!"

She stormed away from me, started to get into a taxi cab to leave without me, then climbed back out the door and sent it away.

"What, do you really love her, then?" she asked me, throwing herself back into my face. "Or are you just using her?"

"I love her," I said, the words sticking in my throat.

She stood regarding me, bewildered, for a moment. Then she shook her head and tried to speak, but couldnít. Finally, digging up the toughness which I cherished in her from within, she told me: "Do you know, before I met you, you were just the typical med student, except that you wanted to be more rugged than the others, and to test yourself a little more? Or was it just that driving around on a motorcycle helped to pick up girls? But if you hadnít met me, you would have been content to sow your wild oats with a couple of road trips, and that would have been it. A practice, a house in the suburbs, a lifetime of caring for the sicknesses of indulgence and the neuroses of the rich. Iím the one who showed you the world, the world beyond your middle-class gardens, the world on the other side of your bourgeois hedges. Iím the one who shoved your face into the water of suffering. Iím the one who planted the seeds of a conscience into the earth of your boyish unawareness, your charming self-absorption. Iím the one who put the idea of service into your head, the one who dragged you, here, to Brazil. Whatís wrong?" she asked, at last. "Didnít I go far enough?"

Her sensitivity and courage cut deeply into me. I tried to speak; my eyes filled with tears. I struggled.

"You know," she said, more quietly, "there is a place between hypocrisy and suicide. A place between palaces made of gold and hovels made of mud. There is not only the mountain of the sinner, and the pit of the damned. There is a middle ground in the world where good people can both help the less fortunate and enjoy life. You can help the world without leaping into its blood." She searched me for a reply.

"You really love her?" she asked, again.

I nodded.

"Enough to share your lives?"

I nodded.

She looked at me, incredulous. "You do know the difference between love, and passion? The heart, too, has fads," she warned me.

"I love her, Dirse. I love her."

An interminable, terrible silence separated us, like a telephone ringing in the middle of the night, which no one will pick up; every second we did not speak, another mile grew between us.

At last Dirse shook her head again. It reminded me of the way she used to shake it when she wanted to be noticed at a party, to call attention to her hair, almost as though she were doing a commercial for shampoo; a display, that went along with her laugh and smile. Now it was merely the habit of good times that had ended. I had brought them to an end. I had slammed my foot down on the brakes of a good life and ruined a beautiful relationship, because I needed someone, in a harsh place, to bind me to the choices of my soul. At that moment, staring at Dirseís beautiful face, and at her hair, angelically illuminated by the streetlights, blowing in the wind, I felt like a madman. What had I done?!

Looking at me one last time before accepting the break, she shook her head. Then she said, "Youíre a pig," hailed a taxi cab, and left.

If I could have, I would have spent the rest of the night on the street, wandering alone amidst stores that were shut inside the shells of iron gates and locked behind curtains of steel. But tanks and soldiers were all around; there was no place to loiter, it wasnít like in the old days, when you could ride the trains and buses all night, or sleep on a bench or under a bridge, or hang out with bums drinking coffee by a diner window staring into the emptiness. Reluctantly, I returned to our apartment in the secure zone and spent the night sleeping on the sofa, like a roach walking over a piece of unguarded bread. As soon as I could, I got up, and ran out to check on my patients.

When a car almost hit me as I was crossing a street, I cursed my instincts for saving me. If only I had been a little slower on my feet. What was it, within me, that made me leap, when I wished to die?

July 5: Finally, I got to have that crucial meeting with the Civic Action bigwigs that I have been dreaming about. Itís one day after the Fourth of July, and that huge party they had at the embassy, where everyone was polite, but no one wanted to talk business. "Tomorrow," they said, adding, "Weíve been here so long, weíre beginning to sound like Brazilians!" And everyone had a great laugh. Somehow, ambassadors always turn out to be the most clever of people.

What big chandeliers hang from the ambassadorís ceiling; when I asked somebody about them, they assured me that they were worth millions, but they said it as a boast, not as a condemnation; and somebody else told me that they were the very same ones that had fallen from the ceiling during Haydenís miracle symphony, when everyone was saved because they rushed up to the stage to congratulate the conductor for such a brilliant performance, seconds before the chandeliers landed onto the seats they had been sitting in. "How can these be the same ones?" I demanded. "Are you saying that all this glass came crashing down to the floor without breaking?"

"Always a stickler for details," someone, who knew me only vaguely, explained.

Later, someone else, to rescue the uniqueness of the chandeliers from my cold-blooded logic, informed us that they were actually the chandeliers from the theater in Paris where Stravinskyís Rite of Spring debuted: the performance which provoked a riot, and nearly led to the murder of Nijinksy.

"Your eyes are so sparkling, just like those chandeliers," a pretty young woman in a low-cut dress told me.

"Where is Dirse?" a fellow doctor asked me at that instant, as a way of closing the door in her face. He admired Dirse, as did all who met her, even those who were flustered by her radical pronouncements. But, in the end, Dirse was too entertaining to take seriously.

"At home," I said. "Sheís not feeling well."

"Too bad," he said.

The pair of breasts that had been thrust into my face vanished for greener pastures.

We had the typical 4th of July hot dogs and potato salad in order to be patriots, but there was also steak and shrimp for the dissatisfied, and bottles of wine for those who found no joy in beer. "Liquor before beer, and youíre in the clear," I overheard someone saying, in a tone of voice usually reserved for mathematical calculations. "Beer before liquor, and youíve never been sicker." A moment later, the voice cried out in delight: "Iíll have a margarita!" A DJ came in, and soon everybody was dancing to Madonna: "La Isla Bonita."

Someone who could not escape from serious thoughts was asking one of the dancers, an intelligent-looking woman who liked to be on the winning side, "So what do you think about all this stuff going on about Che? Is this real? Are these people nuts? Is there really the clone of this revolutionary genius coming to Brazil with a machine gun?"

"YES, it seems like heís been cloned," the woman said. (She was one of that elite breed that never says, ĎYeah.í) "However, just think about it. His handlers tossed him into an orphanage and lost track of him. Who knows how he was raised? For all we know, he may have become a banker or a lawyer, he may drive around in a limo, and hate poor people! The people of Brazil are waiting for him to come with a beret and Kalashnikov assault rifle to set them free, but he may just as easily be counting his money right now, or taking a swim in his private pool, or dancing in a discotheque with a sexy blonde. The problems of Brazil may not even have entered into his mind."

The man who was dancing with her laughed. "Oh great, ĎLa Macarenaí!" he cried out, as the DJ switched the tune.

Anyway, no day, thank God, can last for more than 24 hours, and on July 5 the civic action offices were open once again for us to get down to business. Many of the players from my original orientation sessions were there, including Dr. Robert Chafing, Colonel Bradley Barry, and Jack Rabey of the State Department, as well as Celso Hoff of the Brazilian Inter-Agency Facilitation Board. Dr. Bari, of course, had remained behind in Bairro Capanga, along with Captain Mendez.

Dr. Chafing began the meeting by saying that he had received rave reviews of my performance in the "designated treatment zone", with Colonel Barry piping in that our work was playing an important role in helping to secure peace along the approaches to Rio Proper, and to lessen the porous nature of the slums which were potential conduits for guerrilla movement towards the city. But then he added that, in spite of my work, there were signs that guerrilla activity was nonetheless present in the area. He said: "In addition to forging a new, constructive relationship between the residents of the slum and the State, which should diminish the effects of guerrilla proselytism in the neighborhood, your medical team is, in essence, a disguised surveillance wing, a forward outpost for intelligence gathering. As you win the trust of the people and gain increasing access to their community, you are likely to come upon sources of information, hidden from less imbedded operations, which may prove of great value to the defenders of public security." Colonel Barry recounted to me the information sent to him by Captain Mendez regarding the alleged guerrilla firing range in the bairro and the types of ammo recovered from it. "Given the increasingly intimate nature of your relationship with the people of Bairro Capanga, we feel certain that you must have acquired intelligence of value," he said. "It may not seem like much, but anything - something as seemingly insignificant as the appearance of someone you have never seen before in the neighborhood, old scars of gunshot wounds on patients who have come to be treated by you for unrelated conditions, an abundance of single mothers who exhibit interrupted, rather than broken, family structure behavior as described by Delavaud, suggesting that their men might be involved in an insurrectionist movement, a band of young workers passing through on their way to the Ďlabor recruitersí, a stray remark from a woman hanging up her laundry, whose guard has been lowered because you healed her baby Ė anything at all, is worth sharing with us; believe it or not, it could make a difference in the conduct of the war; it could help to save lives."

"You know," Jack Rabey told me, anticipating my reticence, "doctors have a reputation for being either awful mercenaries or outrageous humanitarians. We have come to view you as belonging to the second category, which also puts you at risk for over-identification with the serviced population. You believe your mission is medical, not military, and that your moral imperative is to heal, not to incriminate. But please remember that sympathy towards a man-eating tiger leads to men getting eaten down the road. Good men like Captain Mendez, who is risking his life to keep you safe. Heís got your back, doctor. Do you have his?"

"Once we have information," Colonel Barry explained, "it is possible to plant a diversionary police unit in the neighborhood, which will lead the populace to believe that it is the source of the intelligence which is being gathered about the bairro. Therefore, when arrests are made, your cover wonít be blown. The people will blame it all on the police unit."

"Uprooting guerrillas is a service to the community," Rabey insisted. "It is the guerrillas who undermine the ability of the government to provide services to poor neighborhoods like Bairro Capanga; the guerrillas who destabilize the conditions for investment upon which prosperity depends. Far worse than TB or SDV or even AIDS is the disease of subversion. It is a form of cancer that does not strike down individuals, but kills whole nations at a time."

I felt myself hot, and coated with sweat from head to toe; I felt like a fish swimming in shallow waters, with the beach closing in underneath me, I had a sudden longing to escape back into the depths of the sea, to get as far away from the land as I could and to never return to the shore. At last, forcing myself to focus, recollecting my disordered thoughts like a herd of cattle that must be ridden back into order by rugged gauchos, I told them: "Well, you have the evidence of Captain Mendez. Besides that, all I can tell you is that, in my opinion, sending more soldiers to Bairro Capanga at this moment would be counterproductive. It would make our operation seem to be, too obviously, an appendage of a State security mission, and therefore take away from the benefits we are reaping as perceived humanitarians. It would reinvigorate the cynicism which drives these people from us, and keeps Brazil divided into two nations." I knew these words, as I said them, were not pure. But I had to speak in a language which the men in the room were capable of understanding, I had to pay them in their own currency. The coins of my soul were worth nothing in their minds. While they pondered what I had just said, I went on to say, before they could ponder it too much: "If you wish to fight against the insurgency, you need to do more than send a handful of doctors into the field. Take the case of Bairro Capanga. Even if we focus only on the issue of health, it is clear that treating people who are sick with medicines at Bairro Capanga is not enough. We are now taking the first step to develop a real health care system in Bairro Capanga by acquiring access to hospitals and clinics in Rio Proper to back up our field operation, which is not adequate for many forms of treatment and therapy. But besides this, we also need to modernize the sewage system, which, in its present medieval condition, is breeding all sorts of illnesses. We need to continue working on the control of disease-carrying mosquitoes, with low-impact pesticides, not the high-risk poisons that have been banned in the Center, which is what we are being provided with now. Similar to this, we need to be provided with the best in AIDS medications, not the outdated drugs which the pharmaceutical corporations are still trying to dump on us from their overstock, nor the extreme experimental meds they are trying to foist on the guinea pigs of the Third World, such as Microtoxin 11 with Cell Repopulation Formula as a counterweight. Itís like giving us the atom bomb and a bag of seeds to try to start the world over again after weíve destroyed it. What else? We need the extension into Bairro Capanga of a modern system for the procurement of treated water, via aqueducts, pipes, and taps, to allow for more thorough cleaning and washing, and safe drinking, and also for more effective garden cultivation, because a major problem here is malnutrition, which is like a canister of grape shot fired into the immune system. Besides this, the people need income credits to improve their diet. Right now, they cannot afford to eat properly. I understand that millions of corporate farms, the world over, are destroying crops to keep oversupply, whatever that means in a world of starvation, from lowering prices. Even if there is no desire to correct that problem on a global level, I suggest, for starters, that right here in Brazil, in Bairro Capanga for example, the State makes the effort, through political channels, to acquire some of that product before it is destroyed to distribute it here. A program like that, along with an infusion of income credits to enable the population to afford an increase in protein intake, could have a monumental effect. In the long run, money would be saved, because surely soy, eggs, pork and beef cost less than helicopters and tanks. Besides this," I said, "with reference to the total picture, you need to get the literacy program up and running in Bairro Capanga as proof of your goodwill; the people want it and consider it to be a litmus test of the sincerity of the government, an indication of whether they are to be included in the future, or left behind. And finally, there is the issue of the stone house. As tangible as a roof above oneís head, and as cosmic as the existence of God, that house is the focal point of our relationship with Bairro Capanga. We must give it back to the people who were expelled from it to make room for our medical facility, and construct another facility nearby, which can consist of prefabs and a more permanent treatment room, perhaps utilizing one or two of the armyís field operation trailers. In the same way that the earth revolves around the sun, so human loyalty revolves around symbols. The stone house is the most potent symbol which exists in Bairro Capanga. You must give it back to the people you took it from."

I could tell from the way the men in the room were regarding me that they considered me to be charmingly unrealistic, like a little boy who is running around and around pretending he is an astronaut in a spaceship, saying, "There goes Jupiter. There goes Saturn." Who wants to disturb him playing? And who would ever think of punishing him for imagining he can fly among the stars? Their sense of superiority was infuriating, but it was better than being considered a traitor, and so I stopped myself from reacting against it.

Colonel Barry said, as sympathetically as he could manage: "It doesnít seem wise to make a major infrastructural investment in Bairro Capanga until we are sure it is cleared of guerrillas. Otherwise, we will only be giving them more targets to hit, and increasing the value of the property which is in their power to seize or destroy. By creating more assets to defend, we would be putting an additional strain on our local security forces."

"The point is that the infrastructure will help to win the people over and deter guerrilla activity," I suggested.

"I understand," Captain Barry said. "It is the age-old riddle of the chicken or the egg. I know you are a doctor, and this is not your field of expertise. As a trained soldier, I can tell you that the guerrillas, if they are present in Bairro Capanga, which it seems they are, will eradicate improvements before they are able to become concrete enough to win the people over. Therefore, a certain level of security must be established before the infrastructure can be built. After that, the development of the infrastructure will be utilized to prevent reinfiltration at a later date. Do you see, the development project cannot spearhead the counterinsurgency, it can only consolidate the gains of the counterinsurgency? Itís all a question of doing things in the right order."

"But I thought the whole purpose of our medical missionÖ" I started to say.

"Was to win the peopleís hearts and minds from the guerrillas," agreed Colonel Barry. "But also to serve as an advanced listening post. You were to take not only the physical pulse of the sick, but also the political pulse of the community. Now, the intelligence you have gathered under cover of treating the ill, has shown us that your mission has been inserted prematurely into an active guerrilla zone. Police and military action is required to secure the environment of your mission. Weíll probably leave you in, but mainly for the information you are able to acquire under the cover of your medical work. But weíll need to amp up your military escort to the company-level, one platoon is nothing but a disaster waiting to happen. The winning of the hearts and minds of the people will have to be put on hold until the terrorists who would sabotage it can be pulled out of the community like weeds. Itís a wonder you havenít all been killed."

All of this I found highly disturbing, but before I could foment a response, things got even worse.

A sergeant barged into our meeting and handed Colonel Barry a print-out, which he examined for some time, before lying it down on the table with a look of concern, yet also vindication, on his face. "Itís about the Predator attack outside of Bairro Esperanca," he said, which was just beyond Bairro Curumbim, which I knew. Bairro Curumbim was the place of the Indians, where Mina and I had taken the shower together.

"Predator attack?" I asked. This was the first Iíd heard of it.

"Yesterday night, a Predator fired a missile into a group of young men moving between Bairro Esperanca and Bairro Curumbim in the darkness. They fit the profile of a guerrilla column. Turns out, they were just a bunch of lowlifes returning from a cockfight."

I listened, heart pounding.

"Cockfighting. Terrible," said Jack Rabey. "They put sharp iron spurs onto the feet of the roosters, then set them loose in a pit. They kick each other to shreds and try to peck each otherís eyes out without mercy, while the spectators drink themselves into a frenzy and lay money down like they were millionaires. They gamble everything they own on the outcome, down to their last drop of piss. What a cruel and savage sport! And now, the community is upset because our missile did the same thing to these men that, only a few hours before, they set roosters to do to each other. How they cheered, only moments before, to see the streams of blood pouring out of the prize cocks and to see the feathers floating in the air! Well Ė who says there isnít a God?"

The tragedy of the roosters, I thought: so pervasive! Poor men rising up against the system that denies them, seizing whatever weapons they can find to fight for justice; other poor men with guns placed into their hands by the system, aiming to shoot them down. In the world, there is nothing as precious as consciousness, which is the only thing that can stop the butterfly from diving into the sea, and destroying its wings. "Their lives are miserable," I said, at last. "For men who are used to being torn to pieces, the agony of the roosters does not seem so much an act of cruelty, as an act of capitulation to the way the world is."

"Heís a compassionate doctor," Dr. Chafing reminded them all, trying to explain why I was lagging behind in heaping blame upon the dead.

"From the military perspective, the strike complicates things," said Colonel Barry, "because the people are outraged. Even though the men were violating the curfew and were over four hundred meters outside of the nearest legal public-assembly zone, and therefore qualified as a military target, poor people donít think like that. To them itís all persecution or conspiracy. Thereís no such thing as mistaken identity or collateral damage. We treat them like dogs, and thatís it. So now theyíre all riled up. Between that and the Che craze, which has emboldened them, things are looking ugly. We have a police detachment over there and an airborne company. Weíre providing compensation, and weíve giving every family that lost someone a letter from the president."

"He wrote them each a letter?" I asked.

"Itís a form letter, but it sounds very personal," said Rabey. "He signs them like autographs." Rabey laughed. "Could you imagine, if he had to write a letter to everyone who lost a son in this country? Heíd need six arms like, who was that goddess?"

"This isnít good," I said. "Itís very close to Bairro Capanga. Were there any survivors? Was anybody brought to our clinic?"

"There were fifteen casualties," Colonel Barry said. "From what we understand, two men were being carried towards Bairro Capanga, with the intention of bringing them to your clinic. But they died in transit. They bled to death."

I asked for the names of all the victims, and Colonel Barry placed a call to his assistant to come up with a list of the dead.

"What disturbs me most about this incident," Colonel Barry told me as we were waiting, "is that among the dead were both Indians and blacks. Ethnic barrier dynamics have been cultivated in the region as a complement to the counterinsurgency, but it seems those divisions may be breaking down. Which could indicate direction Ė as in guerrilla influence Ė or else a move towards class as the active frame of identification in place of race, which could be very bad for us."

"Maybe not so bad, after all," theorized Jack Rabey.

We all looked to him for an explanation.

"Maybe itís best that things like this happen," he elaborated: "outrages, which for them are like the Boston Massacre in 1770, when kids throwing snowballs are shot dead by British soldiers, pushing America closer to revolution. Without the Che illusion dancing over their heads, they might just suck it up - things like this Predator attack - and go on draining our resources, like tapeworms swarming around inside our intestines, eating our food, and weakening our bodies. Thereís too many people in the world, all grasping and clutching, like desperate animals fighting over a bone; too many people in the boat for it to stay afloat. Somebodyís got to be thrown overboard. It provokes such a crisis in our conscience to just start grabbing people and throwing them into the sea, it makes Sunday so uncomfortable. How wonderful when they give us a reason! How wonderful when we can get them to attack us, and turn throwing them overboard into an act of self-defense! Pruning the tree," he added. "Weíve reached the limit. Weíre up to our necks in poor people. The only way we can rescue them is to give up everything we have and live in the shit like they do. Their parents didnít want to be sterilized. This is their fault. I know it sounds ruthless, but think about it. The human race is a beautiful thing, but its beauty is destroyed by numbers: its resources are spread too thin, its culture becomes irrelevant, its politics become desperate, its social visions become primal, its potential is degraded, because flies keep swarming out of the wombs of women whose legs are always open. The lust of the poor is what gives the world weapons. They give birth to sons, and indirectly to the airplanes which must be built to kill them. The one requires the other. Especially when people like you, doctor, stem the effects of disease, which would trim the waist of Humanityís hordes in less conflictive ways. If you will not let them die of AIDS, then they must be killed by the bullet! Only when they are cut back like parasitic vines that would strangle everything worthwhile to prolong their semi-existence, their mindless daze, can the tree of civilization grow tall. Itís time to prune," he said, once more. "Time for the gardeners of helicopters and machine guns to do their work, to cut off the dying branches and leaves, and the madly-growing limbs that have no plan except to kill the tree by demanding too much from it. Our way of life is at stake! Thank God the legend of Che has come around, and just in time: to dislodge the poverty-stricken from their apathy and fear, and push them into the line of fire! Even after millions die, there will still be enough left to sweep our floors! God forgive me for being so candid, gentlemen, but isnít it an act of bravery to look the truth in the eyes, and get on with history, without batting an eyelid?"

Others in the room were apprehensive about the effect his tirade might have on me, and I had to wonder if Rabey thought his unburdening would, in some way, win me over to their side; if this was, in some way, intended as a form of electroshock treatment, to jolt me back into the real world and rid me of the mental illness of having ideals. Perhaps I should take it as an extended hand Ė a reminder that I was one of them, and had a place in the post-apocalyptic world if I would only go along with them.

Before anyone could respond, the sergeant had returned with a folder, which he put into Colonel Barryís hands. Glancing at it for a moment, Colonel Barry passed it on to me. Inside were a list of names, and photographs of the cadavers. Thank God, I did not recognize any of them, except as human brothers turned into frightening remnants of themselves Ė distortions of the body, seemingly created by an abstract painter who was pursued by demons inside his head, working with the colors red, purple, and black.

"Know any of them?" Colonel Barry asked.

There were the Indians whose land was stolen by the Portuguese invaders centuries before, and the blacks who were stolen from their land by human traffickers and brought in slave ships, and this was the continuation of their saga. The sugar cane was still growing high, the trees still gave rubber, there was still gold in the rivers and emeralds in the jungle, still the dark brown coffee beans singing to cups they did not know, and still blood pouring from the veins of those whose suffering was the donkeyís back of the world.

"No," I said, adding, "When they are blown to bits, Indians and blacks donít look that different."

Everyone seemed to feel sorry for me. Even though they knew I was a doctor, no ingťnue living in a bubble, they also knew that I had probably never before seen anything quite like this. At least SDV, when it struck, did not come from the minds and the hands of men.

It was at this moment that Celso Hoff told me: "Doctor, out of respect for your conscientious and thoughtful work in Bairro Capanga, I would like to discuss your plans for implementing a broader approach towards the health issues affecting the neighborhood. I doubt that we can realize all of your wishes in a timely fashion, but I agree with you that dispensing medicines is not enough. We need a more holistic approach. In the future, conditions may improve for laying down some of the infrastructure which you have so intelligently outlined the need for, but in the meantime, while we are waiting for the green light from security, letís roll up our sleeves and get the ball rolling. We can write a proposal together, and then Iíll be your point man in Rio and Brasilia. Iíll visit the various departments which would need to be involved Ė Sanitation, Education, Public Health, the Ministry of Development, Civic Action Resources Allotment, etc., and mobilize an integrated development package. It wonít happen overnight, but within a few months we should have something ready." I feel that Hoff is sincere, but he also seems to be one of those who hates to disappoint you while you are face-to-face, and so he promises you that he will bring you a moon rock by morning, and then vanishes into the labyrinths of government, never to be heard from again. ĎI need you to lift an elephant over your head.í ĎSure, no problem.í Poor Bairro Capanga: trapped between Jack Rabeyís realism, my ideals, and Celso Hoffís bravado.

The meeting ended cordially, with the promise of follow-ups. Inside, I was devastated. I am alone in a world that does not care. I donít say this as an act of self-glorification. I am a fool, an absolute fool; I just canít help myself.

July 10: I am withering like a grape on the vine, I need to go back to the bairro as soon as possible, here I am being driven mad. These days are awful. I lost two patients. They didnít die beneath my hands, but they were mine, nonetheless. One of them, Alcibiades, died while they were operating on a massive growth on his liver which was flourishing in the environment of his AIDS-collapsed immune system; they said they couldnít control his bleeding, and it turns out they operated on him without checking his platelet count, which was supposed to have been replenished before the procedure with doses of PL3 clotting culture. The man was definitely terminal, but who knows, they might have given him the gift of another year. He said he wanted to die philosophically; that right now he felt like a drowning rat but that if he had the time to sit out in the sun for a few more months, covered with a blanket, he might finally be able to collect all the strands of his disappointing life and find a way to tie them together so that he could die in peace. I wasnít with him, because I was with Maru, who was undergoing a facial reconstruction, and was terrified she would be given too much anesthesia and be snuffed out in a mercy killing. Right now, she is swathed in bandages and will not know how the operation turned out for another few weeks. However, they have showed her a computer-generated image of the expected outcome, which is only intended to maintain the integrity of her facial structures without restoring her original looks. That would require another round of plastic surgery in the future, if her SDV can be contained. "Anything would be an improvement," she told the doctor, gratefully, after she awoke, barely looking at the image. "If you could make me look like that model whose boyfriend slashed her sixty times with a boxcutter, Iíd be happy."

Next day, Lorenzo, who had acute pneumonia unleashed by AIDS, passed away. I arrived as they were carrying him out of the hospital room. Now, I have to battle with the city morgue to try to preserve their bodies until I can get them back to their families in the bairro.

I thought, this is like being in a war. These are my soldiers, and they are dying, one by one, shot down by a world that does not have the will or the resources to save them. By the time I could get Alcibiades and Lorenzo here, out of the abyss of Bairro Capanga, they were already in dire straits, not that these facilities are excited by the prospect of resuscitating the nameless. And I thought, again, that a real doctor must heal the world at the point where sickness begins; not where the river empties into the sea of death, but upstream, where injustice poisons the water. The true doctor does not carry off the dead like a Valkyrie, after waving the impotent tools of his trade around the dying; he does not consecrate neglect with a final ritual of caring; he heals the world by refusing to tolerate the fact that one half of the earth spits upon the other.

On the same day that I lost Lorenzo, as I left the hospital, I came upon a large crowd of spectators standing in the street, and a group of about ten policemen.

"What happened?" I asked.

"He was shot," they told me.

"Who was shot?" I asked.

"A foreigner."

I pushed through the crowd, showing my ID as a doctor to the policemen.

"Heís gone," the officer in charge of the scene told me.

I bent down to take a look. The man was well-dressed, overweight, maybe sixty years old. Heíd been shot twice, once in the stomach and once in the temple, and the sidewalk around him was stained with blood.

"A tourist," the police officer told me, waving a passport in the air. "A god-damned American, to boot. Why not a Swede, or someone from one of those dinky countries that doesnít pull its hair out over something like this? A robbery," he added.

"There were two men, but just one of them had a gun," one of the bystanders was explaining. "He asked the man for his valuables. The foreigner had a wallet full of money it looks like, because it was so thick the robbers could hardly get it out of his pocket; they also took a watch, a cellphone, a notebook, and, as you can see, his ring, along with the finger it was on. For that they used a knife."

"So when did they shoot him?" a police officer was asking.

"When they first demanded his valuables, he told them to go to hell. You see, the one with the gun wasnít showing his gun, it was in his pocket, since there were people all around. So the tourist thought they were just punks who were bluffing. Anyhow, when the tourist, who seems to have taken the trouble to learn some insults in our tongue, told them, ĎGet out of the way, faggots,í with that horrible gringo accent of his, thatís when a hole was blown out of the robberís pocket, because he couldnít stop himself from pulling the trigger. That first shot went into the touristís belly, and he fell down. The second robber was the one who lifted the stuff from him, and also cut off his finger. When the tourist suddenly reacted and grabbed him, in spite of the hole in his stomach, and the second robber cried out to the first, ĎHeís too big, the bullet didnít make it past his blubber,í the robber with the gun finally pulled it out, stepped up to the foreigner and finished him off with a shot to the head. And thatís how it happened, officer."

"And what did you do while all this was happening?"

"We watched it like the Romans watched the Christians being eaten by lions. What were we going to do?"

Someone else was saying, "They were blacks, 18 to 25 years of age, your height, in jeans and t-shirts, not too slummy, except you could see from their faces that they were utterly corrupt. Their eyes were red like crack fiends and they didnít have souls."

"God damned animals, beasts from the favelas!" the police officer cursed. "You canít build a wall high enough to keep them out, they even get past the electric fences! Theyíre like rats, they crawl through sewers, find any hole, any opening to get here. The army should just drop a f**king bomb on them. Now the tourists will be shitting in their pants."

For a moment, I tried CPR on the crime victim, since the police seemed to have given up on him and the paramedic team from the hospital had not yet arrived. But something about the touristís pale, hairy chest, which I unwrapped from his designer shirt, his enormous abdomen, his body gutted by self-indulgence even before the bullet struck, the brusque features of his face that seemed contemptuous of anything that could not give him pleasure, repelled me. I reminded myself, "I am a doctor, and I have a sacred duty to perform." But I felt as though I were trying to resuscitate a shark, as though I were trying to set fire to Heaven. What an awful feeling! What is the world doing to me?! Surely, not all is black and white! Are we no longer free to wander anywhere we wish, has all the green grass been shut out of reach, has the earth been turned into only two roads, both made of heartless stone, one leading towards a future that is for the few, and one towards a future that is for the many? Do we now have no choices regarding the means; is savagery the one way left to Paradise and Hell? Have compassion for this man !, I demanded of myself. You are a doctor! But I could not stop myself from despising him. Somehow, I was glad when his monstrous body did not respond to my life-saving efforts, when he remained inert on the ground, like the wreckage of a Stuka dive bomber, smoking in the fields it had come to bomb.

"Thanks for trying," the ambulance crew told me, as they covered the body over with a sheet.

"No more ĎHey meester, how a-bout a kissyí for him," someone said, as he walked away from the blood. Everywhere, indifference is gathering momentum. The callous do not hear the sounds of hunger, the hungry do not hear the heartbeat of the well-fed, anyone who is not dying is the one who has stolen the bread from their table; the cold grow colder, the passionate shape fire, like clay, into bullets, they burn with ice; rapists do not feel the anguish of vaginas, vaginas become machetes, immune to tears. Indifference is on the move; it is up to something. No one, here, is safe from what he may become. Why did I ever meet Dirse? Sheís the one who set me on this path, then bailed out. What path? I left her. Sheís too compassionate. It holds her back. What am I saying? It will be all right once I am back in Minaís arms, I have to be there to know who I am, I have to have her tongue in my mouth to withstand this.

In this context, with my nerves agitated and my head spinning, with the meaning of healing in a world that is on fire demanding resolution, but lifetimes from reaching it, I met with Celso Hoff and saw to it that the proposal we talked about was finished. A worthy set of ideas, committed to paper, which now depends on the tenacity and dedication of Hoff if it is to grow legs and walk, like the first fish that brought life to the land. Somehow, I have the image of a giant machine with spinning gears, and a beautiful piece of paper falling through a crack and being torn to shreds in its insides without anybody ever knowing. It is the same machine that makes helicopters that strafe the words ĎNo Moreí.

On the bright side, I managed to reach Dr. Bari by phone, and he will arrange for our team to maintain one or two permanent advocates here, in Rio, to stay in touch with our more serious patients and prevent them from disappearing into the black hole of the public health care system. Without this advocacy, we could not convince our patients to come here in the first place, and I would feel like a deserter to leave them now. They keep begging me, on my rounds, not to abandon them to a medical system which they refer to as "the whaleís mouth." They say, "We are all Jonah, except that no one and nothing can induce it to regurgitate those who it has swallowed." I am, in fact, awaiting the arrival of Dr. Tavares and Dr. Cumberland, which will liberate me to return to Bairro Capanga.

This draining and exhausting chunk of days, this surreal slice of my life, concluded with an invitation to hang out with Colonel Barry and Jack Rabey one last time before heading back to the slums. We met at a sporting club, which has an elegant bar adorned with women who remind you of the reason that the word "Brazilian" gives men erections, world-wide.

"Sorry to hear about you and Dirse," Colonel Barry said.

I shrugged, what could I say?

"We all like her," Rabey said, "but women. What can you do? Iíve been married three times. It makes me understand the Scottish joke about why the man stayed with the wife he didnít love. Youíd think with womenís lib, and all that, that theyíd be paying us by now, but no such luck. Alimonyís a bitch. One more divorce, and Iíll have to go into drug dealing!"

The colonel laughed.

"Anyway, thereís lots of fish in the sea," said Rabey. "You wonít be in the slums forever. Youíre a doctor, and if you havenít noticed from the way women look at you, you wonít have trouble getting a girl once youíre over Dirse. Be careful about those bairro girls, though," he added. "Theyíre a good way to pass the time, but after that, youíve got to leave them. Once a slum rat, always a slum rat. Who wants to have a crack baby?"

After a couple of drinks, Colonel Barry convinced us to join him at an indoor shooting range, which was a part of the sports complex. "Soon, we may be issuing firearms to embassy personnel," he told me. "Things are becoming that dangerous. Here," he said, pulling a couple of assault rifles off of a rack. "M-16 D3 series. It fires anti-personnel fragmenting flechettes, and standard ammo for opponents who are equipped with body armor. Weíll use standard rounds."

Covering our ears with high-quality headgear to protect our hearing, we lined up, standing side by side in front of long lanes fitted with targets. For a moment, the colonel motioned that I should remove the gear, and told me, "You need support for your rifle, doctor. Itís got a solid kick, it will jump all over the place until you learn how to cradle it and hold it right. For starters, to give you more control, thrust your hip out like this. Thatís right, donít worry if it makes you feel like a sissy, just push your hip out like a callgirl, so that youíve got a nice little ledge, made out of your own body, to rest your elbow on. That will help to steady the rifle. The rifle butt is going to punish your shoulder, but if you were in the army, you could have a pad sewn into your uniform to cushion the blow." He motioned that I should restore the gear to my head, and then, he cut me out of his world, as he focused on the target ahead, and let loose with a barrage of gunshots which, even in spite of being shut out by my headgear, assaulted my ears like firecrackers exploding in a garage. Jack Rabey seemed to need no guidance at all in the firing of his rifle, he squeezed the trigger with familiarity and apparent glee, as though he were driving a sports car down the highway, accompanied by a beautiful blonde with sunglasses. Not to be left behind, I spread my feet, worked my left elbow more solidly into my hip, and fired my first shot. The gunís butt pounded me in the shoulder, as though trying to dissuade me from using it. ĎStop, youíre a doctor,í it seemed to tell me. ĎPut me down. Your task is to save lives, I am the opposite of everything you stand for. Put me down before you discover my charm.í The next shot, the gun, in fact, nearly jumped out of my control, as though it wished to escape from me, like the frogs I used to catch as a child with my bare hands, squirming between my fingers and trying to get back to the pond by my familyís house, which I always returned them to, anyhow (but they did not know that was my intention when I grabbed them). With that same desperation and somehow, elusiveness, the gun tried to break free of me; it acted as though the bullís-eye at the end of the shooting lane was its best friend; it wouldnít let me hit it. But my will was stronger. I donít like to be bested by anything. Even to lose a game of chess infuriates me, though I know how to play it cool, because no one likes a sore sport. But I completely sympathize with the German master who, after being defeated in a chess tournament, screamed, "Why must I always lose to these idiots?!" I took a deep breath, adjusted my pose and my grip, and tried again. Nothing changed, and yet, everything changed. The gun butt continued to strike me, but this time, I weathered it; I traded punches with it like a boxer, one shot at the target exchanged for one blow to the shoulder. Somehow, the sound of the gunfire became omnipresent, it became like the chanting of monks which fills the monastery, it became like the hammering of artisans who are not going to stop until they have transformed a slab of stone into a beautiful angel, it became like the surf which has endlessly pounded the shore since the beginning of time, attempting to devour it. "I am a God" the racket told me, "I am the God of the Rich so that I can also be the God of the Poor. I am the cyclone of beauty that envelopes enslaved minds Ė minds chained to greed, and minds chained to the idea of breaking chains. I am the voice of History, I am what you are. I am the halo of sound which shines above your indignation. They shoot me because they want time to stop. You shoot me because you want the hands of the clock to go forward. Together, your gun and theirs make the perfect duet, you build stairs to the future with songs of strife. If I could not end your life in an instant, how would I know you were sincere? How would you ever prove to yourself that you were beautiful?"

Stunned, snapping out of the trance, I stepped away from the firing line to see Colonel Barry and Jack Rabey staring at me, their guns now quiet and limp by their sides. "Wow, are you all right?" Rabey asked me. "You look like youíd just seen the devil."

I breathed deeply, and said, "Itís strange. Itís intoxicating."

"Now you see," said Colonel Barry, "why I chose to become a soldier and not a doctor."

As he went down to the end of the firing range to collect our targets, Rabey asked me: "What do you think is more in tune with human nature? To kill or to heal?"

I shook my head, and said, "Itís easier to pull a trigger than to fix a bullet hole."

"Thatís not an answer," he said.

"I donít like to take the easy way out," I told him. "I never have."

Colonel Barry came back and said: "Well, as expected, I cleaned up. Look at this target. What a wreck. If that was a manís chest, he wouldnít have one scrap of his heart left in his body. You, on the other hand, Rabey, would do well to keep your job in the State Department."

"This shot, here," said Rabey, "would have done him in. All it takes is one. Anyhow, he would have bled to death from all the holes I put into his arms and shoulders."

"The real surprise of the day," said Colonel Barry, turning to me, and waving my target ecstatically in the air, "is our doctor, here. Look, some utterly off shots like this one Ė in fact, some of his bullets even seem to have missed the target altogether. Probably the early ones. Look at this cluster here. Heís a fast learner. Doctor, are you sure you wouldnít like to put your stethoscope down and join the army?"

"No thanks," I said, "Iíve had enough. Can we go back to the bar?"

We finished the day talking about my return to Bairro Capanga. The colonel told me, "Now that youíve actually had a chance to hold a real combat rifle, and to fire it, you see what the reality is weíre dealing with. A war is on, and itís no game. There are men out there who have these, and they want to kill us with them. We need to increase control over the bairro, doctor. Since we last talked, a company has been flown in by helicopter, and the military complex by the stone house has been expanded. Weíve got other units who are planning to set up checkpoints between Bairro Capanga, Bairro Curumbim, and Bairro Esperanca, and a few kilometers of barbed wire fence that we are planning to unfurl will be moved up soon, in trucks. The people, as we understand it, are agitated by all this. We are hopeful that your return will calm them down."

I swallowed hard. The world was coming apart. My delicate balancing act above the flames of Hell could not last very much longer. What should I do? Go in, and get Mina and her kids out? Go back to America with them, and set up a practice in some tranquil town where people still get sick in spite of abundance? Or better yet, some big city where black people with accents donít get stared at as though they were circus freaks? Maybe I should just shoot myself. Why is the world so complex?

"Will you be ready to go back by the 12th?" they asked me.

"So soon?" I asked, relieved.

They nodded. "Things are unraveling fast, all over Brazil. At least, if we can keep our heads above water in this one little spotÖ"

I agreed.

July 14: Before I could leave Rio, Dirse dropped by to see me one last time. I was staying in the doctorís quarters at Civic Action Personnel Wing, which is where she tracked me down.

I tried not to let her beauty affect me, nor the years we had shared, which ticked like a bomb inside of my self-control.

"Is it true you are going back?" she asked me.

"Yes," I nodded.

"I hear it is dangerous," she warned me.

"I know," I replied.

"Is it for her?" she asked.

"For her, and for all of them. Some of them believe I wonít be coming back. That a couple of months was all I could stand of them, and then I burned out. They think my principles are that short-winded, that now Iíll go back to America to live in a big house, with two cars in the driveway, and never think about them again. I have to prove them wrong."

Dirse smiled faintly, and said, "So much loyalty. But not for me."

I looked down, to compose my face, which wished to answer her by breaking down.

I was surprised to feel her hand reach out and take mine in a grip that was filled with both sorrow, and genuine affection. "Your nobility makes the separation harder," she said. She smiled like someone with a knife in her. "What you have done to me makes it hard for me not to hate you. What you have done for them makes it hard for me to stop loving you." She brought me close to her and kissed me on the cheek. "Farewell, companion. May God guide you and protect you. While I sit behind my computer, teaching the young to read by means of the words of dictators, which I pray they will rise above once the power of books is firmly in their hands, I will think of you, out there, among the poor, at the farthest edge of devotion, where there is too much pain to savor the sweetness of oneís integrity. I donít want to be so good that I canít enjoy being good. I am afraid for you."

"There is nothing to fear, except letting Destiny down," I blurted out.

We embraced, a hug that was like a moving funeral, in which beautiful things are said and everybody cries. Her eyes laid flowers on our grave that would last the rest of time.

And then she was gone, and I was alone with the most frightening decision I had ever made. It is not as hard to live without oneís principles as one might think; men do it all the time. What is hard to surrender to oneís principles, to be ingested by them, to become the flesh of something you cannot comprehend.

On July 12th, as planned, I returned to Bairro Capanga with a convoy of trucks which contained the coffins of Alcibiades and Lorenzo, as well as several patients who were coming back from Rio, thankfully not in boxes, and a large number of crates and sacks of flour, rice, dried beans and lentils, beef jerky, complementary shipments of seaweed, and some top-of-the-line AIDS drugs and medical supplies. My supervisors came through for me in the best way that they could. I also brought back a few gifts for Mina and her kids.

As the convoy pulled into Bairro Capanga, swarms of people appeared from the hills and paths, from the shacks and hovels, dropping what they were doing, rushing forward to greet me as I rode by in a jeep, reaching my hand out to them and receiving their hugs and kisses. It was like some kind of triumphal parade, and I had to wipe the tears from my eyes on more than one occasion. "Doctor, doctor!" they cried. "Itís been so long, we thought the rumors were true, that you werenít coming back! Forgive us for thinking that!" One old lady told me, "Iíve cooked you a meal every day you were gone, in case that might be the day you decided to return. Will you come and join me and my family to finally eat that god-damned meal!?" she asked. Of course, I said yes.

Luckily, the people had been informed in advance about the deaths of Lorenzo and Alcibiades, so that there was no bad news to break. Instead, serious-faced members of the Quilombolas arrived to help bring down the coffins from the trucks, as well as to unload the food which I had brought for the people. Dr. Bari and the soldiers came to receive the medical supplies.

"Yo, doc, things arenít cool around here," Gabriel told me, as he received a sack of flour from the back of a truck.

"I know," I told him. "Stay calm. Weíll talk soon. Weíll put our heads together."

Finally, I saw her. She hadnít come right away, and I didnít know why, if it was just to show me that she wasnít the typical subservient woman who comes running to her man in an instant, as though he is the only thing that matters in the world, or if it was her way of saying Iíd been gone too long and made her suffer too much with my absence, and this was payback, or if she had just been busy doing something around the house or garden, and figured if I took all the trouble to come here, I wasnít going to just do a u-turn and head back to Rio Ė so why rush? The delay made her even more beautiful, and I could not restrain myself from striding quickly towards her when I saw her coming, to embrace her, and kiss her on the lips, which she surrendered to me only after a while.

"I thought you lost your way," Mina said, at last. "Howís the old woman doing?"

"We broke up," I said. "Itís you, Mina, and only you. Iíve cut loose. You didnít find another man while I was gone?" I asked.

She laughed and gave me a little shove. "I couldíve found a dozen," was her reply.

I showed her a pair of shoes I had bought for her in Rio, and a dress, and presented toys to Helder and Zenobia. I also gave them some candies.

"Iíll wear the shoes after the funerals," she said.

Next day, we buried both Lorenzo and Alcibiades, and the people asked me to say some words above their graves. I didnít know what to say, so finally I just said something: "I donít know what happens after we die, where we go. Since I donít know, I feel that we cannot surrender the earth. We must fight for each breath of life, and for each moment of happiness. We must fight to make what is in front of our eyes and what is in the reach of our hands worthwhile. We must not postpone our dreams, and we ought not to have to accept flowers that we have never seen in the place of the flowers that are growing by our feet. These two souls, who had both good times and bad times, could have been more and done more if they were loved more. You loved them, but they needed the world to love them , too. They told me so. They died holding the hand of disappointment, wanting more. I am sorry if this is indelicate, but the moment of dying is sacred, and cannot be betrayed, even to assuage our grief. Lorenzo told me, the day before he passed: ĎI am ready to die, let them put me in a box. I have had enough of life. In my name, I ask you to struggle so that my children will not see things in the same way. I never want them to see a coffin as a sanctuary.í I think of the old spirituals which the slaves once sang in my land. ĎLooked over Jordan, and what did I see? Coming for to carry me home. A band of angels coming for me. Coming for to carry me home.í It may be. It may be. It may be that beyond the flesh which I wrap in bandages, there is a spirit that needs no bandages. But still, I donít know. Iím not sure. Even more than that, I donít want a chariot to have to come from on high to undo wrongs that we didnít have to make in the first place. I donít want my friends, right here in Bairro Capanga, to have to wait for angels to come to bring them home. I want the earth we are living on to be our home. I want this to be your home, my friends, I donít want you to have to travel a million miles away, past all the stars in the sky, to reach home. I want you to be able to look around you, right here, where you are standing, and to say ĎThis is home. I donít need to go to America, I donít need to go to Heaven. Swing low, sweet chariot, take me to Bairro Capanga.í" And for some reason, everybody cheered, and Lorenzoís aged mother, who was still alive, hobbled over to me and held me for what seemed like an hour, saying, "I am honored that my son died in your care."

July 18: A large backlog of patients to catch up with, as many of the bairro residents waited for my return before seeking medical attention Ė this in spite of the goodness of Dr. Bari, who simply cannot make a breakthrough on the personal level. He cannot shed his aristocratic aura even when he dons his jeans and gets his hands dirty, and, when he reaches out to them, it seems as though he is only being kind to pets. Polo and tennis infect his tone of voice. The people, here, have an extraordinary ability to detect what is out of place, and have as little tolerance for what doesnít fit in their world as the rest of the world has for them. Poor Dr. Bari - he tries. He really tries. But he is like one of those people who, when jumped by a tiger, tries to reason with it, and the people, here, who have been run over by the streets, ridicule him for it.

Besides this, I am trying to get used to the new Bairro Capanga. It has been despoiled by flexed muscles since I left. The stone house remains in Captain Mendezís hands, only now, the perimeter has been extended and there is another fence of barbed wire beyond it. A little guardhouse has been built on one of the hills, overlooking an encampment of prefabs, which houses forty soldiers, and nearby there is an area which has been landscaped into a landing pad that can accommodate up to three helicopters at a time. There is another military encampment along the path between Bairro Curumbim and Bairro Capanga which was once controlled by the Papaos; it is now the site of a little outpost with a machine gun, surrounded by barbed wire, which is manned by a platoon. A reinforced platoon mans another outpost overlooking Bairro Esperanca, and the paths from Bairro San Judas into Bairro Capanga have been laced with mines, channeling traffic through a narrow and easily controlled checkpoint, which is manned by a thirty-man unit of the National Police. A team of 2 Predators has been assigned to the area, as well as 150 airmobile troops, plus three scout copters, two attack copters, and two transport copters, which are being maintained, in support of this garrison and another, at the base just east of Rio. There are now not only enough men to hold off a guerrilla attack, but also to mount active foot patrols through the area in search of hidden arms and suspicious activities.

"Since youíve been gone," Mina told me, "the bairroís taken a step closer to Armageddon. The gun trees are blooming. Locusts with metal helmets in the fields. Itís all leading to nothing good. People are afraid if they so much as sneeze, the soldiers will start shooting."

While we were talking, some of Minaís women friends came by and complained that at the spot where they were used to picking Genome Dot Com Import Berries, security forces had put up a sign that said "You are now in a No-Public-Assembly Zone", meaning that the Predators were programmed to open fire on groups of eight people and above which were discovered in the area. "Besides the well, picking berries on that hill is one of our favorite places to get together and chat," they told me.

"Did you tell the authorities?" I asked.

"What, so they could give me the evil eye?" asked one.

Another said, "Theyíre fresh," while still another said, "I did go, but some punk with a bayonet on his gun, like the gun wasnít enough, told me that the berries were pirated and that we were all in violation of patent laws, anyway, so I said, ĎFor that the Predators should mow us down?í, and he said, ĎCockfights and illegal berries, and you want us to cry for you?í, and I told him, ĎWhen my kidís hungry, ainít no such thing as illegal food.í So now, doctor, what do we do? We can only go to pick berries a few girls at a time, and life is boring enough. Now we canít even talk?"

"Ainít nothing will stop you from talking, Bella," her friend told her, "they could cut your head off like Anne Boleyn and youíd still be talking. You talk to brooms and I even heard you, one day, talking to a stoneÖ"

"Thatís when it stubbed my toe."

"Doctor, weíre like parrots," one of the woman agreed, "but tell me, is anything wrong with that? Now weíre parrots in cages. Rich women got flat-screen TV to keep themselves entertained, and we got each other. Now, theyíre trying to take that away from us."

"What we need is bread," one of the women complained, "but what they send us is soldiers. Whatís wrong with the world?"

"Itís not good," I agreed. "Itís not good."

"At least Captain Mendez kept his lazy ass in the stone house he took from us," Minaís friend, Gaby, holding a healthy Little Joao, told me. "But this new guy who they have put in charge Ė Colonel Piss - "

"His name is Colonel Decio Pinheiro," said Mina.

"Heís a fanatic. He wants to make a name for himself. He whips these poor conscripts, who only want to hide behind their sandbags, to do all sorts of things. Theyíre putting fences up on the hills, making No-Assembly zones all over the place, and randomly searching people. One night they caught Diego burying something behind his house, and next day they were over there in force with all their machine guns, while others dug with shovels. Well, it turns out, Diegoís wife had threatened to be done with him if he didnít give up drinking, so what heíd buried back there was a box with two bottles of rum in it, and one of whiskey. The soldiers thought they were going to find a stash of AK-47s or plastic explosives there, but all they found was the old manís liquor! Lucky for him, his wife was so agitated by the episode that she didnít hit him. She even went so far as to say, ĎCome over here, Diego, you son of a bitch, Iíll forgive you if you split whatís in that bottle with me.í"

"The bastard Pinheiroís offering a 50$ US reward for information leading to the capture of any guerrilla," said another woman, while yet another provided us with even more alarming information: "Last night, my husband who went out for a smoke said he saw men in black suits, who looked like ninjas or those dancers from Cats sliding down on ropes which were lowered from helicopters, which were themselves painted black, and then the men just disappeared into thin air, and he wondered if they were men or aliens."

"What was your husband smoking?" I asked her.

The woman laughed, and said: "Marlboroughís. You know, the brand the cowboy smoked until he got lung cancer. But itís the only thing that calms him down, otherwise a pin dropping would be too much for him to bear. Heís always had a problem with his nerves."

"If he wasnít dreaming," I told the woman, "those could have been special forces. The helicopters just left them there?"

"Thatís right."

It didnít sound good. To me, it seemed like one of those hit squads Iíd heard about, who get airdropped on a mission, then dig in somewhere and wait, in ambush, sometimes for days, living off of the supplies theyíve brought with them and pissing and shitting into bags.

As we were talking, another woman came up with her boy, Edison, and said, "Doctor, Iíd like you to come take a look at this. See what my boy found." We all trooped over to her house, where she displayed something that looked like a piece of dog shit, laid out on the wooden slab, mounted over two empty paint cans, which they used as a table.

Mina looked at the woman with disgust. "What happened, you were looking for the gold in the dogís ass?" She was referring to a famous local folktale, about a hustler who stuck a bag of gold up a dogís ass and then pulled it out while his amazed neighbor watched. Believing that the dog shit gold, like chickens lay eggs, the duped man bought the dog for a good price, only to find, next day, as he reached into the dogís ass to take out the gold, that his hand was filled with shit. "You should tell your boy not to pick up crap."

"Yeah," another woman agreed, joining in the chorus of condemnation, "the first Edison found a light bulb. The next one found a piece of dog shit. Weíre losing ground. Couldnít he get sick from that, doctor?"

"It might have parasites and bacteria," I agreed. "Itís best not to handle shit, Edison, unless itís absolutely necessary."

"And when would that be?" demanded Mina.

"Well Ė um Ė next question, please."

"The shit was crackling," the boy explained, and he made noise with his mouth that sounded like radio static.

"So now the shit isnít enough," asked Mina, "youíve got to add some spit to it?"

Exasperated by the criticism, the mother picked up the shit in her hand and waved it in our faces. "Look, already! You know Iím not a pig! And you know I raise my kid right. Stop sweating me. Look! Look at it, for Christís sakes!"

Amazed, I took the strange, rubbery mass in my hand, and felt its surprising weight. Inside there was a tiny radio transmitter. I raised my finger to my lips for silence, then said: "Put it outside, Edison, itís some weird kind of battery inside a foam packing."

After the transmitter was out of range, I demanded of the woman: "Where did your boy find this?"

"Way over there, near where her man saw the black helicopters letting off the men who looked like devils."

Now, everyone was clinging to my lips, waiting for some kind of explanation to crawl out of my mouth. Even though I was only a doctor, they were beginning to look up to me as though I were Socrates, who knew the secrets of the universe. I should have been embarrassed by their excessive confidence in me, but then, vanity is not necessarily a vice as long as one fights to be worthy of the exaggerations that others clothe one in. "Itís a transmitter," I explained to them. "It is made to appear like shit so that no one will pay it any attention, or feel any inclination to pick it up and examine it. This kind of technology was first experimented with in Vietnam. Its purpose is to transmit, from the microphone which it contains, the sound of guerrillas passing by in the night to a listening post Ė in this case, probably a forward listening post, for example, one set up by commandos right here in Bairro Capanga. Based on what they hear, they may prepare an ambush involving snipers, or call in airstrikes. Obviously, if Edison heard it crackling, itís defective. But there may be others."

The women looked at each other in amazement. "My God, these people got the imagination of Jules, whatís his name? The guy who invented the submarine and the balloon."

"So did I do something good, after all?" Edison demanded.

"Yes, son," his mother said proudly, patting him on the head. "But from now on, boy, remember, donít pick up no more dog doo."

"Unless itís crackling," he reminded her.

Outside of the womanís dilapidated home, we took no more than a few steps before we ran into Dom Joaquim, who extended his hand to me, then told me, "How do you like what theyíve done to our neighborhood, doctor? Theyíve decorated us like a great big Christmas tree of weapons. Night of peace, night of peace," he began to sing, the Braziliansí version of ĎSilent Night.í "Herodís going to find the Baby Jesus. Before this, we werenít important enough to kill, doctor," he continued. "We were worth less than the metal they put in bullets. But now, suddenly, each one of us is worth a gunshot. What is it that makes us worth so much, now? The fact that we keep our mouths shut when the guerrillas pass by? If thatís what gives us value, we have to keep it up. I donít want to die until I am worth at least one missile. They say that each one of them is a miracle, doctor: the computer chips inside, the infra-red eye, the explosives, the gyroscope, the aerodynamics of the shape which was drawn on a thousand blueprints until it was perfected, and the scientists, and the technicians and the workers who swarmed around it like worker bees around the queen in the hive, until it was finally ready - just like honey. Imagine it, doctor: a poor, decrepit, half-blind, lame man from the slums like me, worth all of that! Oh, what a beautiful shut mouth I have! Itís the only way a penny can become a gold mine!"

"Donít be so high about it," a woman chided him, not picking up on his irony. "This is serious business, here."

Dom Joaquim looked at her and squinted in a way that was meant to be humorous, but which only repelled her, though she tried to lock her aversion inside so that it wouldnít reach him. Then, suddenly becoming regal and grand, straightening himself like a tree that is tired of being crooked, he told us all: "My friends, donít you worry about a thing. You know how my dreams are. Well, Che is coming. He must now be nearly as close to us as Bairro Esperanca. I am not sure if he is walking, or driving a vehicle, or riding on a horse or donkey. But he will be here soon. My friends, the more soldiers that come here, the better. The more fruits in the trees. It will be a bountiful harvest. Che wrote, and I have it on the good authority of someone who can read: ĎIn the beginning of the armed struggle, the revolutionaries depend heavily upon arms captured from the enemy. And one of the main objectives of battle is, therefore, to acquire weapons.í What a brilliant man! Well, look all around us, it is a paradise of armaments! A candy store of murderous devices, misapplied; but once Che comes and seizes them for their rightful owners, the people, they will become paths to liberation. The evil will subside because death will be hitched to white horses. Do you know," he said, "that centuries ago, when the Spaniards jumped the Inca Empire in Peru like muggers in an alleyway, the Indians called the new society that resulted from their beating Ďthe world turned upside down.í Well, Che has come to turn it right-side-up . Weíll no longer be standing on our heads. No, donít tremble because of the soldiersí guns, soon they will be ours! El Che is coming. I promise. I know these things, I stare into the depths of time with eyes of spirit. Science made him a second time, but God made him the first time, and what Science has resurrected is what God created. In all his glory, El Che is on the verge of reappearing in our midst. When you see a duck dive down beneath the surface of a lake, you know he must come back up to the surface in a moment. Well, Che is like that duck. Donít fret because of the dark surface of the lake, my friends, El Che is about to emerge from it! He could only stay under for so long."

"Dom Joaquim," I told him earnestly, as everyone exchanged worried glances, because discretion was not a part of this manís character, "first of all, you mustnít talk like that. You know the new laws about Che. And if this Colonel Pinheiro is as bad as they say, he will have no pity on you, even though you are old, and heíll put you against a wall and shoot you in a second. Secondly, you shouldnít be so excited by the prospect of revolution. These men have tremendous firepower at their disposal, and the backing of an empire. Che is one man. And who knows where he may be, if he is even still alive. Maybe his clone died years ago in a car wreck, or from a drug overdose. Or maybe heís alive today, but like I heard some people conjecturing in Rio, he is far from Brazil, and far from the battle lines: sitting in a bank, somewhere, or selling lottery tickets. Maybe heís a professional photographer, taking pictures of the poor, which, in a world like this, is enough to qualify as a saint; or an ecologist, fighting for the life of tree frogs and not classes. Maybe heís a writer, and this time heís chosen to save the earth in his fantasies; maybe heís winning wars on the pages of his book. He doesnít need to risk his life to be a hero, because he can just write a hero into being. Maybe heís got a beautiful wife, and doesnít give a damn about you, maybe he hasnít even imagined you! Maybe the thoughts which consume him have to do with the world supply of manganese, and his daughterís autism. Donít count on him Dom Joaquim, donít count on him for anything! Donít start anything, or let anything happen, which you canít pull off by yourself! Donít use these crazy ideas about Che to jump off of a cliff!"

But at these sheltering words of mine, Dom Joaquim only laughed. "You are a good man, doctor," he told me, "and perhaps you donít want to be caught up in the middle of the impending inferno, so you are hoping I am wrong; that Che does not come and that we continue turning the other check, and living the life of the mule forever. But I tell you this , though you are a man of reason, doctor, and seem to regard our new faith as merely a superstition : what is only a superstition to those living outside the storm, is the religion of those who the wind is battering. The rich say that the poor are fanciful, that they think like children, and never outgrow fairy tales. The truth is that the rich are like drunkards who stagger past the reality of life on their way home from the bar. They do not see angels, they do not see God, they do not see the second sky that is the human soul, or its stars or planets, they struggle not to fall down in their world of material things, and that is their existence. They call us superstitious because they donít know the truth about the world. Doctor, one of those truths which they donít know about is dreams. You saw what happened to Caesar when he wouldnít listen to CalpurniaÖ I am telling you. El Che is coming, and when he comes, everything will change. We have everything we need to be free, except for a leader. A leader who will raise his hands unto the Heavens, and set free the power that is inside of us, which is what will set the world free." And he added, shaking his fist at the invisible oppressors who deceived others into doubting him: "Destiny is like a magnet that attracts souls. For a spirit like Cheís, in this time, this is the place to be. Before, it was Cuba, and then the Congo and Bolivia, now it is Brazil. He needs to come here if he is to remain Che. And so he will come. He needs to receive, in his hands, the gun which our woes offer to him. And so he will fight Ė fight, like a mother who gives her breast to her crying child; fight like a man who is drowning in the sea of not being himself. Mark my words, doctor, this is no superstition. This is tomorrowís headlines."

I did not know what to say to him. I just stood there, stunned by his conviction, as the women gathered around him, hugging him and warning him, shielding him and chiding him. "Yes, El Che will come," they all agreed with him. "He will show up here, just like you say. But until he does, Dom Joaquim, please donít tell Colonel Pinheiro what you are thinking."

July 20: On this day, July 20, so many years ago, man first set foot on the moon. My stepfatherís father told me that he saw it happen on a black and white TV. It was about two years after Che was killed in the jungles of Bolivia, dying on the altar of a revolution that was before its time. According to the old man: "Neil Armstrong descended the ladder of the lunar module with the grace of a ballet dancer, and when he landed on the dust of the moon, the human race was lifted, for the first time, to the height of its dreams." What an accomplishment! And yet, even as man succeeded in achieving the impossible, he failed to reach a thousand things that were possible; he conquered what was difficult, but was defeated by what was easy. Space was vanquished, but poverty won. A rocket was invented to break the chains of gravity, but the chains of injustice remained. Men gave the universe new gods, but they could not give their brothers a piece of bread. What a glorious, disappointing day! Three men landed on a barren rock called the moon, and then they returned to the green earth; but billions were left behind on the moon known as the Third World; billions were left living in craters, in the darkness, orbiting a paradise that was out of reach.

What a coincidence, that today is the day the giant output screen, erected last week by the Department of Educationís literacy workers, was finally turned on: a moon landing of another kind. This addition to the bairroís infrastructure had already been decided upon before Colonel Barryís decision to place a freeze on improvements; bureaucracy is hard to deter, whether it is at rest or at motion. The "classroom", which is merely an open space enclosed by a fence, was quickly filled with about one hundred bairro residents recruited as students, and the literacy teacher, whose image was transmitted to us from Rio de Janeiro, began by saying: "Reading is the gateway to a better existence. From the very first lesson, your lives will never be the same." And she said: "Do you see these words? Do you know what they say? Would you like to be able to read them? These words say: ĎI live in Brazil. Brazil is my country. I love my country.í These words say: ĎThe most important thing in the world is security. Without security, nothing else matters. Security comes first; then comes the rest of life. The police man and the soldier are my friends; they are here to keep me safe.í Soon you will be able to read these words for yourselves."

Dr. Pinheiro, who was on hand for a photo-op, was stunned, then outraged, as the people began to jeer and whistle.

"We donít want to learn that crap!" someone yelled. "We want to learn about the fish who knocked over the fishbowl he was in to put out the fire in the little boyís room!" He was referring to a popular childrenís story, which was supposed to be based on fact, which no one else but the people of the bairro, however, believed was true.

"Get a prettier teacher!" someone else complained.

While another voice said, "Shut up, and take out your guitar!"

Everyone laughed as, sure enough, the teacher produced a guitar; and they started singing the "A-B-C" song before she was ready to begin, so that when she was singing "A", they were already on "Q."

"What a waste of a beautiful screen," another man was lamenting. "Why donít you just show us a movie? One that has a lot of sex, and cops being shot."

"Kids are here," a woman reminded him.

"Well, take them home."

Colonel Pinheiro, who had barely met me a moment before with a handshake as cold as a serpentís, muttered: "Animals! We go to the effort to give them the gift of literacy, and they throw it back in our faces! Reading isnít of the slightest interest to them; they have no use for brains, anything above the waist is uncharted territory. Do you see, doctor, how attached they are to their ignorance? There is no doubt that the material poverty they live in is a reflection of the inner squalor in which they wallow; the barrenness of their souls creates the misery of their external circumstances. What a disgrace! They are like the mindless rabble of ancient Rome, or any of the degraded mobs of history that ruined the great empires."

As we turned away from each other to survey the "classroom" once more, we saw people beginning to walk out of the enclosure, as the teacher called after them: "Donít leave, youíre only hurting yourselves!"

Finally, only about thirty people remained, including Mina, Helder and Zenobia. Mina, stepping up to the student microphone, told the teacher: "Please, no politics, itís over our heads. We like stories about talking animals, we can identify with them. Especially monkeys." The teacher didnít pick up the cynicism, and agreed to incorporate animals into her next lesson. "Weíll talk about lions and zebras; as people whose ancestors came from Africa, that may interest you."

"Itís a mistake to teach them to read in the first place," opined Colonel Pinheiro, as the disastrous lesson concluded. "Theyíll only end up reading Karl Marx."

July 22: Well, at last, the inevitable encounter took place. I was just coming back from visiting a woman who had a fever in her house, when Eva came up to me and told me, "Thereís some sick young men waiting for you in my cave." And so, I headed that way, past a band of four soldiers who were guarding the entrance of the clinic against our wishes. "They sound like they may have TB," one of the soldiers told me. "The way they were coughing, we were expecting their lungs to come flying out of their mouths."

"Better wear a mask," another one told me.

I thanked them for the warning, told Eva, "Maybe we better move them out into the fresh air," and then stepped into the cave.

There, sitting on tables with folded arms and sullen expressions on their faces, were Ulises, Bronstein and Gabriel. Each one of them, in turn, periodically erupted into fits of feigned coughing for the benefit of the soldiers outside.

"Well," Ulises told me, as it was Gabrielís turn to cough. "It seems like the deal we made is off."

"When I was in Rio, I asked them not to send troops," I told him. "It wasnít my decision."

"Theyíre everywhere," Eva said, staying in the cave with us. "Theyíre like moths in flour, you open up the bag because you want to make some bread, and they fly into your face. They get all over your fingers with their broken wings. A lot of them is still worms, wiggling around in every cup you can scoop out. Youíre not going to throw all that good flour out, so you have no choice but to cook them in the bread."

"Theyíre cramping our style," Bronstein said. "Itís like having broken ribs. It hurts to breathe."

Ulises coughed, then looked at me for a response.

Again, I told him: "I was overruled, Ulises. The army is convinced that the guerrillas are here, and they have decided that civic action infrastructure and services must be put on hold until the guerrillas can be uprooted."

Ulises shook his head in disgust.

"First thing weíll blow up Ė I mean the guerrillas will blow up Ė will be that stupid-ass literacy center," Bronstein said. "F**king propaganda tool. The A-B-Cs of submission."

"This is big trouble, doctor," Gabriel said.

"Coexistence never had a chance," Ulises mused. "It was never anything but a waiting game. During low tide, the ocean gives the land a break, but you know itís only a matter of time till the waves come back to hit the shore. Itís what they do. Itís their nature."

For a moment, the cave was silent, except for the coughing of the actors.

Then Ulises asked me: "Doctor, you have heard about whatís going on in the Northeast?"

"Drought," I said.

"Whole villages and towns have picked up and left, are wandering around the sertao, and no one will take them. Army units have driven the exodus away from places that have water. They are going to get rid of millions by guarding the edges of the natural disaster, locking the people inside the prison of the earthís illness. There is no relief effort, only genocide. Except for the International Emergency Water Provision Corporation, which is charging $5 per gallon at their emergency-response supply stations. Who, in the Northeast, has that kind of money? No wonder the stations have armed guards. Meanwhile, in Ceara, the Peasantís Cooperative is being destroyed by the State Water Control Board. They have diverted water away from the Cooperative to the international holdings, so that the farmers cannot irrigate their fields. After the back of the cooperative movement is broken, and the farmers are forced to leave, the gringos are going to set up a colony of military veterans there."

"Recife and Fortaleza are under a state of siege," Bronstein said. "The people have been igniting tanks with Molotov cocktails. Theyíve been setting off car bombs."

"All of Brazil is like a house of cards," Gabriel agreed. "In Sao Paulo, they got the mayor. A shot from a rooftop. ERBís also overrun a base of conscripts, took over 200 prisoners. The air force has bombarded the area with air-dropped mines to shut down the guerrillasí corridors of mobility, but these paths are also the ones everyday people depend on. So now, the civilian death toll is skyrocketing. There is not enough blood in the hospitals for all the people they are bringing in."

"Two days ago, the Presidential Palace in Brasilia got hit by a mortar round," added Bronstein. "There were no injuries, but a wall was damaged, and now the army is shitting in its pants. When the army shits in its pants, the torture chambers become filled."

"I know things are bad," I said.

Ulises looked at me. "Revolution is like a symphony," he told me. "It builds up that way, like a work of art. The motifs, the different instruments, the softness headed towards a storm, the delicacy climbing towards a release. Finally, on some page of music, the composer writes fortissimo, crescendo, and not one instrument can be left out. The brass begins to roar like cannons, the strings scream at the top of their lungs, the drums pound like holes opening up in the earth, the piano thunders underneath hands that will not compromise. Do you understand, doctor? All of the instruments must obey the laws of the climax. None of them can betray the momentum, none of them can disobey the furious, agitated hands of the conductor, who is history; none of them can sabotage the avalanche of the music by withholding itself. We have reached this point in the symphony of our struggle, doctor. Here, in the favelas outside of Rio, there are silent instruments which must join in the music of liberation. The orchestra depends on us. Written into the sky above the hovels of Bairro Capanga, canít you see it, doctor? The word: CRESCENDO."

I answered Ulises with a throat too constricted to speak, and with torrents of sweat pouring from my brow.

"Soon, not quite yet," Ulises told me, gently, as if I were afraid that he might pull out a gun right now and just start shooting. "You are a good man, but this place is going to blow sky high. The guerrillas only want to pass through on their way to Rio, but, as things stand now, it looks like thereíll have to be a fight right here, to open up the way. You might think of leaving, doctor, while you can. If you stay, youíll have a lot of business, probably more than you wish for."

"Are you going to tell the soldiers?" Bronstein asked me, matter-of-factly, before they left.

My head swirled around in a bout of dizziness, I removed a handkerchief from my pocket to wipe my face with. What a living hell! Did I have no choice but to be a traitor to somebody? Could I save one life, without damning another? Could I avoid taking sides, or was that only the pipedream of an ostrich sticking its head in the sand? And if I did have to choose sides, which one would I choose? The side of my past, the side of my career and future, the side of my class interests? Or the side of the downtrodden and abused, the side of the highest human ideals which have never lost sight of the concept of justice, in spite of centuries of degradation; the side of metamorphosis? Or was the mere thought that I could be anything but who I was only a romantic notion of the rich, another of their privileges: a politicized version of skiing or skydiving? Were the poor my playthings, my antidote to boredom? Was there something unclean and exploitative in my sympathy for them? After all, once the skies filled with helicopters and the machine guns started hurling barrel-fulls of lead into their midst, unlike them, I could run, I could go back to my refuge. I could escape the consequences of idealism. They could not. Ideals? What ideals? I thought. They were hungry. How vain, I was. To think that ideals were any nobler than hunger! Did I have my own way of despising them!? Whatís going on inside of me? I am disintegrating into a hundred different men. Keep it simple, keep it simple, I thought. You are like a priest hearing confession. What is said here stays here, that is the rule with which you will endure the torment of knowing too much. You are a doctor, you will receive any broken body that is brought to you and fight to make it whole again; you will try to stop the bleeding, whether it is a soldier or a guerrilla, a combatant or a civilian, who is laid out before you. Like a worker on an assembly line, you will concentrate on your one small task, on bodies, on simply fixing bodies. It is too much to envision the final product of history! I am just a worker on an assembly line, fixing bodies. Fixing bodiesÖ

My eyes burning as though I were consumed by fever, hallucinating rather than seeing, at last I told them: "I will say nothing, only pray. Although I am not even certain that God exists, I will pray. Thatís how desperate are these times in which we live." Then I told them, "You do not have tuberculosis, your bodies are reacting to exposure to chemicals. Otherwise," I explained in a whisper, "with hacking that extreme, I must send you to the sanatorium to recover." Then, as I escorted them out of the cave, and past the soldiers, I warned them: "You must never again mix bleach with an ammonia-based cleaning product. Get as much fresh air as you can for the rest of the day, and try to drink a lot of water."

"Thank you, doctor," they said. "Thatís what we get for being such fanatics. A little dirt never hurt anyone." And, coughing still, they walked away as though they had all the time in the world.

"I hope you are not encouraging them to be pigs," a sergeant told me. The soldiers beside him laughed.

July 23: I told Mina about my conversation with Ulises in the nighttime, as we sat together on a hill holding hands, in silent desperation, and she just listened as though I were telling her that I had ten fingers and ten toes.

"Maybe you should go to Rio," I told her. "I could arrange it."

She smiled and said, "My love, this is my home. This is my people. What should I do, go away to some nice apartment on the other side of the wall, so I can read in the newspaper, while Iím eating toast in the morning, how my friends were all killed by the army? Oh, I forgot, I still canít read. All I know, so far, is that police men and soldiers are good, and that security comes first. Too bad there werenít enough rich doctors to go around, one for each of my sisters, I guess Iím the lucky one. Is it true, where you live, that they have bathtubs made of marble? How clean can you get in them when you know your human brothers are living in slums?"

Marble bathtubs? The poor are so far removed from the rich that there is nothing to check their imagination. For them, we all drive limousines, have faucets of gold, and statues by Michelangelo in our gardens; and we bury dead workers underneath our fountains. We are all Louis the Fourteenths and Rockefellers. There is nothing, in this world, between kings and dogs. "You have kids," I reminded her.

She stared into the sky for a long time without speaking. Then, after what seemed like hours, she finally said: "Thereís always weak spots in the soul. I love my children. But weíre a part of this struggle, them and me. You know, a balloon donít float up into the air if thereís a hole in it; the air leaks out and the balloon stays on the ground. You can let the things you love, the things that you are trying to save, become the hole that keeps the balloon on the ground. If enough people cut and run, there wonít be any progress. I donít want to be the one that breaks the legs of the critical mass. My beloved doctor, I want my kids to live in a new, free world, not in a world thatís afraid to pay the price of changing; I want them to be eagles, not vultures. I want them to grow up with their own kind, not with people who despise them. I donít want to be like King Midas, to suffocate the world by trying to turn everything into gold. These are my kids, beloved doctor; when the future celebrates its great victory, I donít want them to have to hang their heads in shame because they were hidden away on the side of history while mankind won its freedom; I want them to be able to say: ĎI was there. I did my part. I did not receive this beautiful world from anybodyís hand, I am the one who made it beautiful.í" For a while more, Mina stared into space, not knowing if she was being the loyalist of a great dream, or merely hard-headed and hard-hearted; if she was being a great mother, committed to instilling righteous values into her offspring, or a wretched mother, like the ones who smoke crack and beat their babies.

I held her tighter. Maybe she believed that, only by refusing to leave, could she keep me and my medicine here in Bairro Capanga, where there are so many people in need of a doctor. If so, she does not know me well enough, in spite of all our kisses. I remember the day that I was a child, back in the States, and one of the boys I was playing with accidentally hit a baseball into the window of a house on the border of the park. All of them ran so that we would not get in trouble, and I, who was faster than any of them, started to run, too, but then something stopped me in my tracks. I couldnít do it. I just couldnít do it. I couldnít flee from that broken window, I couldnít jettison the responsibility. I couldnít not face the owner of the house, not stand up and take the blame for all of us. I couldnít allow my courage to be defeated by a shattered windowpane.

When Bairro Capanga goes up in flames, I will be here.

July 25: The people are getting ready for Rei Gilberto Day, and tension is mounting by the minute. A young man who helped a soldier out of a pit he had fallen into, because the soldier was a young conscript who looked so pitiful, like a cockroach on his back, as he lay down there, refused a payment from Colonel Pinheiro, who believes in rewarding citizens whenever they cooperate with the government. "Helping others should be done because it is the right thing to do, not for money," the young man told him.

When Colonel Pinheiro heard that, he had the man detained and questioned, because, as he said: "Poor people do not think like that, or have the discipline to keep their hands off of even a penny, unless they have been trained by the guerrillas." By the time I found out about this, and managed to reach the stone house, the young man had already been beaten and heard the click of several empty chambers of the colonelís .44, pressed against his temple. Each time the trigger was pulled, he thought the gun was loaded. Now they were about to shove his face into a bucket full of dirty water to see how long he could hold his breath.

"You must stop at once!" I told the colonel. We got into it right there. I told him: "This man has done a good thing, and now you want to punish him? What kind of signal are you sending to the people? That if they help you, you will torture them?! Let him go!" I ordered.

"Listen!" he told me. "I am the soldier, here, you are just a doctor. You know nothing of these matters!"

I insisted.

Finally, he took me aside and told me: "Look, as it turns out, it seems the kid isnít with the guerrillas, after all. Some crap from the Bible: Jesus healing the Canaanite. But now weíve tortured him. Even if he wasnít with the guerrillas before, heís likely to take their side now, as a result of what weíve done to him. So we might as well take him out of circulation."

"What?!" I exclaimed. "You canít do that! Itís not right! The mistake was yours!"

"Right and wrong are irrelevant," the colonel said. "We blew it, but the reality we now face is that this boy is going to leave here as our enemy. It doesnít matter if he wasnít before, he is now. Thatís the truth we have to face. And we have to act according to the truth. What are we going to do, let him go so he can come back tomorrow with a gun or a bomb to kill us? Iím the soldier here! Weíll have to send him away on a helicopter to the Island; or maybe heíll try to escape, if you know what I mean, and weíll have no choice but to plug him. The law of flight."

For almost an hour, our minds wrestled, I told him that for this one man he was going to lose the whole bairro, even though I knew it was already lost. From perception comes substance; peopleís sense of right and wrong is not an intangible, it can bend iron.

"If the neighborhood loses it on account of this kid, that could be a good thing," the colonel told me. "Who says weíre making a mistake by provoking them? Sometimes, a little injustice is whatís needed to rouse the jaguar, to make him roar and give himself away. You spend days searching the jungle in vain. What a blessing when he finally charges!"

I told him, "You will turn a small stream into a river."

He asked: "Do you really think we can keep this place from rising up against us?"

To save the boy I lied, and said yes.

"Thank you. Thank you, doctor," the kid told me as I led him out of the stone house, past the barbed wire barricades to the agitated crowd that had begun to gather outside.

His mother and his friends rushed to his side, concern and fury merged in their expressions. "Are you all right? Are you all right?" they asked him. I gave the ice pack in my hands to his mother, who put it up against the swelling by his eye, and nursed him with coldness.

"Next time, Iíll leave the motherf**ker in a pit," the boy said.

Meanwhile, the colonelís orders are that Rei Gilberto Day is to be cancelled, and I will have to talk to him about that. Because as I have found out, that would be like cancelling Christmas or the Carnival.

Itís Mina, along with Dom Joaquim, Gabby, and Zoila, who told me what the day means to them. "You have to understand," said Mina, "that our world has got a lot of characters. When you are pushed to living on the edge, strange things happen, and you have to try all kinds of things."

"Thatís right," Gabby agreed. "Do you remember The Lawyer?"

"Who could forget him?" laughed Zoila, who was sewing a torn handbag as she spoke. "He was just a poor loser, Samora, and he went to Rio to make it. Turns out, he ended up a lawyer, or so we thought, because a girl who was working there as a maid saw him one day dressed very nice, and he gave her a card that had his name on it and it was from a prestigious Law Office. Well, of course, with all the trouble with the law that some of the boys have from around here, it was only natural that they tried to get in touch with him to represent them; and then, there was his family and friends who are poor even by our standards, and they began to wonder why he was not sending them any money from Rio, since lawyers are known to be rich. ĎWhat a cheap bastard my son is!í his mother said, at last. And his friends who were going to jail said, ĎWhat a warm-weather friend! What a Judas!í Well, as it turns out, the maid went to visit the Law Firm that Samora worked in, and they told her he had worked there for only six weeks as a janitor before he got fired because he left too much water on the floor and someone fell down and broke their ankle and they got sued over it. As a result, Samora had been homeless ever since, but he didnít tell anyone or come back to Bairro Capanga because he didnít want to fall off of the pedestal he had placed himself on with his deception. He wanted to be respected and admired, and only by lying, did he feel he could be loved. Well, of course, being homeless in Rio is a big danger. The maid, tearfully implored by Samoraís mother, set about to search for him during her free time, and at last found him naked, covered only with a dirty blanket, sitting in the yard of a church which is one of the last remaining refuges for the indigent in Rio, who are otherwise disappeared by the security forces in the night. He told her he was too ashamed to come home, but she had him wash, got him a new set of clothes, and arranged for his return to the bairro. Once he got back, he expected everyone to laugh at him, and most of all his mother who was never an easy one, but instead, his friends hugged him and his mother wept. ĎYou do not despise me?í he asked them, in disbelief. ĎNo,í his mother said. ĎWe despised you when we thought you were a lawyer and wouldnít help us, but now we know you didnít help us because you couldnít.í And everyone was crying, the way of crying that is good."

"It was a nice story," said Gabby, "though there is never a Ďhappily ever after.í The fairy tale is always cut short. In his case, it was in a fight Ė rum and knives are never a good mix. But what matters is that there is happiness for a moment. That at least, on one day of a personís life, there is the perfect ending to a fairy tale, even if God canít stop writing chapters after he should have put His pen down."

"Shoe Shine was another one," Mina reminded them.

"Shoe Shine!" they all exclaimed at once.

"Yeah, he was in Rio to shine rich peopleís shoes," said Zoila, "and imagine! He was such a fool! As he shined the peopleís shoes he started telling them how unfair the world was and how selfish were the people who had money, and about the camel and the eye of the needle, and how the wealthy were going to burn like straw in the flames of Hell. And then, when he didnít get tips, he blamed it on their stinginess. Imagine, his job was being on his knees and shining shoes and to talk like that! What was he thinking?"

"Not about his next meal," said Mina.

"God gave some people ideals and some people common sense!" agreed Gabby.

"But of all the personalities that Bairro Capanga has vomited into the world," said Zoila, "there is none to compare with O Rei Gilberto Ė King Gilbert!" And they all said "Amen", and crossed themselves.

Zoila, who had the mouth of two women and the personality of a charging bull, quickly overpowered the other voices that started to carry the story my way. "He was a throwaway boy, a gamin or menino de rua," Zoila told me, "one of thousands who drift like ghosts through the world, without parents who are able to take care of them, ending up in gangs made up of children, little tribes of orphans, scavenging and robbing in the cities."

"Not many of them left, now," said Mina.

"Boom," said Dom Joaquim, molding his stiff fingers into the shape of a gun.

"Police and death squads," explained Gabby.

"They find the most ingenious places to hide," said Mina. "In the sewer system, in the tunnels that have been constructed for pipes and cables, in abandoned buildings, in warehouses and cellars, on rooftops. They live like rats in holes; like Christians in the catacombs. Sometimes, they will appear in broad daylight right in the middle of downtown, but they always have an out in case the cops appear. Down a manhole cover, under a wall, through a hole in a fenceÖ"

"Some of them can even shapeshift," said Zoila. "There was this one gamin, Freddy, who could turn himself into a beautiful woman walking a poodle. The paramilitary killers would think they had him trapped, and then, when they turned the corner, theyíd come upon this gorgeous lady with her dog and all of them would become suddenly polite like the knights of the round table and warn her to be careful because there were thieves in the vicinity."

"And then there was Claudio, who could turn himself into smoke like a genie, and vanish under the crack in a door," said Gabby.

I listened without resistance, while Minaís face refused to reveal any opinion on the matter. She was faithful, not fanciful; but these were her friends

"Gilberto was from back in the day," Dom Joaquim said; "he was about ten when I was a young man, and at that time there were still gangs of kids roaming through the streets, and sleeping in the parks and sometimes in cardboard boxes right in back of the big stores."

"His mother died when he was young, and his aunt, who raised him, was an addict and didnít treat him right," Zoila continued, jumping in to make sure another narrator did not hijack the story which she wished to tell. "She beat him whenever she was depressed; like they say, ĎWhen black is swallowing you up, turn it red.í His ass and his back were her anti-depressant. And when she wasnít in a fury, she was just incompetent because she was so high. She put salt into recipes that called for sugar because she got them mixed up, she made the coffee so strong you would practically get a heart attack from one cup, she started two fires with her joints, and burned one house down while she was telling a neighbor about the secrets of the universe. Lots of people looked after Gilberto, because he was such a smart boy, and they would hide him from his aunt whenever the devil was in her eyes. But one day, in spite of the good will of Bairro Capanga, he decided to run off with two twelve-year-olds to try to make it in Rio, where there was a good business selling drugs in those days. Anyhow, things didnít go well for the boys, and Gilberto ended up joining a gang of wild kids whoíd cut loose in Rio, and spent their days smoking pot and basuco, sniffing glue, digging food out of garbage cans, picking pockets and begging. Gilberto became one of the most accomplished beggars, who made good money from dancing and doing pantomime, like Marcel whatís his name, the white-face guy from France."

"I saw O Rei Gilberto perform once," Dom Joaquim said, "and it was a sight to see. All he had was an old trunk, the kind you store clothes in. He made it seem like the lid was opening by itself, like something powerful and dangerous was about to come out of it Ė like Pandoraís Box. Well, he threw his weight against the lid, he pushed down on it, he jumped on top of it, he tried to sit on it, but the thing inside the trunk, trying to come out, was overwhelming, he just couldnít keep it inside. Well, finally, it proved too much for him, he was unable to stop it. The lid flew open, he staggered back in terror, but nothing came out. So he went over to the edge, all frightened like, peeped in, and out jumped something. We didnít see it, of course, we only saw it through his reactions and his gestures. It was tiny, and it landed right in his hand. He inspected it, in disbelief. He had been so afraid of this? Then, with just the little flick of his finger, he knocked whatever it was off of his palm as though it were a tiny insect or a piece of dust, and went on his way."

"What a genius," said Mina.

"He taught us that so many of the things we fear are only terrifying to us because we do not know them," said Dom Joaquim. "I think standing up for our rights, and even death may be like that. Another one of the routines he did, which I remember, is the one in which he beat and abused himself. He punched himself, he knocked himself down, when he got up, he punched himself again, and again he fell down. He was like a human punching bag, like those inflatable clowns that children hit, which keep rebounding so that they can be hit again and again. He also pulled his hair, dragged himself around by the ear, choked himself, and poked himself in the eye. When he kicked himself in the rear, he would spin around to confront whoever had done it, but he could not find them. Then he would kick himself in the rear again, and again he would whirl around, but he could never find his assailant, he just kept getting kicked in the ass and trying, in vain, to confront his persecutor. Then, as he walked forward to search for his tormentor, he would stick one foot out in front of the other, and trip himself. As he feigned one injury after the other, he would keep taking invisible bandaids out of a box to patch his wounds, but finally, the box was empty, and the injuries kept on coming. Then he began to try to take bandaids off of old wounds to put on the new ones. Of course, to take the old ones off hurt terribly, and to get them to stick onto the new wounds was a real struggle. Finally, because theyíd lost their adhesive power, he had to begin nailing the bandaids to his flesh. What Gilberto was doing, of course, was showing the world how we are treated. The performance was hilarious to all of us who were poor, it was familiar territory souped-up like a racing car. Many well-to-do people laughed, as well, because O Rei Gilberto was gifted like Charlie Chaplin or Cantinflas. And they felt so guilty, because the pantomime spoke in a voice that was like the roar of the whole world screaming ĎIím hungry!í, that they showered O Rei Gilberto with money. But finally, some middle-aged ladies took offense, they found the performance emotionally unbearable and cruel; they tried to leap between the comedian and the banana peel, so to speak. And the police forbade King Gilbert from performing it anymore, which was the funniest thing of all. These women could not stand the cruelty displayed in a ten-minute street performance, yet would not raise a finger to put an end to the reality which had inspired that performance: a reality in which millions are trapped for their whole lives. Their compassion was the biggest joke of all."

"O Rei Gilberto was always generous with us," Zoila said. "Of course, a lot of the money he made was spent by his gang in obtaining drugs, which they also got the money to pay for by prostituting themselves. There was a compassionate man who had once been an opera star who sometimes let them stay in his mansion; but he was also a pedophile, and he corrupted them."

"But Gilberto fell in love with a street girl," interjected Gabby. "When a death squad came to wipe out the gang, because theyíd started to jump people to steal their wallets and purses, Gilberto escaped with the girl into the sewer system. They lived there for a while, with rats and shit, until their hearts, which deserved to be in the world, finally came back out into the light of day. But somehow, then, the girl died. It was as if the earth were punishing them for trying to emerge from the darkness."

"Gilberto carried her to the hospital, begging her not to give up, but though he got her there in time, they just left her sitting in the emergency room, unattended, until she died. They poisoned her," explained Zoila.

"No one is sure what happened," Dom Joaquim insisted, "but, for a time, as we have now found out, the government ran a project to leave tainted food in garbage cans throughout the city, in an effort to poison the gamines, as though they were stray dogs. O Rei Gilberto didnít know that at the time. He thought his girl had probably caught some disease down in the sewers. He said he thought of killing himself at that moment, just like Romeo in Romeo and Juliet, and in fact, the only thing that saved him was that he couldnít make up his mind how he wanted to do it. Stabbing himself in the throat with a broken bottle, jumping in front of a train, hanging himself from a lamppost?- nothing seemed a worthy way of following his girl into the hereafter; he said he ought to kill himself by eating roses until his stomach exploded. But a priest who heard what was meant to be the boyís final confession convinced him to give life one more try. Apparently, Gilberto said: ĎDear God, I believe in you but not in any of this crap that has grown up around you, and least of all in the Church. So Father, consider yourself to be nothing more than a spectator.í The good priest, for there are such, not just hypocrites and perverts, recommended Gilberto to an adoption agency, and a wealthy family with a mansion even more impressive than the opera starís, took the boy in. The mistress of the house was very Catholic, and for her, Gilberto was like a road paved in gold, leading straight to Heaven. She could not understand it when he failed to respond to her generosity."

"He couldnít stand all of the wealth he saw around him, in his new home," said Zoila.

"Lot of us arenít that way," said Gabby. "Weíd jump at the chance to be rich."

"Thatís why we call him King," said Mina. "In the closet of his new mother he saw all kinds of fancy clothes hanging," she continued. "Clothes worth a fortune, some of which she only wore once or twice a year."

"Even worse was the jewels," said Zoila. "Pearl necklaces, diamond collars, diamond rings, earrings and bracelets of gold; emeralds and sapphires, so many jewels it was like a school of fish swimming in the sea; when there wasnít gold: silver; brooches and pendants that would make your jaw pop. It was like the treasure of Blackbeard the Pirate, or Captain Morgan."

"Piracy, all right," nodded Dom Joaquim. "They used to hang pirates. Now, they give the world to them. Her husband was a landowner and a businessman. The one who manipulated product quality standards to drive five thousand peasants off the land in Espirito Santo."

I looked at him, puzzled.

"They had contracts with a multinational company linked to agro-exports," Mina explained. "The man represented that company. When the peasants tried to organize to demand a fairer price for their product, the man invoked a provision of their contract, which stated that the company had the right to reject, without compensation, product that did not meet its standards. Coincidentally, the product quality of all those peasants who were involved in the effort to unionize failed to pass inspection; they got no income that year, and were financially ruined, while the company, which had promoted overproduction in many other countries to give itself leverage in cases like this, simply weathered the storm. The banks, who were in cahoots with the company, refused any terms of debt forbearance, and took over the land; the army was sent in to oversee the evictions."

"When Gilberto saw those jewels," said Zoila, "and knew where they came from, and when he saw that the woman who had adopted him in order to assuage her sins wore them only occasionally, and when he thought of how many people they could feed, he could not bear to live there anymore."

"This was especially so," said Dom Joaquim, "when the womanís pet dog, which took its cues from her as to who it tormented and who it tolerated, bit him. Although she rushed to wash his wound and bandage it, he knew that the reason the dog remained agitated around him was because she did not trust him; because for her, he remained a dangerous little dark boy, a stranger who she needed, like a cross, to mend her sins, but who she did not love. Her hand which reached out for salvation did not reach him. And so, he reverted to his old ways: days of pick-pocketing, days of con artistry. He broke into her safe, which he saw her open from a distance. She would never let him stand close enough to her to actually see the numbers, but he had learned from the wily ones who were his former partners how to decipher bank codes from the contours of hand movements above a keypad, and how to detect a lockís combination from the position of a personís fingers as they reached each stop in the sequence of numbers. He also saw, at a distance, how to turn off the alarm."

"One day, he piled all the jewels from that safe into a bag and took off," Zoila said.

"He left a few behind, because even though the rich lady was not capable of the good deed which she had attempted, she had, at least, tried. In a world like this, even a sense of guilt should be rewarded."

"The rest of the jewels he brought back with him to Bairro Capanga," said Zoila. "And as soon as he got here, and all the people had gathered around him to hear his story, he opened up his bag and began to throw the jewels around like a soldier throwing hand grenades, and he said, what did he say, exactly, Dom Joaquim?"

"He said: ĎWhere they were, locked inside a safe, these were bombs, blowing you up. Such pretty bombs! Boom! Boom! Canít you hear them blowing you up? Youíre not worth the ĎOosí and ĎAhhsí at a party. Now they are loaves of bread on your table! They are shoes on your feet! They are medicines to heal the sick! They are seeds to make tomorrow bloom! They are families that stay together: mothers who donít die because they are worn out, fathers who donít have to go a thousand miles away to find a job, or run away because they have no means to raise a family and canít bear to just stand there with their feet in the shit! I could have left you behind, Bairro Capanga. I was adopted by the Queen of Diamonds. I could have lived the rest of my life without you. I could have let myself be the one person who was saved, who dooms the rest to die; the fatal token, the bar of soap that washes the killerís hands. But you Ė you fools, you are my brethren! I came, as an accident, from your genitals, but itís still more than I am in Rio. I want to run, but I canít run without you on my back, and you weigh so much. You have ruined my chance to escape! Why do I love you? Or is it only that I have suffered the agony of being left behind, and cannot do that to another human being? I donít know if I love you, or only hate what was done to me. Take these jewels, god damn it, and make something of your lives!í And he started crying, because he knew he had crossed the Rubicon."

"What a hero!" exclaimed Gabby.

"Well, for the next couple of weeks, people here began traveling to one of the local posts that does black market trading, and donít ask too many questions," explained Zoila. "They got shitloads of money in exchange for the jewels. Some other people kept the jewels just because they liked them, and, in fact, an artisan here fixed up a beautiful tiara made of gold to put on his daughterís head, and he said: ĎThough they call you a nobody from the slums, you are, in fact, a princess. And here is the crown to prove it.í Then the police finally arrived in force, looking for Gilberto and the stolen goods. They caught up with him, as he knew they would, on a hill over there by San Judas, and there they surrounded him. He knew his fate was to be taken to prison and tortured, so he pretended he had a weapon and started to draw it and they, as is their custom, opened fire with everything they had in their arsenal as though he was the whole German army, and that was the end of Rei Gilberto. The police told the people not to bury the body of the ingrate, but to leave it for the dogs and vultures, and they, in fact, set up a guard-post to enforce their orders, but during the night, Rei Gilbertoís body mysteriously disappeared. It was a miracle."

"A miracle of corruption," said Dom Joaquim. "For a few jewels, the police looked the other way. We buried the King the following night on the hill just beyond the one where he was shot."

"The police searched our homes, but whatever jewels hadnít been traded in by then were well-concealed. They did torture a few people, too, and got back some of the jewels that way."

"And how did Rei Gilbertoís gift affect the prosperity of Bairro Capanga?" I asked, amazed by the story of this valiant child whose courage and nobility dwarfed that of the vast majority of men who live on this planet.

There was a moment of silence. Then Dom Joaquim just shook his head, and muttered: "When you spend your whole life without a cent, and then it suddenly starts raining money out of the sky Ė well, itís the same as chugalugging a bottle of whiskey. You go crazy. You are used to having a life with no future, a life with no other goals except to escape Ė drinking, womanizing, gambling, dancing - beating out the brains of the pain with momentary sensations you earn with your sweat and clutch at like straws. You work like an animal for nothing, and after a few weeks or months, when you finally put all your nothings together, congratulations, you have built one night of fun. Like the pharaoh who built the pyramids, you have built a night with a prostitute, or a trip to a club. Because there is not enough stone in your quarry to build true happiness, you become an architect of tiny joys. You accept the despair, accustom yourself to it, and only seek to humanize it with a scattering of pleasure, strung out like specks of mica throughout a black rock. When real money comes, it does not override that pattern, it becomes a part of it. "

"Being poor - itís like falling out of a window," said Gabby. "What if you suddenly find money in your pockets? You keep on falling - with the money. All it means is you make a bigger splat when you hit the ground."

"A lot of people were idiots," agreed Zoila, "and just jacked up their drug habit, or else did ridiculous things, like Leo Maceda, who bought a TV and a gas-powered electric generator to run it. The TV reception was atrocious, it was like watching spirits trying to talk to you from the other side. After a couple of months, the thing broke down altogether and he didnít have the money to repair it. Other people tried to be more reasonable, but didnít have a clue. A few of them invested in the Serra do Caiapo exploration project, not knowing that it was on the verge of being ceded to a multinational with deferred returns. Theyíll be likely to make some money on it in about 200 years."

"Bottom line," Mina said, "is that one womanís jewelry collection canít take the place of a nation that cares. Rei Gilbertoís contribution to Bairro Capanga was more spiritual than it was material. It helped some families for a few years, and a few people even made it as a result. But mainly, why we revere this boy is that he had a chance to forget where he came from, and he didnít; he had a chance to be saved without us, but he refused it; he got clear of the disaster, but he came back - for us. He had a heart as big as Brasil. As this giant land of jungles and deserts, mountains and seashores, sugar cane and iron, mansions and slums, Indians, blacks, whites, and everything in between. Every year, on the anniversary of his jewel-laden return to Bairro Capanga, we hold a festival to honor his spirit, and to preserve it in ourselves."

"We conduct a pilgrimage to his grave," Dom Joaquim said. "The whole bairro ups and goes there. One half of it is like a party, one half of it is like a funeral, and the whole thing is like giving birth. After a year here, we are pretty worn out, doctor Ė our bodies are wasted and our souls are dirty from the tricks of survival. We are drifting towards cannibalism. On Rei Gilberto Day, we arrest this trend, we fight back, doctor, we remember. Some companions are lost forever, they have ceased to regret that they are beasts, but others cling to the lesson of this child who was as bright as a star, this poor boy who God threw into the cesspool who came out as beautiful as a lily. If we stick together, doctor, if we do not abandon this spirit, maybe we will have a chance."

The story of O Rei Gilberto has mesmerized me. I understand that it represents the loftiest aspiration of the destitute, the redeeming vision of the damned, which keeps the human being inside the battered animal from unraveling into nothingness. Sheer degeneracy would be a fair response to hypocrisy; morals so flagrantly mocked deserve to be murdered. For its sins, the world deserves anarchy, the dashing to pieces of all laws. Let beast eat beast, let mother eat her young, let God be shot down from the sky. But then, along comes someone like O Rei Gilberto, holding onto something golden even though it costs him his life; refusing to lose his bearings in the storm of everyone elseís egotism.

I understand that Rei Gilberto Day cannot be canceled, no matter what Colonel Pinheiro has decided. The soul of Bairro Capanga is at stake.

July 27: A pair of fierce days, battling with Colonel Pinheiro, whose stone head is as hard as the sphinxís, which Napoleonís artillery could only deprive of its nose. Still it stands in the desert, unmoved. There is no wind strong enough to even make it blink its eye. But this is not to bestow on Colonel Pinheiro any sense of mystery or depth. He is absolutely competent, frighteningly so, but nothing more. He says that Rei Gilberto Day must be prohibited this year, because (1) It glorifies a criminal and encourages antisocial behavior, and (2) it provides an excuse for massive amounts of people to congregate in violation of the no-assembly zones, and could, therefore, provide cover for the movement of guerrilla personnel throughout the area. "This local tradition," he told me, "could create the perfect cover for the infiltration of a guerrilla column into Bairro Capanga, as well as Curumbim and San Judas. It could also open up space for a movement in the direction of Rio. These are military risks I cannot permit."

I argued that for the people of Bairro Capanga, Rei Gilberto Day was something sacred. "Supposing you were to tell the Christians of the world that they could not celebrate Christmas or Easter," I told him. "Or supposing you were to illegalize the Carnival, here in Brazil. This day is too big, Colonel, too ingrained in the culture of the neighborhood, to suppress without dire consequences."

"Bring it on," the Colonel replied. "Let the people dig up the guns they have buried in caches, somewhere, let them start shooting at us. Let the revolution begin. Let the simmering hatred boil over, let this game of pretending that we belong to the same society end. Iím tired of being hated, and not being able to do anything about it. Let the angry stares in their eyes turn into bullets, so that I can return fire."

"Please!" I urged him. "You are still here in the context of a civic action program! It is not our purpose to provoke conflict, it is our purpose to defuse it. If you ban Rei Gilberto Day, it is likely that the people will not listen, that is how much they love that boy, and feel obliged to honor him; and then, you will either have to let it slide and suffer a drop in credibility, or else take vigorous action which may well ignite the conflagration we have come to deter. You must not get between the people and the things that they hold sacred!"

"Sacred?" he gasped. "A thief, an ingrate? You talk about him as though he were the Baby Jesus!"

"For them, he is sacred!" I insisted. "After God the Father, Jesus, and Mary, he comes next."

"Heresy! And you want me to honor that crazy crap?!"

"Itís their culture, Colonel. You know the principles of Civic Action. Work with the local culture. Use it, donít confront it. Co-opt it, donít stamp it out. Do you know how St. Patrick made Ireland Catholic? By honoring the stories of the pagans, so that first they trusted him, before he overturned their world. He had to love them as they were, before he could make them into something new." Here, I was shamelessly manipulating, searching for any way into the Colonelís mind, playing the part of a strategist rather than a sympathizer. But he knew me too well for that.

"Donít try to deceive me," he told me, bluntly. "I know that you have been won over by these people, the same way that writers who sit behind a desk all day fall in love with killers and drug addicts. They need the excitement, the blood, the wildness, the flames, to shake up their dreary existence, to rescue themselves from the curse of being bookworms. Because they are bound by rules, they romanticize the lawless. Because they are afraid, they romanticize the reckless. They seek antidotes to their own life-stifling timidity in the excesses of others, who become the heroes of their pages, which are like sandbags protecting them from what they worship. They glorify extremes. By turning villains into heroes, and trainwrecks into idols, they pervert history with undeserved apologies and fatal aspirations. From the safety of the boat, they compose odes to the shark. The result of their magnanimity is to leave the rest of us swimming with the sharks."

I told Pinheiro: "Colonel, I am a doctor, and I have been living among these people for over four months, now. I am not sitting behind a desk, dreaming. I know their good points and their bad points, I know they are neither angels nor devils, they are human beings pushed to the limits of human endurance. When you expose water to intense cold, it turns to ice; when you expose it to intense heat, it turns to steam. How absurd that the water should talk about the steam as if they were not the same! Colonel: we are supposed to sympathize with these people! It is the only way to get them back! You do not need to kill to be a warrior; the most effective battles are those that are won without firing a shot."

Of course, that set him off. Who was I to tell him, a soldier, the greatest military figure to walk the earth since Julius Caesar or Napoleon? What an ambitious little commander! In the end, to straighten things out, I had to bring Dr. Bari and Civic Action Headquarters into the mix, which, thanks to the influence of an anthropologist affiliated with CIA, managed to convince the Colonel that he must relent, and allow the Rei Gilberto Day festivities to proceed as planned. Self-regulated Predators were to be pulled out of operations, and only 100% human-guided Predators allowed to patrol the skies during the Rei Gilberto time frame, since the procession from Bairro Capanga to the hero-gaminís grave would invariably produce numerous no-assembly-zone violations, which the Predators on automatic were GPS-programmed to strafe. The colonel was promised extra back-up to help control the situation, in case it got out of hand.

When I talked with locals about the negotiations, they shook their heads and expressed serious doubts about their safety. "This man is a fanatic," one young man named Espartaco, who was a friend of Gabriel, told me: "it is easy to see that he is all pumped up. He believes there will be trouble, and if he is wrong, it will make him look bad. Besides that, it seems that he feels conflict is inevitable, and that he is, therefore, not attempting to avoid it, but only looking to incite it on terms that are favorable for him. What better time and place, than when the whole bairro is packed together on the path to San Judas, in one concentrated target?"

"Maybe we should cancel the Rei Gilberto Day, after all," thought Gabby.

At that moment, Ulises arrived. The way he and Espartaco shook hands told me a great deal about them. Espartaco was with the Quilombolas, he had a finely chiseled face and wore a black beret, with a strange necklace that incorporated a piece of barbed wire, which gave him the look of a warrior and victim, both. Across his face were dramatic scars in the style of the Ibo of Nigeria. It was a pan-African thing. Ulises came dressed more casually, in a long white shirt that was not tucked into his pants, looking every bit the typical garoto do bairro. As they met, their vice-like hands stayed together for a long moment, their eyes met like two panthers that have hunted together. At last, turning to Gabby, Ulises said: "That would be prudent, Gabby. But sometimes, caution kills the spirit. This day is at the center of who we are. How much do we let them take from us? Sister, we got two stones to make a spark. Do we throw away one of them just to be safe, do we give up fire?"

"We have the choice to go into a cultural coma, and sleep forever," opined Espartaco, "or we can take the risk to retain our consciousness."

"I got kids," Gabby said.

"You can stay at home," Ulises told her. "No one will look down on you for that."

Mina looked down, and didnít say a thing.

Gabby asked the men: "Can you protect us?"

Ulises and Espartaco looked at each other with as much discretion as they could muster, as if they had just been asked if they could run faster than horses.

"Somebody around here has the stinger of a scorpion," said Espartaco, at last. "If the Colonel comes looking for trouble, heíll get stung."

"And then, the scorpion gets stepped on by a big army boot," said Mina. "Thatís how you men think. ĎAt least, weíll take a few of them down with us.í Meantime, what about everyone else?"

Ulises said nothing.

I agreed with Mina. "I donít know anything about what the ERB has, or can do, here," I said, "but with the amount of soldiers the army has on hand, and with all of those it can bring up by helicopter from Rio, and with all the aircraft and the firepower that can be its disposal within a matter of minutes, itís got what it takes to tear this place to shreds. The only safety is in not giving the army a pretext to start shooting."

"And what if they fabricate one?" demanded Mina. "A provocateur? Thereís always imaginary snipers at the beginning of every massacre; or some insane restriction that provokes a hothead. Sometimes, they donít need more than somebody giving them the finger, which they turn into a pistol."

For a while, we just stood there, saying nothing. At last, Ulises asked the women: "So, you want to give the day up?"

"I didnít say that," said Mina. "I think it should go on, but I think weíve got to be extra careful. The doctor, here, has won official approval for the march, but the colonel may well try to sabotage it. To do so, he wonít blatantly violate orders, but heíll try to create a situation which makes it seem like weíve gotten out of hand, or are harboring guerrillas: something that will allow him to disguise his aggression as self-defense. We have to be on the lookout for this. You need to have a lot of marshals for this procession, to keep order; to keep an eye out for provocateurs who they may plant, and maintain the highest standards of discipline."

"Discipline? For Rei Gilberto Day?" laughed Gabby.

"Yeah. Discipline," agreed Espartaco, grimly.

Ulises nodded slowly, his eyes lost in thoughts which we could not follow. Finally, returning to us, he said: "Weíll post tight security. You are sure, doctor," he asked, turning to me, "that official approval for the observation of Rei Gilberto Day has been granted?"

"Iíve heard it from Civic Action Command via telephone and radio, seen it in an e-mail and a fax, and received assurances during a meeting with Dr. Bari, Colonel Pinheiro, and Captain Mendez. The Day is approved. I am not in a position to judge whether Colonel Pinheiro intends to obey his orders, or not."

Again, Ulises nodded. "Risky," he said. "But my take is that the people are not about to give up Rei Gilberto Day. And that they expect all the young tigers of the bairro to make sure the homage to Gilberto is carried out. When the defenders of the people tell them that they must give up what matters to them most, can you still call them defenders?"

"No way. It would be like union representatives taking the side of the boss against the workers," agreed Espartaco.

"Well, I guess Iíll go, then," said Gabby. "Iíll just stay close to the doctor, here, so that if the soldiers start shooting, Iíll be safe."

"Might be the most dangerous place to be," Ulises warned her. Then, turning away from Gabbyís look of shock, towards me, he said: "Doctor: you do know you are the biggest thorn in Colonel Pinheiroís side? How much easier his life would be without you! And if your body was sent back to Rio with a bullet hole, who could say for sure that you had not been assassinated by the Ďterroristsí?"

It was food for thought.

July 28: Today is the day of the body. They found a dead man lying on a path, and brought his corpse to me. Residents of the bairro, as well as Colonel Pinheiro, came over to Evaís cave, where the body was laid out, to take a look.

At first, nobody knew who he was, which was not surprising, because he was missing his head, which had clearly been severed with a monstrous knife. He was a light-skinned black man, and was tattooed with gang insignia from the Spirits of Coke. His cadaver showed several stab wounds, but I very quickly determined that the man had been stabbed after he was already dead.

"Sometimes," a young man told me, who was the only tigre who did not leave when the Colonel showed up, "people just keep sticking somebody whoís dead because they hate him, if he killed somebody they knew, for example. So itís like mutilating him."

But I told the kid: "These stabs are precise, aimed at the heart, the lung, and this one, here, at the intestines, which is then prolonged as it is dragged through the body in a deliberate act of disemboweling . This isnít rage-hacking, these are carefully executed death blows."

"Death blows against somebody who was already dead?" the kid asked me.

"Yeah, yeah," protested some of the women who had gathered around. "Whatís that about?"

"Cuts disguised as death blows," I said. "The killer wanted to make it look like this guy was stabbed to death; but, in actuality, he must have been killed by a blow to the head, which has been removed. The real cause of death canít be known until the head is recovered."

At this, the horrified spectators, who were struggling to harden themselves to persist with the investigation, cried out in amazement and surprise. "Something spookyís going on here," said one of the women. "Yeah, yeah," a lot of others said. "Nobody here uses decapitation, not even the worst of the gangs. Thatís like the paramilitaries."

The Colonel said: "We should take this body back to the stone house."

"Let the doctor keep examining it," the women said.

The Colonel said: "I donít want all this commotion. This is a god-damned gang killing. There is no place on earth as violent as these favelas. Why canít you people get your shit together? God, you should be kissing the feet of the policemen who come here to try to save you from yourselves."

The body was taken away from me by the military, but some of the bairro dwellers insisted that I not give up my investigation. They practically dragged me by the hand to the place where the body had been found. There, beyond the prying eyes of Colonel Pinheiro, I was met by Gabriel, who said: "Look, doctor, here, just below this ridge is where the body was decapitated. They dumped it on the path, may he rest in peace unless I find out he was Rolando Hugo, the cokehead who killed my brother." And the army of spectators who had accompanied me murmured some sort of prayer in agreement.

"Is there a hot gang war right now?" I asked Gabriel.

"Between who? Spirits of Coke and Quilombolas? No way. They get our drift, they know the rules. Theyíve had some run-ins with the Papaos, but the Papaos donít do shit in this area. And they donít cut peopleís heads off."

"The killing didnít take place here, either," I told him, examining the ridge where the decapitation had taken place." No signs of struggle, and there were clear indications of the body being dragged over the grass from another point. We followed the depressed grass until we came, not far away, to the place where the trail stopped. I thought for a moment, then said: "The body was carried until here. Probably in a bag. Then it was dropped and dragged to the place where the head was removed. No telling how far away the killing actually took place."

"Why, in Godís name?" Zoila asked, who found her way, at last, into the middle of the spectacle. "Why cut the boyís head off? To hide his identity? Or just to freak us out?"

"There is no terror equal to that produced by mutilation," said Espartaco, quoting the well-known contents of a paramilitary manual which had been exposed back in the days of the free press, as he appeared in our midst. Now, there were no watchdogs left to blow the whistle in the citadels of morality, whose helicopters flew without restraints.

"So this isnít gang-related?" stammered Zoila.

"Doubtful," said Espartaco.

"Get away! Get away from here!" we all heard somebody telling an emaciated dog that had tagged along behind us to the ridge.

"What the hellís he pawing at?" someone else wondered. A couple of people began to help the dog dig.

Thatís when an awful scream pierced the air, and a group of women bolted in all directions, like theyíd just seen the devil. "Holy mother of God, Jesus Christ, St. Peter, St. Paul, and all the shit of the universe!" exclaimed Espartaco. Gabriel piped in: "Son of a mother**king bitch, sick, sick, sick as a mother**ker!"

Espartaco is the one whose rugged hand reached down to lift it up by the scraggly curls of hair: the missing head of the corpse which was now in Colonel Pinheiroís possession. "Anybody know him?" he asked, as we gazed with horror into the half-open eyes that seemed to contain traces of the youthís last thought, something not related to dying, the kind of thought you have when you are high and think that angels are speaking to you.

"Might be Rapa - the Raparigueiro," ventured one woman.

"Are you sure?" asked Espartaco. "Youíre looking away from it."

"Iím not sure," the woman said. "God damn it, isnít that what the word Ďmightí means? What, you expect me to just stare at him? Iím not like you, Espartaco. Not that cold or sick."

"Anybody know him?" Espartaco asked again, disconcertingly strong as he held the severed head in his hands.

"Iíve seen him before," somebody said, at last. "He was at the dance, remember, for Luisaís birthday? Iím surprised no one remembers him, were you all that drunk? The ladies couldnít keep their hands off of him that night. What, are you all so shy now that his head got separated from his body?"

"Maybe itís jealousy," one of the women said, guessing at the motive for the murder.

"A high-powered rifle did this," I surmised, examining the head, which I had taken from Espartaco, and laid down in the grass. All eyes turned towards me. "It entered here," I said, pointing, "through the right temple - from a distance. I might be wrong, I am not a forensic specialist, but we learned a lot about gunshot wounds before coming here. The bullet exited here, by the left eye. A single shot."

Espartaco bent down beside me in the grass. "Sniper," he said, after a moment. "Special forces." He was both angry and impressed. "Rapa was on the way back from San Judas."

I swallowed hard, and looked beyond us. I remembered the tale of the men in black coming down from helicopters, and the discovery of Edison, which was not far from here.

All eyes turned to me for an explanation, not that I was qualified to give it. But I hate to disappoint. "The kid was shot by a sniper," I finally conjectured. "Why, I donít know. Did they think he was working for the guerrillas? Did he find something he wasnít supposed to find? They decided to dump his body at some distance from where the killing actually took place. They hoped it would be attributed to gang violence. That would cover them, and it could also divide the community. They cut off his head, which contained the telltale bullet hole, to conceal the true manner in which he had been killed. They didnít expect the headless body would get a competent examination. Still, the affair wasnít handled well, it was sloppy. The shot was perfect, but the aftermath was anything but."

"If they killed him too close to dawn, they might have had to rush the cover-up," someone suggested.

"Maybe they donít care if we find out what happened," suggested another. "Maybe this is like slapping us in the face with a glove."

"Itís sure not a good prelude to Rei Gilberto Day," agreed Espartaco.

I left the severed head in their hands and went home to recover from the savagery. For the first time in a long while, I got hold of a bottle of rum, and drank it down like a teenager on a binge.

July 30: The day before Rei Gilberto Day. Iím back to normal again, after one day of being badly hung over.

The people are getting ready, they will be bringing along snacks and drinks, flowers, candles, musical instruments, and, in cases, costumes. It promises to be quite an extravaganza.

Once again, I am assured by Colonel Pinheiro that the army will take a hands-off attitude towards the procession, and give it breathing room. "Ample space," as Pinheiro describes it. "Iíll keep my men at a distance, so they wonít have to put up with the insults of the bairro," he added. "Itís not fair to the soldiers under my command to ask them to endure the abuse of these animals, who despise the uniform of the defenders of our nation as though it were the Devilís cape."

However, there is something tense and utterly sordid about the atmosphere that hovers over the stone house and "prefab city", as the military encampment has come to be called. There is a strange silence, a nervousness that doesnít want to show itself, buried under a layer of stone. Dr. Bari seems agitated by something he senses, but has not been told; Captain Mendez will not look me in the eye, and some of the soldiers regard me with faces grown suddenly grown cold, as though I were the corpse of a fallen enemy lying in the morgue. They have the complete detachment of men who are preparing to kill; men who are turning off all knowledge of right and wrong inside themselves. Is this intuition, or merely morbidity? Am I onto something, or merely being haunted by the body of Rapa; traumatized by the bestiality of which men are capable? Like a sudden awakening, this corpse which once danced and was the life of the party, has brought home the essence of violence, removed it from the pages of newspapers and the accounts of historians and thrown it in my face. The way they mangled him, the way they ruthlessly cut him up, denied him the dignity of death, stole his blood to write a letter of falsehood to the world; the way they would not let his body rest in peace but hacked it into a lie, desecrated it to perpetrate a deception, turned the sacred remains of a human being into a tool of narrow-minded power. The way they stole his head, reduced him to a nameless body discarded on a trailÖ The way they attacked him, like piranha fish swarming around a tapir in the water, devouring him with their military savagery, their jaws defending the river of privilege; the way they disrespected his bodyÖ Objects. Men who are killed this way are mere objects, objects of the strong; possessions of the heartless, who break what belongs to them whenever it groans, whenever it cannot keep up with their desire to be served. This kid was no Nelson Mandela. But he was a human being. Back in the Center, there are acres and acres of pet cemeteries, places where beloved cats and dogs are buried. For Rapa, a trail in the slums was good enough.

As I walked with melancholy thoughts through the bairro this afternoon, I saw the carcass of a goat that had been slaughtered hanging from a rack, in preparation for tomorrowís feast. This is what they do to men here.

Who can be safe in a place where life is so despised?

Mina is here to see me, it is time to make plans for the trip.

What does tomorrow hold in store for us? Where will our celebration of the human spirit, through the life of King Gilberto, lead us?

August 10: Itís over. The world as I knew it. So many things. So much to say, but not the luxury to write more than a part of it. Most of what happens from now on will have to take care of itself. I can no longer be the gardener of words, tending to the fields of my perception. Most of history passes by on feet that leave no prints; so many miracles and calamities that are like thunder roaring on the other side of the world. What is important is that we live, not that we leave a record of what was lived. Leaves fall from the trees and are swallowed up by the earth. They never said a word, but they were green. That is what matters. The tree they fed while they were green is their legacy.

Perhaps I will write more. Perhaps I will only try to liveÖ

Dawn came to us, warm and hopeful, on July 31, the day of O Rei Gilberto. I was still unsettled from the murder of Rapa, but there is always the illusion of safety in numbers, and giant crowds were beginning to form all throughout the bairro, on the hills and in the valleys, slowly moving up along the paths that would take us to San Judas, to the little hill where a brave orphan boy had died in a hail of lead, after his refusal to leave the poor behind. Mina, aided by Helder, was bringing a basket filled with food and drink along, while Zenobia, it turns out, was going to be given the golden tiara which had been preserved since the days of O Rei Gilberto, so that she could be the princess for the day. She had been chosen for that honor by the woman to whom the tiara belonged, the Princess Maker, herself. Mina was not happy about it, because she knew that technically, it was stolen goods which could land them in big trouble if the police found out about it, but her child was so delighted that she could not say no; and so Mina decided that she would bring along a rag to cover over the girlís head in case they had to pass within sight of the police. Many people wore wet rags over their heads on sunny days, so it would not look in the least bit strange. Meanwhile, I came armed with my doctorís bag loaded full of supplies, a cell phone, and with my, by now, familiar pistol.

Just as we were about to get started, old Dom Joaquim came hobbling up our way, all agitated and excited, surrounded by a small crowd which was trying to calm him down. "Shhh! Shhh! Quiet, Dom Joaquim, take it easy!" they were telling him. But he would have nothing to do with discretion.

Coming right up to me, exuberant and beside himself with joy, he exclaimed: "Doctor! Doctor! Dear Mina! Friends! I have had a most extraordinary dream! It was more vivid than the world is when I am awake. I saw him! El Che! He is coming Ė today! Today, on Rei Gilberto Day, he will arrive in Bairro Capanga! On this day which symbolizes loyalty, integrity, and the courage to care Ė for to love your fellow man, you must be as brave as a tiger! Otherwise, you are merely blowing kisses to the dying. Love that lacks guts is nothing more than the building of coffins. Carpenters of false love make the boxes in which those who they fear to save are buried! Do you dare to love? Do you dare to walk past the bullets to the world?"

"Take it easy, old man!" the people were telling him. But he would not quiet down.

"No, no, let the army hear. I wish I had the voice of the airplanes that fly overhead, Iíd let the world know. But they already know, thatís why they are demanding fingerprints!"

Ulises, Espartaco, Gabriel, Benedito, and Bronstein showed up at that moment, concerned by the old manís excitement. They all had the black rags hanging from their pockets which indicated that they were marshals, and Gabriel and Benedito were carrying heavy black guitar cases. Were they musicians, or was this Hell inching closer by the minute?

"Tell them!" Dom Joaquim urged. "Tell the doctor the news!"

"When you calm down weíll tell him," said Ulises.

Impatiently, he held his tongue.

"Whatís this about the fingerprints?" I asked them.

"The United Center has approved a plan to create a global fingerprint database," admitted Ulises. "It was considered obsolete now that they have retinal scanning, but they decided to reinstitute it, and to request fingerprints from anyone who never had them done because they had scans loaded into the database instead."

"Itís because of Che!" the old man howled in excitement.

"Take it easy!"

"Itís true," Espartaco admitted. "No retinal scans were ever taken for Che. Of course, he died back in 1967. But they had his fingerprints on file, and when they killed him in Bolivia, they cut off his hand and put it in a pickle jar so they could prove his identity to the world. Well, now they are going to institute a massive campaign to try to locate his clone, by means of fingerprinting, since itís likely that he has undergone plastic surgery by now, or else is traveling about in a disguise..."

"If he wasnít a real threat, theyíd never go to all the trouble!" exclaimed the old man. "See? If this was only a folk tale or a pipe dream, or Mother Goose stories of the discontented! But, regardless, my dreams have told me- "

"Quiet," warned Gabriel.

"No! Silence is for graveyards, not the living! In my dreams I saw him coming. I saw his shining face, his beret with the red star, his wild locks of hair. Like a centaur of justice! I saw a gun in his hand. I heard it roar. His beautiful eyes that stared at Heaven when he was a corpse have reopened, they are no longer ethereal and defeated; they are blazing like a second chance, which is made of fire. The revolution will begin today. Though his heart was as expansive as the gaze of God, Rei Gilberto was only a boy trying to do a manís work. Che is a man. He is the size of the work to be done. Today, my brothers, today, my sisters, we are going to be freed! El Che is coming. The skies will part, the horsemen shall ride out. Peace between the oppressor and the slave will come to an end. Hypocrisy will die like the dinosaurs. I am ready to die, to give my blood for the future. Look at me, my friends Ė maybe for the last time!" Streams of tears rolled down his cheeks; he shook with frightening frailty like a man whose strength was vastly overestimated by the holy spirit, then sobbing, collapsed into Minaís arms. "El Che is coming Ė to us Ė today!" he wept. "Hallelujah! Che lives!"

"Doctor Ė please donít let him talk like this if any policemen should come near," Ulises told us. Then, leaving Gabriel and his mysterious guitar case behind with us, he and the others moved on.

We were all unnerved by the old manís fit, and then by the arrival of two helicopters behind us, which landed about sixty reinforcements near Prefab City: hardcore infantry armed with automatic rifles. A couple helicopters also appeared above us in the sky.

"Well, thatís a good sign," I told my alarmed companions. "Itís better to see them than the Predators." They tried to agree.

The procession, disorganized as was most everything in Bairro Capanga, finally began to move forward. The first musical instruments began to assert themselves: trumpets, trombones, drums, whirling matracas, like at a soccer match, and whistles. "Here we go," said Mina, crossing herself. Little by little, we moved up towards the front of the procession, since Zenobia had the tiara of the princess on her head, which compelled her to be one of the main characters of the day.

"Wooh Ė lot of sun today, you can feel it coming on strong," said Mina. "Itís going to be a hot one." With some anxiety, she looked up at a low-flying helicopter hovering overhead. "You think they can see my girlís tiara from up there?"

"If they spend any time above us, you can cover her head with the rag," I recommended.

As we moved on, we ran into a small group of guitarists, who were practically drowned out by the blaring brass, the pounding drums and the busy helicopters. They were singing a nice little ballad, with a chorus, about the Rei Gilberto:

 

They dressed him in rags

They dressed him in rags

The street was his pillow

Hunger was his blanket

But he didnít forget us,

King Gilberto

 

They chased him with guns

They chased him with guns

They didnít want to face their cruelty

He lived in the sewer

But there he found true love:

King Gilberto

 

King Gilberto

King Gilberto

For us, He conquered diamonds and emeralds

For us, He conquered a house with a bed

He wouldnít give his heart away

Thatís why we call him King

 

Mina gave the musicians some food from her basket, and some swigs of rum. As we left them, they were singing: Sincerity, sincerity: a little word that carries great weight in Eternity; all our prayers are worth nothing if we donít live them: Sincerity, sincerity. [4]

A bit farther up along the exodus-like column that was working its way through the paths and hillside slopes of the neighborhood, we came upon "the gamins", a bunch of older children dressed in rags and clothes filled with holes who swarmed around us playing the part of King Gilbertoís gang, dancing and singing, and putting on skits, then coming around with a hat to collect money. We, as others, gave them coins and candy. Then a giant doll made of papier-m‚chť, dressed in baggy trousers filled with pockets, and carried upright on a pole, swept past, and the kids ran in front of it, two of them breaking out in a fight to distract it. Then, as the doll Ďtold themí, "You shouldnít fight, the Bible says you should love each other," kids from the back cut a hole in the dollís pocket, removed its wallet, and ran away. The spectators cheered without shame, because this is how the world had been made, and you do what you have to do. Any society that makes kids live on the street deserves what it gets.

"Boy, I sure hope the police arenít watching this," I told Mina.

"I doubt that they are," she told me, pointing up ahead, "when they got this to see."

Ahead of us, a girl by the name of "Spider" who, as one man put it, "is as well-dressed as Eve, except that she lacks the fig leaf," was dancing wildly to the beating of drums and the screech of whistles. Actually, she had a thong bikini, but it was the color of her skin and you didnít notice it until you were practically close enough to touch her. "Hey, this is Rei Gilberto Day, not Carnival!" somebody protested.

"Leave her alone, donít say anything that could inhibit her!" he was warned.

She answered him: "I am dancing for King Gilbertís spirit, he must be a man by now, and I know he will appreciate this. What, do you think they donít get tired, up there in Heaven, of sitting on clouds and playing harps?" And she gave herself away to the ecstasy of her movements.

"Come along, doctor," Mina told me. "Thatís for King Gilberto, not for you."

Meanwhile, a couple of guys in front of us were passing a joint back and forth, occasionally holding it out into the air, and saying, "Your turn, Gilberto."

"Oh look!" a woman exclaimed as we passed by, "Itís a princess! A real live princess!"

Zenobia beamed.

When the womanís child said, "I want a crown, too!", Zenobia took hers off, and placed it on the girlís head. It was a very beautiful gesture, because no one prodded her, and it wasnít contrived; sharing was something in her soul. She didnít want to have something that made other people cry.

"Now give it back," the woman told her daughter, "itís her job in the parade to be the princess. Whatís the words that go with the crown, again?" the woman asked Mina.

"Tell her," Mina told Zenobia.

Dutifully, Zenobia repeated: "God puts a crown on all our heads when we are born. This crown represents that crown. No matter how life treats you, never forget you are a princess. Hold your head up high so that your crown donít never fall off."

At that moment, Ulises appeared, striding towards us from the front, a cell phone, which I had never seen before, in his hand. "More troops have landed behind us in the bairro," he told us, his face tense and out-of-sync with the festivities. "Some of them are taking advantage of our absence to search our homes. Thereís some Quilombolas who have stayed behind to make sure thereís no robbing or the like. But they are stepping back, now, to avoid a holocaust. Meanwhile, a contingent of about seventy soldiers is following the procession."

"Another copter has dropped off reinforcements to the National Police at the path to San Judas, about thirty men," Espartaco, arriving right behind him, told us. "Thatís where weíll have to pass through the checkpoint, if weíre to reach Rei Gilbertoís Hill. In theory, they arenít supposed to search us. But I wouldnít count on that, now."

"Come on," Ulises said, "letís move it, up to the ridge top. Letís get a better look at whatís going on."

"If the sniperís pit is where I think it is, weíll make perfect targets up there," I suddenly said, not knowing why.

Ulises thought about it for a moment, then said, "We wonít cross the ridge, weíll stay on this side, with the heights between us and the F.E. It will still be high enough to see."

"Whatís going on?" Mina demanded.

"Keep a tight rein on your kids," Ulises told her. "And most of all, keep a tight rein on yourself. Come on, come with us to the vantage point. Espartaco, did you stop the advance?"

"Yeah, marshals have the march on hold," he told Ulises.

Two helicopter gunships cruised menacingly close, with blatantly visible machine guns that seemed to be salivating.

"Whatís going on?!" gasped Zoila, appearing out of the human multitude with Gabby and their children. "Is something wrong?"

"Stay cool," Mina told them. "Save your energy, in case you need it."

Again, they blurted out: "Is something wrong?!" In their hands were the flowers theyíd brought to lay on King Gilbertoís grave, and the candles they planned to light in the night, on the return trip, when the people of the bairro would shine like a sky full of stars on their way back to their hovels.

"We donít know yet," Mina said. "Calm down, girls! Panic is like a landslide, starts with a few loose stones. Keep your heads together!"

Carefully, we worked our way up a rough slope, until we were able to find a stable place to stand, and then, turning around, we were able to see Bairro Capanga, behind us, filled with soldiers, and a large formation of troops, shadowing the rear of our column, which was beginning to fan out.

"So, this is what we got," said Ulises. "A minefield ahead of us, with one narrow lane open to San Judas: up to seventy police and soldiers there. About 3 platoons worth of troops coming up behind us, moving out of column to front so as to prevent us from slipping around their flanks. Right now, it looks like they are planning to pin us against the minefield. Weíll be completely encircled."

"But they said we could go ahead and do this!" gasped Zoila, tears streaming down her face. Several kids began crying, and we heard voices calling out to different mothers: "Mommy, mommy, whatís happening?"

"So, if they box us in, then what?" demanded Mina, struggling to keep a grip on herself so that her children would not crumble.

"They engineer a provocation. Probably, they try to force us all to go through the checkpoint at San Judas; then they go back on their word, based on Ďnew informationí, and submit us to a search. They do it in a pushy way. Somebodyís bound to crack, and then the chorus of bullets begins. We got nowhere to run, weíre like pigs in a pen."

"Just like Wounded Knee," I said.

"What?" asked Mina.

"The set-up," I said. "Sons-of-bitches!"

"Doctor, do something! You must talk to them!" pleaded Gabby.

Ulises motioned that I should use my cell phone. "Give it a try. Tell them to give us the breathing room they promised."

I called, but there was no reply at either of the two emergency numbers I had been given to dial, in the event of trouble. "Theyíre not answering," I said. I left a message at a voice mail that seemed as ridiculous as asking a charging rhinoceros to stop. It made me feel like a weakling.

Ulises, tapping some numbers into his cell phone, said: "Buddy 7. Situation 8. Eye on the E. Bucket of Water. Look up 11, 100%. Daddy 2, thatís Daddy 2. Copy?"

We heard, in reply: "Foresight, baby. Trust nobody. Out."

Tapping in another set of numbers, Ulises told somebody else: "Plan B. Now." Beyond our sight, unknown forces were being unleashed. Dams of some kind were being opened. We listened, hearts pounding, for the roar of waters set free.

"All right," said Ulises, "letís clear from here, in case they got a fix from the signal. Another two hundred yards towards San Judas, and weíll have another vantage point."

"What are we doing?" demanded Mina.

"Theyíve got us marked for the kill," said Ulises. "Weíre going to go through a lot today. But if we act fast, and donít try to wait it out like the Jews in Nazi Germany, some of us will get out alive."

Desperately, Mina drew her two children close to her.

"We canít provoke them!" pleaded Gabby. "We should just all put our hands up and ask them to spare us!"

"Donít you get it girl, hands up or hands down donít matter now!" Mina chided her.

"Come on, letís move," urged Ulises.

At that moment, somehow breaking free of the shackles of his limp, Dom Joaquim reached us, and cried out in joy, "It is as I have foretold! They have double-crossed us! They have called Che back into the world!"

We moved down into a gully between two hills, then rose again, as green helicopters filled the sky like jungle vegetation that doesnít know how to stop growing, but simply keeps proliferating until it finally collapses under its own weight and fills the forest with the stench of rotting plant flesh.

"How bad does it hurt to be shot?" Gabby asked.

"I donít know," Ulises told her. "Maybe, today, weíll find out."

Some rough-looking man beside us answered her: "It hurt like hell when I got shot trying to rob a bank. Maybe it doesnít hurt quite as bad when youíre doing something thatís right."

"At least we have the doctor right here beside us!" somebody joked.

I didnít tell her that my kit was mainly filled with supplies for dehydration, sun stroke, and preventatives for heart attack and stroke.

"Whatís your plan?" I asked Ulises.

"We need to break away from Rio. We got to head out towards the ERB strongholds. Weíre going to be uprooted, doctor, just like the villages in the sertao. Like Mosesí people in the desert. I donít know how far you plan to go with us, but I ask that you not abandon us until tomorrow morning. Weíre going to need you today and through the night. You can say we took you hostage, so you wonít be blamed."

A lot of people around us began to cry.

"So thatís it for Bairro Capanga," gasped Mina. "Holy Hell. Are you sure, Ulises?"

"Let me go talk to the soldiers," I said. "The ones who are following us. Iíll tell them to back off and give us room."

Ulises smiled bitterly. "If they wanted to listen to you, doctor, they would have kept the phone lines that they gave you open."

"Let me try," I said. "Things are becoming critical."

"I wonít let you go," Ulises replied, no space for bargaining in his tone of voice. "I am going to need your skills in a matter of minutes. Donít you know the fate of ravens?" He was referring to a well-known poem from the Northeast about a country doctor killed by the paramilitaries, which went: Doctor, doctor, with a bag black like a raven; he healed the man who said No. Mr. World came by with a great big gun, said, ĎDonít you know, all ravens got to die?í Put a hundred bullet holes in the sky.

Mina added: "Listen to him, baby! Theyíre a bunch of killers! You made the mistake of caring. Now youíre at the top of their hit list!"

"I donít believe it!" I countered, unable to accept the abandonment of mercy by men who I knew.

"You learn something new every day," cursed Ulises.

We reached another crest of terrain, and there, sprawled out on our stomachs, we surveyed the tightening noose. The soldiers, who had paused for a moment in response to the delay in the procession, were coming closer and continuing their deployment to envelope us. In the distance, we heard a few shots. Everyone tensed. A helicopter spotted us on the hill, and buzzed us like a mosquito thirsting for blood. You could see the curiosity of the soldiers, whose faces were clearly visible, and the readiness of the machine guns which were becoming more disenchanted with their silence every minute. But then the copters all veered off towards the entrance to San Judas, which is where the shots had come from.

"So what are you doing here, contemplating the immortality of the donkey?" cursed Espartaco, coming up, again, beside Ulises. "Thereís decisive moments in everything, when what you do with a few minutes of your time either makes you or breaks you. Sitting on your ass never seems dangerous, but truth is, it can be as suicidal as setting yourself on fire."

"We need soldiers, now," cursed Ulises, "but God gives me a philosopher."

"Yo, this is war!" raged Espartaco. "Wake up! Itís not about to begin; itís begun!"

"I need information from San Judas!" replied Ulises. "God damn it! Do you take me for an idiot?" At that moment, his cell phone vibrated, and he flipped the lid open. He was spoken to, without transmitting a return signal. Intently, we watched him nod his head, frown, nod his head again, then close the lid. "We tried the SDV thing. Do you remember, doctor, the warning that you once gave me?"

"About using SDV patients to get past checkpoints?"

"Well, I rejected your moral objections to having your patients used. We tested the checkpoint leading into San Judas, to see if we could intimidate the guards into backing off so we could get through without an inspection. You know, we have some hot items with us of various kinds: the last of Gilbertoís jewels, which, believe it or not, the people havenít traded in but kept as relics; and also some Ďmusical instrumentsí, if you know what I mean. Well, we used two real SDV patients, and three of our companions, in veils like the people use when they have disfigured faces, to test the guardsí reactions. The guards told them to turn back, and as one of our boys wearing the veil approached too closely, they shot him."

"Which one?" asked Espartaco.

"Willy."

Espartacoís eyes burned with hatred. The world before him began to curl up like paper in a fire.

"Before that, they let through fifteen residents of the bairro who were frisked and made to pass through metal detectors, in violation of our agreement."

"So the way to San Judas is definitively closed," summarized Espartaco. "For Christís sake, Ulises, we have to act now! Now!" His fierce, delicate face twitched like a jumpy trigger finger. His black beret, on crooked, made no attempt to recover its style.

At that moment, Bronstein appeared behind us with a young, unruly black man in handcuffs, his hands bound behind him.

"Whatís this?" demanded Ulises.

"Do you know this son-of-a-bitch?" demanded Bronstein. "Have you ever seen him before?"

"Donít distract us with shit like this!" cursed Espartaco.

"He had a black rag in his pocket. He was pretending to be a marshal, and telling the people to throw stones at the helicopters as they flew by low!"

"Soon, more than stones will be flying at them," said Ulises.

"A provocateur," surmised Espartaco. "Look, we donít have time for this. The lineís been crossed. Am I right, Ulises, am I right? Thereís no turning back now!"

"Thatís right," said Ulises.

"Tumble him," said Espartaco.

"No, you mother**kers, Iím one of you, Iím a brother!" the prisoner screamed. "Look at my color, baby, look at my color! Weíre all in this together!"

"Look away!" Mina ordered her kids.

I gasped in horror as a knife came out of Bronsteinís hand, and rapidly passed over the throat of the captive provocateur. He slumped, writhing to the grass, emitting a horrible choking sound, as Bronstein grimly wiped the blade clean.

"Doctor, there is no easy way to defend yourself from killers," Ulises apologized, while Espartaco told Bronstein, "Put away your knife, son, and get your guitar. Musicians like you donít need to waste your time gutting fish."

From somewhere, a towel appeared to cover over the corpse. I felt Minaís hand on my arm. "Donít let your manhood shrivel up now," she told me. "This is the worst moment Iíve ever experienced. I want to make it to a better moment. I got these kids, here, and I want them to live, and I want to listen to songbirds, again, sometime, singing songs that donít have nothing to do with politics; I want them to wipe this memory away from my mind, like a sponge wiping dirt off a table. I depend on you. We all do," she said, clinging to Helder and Zenobia as though, without them, she might fall to her death. I hugged her, and them, as well, while Zoila, behind us, wept: "And the seven angels which had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound."

Dom Joaquim, catching up with us again, was only grinning, as he gasped for breath. "I am sorry to be joyous as the heavens fall," he told us, "but it is nothing more than the plagues of Egypt. El Che is here. El Che is here! Fear not! Somewhere, among us, he walks, he has already appeared. Amidst this rabble oppressed on all sides! Amidst these tears pouring from motherís cheeks! The fear that any being would feel to be here, he will crush it in his hands, because he loves us too much to tremble! He will save us! Mark my words!"

One of the young men dragged Joaquim away from us. Concentration and prophecy do not always get along. "All right, this is it," said Ulises. "Look below," he explained, as we peered down on the other side of the hill we were on. "See that rise, there, running through the valley? We got to post a platoon there to hold off the troops coming up from Bairro Capanga. The rest of the people can move through the valley under cover of our boys, the rise will protect them from the troopsí fire. We got to move our people around the flank of the minefield in our path, and run through Curumbim and the edge of Esperanca towards Bacoroca, beyond San Judas. Get cadres mixed in with the people, because theyíre going to have to disperse due to the pursuit, and theyíll need guidance. Leave the slow ones and the scared ones behind. Let them know, if they fold, theyíll probably end up in displacement camps somewhere."

Once more, a helicopter came in close to us, theyíd seen all they needed to see at the gateway to San Judas, there was no remaining threat.

"With these damned helicopters here we canít do shit," said Espartaco.

"We got some friends coming up through Curumbim," Ulises told him. He received a loaded flare-launcher from a friendly hand. "All right, letís go." Suddenly, a group of musicians appeared, with instrument cases, and there was also a band of four men dressed as pirates carrying a treasure chest, who were apparently a part of the festival.

"Yo, this is pretty blatant," Espartaco complained.

"The army may not be ready to pounce quite yet," Ulises prayed. "They may be waiting for their provocateurs to light the fuse. Get Spider over there, and let two of the pirates have a swordfight over her."

And suddenly, a swarm of us were descending into the little valley, as the procession began to change direction. "Come on! Come on!" great multitudes of people were shouting to each other, "donít lag behind. Slow ones get eaten by the soldiers!" Others dropped out of the procession, however, and began to take out white flags.

As we pushed our way through the valley at a fast walk that was almost a jog, I was surprised by how efficiently a small group of young men moved out to the rise, taking positions there with their instrument cases, as the pirates brought up the treasure chest. By now, the helicopters were diving at us and people were throwing themselves to the grass as the furious gusts of wind from the rotating blades pummeled them from above, like cyclones. Each time the helicopters dove, we expected to hear the sounds of gunfire; the flesh of our bodies winced in preparation of blows of steel. At last, as Espartaco shook him and demanded action, Ulises, who could be as unreachable as a stone, judged that the time was right, and fired a brilliant purple flare into the sky. For a moment, the universe stood still. What a beautiful beginning to Armageddon! Like incense dedicated to the God of War, the flare hissed into nothingness, the fury became divine. Bronstein took out his guitar, which was a Bronstein 60 sniping rifle, and fired 3 rounds of armor-piercing bullets into the cockpit of a prying assault copter, and also hit its fuselage. The helicopter veered wildly away from the scene and crashed into a hillside as its wounded pilot reacted to the agony in his body and not the terrain outside of the copter. Simultaneously, salvoes from other guns pelted against the armor of the other copters, which took off for safer skies, one of them after leaving behind a metallic shout of machine gun fire which we saw sever the branch of a small tree. At the same time, the young men on the rise, lying flat on their stomachs, began to open fire on the troops advancing from Bairro Capanga, forcing them to go prone, after taking down a few.

"Christ, here they come!" shouted Espartaco.

The helicopters that had withdrawn to get clear of our groundfire were now turning around in the sky and preparing to come in for the kill. From a distance, we saw the plumes of missiles leap at us, and big chunks of the rise the guerrillas were working from flew skywards as dust. We heard people crying out in pain. I clearly heard the voice of someone saying, "Jesus Christ, theyíve killed me!" I began to run towards the rise to attend to the wounded, but Ulises grabbed me by the arm.

"No, doctor, not yet! Stay with the people who are trying to get away. Youíre one man, and you canít be everywhere at once. Our men over there have been properly spread out, so that their casualties are sure to be limited. Many more will be wounded in the path ahead."

What a frightening form of computation is used, in war, to extract choices from the chaos of agony!

"Damn it, heís coming in to strafe us with the cannon!" cursed Espartaco, as a helicopter began to streak towards us from the distance. "Where the hell are your buddies, god damn it!?"

But at that moment, we saw a flash of light from the distance, and the shape of something streaking towards the helicopter.

"Jesus Christ!" exclaimed Espartaco, as the helicopter erupted into a fireball, and fell out of the sky.

"Surface-to-air, shoulder-held," said Ulises. "The boys from Curumbim."

"How many missiles do we have?"

"Not many, but enough to make them stay away. Especially if Daddy 2 can get off the ground."

Meaning what?

Two helicopters moved in against the SAM site, but after a reconnaissance copter got riddled with ground fire and another assault copter got taken out by a missile, the air attack ceased. Ulises received a report over his phone. "Daddy 2 is getting a big hug."

Ulises grinned. "Weíve got a little window of opportunity. Local air support is getting drawn in to protect the air base and the armyís rapid-deployment center northeast of Rio. Weíve had a sleeper contingent there, for a while, which has just launched a diversionary attack. Since those bases are critical, and we, here, are just a bunch of low-priority shits, we wonít be seeing much in the way of helicopters and predators for an hour or more. If we move fast, we may be able to get clear of the trap."

But the escape was not easy, it was no less challenging than the journeys of the ancients through seas filled with monsters. As we emerged from behind the rise which sheltered us from the direction of Bairro Capanga, we saw members of our exodus suddenly begin to fall like weeds sliced down by a power cutter. "Down! Down!" shouted Ulises. Signal whistles blew up and down the fleeing mob. "Get down! Start crawling! - Itís those damned government snipers!" he told me.

"What?" Espartaco demanded, slithering up beside us without his beret.

"Special forces. They may have more than one position!"

"So now what?"

"Thatís what the water bucket is for!" said Ulises, referring to the coded message heíd sent off to ĎBuddy 7.í For a while, we kept on crawling through the dirt and grass, like a tribe of serpents trying to stay below the fire of the snipers. I stopped to check the bodies lying beside us. "Just give him a pain killer!" said Ulises, dragging me away from a man begging for help, whose neck was a giant, blood-drenched hole. From the way the man was speaking, it was obvious that his larynx was a part of the disaster.

"Iím the doctor," I said.

"Then you must see more than I do that there is no point in stopping for him." Staring at me with terrible focus, Ulises said: "Sentimentality goes out the window here, doctor. Love, to be effective, must abandon it. Your heart must evolve, learn to have sharp teeth, or all the good things that you stand for will become extinct. Men of conscience must learn to kill, or else they will become dodo birds." I gave the dying man a jab of morphine, one of the few doses I had, perhaps a luxury given to my softness. Would others need it more?

We passed by another body, lying heavy and lifeless in a ditch. "Look," Ulises said, "the Special Forces are making your life easier. Their shots are so accurate that you do not have to worry about leaving the wounded behind."

We heard something buzzing in the grass, which I thought might be a rattlesnake, or hornet, but which turned out to be Ulisesí cell phone vibrating again. "Damn!" he said, slamming down the lid.

"Now what?" gasped Espartaco, spitting out a mouthful of dirt.

"Pinheiroís flown in another copter full of troops from Bairro Capanga, and put them behind the minefield at San Judas. He must have something like a hundred men over there, by now."

"So what? Weíre outflanking the minefield, those of us who get by the snipers," said Espartaco. "It stops at Chechere Hill; with a little effort, weíll get around it."

"Your brains stopped working?" demanded Ulises.

Espartaco stared back angrily at him. Then, his mind returned to him, and he was ashamed to have been frightened like a stampeding animal which does not think; and his shame came out swinging with brass knuckles, because Espartaco had been a small, sickly child who people laughed at and he could not suffer the slightest scratch to be made on the surface of his new persona. "Watch yourself, Ulises, Iím going crazy, and I might shoot you before you get a chance to disrespect me again!" he raged. But then he added: "I see what you mean. The bastards got enough manpower now to come out from behind the minefield and intercept us as we try to go around it. They can block our escape."

Right in front of us, a man stiff from arthritis who could not make himself travel on his belly, but instead was crawling on all fours like a child pretending he was a cat, took a hit to the side. My only answer for his useless entreaties was tears. "Doctor, doctor, have you lost your touch?" he wondered, looking into my eyes, stretching his hand towards me. "Do you need your medical books?"

"Come on, stay with us!" cried Mina, with Helder and Zenobia beside her, her body between theirs and the snipers, as my body was between the snipers and hers. "Itís a terrible day to be a doctor! Come on; damn Hippocrates, he was nothing but a fool! Donít desert me now!" Somehow, I found that I was still with them.

Just a little bit further ahead, I heard Helder saying, "Yuck, itís a pile of shit!"

"Shitís no problem!" his mother was screaming at him. "Crawl right through it if you have to, on a day like today, shit is like chocolate!"

I slipped over to have a look, then gestured for Ulises to come beside me. I put my finger to my lips, motioning for him to be silent. Then I said, as though I were a commander speaking to a fellow commander: "We need more people for the diversion. Come on, keep them coming this way! Send me more! You have the men set up by the gap in the minefield? Wait till weíre sure weíve drawn enough of the soldiers against us. Then you can slip through the minefield and hit them from behind!"

Ulisesí eyes lit up as he saw that the piece of dog shit I was talking to was actually a military listening device. The question was, who was listening, and how quickly were they processing the information? After we had crawled away from the mike, he dragged Espartaco beside us, and said: "The doctor here is a damned genius. He is a master of ruses. I saw it in the soccer match. Now again, when it counts the most."

Espartaco looked at me.

"Heís just fed the army false information," Ulises said. "If they believe it, the troops in San Judas wonít come out from behind the minefield in force to try to stop us from going around it, because they will now interpret our retreat as a diversion; instead, they will remain in a defensive position behind it, because they will be expecting us to try to attack them through a weak spot in the minefield. If we can get Bronstein and one or two other good shots over there, and if they can hit a few soldiers by firing over the minefield, that might increase the credibility of the deception. The soldiers wonít know where the shots are coming from, they may think weíve broken through. Listen, if the army and NPs donít resist our flanking march in force, we may be able to fight our way past them!"

Somebody else appeared behind us at that moment, with information that a suspected infiltrator was close behind. "Manís got a cell phone. I donít know him. And heís cursing the army, the government, the gringos, the church, airplanes, and everything under the sun, like he was the most revolutionary son-of-a-bitch who ever lived, like he was Fidel, Che, Zapata, Mao, Marx and Sandino all in one. Nobody spouts off so much ideology in the middle of a battle. I heard him say something like ĎPop Ďem from the top.í"

Espartaco drew his finger across his throat in a quick and ruthless gesture. I said: "Wait a minute."

"No f**king mercy," Esparataco countered. "Our peopleís lives are worth more than your squeamishness disguised as morals. Youíve seen the bodies, they need to be paid forÖ"

"Donít waste him, use him," I said. "Along with the dog shit, he can pass on false information to the army. Let him overhear some crap. Do you understand? Give him some guerrilla theater. Have one of your guys yell: ĎI need more ammo,í and have somebody else tell him: ĎYou arenít getting any more because itís needed at the minefield.í Some crap like that."

Ulises was squeezing my hand so hard that the bones were breaking. "See how soccer runs the world? Itís like the little gears inside a clock that make the hands of time move; boys kicking a ball around become men fighting to free the earth." Ulises imitated the shoulder fake I had used to beat him at goal.

"What the hell are you doing?" demanded Espartaco.

"Come on!" said Ulises. "Up ahead, the terrain dips down, weíll have some safety from those damned snipers; we can stand up and their bullets will still pass over our heads. Thatís where weíll set up the drama for our little informer. Between the dog shit that has the ears of a rabbit, and the human shit thatís got a cell phone, weíll get the wrong message through to Pinheiro!"

As we continued to crawl along, a rumble approached from the direction of Rio: the sound of engines droning nearer, like bees swarming out of their hive. "Shit!" cursed Ulises. It was a formation of three predators which was moving in against the SAM. A snake-like plume of smoke hissed out from the bushes crowning the ridge above Curumbim, and one of the predators blew up in a burst of flames. Missiles flew from the others, provoking impressive flashes from the ridge, and then, the remote-controlled planes continued to sweep forward unloading barrels of heavy machine gun fire into the scrub. While one banked at a greater distance, the other one swept in again to test the ridge. It did not draw a response, which emboldened the other one to come in for a strafing run against our desperate pilgrimage. All around us, the earth erupted in bursts of dust and debris leaping away like dancers from the crash of the bullets, it was like an invisible demon of death was running through our ranks, tearing into soil and flesh without distinction. We did not see what was slaughtering us, it was like the plague, a plague of steel demanding bonfires to burn the dead. "Jesus!" a woman screamed right behind us, in the unmistakable voice of someone whose last particle of humanity has just been ripped off of the bone; someone who will spend the last moments of her life as a wailing animal. I crawled towards her to find a body like a glass jar of water which has been dropped on the floor, which has nothing left inside it, because the water has already gushed out of it and stained the floor all around it. "Doctor, doctor," she sighed, lying in a great pool of blood which belonged inside of her, "am I going to die? Is my child still alive?" I have never ceased to marvel at how people who are almost totally obliterated can still manage to get a few words out before they die. Gaby, who was nearby, said, "I got her, sister, Iím going to take good care of your baby, I promise." So now Gaby had Little Joao plus an orphan. I gave the woman a hit of morphine; from being the disciple of Aesculapius, I had become the right hand of Hades. Again, the Predator swept in at us. I wondered, as it approached: who are the men who guide these craft, who see out of them with TV cameras, and press the buttons that do this to women and children? What do we look like to their mechanical eyes? What does our blood look like on their monitors? "Help me, oh my God!" someone screamed, trying to dig a foxhole underneath himself as the footsteps of the bullets rushed towards him without care, like a panic-stricken animal trampling everything in its way. I thought of Odysseus, swerving his plow to avoid his infant son, Telemachus. But this, here, was genuine madness! I heard the thud of the bullet, which sounds very different when it strikes flesh than when it strikes the earth, and heard the gasp, the breathless wheezing. But strangely, the people around me were cheering. Another serpent of fire had just leapt up from the hill above Curumbim, and the deadly Predator blew up. "Theyíve got some tunnels up there," Ulises said. "They can come up and go down just like f**king elves. Those mother**king beautiful sons-of-bitches of Bairro Curumbim." The other Predator flew away, it had had enough, and local air support was obviously still tied up elsewhere.

Exhausted and thirsty, we gathered ourselves down in the land dip, out of the snipersí line of fire, and soon found ourselves accompanied by a platoonís-worth of guerrillas. These were rough-looking, angry men, coated with sweat, and itching to start firing away, they wanted to gouge out the eyes of those who couldnít see the value of the people they had just killed. Apparently, the young men back at the rise had stopped the troops pursuing us in their tracks, and now, all we had to do was to get around the minefield. Ulises was upset that two mortar crews that were supposed to be in the vicinity, who he had, in fact, counted on to suppress the fire of the snipers, had never showed up. But there is so much confusion in the heat of battle, and so many hook-ups that break down along the way, that it doesnít pay to dwell on the things that are going wrong, you just keep on reacting to the world as it is, swallowing the imperfections while trying not to choke, playing with the cards you have.

Nearby, I heard a gunshot, loud, almost on top of me. I whirled around, my pistol drawn.

"The infiltrator," Espartaco said, coming back to us with a gun that had no quarrel with its existence. "He got off the message we wanted. Heís made his contribution. Now he can go explain himself to St. Peter."

The guerrilla platoon, armed with a variety of rifles and pistols, took the front; the boys who had been holding off the pursuers from Capanga, who were now frozen in a fearful mentality of defense Ė what do you expect from conscripts who are dragged like fish out of the sea to fight for someone elseís gain? Ė would become the rearguard of the exodus. They had, besides their rifles, a heavy machine gun, unloaded from the piratesí treasure chest. Ulises was having that transported back to us.

"All right!" ordered Ulises, as I used up the last of the bandages at my disposal, and applied tourniquets to the wounded. "Come with us, doctor. Not all the way, just a little bit farther. Weíre going to bear the brunt of the fighting up here. If your clever ruses have worked, Pinheiro should have only a light screen of troops posted ahead, in our path, not so many that we canít fight our way through them. We have to move it. The skies wonít be free of aircraft for long, and our deception wonít remain undetected forever."

"Now youíre talking, baby!" said Espartaco. "Speed! Speed! All day, youíve been walking around like you were looking for your contact lens. Now, thank God, youíre going to finally going to move it!"

Ulises didnít pay him any attention.

As we got ready to move forward, I heard a woman shouting: "Go away, you stupid fool! The only reason I didnít stay behind and let the army round me up and take my ass away is because of what you said. I believed you when you said Che would come, and so, I accepted the path of a revolutionary. But here we are, getting shot down like dogs, and where is he? Where is Che, god damn it?!"

Dom Joaquim once more caught up with us. "Who said things would be easy?" he cursed. "Did I say when Che came, that flowers would bloom where he stepped, that the skies would cease to let airplanes fly, that the air would cease to let bullets pass through it on their way to human hearts? Revolution is a calamity. But it is a calamity that has a god. Che is that god. My sister, if you are going to die, it is better to die reaching for freedom, than bowing to tyranny."

"So, good, but where the hell is Che, then?" she demanded. "You are a false prophet, Joaquim, you are a crazy old man like they say. Your dreams are like anyoneís dreams. I fly in my dreams, my man has a penis that is ten inches long in my dreams. Your dreams are just dreams, Joaquim. Iím out here risking my life and going through hell, and thereís no god-damned Che!"

"About that youíre wrong!" he insisted. "Heís here, somewhere. He joined us today. I donít know if he came from the east or the west, if he reached us through San Judas or via Curumbim, but heís here. Look for him! Iím sure heís here! Doctor," he told me, "keep your eyes open! Che is here, among us, right now, I am 100% sure of it. My sixth sense has heard his voice, and received a fraternal hug from his strong arms. If you see him, let the people know. If heís wounded, cut open your veins and give him your blood. He comes before all of us, because he has put us before him."

"Well, right now itís just us," snarled Espartaco. "Come on, enough of this old guy. Letís go Ulises. Letís get it on."

For a moment, the party of guerrillas that was slated to lead the advance to Chechere Hill froze in its tracks, we heard large explosions off to the side. Spotters identified artillery being fired from the direction of Curumbim, and we also heard, in the distance, shouts of consternation: shouts of awe and trepidation but not of physical pain, as when a crowd of people witnesses a disaster, like a building collapse, that is too close for comfort but not near enough to bury them alive. "The mortars have finally come into play," said Ulises. Action was finally being taken against the snipers, even though most of us had already passed by their deadly gauntlet; now, in fact, some long rounds were needlessly complicating the retreat, threatening to douse us in friendly fire. Ulises took action to have more accurate coordinates for the snipersí nests passed on to the mortar crew in Curumbim, even though we still only had a general idea of where those expertly designed nests lay; and then the advance on Chechere began. As soon as our leading edge started to cut and take down the barbed wire entanglements erected in front of the hill, a fierce barrage of automatic weaponsí fire began to rain down on us. "Pinheiro is so fond of us, he canít stand the thought of letting us go," said Ulises. "Stay back here with Mina and the others," he added, deciding that Iíd advanced far enough. "Weíll let you know when weíve cleared the way."

"I should come with you, where the danger is," I said. "That is where you will most need a doctor."

"Itís dangerous everywhere, even back here," Ulises countered. "We donít want you up front, if you get shot, or pinned down and stuck in a hole all day, you wonít be of use to anybody." And he pushed forwards with Espartaco and the others, followed by a group of young men without weapons, who were coming along, just like the undersupplied troops of the Czar in World War One, to recover the rifles of the dead and continue the advance until it succeeded.

As we lay there, waiting for the outcome, one of my patients came up beside me, a middle-aged man who was HIV positive, who had just recently begun to receive the new medications I had brought from Rio. "Doctor," he told me. "All of the medicines which you brought to us, after your gallant fight with the bureaucracy which hates black people, are back in Bairro Capanga, which we are leaving behind us. Now, it seems as though we are about to begin a life of being tumbleweeds: a hard life without homes, maybe without food, and certainly without medicine. Tell me, doctor, what are my chances of surviving under these circumstances?"

"It is impossible to say," I told him, honestly. "Certainly, it will be harder to stabilize and control your condition. You are still pretty strong, and you may do well, but I can make no promises. Some of the others, however, who are less solid than you are, will clearly suffer from the cut-off of their meds. I think the most seriously ill should stay behind."

"Who says the soldiers wonít just finish off the people who stop running? If they donít respect the lives of women and children, why should they respect a white flag?" warned Zoila.

While someone else said: "Youíre talking about freedom, brother! Freedom! Youíre going to give it up for some pills?"

"You arenít positive," my patient retorted. "What the hell is freedom, anyway, living on the lam with helicopters in your dreams; being pierced by pangs of hunger in the wilderness, digging up grass and roots like a wild pig; wasting away with AIDS, without medicines or hospitals? What kind of liberty is that, when your body is giving out on you? For me, in the shape Iím in, police and soldiers are barely relevant; my enemy is a virus, god damn it! For me, freedom is health! Freedom is having my meds, and being able to take a breath of air without a struggle. Back there is where the treatment is, thanks to the progress our doctor, here, has made."

"For a bowl of food, the dog will wear a collar," countered the other, strident in his contempt.

"You arenít positive!" my patient spat back, equally offended. "You act all lofty, mother**ker, like you were so much better than me; youíre like a boy being brave as he fights an imaginary lion. Youíre not in my shoes! Here," he said, taking out a knife, and cutting himself. "See this? Nice contaminated blood, filled with HIV." He stretched the knife towards the other. "Let me cut your arm, and then we can share."

The other pulled away from him. "Get the hell away from me, youíre f**king crazy!"

"You arenít willing to be in my shoes, then donít do my moralizing for me!" my patient shouted.

I put my arm around him to calm him down. "Look," I said, "the choice is yours. Whatever you think is best, do it. Either way, thereís risk. I know you and I respect you, and Iím sorry to say, I donít know what to tell you. Do what feels right."

"Amen," said Gabby, "and may God protect you, brother."

Meanwhile, the sound of the gun battle on Chechere Hill was frightening. The rapid rate of fire and the loudness of the rifles was daunting, it was like everything ahead of us was blowing up, like the hill, itself, was screaming at the world with ammunition, trying to dig the men who were on it out of its grassy flesh with fingers of bullets, as though they were fleas who were driving it mad. "Jesus Christ, itís like Normandy," sobbed Gabby. "All of our boys must be dead by now, no one could get through all that."

"These days, a handful of soldiers can bellow like a lion," someone told her. "Seems like an army, but may only be a few of them up there. Donít be fooled by a mouse puffing out its chest. Like the little guy in the Wizard of Oz, pulling all the switches to make it seem like there was a ferocious God of fires and explosions out there, but all the time it was just one cowardly little guy behind a curtain."

But another told him: "Number of men donít mean a thing, idiot, itís the bullets that count! Even if itís only a few men on the hill, but they all got automatics or a machine gun, thatís a lot of firepower, just listen! Itís like a god-damned wall of lead! Donít matter if most of the soldiers is still behind the minefield, if they fell for a ruse or whatever; whatís ahead of us is enough to hold us, ainít nobody fighting their way past that."

"F**k me," I heard Mina curse herself, under her breath. "Iím the mother from hell." Her face was stained with tears as she sheltered Helder and Zenobia. "Shouldíve skipped out on this shit. The brother is right, whatís freedom worth? I got kids!"

"Donít give up," someone told her.

"Iím the mother from hell," she repeated.

For a moment, my mind snapped; irresponsible as it was to do so, I went somewhere else inside my head, somewhere far away. I was in a lecture hall in my college as an undergrad, premed: it was a psychology class, and the professor was saying: "Extreme refutations of biological self-interest are usually provoked by a sense of guilt, or else occur as the product of a pathologically damaged self-esteem. The hero seeks privation, torture, and even death as a punishment for his real or perceived transgressions: a ritual of cleansing to free the soul of its genuine or imagined sins. Similarly, the person who must face the ice, the wind, and the treacherous slopes of the unconquered mountain and risk his life to attain its heights, feels as tiny as an ant, as contemptible as a rat. To balance off what he feels about himself, he must seek an opposite extreme in the external world. The pendulumís original swing towards self-contempt must swing back an equal distance towards glory; as much as he despises himself, others must come to revere him."

During the question-and-answer session which followed the lecture, I asked the professor, "I understand that this framework might be relevant to some, like Alexander the Great or Napoleon. But what about people like Mahatma Gandhi, or Albert Schweitzer, or Florence Nightingale, or Dr. Martin Luther King, or even Jesus and the Buddha? Isnít it possible that compassion might also, in the case of some individuals, explain their choice of Ďself-denialí, and self-endangerment? You seem to be turning altruism into a pathology."

To this, my professor replied: "In the strictest sense, it is. Sometimes the neurosis and psychological dysfunction of certain individuals, in certain times and places, can be helpful to society; but the fact remains that, on the level of the individual, we are dealing with a sickness."

The professorís words horrified me. It seemed to me as though they were part of an ideological effort to taint valor, to belittle love, to demean integrity, to portray the beautiful as lepers, to glorify the hypocritical half-hearted norm that was devouring the world with indifference and timidity, to dissuade those who cared from acting strongly, from exposing their inner aberrations by attempting Ďcompensationsí in the external world. What bird will fly if spreading oneís wings is only a sign of abnormality, a confession of inadequacy, a way of being a cripple, a way of launching oneís defects into the sky, and parading them in front of the entire world?

I did not go through all this in my head as the bullets were flying, I only saw the image of the room and the professor and knew exactly what it meant; and I, who had volunteered for a dangerous civic action program in Brazil rather than pursue a secure and lucrative career in the States, and who now found myself caught up in the middle of a furious and possibly fatal gun battle, could only wonder if my current predicament was the product of a noble impulse, or a self-destructive neurosis? If I would die the worthy death of a good man trying to help his human brothers, or the pitiful death of a troubled man unable to resist the suicidal impulses which stemmed from his inner deficits? God damn it, I thought, how dare that cowardly professor tarnish the purity of my relation with the bullet that is seeking my heart! But I reassured myself: Even if I am doing this because I am maladjusted, because I am pathetic, if people are helped by my disease, what does it matter? Let the deconstruction and degradation of my motive be my final sacrifice, let it join the loss of comfort and the loss of life. I donít want to pollute my gift by regretting it, I donít want to die wishing I was somewhere else. This is where I belong, on this day in history: in these hills of death! To be anywhere else would be to be less than I am!

As the sounds of violence engulfed us, I saw Jack Rabeyís face, and also Colonel Barryís. Where were they now, I wondered? Sitting in a bar having a drink? Or were they at the Embassy, by the telephones and the cable machines which move the pawns? Were they suffering for their actions, suffering for the thought of killing all these innocent people, suffering for the thought of eliminating a man who they knew, one of their own, who they had talked with, had drinks with, eaten with, acted like friends with? Somehow, I saw them - not utterly undisturbed, but able to get over it without too much trouble - and the thought infuriated me. Had I once lived among beasts, been accepted by beasts? What did that say about me? Then I saw Dirse, with tears in her eyes, being told the news, I saw her alone with her candles, praying in the dark in a world which no longer contained me. Somehow, it was reassuring, to know that oneís demise would not be as abrupt as the bullet that tore through oneís heart, that oneís existence would be carried gently out of the universe, fading as slowly as the few who loved one grew old and died. People are not wrong to put flowers on graves, the corpse-to-be is grateful; and even if he feels nothing after he is dead, the thought that he will be so treated is a comfort to him while he is alive; and so that the thought proves to be more than an illusion, the flowers must be placed. But I suffered for the tears coming out of Dirseís eyes, which had not foreseen this terrible result as she molded me, like difficult clay, into the shape of a man of consciousness. I wished I could tell her not to cry.

All of this, these crazy thoughts framed by bullets flying through the air, must have taken no more than ten or fifteen seconds; the time was as densely packed as the final moments of the dying, when the brain disgorges its last secrets and the amazing journey that is over caresses he who cannot go on, kisses the closed eyelids of the broken with a final affirmation of the sanctity of life. I came back, I had to come back, I found myself embracing Mina, who was embracing her children. I was telling her: "You are a great mother, Mina, and you will be a great wife. We will make it out of here alive. I promise."

"And what else are you going to promise?" she demanded. "Are you going to give me all the gold from the moon, and the diamonds that are in the stars? Donít promise me things you canít deliver. Things that arenít in your hands."

"Mina," I said, again. "We are going to make it!"

At that moment, one of the boys came back down from the hill, dragging Benedito, whose chest was wide open with blood pouring out of it. Everybody around us started crying, or screaming, except for Dom Joaquim, who said: "Dreams made of iron, people made of flesh. The people bleed, but the iron is only dented."

Zoila gave him a fearful shove. "Damn you and your Che, heís nowhere to be seen! All your talk was just like a drug, got people to jump off the ledge. ĎWeíre all birds, we can fly!í Like angel dust, like LSD, like that shit from the jungle! You bastard, and we just fall. We jump off the ledge like weíre birds, and we just fall to our deaths."

"Iím not wrong about Che," he said. "You have a womanís heart, thatís all."

Again, she shoved him, this time more violently than the last.

As I cut away Beneditoís shirt, and had him turned over to see if the bullet had exited to know in how many places I had to work on the bleeding, the boy who had brought him down said: "Itís hell up there, but weíre going to get through. There arenít as many soldiers as you might think from all the racket. They got put into place really fast, and havenít had time to set up a good defense. Mostly, they are up high, but itís not an advantage because theyíre more exposed up there than we are coming up at them. Right now, they canít shoot without showing themselves, so theyíre firing away without even looking, holding their rifles over their heads Ė theyíre shooting blind, and theyíre failing to cover a lot of spots, so we have some ways up. Our boys are crawling up close, and taking them out at close range with guns and grenades. We should have them done with in about ten minutes more, and then the rest of you can start up."

The people were thrilled by the news, which was so very different from how we imagined things to be going from the sound of it. Like a grapevine on fire, the news spread rapidly through our ranks, and we heard cheers erupting from behind us. "Itís the Rei Gilbertoís spirit, risen from the dead! Heís tricking the soldiers to fire into the air! Just like he picked pockets in Rio, heís going to steal life for us, right out of the pocket of Pinheiro!"

Someone said, "Yo, Mina, whereís your girlís crown?"

"Itís in her bag," Gabby said. "It was coming off."

"Well, put it back on her head. Itís Rei Gilberto Day!"

"Shut the hell up!" Mina said. "If it catches the light, the crown will sparkle, somebody might see it and send a shot this way. You put it on your head, you damned fool!" Then she turned to me, and whispered, about Benedito, "Darling, is he going to make it?"

I didnít answer. I just worked. But I had no plasma, and I was out of bandages. The bullet that hit him had been a fragmenting flechette, probably fired by a D3, and it had damaged his left lung, his heart, ruptured a shitload of capillaries and severed a major artery and vein. The bleeding was so massive, and coming from so many places, that it was clear there was no way he was going to make it. Even with a top-notch field hospital and every medical supply I could possibly use on hand, he would have been a lost cause. As he began to cough up blood and mucus, the spectators cried out in horror. They knew. It was like the eruption of a volcano, this ending of a human life. After a while, I just held his hand. This was one of the tough guys who I was closest to, along with Gabriel and Ulises. Every minute that this awful battle raged, it became more personal. Tears came to my eyes, but the danger all around compressed my anguish, would not let it out.

"Call Gabriel," one of the women said, at last. "They were like brothers. Is he back there, with the rear guard?"

"Wonít get here in time," whispered another softly. "And anyhow, heís busy. In war, thereís not time to say good-bye. You got a lifetime, afterwards, to think about it. Not even a second when it counts."

There was a huge flare-up of gunshots at the top of the hill and the sound of explosions, and then, after a moment of unnerving silence broken only by sporadic shooting elsewhere, a yellow flare was flying through the sky, fizzing over our heads like a giant bottle of soda that had been opened too quickly. Somebody appeared from behind us, yelling, "Start up! Start up! Donít waste no time! Theyíve cleared the way!" And with that small prodding, the great exodus was once more afoot, clamoring up the slopes of Chechere like the tribes of Israel, with their children in their arms or running along beside them, their bags and last vestiges of possessions over their shoulders and on their backs, their tense, dazed, and furious faces looking upwards towards the place where the corpses of dead soldiers met the clouds. We were a disoriented horde, a horde of lost souls, uprooted and semi-naked: we were the will to live with everything else around us in tatters. "Hurry! Hurry!" the cadres among us urged. "Push yourselves, the slow ones are sure to die!"

Suddenly, Ulises and Espartaco were bounding down the hill, their faces savage and somehow distorted, like broken arms. They came to a stop beside me, and Ulises asked: "Benedito?"

"Dead," I said.

Ulises seemed to feel less remorse for the things he had done on the hill when he heard that. He shook it off, though it would come back many times after that, you could tell. "Now, we need to set up a detachment to protect the flank and rear of the people as they retreat over Chechere," he said. Necessity is like a cheap glue, that can hold a broken heart together for a few hours. "Pinheiroís troops in San Judas may realize that we are not going to attack them over the minefield, after all," he said, "and once they see through our deception, they may decide to launch an attack right here, with the men theyíve been holding back till now. Besides this, if the troops from Bairro Capanga recover their nerve, they may press us from that direction, as well. Doctor, as our people follow the cadres towards Bacoroca, weíd like for you to stay with us, since this is where the next bit of fighting is likely to take place."

I agreed, but told him that I had little left in my medicine bag, and that my effectiveness from hereon in would be extremely limited.

"Whatever you can do will be appreciated," he said. And he and Espartaco began to place sweat-soaked and wild-eyed guerrilla fighters into position. Gabriel, arriving with another group of guerrillas from the direction of Bairro Capanga, was shown the body of Benedito, and fell over it weeping for a moment, then, shouting, "Iíll send you a hundred of them to mop the floors of your palace in Heaven!", he arose, and told a friend, "Carry his body out of here. The sons-of-bitches might desecrate it." He touched me as he passed me, and said, "I know you did your best, doctor. In my eyes, now, you are almost black." The men, still absurdly dressed as pirates, came up behind him with a heavy machine gun and an RPG launcher. One of them told me: "Ever hear the story of the hare and the hound? Hare got away from the hound, the hunter said to his hound, ĎArenít you ashamed to have let a little rabbit get the best of you?í The hound said, ĎYou forget, I was only running for my supper, he was running for his life.í [5] We still have a chance, doctor, the soldiers want to live more than they want to kill!"

From the hill, three wounded fighters were brought down to me for treatment: one had two flesh wounds, that I disinfected with some alcohol lent to me by bairro residents (which could also serve as a painkiller), and then covered over with bandages made from torn clothing. One had a broken ankle, which we bound tightly, as we improvised a crutch. The other was shot through the stomach, and the throat, and though he was still alive, without facilities to care for him there was nothing that could be done except to lessen his pain with a hit of morphine, the last in my possession. I was given to understand that on the slopes of the hill, one more guerrilla lay dead; and another wounded one, who the guerrillas had treated themselves, was being given a head start to Bacoroca instead of being brought back to me. Apparently, there were no wounded soldiers, they were all dead. I didnít ask for details. "Go, Mina!" I ordered, as I saw her still lingering around me. "Go on, go ahead with the rest of them! Iíll catch up with you at Bacoroca! Donít stay here, there could be more fighting, you need to keep on moving towards safety!"

But she didnít want to go. "Are we going to be a family, or are you only saying crazy things, because it is a crazy day?"

"Mina, you are my wife. I swear it. I love you. We donít need a church or a justice of the peace, we have shared moments that are like a wedding, moments that are like rings on our fingers. I am not going back. Not now. You are my woman, your children are my children now, and this great unknown is my new life. Bacoroca, the mountains, the jungles, wherever fate leads us, wherever armies drive us. Through the desert of Sinai, to the promised land, the future. The future that forms like a crystal in the human mind, that was not constructed to accept injustice. Now, go! I wonít desert you, I promise! I will follow you to the ends of the earth! But I am a doctor, and first I must do my duty, and right now it is here, tending to the wounds of the fighting men."

But Mina refused to leave. Instead, she threw her arms around me, and we kissed, then stopped, because it seemed an effrontery to the aggrieved. "Once we separate, we may not find each other," she said. "Who knows when the helicopters will come back, and weíll have to scatter every which way? Waiting wonít be possible, only running. Thatís why weíve got to stay together."

"Your kids!" I said, working her weak spot.

"Your kids," she reminded me. "Single mother on the run? Me alone against the apocalypse? No thank you. Family stays together," she insisted. Next to her, Gabby and Zoila and their kids huddled together, afraid to leave her friendship which was like a harbor when the waves grow high and the skies above the sea grow dark; and Dom Joaquim, also, did not budge. "If this is where the next fighting is to be," he said, "then this is surely where el Che will make his appearance."

"Get out of here, old man!" he was told. "Someone as slow on his feet as you needs to head out, now. If you wait to the last minute, youíll never make it."

But he replied: "My days are numbered anyway, and I have seen so many young people die today that I realize I have lived too long. If only I could have given them some of my years, maybe they could have used them better than I did. No, I am finally ready to give up everything except for this last dream of mine. I will plant myself here like a tree and I will not move, until I see either Che, who is the god of the earth who stands up for the living, or the God of Heaven, who rules over the dead. The one is the god of fighters, the other is the god of losers. If my dreams have deceived me, let the brains that lied to me be blown out of my head by a bullet! And let me buried by the teeth of dogs and the beaks of vultures!"

Zoila urged him to leave, regretting her harshness towards him. "Come on, Dom Joaquim, you may be old but that doesnít mean youíre all washed up. What would we do without your madness?" And she started to cry: "Please, go! You are much too slow to wait until the last minute!"

He just hugged her and smiled. "With the example of so many who have died bravely all around me, death has lost its terror. How commonplace it is! Even children have taken it by the hand. Stop crying, Zoila, I like your sharp tongue better than your tears."

All of a sudden, a tremendous salvo of gunfire erupted from the direction of San Judas, and we heard the whistling approach of artillery shells. "Down! Down!" everybody screamed. "Mortars!" someone else shouted.

We heard one of the young men, in the distance, shouting: "Here they come!", while cadres among the endless refugees pouring over Chechere were screaming, "Get down! Crawl! Donít stop moving! Theyíre launching a second attack, theyíre going to try to cut us off!" I heard there was somebody over there handing around a crack pipe, and even those who believed that drugs were an invention of the devil, were taking hits to try to get an extra boost of energy so that they could make it through the crisis. According to the stories they told, one old man seems to have died of a heart attack around this time, but they left him there once he stopped breathing and no one told me a thing. This is what exploding artillery shells can do to your sense of solidarity.

As the area we were in seemed a little open, my retinue, as it were, consisting of Mina, Gabby, Zoila and their kids, and Dom Joaquim, moved closer to the guerrilla detachment that had been posted by Ulises to hold off Pinheiroís expected attack from San Judas. Here, there was more cover, provided by the terrain which ancient geological forces and barrages of wind and rain had shaped in perfect anticipation of our need. The bullets from Pinheiroís advancing troops passed harmlessly over our heads, while it seems our fighters were having success. I heard Ulisesí voice saying: "Give it to them, give it to them! That aíway! Keep them at a distance!"

There was good cause to be optimistic. In spite of casualties caused by the mortar shells, the multitudes of Bairro Capanga were working their way out of Pinheiroís trap as the guerrillas protected the retreat, and kept the soldiers from getting too close. Not long afterwards, the indios from Bairro Capanga got their mortars, which had been shelling the suspected locations of the snipers behind us, trained on the artillery of Colonel Pinheiro instead, and the two mortar teams began exchanging rounds, which took some of the pressure off of the fleeing rabble.

"Good! Good!" exclaimed Ulises. "We are going to do it! Theyíre afraid to rush us!" But hardly had he spoken those words, than we heard a few of the guerrillas cry out, "Jesus! Look out!", and the machine gun and automatics began to fire wildly. Our guys were already low on ammunition, and some of the weapons they had were slow-firing, meant to conserve ammo, not to excel in prolonged firefights. Realizing that his quarry was about to elude him, Pinheiro, himself, it seems, had come up to the front, shot a couple of slackers, and threatened the rest with a special police detachment planted directly behind them with orders to fire on them if they did not charge our position. When our not top-of-the-line machine gun jammed in the middle of the crisis, a deadly thinness was suddenly created in our field of fire, and in spite of heavy casualties, soldiers began to appear at close range, exchanging point-blank shots with our men, and even engaging in hand-to-hand, with fixed bayonets.

"Christ, whatís happening over there?" exclaimed Mina, as the sound of the shots and the screams, coming from a struggle which we could not see, deafened us. It was like having torrents of rain fall all over you and soak you to the bone, except that these torrents were the sound of fighting.

"Jesus!" screamed Zoila, "the bastards are right on top of us!"

"Whatís happening?" cried Gabby.

"Shut up everybody and lie low!" I shouted.

But it was too late. In a split second, Hell came crashing through the gates of all that matters. Gabriel was staggering into our hiding place, his chest all covered with blood, a line of blood also exiting his nostril, marching towards the end of life, a useless M-16 fighting to remain in his hands. A burst of shots from what seemed like only a few yards away made him run past us, then threw him to the ground. He fell in the way that men who will never rise again fall. All of the women were screaming, giving away our position, and I looked at them with eyes of anger, trying to silence them, when all of a sudden I saw that Gabby was lying on the ground with a stunned look on her face, holding a piece of Little Joao, whose head had been blown away by the gunfire. And I could not help what happened next. An incredible pain which exploded into flames of rage filled my body, I crawled over to the corpse of Gabriel and took the rifle lying by his side which he could no longer use, grabbed up all the spare clips I could find, slid in a clip of ammo, and turned around. I couldnít think, I was filled with a furious heat, a blinding white flame burning inside my mind, I was a monster of adrenalin, fearless with outrage, utterly indifferent to danger because the thought of killing was so intense that the thought of dying had no effect. I healed Little Joao! I thought. I brought him back from the edge of death when he was sick, I did everything I could for him as a doctor! And now they have killed him! They have undone my work, today they have killed dozens of people who I healed, made a mockery of my medicine with their bullets, destroyed this neighborhood I came to save, murdered these people who I nursed back to health! ĎDoctor, doctor, donít let malaria or TB or AIDS or dysentery steal the joy of killing from us, fix these people so that WE can kill them! Defeat the microbes that would beat us to the punch!í In a world like this, being a doctor is not enough! It is not enough to treat the bodies of the people of the world, the world itself must be treated, and in a place such as this, the scalpel is required. The scalpel, to remove the malignancy of greed, the malignancy of oppression, the malignancy of barbarism masquerading as civilization! The scalpel of the assault rifle! Healing must be taken to a higher level, salvation must be won on a higher plane! The doctor comforts the ill on an exploding world, he cleans a few small wounds on a diseased planet! The tapestry of hope he weaves by day is unraveled in the night; behind his back Death laughs. The noble impulse must take the next step, or the doctor is nothing more than a gesture! A failure! Compassion demands that the doctor expand his healing arts to the realm of politics, economics, and social relationships! It is a vast and complicated challenge, but it begins simply, with a childís shattered head; and once it has begun, there is no turning back!

Paradoxically, the kernel of this insight reached me at the very same moment that the pure emotion of losing Little Joao, which obliterated my ability to think, blew up inside of my head. I was simultaneously an intellectual and an animal as the soldiers rushed into our midst. I held the gun like a violinist holds his instrument when he is playing Beethoven, like a rapist holds a woman down on the floor as he sins against love; paradoxes did not paralyze me, they propelled me. The gun jumped like a living being in my hands, but I knew its movements, already, from the day I had spent in Rio with false friends on a target range, I pointed the spurts of fire that exhorted the bullets out of the shaking barrel at the chests of the uniforms among us and watched them fall, with delight, with an ecstasy that was utterly cold. Quickly, carefully, intense like a creature of the jungle, I moved forward to the jammed machine gun, shot down two more soldiers, and lay down in front of it as one of the guerrillas came back to try to get it started. "Hurry up, f*cker!" I told him. "If you love your brothers and sisters, youíll get it working! Its chant of death is also a song of love!"

I saw movements in the brush beyond me, I fired at people I could not see. I knew I was in the right, because the vegetation they were using as cover whispered where they were to me, with tiny gestures, secret invitations to shoot. After a time of rage, expressed with eloquence by bullets, the swaying of the plants finally ceased. The earth was on the side of the people. The machine gun came back to life, and explored the void with a tempest of lead, verifying the collapse of the enemyís offensive spirit. Pinheiro had had us badly outnumbered throughout the day, but we had managed to keep him off balance, and his men were not the kind to look death in the eyes. And who could blame them? Life can be sweet. Why throw it away merely to oppress your brothers?

"All right!" I heard Ulises saying, "letís begin to pull out! Weíve done our job. Itís time to seek greener revolutionary pastures. The struggle will continue in other locations. It is just beginning." Coming up to me, he stopped for a moment, bewildered, not knowing what to say. He saw the gun in my hands, he knew that something had happened.

I became aware of many eyes upon me: Mina and her kids, Zoila, who was comforting the disconsolate Gabby, who now had an orphan to take care of, but not her own son; Dom Joaquim, Espartaco, BronsteinÖ

They were looking at me with sympathy because they knew I had lost something; they were looking at me with admiration because they knew I had gained something; they were looking at me with hope, because they needed me.

Dom Joaquim had tears in his eyes. The shocking revelation which suddenly pounced on me like a tiger was no surprise to him.

"What are you all looking at?" I demanded, at last. "I didnít know till now. God damn it, you sons-of-bitches, I am the clone of Che Guevara!"

THE END

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