I’m fearful for Claudio. I think he’s very ill.
Claudio sits on the curb by the bus stop in front of the Mambo grocery store every day and sells Halls cough drops.
The dogs and I walked past him for many months without any interaction. It was the pups who made the first overture, reacting when they saw him, pulling at the leash to greet him. “Minyas meninas,” (my little girls) he’d call as they climbed on him and tried to kiss him.
After a couple of more months of them greeting him, I introduced myself and asked his name. It seemed only good manners. Another day, I asked if I could give him a bracelet with God’s eye beads woven into it. He accepted it with pleasure, and for many months I saw it on his right wrist.
He was wearing it still when I saw him at last year’s Oktoberfest in the neighborhood, where he stood tall and strong and seemed in good health.
In the past couple of months, though, I’ve seen a change in him. No longer is his skin shiny, but rather dusky, stretched across a skeletal head. His neck is nothing but skin and cords, and his arms and legs are sticks.
I walked past him last week, a hot sunny day, and greeted him. The girls ran to him, and he called to them, but weakly. I mentioned how hot it was, and he agreed. “Precisa de agua,” he said. At first I thought he meant we needed rain, but then I realized, he needed water. Not having any money on me, I said good-bye, and watched how his eyes just sort of rolled away from me, vaguely staring into the distance.
I took the dogs home and returned to Mambo, where I bought him groceries and drinks, including a large bottle of water. His eyes lit up when he saw I’d returned, and I handed him the bottle of water. “Precisa de agua,” I said. I asked if he also needed food. He nodded, and I gave him the canvas bag in my hand. I also gave him the change for the groceries, R$20. And none of it seemed enough.
If I could, I’d give him a place to live, food every day, and better friendship. But, that isn’t possible. I give when I see him, what I think he’ll accept, and I call him by name.
I realize that our dogs live a better life than perhaps millions of people in Sao Paulo. They have a nice apartment, plenty of good food and water, a cozy bed, and someone who hugs them several times a day and tells them that they are loved.
Claudio doesn’t. I’d hug him, but it isn’t done. I think I will live to regret that.