The Young and the Ketchup

There’s a great expression that people use in Brazil whenever they hear a story that seems too over-the-top to be true (which is surprisingly often in Brazil): “é coisa de novela.” (literal translation: “it’s something from a soap opera”).

Coisa de novela” is not only a testament to the prevalence of soaps in Brazilian culture (novelas are broadcast every night, on all major channels, from Monday through Saturday), but it’s also a reflection of the fact that in Brazil, life often imitates soaps. One need only turn on the TV, open a newspaper, or eavesdrop on any lively bar conversation to confirm this veracity. Yet, for suds of the highest order, a story that was making the rounds this week – in the international as well as Brazilian media – takes the cake (or rather, the sauce).

What happened is a sordid tale containing all the ingredients of a classic soap: jealousy, intrigue, murder, and a surprising twist so unbelievably farfetched that it strains credibility.

What makes me especially proud is that the whole saga went down in my neck of the woods; in Pindobaçu, a small town in the interior of Bahia, some 250 miles from my adopted hometown of Salvador.

It all started in June when Maria Nilza Simões, a Pindobaçu housewife, hired Carlos Roberto de Jesus, an unemployed ex-con, to do away with a woman named Erenildes Aguiar Araújo, known by most people in town by the soap-worthy nickname of Lupita.

Maria Nilza claimed that Lupita was having an affair with her husband and she offered Carlos Roberto R$1,000 (roughly US$ 550) to get rid of her adversary.

The day of the murder was to be June 24 and all was going according to plan until the hitman-to-be came face-to-face with his target – only to discover that she was an old childhood friend. Unable to kill a pal, Carlos Roberto confided in Lupita and together the two devised the perfect murder – using ketchup.

Brandishing two bottles of this trusty condiment, Carlos Roberto and Lupita headed to the bush where they staged a mock murder. After being gagged and having her blouse ripped, Lupita was covered in ketchup and arranged on the ground with a threatening machete planted next to her armpit. Carlos Roberto proceeded to take pictures of the victim on his cell phone as “proof” that he’d really done the dirty deed.

Pleased with Carlos Roberto’s handiwork, Maria Nilza paid up and was feeling quite victorious until she went to the municipal market a few days later and was stunned to see her hitman in the throes of a warm embrace with none other than the murder victim!

Livid, she went straight to the police station and denounced Carlos Roberto as a thief. When the police subsequently hauled him in for questioning and discovered the real story, they were stunned. “In eight years of service I have never heard anything like this, and we hear a lot of stories,” the police chief told Salvador’s Correio da Bahia newspaper.

The rest of Brazil – and the world – heard the story this week when the (laughably unconvincing) assassination photo of a ketchup-doused Lupita made the rounds of newspapers and blogs.

Meanwhile, like any good soap narrative, this saga seemingly still has a lot of suds to be squeezed out of it. While the three protagonists await their day in court – Maria Nilza for issuing death threats; Carlos Roberto and Lupita (who received a R$240 cut for her participation) for extortion – their attempts to return to normal life have been in vain.

While Carlos Roberto skipped town, the villainous Maria Nilza faces public humiliation for having been taken in by such obvious fakery. “How could she not notice that the machete was stuck into (Lupita’s) armpit?” indignant shopkeeper, Vera Márcia de Araújo, told the Correio. “Now the whole town is laughing in her face.”

Meanwhile the heroine in this whole affair is Lupita – now fondly known by all the town’s residents as “Mulher Ketchup” (“Ketchup Woman”) – who, in a baroque (and confusing) plot twist, told the Correio that “the cobra” (aka Maria Nilza) was actually having an affair with her husband (his breaking off the affair was what drove Maria Nilza to murder).

The town’s biggest celebrity ever, Mulher Ketchup is so popular that cars honk at her and passing school buses filled with kids stop and cheer. Even the mayor is thrilled, stating that the media surrounding the episode has been “positive” in that it has shone a spotlight upon the previously unknown Pindobaçu. He even suggested that Lupita would make a great candidate for municipal office. She already has the support of local radio-show host, Walterly Kuhn, who was responsible for breaking the fake murder story in the first place. “People here are fed up with the present team at city hall,” Kuhn told the Correio. “Why not get some ketchup in there?”

In the meantime, stay tuned for the next episode in which Mulher Ketchup’s husband, jealous over the embrace she supposedly shared with Carlos Roberto, trashes her bedroom, sets her clothes on fire, and walks out on her in a furious rage…


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