Ipanema

 

Through a veil of clouds, that chained the streets of the city in an insufferable fug, last beams of the disappearing sun were visible. A fiery red circle was hiding behind the mountain’s silhouette. The beach, covered in a charm of autumn twilight, was showing off with crowds of young men and women, who walked down the hills. Sparkling with rare, hardly noticeable floodlights, coast was drumming up both ordinary hard workers from the downtown and wealthy entrepreneurs from the streets of Ipanema. Many of them came to spend the time at the beach, and some, on the way to the water, wandered into modest bars. Men in their 40s, just having changed from formal suits to beige Bermudas and light shirts with rolled up sleeves, most of the times presented the mixed list of visitors in my bar.

 Bar, maintained by my father since the times when Reds were threatening with a fearsome crisis to the North of my city, looked simple. Wooden building with three floors occupied a corner on the street, running along the beach. It was a quiet spot, which attracted locals and was invisible to herds of tourists. Those small windows on the house, and a wide veranda, covered behind columns of vine, made the bar barely remarkable. My family never hung bright streamers and garlands: not to spoil the wonderful landscape with vulgarity after the sunset. I, after taking the charge of the bar, never had a reason to do so either. The business just worked: people saw other people sitting inside, listening to good music — which my father, and now me, thoroughly chose each evening — and enjoying their barbecued meat. And then they also came inside. It still worked like this for me, not necessarily making me roll in money, but it was enough for living. Well, was enough.

 Fending off any bad thoughts, I went downstairs. After getting to the entrance, I turned at the balcony, leaned on the railing and tried to spot my wife in the masses, drifting apart in front of a bright blue line.

 Having a bar isn’t that difficult, I thought somewhy. The important thing is to keep an eye on drunkards to prevent any fights and not let them spoil the floor. I remember polishing vomit from the parquet when I was a kid — not the most pleasant thing on Earth, I would say. Sometimes we unsuccessfully attempted to spike decrepit chairs, desperately wanting to save some money and not to spend it on rather expensive furniture. Father kept the order, even though clashes were not rare back in his time. Back then the poor and the rich did not follow any rules. Nowadays the untenable silenced, but people with money won’t ever know any boundaries. With drunk guys it’s easier now as well — they call their friends, take some pills, but won’t ever whoop up without backup. And money… Money constantly changes. For my time it’s more calm, but also more troublesome. Snobs today do not rush to lend — and do not rush to return too. Before you could’ve at least scare and threaten them. Now you can’t. And the state. The city takes a close, very close look on finances. They do their bureaucracy, keep all the cents in mind — probably, just for the illusion of working and a lust of money. Although, it’s not fair for me to reason. I’m pretty sure my father had the same problems. Life’s always the same, but it’s a pity that I will not get any answers from him: you don’t discover anything from talking to graves.

 Distracted by thoughts, I didn’t notice Sierra returning. She walked down the murky side of the road and, after catching me in sight, waved to me and approached the house. Creamy jeans and a light blouse, almost no makeup. Hairs, tied behind her back, clean skin with sparse wrinkles on her forehead. An ordinary woman — beautiful, but in her own way.

 It’s not for me to complain — wives do not get prettier as time goes by, the crucial is for her to be conscious, for her to be your partner. For you to understand each other. An interesting fact: Sierra has a twin, she is single and she looks ten years younger than her married sister. How to recommend marriage after this, huh? But that’s just a quick sight, without digging deeper. But if to actually dig, it’s not tough to find advantages. After getting married, life becomes calm. Routine, on one hand, but easy, on the other. Before, for instance, I could have come back home after midnight, drunk as hell and barely standing on my feet, and the next day wake up in a mess, with a horrible stink in the room and an empty fridge. Although, when you have a wife, you don’t come back home at two in the morning that often.

 And you live a long time with your wife. At a certain moment you even understand that you know what she will say and how she will react in a specific situation. That’s why you can control the ordinariness and avoid conflicts — at least at home. You stop worrying and stressing, but it probably depends not on the status of your partner, but on the partners themselves.

 Plusses, plusses. Just like in physics — they compensate minuses to sustain the condition of calm. Marriage does the same, it maintains a relative calm. Even an absolute — until life happens, of course. Such worries, although, make your existence easier. These routine troubles make your head fill with necessary stuff, so you stop overthinking.

‘It seems like it’s going to rain, doesn’t it?’ asked Sierra, walking up the wooden stairs.

 ‘Indeed, it probably will,’ I responded, carefully opening the door inside the house. But she mannerly refused and proposed to dine outside, in the far corner near the railing filled with pots of slightly seared flowers. On the table, where we sat, there always is a sign of reservation, a small pyramidal plate. Carlos, our bartender, came up with this so the family would never have a problematic situations with having a table for a dinner. He wasn’t just a clever bartender, but among other things a practicing chef as well.  Carlos started with washing dishes and polishing countertops, but then turned out to an honest guy who nicely deals with drinks. Did not swipe a single shot. Good guy. 

‘Dinner?..’

‘Is being heated up’, I finished the sentence. ‘Carlos baked a fish during the day, there should be something left from lunch’.

Noticing a simple gesture, the waiter came over and set up the cutlery.

‘Thank you’, smiled my wife to him.

He nodded, a bit confused — not fast, with slightly trembling lips, — and then moved to the door, heading to the kitchen after it has shut. Passage was located very insufficiently, it went through the stands, where it was crowded at most. Waiters in the evening had tough times. After the sunset it was time to carry snacks for those sitting at the far end of the hall, and to get to these tables you had to pass the bar and all of those tipsy youths. Half of the crisps fall on the floor; the other half gets poured with strong sweat hail. I should replan the interior, a thought flashed in my mind.

‘Looks amazing’ I thanked Carlos, who has decided to serve us for the rest of the evening. I invited him to join us, but the boy began to make excuses, refer to the busy bar, even though he was backed up by a girl from the kitchen. Well, he still acts like a newbie waiter, anyone from my staff would be troubled by an invitation to share the dinner, I suppose. All the guys are young and vigorous, but also polite and decent, sometimes even too much.

‘I’d love to, but I really don’t want to leave the bar alone to the girl,’ he pointed toward the door, ‘she is new here’.

I didn’t wrangle.

People began to flock from terrace to the bar. From the beach boomy basses were hearable, and I glanced at the clock and decided that it’s time for me to also put on some music. From the speakers, arranged among the wall, between the windows, a magical guitar started to play. Music written by an American has become Brazil's second samba, oh that terrific bossa nova. Imbued with the spirit not just of Rio, but with the ephemeral sense of Ipanema beaches, inspired by the warmth of the local coats and tidiness of narrow streets, the guitar sounded meticulously, with words barely noticeable and blabbed out as carefully as the arpeggios beaten on the thick strings.  Sometimes the violin fits, here and there sounds the shallow saxophone, then the whistling flute comes in — but the guitar, although almost invisible in the background, remains to connect this music into magical moments of beauty.

From the north, along another narrow street, the wind blew. Strong and cold, just as it has to be in the role of a harbinger of autumn. Sierra finished her meal, and I had only the side dish left, so we decided to follow the example of the majority and go inside. As we opened the door, waiters quickly ran to the veranda to collect the dishes before the weather raged. We sat — again — at the far table with pyramid "Reserved." Carlos, noticing that we have moved, brought a bottle of red semi-dry and two small glasses with a thin stem. Not caring about the notorious tannins, we poured wine and drank. More precisely, I wouldn’t let the glass from my hand, slowly emptying it, and Sierra sipped a couple of times. Music played loudly. I looked around. To the right, a bar hidden behind the backs of loud students. Behind it, a high wall, ornamented with half-empty bottles of cheap brandy on the lower shelves and almost untouched good whiskey, covered under a thin layer of dust, on top shelves. To the left of the wall, in the narrow doorway, sinks and slabs with wide cabinets above them. The second door to the kitchen was in the passage leading to the upper floors. In the evening it was closed behind a wooden septum.

Suddenly the staff stirred over the bar. Tables were moved, releasing the parquet for rare dancing couples, and extra chairs were pulled up to the stands. Ice was scattered over buckets and the light got dimmed in the room and turned off in the kitchen. One after another, the windows were opened, one after another last day visitors left. Time for the night has come, and the bar has changed and revived. 

Sierra cheered along with tourist arrivals. During those years spent with her under the same roof, I noticed that she was a person malleable, sensitive to changes in the atmosphere. It did not make Sierra a boring, empty or stupid person. At some point in our lives, we find a change in ourselves. But in some of us this process of maturation doesn’t overcome the childish empathy, and that was the case with my wife.

With a happy glance on a gently circling young couple, she struck up a conversation, much more vividly than how it started earlier this night.

‘They remind me of my brother and his bride,’ Sierra said, ‘They are so happy. Dancing, just looking into each other's eyes. Do you remember when was the last time we acted like this?’ 

‘I can’t even recall when was the last time I simply saw something like this,’ I have tried to imitate a snicker, ‘Indeed, they look happy. Wandered here by pure chance, probably. To shelter from the rain, to have some time alone with each other’. 

‘And the fuss around, the noise — it does not bother them, they do not care,’ finished Sierra, putting the glass back on the table. Twisting the thin stem between her fingers, she said:

‘I have a patient, lung cancer. We discovered it at a late stage, and the old man also has big problems with the immunity. No visits, no relatives. Friends scattered around the globe. But he’s holding on. You know, maybe the knowledge that no one actually left him supports the old man? He faced this struggle— perhaps the last and biggest in his life — alone not because of people betraying him or children not being grateful. Just because he has no one. So what’s my point: I look at the couple, and it seems like this is love. But love requires faith, and in love you always get betrayed. Not in our case, of course, but they don’t seem that young for being innocent. So what do you think, who of them is going be the first to surrender?’

‘You don’t sound like yourself,’ I laughed. ‘Why would one of them necessarily give up? The story of an old man with cancer, you brought it up for a reason, right? Maybe he never faced betrayal, but he also is a strong man. So why can’t someone in this or any other couple show some strength? Even half of that which has the old man would be enough’.

‘Just look at them. It’s not their first love. It certainly isn’t. And if it’s not first love, it can’t work out’.

I didn’t know what to say. Me and Sierra, we first met in high school, and have been together ever since. First love, first love.

The wind calmed down, the couple paid the bill and left the bar, and Sierra, not having any other topic to discuss, had her last sip of wine and went upstairs. Tourists, who entered the bar just to wait out the bad weather, began to leave the place and disperse on the streets. Carlos was serving two girls at the bar, at the table near to me a bunch of students was still arguing about something, and at in the corner men in their 40s were discussing results of the latest soccer matches while drinking craft beer.

I glanced at the clock. Not the latest time, shortly after the sunset. More people will come. Lost in thoughts, with my fingers twisting a cheap pen, I stared out the window. A street. Stretching to the south, where the coast is. Not far away, not more than three hundred meters. Because of a tall hospital building and a massive municipality department to the right, it was hard to actually spot the water. With a look to the horizon, I had not even noticed a girl coming toward the bar. Incredible beauty. She entered. Amazing hair — bright, not long, slightly curled. It looked like that if you touched her, you would meet not meet any resistance — only a magical, unnatural substance. A clean forehead. An ideal nose line. Thin, slightly pursed lips. A smart but not straining look. Arms and shoulders pristine white, waist that could fit in two hands, hips and feet so that to fascinate someone it wouldn’t cause a single trouble. Above all — the dress. Blue color, in harmony with the eye color. Those, who turned at the sound of the door opened, had accompanied the girl with staring looks. She did not take anyone into consideration, gently went to the bar and order something. I continued to stare at the beauty. Things like this happen not so often. And I meant not only the majesty of the girl. 

‘The Girl From Ipanema’ by Stan Getz started to play in the room.

I don’t know if I would recognize her, if the song didn’t start to play. But it was Ipanema, it was her.

Realizing who stood in front of me, I abruptly turned away and began to nervously flip the completely unnecessary menu. The panic did not last long though. I sat quiet, emptied a couple of glasses and had a smoke, with my head turned to the half-open window. My story with Ipanema might seem trivial and insignificant, but consider someone else's memories from such a long time is in principle unforgivable. Person remembers and carefully tries to remember the details for so many years, and the passer-by says ‘nothing’. Rude. But this story, the truth is, was indeed very trivial.

There was a girl that I loved twenty years ago, but she didn’t love me. Everyone has a story like this, probably.

I glanced at the bar again. Ipanema sat with one leg over the other, a half-empty glass in her hands. Occasionally looking around. Very slowly, and making clear that she has no interest in what is happening. I would say that she was waiting for someone, but she didn’t pay any attention to the doorway. Slowly, in small sips, she finished the content of the glass. Turned her head and looked at me. Not in my direction, not at the window behind me. In the eyes. A look with no surprise, rather curiosity.

It seemed that now that she has found me, she had no more interest in being here. Ipanema paid the bill and left. Just as suddenly as she entered.

Surprisingly strange occurrence. Came here. Alarmed my mind with memories. Gone. 

I did not doubt for a second. Stood up, stubbed the cigarette. Followed her into the half-dark, vivid and lively coasts of this wonderful city with my first love on my mind.

Living and dining rooms on the second floor, bedrooms on the third. At the top floors only a slight, barely noticeable bass that reminded of music being played at the bar. Soft smell of food being prepared soaking into each and every carpet and curtain. That’s how we lived. That's how we live.