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Text: World Copyright
Martin Foreman

Copyright of pictures acknowledged where possible

Beauty and the Beast

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, February 1980: The tail-end of Carnival, two in the morning at the Galeria Alaska, haunt of drag queens, hustlers and those too tired to party on. A hot night, when even a t-shirt is too close and the only sensible clothing is the gold make-up and white loincloth of a passing reveler.

Not quite tired and not quite drunk, I sit alone. At a nearby table, beside a middle-aged, red-faced, overweight tourist, sits a devastatingly pretty, olive-skinned young man of nineteen or twenty. His wide eyes suggest innocence but the silence between them suggests that the only bond uniting himself and his companion is sex. Whatever their relationship, I watch, envious of the Beast who has captured such a Beauty.

The Beast intercepts my glance. "Prosit!" he raises his glass with a friendly smile. I toast him in return. Beauty looks to see whom his companion is addressing. "Sade," I greet him. "Sade," he replies. Sind Sie deutsch?" the Beast asks. No, I am not German. But you speak German, he goes on. Enough to get by, I tell him. And Portuguese? I nod again. He absorbs that information then beckons me to join them.

Bottle in hand I move to their table. Enjoying your holiday, the Beast asks. I live here, I say. I turn to Beauty and ask him if he speaks German. "No." Does his friend speak Portuguese? "No." I ask how they communicate. Beauty shrugs as if conversation is not a priority.

I turn back to the Beast. He is on holiday, with other salesmen from his company. They have had a good year; this trip is their reward. Tomorrow they go back. I ask how he spent Carnival. My question surprises him. Drinking with his comrades, he says. Of course, I mentally kick myself; what else do salesmen do? What does he sell? Vacuum cleaners.

I would find it difficult to talk about vacuum cleaners in English while awake and sober; it is impossible in German when half-drunk and half-asleep. Besides, I would much rather talk with Beauty. He has only just arrived from a small town in the interior. He has no job. After Carnival he will try to find work. He sounds sincere. Perhaps he is not a hustler, but in this city too many unskilled youths chase too few jobs; it will not be long before he learns how easy it is to sell a young body and handsome face.

Silence returns. The Beast raises his glass to me again; I respond and Beauty joins in. "Tell him," the Beast suddenly says, gesturing to his companion, "that I am very happy to have met him." I turn to Beauty and translate, uncertain whether the personal pronoun comes before or after the past infinitive in Portuguese. Beauty smiles shyly. "Tell him," he replies, "that he is the best person I have met since I came to Rio."

The Beast listens to my clumsy German. "Tell him that if there is anything I can do for him, whatever it is, I will be only too pleased to do it." Beauty's eyes mist over at the message. "Tell him," he replies, "that whatever my friend wants in Rio I will get for him." The Beast, on hearing the offer, is also close to tears. "Tell him that he is closer to me than any brother could be." Beauty is even more moved by these words. "Tell him that I have never had a brother, but from now on, he is my brother and whatever is mine is his."

The expressions of emotion become more and more grandiloquent, pronounced with gravity and, to the best of my ability, translated with the same respect. The Beast promises Beauty unlimited use of his Munich home. I convey the sentiment, imagining a bachelor's apartment cluttered with wide-screen television, cheap souvenirs and unwashed dishes. Beauty responds in kind and I see a single change of clothes, a scrawled diary, a few crumpled photographs and a lumpy mattress in a bare inner-city room.

Their hospitality exhausted, they fall silent again. I ask Beauty how long they have known each other. Half an hour, he tells me. They met here, just before I came. So desperate for affection, it appears, that they pour out their hearts to a stranger in the middle of a lonely Carnival night.

Suddenly, the Beast stands up and holds out his hand. Good night, he says. It is late; he has to get back to his hotel. Beauty remains seated, watching this man, the brother to whom he has just sworn eternal devotion, with the disinterest of a stranger. "Ciao," he says.

I look for an invitation or expression of regret from the Beast, but there is none. Instead, he turns, weaves his bulky figure between the tables and empty chairs and out into the street. On the plane back to Munich he will take with him memories of five days drinking with his comrades and half an hour's drunken silence with a stranger he could not understand. It occurs to me that I should help him find a taxi, but I am afraid that if I do so, Beauty will have gone by the time I return.

more from Brazil:
Beauties on the Beach       2.5c=1e

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