December of 1984.
Not a single cloud marred the skyline that noon summer day in Sao Paolo, but there was rain.
The favelados called it a Chuva Imaculada. They said the rain was born out of God’s own eyes. They said it was a gift from Heaven, that each drop contained a tiny miracle within it.
The first of these miracles was claimed by Jose Carlos. For the first time in over a decade, the 95-year-old was able to bend his knees and kiss the muddy ground, even though his legs had long been rigid with arthritis. The entire street knew of Mr. Carlos’s condition and they all rushed to help him up, thinking he was in serious pain or dying. When they came up to him, they saw his face contorted in what they thought was pain. “Mary is crying for us,” he said. “The dead are weeping with forgiveness. I can finally die in peace.”
You see, forgiveness was the most important thing to Jose Carlos. When he was a young man, he did not lead a Godly life. He ran a bootleg operation in the 1920s, but there were also rumors in the favela about his involvement with crime lords, that he became one of their collectors and did unspeakable things to people just as poor as he is now. Jose Carlos never thought that God would offer a true miracle to the favela before he died, and certainly not one for him.
“The dead are weeping!” Jose Carlos sobbed. The rain and his own tears mixed and crept into the corners of his smile.
On the lower end of the favela, little Davi splashed his bare feet under the warm trickle of dirty water from the gutters above, unaware that his parents inside were making love after having a terrible fight over a broken dish. He splashed through the streets, shouting to the windows above. “It’s raining!” he shouted then found a big puddle to jump into.
The twins, Maria and Mariana, laughed infectiously as Maria fried plantains and Mariana sewed up her child’s torn pants. He had been playing with the older boys again and she was worried he was going to fall in with the wrong crowd. The sisters had always had an uneasy relationship since childhood. Mariana was the more extroverted one and the favorite of their mother. Maria resented her for never offering the spotlight, even though she knew it was not Mariana’s fault. Today, however, they both laughed so hard they cried. Maria’s tears sizzled and evaporated when they hit the pain.
The bare-chested men practicing capoeira at the beach stopped to squint at the rain falling from the sun. When the rain dried, the capoeiristas at the bottom of the hill began their furious dance again, refreshed. Their lightning feet struck the air, kicking out rainbows over the hillside.
On that morning, the favelados claimed that all sins had been washed away, that they were given another chance. They danced in the evening until their legs were no longer good for standing, and even then, many would just lay down where they were to laugh and shout at the sky and those still strong enough to keep dancing.
When they woke up again the next morning, life resumed much as it always had. And yet, the people’s eyes shone a different hue. Though they were once the abused eyes of the desperate, a lingering exuberance shone instead.
People often talked about the miracle rain from that day on. They passed the stories on to their children, too, about joyful tears that cleansed the favela one cloudless day.