“Don’t go out past 10:00 p.m.,” my host warned me. “People are murdered over five reais ($1.50) here.”
“That sounds like something to be concerned with during the day too,” I responded.
“Always carry some money with you. Carry fifty ($15) and some small change you can give up. Carry an old phone and hide your own. When people rob you they’ll take your money and old phone and run away.”
“Ah, Paradise. At least I can jaywalk here.”
Fortaleza’s murder rate is twelfth in the world, which would be intimidating if I hadn’t stayed in numbers thirteen (Natal), fourteen (Salvador), sixteen (Joao Pessoa), and visited number nine (Cape Town) without any serious trouble. I vowed to enjoy my time in Fortaleza, but always remain vigilant and carry enough money to fool robbers. Scary stats can’t ruin paradise.
My vigilance wasn’t enough this time.
“Blue, volta. Agora” (Blue, come here. Now.) a man with a knife interrupted my morning run. My long runs had made me recognizable in the area and my blue eyes had earned me the nickname. “In the back of the van.”
The odd thing about robbers is how we are all much braver than them beforehand, but do everything exactly as they say when we meet face to face. I’ve seen similar patterns when dealing with police and immigration officials.
“I’m Jewel,” whispered the blindfolded girl in the seat next to me. “He’s Fernando. Do what he says and we’ll be fine. Be more worried about Nigel.”
“Pretty ones like you ruined it for me,” a pale white man with blond hair told me as he shackled Jewel’s leg to mine. “Today I get revenge.”
The van started moving. As soon as the van hit traffic I knew it was now or never. I threw open the door and grabbed Jewel. “Time to fly!” We took off like bats out of hell through traffic and into a busy market. As we expected, they didn’t chase us through the market.
“We’re safe. They won’t try to kidnap us from a crowded market.” I told Jewel. Then I remembered the chain. We were pretty recognizable already, and walking everywhere with a chain meant that the entire neighborhood would pay attention to exactly where we were going. It was only a matter of time before Nigel showed up and tracked us down.
Jewel guided me through dirty alleys until we found her friend Rafael (Ha-fa-el). Rafael led us into a small courtyard and told us to wait while he called Luiz. He promised us that Luiz could break the chain. Luiz showed up twenty minutes later and almost defied description. He was as short as a jockey but had shoulders as wide as a car. His friends called him Bulldog. Luiz broke the chain and told us to stay there.
“People saw us come in,” Jewel said. “If we don’t leave then we’ll be in Nigel’s van again in twenty minutes.”
Luiz and Jewel argued intensely until they reached an agreement. We could leave, but we could never come back or mention is name.
Luiz was right. After we left the gates we heard yelling behind us. This time there was no traffic to slow them down. There were no witnesses to stop them. I fought off Nigel and his gang but they captured Jewel.
Through sheer stupidity I asked everybody in the area about them, and through sheer tyranny of will I found out where they were hiding. I waited until nightfall and then broke through the window with a fire extinguisher. We ran again, this time onto a main road where the police arrested those who were chasing us.
I finally had time to breathe. When I sat down in the ocean sand, I knew everything would be alright. This insane nightmare was over. I will never forget the singing birds who helped us, or Jewel’s beautiful blue feathers.