Chapter 1: The Butterfly
It was a hot day. But then, it’s most always a hot day in Brazil.
The sun shines through whatever measly clouds attempt to defend the people on the ground when they even deem to show up, and on that summer day, none could muster up the courage.
People are braver things, however.
With arms and legs mostly bare, and some even sick enough to wear thin jackets, the residents walked around Liberty Avenue like they were part of a bustling metropolis. Mostly because they were.
Something that was still palpably shocking to Aiko, even after so many years of life in São Paulo, was how motorcycles navigated through people in a way even cyclists would never dare back in her home country of Japan.
It had been an endeavor, getting used to the more chaotic lifestyle of the country, not to say violent. However, at least there was passion.
People screaming, losing their tempers, cursing wildly at all hours of the day. Her parents would say it wasn’t civilized, but in Aiko’s opinion, too much civilization can be dehumanizing.
Aiko appreciated the sincerity, much as it had taken her a long time to get used to the loud voices and learn they didn’t necessarily imply impending violence.
Even though her husband could well afford to hire people to buy groceries, and even cook them, Aiko had always preferred to do it herself. Being the woman of the house and taking care of everything herself was her own bit of traditional tendency that she felt no need to discard. Initially, it had helped her to get acquainted with the language and costumes, but even after she no longer needed that, Aiko still appreciated doing the footwork herself.
Aiko’s first and everlasting impression was that the people of Brazil laughed a lot. They spent most of their time laughing and joking around. She really loved that.
“So I told her neither. Not intelligent women and not beautiful women, I only have eyes for you!” Tércio said, snickering while he packaged a few steaks for her. Aiko laughed along, much less politely than her parents would approve.
“You really like that couch, is that?” Aiko asked, teasing and while taking the plastic bag with her bought meat. The man laughed.
“Damn, it’s way more comfortable, you got no idea!” He joked along, slightly gesturing farewell at her as she stepped aside to let the next person in line step forward.
“Oh, Mr. Capacho!”
“It’s Capaz,” the man commented with a frown.
“I’m capaz, alright. HA!”
Capaz meant capable. Much like with Japanese names, names around there were sometimes straight out of the dictionary, if they weren’t absolutely foreign. It was odd how that happened even with family names.
However, it was a fact that there was a lot of generational and cultural mixture in the city. For many reasons, that was also why Aiko was there in the first place. A lot of Japanese live in Brazil, and they’ve been doing so as far back as three generations, if not more.
Aiko greeted her way out of the supermarket and into the garage. She put the plastic bags full of food and drinks, especially drinks, into the trunk and then got into the driver’s seat. The engine growled satisfactorily, which was good. She had had to deal with a mechanic two years ago, and the experience had been so awful she still worried every time she turned on the engine.
Aiko drove out of the mall, intending to go home.
It was a reasonable expectation. She had gone through that day countless times before. Things were different lately, having a son transformed routines into a lovable kind of chaos and unexpected surprises, but going shopping for food had been the same experience day in and day out for years.
That day, it was different. While waiting on a traffic signal, Aiko witnessed a robbery. It wasn’t uncommon, unfortunately, especially where tourists were concerned.
The ill-dressed man ran up on some pale ogle-eyed European and socked him across the head. In the middle of the dizziness, the burglar grabbed hold of the poor idiot’s Kindle reader and ran off.
He was, of course, brandishing a gun so nobody would try to stop him.
Laws usually worked in Japan, but sometimes it felt like laws in Brazil only really affected people who wouldn’t break them in the first place even if they were unwritten.
This wasn’t the part that affected Aiko’s life, not directly. His escape took him through a crowd of people who had just stopped at a red sign, leading to the walkway she was about to be green-lit to cross, and he nearly ran over a couple of people there.
Among them was Rita.
They all fell, dropping their stuff, yelling and screaming, a minute commotion in a city of constant noise and energy. The people around reacted, including her.
Ignoring the violent honking behind her, Aiko pulled the car to the side a bit–she knew if she left it in the middle of the road, the drivers behind her would just smash through–and quickly got out to be one of the few people who acted to help those who were roughed up.
Rita was a sweaty mess of a thing, with dark circles around her eyes and disheveled graying hair that would otherwise be curly and golden.
Still, she was Brazilian, she greeted the assistance with a laugh.
“There we go,” Aiko said, helping Rita up.
“Son of a bitch foreigner,” Rita complained amidst self-deprecating laughter. Then, once on firm feet, she yelled at him, “can’t just walk around here carrying that kind of crap, you idiot!”
The poor guy didn’t understand Portuguese and was confused by someone who stopped him from chasing the thief. He didn’t understand how his life was being saved.
“Thank you,” Rita said to Aiko, “gringo bitches should learn from each other,” she said, again laughing. “Ah, what a mess, look at my oranges.”
Aiko did so, finding them on the ground all messed up. She started helping Rita pick up what was left.
“I’m Rita, by the way,” Rita said, holding the bag open so Aiko could put some more stuff in it. “Sorry about yelling,” she added.
“No, no problem,” Aiko said, “it looks like all your fruit got ruined. Oh wait, the banan–”
Aiko was interrupted as a biker sped past them, squashing a pack of bananas beneath the wheels. The fruit got spat at Aiko’s face to the sounds of other people yelling at the biker. One couldn’t forget it wasn’t just the two, there was roundabout a dozen people still helping each other.
Aiko looked at Rita who was looking at her in shock.
“I’m so sorry,” Rita said, half laughing. Aiko wasn’t sure if she was apologizing for laughing but it didn’t matter because Aiko started laughing as well.
“My name is Aiko,” she said, unable to not give the woman a little bow, “oh sorry.”
“For what? Helping me? Ah, can you believe this shit?” Rita complained while looking down at what remained of her three shopping bags. “Now I gotta go back. I mean, my kids already eat nothing but shit, I really want them to have some kind’a fruit.”
Aiko smiled, willing to help. She also needed to move since leaving the car unattended for three minutes was already making her feel paranoid. It was even making other people feel paranoid on her behalf.
“Lady, your car,” some stranger called out.
In the end, Aiko gave Rita a ride back to the shopping and then to her place. Aiko was fortunate to live in the richer part of the city. Her house was big, it had a fence and a doorman who checked everyone going in and out. Such was not Rita’s case.
The woman had a life most definitely aligned with how she looked. Aiko had enormous respect for a woman such as her, and as they talked the day away, she gained a strong liking to her as well.
Rita was a strong woman. A single mother of three working several jobs, and even though it was clear Aiko lived a comfortable stay-at-home-wife life, Rita didn’t seem to hold it against her.
“That was my plan too, you know?” Rita explained, joking around, “I wanted to marry some rich dumb guy, too! But the majority of those dogs don’t even care if they get you pregnant, you know? It’s actually just one more reason to get out of there even faster!”
Rita joked about it a lot, in the middle of yelling at her kids to behave. The two became good friends pretty quickly and, pretty soon, Aiko was offering to babysit one of her children, on account of him being the same age as her own son and so that Rita didn’t have to spend money on daycare or babysitting.
Rita was so busy all the time, and not very trusting of her community. For those reasons, having somewhere to drop at least one of her kids was an offer too good to pass up.
They talked about it in a more serious tone, which was one of the events where Aiko was so impressed by Rita.
“It just worried me he’ll think he’s better than his brothers,” Rita explained about her son, “or that his brothers think he’s better than them. Or that he’ll blame me for not having such a nice house.”
“I worry he’s going to steal from me,” Aiko said flatly.
Rita glared at her, and Aiko just smirked back with a suggestive blink that made Rita laugh out loud. That was another thing they liked about each other, they seemed to have the same sense of humor.
“I cannot know what will happen,” Aiko said, after calming down, “maybe our boys don’t even get along all that well. But if they do, all the better. I just want to help you in some way, and since you didn’t even let me pay for your groceries that day we met–”
“Yes, I know, my dad always said I was a hard woman to deal with it. Even to help,” Rita nodded, “I should…yeah, I guess letting Rivaldo stay for a few days. It’ll be better than being around here, I think. I think that’s a good baby step for me.”
“Anything can be good, anything can be bad,” Aiko said, smiling and shrugging, “all we do is try.”
Rita laughed, a bit awkwardly. “What kinda…what kinda shit is that to say?!” She laughed even more. “Why do you do this to me?!”
The butterfly effect is a common concept. A butterfly does a wing flap, and some time later, half-way across the world, a tornado gains momentum. Unforeseen consequences are one thing but what people don’t consider enough is how bad consequences don’t necessarily follow good actions, and how these consequences can sometimes come at a much later time. And at the end of it all, people don’t consider how that one butterfly might have been flying amidst a dozen others, all of them flapping along, considered insignificant by nature and the laws of physics that deal with causality.
How to tell which was the cause?
There were half a dozen people pushed down by that burglar that day, in a random street walk Aiko would not have been on if the line to buy the steaks had a person less, or more. If the cashier had taken another minute doing the math on her change, or if Júlio hadn’t overslept, which put him in the car behind her instead of in her place.
Out of all of those affected, Aiko picked Rita. Or was drawn to Rita.
In a way, that decision would define Nino’s life more than any other.
These are journal entries from the protagonist of the comic book Aegis Omega. If you’re not familiar with the story, I invite you to change that and read up on it: