Alexis was overwhelmed. Rio was hot, such a contrast to the snow in Stockholm and Geneva, or wet London. But it was also so vibrant. It was like nowhere else she’d ever been. Sofia, a classmate was the daughter of a Brazilian Diplomat, and she’d heard so many stories of the City, the country. As she was researching for her jobs, she’d literally bumped into Sofia; she had a job in London, despite planning to go back to Rio when she graduated. Her father wasn’t happy; he’d bought her a beach front apartment. She’d jokingly offered it to Alexis, rent free if she wanted to work for her uncle’s charity medical centre. A simple conversation had suddenly become everything she wanted after the arrogance of her father and the indifference of Peter, and within ten days Alexis had a flight booked to Brazil.
Basically, Alexis had three months of work, no bills, and most of her food paid for. She’d already applied for a graduate loan, so here she was, in hot and humid Brazil, and nothing to worry about but herself. Her only worry was that she’d miss her sister’s baby being born. But Henrietta understood, she’d been as manipulated by her father until she’d married, and had never had the confidence that Alexis had to just walk away from it all. She was only too glad to see Alexis break the restraints of the family, though her refusal to as much as mention Peter’s name worried her...a lot.
“So how was your first day?” Her sister asked via their iPad facetime.
Alexis was shattered, the heat if nothing else had worn her down, but she would never tell her sister that. “Awesome Hen, this place is amazing. Honestly.”
She started to explain the layout of the city, the clinic, everything she’d done that day, and the heavily pregnant older sibling, who was off work and bored lapped up every moment.
“Dad was asking after you today. He wants to talk to you. Will you let me give him your number?”
Alexis shrugged, “I’m still uncaring about it all, if you want.”
Her sister looked awkward for a moment, then added, “he saw Peter this week. He dropped it into conversation.”
Alexis shrugged, “I don’t want to think about that coward.” She gave a smile, “so how’s Daniel? Is he all prepared for this baby?”
Henrietta stored yet another subject change, and smiled in agreement. She was getting more and more worried about her little sis.
Every morning Paolo, the administrator for the group of medical centres met her and accompanied her to work. Her colleague was an older Dutch man called Boris, he’d been a doctor for thirty years, when his wife died three years eelier, he’d come to Brazil for six months. He’d been there since. Throughout that time he’d been working alone, and he was more than grateful for her support albeit her fairly inexperienced version. Very soon she was thrown in at the deep end! As she’d told her sister, the work was varied, pretty much anything could present for them. The area was rife with both malaria and dengue fever, both transmitted by mosquitoes, and there was no vaccination. They had a limited amount of medication, and it was a challenge to manage the sheer volume of patients.
She’d rapidly realised that the City was full of two types of people, her neighbours, affluent, healthy, and high achieving, and the favela dwellers. They had little of material value, no work, no prospects, and often poor health. It broke her heart that so many lived in such poverty, but every day she was amazed by the resilience of the people. Most were grateful for her help, and within a few days she had people greeting her as she walked through the streets to one of the clinics.
Her life took on a pattern, a routine very quickly. Each day she was up early and out until the evening, within her first few days in Rio, she was adopted by Sofia’s brother Thiago and his friends. Thiago was twenty one, a student as were his group of friends, and boy did they party. The first evening she ventured out with them he took her to a bar, a building that was unassuming from the outside, but inside was a cavernous room filled to the brim with people. The bar sold cheap beer, and the band blasted out what she could only describe as dirty samba music. The dance floor was filled with dancing couples, and the whole place was addictive.
“You like?” Thiago asked leaning close to her so she could hear him over the grinding beat.
“It’s AMAZING! I can’t believe I’ve lived within a block of this place for ten days and not known it was here!”
He laughed, “Rio is FULL of surprises!”
He was dragged to the dance floor by his girlfriend, so their conversation ended there, but she was more than happy to perch on her stool and just watch this hectic place.
“Do you want to dance?” Her silent reflection was disturbed by a voice to her right. Luiz, Thiago’s best friend smiled at her.
“I can’t samba!” She gasped.
Luiz laughed, “who can before they learn? Come on! I’ll show you!”
Taking her hand he led her to the edge of the dance floor, “we don’t dance the same way as the samba in your world. This is often a solo dance, as you see in our Carnaval. But here, it’s slightly changed. It’s social and most men should be able to guide a woman,” he took her into his arms, and with a husky voice next to her ear, he managed to defeat the power of the music and talk her through the basic steps. Left...right...forward...back. It was all quite hypnotic.
Alexis knew she lacked the finesse and the expertise of others, but in half an hour she was bathed in sweat but happy that she at least understood what she was trying to do. Laughing, Luiz led her to the bar and ordered them caipirinhas, another Brazilian thing that she was growing to love.
Thiago laughed as the two approached him, “well Luiz! I’ve not known you have the patience to be a teacher!”
Luiz laughed, “well, maybe Lex is a great pupil!” They’d all struggled to pronounce Alexis, and she was more than happy to be called by the abbreviated form of her name.
“Thiago, he is a GREAT teacher! Shall I show you what I’ve learned?”
Laughing she led him to the dance floor.
The fun filled evenings definitely made the long days easier. Within a couple of weeks she felt as though she fitted in! As well as Thiago and Luiz, there were at least eight others who regularly joined then, and as someone who had very few but very good friends at home, Alexis found her social life was suddenly amazing in Rio.
“It seems like you’ve lived here forever!” Ana Julia whispered one evening, as they watched the others dance. Ana Julia was desperate in her intentions towards Thiago, and he seemed oblivious. Her best friend Jennifer seemed to flirt with Luiz, though again, he seemed to spread his time equally between the group. So Lex wasn‘t sure how to interpret the other woman’s comments.
“Is that good or bad?”
Ana Julia laughed, “we don't like more competition, but you don’t seem interested in our men, so we like you!”
Lex laughed, “you’ve summed me up pretty well! And to be honest, I’m not here forever!”
The other woman laughed, “we’re going to the spa tomorrow.” Ana Julia mentioned a hotel in Ipanema, “do you want to come?”
Lex nodded, “love to!”
Lex had been there a month when Daniel, Henrietta’s husband called, he was emotional, tearful, and more overawed than she’d ever heard him.
“You’re not making sense Dan! What’s happening? Is Hen ok?”
“It’s a boy!” He breathed, “two weeks early, but healthy, squawking, he’s luscious!”
He then proceeded to describe everything about their new arrival Oscar Crawford Hewson. Alexis was both ecstatic, and devastated not to be there. The following day her sister came home, and they linked up via their iPads. Oscar was a darling, and, after talking to Henrietta for ages, they were both in tears, but Henrietta insisted that she see out her time in Rio at the very moment Lex doubted her choices.
“I’ll send you a daily video and a thousand photos. But please, stick with this. You have to.”
Lex had laughed, “I couldn’t abandon things here if I wanted to.”
Hen chuckled, “ you always had SO much more principle than me!”
Lex rolled her eyes, what good had that done her?
She was subdued that evening when she had a rowdy phone call from Thiago. As usual he left his friends and came to collect her; dragging her to a samba club they all loved, tucked down a side street off Ipanema. She was so glad that these people included her, most of the places they visited were hidden gems, and she doubted she’d find them second time, let alone a first time.
Over the weeks she’d improved significantly at samba, with both Thiago and Luiz spending a long time helping her to master the basic steps, it was a typical Latin dance where men led the moves strongly, so she laughed as she and the other females were passed between the very competent men.
Alexis was tired, the days were long, and the work physically hard, she was also emotionally tired after the news from her sister. So whilst she’d been glad of a couple of hours out to take her mind off things, her heart wasn’t truly in it.
"I’m going to go!" she spoke over the music to Luiz, her current dance partner.
"I will take you!" he announced.
She shook her head, "it’s ok, I’ll get a taxi, there’s no need for you to leave!"
He shrugged, "I insist! I couldn’t see a woman go home alone!"
It was still hot and humid as they emerged onto the street, Alexis hadn’t known it be truly cool since she’d arrived, but she loved night time, there was a slight crispness to the air, and a breeze that often wafted up from the sea. it was a ten minute taxi ride back to Sofia’s apartment, but ironically they couldn’t find a taxi, so Luiz led them to a major junction where he assured her it would easy to get a cab.
"So are you enjoying your time here?" he asked pausing from scanning the busy intersection to look down at her.
She nodded enthusiastically, "I love it! It’s so busy! Always something happening. I was scared in the beginning, I mean it’s a huge City, and you hear all these stories about crime..."
"Just because you have been safe doesn’t mean you’re not at risk. We all are careful here."
She was surprised at his words, she’d been about to comment that she felt safer in Rio than in some parts of London, but he’d been negative about his home City, and that was out of character.
She nodded, "your very stern lecture is noted!" she mock bowed to him and he burst into laughter.
"You are so funny! Did I sound too serious?"
When she nodded he laughed again. That made her smile, Luiz was clearly the best looking man she’d met in Rio, dark hair, warm eyes, tanned skin, lither body, and he was charming, caring and very intelligent...he spoke English better than she did! As the atmosphere changed between the both of them a taxi arrived and they bundled into the back seat.
Now there was a slightly awkward silence, every time she glanced up at Luiz he was smiling down at her, and she wasn’t sure how that made her feel.
Once the taxi stopped at her apartment block, Luiz got out, and escorted her to the entrance, letting the cab disappear into the night.
Alexis smiled, "thanks for this. You shouldn’t have! What if you can’t find another cab?"
He shrugged, “I’ll walk! And of course I should see you home; I have been brought up much better than this!"
Then he swooped down for a kiss. It surprised her, but his lips on hers were cool, and soft, yet demanding. There was no explosion, no nuclear war head hitting her heart, but it was nice, pleasant and she found she wanted more!
After a few moments Luiz seemed to realize where they were and pulled away from her. "I’m sorry where are my manners?"
Lex sighed, her lips feeling a little bereft without his joined to them, with a smile she let her hand fall from its unexplained position around his neck to his chest, "I hardly think that was all just you!"
Nodding he was beaming ear to ear, "can we go out tonight? Just the two of us? Not the rest of the gang."
"I think that would be good." And she realised it would. She’d enjoy his company. The girls would be annoyed...but she figured they wouldn’t have to know.
Now he was beaming like an idiot, "I’ll pick you up, eight o’clock? Don’t eat...I’ll take you somewhere nice!"
Her answer was halted by his lips landing on hers, a skilled and passionate kiss. And her lips were still tingling from his stubble when she climbed into bed.