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Under the Turnstile
Under the Turnstile

Under the Turnstile


Don't sleep much, first cool night of the year. Get up because it's light. See kids on way to school. Drink a glass of hot water at corner and check out ulcer on my leg; foul, and walking it rubs against rough trousers, hurts. Must catch bus down to the praça, can't walk it. Time to kill, sit on the curb and people watch. Looking around, the beautiful are not up at this time of the morning. They'll be around later. Not sure how today will be. Hunger pangs, no problem have plan for those at least.

Hobble couple of blocks from my spot to bus stop under the overpass. Let a few buses go by, straining to see if conductor is a woman, kind of hard to make anything out. Get on a bus at random. No surprise don't have the three reais to pay. Slide flat on my back to get under the turnstile. The conductor, a fat woman, no trouble. Find an empty seat near the back. Due to my appearance and smell nobody comes next to me. Fine, not ready for company. City sunlit grey through window. Relaxed now, things are going to turn out.

Get off at the praça and painfully climb the steps to church; enter, rest. An hour later go back down. Around fifty men are standing around, waiting too, looking like me. What a crew. The sermon is delivered. Usual evangelical types. Really couldn't say anything about it, enthusiastic, drab. Not sure what they hope to achieve, but that's wasted thought. No energy to waste today...yet.

No complaints about the plate of food after, worth the sermon: chicken legs, juicy, two each. Plenty of pasta, plenty of sauce. Stronger now. Then, as usual with so many of my type about, somebody produces cachaça. Spend a few nice hours together drinking, mocking the preachers who shout the word of the Lord round the praça. Homeless preachers whose delivery is as disjointed as it is passionate. Bearded Daniel wearing heavy coat jumps, sweats so much that his rotten scent fills praça. His interpretation of The Bible is so strange some brave the stench to listen for 30 seconds – quite an achievement to attract so much attention. He's oblivious to all, sermons aimed at those only he can see and hear. He won't stop for anything. His battery always fully charged.

Catch the bus back happy. No trouble again. Motorway overpass, imposing as ever. Sit by the entrance of subway stop and hope somebody has cachaça. Sure enough, there are a few guys from the neighbourhood happy to share. Met these guys before, but can't remember their names or stories. Rough voices sing songs and talk ignoring the commuters rushing by. Make a collection of coins and get another bottle. Fun will continue a bit yet...just a little while.

It gets dark under the giant worm overpass, mood changes, quarrels start; not for me. I stay out of it. Suddenly everyone leaves. The rain comes and they rush off to attend their stuff; cardboard, blankets, cans and newspapers. Alone again, sometimes this still shocks.

My mind addled from the cheap cachaça, body strong from food. Thin but powerful. People coming out of the subway station - shirts and leather shoes, looking at watches, phones. Why even have a watch, phones tell the time. Hatred. Try for image or idea of joy and laughter, the sermons in the praça, the food, but can't do it, traffic, rubbish and concrete. People hurrying to get away. Foul feeling. Sit, calm down.

Later, the crowds have gone, it's quiet. Then, one guy comes out of the subway, don't like the distant look on his face; the short-sleeve shirt somehow making him an office worker despite his jeans and sneakers? Get in front of him and ask for coin. Doesn't respond, stares blankly, disdain on face, wrinkled up nose. I know – I smell.

My punch is effective, hit him twice and he goes down hard. Doesn’t fight back at all, just gropes around on the ground for his glasses. Put my hand on his throat and he gives me his wallet.

Fifty reais. Get out of there. Nobody around who cares, but best to leave. Run several blocks. Chest burning, leg on fire, didn't know could still run at all.

Soon after regret doing it, small violence, worse has happened to me – but still don’t know what came over me – the excuse every criminal gives. Sober now, smoke crack or eat steak? No, been around for awhile - know what to do - get under blanket and hope sleep comes. Want to dream about a long bus ride up north. Step off the bus, hot dry air catches in my throat, an uncluttered horizon. Different place, different feeling – this could save me.

I remember a time when I was scared of those who didn’t pay on the bus. Once, not long after I’d arrived to the city from the north, I was travelling on a bus to the outskirts late at night. I saw two young guys get on, look at the conductor threateningly and then go under the turnstile. When the bus moved off, they began to fight about some girl or something; they were high. One hit the other in the head and his ‘friend’ just fell down like a heap on the ground. Must have been strong to deliver a punch like that! Had some natural ability. Then the kid began stomping on the other’s head as he lay prone on the ground just by the back door. He stomped and stomped and nobody did anything, frozen with fear and indifference. It felt like the sound of the blows was changing and you could hear the skull of the boy weakening as if about to crack. With brain close to bursting out onto the bus floor I grabbed the aggressor and pulled him back from his victim. He was small and wiry, must have been only fifteen or so. Never understood the type that would beat on a friend.

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28 Nov, 2017
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5 mins
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