I’m scouting the Other Side, which is the portion of Abadiânia that lies south of the highway that bisects the town. The Casa (John of God’s healing center) and its service industry are on one side, ordinary Abadiânia is on the other.
The Other Side is bigger, comes with a supermercado that has three cash registers, although none can change an R$20 note. Visitors are told not to venture to the Other Side, as the healing entities only work on the Casa side. Market forces ratify the entities’ judgment. Renting a house costs R$300 a month on the Other Side; on the Casa side, close to the highway, it’s 600 a month (close to the Casa, it’s 1200).
I see a white man riding a bicycle. He’s wearing a black T-shirt, jeans, and has long, curly, eye-popping blond hair. I shout, “Hey, Aussie!” It’s a guess. The man pulls up, we chat. He and his wife live in Australia, volunteer at the Casa for six months each year. I ask about sports — are there any? Aussie stops, thinks, says, “I don’t think there are any competitive sports.”
“There must be soccer.”
“Some boys play on a field, but it’s not organized.”
“No school sports?”
Aussie laughs. “No, but there’s a gym where people work out. There’s some kickboxing. I’m going over there now.”
Bingo. I’m told to “Veer left, walk to the church, take the first right, go a good little ways, and it’s on your left.”
It’s mile or more to the church, a big half-concrete, half-red-brick edifice. I take the right turn, walk another half mile, the road ends. Not a surprise. I learned long ago: never trust a local when it comes to directions.
Coming on to late afternoon now. I make my way back to a little park that is inside a traffic circle. I note there are five roads radiating from the circle and decide to walk back by a different route.
Sun is setting. Lights start to switch on. Further on is a neighborhood bar with the usual cement floor, green painted walls, plastic tables and chairs.
Two men work on bottles of beer and shots of what looks to be tequila. Behind the glass candy-store bar top, way up, seven feet off the ground, is a long liquor shelf one bottle deep. None of the bottles has been opened, dust lays thick on their shoulders. There is a small pool table, about three-quarters American size. Its plywood sides are painted white, and the rail is painted red. I order a Skol, catch the bartender’s eyes, point to the pool table.
Barkeep is a young guy, maybe 30. I rack for 9-ball, barkeep shakes his head, places the 1 ball on the far cushion, racks 14 balls, and breaks. Holding his cue, he points out seven balls for him, seven for me, “Esta, esta, esta.”
The game is something like 8-ball. The player who makes his seven balls first gets to shoot the 1 ball, and if that drops, he wins the game.
Barkeep wins the first game, I don’t make a ball. He’s good, meaning he’s bar-pool good. He shoots true, but too hard and doesn’t use english. We play another game; he wins again. I note he doesn’t think about his third shot and won’t take a bank. Barkeep motions that he wants to play for 20. I nod.
I haven’t played in many years, but I used to be good — not money-pool good, but I could hold a table in a bar on Friday night. If you’re playing someone better than you, the idea is to play safe and hide the cue ball so your opponent never gets a clear shot. You’ll be left with an open shot now and then and can drop your balls one at a time. Frequently, you’ll be even when it comes time to shoot for the game. It’s one reason I didn’t like 8-ball.
I am aware that it’s dark outside and that there are now seven men in the bar, only two are drinking. I am aware I have money on the game and money in my pocket. I am aware I’ve been on the Other Side most of the day, and the only foreigners I’ve seen are me and Aussie. I don’t sense trouble, but it’s time to go.
In a glory flash of bygone years, I run three balls, hole the 1 ball, shake my head in genuine wonderment, lay a 20 note on the rail, motion barkeep to pour a round for the house, bid everyone a good night, and leave with smiles all around.
Life rarely gets that perfect.