RIO – Chapter Five

Saturday late afternoon, February 2, 2008

Twenty-two year old Gabriela Serrano had savored a surprisingly splendid morning. Thanks to Pantera’s thievery and the inadvertent encouragement of Waverly, she now had a date with a dashing man. There was only one obstacle—her mother.

“An American? Coming here now?” If Marina Serrano were any more of a mother hen, she would have flared her feathers in full alert. “Who is this gringo who suddenly wants to date my daughter?” She hastily tore down the makeshift clothesline filled with underwear that was propped in front of the rattling living room air conditioner. “He’d better be someone rich and famous, because I can’t think of anything clammier than putting on damp underwear in the morning.”

“His name is Daniel Burke, and I hardly know anything about him except that his parents once lived here. I also know he intrigues me.”

“How did you meet the man?”

“The poor man never made it to a cab before a street kid stole his wallet. He came to me for help, which is what I did.”

“You’re certainly good at that. Why is he here, anyway?”

“He says he came to the Carnival but also to find his roots.”

“Sweet girl, I know this much. There are many reasons why Americans come here for the Carnival, but none of them are noble. Hah! Find his roots—are you that naïve?”

“Mamãe, he arrived in a pinstripe suit, so maybe he is here for business. But it doesn’t matter who he is, but who I am. You should know by now that you raised a respectable girl.”

“I did—you know that,” Marina countered as she bustled behind her daughter into the pink-tiled bathroom and restrung the loaded clothesline across the shower curtain rod. “Neither of us knows this American, even if he has some Brazilian in him.”

“Do you think he’ll like this?” Gabriela modeled a moderate V-neck, green summer print dress, ornamented by her mother’s aquamarine necklace. Her long, slender frame would make any ordinary dress appear elegant.

“I’m sure he will,” Marina scoffed, “since it makes you look half-naked.”

Gabriela laughed. “Would you prefer me to wear a nun’s habit? I am sure the church will loan you one. You spend enough time there.”

Marina stiffened. “I have many worthy reasons to serve the house of God. This I can assure you. But you are changing the subject. What are Daniel Burke’s intentions with my only child? Am I asking too much?” She swept the clutter of make-up bottles, curlers, and hairbrushes into a wicker basket and shoved it under the sink.

Gabriela retrieved a mascara wand from the basket to apply some finishing touches. “Why don’t you ask him yourself? He should be here any minute.”

“What?” Marina gasped. “I look like an old hag.” She ran into their shared bedroom to change out of her chef pants and work shirt. “God in heaven—I smell like grilled meat.”

“Stay calm. I’m sure it will take him many tries to find this place.”

“So you told him our penthouse overlooks Praça Nossa Senhora da Paz?” Marina teased. “He won’t find us anyway.”

“I didn’t lie. 406 Rua Barão da Torre is a high-class address indeed. The park is the true core of Ipanema. Don’t you love smelling the fresh mangrove trees and the morning fruit market? The finches chirp loudly because they know this is a prime location.”

“Sweet girl, we live in a one-bedroom dump above the Itahy Pizzeria shop.”

“My ever self-effacing Mamãe,” Gabriela rejoined earnestly, “this is the only home I have ever known. It is special because you make it so.”

“The Lord always provides, my precious girl.” Marina waltzed into the bathroom, wearing a pink and mango patterned cotton dress. Few dresses enhanced her short stocky frame, but this was one of them.

“So who is going out with him, you or me?” Gabriela jested.

“If he is a fancy dresser, I need to be one too. Besides, I merely want him to know where you get your beauty.” Marina hugged her willowy daughter. “So what are your plans with this businessman, anyway?”

“It was fate that fixed us up. I’ll leave the rest up to fate as well.”

“Fate?” Marina replied. “Fate only happens if you open the door.”

“And when our doorbell rings, I’m throwing the door open. At least I give you the courtesy of meeting my date before I go out with him.”

“I appreciate this, my dear, but if the American keeps you out beyond midnight, I will lock the door on the both of you.”

“Which would surely seal my fate with him.”

“Oh,” Marina reconsidered, “never mind…” She was preoccupied with straightening out the turquoise-patterned blanket that purposefully covered threadbare spots on the loveseat. She had finished dusting off the end tables and leveling the lampshades as the doorbell rang. “A first—a man who arrives on time,” Marina said drolly.

Gabriela kissed her mother on her slightly furled forehead. “Stop worrying. It’s not like you’re entertaining the Pope.” She switched off the rattling air conditioner and turned on the CD player, which cued up soft Brazilian jazz. She then switched off the overhead light and switched on a mood light from the living room lamp, scurried to the door and opened it.

Daniel stood nervously in the hallway, still in his pinstripe suit, crumpled white shirt and Pantera-polished wingtips. He held a take-out box of pizza. After what seemed to be interminable silence to him he blurted out, “Pizza delivery,” doing his best to cover-up the fact that Gabriela’s beauty took his breath away. “I apologize for my attire, but as you know, my luggage didn’t make the connecting flight.”

Peeking from behind the kitchen was a wary woman, arms folded tightly. Gabriela quickly broke the ice. “Daniel, won’t you come in. Please meet my mother, Marina Serrano. Mamãe, this is Daniel Burke.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Serrano. I can see where your daughter gets her elegance.” He dug deep to dig out the kind of manners he learned in prep school.

Marina responded politely, speaking her English slowly to minimize her Carioca accent. “Thank you for the compliment, Senhor Burke, but Gabriela was blessed with her beauty from another side of the family.”

After an awkward hush he replied, “Anyway, here are some leftovers if you want them.”

“How rude of me,” Gabriela said. “Please be seated. May I get you a drink?”

“No thanks, I had a soda downstairs with Mr. Silva.”

Marina took a seat across from him. “You may not know this, but Luis Silva is a deacon of Our Lady of Peace. To me, he has already earned the keys to heaven by renting this apartment to us ever since Gabriela was a baby.”

“While he was heating up this pizza for me, I asked him if he ever heard of my parents, Gustavo and Sophia Silva.”

“But your last name is Burke, no?” Gabriela was confused.

“True,” he replied. “My adoptive parents are Jonathan and Caroline Burke. I owe them the life I lead today, but my childhood began here.”

“What region are you from?” Marina asked.

“Petrópolis, about an hour’s drive north of here. I plan on visiting it while I’m here.”

“Ah, what an historic area,” Gabriela said. “The city is preserved from the days when Emperor Pedro II used the Imperial Palace as his summer retreat.”

“I hope it hasn’t changed too much. I don’t know much of my childhood: the Crystal Palace and the Cathedral of São Pedro de Alcãntara. I vaguely remember my father giving my baby sister and me a ride on a horse-drawn carriage.” His voice lowered. “But I will never forget that disastrous flood twenty years ago.”

Marina had friends involved in one of Brazil’s most devastating natural disasters. Torrential rains had caused pervasive mudslides resulting in 734 injuries, 13,943 homeless, and 290 deaths. Petrópolis was cut off from the rest of Brazil for a week with no power and few supplies. Sensing a reason for his comment, she asked, “Did it affect your family?”

“Yeah,” he sighed. “I’m afraid so. We lived on a mountainside high above Quitandinha Palace. There was a cloudburst that battered the region for days. One night a massive mudslide claimed our house, sending it crashing down into the raging floodwaters below. The next thing I knew I was clinging to a wooden bench drifting away from town.” He rubbed his forehead again from tension. “I ended up in an orphanage, but shortly afterwards an American family from Newton, Massachusetts adopted me.”

“I am so sorry, Daniel.” Gabriela said, wondering how such a life-altering change would have affected this particular orphan.

“I am too,” Marina replied. “And the rest of your family?”

“Perished? I’m fairly sure. The authorities have already confirmed having death certificates for Gustavo and Sophia Silva.”

“And your sister?” Gabriela asked.

“Liana? Apparently they have no records on her. She was only two, but had she survived, she probably would have been adopted by another family and would have a new identity today.”

“The adoption process in Brazil is the best money can buy,” Gabriela said. “I’ve studied adoption law in Brazil in one of my social work courses. New laws weren’t enacted until this year to protect children from the black market.”

“Which would have been no problem for Jonathan Burke, an executive with J.P. Morgan. You see Caroline couldn’t bear children. In America, the adoption process can take longer than five years, and the Burkes don’t like to wait for anything. They enjoyed a first-class vacation to Rio and just before returning home, they paid $10,000 cash to adopt me.” Daniel deadpanned. “You could buy me for less today.”

“You make it sound like you’re a slave.” Marina seemed confused.

“I’m just kidding,” he replied. “My parents are decent people, and they raised me the best they could. I am a Boston Burke and have fulfilled many of my father’s traditions such as graduating from Boston College and pursuing a career in finance. The only legacy I can’t fulfill is having a blood relation to the Daughters of the American Revolution.”

“The what?” Gabriela asked.

“You don’t want to know the D.A.R,” he said with a boyish grin.

“What I know—a thief stole your wallet today.” Any ice in Marina’s heart had melted away by now. “This was not the welcome you deserved.”

“A rocky way to begin my trip,” he replied, “but great things come from humble beginnings. Otherwise I wouldn’t have met your daughter.” Daniel’s Portuguese was returning. “Você é abençoado,” he said tentatively.

“I am blessed too,” Marina replied, “with so many wonderful memories.”

“And do you know what? As I walked over here I sensed my childhood again. I took lots of pictures so I can remember this trip when I get back home.”

Gabriela frowned. “Haven’t you learned your lesson yet? Don’t carry anything expensive in public, including a camera.”

Daniel removed a slim Cannon camera from his coat pocket. “It was a Christmas present, and it’s supposed to take superb pictures.” He raised his camera and said, “Let’s see what it can do. Smile ladies.” Gabriela posed by her mother who forced a squiggle-lipped smile. “Besides, Ipanema beach is as public as it gets. If it’s not safe there, it’s not safe anywhere.”

“My daughter is right. Even our beaches are dangerous after the sun sets,” Marina warned. “Nothing good happens after dark.”

Daniel smiled. “That’s what the doorman said too. He’s kind of a weird guy. Built like a beanpole with a beak. He’s always hawking for tips.”

“Hmm,” Marina smirked, “Do his eyebrows…” She linked her two index fingers together over her coffee-brown eyes, forming a mono-brow.

“Reminds you of a vulture?” Daniel asked.

Marina was confused until her daughter translated. “Falcão,” Gabriela said.

“Ah, Miguel. I remember him from when I was a cook at the Sheraton. That man would do anything for money.”

“No kidding. I gave him R$1 for directions, but he said he could arrange a tour for R$100. I told him I wasn’t interested. He put on a sad-puppy face, but I can read him like a comic book. Oh, by the way, I owe you this.” Daniel handed Gabriela R$60.

“What, no interest?” Gabriela teased.

“I have plenty of interest,” he replied as he cautiously approached Marina. “Mrs. Serrano, would it be all right with you if I took your daughter out this evening? I promise that nothing but good will happen, even if it is after dark.”

Wearing high heels, Marina was still a head shorter than Daniel. She scrutinized him, concluding he had no hidden agendas. “Why ask me? She’s a grown woman now. I merely live my life vicariously through my daughter. Where are you taking her?”

“I don’t know. I’m excited to do whatever she wants to do.”

I was clear to Marina that her daughter exuded delight. “Such a wise answer, Daniel. God knows, for her to be truly fulfilled, she needs to be doing what she wants to do.”


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