Argentina, an ex country. Brazil, the biggest of the non countries. Uruguay? Who knows? The only thing Uruguay has proved is that it's impossible for a country to sink. Ok! They also fight duels there. Paraguay? Good grief, that's the place where people who know better never fail to show up at daybreak to celebrate the birthday of General Alfredo Stroessner, dean of the Latin American strongmen. It's one of the gayest days in Asunción; combos play polkas and guaranias while "friends" embrace the dictator and shower him with gifts. Perú...
I heard a door slam, hurried steps and suddenly there was Alberes, the office driver, jabbering, insisting I look at a crazy picture in an afternoon paper he thrust at me.
He snapped me out of my black humor reverie. I had been musing to myself, as I tended to do during the brief times I got stuck in the office, a deadly thing for me.
"What is it, Alberes?"
Ugh, I thought as he handed me the paper. "Alberes, what the hell is so great about a stomach?"
Well, that stomach turned out to be a great story. It belonged to a peculiar kind of champ out in Bangu, 17 year old Luis Roberto Costa, and by the time the week was over he was a hero to the tiny sports loving world of Rua Lacombe Jacobino in Vila Kennedy. No one had ever done with marbles what he did. Today he is known the length and breadth of the neighborhood as "Luis das Bolas."
It all started when Dona María de Luz Padua called him over to baby sit. Luis, after lulling the crying baby to sleep, became intrigued with a game of marbles outside the window.
"Do you want me to swallow it?" he asked one of the young boys playing, as he took a bola de gude and held it up to his mouth. Faced with a doubting look, Luis took the marble and placed it in his mouth. The player was not convinced and suspecting Luis had hidden the marble under his tongue, reached up to fish for it. Luis saw no way out of his magic trick. He swallowed the marble.
His feat was a huge success. Other kids came up, and marbles of all colors began to appear. Some new, some beaten up, some very beautiful and worth five ordinary ones on the marble players' market. Luis gave them all the same treatment. He wiped off the rough ones and wet them before gulping them down, swallowed the smooth, shiny new ones dry.
The news spread and the kids from other streets came. The surprised and excited kids jumped and clapped their hands. A vibrant chorus rang out after each marble disappeared down Luis' throat, and the roar of the gang became a heady and irresistible chant: "Five, 10, 16..." Luis' prowess increased. Just arrived doubting Toms led the boy to ask for three and four marbles at a time, until he finished the stock on his street. From there, Luis—his stomach clinking—and his followers moved over to Rua Zequinha de Abreu. A new crowd gathered there, and the number of marbles swallowed began to be shouted by dozens of kids. For six hours, before a crowd that got bigger and bigger, Luis had to demonstrate to the children that surrounded him that he was not lying, that he was really swallowing marbles. By then each additional marble was producing a rare tinkling in his stomach as it bounced to its final resting place. "Twenty nine, 30... 37, 38," rang the cries of the admiring throng.
His mouth dry, Luis decided to go after a drink of water. He began to have serious doubts about the jingling noise in his heavy stomach as he ran, followed by his screaming horde of admirers. He asked for a glass of water at a small restaurant, where a customer drinking beer was amazed on hearing the kids' tale. He didn't like the look of Luis' stomach and the strange tintinnabulation that came from within when Luis walked. The man shooed the admirers home. Tiny Vania was unhappy. She couldn't get back her five marbles. She cried as Luis was taken off to Padre Oliverio Kraemer Hospital in Bangu.
Doctor Marli Serzedle found Luis calm. Luis told her he felt nothing. An X ray picture of his stomach showed the marbles clearly, and a count showed the kids were right. The marbles added up to 38. Luis' case awakened a lively interest among the hospital's doctors. His was an unheard of case. Calm, as though nothing had happened, Luis said, "Maybe now someone will give me a job." Luis became a celebrity. The papers ran his picture. O Globo even carried the X ray plate clearly showing all 38 marbles along with a mug shot of Luis on Page One. By the time Luis reached the hospital he had risked danger 38 times: each time a marble passed from his esophagus into his stomach. In the hospital he faced danger again every time a marble negotiated its way from the pylorus into the small intestine. The doctors gave Luis special food and watched the marbles move downward. There was a possibility things might go wrong and that they would have to operate. After several days, X rays showed all of the marbles had reached the large intestine, and some were already in Indian file ready to be expelled. Next day they were all out and Luis went home.
But his clamoring fans came back and Luis, now a neighborhood celebrity, couldn't let them down. On the following Saturday he decided to break his own record and after passing the 38 mark thought he could reach 100. He didn't make it. "I felt slightly indisposed," said Luis when he reached 50. The marbles weighed heavily in his stomach, ground and clinked with his every movement. Back to the hospital.
"The first time, he swallowed 38 marbles, and the second 50," said Dr. Mozart de Araujo Padilha, director of the hospital. "They are colored and quite beautiful. We have all of them here. A complete X ray sequence was made. Luis was given anti spasmodics and special mushy food. The marbles were weighing heavily, but fortunately he expelled them all."
Luis continued being a celebrity in the hospital. His two room companions asked the nurse: "How many bolinhas did he lay today?" The question was repeated throughout the hospital until Luis passed them all.
Then his stepfather came and took Luis home.