Monday, July 14, 2008

Inexplicable Children

This isn't about my kids.

This is about the muleques, the 'street urchins', the 'captains of the sand' as Jorge Amado called them, that live on my street.

They aren't really Captains of the Sand because they aren't homeless, they just act it. They have parents, but don't appear to have any parental guidance- they stay out on the street unsupervised until presumably whenever they feel like going home and going to bed. There are a fair number of them that play out in front of my house, and they have gone through periods of being extremely loud and annoying and then fading into the background noise.

Lately, their noise has swelled as their number has been augmented by three new ones who moved into the rooming house next door. They look to be about 7, 5, and 4 and their mother is... someone I have no polite words for... who only makes brief and random appearances. She has been sighted smoking drugs on the street in front of our house and my guess is that the word 'discipline' is not in her vocabulary, but I already know that 'whack' is. The kids quickly became friends with the worst of all of the Captains- a kid known as 'Chucky' presumably after the Boneco Assassino of horror movie fame. FWIW 'Chucky' is pronounced 'Chook' in Portuguese...

Anyhow, these new kids have been around for a few weeks and raising the noise level in front of the house. We've already had one incident with them playing on the roof next door and spitting and throwing rocks and water at Ruan. Evani reported the other day that Lucas spotted the youngest letting the air out of someone's tires on our street. Last night I heard this same kid yelling to get his mom's attention, on the street, after midnight.

Yesterday, I was parking my car and a young girl came over with a friend and wanted me to speak English for them. I was indulging them when this little tire-flattening angel showed up and started to mess with my car. He tried to work the window buttons, honk my horn, and open my door. Basically he was acting like he owned it, or like a kid that is never told not to do something. I told him to leave my car alone.

A couple hours later, I went back to my car. The kid met me at my front door, calling me Ingles, which means English. I told him my name is Marcos and asked him his, which he said was Rael, short for Israel. Nice to meet you, Rael.

As I was about to unlock my car door on the passenger's side, I saw him already trying to open the door on the driver's side. I told him not to mess with my car and not to open my door. When I unlocked it and walked around to the driver's side, he already had the door open in spite of what I said.

"Didn't I tell you not to open that door?"

Silence, and a distracted half-smile.

"Did you hear what I said?"

He made a vague acknowledgment and then proceeded to pepper me with questions. Where was my bigger son? Where was the little one? And their mother? Was I going to get them? I was annoyed and I checked to see if his mother just happened to have witnessed our little interaction- not that I did anything wrong, but she is clearly a sacizeira (troublemaker) and Evani and I agree that she has the look of someone who will go ballistic on anyone who says anything to her kid. I saw her go ballistic on another kid who got in a fight with another of her dear neglected darlings- screaming at him "I'm not going to hit you because you're little!" and making it clear that was the only reason she wasn't going to do so. At least she's got some restraint. Evani's already made it clear what's going to happen if she tries to start something with her, or our kids.

Anyways, all this is explicable. I'm just getting to the inexplicable part.

This afternoon I left the house on the way to my office and glanced down the hill to where I had the car parked. I don't usually do this, but for some reason, today I did. And what I saw, to my utter astonishment, were two of these little rascals from next door, and Chucky, washing my car.

What the hell are they doing? I thought, and decided I'd best go find out.

As I think I've mentioned before, Brazilians take good care of their cars, and like to keep them clean. Very clean. I've a convert in this myself, and there's a guy we call Professor who washes my car for me on a regular basis. He used to wash it a lot more than he does lately, as he's fallen prey to the domestic budget cuts I've been implementing. We call him Professor because he calls me Professor, as he knows a few words in English and maintains that I'm his teacher. Professor hadn't taken a pass at my ride in the past few days so it was pretty dirty. Actually, it was really dirty- earlier in the day a car pulled in front of me and threw big sticky clots of mud all over the windshield.

Despite its filthiness, I had not contracted these children to wash my car. They had done this on their own initiative. But why? As I approached, Chucky slid away from my car and positioned himself behind the next car down the hill. This is a tactic I've seen him employ in the past when he thinks he's going to get into trouble, and is ready to run for it if necessary.

"Why are you washing my car?"

The bigger of the two remaining kids pointed at Chucky and said "He said 'Let's wash the car of the uncle.'"

This isn't as bizarre a statement as it sounds in English. It's really common here to call people aunt or uncle, or sometimes cousin, even if they are not related. Likewise, adults often call kids aunt or uncle as well, in this weird reflexive naming thing that they do here. You call me uncle, so I'm going to call you uncle too. The Portuguese words Tio and Tia are much nicer than their English counterparts. Evani thinks uncle is one of the ugliest words she's ever heard- and after thinking about it I tend to agree with her.

Chucky, despite my efforts to call him over, did not add anything to this explanation. A young girl who was with him on the car came over and told me: "He said 'let's wash the car because he'll give us three reis'." Three Brazilian dollars, about the going rate for a car washing.

I replied: "You've got to ask me first, I didn't agree to pay you guys to wash my car."

Despite this being the most obvious explanation for their charity, something just didn't seem right about it. Why would this kid, who must know I don't like him, decide to wash my car and then hit me up for money later? And then act like he'd done something wrong? No sane Brazilian would honor a contract-writ-backwards like this, in fact, they would take the lack of prior agreement as the perfect reason not to pay for services rendered. Which means that either they think that I, being a foreigner, must not be sane, or that there was something missing from the explanation.

Regardless, I didn't really want to get into it any further and was eager to be on my way. They were, after all, just washing the car, as far as I could tell. I considered briefly giving them a couple reis for their trouble, but then decided to take the Brazilian route and let em hang. You can't prove you're not an insane gringo if you are determined to act like one. Plus I didn't want to set up a precedent that would have them washing my car on a daily basis. "Thanks anyways for doing that," I said, and left.

I haven't been down to have a look at the car since- the mud it was caked with was the least of its problems as what has been a small but unmistakable hole in the exhaust has suddenly blossomed into a full-throated busted-piped roar worthy of a Harley or a small airplane. I don't want to drive it unless I have to, which means I'm not going to bother to wash it until I decide I have to drive it.

The thing that's bugging me is my first thought when I saw them washing the car, which is that maybe they were doing it to hide the evidence of some other mischief. Maybe they had smeared the mud clots across the windshield and someone told them they'd better not leave it like that or I'd get pissed.

Or maybe something else. Maybe they just couldn't stand to see it all dirty like that.


A.L.R. said...

If you link this and the last post, do be careful of a well inserted bomba, carefully hidden away as per the street urchin's handbook. One turn of the key and BOOOOMB! Bye bye gringo.

I am enjoying the blog.

Pedra said...

This falls into my category of "I have no idea why this is going on but there has to be some kind of explanation". This has happened to me on a number of occasions here. I am sure it will become clear at some point in time when you will probably still not understand totally what is going on but at least you will know that there is some kind of rationale for the behavior. Have you thought about moving?!

markuza said...

ALR - hmm you could be right... maybe I'd better let that little muleque mess with my car after all- including starting it. Glad to hear you are enjoying the blog!

Pedra - I have actually considered moving, problem is I own the house. That might not be enough to stop me at some point. Thing is, these problems generally go away after a while as the population is pretty transitory.

A.L.R. said...

Solution! Give me the house, and your days are worry free!

markuza said...

Dude! I've just been waiting for someone to ask- it's yours!

A.L.R. said...

Well it's settled then. I'll be over some time tomorrow to pick it up.