Riding in the backseat of a stretch limo, Samba couldn’t figure Noah’s angle. He treated her like a long-lost relative. At the same time, his men kept a watchful eye on her.
Sitting opposite from her, Tiny had managed to cram his massive frame into the car. He sat slightly hunched over in an uncomfortable position, though he showed no signs of discomfort. The perpetual smile on his face never waned.
Noah squeezed in next to him, looking out the window. He turned to look at her, catching her lost in thought.
“What’s on your mind, Miss Samba?” he said.
One doubt nagged at her.
“If you take over the guild, don’t you risk losing that freedom and independence the guild stands for?”
Noah opened his eyes wide. An impressed look appeared on his face.
“An excellent observation, one my opponent has unfairly leveled against me.”
His speech switched from conversational to rehearsed.
“Yes, my way is a radical departure. But I think of it as establishing a foundation. After that, all guild members will be encouraged to innovate.”
Noah’s ease at slipping into political rhetoric was off-putting to Samba. Innately she knew she had to keep her guard up. But she wanted to believe him, as he engaged with her, actually listened to what she had to say, and thought it had merit.
Plus she couldn’t contain her excitement over riding in a limo for the first time. Traveling down the hills of Rio distracted her from doubts. The roads were packed with revelers.
“What’s going on?” said Samba.
Noah glanced at his phone.
“I believe it’s almost Carnival.”
Samba hadn’t realized she’d spent so much time under Jack’s tutelage. She’d spent a good part of the year ensconced in darkness. Now she looked upon the bright and vibrant city with the same awe as when she first arrived.
Winding through busy streets, it reached their destination in the heart of the city.
The limo stopped in front of a posh boutique. Posing mannequins wearing hip, daring clothes stood silently at their repose. At their arrival, the front doors opened and two women came out to greet them. Tiny got out first, holding the door open for them. Noah stepped out, then turned back towards her. He reached inside and grasped Samba’s hand, helping her step out onto the sidewalk.
Samba looked around at her upscale surroundings.
“This is Ipanema,” she said.
“Welcome to the high life,” said Noah.
Inside the store the walls filled with bold, expensive fashions, clothes that Samba had only seen on television. She noticed the only people in the store besides them were the employees, who quickly rushed over to her and began obsessing over her with clothing from the racks.
“I have booked out this entire place, just for you,” said Noah.
Samba twirled for the mirrors, a long black dress following a second behind her. It was the third dress she’d tried on, after a strange blue dress with a massive hat that looked like material had been cut from paper, and an outfit made entirely from leather.
Noah surprisingly chose the best items.
“You may think me an old fogie, but I do have some experience with women’s clothes,” he said.
Samba looked at him sideways.
“Well now,” she said. “How much experience? I won’t judge.”
“That’s not…I meant…”
Samba laughed, the first time she’d truly let her guard down in front of him. Noah smiled.
She convinced him to try some outfits. The first choice consisted of tight jean pants, a plaid shirt, and fedora. It made him hot and uncomfortable. There was no second outfit.
Leaving with her chosen dress, Samba donned new sunglasses and scarf to their next stop at a nearby barista.
“What would you like?” asked the waitress.
Samba looked at Noah. He motioned as to say anything she wanted.
“Mocha whipped, chocolate-chip, with extra foamy cream, covered in caramel.”
“That’s…quite an order,” said Noah.
“And you sir?”
Samba and Tiny stared at him.
“And one lump of sugar.”
“Cappuccino,” said Tiny.
As the waitress brought their orders, Samba got a chuckle as Tiny attempted to grasp the tiny cup between his giant fingers.
They marched down the boulevards, stopping at every store Samba desired. Noah never objected. He spared no expense for his new ward. They listened to Reggaeton albums, picked up earrings and jewelry bands, and browsed the various art stands.
The only thing Noah didn’t care for was hauling the bags. Tiny carried them all without issue. Even loaded to bear by several boxes stacked high, the smile never left his face.
The last stop on their whirlwind tour was the hairdresser. Noah chose to stand outside, conducting business on his phone.
Tiny sat next to her, receiving a manicure.
“This is the happiest I’ve seen him,” the man said suddenly.
“Excuse me?” Samba said.
Outside, Noah yelled at some unseen person.
“It has been a long time since the Master smiled,” Tiny continued. “He has been so consumed by his work. They say, ‘empty is the nest, so is the soul’.”
Samba felt moved.
“That’s very provocative, Tiny. You seem like a very spiritual person.”
“Are you going to eat the leftover queijo?” he interrupted.
“Uh, no. You can have it,” she said.
Samba couldn’t help but smirk.
“You’ve got a very weird inner garden. I like it.”
They both chuckled.
As she sat, the stylist teasing with her hair, a new feeling came over Samba. Either because of the attention being lavished on her, or getting everything she wanted, it was a feeling of enjoyment, but also a twinge of guilt.
On the ride home, Samba looked out the window. She watched the lights of the city come to life as the sun set behind the mountains.
Looking over at Noah, he smiled at her, then turned his attention to an old book he’d found. Across from them, Tiny sprawled out across the back seat, snoring loudly.
Samba tried to understand how she felt about this scene. She kept drifting back to a single word. She’d been hesitant to say it.
The limo braked suddenly, jolting it’s occupants. Tiny rolled off the couch, landing face down on the limo floor. Unfazed, he continued to snore.
Noah knocked on the driver’s window.
“What’s going on?”
The window rolled down. Samba noticed the driver wore the same uniform as the rest. Even at night, he donned a black suit and sunglasses.
“There’s a protest up ahead, Master. We’ll be moving shortly.”
The limo began moving forward. Samba watched as they passed a group shouting angrily. Law enforcement officers stood across from them.
“What are they protesting,” she said.
Noah frowned at the proceedings as they passed.
“They’re knocking down an old housing building. Pushing the residents out to get ready for an international sporting event, with money the people will never benefit from.”
Samba’s doubts began to creep back. Weren’t they traveling by the same scene in a limo?
Standing out from the crowd was a displaced family. They did not join in the shouting. They huddled together, faces lowered. All except the young daughter.
As the limo passed, she and Samba met eyes. The girl had a fire raging behind them. She couldn’t have been older than five.