During the winter holidays, the wealthier expats rented casas brancas in Búzios. Janie had been there the year previous, with another American girl named Ginny and her family. She and her friend ate platters of boiled, garlicky shrimp, their fingers burning from peeling the shells. They drank bottles and bottles of Tai, their favorite guarana soda. They hunted for coquina shells, sea urchins, and sand dollars till they were red and spent. They never found anything whole. Their friendship was perfect, and their names were similar-sounding. They traded Garfield books and scratch ‘n’ sniff stickers. They were the same age (eleven) and wore the same shoe size (seven) and often would swap jelly sandals, each wearing one of the other’s. Their arms, wrist to elbows, were covered with wish bracelets. In February, Ginny’s family moved to Shanghai.
Over the holidays, families left for St. Moritz to ski, for the States to shop, for Brussels to visit aging grandparents. Others sent their kids to day camp for a month.
That was Janie’s first January there.
On the bus, Janie and Gustavo sat next to each other. The ride from Leblon to Recreio, west of the city, was long and jerky—roads jutted out, presenting routes around seemingly impassable mountains. There were no tunnels here. Janie looked out the window as the bus cranked and coughed, its clutch grinding, winding its way around the favela-covered hillside to the camp’s entrance. A small and ordinary sign announced Academia Acampamento Internacional. There was a rustle inside the bus as the campers stood and gathered themselves, shuffling into a line.
Janie barely understood Gustavo, just as she barely understood most of the other campers and all of the counselors. She couldn’t figure out the daily program or schedule, as loose and thin as it seemed. She never knew what time the snack would be served or if it was lunch, actually. She wasn’t sure what she was doing here at all, except that it was the January holiday and Everyone goes away, as her mother had said. So, Janie and Gustavo sat on the bus, meandered the grounds, swam in the pool, ate the snack, got in line and then rode the bus again, all without a word, exchanging only a few unspecific gestures. Gustavo was blond, freckled, nose-picking, and unapologetic. He didn’t seem to mind their relative silence.
On this morning, she and Gustavo took their usual walk down the east hill. Gustavo plucked discarded objects from the grass: a cigarette butt, broken goggles, a half-used tube of Noskote, an empty film canister. He held up whatever he found, and, after taking a closer look, thrust it toward Janie to see. Most finds he tossed, though today he put the film canister in his knapsack and held the cigarette butt between two fingers, winking as he deeply inhaled and then tapped invisible ash into the tall, willowy grass.