The men in the armoured personnel carriers ride through the crowd like knights on horseback. They wave at the women in their tight Lycra tops and the other men wearing their knock-off shirts, brandishing the names of their heroes. Flags in the green, yellow and blue of the visiting saviours hang from skeletal trees, the few not yet felled for fuel.
We bounce past mounds of stinking rubbish, rotting sweet and sickly, in the unseasonal sun. The unpaved streets are punctuated by views of the cobalt Caribbean: a mirage in this lost paradise.
‘Ronaldo, Roberto Carlos, Ronaldinho’, cheer the crowd, names that ricochet in the heavy air and provide the soundtrack where yesterday it was the rat-a-tat tat of gunfire.
Today instead of weapons, the World Cup champions Brazil rule the streets of Port au Prince. They’re here to play a peace match against Haiti’s national football side and we’ve travelled with them from our fancy hotel in the Dominican Republic.
I’m the only female in this swarm of sports reporters, all of them clamouring for the money shot, and when they lift their cameras I know they’ve found it.
One of the footballers raises the trophy. It glints gold in the sun. Their editors would kill for this perfect shot of the World Cup silhouetted against the azure ocean and a sea of impoverished souls.
The people outside the stadium stare from the bullet-riddled breeze blocks, reach their arms, as if he’s descended to earth to save them from their hell. I stare at him too.
Sweat curls my hair and toes, drips down my neck. My white t-shirt sticks to my back. All the journalists were given one to wear, as if we too should be branded by the colonial conquerors. The perspiration pools in my bra and I wonder if one of the footballers’ inky signatures might seep through the fabric and tattoo my skin.
I wonder how long the other scars will last.
I taste his tongue in my mouth, hear his fingers tearing my skirt, feel the bruises where he grabbed my breasts. But I don’t recognise him from the darkness of the hotel corridor last night.
Now I scan the football pitch, the famous faces whose names all good journalists can reel off. Not me. Not now. Is that him? Or that? Could that be? No. I look to the stands where the rich have bagged most of the seats. Outside the stadium, peacekeepers hold back the poor.
It’s hotter than hell here, but I freeze again. I can’t find the right face or words.
My recorder is rolling. The final whistle blows. The visiting heroes have won by six goals to nil.