If one thing can be said about Flavio is that he always keeps his word. Meeting him was the best thing that happened to us since our escape from the orphanage. A couple of days after the police chase incident, we returned to the eastern part of the city looking for him.
It wasn’t difficult at all to find him. We only had to ask after him once. It seemed that Flavio was quite famous among the area’s population. The people we asked pointed us towards the area center, where a bizarre half-glass, half wood and metal, multi store building stood, surrounded by blooming gardens.
Our arrival there drew the attention of the locals. Curious faces appeared behind half drawn curtains; people slowed their walking down just so they can have a look at us; and the children, who had no need to keep up appearances ran wildly around us, yelling and laughing and pointing and asking what our business was with Flavio.
“These are my new friends!”, Flavio shouted at the audience that had gathered outside his residence. Or rather his gang’s headquarters ―as he loved to describe it.
Somebody had notified him of our arrival and he was waiting by the entrance to welcome us.
“Let it be known that from now on they are under my protection! Whoever messes with them, messes with me!”
His countenance was serious and threatening. People just nodded and hurried away. But when he turned to us, he was wearing his mischievous smile again, and he didn’t look threatening at all.
Flavio was a dark skinned, skinny but strong young man. Some could say he was handsome. A Latino with Japanese eyes. His hear his tattoo in most uncovered skin one could see gave him an edge. One was sure just by looking at him that he was a tough cookie, a guy that meant trouble. But his gaze was straight, and this always meant honesty, and strength.
“I was beginning to fear you might not show up at all.” Flavio said smilling.
He shook hands with Alex and me.
“You must be Max”, he said.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you”.
“Nice to meet you too, sir.”
At the sound of the word sir, Flavio burst out laughing. He stepped forward and hugged Max’s shoulders.
“Man, nobody has ever called me that before. Do you also have guts like these two? Guys you must be some of the craziest youngsters I ever meet. Do you know what would have happened if they caught you? Have you ever seen their jails from inside? Ha, you are crazy. I give you this. And all that for a complete stranger! What can I say? You deserve my admiration.”
Max was so proud. For a long time we have never listened anything encouraging, any kind of complement, anything that showed that anyone felt something good for us. This was awesome, for once.
“Come on, guys, dinner will be served soon.” Flavio continued.
It was not only Flavio that had put us under his protection. We could now come and go in the area as we pleased. Flavio also gave us food, new clothes, a place to stay and a lot of good advice and support. We accepted those with gratitude, but we refused to take any money no matter how much he insisted. We were determined to make a living on our own and repay him back for all the things he provided us with.
Our new home was an attic in an old building, used by Flavio’s gang as warehouse. It wasn’t much, but it was spacious and warm, and there was even a toilet next to it. And there it was where Alex and Max came up with a new master plan of how to make money.
You see, stealing covered pretty much our daily needs, but it was Max’s rare inclination that turned mastery with gadgets and technology and Alex’s excellent interpersonal skills and increasing net of connections that raised us above poverty. Max cracked codes, modified and altered devices and gadgets according to public demand and then Alex sold them on the black market. It was risky, but the more the risks the more appealing it was to Alex.
“Stealing can only provide us with as much, Phoebs”, he would say every time I tried to reason with him. “I want a better future for us. And we can only assert that if take a few risks every once in a while. We need the money, you know that.”
I would just sigh and he would hug me and kiss me on the brow, grinning widely, as he did every time he knew he would win an argument.
“Trust me, Phoebs. I know what I’m doing”, he’d say.
I did trust him, I do always. And he has never let me down.
Time passed and day by day I would watch Max grow and change and become a little more independent and adventurous, a little happier. It wasn’t that he didn’t miss our parents; it was just that he had finally found a way to be without them. As I had. Alex was our family now and we felt safe with him.
But it was not only Max that was changing; I felt different as well. More mature and sure of myself. I had abandoned all my childish notions and become more grounded and logical – at least I believe so. A necessary trait, especially when having to cope with two boys who loved to be reckless and irrational.
And just as I was changed on the inside, I felt also the need to change on the outside.
…but I will save that story for next time!