Finally a young executive in a pinstripe suit trudged out of the airport lobby. He was the perfect prospect, as he wore black wing tips. Lucas flicked some dust across his shoe tops. “Bom dia. Shine your shoes?”
“Hey, do you think I was born yesterday? I saw what you did.” The businessman unexpectedly switched to the native dialect. “Que diabos?”
“You speak Carioca?” Lucas cleared the phlegm from his vocal chords.
“Sem. Carioca,” the man replied proudly as if he knew the secret hand shake.
Lucas excitedly rattled off a litany of words in the colloquial form of Portuguese.
“Hey, um pouco. Um pouco, por favor. I’m a bit rusty.”
“Rusty?” Lucas cocked his head sideways like a confused dog. “Não comprehend.”
“Yeah. I get it. To speak Rio I need to think Rio. That’s going to take a while.” Even in his suit and wingtips the man didn’t look more than eight years older than he was. Yet Lucas couldn’t imagine how he’d look a business suit, given that he wore a soiled, unbuttoned plaid shirt, threadbare cut-offs and a chewed-out pair of Havaianas flip flops.
“Shine your shoes cheap. Okay, patrão?”
“I’m not going anywhere soon.” The man hesitated as Lucas’ face dropped, then he forced a jet-lagged smile. “Okay. You win. Go for it. Shine my shoes.”
Lucas knelt and hastily dusted each wing tip with a rag then slapped on wax with his grimy hands before his customer could change his mind. “Put foot here,” he commanded, tapping his right knee. The man obliged and Lucas vigorously seesawed a rag about the shoe. Lucas caught his reflection in the terminal window. He initially felt pride viewing his muscles ripple across a sinewy coffee bean torso. His hyperpigmentation and cracked teeth were a mild annoyance, but what made his heart ache was viewing himself kneeling before another.
“So what’s your name, anyway?” The man asked.
The question jarred Lucas back to the moment. He carefully considered his response. “Pantera…Pantera. Now other foot.”
“Pantera, huh? What kind of name is that?”
“Good name, no?” Lucas forced a broken-tooth grin.
“Unusual name, I’ll give you that. So what happened to your arm?”
“Come on, Pantera, what’s the story?” A makeshift bandage of rags was wrapped around the teen’s left forearm.
“A vida acontece.” He grunted with indifference.
Daniel tried to translate the words. “Life…what was that again?”
“A vida acontece,” Lucas repeated emphatically. He snapped his cloth one more time across each shoe and stood. “Finish. Twenty reais, por favor.”
“Hey little man, not so fast. You’re asking for more than twelve bucks.”
“What you got?” Lucas scratched a magenta rash on his neck like a mutt with fleas. Nerves.
“It doesn’t matter what I got. I’m offering you five reais. That’s it.”
“Okay boss.” Lucas was disheartened. As the cab line had dwindled, so would his income for the morning.
“Hang on.” The man pulled a black mobile phone from his pocket and anxiously began to read its message, while he awkwardly removed his wallet with his other hand—a fat wallet.
An inexplicable notion overwhelmed Lucas, a notion his mother would have vehemently opposed. Mãe, he thought, please forgive me. His eyes darted about for anything suspicious as the man continued to study the text. Lucas snatched the wallet from the man’s hand. “Até logo, amigo,” he blurted out as he dashed into the crowd.
“You little shit!” The man began to sprint after him, but reconsidered when he saw other beggars coveting his laptop and attaché case. “Shoo, get outta here,” he yelled. “Jesus, what kind of place is this anyway?”
An elderly woman pointed her arthritic index finger at him. “Don’t encourage these rats. You only make the problem worse.”
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