It was in Venice where I first noticed him, in the noisy crowd gathered around a fire juggler. A tall, slim man, in an unusual Plague Doctor mask, red adorned with gold, golden hair cropped short, no brim hat, no long overcoat. Just red nobleman clothes from another time. Renaissance, perhaps. Sheets of fire danced over the dark, stale waters of the small canal; cries and foolish laughter mixed with Vivaldi’s violins. He stood among the crowd, and yet apart. The gold on his clothes seemed real. The fire and his red cape reflected in his eyes. He watched me, as if he could see more than my eyes behind my brilliant larva mask, underneath my elaborate black dress. As if he knew why I sought the night, as if he could see all my secrets.
He left with a woman. A Columbina dressed in green. A random woman, I thought, as I followed them with my eyes, with a pang in my heart, until they disappeared into a darkened alley. She wasn’t his match, I was.
I looked for him at the airport in Rome, when I was boarding the plane to Rio. Why would he have been there? But I could still feel him, watching me.
Stupid, stupid, I thought, asking for another glass of champagne while listening to Alessandro Marcello’s oboes in my earphones. When I fell asleep, he was in my dream.
In Rio, I prepared for him. I painted my skin carefully in bronze and green to match my eyes, my waist-long hair, my scanty suit, the lavish feathers.
Down in the streets, in the colored night, I looked for him again, and for the first time I barely took notice of the wild rhythms of the banda. I danced, of course, only because the visceral beat allowed for nothing else. The floats, the glistening bodies, the sounds, the lights, all swirled around me, dizzying. So many faces, all different, all the same. The surdo was beating right in my ribcage, and this time it annoyed me.
When I saw him on the other side of the street, I knew he too had been looking for me. It couldn’t have been a mere coincidence. It was he, I knew it. Taller than the crowd, and still standing apart. This time, torso bare, lean muscles moving under smooth skin painted silver, white linen pants tied with a rope around narrow hips, gold hair, cropped short, a small, bizarre silver mask that had me think of a cruel jungle god. His beautiful mouth held the hint of a smile. His eyes glinted in the light of torches. Blue. Or green.
A group of dancers pushed in between us with frantic moves, carrying me with them. He was gone by the time I escaped their wave.
Where was he? How much of a coincidence was our encounter? Was he a Carnival chaser as I was? Was he chasing me?
I didn’t notice those men until they were too close. Until their heat, reeking of caipirinha, overwhelmed me. Three of them, no, five. They had bottles in their hands. They had tambourines and bells to keep the rhythm of the batucada; those would have covered my cries even if my mouth hadn’t been too dry. The alley became darker, narrowed by trashcans. The street with the lights and the dancing seemed suddenly, impossibly, far away. And I had left my knife in the hotel room.
That’s when I finally screamed. That’s when something else happened. A blur. A wind.
It was he. I stared at him. We were standing and those men were lying on the ground around us. There might have been some blood. I swayed, my knees almost giving way.
He steadied me, one cool hand digging into my upper left arm. His silver mask resembled the Inca Sun god. Maybe he was a god, after all.
For a moment, he looked at me as if he wanted to tell me something. Then he was simply gone, swift as the evening wind.
I didn’t wash my arm that night in my hotel room. I lay on my right side, with the imprint of his hand in the bronze paint on my skin, and longed for him.
I was in New Orleans for Mardi Gras. Always finished the season in New Orleans.
Where was he? I hadn’t seen him, hadn’t felt him the whole day. The whole night. Maybe he was still in Rio.
Time to go home. Wait for next year’s Carnivals.
Away from Bourbon Street, people were scarcer; with the distance, a plaintive tune of jazz was dying slowly, as if that could ever happen in New Orleans. It was the sax… the sax always broke my heart.
I didn’t hear his steps, I just saw him. We stopped, maybe at an arm length from each other.
No masks this time. I knew it was he. Clad in black, blond hair, face beautiful and savage alike. A prince of the North. He stood one full head taller than I, and I was tall and wearing my highest heels. His eyes – I still couldn’t tell if they were blue or green – held the most unsettling mix of laughter, and promises, and death.
“You were right in Venice,” he said. “You are my match. I have been waiting for you. We are both of the night…”
He didn’t try to hide his teeth when he smiled. His fangs.
But he wasn’t taking. He was asking.
I stepped into his arms.
“Tonight we’ll listen to the music of your blood,” he whispered on my neck, his breathing cool, soothing. “And then we’ll have all the nights…”