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A Night With a Witch in Rio de Janeiro

She ground her teeth through the night, causing me recurrent nightmares.

Lapa is the only real Rio nightlife for me. It’s a street in a historic district of the city where all classes and ages of people come to mingle through the drift of faces, tipsy and illuminated. For decades it’s been a gathering place at the weekends and as you don’t need to spend any money to hang out, anyone can come.

People drink beer on tables and chairs that sprawl out into the street and stalls sell soup and cachaça, alcohol of sugar cane. A rock and roll band plays beefed up Beatles numbers at one end of the street.

Further down there’s hip-hop action where heavy-looking black dudes bounce up in down in wooly hats to the beat of huge speakers. At the end you find the café where a samba band plays sat around a table; a crowd of about a hundred gathers around them and joins in with the chorus of the old samba tunes that go on forever. As democratic as music gets.

The rich and bourgeois are generally too nervous to go to Lapa. They say they once had their cell-phone stolen there or something. The place has something of a reputation for violence but I’ve never seen anything happen there on a busy night. Granted, there are a few strange characters weaving around with their hands outstretched but they’re so stoned that it’s simple to navigate your way around them. On nearby street corners transvestite prostitutes gather but by and large there’s nothing to worry about.

On this night, however. I arrive and find that the street has been practically occupied by the military police. Every 100 metres there’s a police car with the red lights flashing and 5 cops sitting around drinking coca cola. It doesn’t really make for a festive atmosphere.

I bump into an artisan friend of mine, Augusto, who’s selling his home-made bracelets and necklaces on a blanket.

“There was an article in the newspaper, “he tells me, “Saying that Lapa was a haven for traffickers of cocaine and marijuana. So now the cops come here every day.” He then tells me about plans the governor has to start running monthly urine tests on the 50,000 police of Rio de Janeiro.

“99% of them use coke themselves.” Augusto laughs, “So how are they going to get that much piss out of 500 guys to cover them all?”

Augusto is trying to make enough money to pay for his hotel room on this cold, damp night. It’s been raining all week so it’s been almost impossible to sell anything. His father died a month ago and his girlfriend left today for Europe to try and make some money. He would never ask me so I lend him the two bucks he needs for a bed.

It’s actually Augusto who introduces me to Anna-Paula, the girl I’m talking to. Woman, I should say, as at 29 she’s three years older than me. She’s mulatto and her swollen upper body lowers to a thin waist. She has attitude and a tattoo of a harlequin on her shoulder. I’m in love.

She’s only passing through Rio before returning to the city where she lives 7 hours south of here. Not so far, I think. She takes me up on the famous Lapa stairway to show me where she used to live. There are 207 steps and each side is flanked by an amazing collection of tiles from all around the world.

We sit at the top and take some respite from the busy street below. Anna-Paula is the first person I’ve spoken to in a long while in Brail who can maintain a deep conversation. She’s also a woman very much in control of herself. She left home at the age of 16 and learnt how to manage a restaurant by the side of her fiancé. She broke up with him last year and these days does something to do with civil architecture.

We see the five cops climbing the stairs long before they reach us. They pull out their guns and start prowling around. The captain makes us stand up and one of his men shake us don with hands trained to feel for small plastic bags of contraband. Neither of us are carrying but there’s always the chance they could plant something.

“Where do you live?” the captain asks me.

“Uh, I don’t speak Portuguese.” I lie.

“Where does he live?” he asks Anna-Paula.

“He’s American.” she lies.

“What are you doing here? “he demands to know. “This is a neighbourhood of marijuana addicts.”

Anna-Paula shrugs.

“We’re here to look at the tiles, it’s a work of art.”

The cop sneers like he’s the only reasonable person there.

“This is not an hour to be appreciating works of art.”

“Why? Is it against the law?” Anna-Paula asks cynically.

The other cops come back and look like they’re sorry not to have shot anyone. They begin to mooch back down the steps.

“You can stay here if you choose to, “The captain tells us, “But I don’t advise it.” They’re barely two flights down before Anna-Paula and I can contain our laughter no more.

She has no place to stay this night and I invite her to come and stay with me. We go to eat pizza and find ourselves holding hands. After the meal she tells me that she can’t face the bus ride back to where I live. Why don’t I just split a motel room with her instead, she proposes? Okay.

We check into a room and I reflect that I’ve never gone to a motel with a stranger before. There are mirrors on the walls and the ceiling but other than the overhead TV there’s nothing in the room except the giant bed.

Anna-Paula at once lays down and invites me to rest my head next to hers on the pillow. Her head is so inclined that I can’t kiss her so I just caress her head. The tenderness lasts half an hour and isn’t going anywhere so I resign myself to sleep.

The pillows are lumpy and within half an hour my neck is tied up in knots. I end up sleeping on my rolled-up jacket.

Then the nightmares begin. I wake up with an inward yelp that makes my skeleton shudder. This happens four or five times in a row. I have no idea what I’m dreaming about but I know that I haven’t been this scared in a long time.

Then I notice that a strange shrill fills the room. I look over at Anna-Paula and realize that it’s coming from her. I bend over her and see that she’s grinding her teeth together so hard that they emit an eerie whistle. Like chalk on a blackboard.

I was kind of hoping she’d wake up for sex at some point but now I just settle for wrapping an arm around her. Sleep is a little elusive with an enamel mill next door, however. Finally dreams come and Anna-Paula is in each one. I dream that we’re lovers or that we’re married. I dream that we’re on a beach or somewhere in Europe. And each time I’m certain it’s real until I wake up and remember where we are.

By the time the morning light comes wandering in I’m a wreck. I’m wondering if she just used me to pay for the pizza and half the room. I don’t know. I don’t know anything any more.

Room service arrives and the smell of coffee is the only thing that motivates her to get up. She’s gently affectionate with me but unimpressed with the breakfast. I tell her about the teeth.

“Oh no,” she cringes. “That’s terrible. You’re probably wondering why you spent money on the hotel room. I lost two teeth because of this. That’s why I live alone.” She jokes.

She’s sincerely affected by this information and so I tell her not to worry about it. I join in with the caresses and wonder if I want to carry on with this. I resolve that I need to at least kiss her.

I propose this and she refuses.

“Why not?” I ask.

“I don’t want to do it just for the sake of doing it. You understand?”

We part with vague plans to meet up before she catches her bus. Lapa looks beautiful without all the people. Kids are heading out with their mothers and I remember that people actually have their homes here. I arrive back home in pieces. I call her up and tell her that I’m not coming back downtown, that I feel like a shipwreck. It’ll pass, she tells me. Yeah, I say, ciao. I hang up.

And now the whole day it’s like she’s in my aura. I’m haunted already and I can’t shake the feeling that I’m about to wake up. I shower, I sleep but nothing helps. I can spend a bunch of money to go and visit her in the south but what’s the point of that? She has me whipped already.

I flip through my cell-phone until her number comes up. Are you sure you want to delete this number it asks me? I don’t hesitate.

No. I’ll need to call her up to get her address when I go to see her next weekend. That is, if I can’t find an exorcist before then.