Later in the morning, like schools of little fish emerging from the mouths of rivers, children flowed onto their street’s section of the beach. The morning began with our nannies or our mums planting an oversized parasol into the sand with circular motions until the tip was deeply and firmly embedded. If they were hopeless, there were always plenty of ice cream vendors, chair-renters and lifeguards around to lend a hand. After they completed the process, they could open up their cloth shade and allow them to become part of a landscape of colourful dots on the golden sand. Next came the time-to-stretch-out-the-towel phase, then the unfolding-the-chair phase and then, finally, releasing the body boards, the balls and the buckets for us to play with our friends.
The beach was like a funfair set beneath the baking sun. We would play in the shallow water, chase schools of tiny fish, bury ourselves in the sand, construct barriers against the waves, dig tunnels, sculpt castles, have sand wars, and watch the constant flow of people walking by. In the intervals, the grown-ups would ask us to clean off the sand and then they would call one of the strong men who walked the beach with boxes of Kibon ice cream or Matte Leão iced tea, and buy some for us, their sweet iciness soothing the scorching heat.
The ocean signified complete freedom. The salt-water felt a million times better and more refreshing than any shower or any swimming pool ever did. Beyond the breaking waves, seagulls plunged to catch their prey, which would struggle to escape the beak as the bird flew away. Sometimes dolphins leapt out of the water and harmless shark-like fish showed their fins causing excitement and concern on the beach. As we grew more confident, we discovered waves and learned how to dive under and through them as well as racing the white foam and allowing the sea’s natural force to crash on us.
On windy afternoons, kids came down from the favelas to fly kites. Their fun was to have air battles with their colourful hand-made toys, some of those moleques glued broken glass powder on to their strings to make them more effective. A swirling and uncontrolled kite was a sign that another group had seized their flying coat of arms and the kids ran in the dozens to collect it as it crashed onto the sands below.
As the sun descended, the beach seemed to relax. The heat grew less intense and the buildings began to throw shadows on the sand. The sun’s golden colours reflected on the water creating a special light that made people and everything else on the beach and around it, look special. Sometimes groups from the favelas enjoyed the sunset playing samba and gave that time of the day a special musical flavour, like the sound track to a film.
My usual beach companion was Pilar, a pretty Portuguese nanny in her late twenties. The only clear memory I retain is of her naked body when we showered together after we returned home. In the bathtub, I could examine everything my friends had talked about but which we could not figure out how they worked. Pilar would eventually end up marrying my barber, the friendly Senhor Ribeiro, who was also Portuguese but was short, had a moustache and curly blond hair and who always reserved for me the latest football magazines and the best sweets.