By Brian Robinson.
My husband has been dead for six months but I still haven’t picked up the pieces. I haven’t even started. Logic tells me I should be adjusting by now. Logic needs to have a conversation with the pit of my stomach.
I have to get away; away from this house; away from the darkness; away from everything. But where? When I ask that question, the only answer I get is somewhere bright, a room with a view. I don’t care where it is, as long as I can look out over something uplifting. I suppose my subconscious is trying to tell me something. I have to change my perspective. And if I don’t, then I doubt I’ll survive.
You’ll probably have guessed by now that I’m not counting my blessings. But I am acutely aware that I’ve had a privileged life, at least up until now. I mean, I was wealthy before ever I met John, now, I’ve got money coming out of my ears and have a business empire thrown in. I’ll dwell on that until I get to Rio.
The penthouse suite was fine. That’s nothing new. But that wasn’t what I wanted. I pointed at myself and said, “Sophia.” Then I pointed at the maid, who really shouldn’t be here, and she answered, “Maria.” She obviously couldn’t speak English. I pointed at the view. I wanted to teach her a new word: ‘shit-hole’, but before I could get the word out, she said, “Maria, home.” That was the end of that conversation.
I sensed she felt uncomfortable with me in the room. She was breathing in my sadness. I sat on the bed and cried after she left. I had rented a penthouse, the most expensive I could find, but where did it get me. I was towering over a slum.
I could storm out of course. That’s what I usually did. Instead I went to the window. I noticed a pair of binoculars standing on a coffee table nearby. I wiped a tear and broke into a silly laugh at the same time. Someone obviously has a twisted sense of humour. Why on earth would anyone want to look at that?
Hours bled into days. I didn’t feel like doing much, going out. I wasn’t in the mood. I sat by the window and focused my lens. I found I was looking at a place the locals call Rocinha. It is the largest Favela in Rio. I had prised that much from Maria. That was where the poor creature returns when she leaves me. But the name Favela wasn’t right. It didn’t offend the ear in the same way the view offended the eye.
Rocinha’s houses cling to the hillside like an infestation on the face of what must have once been a beautiful slope. Those slums that had lost their grip on the slope had pooled into a slump of similar hovels that now sit at the foot of the hill. A main road runs alongside the Favela.
The binoculars are powerful and I can see the daily comings and goings; the hustle and bustle; the kids playing in shit; the huddles of men scheming their way towards their next payday. The odd man collapsed, drunk or drugged, or perhaps even dead?
I notice lots of deliveries being made from the roadside. A variety of vehicles pull up alongside the Favela and they are met by men who talk briefly, shake hands, take charge of whatever the vehicles are carrying, and then disappear back into the labyrinth.
I was struck by the logistics of the place. It must be a cripplingly difficult place to live. Everything has to be carried somehow up the steep slope. You couldn’t push your load on a cycle or even a basic trolley.
One man in particular caught my attention. He was a giant and seemed to be singled out to carry the heaviest loads: wardrobes, fridges, televisions, beds, you name it. Once settled on his broad shoulders, he would disappear back into the ghetto and return again and again for more punishment. I clearly have been living in a different world; a different universe. I realise that now.
On the fifth day, sitting by my window, a thought suddenly gripped me. I was looking down on these people, sitting aloof in my penthouse. I had been looking down on people all my life. Women who didn’t look like me; people who didn’t sound like me; men who weren’t as well connected as me; women who weren’t perfumed like me.
I was crying again. Maria caught me in the act and rushed over. She put her arm around my shoulder to try and comfort me. I pointed to the Favela. She knew what I meant. She shook her head and went to her handbag. She returned with pictures, happy pictures: children playing; friends laughing; men and women dancing. Happiness could be found in the Favela after all!
When the time came to leave my lofty perch the one thing I knew I had to do was leave Maria a present. I hadn’t been out of the apartment for ten days and I wanted to thank her for looking after me. I’m not going to lie, I was tempted to send out for the gift, but I wasn’t going to do that.
I searched the streets for ages, but I knew it was right the second I saw it. A sparkling diamond broach in the form of a bird in flight. It said everything I wanted to say but couldn’t. I wanted to give Maria wings. I wrapped it carefully and included quite a bit of money. The broach on its own wouldn’t have been nearly enough.
No, it wasn’t the view I expected. But it was a view that gave me a new perspective on life. It was a view I could take away with me. And it was a view that began the process of changing. How many rooms can give you that?