Fiction: Camila and the Freckled Boy by Ruth Hernandez

Ruth Hernandez is an Emmy-winning sound editor for film and television, a screenwriting instructor and an avid soccer fan. She wrote this story when she returned from the World Cup in Brazil. Her parents are Colombian.
A full transcript of the episode is below.

Camila and the Freckled Boy

by Ruth Hernandez

Camila laughed as she watched the reaction of the unsuspecting tourists to the fanatical screams of her friends.

They had gathered at the hallway pass of the Estação Cosme e Damião, the holy twins Train station, where the World Cup Visitors wearing proudly their country colors, would go through a turnstile to get to the train that would take them back to their fancy hotels in Recife. Some of her friends shouted “lenço! lenço!” (Scarf! Scarf!) Camila could hear her twin sister Vitoria’s loud shouts at the other end screaming “bandeira” (Flag!) and could see her long and thin brown arms stretching to the foreigners in hopes of a gift. Camila felt a tinge of embarrassment for her sister but wasn’t she there too to see if she could get anything? Something different to do, she reconciled.

Germany had just beaten the United States in the first round at Arena Pernambuco, but according to her boyfriend Matheus, the Americans had managed to move on to the second round only thanks to the Portuguese. He was only repeating comments he had heard at his father’s bar, but she thought he was the smartest boy in their school, Escola Santa Monica, and believed everything he said was right. They hadn’t told anyone they were boyfriend and girlfriend yet. They would when she turned eleven in a few days.

Matheus was at the train station too, screaming, reaching, laughing. Camila watched him with pride. He was the best-looking boy she knew and had the smile of a movie star. He’d already managed to get six bandanas: four American and two German. He would later wash them and sell them for four Reais each. Most mothers stayed in the back rows, making sure no adult would try anything funny with one of their kids, but some adult women elbowed their way to the front row, pushing against the gates in hopes of catching the eye of someone who could possibly get them out of Caramagibe. Much to Camila’s shame, her mother Sabine was against the gate, waving shamelessly at the good-looking men who donned their country’s colors. She’d been a beautiful woman once but her drinking and smoking had aged her. She whistled at a group of young Americans who could have been College students. One gave her his American Flag bandana and placed it around her neck. Camila cringed as Sabine reached out to kiss him, but his friends pulled him away, their train was arriving.

Camila looked up to the sky. It was a menacing grey. If this rain persisted, fairly soon her part of town would be flooded again. They’d have to move in with their Aunt Thais in Fortaleza and miss school until the water subsided. Last year they were away for two months. She almost had to repeat the third grade. She did not want to be left behind this year. There were many cute girls in their class and Matheus was a big flirt. He said she was the only girl for him but she knew how boys were.

She watched her friends reaching towards the tourists but wondered, for what? What good is a bandana or a flag when the water reaches your waist? When all your clothes are ruined? When your father’s motorcycle is flooded? When the town becomes a ghost town and the dogs die of starvation? Her mother would never let her feed any of the town dogs but she would sneak out now and then and give them a little bit of her dinner. In the last flood she found many of their bloated bodies half-buried in the mud.  She remembered shedding tears for them and for herself. Why can’t these tourists give them anything practical?

Matheus did not live in the low part of town. He never had these problems and told her again and again that it did not matter to him where she lived. But she often wondered about that. Adults mind very much. Perhaps when he grew up he would also mind. She would have to wait and see.

In three minutes the next batch of train riders would come around the turnstiles, with more bandanas and flags and scarves. Most would smile at the Brazilian welcoming party. Camila heard one man say, “I feel like a Beatle!” She knew he was referring to the British musical group that Matheus liked so much. Someday she and Matheus would leave this town and go to London where they would attend the university, get married, work together in an office wearing nice clothes, buy a car and an apartment and have children, well, maybe only one since it was so expensive to raise children. At least that’s what her mother complained of every day.

A family of Americans approached the turnstile, a father, a mother, a boy, and a girl. They all wore the same clothes, the U.S. futbol team red, white and blue jersey, khaki shorts, and muddy white sneakers. The girl looked to be about Camila’s age. Her hair was the color of wheat, rod straight, shiny, and beautiful. The boy had crazy carrot red hair and was covered in freckles just like his mom. The dad had a huge beer belly that protruded underneath his jersey. Camila giggled at their matching outfits and would rather die than be seen with her own family like that, not that they would ever attend an event together. Her father could not stand her mother for more than the ten minutes he sat at the dinner table, after which he would go to Matheus’ father’s bar and not return home until the early hours of the morning. Camila let her mind wander as flashes of color and chants passed by when she realized that the freckled boy, the one with the crazy red hair stood in front of her. He held out something.

His mother stood a few feet behind her precious son. Her nonexistent brows gave her an alien air but the frowning lines in her forehead told Camila all she needed to know. This made her feel cheap and ashamed. The mother shouted something to her son. All she understood was his name, John, like the Beatle. He was holding out his Nintendo DS. Some of the richer kids in school had them. She knew they were worth a lot of money. Everyone around Camila began to shout “Dar-me! Dar-me!” (Give it to me!) and reached out to grab it but the boy pulled back far enough so that no one could.

His sister rolled her eyes and sighed with impatience as she pulled on his arm but the freckled boy stood in front of Camila, motionless. Matheus pushed his way to Camila’s side and reached out for the DS too, even though he already had one at home. She saw Matheus with new, disappointed eyes. She knew he was there for fun but still… 

The freckled boy pulled back again waiting for Camila’s response. Now, all eyes were on her. She felt her cheeks flush. She heard her own mother shout “Levá-lo, estúpida!” (Take it, stupid!) but her arms would not move, her body would not respond. Every cell in her body wanted her to run, to run as far as her long thin legs would take her, to Recife, to Rio, to London, to the moon. But she was stuck, frozen, glued to the now wet and slippery sidewalk surrounded by her friends. The rain felt good on her warm skin. The freckled boy and his family ran onto their platform to seek shelter.

“Why didn’t you take it?” Asked Matheus while he opened his umbrella.

“I don’t know,” Camila said wondering the same thing. 

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