Futebol for Paulo

By Michael A. Morrell

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    Paulo flicked a few drops of water onto his customer’s shoes and then snapped his buffing rag furiously across the already shining surface. The effect was amazing.

    “Paulo! They shine like polished silver,” the man exclaimed. “You must be the best shoeshine boy in Rio de Janeiro. No, in all of Brazil!”

    Chico (Little One), Paulo’s pet monkey, was tied to his shoeshine box by a leather thong and was now chattering angrily from Paulo’s shoulder. His shrill voice screeched louder and louder as he flipped one somersault after another, while slapping his pink bald head with his tiny, wrinkled hands.

    “Oh, excuse me, Chico,” the man said. “I did not mean to forget you, for you are, indeed, the best little monkey in all of Brazil.” Smiling, the man reached into his pocket and pulled out a shiny coin. “You can have this, Chico, or give it to Paulo for his new futebol (soccer ball) that he is trying to buy.”

    Jabbering happily, the little monkey took the coin and flipped it high into the air to Paulo. He then stood tall and straight, proudly clapping his hands.

    “It would seem that Chico wants you to buy that new futebol,” the man remarked. “And so do I. Because of your fine work, here’s an extra cruzeiro (Brazilian dollar) to help you buy it.”

    Muito obrigado (thank you very much),” Paulo said excitedly, stuffing the money deep into his pocket. “That’s the last cruzeiro I need to buy the futebol. But how did you know I was saving for one?”

    “How did I know?” the man laughed. “I think the whole town knows. Now, if you hurry, you may still have time to buy a futebol before the store closes.”

    “You’re right!” Paulo said with a grin.

    Clutching his shoeshine box under one arm and Chico under the other, Paulo raced through the city streets. The evening shadows were beginning to fall as the ice-cream wagons and bakery stands folded up their umbrellas and wheeled their portable units home. Merchants were pulling together metal doors to be locked into place for the night.

    “Oh, Chico! I’m afraid we’re too late to buy the ball tonight,” Paulo said breathlessly as he rounded the last corner and came to a stop in front of the soccer supply store. The door was already bolted shut. “We’ll just have to come back in the morning.”

    Chico sat in silent disappointment, then shrieked with excitement when Paulo pulled an old ball of rags from the shoeshine box. “Just think, Chico,” Paulo said, bouncing the ball neatly from one foot to the other, “tonight’s the last night for this old ball. Tomorrow I’ll have a real futebol.

    Paulo skillfully lofted the ball high into the air and slightly ahead of him. With perfect timing, he stepped under the falling ball and struck it a sharp blow with his forehead, sending it rolling down the street.

    As Paulo slowly dribbled the rag ball homeward, it was easy to pretend he was a soccer hero. He imagined himself making first one goal and then another to tie the score. The fans were on their feet, urging Paulo’s team to win. Paulo received a quick pass from a teammate and, looking for someone to pass to, deftly dodged a charging defender. All of my teammates are covered, Paulo dreamed on. The crowd’s roar rose to a deafening pitch as Paulo sidestepped yet another defender and rifled the ball with a sharp kick that scored the winning goal. The crowd’s chant was music to his ears—“Paulo! Paulo! Paulo!”

    The sound of breaking glass brought Paulo back to his senses. Chico was scolding angrily and jumping up and down on his master’s shoulder, and the fear in Paulo began to grow. He crept slowly up to a gate set in a high yellow wall that surrounded an expensive-looking house. Peering through the wrought iron gate, Paulo saw his homemade rag ball lying amid the broken remains of a beautifully decorated vase on the front porch of the house.

    Paulo’s stomach tightened with fear. “A broken vase!” groaned Paulo. “That vase must cost more than three futebols.“Looking around quickly and seeing no one, Paulo began to run.

    Chico disapproved and went wild, leaping and turning somersaults on Paulo’s shoulder and squawking at the top of his voice.

    “Would you please be quiet, Chico! What do you know, anyway?” Paulo asked. “You’re just a monkey and people don’t put monkeys in jail or take their futebol money. So please be quiet.”

    Chico’s chattering stopped and Paulo soon slowed to a walk. His legs still felt rubbery, but the pounding in his chest didn’t hurt quite so much now. What really bothered Paulo was his conscience, and he knew what he had to do to remedy that. “Chico, I have to go back,” Paulo said, retracing his steps. “Remember that church song I sometimes sing to you, ‘Do What Is Right’? Well, now I must do what is right.”

    But I’m so scared, Paulo thought as he stopped in front of the house with the high yellow wall.

    Looking through the gate, Paulo could see the empregada (maid) cleaning up the broken vase. He got her attention by clapping his hands (a Brazilian custom for entering a yard).

    Por favor (please), could you get the dono (owner) for me?” Paulo asked. “I must speak to him about the vase.”

    The empregada left and returned in a few minutes with a tall, kind-looking man. “Can I help you, young man?” the dono asked.

    Paulo hesitated. He knew what he wanted to say, but somehow, he couldn’t open his mouth to say it.

    “Go on. Don’t be afraid.”

    The dono seemed so friendly that before he knew it, Paulo was blurting out the whole story to him. “And that’s what happened,” he concluded. “It was an accident, Senhor, but I have money to pay for the vase.” Paulo dug deeply into his pocket and held out all the money he had been saving for his futebol. “It’s not much, but I hope it’s enough so I won’t have to go to jail.”

    “You won’t have to go to jail,” the man said with a laugh. Then he added, “You must be Paulo.”

    Paulo gulped. “Yes, I’m Paulo. But how did you know that?”

    The man laughed again. “I think the whole town knows of Paulo and Chico and how hard they’ve been working for a new futebol.

    The man looked long and hard at Paulo and then sat down. “Paulo, it took courage to come back here when no one knew that you were the one who broke the vase. Yet, you came back and brought me your futebol money. Why?”

    Paulo looked the man straight in the eye. “No one else knew, Senhor, but I did,” he said quietly.

    “I’m glad you came back and that we had this talk,” the dono said, shaking Paulo’s hand. “You keep your money and buy that new futebol.“The man’s bright eyes twinkled with a smile. “However, you must repay me for the vase.”

    “But, Senhor, I’ve not enough money for both the vase and the futebol,” pleaded Paulo. “How can I do both?”

    “You will have to shine my shoes for three months as payment,” the man explained. “I have heard that you’re the best shoeshine boy in town. But today, because of your courage and honesty, I think you must be the best boy in all of Brazil!”

    Illustrated by Charles Shaw