As was the case typical for most expatriates in Rio, my parents hovered on the fringes of the upper class society. However, while they lived and worked alongside with what they regarded as their local equals, had similar ambitions and even the same prejudices, they were not members of the same clubs, did not share the same interests nor had the same outlook of life. On the other hand, this local privileged minority never really accepted my parents, but then, they were also not interested in being so. The matter of the fact was that Mum and Dad had no aim in becoming Brazilian, only in living an idyllic life with as little contact with reality as possible. It was my sister and I who would have to do the job of adapting ourselves to the new country. My journey as a foreign leech (my parents’ view) or as a foreign caterpillar striving to become a local butterfly (my view) began at school. The logical choice was the British School. This was an establishment with a proud history of serving generations of expatriate British and Anglo-Brazilian families, fighting – and increasingly losing – the battle of insulating their children from the scourge of Brazilianess.
Most of my schoolmates’ dads were either diplomats or worked for British companies. Unlike my parents, none of them had come to Brazil on an independent existential adventure, nor did any of them share their religion and age. My classmates either knew this or sensed there was something different, and saw me as being in some way different. Freedom from convention awarded me a certain charisma, and that in turn gave me command of the fun both in and out of the classroom. I ruled by consensus and perhaps because of this I made two enemies who directed an incomprehensible unpleasantness at me. Worse still, luck decreed that they seemed to follow me everywhere: their families were members of the same social club, the Paissandú where my family were also members, they had attended the same kindergarten as I had, and they were to be the only others in my class at the British School who would remain in Rio until adulthood.
One of these boys, Nicholas, had been toughened by two older brothers, and despite having an Irish surname he by some means was, and looked, Italian. The other boy, Garreth, looked like the typical cute kid so favoured by advertisers, with blond hair, blue eyes and freckly skin. Despite this, he never smiled, and of the two he was the meanest. Together, they turned everything sour. Out of nowhere, I’d suddenly receive a push, with one of them on all fours behind me, or they would ridicule my jokes and my games. In the classroom, they made a point of competing in anything I did. I would always win in the mental and creative duels but would lose the physical ones, the kinds of confrontations that are the most important for boys. No one liked them but, when fighting became the only option to maintain dignity, everyone else just cowered away and I was forced to stand alone.
Even at a tender age being the vindictive bastard that I was, on one of my birthday parties I invited the entire class except for Nicholas and Garreth. Disgusted at this, a teacher tried to teach me a lesson. On the day of the party, she took me off the school bus and gave me and the other two boys a lift home. On the way, she kept asking me about the party. Although this was embarrassing, it didn’t work: in no way would her plan browbeat me into having them spoil my special day!
Later they took revenge when I invited a class buddy to come to the Paissandú club. In the pool, they tried to drown me. Holding friends under the water was a common enough game but this time the intention was for real, and to survive I had to fight my way up. I went completely berserk, lashing out wildly with kicks and punches and to everyone’s disbelief – including my own – I beat them both up. However, the victory was to be short lived and the situation carried on.