For the last year, I have been in competition with an old man in Leblon, but recent events persuaded me to retire from the race. We were the only two regulars who ate our breakfasts at the same small lanchonete—a cafe designed in one of Rio’s quintessential styles. There, we used to fight over sunlit tables.
Outside of the cafe, on the sidewalk, there are a few plastic chairs and wooden tables with two or three waiters milling around them, conversing, smiling, occasionally taking orders. Inside, there is a curved covered countertop overstaffed with a few more employees who loiter and chat and pass food and drink forward. Though many are young, all of them have worked there for more than five years. They are all friends.
Whenever a customer orders, one of the men outside yells past the counter. His voice travels through a window cut out of the interior’s fruit-covered wall to reach the cooks who are hidden from sight except for their down-tilted eyes and noses. After preparing the order, they hand it to one of the employees at the counter, who hands it to one of the waiters outside, and eventually the baton is passed to a person outdoors. It is a happy, relaxed, inefficient system.
In the afternoons, children from a nearby school flood the restaurant. They laugh with a singular Brazilian ease; and although bodies of that age naturally move quickly, I have never seen one in a hurry. For a while I believed that they were without a sense of time, but once I heard a boy scream that he was going to live forever. His words changed my perspective: now, I think that they believe in infinity.