FORBIDDEN DIVES

They area a gang of kids and teenagers who live off what they can get on the city streets during the day, collecting money by shining shoes, doing errands, or simply begging at stoplights. Most of them live in neighborhoods far away from the city center, but at the end of the day they gather at the waterfront to share the best stories of the day, to try to catch some fish with a hook and line, or simply to have fun, bathing in the protected waters of the bay and performing acrobatic dives.

Bathing is forbidden on this waterfront, but the gang is not intimidated by the onslaught of police who regularly patrol the area. Hiding or cleverly evading the cops is part of their usual routine and daily enjoyment. Ever vigilant, they raise the alert when police rounds are detected from a distance and take refuge behind bridges and trees or simply swim into the bay, where they wait patiently for danger to get tired of waiting and go away.

As soon as they arrive, they hide the pieces of clothing that cover their bodies and their worn-out slippers in holes or recesses in the bridges, before launching themselves into the water. Those who shine shoes are less fortunate; they carry rudimentary wooden boxes where they keep their cans of shoe polish, their worn-out brushes, and the rags they use to clean shoes. They call them "tocas", named for the noise they make when they hit the boxes with their brushes to announce their presence on the city streets and gain customers. The "tocas" do not fit in any hole, have to be left under bridges, and cannot be let out of sight by the owners.

The beauty of this waterfront, used by many for sports or leisure walks, and an almost mandatory setting for wedding photos, conceals the sad reality of the pollution caused by most of the city's sewage that is discharged here, in the open air and without any treatment. It is precisely at the top of the sewer mouths, higher above the waterline, that is chosen as the preferred ramp for dives. They know the tides and wait for the moments when there is enough water height to practice the most acrobatic dives.

Most of them bear wound marks on their bodies, some of them earned here when they encountered rocks at the bottom of the bay or scraped on the rough walls of sewer pipe mouths while diving, or simply when they were running away from the police on insane runs.

Over and over again, they dive, swim, and play in the water. The adults they prematurely became by having to survive on the city streets, disappear here, in these waters. The smiles, the jokes, and the joyful looks of children who still really are, come out now, naked, sincere, and pure.

When they get tired of playing in the water, they lie down on the ground heated by the sun that has just set on the horizon to dry off. Others, still strong enough, continue to practice acrobatic jumps on land, as if they were in some kind of gymnastics competition.

The end of the day and the arrival of night arrive rapidly at this latitude, that is the signal for them to go get the dry clothes kept in the holes that only they know and start the long walk back to the houses where they will sleep. Some of them are not lucky enough to return to a home, they have to wander back into the murky streets of the city where they take refuge in porches, abandoned cars, or ruins of houses where they spend the nights. When they wake up tomorrow, they will all be back on the streets again, scrounging for any odd jobs to get some food or change, until the time comes for what they are most looking forward to: the forbidden dives.