Thursday, February 28, 2008

Quero Meu Filho

When I came home from the office today, there was a woman outside our house banging on a car and screaming.

Quero meu filho! Quero meu filho!

She was saying "I want my son." She was also banging hard enough on the car to set off the alarm. She was attracting a lot of attention. She was also very drunk or wasted on something else. There were probably 20 people watching her at this point.

Quero meu filho!

Apparently the kid's father lives in the building across the street from us, which is a big 10 story building with lots of apartments. She started banging on the gate at the entrance of the building and more people came to watch. Nobody did anything to stop her, but a bunch of kids were busy goading her on and generally heckling her. The owner of the car she was pounding on arrived, and stood guard, but didn't mess with her even though she'd ripped off some rubber trim and I found out later had starred the windshield.

Where were the cops?

Once when I was living in Brattleboro Vermont I saw four cruisers respond to one drunk guy who busted a store window. Here, it's no wonder nobody calls the cops because they don't come anyways. I've called the cops to make a complaint and had them hang up on me. Or ask me: shouldn't I deal with the problem myself? Or just not show up at all.

Things progressed. The crowd swelled to fifty or maybe even 100 people watching her make a scene. At one point she ran off, and everybody poured out onto the street to watch her go, only to go running back to safety when she came back. Someone produced a child, who probably was her son, but she wasn't that interested in him after all, because she quickly went back to screaming at some woman behind the gate of the building. The poor kid was sobbing.

Finally she went too far. She started swinging on someone else's gate, and he told her to stop and threatened her with his chinelo, or flip-flop as we call them in the states. This is one of the preferred low-grade weapons for whacking people here in Salvador. And when she wouldn't leave the gate alone he gave her several chineladas, whacking her full in the face with the flip-flop. The crowd went nuts. She didn't seem very fazed by it, except that she stopped yelling. She turned her attention to her attacker, but he didn't want to pursue the conflict any further and was doing his best to avoid her.

Then she ran off again. And then a miracle happened. The cops showed up.

Most of the crowd went streaming to the corner where the cops had apparently caught up with her. Here they don't put people in the back seat, they open the hatchback and throw them in there. Cop cars are equipped with a steel grille between the cargo area and the back seat. We knew she was in there because we could hear her banging away at the inside of the car. They may have gotten there late, but they were prepared for the worst, one policeman was standing guard with his assault rifle at the ready. They came down and took a look at the car she had trashed, there was a loud and brief discussion, and they took off with her in the car.

That was the end of that. Just the latest of various similar episodes we've witnessed in the three years we've lived here.

Update: all this happened between about 7:30 and 8:30 in the evening. By 11:30 she was back, in the rain, considerably less wasted and confrontational. She was demanding again to see her son, and then I got distracted- when I came back she was gone. I imagine we'll see her again.

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