I WAS OUT FOR A Sunday-afternoon run along the big river, lost in tropical reveries. My family and I had just begun a year abroad in the old Portuguese-era town of Penedo, in northeastern Brazil, with hopes of shedding the overscheduled regimen of contemporary American life and sinking into the region’s slow pace. The graceful, sweeping Rio São Francisco was part of what had drawn us here, and two weeks in, Penedo, population 30,000 or so, had held true to its laid-back promise.
That, however, was all about to change.
“Pi-tah!” a man shouted as I jogged back into town across the riverfront plaza.
He ran toward me with arms raised. It was Darlan, a young guy who cleared tables and macheted coconuts at a riverfront café called Churrascaria do Gordo—the Fat Man’s Barbecue Joint—where I’d been watching World Cup soccer games.
“É seu filho,” Darlan said hurriedly when he caught up. I knew just enough Portuguese to understand him.
“It’s your son. He fell and hit his head. You should go to the hotel immediately.”
My wife, Amy, 16-year-old daughter, Molly, 12-year-old son, Skyler, and I were staying in the third-floor rooms of the Pousada Colonial, a local guesthouse, while we looked for a home to rent. I started to walk toward the guesthouse at the plaza’s far end, thinking Darlan had exaggerated the drama to highlight his helpfulness.
“Corra!” Darlan shouted after me. Run!