"Rafael! He'll hear you!"
He barks tenuously at the parakeet that sits on the edge of the concrete roof of the pandaria.
The bird has a teal set of feathers with a pink chest that slips down to its feet.
"Ei! Saia daqui!" the shop owner yells from the steps up the alley. "Go! Leave before I call la polìcia!"
I grab the half-eaten apple that I see glowing on top of the trash that piles in the garbage I stand in front of.
"Não senhor! Rafael, vamos!"
Rafael growls at the bird one more time before he dashes after me, already at the end of the alley.
We run until we get to the street sign that marks the entrance to my own oasis.
I crawl beneath the brush that lines a brick wall.
"Rafael, go first." He paws his way through the hole I made at the base of the wall.
On the other side of the wall, a canal that gets filled every Sunday night from la Rio Sarapui. I've been coming here since I ran away from my father - a drunk who couldn't have told the difference between his daughter and a punching bag.
I sit as close to the canal as I can. The water brims the soil at my feet, clutching onto the land like it depended on it.
I watch the water as it rushes past me. Rafael spots a colorful fish that swims by. It has vibrant green scales that gleam yellow in the city lights of Rio.
The city glows on the other side of the mountain in front of me. The Christo Redentor overlooks the bay that echoes with music from the Carnaval celebrations.
"We don't need those feathered show girl parades, huh Rafael?"
He looks at me with one ear perked and the other flopping down. He's a brown mutt. I'm not sure what type of mix he is, but I found him in a rat cage by a grocery store and he's been at my side since.
Today is my ninth birthday.
"Cheers," I say. I bite the apple then break off a piece for him. He barely chews it.
After a few minutes, he curls up next to me and falls asleep. The swirling water has come to a stop.
This is what I wait for.
With the city far enough away and no streetlights on this side of the wall, the canal becomes a mirror. The water glasses over and, when the sky is clear, I can see the heavens.
The reflections of millions of twinkling stars like fire flies, dancing just above the waterline.
I stare at them in awe. How deeply I want to touch them, fly with them, enjoy riches with them...
The water is as close as a girl from the slums of Rio can get to the heavens.
I begin humming a lullaby my mother would sing to me when my father would finally fall asleep....pass out I should say.
La la na nanita na na la nita na na la nita heya
She used to tell me stories of how the most loving of people didn't go to heaven. God had a place better for them, where they could watch over the world when he was busy - that place was the stars.
She would tell me about the wonders they'd do and the kindesses that they'd share with the world.
I guess the truth is that I hope to see her face reflected in the stars one of these nights.
Tears slip from my face into the canal.
I sit here crying, by the stars in the canal, until my voice fades and the lullaby ends....
I wake up a few minutes later.
The water catches my attention when I see ripples expanding from the center of the canal.
I peer in. Among the reflected stars, one glows over the others.
I look up to see if the star is real. The orb is not being reflected - it is in the water.
I reach for it.
The grassy soil beneath my palm breaks and I fall into the canal.
She fell into the water before I had time to react.
The music from Carnaval grows louder.
The ripples of the water slow to a halt and the water becomes glass again.
The sky above me becomes brighter than before.
I look up and see her, etched in the galaxies above.
I howl at her image.
The girl who'd cared for me since I was a pup has gone and yet I feel as if this is the first time I truly know her.
I sit here alone, howling at the image that depicts a little girl and her mother, reflected in the starry canal.