Página número um - sobre o alto da página, soando como ameaça. O escritor se repreende, vamos, é hora de começar. Também a ocasião de uma ironia travessa, demasiado óbvia embora ele por um momento possa se considerar esperto por isso: não sabendo como iniciar a obra, o escritor vinga-se de seu bloqueio criativo elegendo-o como tema.
Então não vamos falar de nada, e não quero ninguém depois reclamando que o que leu não tinha assunto nenhum. Mas qual a real importância de algo ter sentido? Palavras, gestos, ruas têm sentido, mas a maioria das coisas nesta vida não tem sentido nenhum. Então Deus deve ser tudo, jardineiro, polícia, professor, modelo fotográfico, tudo menos escritor: as coisas que faz não precisam senão existir, tenham ou não razão de ser, existir consiste em não precisar ter sentido.
Não fosse essa ressalva, havia que dar algum prazer ao escrivinhador brincar de Deus... Mas o leitor espera beleza e sentido no que lê, enquanto as obras do demiurgo raramente exibem esses atributos. E quando o fazem, temos então plena razão em falarmos em milagre.
Mas há ainda o vazio inescapável da página um e prosseguindo na metáfora da criação divina "ex nihilo", um Deus minimamente responsável tentará criar o melhor dos mundos possíveis. E o melhor romance ou livro de contos ou a grande coleta de poesia possíveis? pierres menards como nós continuarão tentando escrever essa obra arquetípica, a um tempo irreal pois irrealizável, a outro mais real que qualquer outra coisa que já tenhamos de fato lido ou escrito, uma vez que é essa quimera o que nos instiga a prosseguir preenchendo páginas um ou abrindo um livro numa delas.
Ler, por sua vez, requer um grande investimento de tempo, e por isso ler é cada vez mais difícil nestes dias. Já ouviu falar em "novelblank"? É como se diz quando você chega ao fim de um romance de 500 páginas e já não lembra do que aconteceu até a página 490. Dissem que para a pessoa média, sete dias depois da conclusão de um romance, o "novelblackout" é total. Então todo aquele tempo lendo o livrão foi jogado no lixo, e é melhor mesmo você se ater às informações sobre ele contidas na à sinopse da Wikipedia.
Com um livro breve de contos, penso que o mesmo não ocorrerá: nem o volume de informação é tão grande que ultrapasse nossa capacidade de retenção, nem o tempo dispendido será tão longo para que, sobrevindo a desmemória, se tenha perdido muita coisa. Então me veio a idéia: tenho sete contos a meio escritos, se os completo em sete dias terei um livro composto de sete peças para o leitor ler à razão de um por dia, até que, chegado ao fim, terá lido meu livrinho em uma semana, sem hercúleos esforços.
Resta saber se será possível reescrever tanta coisa em um período tão curto. O Kerouak conseguiu, mas relatando experiências que tinha vivido, trocando nomes aqui e ali, sem precisar queimar os fosfatos criando enredos críveis ou consistentes, e essa, descenessário dizer, é a parte árdua do trabalho. Penso por outro lado em certos romances, cuja complicada escritura reclamou décadas inteiras. Tudo somado, me servirei da dupla abordagem: falarei tanto de gente e lugares que conheço como de quem e onde nunca conhecerei, e ,é claro, deixarei igualmente que falem por si.
Since people abandoned their former hunt-gathering life-style and started living on agriculture, there started to sprout cities as commercial centers for farms surpluses. Cities are therefore agglomerations of man and women, who share a small space and hence have to establish rules and paths meant for their circulation. In modern cities, automobiles have precedence in transport planning so much so that ours is the civilization of the car. After streets were constructed, there began to appear routes allowing higher velocities to get to other cities, as well as expressways, built to make transportation even more rapid by doing away with sluggish pedestrians and irritating traffic lights.
Our hero is a young man in his early twenties or late teens, who was traversing by running one such expressway (don’t try that at home, our hero was only, as always, distracted by the accords that kept on swarming around his head, and so had not notice, as he could if only he had look up ahead, a huge traffic sign pointing just 50 yards afar to an underground pedestrian passageway heading to the opposite side of the road), when his flute fell off his moving hand and tumbled to the asphalt.
Again, without crossing his mind the shadow of a thought, he automatically bent over in order to grab his instrument and a pair of nickels he found their by chance and counted as a sign of good fortune, then soon went back to his sprint over the busy street. Suddenly, he was violently caught by a double-deck bus, but don’t worry: the shock was so overwhelmingly hard that he died painlessly, almost instantaneously, as they say good people die. Definitely unlike my aunt Eunice, who had such a bad temper that she would merciless ridicule me all the time in front of my cousins as I was a kid, calling me a chubby roaring little pig, just because I was a little overweighted and would snore when sleeping. Then she repeat in a false condescending tone that if I kept like that I would only find a wife in a zoo or aquarium, probably in the elephant’s enclosure or in the form of a whale, which would spare me the costs of living on a trailer, since I could well find lodging inside it... We all know things as obesity and loud sleep are not vices but disasters that befall innocent people on account of intricate genetical heredity reasons, so the experts, and should not be used to bully children. As to her curses on my marriage, it eventually happen that I married a really really big woman, in character as well as physical constitution, but I reassure you my dear Gretchen was nor fat nor old on the occasion I met her, growing that much and much and much only with the passing of time. If we don’t eat junk, so would she repeat, it is going into the trash just as the name says. Think of all poor children in the Third World who got nothing to eat! I don’t have to add that she was not particularly bright nor attractive nor sober, but our love endured and we remained married nevertheless, came hell or high water, whereas my aunt Eunice died of a tough salmonella infection, when the kids decided on my 30-year anniversary party to play a prank on her, consisting of a substantial rain of fresh eggs, one of which unfortunately happened to be infected. Bad thing happens, they say, just all the time, that is why we should try to be on the safe side and refrain from arousing kids’ anger by denying giving them slices from the wedding cake, so they wouldn’t go even chubbier, avoiding the dire consequences of what could turn out to be a harmless practical joke. We had a good laugh that day, it was a pity all the salmonella thing prevented us to remember later the scene with equal joy.
Where was I? Oh, yes, I was telling you how our flutist was smashed by a speeding bus, whose driver was late to arrive at destination and casually decided, after a vote among the passengers, to change course and take an expressway. I should add that he was a particularly dedicated musician, who practice the flute at least six hours a day and also gave lessons to beginners at least five evenings per week, apart from daily rehearsals and weekend presentations with the local orchestra. All said and done, he barely had the time to develop bad habits or to do wrong onto other people. The only thing able to irritate him was cigarette and cigarette smoke, but those dislikes after all count scores these days. I bet with you my last pennies that he went straight to heaven!
In fact, after a hasty process that seemed pretty like the a prosecutor and a defendant screaming to each other positions of selling or buying, his judgement was announced by a voiceover, one single time, hadn’t he got rained years, he would surely have lost it and completely misunderstood the continuation of the scene. The soul’s exchange market suddenly opened its roof and a celestial chart scooped in his direction. He began to run for his soul scared of all the noise and cracking ceilings, but was soon hooked by a human fishing rod thrown from above, which hauled him by his collar onto the heaven’s-yoke-of-horses, so it read from both sides of the carriage, driven by a winged creature, as pallid as a clown doing work, who he concluded was an angel charged with the mission to fly him to heaven by his own forces, since horses, as we know, can’t fly, and so were there only for the decor. The angel was already all covered in sweat and gasping as he unsteadily flittered away. The boy wondered about the rapidity of judicial procedures on the other side as compared to man’s justice, not only his to-and-froing by the brokers (euphemism for continuous and painful pulling and pushing) had been so quick, he hadn’t had the opportunity to throw in a word, but it also only a few seconds until, not farther than 50 yards from the setting of his abrupt rapt, he could make out from the heights another decision being immediately accomplished, the seller having this time having struck the best deal. The ground beneath began breaching and tilting, the brokers had to get hold of riveted leg tables and door knobs not to be engulfed, a similar yoke now self-entitled hell’s-yoke of horses, pulled up the damned soul by a hook applied on his underwear and similarly briskly began going down an obscure, red-lit and bumpy road into some remote rocky region. From the distance, he could hear the voice of a woman extolling the virtues of her soprano pop-singer’s voice. Vanity is the shortcut for disappointment, my aunt Cellina used to say. Or was it Angellina? I lived so many things and heard so many names that my memory is vaporizing gradually. I can even smell the fumes of a brain cell burning helplessly to ashes every now and then. One day I will become empty-headed, which will make my life easier: all names and stories will be easily retrievable, echoing inside my skull. But going back to our scene, the conductor this time had a long tail instead of the wings, and whipped with this extra limb his roaring raging horses. Not a blink afterwards, the crack disappeared and all brokers went immediately back to work. Time lost, money lost. But which money?
Well, people get paid in heaven both for things they do as for things they were going to do but wisely gave up, because they were considered by the competent authorities, prudential decisions to thwart potential recipes for catastrophe of physical or even easthetical nature. The bell-trousers, for instance, never turned out to be worn in heaven. Notwithstanding their failure in taking part of the history of heavenly mode, which included cheesier episodes like eye-boggling Cinderella’s paillette dresses and the tunics of the Evangelists before the invention of underwear, the bell-trouser’s inventor has been earning ridiculous sums of money for keeping the design forgotten on a wardrobe. When people get jobless or need extra money to make bathe their pet, they simply file a patent with an original project, designing the formula of a reality-show, or proposing the construction of an airport on the top of our tallest building in order to shorten the access to an airplane, or then they state the intention of setting up a dolphin’s safari. All suggestions will be roundly dismissed for endangering our afterlives or our aftercospecies, or then will be refused and lamented for sheer bad taste, menacing to turn heaven into a less worthwhile place to live in.
When he was beginning to find the chariot couch pretty comfortable and stretched his legs and arms and started to massage his neck bruised by the hook push, the yoke stopped inadvertently in mid-air and the angel dropped him on the soil below. Fortunately, he fell on a hay stack, because the horses were famished from the course and also land on the vicinity to get fed. In vain he shouted dirty words, the horses not only ate in the speed of light, but also flew away beyond the barrier of sound, so much so that his words were distorted by Doppler-effect (the sound frequency diminishing as the source gets farther away) into a grave ouch! which could be easily confounded with a scream of pain, shortly interrupted by the bossa-nova melodies coming from all directions, presumably that was the ambient music in Heaven, and he would have to get used to it.
He painfully got up and noticed a building not far apart inscribed in neon with the phrase: Department of Work for Newcomers. What did you expect? How can one preserve his mental sanity where all functions smoothly and there are no distressing things as rarifying hair or pimples or exhilarating things as soap-operas and pillow-fights? In heaven, killing time is an extremely difficult endeavor. So everyone has to consecrate his time every day for ever and ever to the same serious and diligent work routine, for only a tough long-hours work could divert one from an impossible suicidal thought, since they are all there dead already. And as they say, an empty mind is the house of the Devil.
But salaries grew lower and lower since a nurturing State began to be built. Because in principle you don’t give away the things you produce, you don’t work for the community nor for yourself, but for the corporation you work for. And corporations don’t need to be fed or schooled or housed. So the right solution would to be to raise taxes to provide people with such essential needs. But to strike a balance showed tricky, even in heaven. Taxes were sent soaring and were added by the companies to the price of non-essential products. And that despite the fact that all companies were heaven-owned... As a result, lower wages waning day by day and hyperinflation triggered by the easy gain by non-doing nasty things, now command heaven’s economy. Everyday, bills are issued by the Central Bank with an extra zero on the right. Now coins are rare antiques and are kept in extremely safe museums.
At Work Department, he was received by my aunt Urania or Celina what the hell, with her usual broad smile and solicit air (his face was paralysed due to a thermal shock at the age of 31, and she had that magazine-smile glued on her face on a permanent basis):
- So, I see in your resumé that you have been a musician since your early teens. Well, are you sure you never worked with horse-shit disposal? It is so much useful, mainly these days when there are more and more souls being brought in...
- No, Mam, never really tilled in the area.
- You will, they fall from the sky just everywhere. On your own roof every other day. Hope they do any good for greying hair... -she added, caressing her flocks, and arching her eyebrows for an admonition - didn’t you notice, my dear, that people here act, how could I say it, a little freakish? They say it is hay fever. Anyway, none reaches wisdom without having been a fool first. I read it this morning in an almanac. And so do the Angels too, those snob fellows, they think they are birds and have the right to do their things in the skies. It resembles dove’s excrement, but multiply the bulk one thousand times. Jesus! But turning back to your job prospects, well, well, what a waste! Anyway, I have a position for you in probation period by our Brass Band. I just warn you that our conductor is a little bad-tempered, so please just do what he says, he takes suggestions as an intrusion into his authority. He died as a soldier and never recovered from military traumatic disorder.
He came light-hearted from the bureau. Splendid!, he thought, at a band he would be able to keep on improving his fluting. One day he could eventually reach perfection itself! Then he would be able to soothe the beasts and cheer up bad-humored people, but those things certainly did not exist in Heaven, he pondered. It was working time when he was dismissed from the Lodging Department with a new address in hands, thus the streets were still empty. He entered his room and took his rest from the eventful day. He couldn’t suspect that he would have a completely different impression from heaven the morning after.
He did not notice that his alarm clock had stuck at the time of his death and needed to be rewinded. He woke up and left the house in a hurry, without the time to take a bath or get dressed more properly. Worried to be too late, he stopped a passer-by to ask politely for the time. The man got all flushed with rage and shouted infuriatedly:
- You petulant comedian! How dare you interrupt my trajectory? Don’t you know people adjust their clocks by the time I pass in front of their houses on my way to work? And that everyday I have to take a different pace in order to induce them into error? Do you want me be known the neurotic perfectionist in town? - then he removed a glove from his hand and slapped with it on his face. He turned on his ankles and went ahead without even murmuring a response to his enquire.
He remained a while astonished on the spot where the raging man had left him unanswered. He would have done better if he had kept on moving, for not too long thereafter he was washed by a whitish sort of plasma, which he immediately identified, by its conspicuous stink, as angel’s crap. He was too pressed for time, so he had to resort to a fountain he could hear nearby in a square, he took a plunge and tried to remove as much of the white excrement as he could, hoping his haste would soon make him look less soaked by the time he had reached the brass band centre.
Then, as he had some trouble finding his ways, for ways into and out of heaven are never straight and zigzag strenuously after returning the walker to the same place, he decide to ask a more amiable-looking creature, an old lady, if she could help him find an address. She promptly excused herself:
- I probably know where your destination is, young man, but if I explain it to you I will end up forgetting mine, see, I am 8,000 years old, there are more things in my head than it can hold, therefore I have only got at present a limited RAM memory of eight pieces of information which compose my immediate memory.
- Excuse me, my lady, it never occurred to me providing you damage, I will ask where The Brass Band is of someone else. Good morning - he tilted his hat and retreated.
- Hey, young man - the old woman asked behind him confused. Did I mention where I was heading too? You mentioned you were looking for the brass band center and my destination zoomed out of my memory.
- Let’s do the following, there must be a phone number on your purse, we go to the brass band and call your relatives.
Thanks to the latter incident, he finally manage to arrive at the brass band in company of the old lady, who was informed by her sister on the phone of her initial aim and regained her course. He was invited into a waiting room in order to have an interview with the conductor.
- Come over, boy, demanded a voice rather familiar. When he entered, what a shock he had: the small authoritarian man who had refused to tell him the hour was right in front of him, standing behind the table and leafing through his résumé. He had binoculars on and began to ask him the usual questions about age, formation, previous practices or scholarships, without at any instant showing a sign of recalling their discussion only a quarter of hour ago. The boy concluded, with relief, that he was hopelessly myope and, since he had met him on the street without glasses on, he would never be recognized as the man who had diverted him on his daily trajectory to the music institute. The man explained that the motto of his band was semper discendo, i.e., always learning, and that he would not insist on a perfect execution but on the sincere attempt at one bettering himself.
He had always had difficult relationships with conductors, they normally formed a nasty breed of perfectionists who liked nothing better than to steal a flutist of all of his breath and still not declare themselves satisfied. But this time it seemed it was all going to be different. In continuity, he would probably ask for a demonstration on the flute and would be so ravished by his playing that he would engage him right away.
- I see you are pretty tense, one can notice by the transpiration on your clothes. Relax, my son. All you have to do now is take out your flute and show me your talent. At one, at two, at three!
He took a deep breath and began playing the most beautifully executed notes he had stricken all through his life and afterlife. But no sooner he began the third accord, the little man jumped on his desk and began stomping and growling and ask for security.
- Beg him to stop with this torture! This ceaseless harangue is drilling a crater through my tympanum! It will earn me a damage, it will turn me incapable to go on working!
The secretary rushed in with a couple of pills and a glass of water. The man took them, sat down, loosened his tie and put both feet on the table. When the man finally reassumed composure, he began with his reprimand:
- Hmm... I am not used to hear such presentations, sorry for my cranky behavior but I had not been so much tortured since Saigon 1968. No doubt your piece was technically unreprochable, but I am afraid you don’t have one single artistic bone in your corpse, my fellow. Listen, do you know what art is all about? It is the celebration of life in all of its richness. Life is not only beauty and joy, correctness and confidence. Art is also sorrow and the ugly, it is also the mishaps and the error. I will take you on a probation, since my heavenly statue-like beautiful friend Urania wholeheartedly asked me so, and she is a woman whose hunches one cannot leave unheard, but I doubt very much whether you are eventually going to prove yourself deserving of the post.
The young man felt indignant. According to that tyrannical hick, a soldier’s brass band conductor, who had never ever dreamt of a musical serious carrier and played only as a hobby, he, who had been third flutist of one of the most important Orchestras on Earth, could not even be regarded as an aspiring artist! For him the pursuit of perfection, to which he had dedicated all his living years, had been just vain! Every soul would have the long eternity to overcome each and every tiny flaw, it was pointless to look for perfection once anyone would reach it in the end, so we had better let the spontaneity and chance also play their role in music, as they so often do in nature. And that was good, or else God would have created us as predetermined machines, instead of letting us gradually build our talents and virtues with the influence of other people and the stimulus from a chaotic outward world.
He had a tough time the first week. He would be continually scorned by his conductor and fellows who would always exclaim after his exercises: - More interpretation!.
- All your inept slips and blanks, is that what you call interpretation? I would called it misinterpretation!- he would retort in anger and subsequently be shown the door by the chief. And the same would happen sooner or later every rehearsing day during several months.
One Sunday, the Heaven’s Brass Band would present on a special venue set to celebrate the 5th millennium of the Union of the Angels from the Eighth Order. The conductor pompously arranged the musicians in rows, as if they were a sort of military cohort prepared for a parade, and before the performance began he shouted with vehemence his famous devise: “Always learning!”. However, our hero (I cannot mention fully authentic names, you understand, I am a man of meagre resources and fear that I might be sued by one of my characters for a share in my thin copyright awards) was so genuinely proud of performing before such angelical audience that he could not help giving his very best. He also considered that angels were superior creatures, who would presumably fully appreciate his quest for perfectionability. During rehearsals, he had tried now and then to commit errors and slipped some off-key notes in his playing, so as to frein the conductor’s fury, but that evening he felt so carried away that he ended up producing a meticulously untarnished presentation. By the end of the venue, the air was already thick with impending trouble.
After leaving the stage, he was immediately addressed by the conductor. He coughed and shivered with indignation and distaste, he would no longer admit that one of his musicians could so shamelessly disobey his directions. After another long and embarrassing lecture on the value and beauty of imperfection, which nearly lasted for eternity, he was officially expelled from the group.
The prospect of an endless season in heaven without his flute-playing or any other occupation whatsoever (unless he ventured into the flowering business of angel’s or horse’s feces removal) seemed to our musician as a totally unsettling vision into his near future. In despair, he tried to drink. But the only thing for sale that could provide you with a high in heaven was camomile tee. I mean, some tons of. In an uncontrollable fit of impotence, he set off right away, carrying only his flute case inside a pocket, aiming at no destination, letting his weary thoughts grow tired as his heavenly body would gradually approach physical exhaustion. Nevertheless, it was difficult to lose focus on those nagging derisive looks and commentaries, since landscapes would take turns without changing fundamentally their all too usual aspect: all there was to see were the same sweet meadows, covered with recently mowed grass and now and then a couple of hills, so smooth and repetitive you would always feel surprised when you found out you happened to be on the very top of one of them...
In sum, all of heaven seemed like an infinite series of golf courses, and every time you got the impression that you were coming to the end of one of them, a brand new one would deploy before your tired eyes. During those wandering days, he did not happen to bump into another soul, probably on account of the fact that even today, after the birth explosion on Earth and the introduction of vaccines and medicines meant either to reduce infant mortality or to prolong the average lifespan, heaven is still a very very underpopulated place, as on Earth Arctic regions still are these days. So there was nobody to whom he could tell about his misfortunes and ask for a sheltering shoulder.
Eventually, one day, shortly after Sun hid beneath the horizon, and a bunch of beams still stretched from between the mounds, as the fingers of a drowned man before being engulfed by the waters, he listened to this steady sweet fizzling coming from some place to his left. It sounded like it stemmed from some sort of river or stream. He tried to follow the hissing music, picking his way through a thick shrubbery, until he reached a peaceful brook, that seemed to distend up and down, encircling the whole firmament. The landscape on the other side looked astonishingly different: first there was a windy beach, with tall coconut palms gracefully disheveled in front of a row of simple houses, as those of fishermen. And behind them there were just this dense forest, followed by a grey, cloudy or smokey backdrop. It dawned on him the fact that he had reached the barrier between Heaven and Hell.
I got tired eyes and will not bother you telling how they grew so, so if my memory does not fail me, it was him who saw me first. I was where I have always been: there on the deck by the narrow swiveling river, on my modest raft, waiting for the arrival of passengers who want to cross it from one to the other side. At more glorious times there would be huge mobs of people waiting on the opportunity to be transported to one side or to the opposite one, and hundreds of demons and angels controlling the boarding passes, but recent developments in afterworld’s economies sent the search for migration or visit to its lowest since record. Which means: as far as I can remember, for I have been living here as far as I can remember, never people tended to prolong their stay in hell and avoid a carrier flop in heaven.
- What a huge stream! - he noticed, trying to get a conversation kick-started. Where does it come from and where will it ever end?
- Well, the water sprouts from the rocks, it is warm if you feel it - the young man it with the hands and agreed. “As for its end, well, there had been a long controversy, but our wise have now settled for the theory that the river just keeps going on and on, though finite, and however it gets ever larger an larger, to the extent that we could not possibly keep pace with it, it will never ever reach into infinity”.
- And who lives on the other side?
- You mean, on the beach? Pagans like me, who happened to live before the establishment of the common era. It is a nasty place, full of bards singing their ceaseless sagas and philosophers discussing if the world is a particle or a wave instead.
- That can be a pain...
- So you say, kid! That is why I prefer to be here on my own, on the other side, listening to the stream hissing its music and so soothing my nervous thoughts.
- Just what I need at the moment, Sir...
- And behind it, well, you can call it hell, we prefer to call it the Bingo District. There are good dancers and gigs too. I can see you are a musician yourself, or is that case just a smuggler’s packet? What the hell you think you could smuggle into hell that they don’t have there already, at best price and of top quality?
- It is just a flute, Sir - he took it off the fake leather cover.
- Please play something that touches my old, stiff heart, please play something that could make me cry!
The young man set by my side. He was so distressed that he finally let all his feelings of fear and unhappiness flow into the melody. Tears began rolling from my face, picking their way throw the labyrinth of my wrinkles till falling on the river’s torrents. We noticed that his playing began to be accompanied by a sweet feminine voice that the wind drifted onto us from the opposite rim. Never had he heard such a mellifluous singing, so resolute and at the same time mild, maybe like honey, if honey made some sound.
- Please, my old man, could you drop me on the other side? I need to hear her singing closer to my ears!
- It would be a pleasure, but you have to drop a nickel. I mean, it is supposed to be so, you give me a coin and I fare you over.
He remembered having gathered on the ground a pair of coins before being overrun by the double-decker, took one from his pocket and paid for the ride. He proceeded playing his flute, so the voice would keep on singing along, but we had already been afloat for some ten minutes now and could not as yet find the source of such marvelous song.
Finally, we noticed a bustling from behind a bush and a figure stand in full sight standing on the shore. She was a median-sized young woman, her skin was soft as a morning breeze, her eyes bluer than supernovas, her hair furled like the waves of a swelling ocean, and all in all so full of life she was that it seemed to keep awake whatever surrounded her. Her limbs were sound and reposed, like the columns of a temple, and her neck mounted above the shoulders like a tower, on top of which a soft tongue tolled her songs, as if trying to elevate her fair complexion into the Milky Way.
She told us her own story. On Earth she used to be a very successful pop-singer, who had slipped from the stage during a specially endeavoring salsa number, and lost her life some hours later. She was a beautiful woman and used to have a pretty high opinion about her looks and her talents, so, when she was judged, she was accused of vanity and tossed by the Angel’s chariot into hell’s downtown centripetal ring. From the clothes she wore we could tell she was a poor soul too. She was sentenced to six months, six weeks and six days, and her due time had elapse while she was working as a maid in a boarding house for newly-arrived vain girls and had had to cope with the nasty clientele and a modest waning wage. I should explain that wages wane over time in hell, for the system is structured after a social redistributive frame, based on higher rates for every extra dollar you make.
I tried to console the whining girl by saying:
- There is nothing to be ashamed of about having self-love, it is also a form of love and it normally teaches how to love other creatures too. Justice just can’t use its eyes anymore after so many centuries being kept blindfolded, and it is now as blind as Chance! And so clumsy and helpless it could not sever a cabbage’s head with that sword.
Of course those were prefabricated formulas I had already used many a time, and I didn’t believe a word myself. She must have been a whimsical bimbo when singing her sugary ballads, but apparently her season in hell had done her much good. That was the idea, anyway.
Since the expiration of her time, she had been involved in a long and unmanageable bureaucratic procedure to be granted her permission to emigrate to heaven. Unlike other people, she preferred emigration to having a carrier in hell, for she felt there peculiarly out-of-place and gloomy. She was supposed to hire a lawyer to do the work, but she found out that her employer, a certain Ms. Eunice, had not properly registered her work contract, in order to avoid paying the corresponding levy and kept the sum for herself, and on account of that now she did not have the right to ask for the services of one solicitor from the Union of Former-Nasty-Maids.
- Eunice, I said out. I know the old hag. She happens to be a relative. When we arrived in limbo, for she is as old as the hills and was born before the invention of tyre, I mean, of wheel, Satan himself was so appalled that she would debunk him and kick him with her ruses and constant bad-humor off the throne of Hell that he offered her half of the Company’s share in exchange of an agreement that she would never run for satancy. Of course she is as economical as a top-model breakfast plate and did not spend a dime she earned, and so moved into Hell to open a chain of boarding-houses to exploit and torture beautiful young women like you, my dear. But tell me, didn’t you denounce her?
- I tried, Sir, but as you mentioned yourself, she has good ties with the Governor, and the file was closed because, since my time in Hell had finished, my proofs were also deemed as untimely. Then there were these pelting attacks on the D.A.Department building by revolted citizens and it was closed for window repairs and remained so until today, for the D.A. can’t just decide between green or blue shades, he is afflicted with protanopia, I should add.
- And did you offer her money? There is nothing my aunt Eunice would not do for money!
- Yes, I did give her all I had managed to spare from my low tips and wages. But the next day she appeared with a nose job and said she was up to her nose with my complaints. Now, Sir, all Imy earnings run out and I am unemployed, living here in the bushes the imps avoid because they dislike greenery in general, and feeding at MMc-Hellgrub’s with coupons I collect from The Subway News issues I pick on the streets. That is probably the reason why my dress looks so grimy: it is the mustard and the ketchup from the combos.
- Honey mustard? asked the boy - cause you smell distinctively of honey - he added, kind stutteringly.
Oh my, the boy was in love! And that lady had really suffered enough wrong. I had to think of some solution and move my crampy ass to get that story straight!
- I tried to make some pocket money by singing on the mall entrance. You know, my voice, it is an undeserved gift, now I know, and when I start singing I feel so transported by its beauty that I can’t help delivering a particularly lively performance. The devilkins would just keep on laughing at me, and all people would toss were eggs and tomatoes, not a single coin. I should again apologize for the grimy state of my dress. I have given up singing since then but, after wandering around in despair and approaching the shore, i could not refrain from singing to that sad melody you played with your flute, which seemed to express all my distress and pain - then she restarted crying.
- That is outrageous!!! - the young man exploded in fury. If I were to toss anything on you, it would be... it would be - he had difficulty striking the right note- roses, no, roses got thorns, it would be violets instead, to go with your eyes...
The girl looked down a little abashed, thanking for the compliment with a blushed face. I could hear little bells resounding, I who am as deaf as a post and have the intelligence of a mule of plush.
He experienced a deep empathy for her. So much perfection was certainly a dangerous thing, difficult to master and, once achieved, rather envied than admired. And just like her in Hell, he had been feeling particularly unhappy since he had lost his life.
- Boy - I said. Sorry for my indiscretion, but when you emptied your pocket to give me the nickel for the crossing, I could not help noticing you had another left. Give me that. We will buy this beauty’s liberty with it!
The three of us made our way into hell. After the thick bush, a huge metropolis surged, filled with babel-towers rocketing into the sky and scary roller coasters, which would run lethally upside-down and were used as a fast means of transportation with torture in an overcrowded and chaotic landscape. When we arrived at aunt Eunice’s boarding house, the woman invited us to seat without pronouncing a word. As we tried to take our seats, the couches made a noise, as if we three had farted. That should be one of the devilkins’ practical jokes, she explained, then asked for us to sit on the floor, declaring she was particularly bad humored that day. She was watching her favorite afternoon gossip show and would only allow to be addressed during the intervals.
- Speak of the Devil! I was just chatting with my sister Urania on the phone and we were remembering when you got a prize at a hot-dog-eating record-breaking competition! Oh, my little Barker. Why did you come to visit your favorite aunt? It has been ages, I mean, eons, since we have last seen each other. And time seemed to have passed you twice faster. Must be your diet. Is that obese woman you call a wife still cooking you fried fish with chips every day? No wonder you have so ballooned! Why don’t you get her to frequent gourmet lessons, as everyone does today? Oh, I see, there is always the wine degustation lessons, if only she could stay sober! And why did you bring along this grimy young lady, who has pestering me with her yelling singing and work complaints for months on end? What is your name again, my little angel?
- It is...
- Oh no, not now, the show is restarting. Shush! Why am I so bad-humored today? It feels like I am going to see the Devil... Let’s hear the news!
Another interval was announced.
- Aunt Eunice, as you know, the time of this little lady in hell has expired and we thought you could help us strike a bargain with your friend, the Governor.
- Offer me money. I will have to bribe him with some dough.
- Well, we have here a dime. Do you think it can do the trick?
- A dime? Are you kidding me? I am not for practical jokes today! This girl’s case is not ten a penny, why all the song and dance on the topic?, but since you offered, I will take the dime anyway. For two pennies there is nothing the Creature is not capable to do. I get the Satan’s permission to dispatch the prima donna in the first bark out of Hell. And will also keep the remaining eight for my pay. That is music to my ears! I can already hear the tinkling. And then I can profit to take home some books from the Company’s to audit. I can always find a breach and run for satancy! - she added excitedly. But her good disposition was soon undermined by her tripping over a little leg a devilkin had stretched in front of her way and landing nose-first on the ground.
- For Hell’s sake, live my new nose alone you imps! Go get a life and get the hell out of here!
Ways in Hell are definitely bumpy and irregular. As we were returning to Limbo’s beach, the two young people were so excited that he began to play joyfully his flute while she committed her singing, both dancing and waltzing at times, until he bumped into a stone and his flute fell off his hand into a lava stream. I took a reed from my fisher’s bag and tipped it into the stream, perforating holes with my teeth and, after it had stiffened, I hand it to him, as a sort of rudimentary flute. I explained that with that new flute he would not be able to issue from then on not a single perfect note anymore, and thus he was certain to be readmitted with her goofy virtuosic singer into the Heaven’s Brass Band, having the possibility to make out of their very imperfections a nearly perfect life for ever and ever after. They rejoiced and thanked me for my intervention and words of broken wisdom...
And they would in fact manage to lead almost perfect lives for ever and ever, were it not.. Well, as we arrived at my bark, I had to charge them my due coins for the traverse. But the cent the boy had already spent for his first crossing. And the dime had being shared by Hell’s tycoons. I told them I could lend them the coins myself, but was sure that they would not come back, so by the end of the month I would not be able to make ends meet and my wife would get me the hell! And so they found themselves literally between the devil and the deep blue stream! But that is a whole new story, if you send me a coin, I will be most glad to tell you. You guys already know the address and where I lead people to, don’t you?
“You filthy rogue, I have told you time and time again to keep away from the pedestrian zone, you and your fellow little rascals!”
The kid took pains at unhooking his battered T-shirt from the policeman’s grip, who had lifted him by the collar with one hand while hitting with the other the boy’s nape with his clenched fist.
“Where the fuck are the other dirty urchins, are they pickpocketing working-people around, or they for goddamned’s sake stood at house or school today for a change? Didn’t you call any of them to help you out? Why didn’t you? I know too well your are their fucking boss. How old are you then, you fucker?”
The cop sniggered. “Thirteen, is it? Show me now your birth certificate, you are supposed to carry one, you know, where is it?, I can tell you are already over sixteen”.
Moaning under his breath, the kid pulled off from his rear pocket a frayed identity card, which confirmed the age he had stated to the officer.
“Hmm, you are pretty careful with your things, good for you”, the man remarked ironically. “One can hardly read the faded letters on your fucking document. You should be warned that in case you need a second issue, you have to pay a fee for it. But you can’t even care, can you?, you don’t give a shit about it. It is your parents who will pay for it. Anyway, you won’t even need it a couple of years from now, for you and I can bet that any time soon you will be sitting on a prison cell, and you will get identified by playing piano with your fingerprints in a criminal enquiry. A young offender is like an old dog, can’t learn new tricks. You are fucking shameless, aren’t you? Where the hell live mom and dad?”
The sergeant took it for granted that any man is born of a mother and a father, unless he is the breed of a hatchery. Nonetheless, complementing that biological trivial truth, there remains the fact of society that most kids these days are engendered within poor prolific households, and, among these, the most numerous are raised in single-parent families, so the jargon, the father having disappeared without previously being judicially identified and made to contribute with alimony, or else being altogether unknown. And even if he spent some time with the mother, he subsequently moved on to build up another family. Hence, the lonesome mother has to slave to grow her offspring on her own. And the step-father is one or another guy who shows up one day, imparts his bobs among mother and brats and often conceives of a further brother or sister, until he himself vanishes without previous notice.
“I got no father”, retorted the boy, “my mother spends all day in the fabric, she is a needlewoman”, he added.
“And does she have any idea you play havoc around here?”, the sergeant’s rage regained momentum as he pictured in his head a black working woman in charge of the responsibility of raising a disgraceful delinquent without anyone else’s aid. As a result, he reassumed his charge of raps on the youngster’s head.
“Ouch!, you can’t beat me like that Sir, I am a teenager”.
“I can take the sawdust out of whoever asks for it, can you still hear it?”, said the man, slapping his years with his stiff hand palms. “I have the authority and the office duty to fight delinquency. What are you gonna do about my reprimand? Are you listening to it or are you intending to press charges by the Council of Guardianship?”
The policeman started to explain in sententious tone the structure of the youth criminal system, as if thinking aloud: “Our Tutelary Council, you plastic head, is staffed with only three middle-aged ladies, drowning in work paper. They hardly ever have time to get laid. So is constituted all of our model-city overfunded judicial structure available for children in vulnerable , and we are talking about Curitiba, whose population runs to over one and a half million souls. That is the reason why the Juvenile Council can’t help counting on the collaboration from the Military Police service in all incidents involving offences by youths. And in the case you killed someone, and I wouldn’t doubt a second you would dare to, there would be no room for you in a State jail for minors. Because there is none...”- he cackled. “You would get away with it, been release on surveillance, clear to keep on robbing, shooting, raping. But never mind. As I just said, in less then three years you will be on lockdown, and then you will get introduced to real criminals who will teach you the state-of-art on drug dealing business, bank robbery, kidnapping, organized crime. Then one day you will be yourself found dead in a corpse dump, for evidence elimination, with your mouth garnished with slugs".
After having inhaled the sultry air inside the police stand, he carried on his speech, changing his mood condescendingly: “Look, I ain’t saying such things because I wish you bad, I ain’t the kind of guy who goes around throwing curse on people like a crazy old bag lady. I don’t believe such things anyway. I say those things to try to put you right. To avoid what will come next”.
The sergeant’s claws detached from the kid’s body.
“My nerves are by now wrecked with the daily complaints about mugs and harassing. There is nothing as pestering for an officer than having a woman measuring you with the eyes as if insinuating that a brat is more of a man then you are, thinking you are a chicken hidden behind a cheap bleached uniform, who won’t move the ass if necessary. Go to school! Prepare your future! Where do you happen to live, after all?”
“In Villa Fanny, Sir”.
“Whaaat?! That far awaay? What is whole the point in coming downtown? Is it to steal a wallet, a wristwatch, a brand tennis shoe? Look at your clothes: you don’t seem to wear those things you mug. And if you went to school, you would at least have free stuff to eat.”
After the peroration, the cop resumed his inquisition:
“What do you do with things you steal, do you buy shoemaker’s contact glue to snort or get crack stones to smoke?.
“And who is the criminal receiver, I mean, the guy who picks and changes the stolen stuff against money for you? Is he the same that sells you the drug? Does he tell you who or what to steal and then change what you get with drugs?”
“Oh no, Sir, I can’t do that, no, he kills me or he kill my mother”.
“You know one thing? You are a big son of a bitch! The bigger sucker of all, that’s what you amount to be. How dare you involve your mom in this story, she slogging in the fabric in order to put food on the table while you smoke your crack to get stoned? You know what she deserved? She deserved that you disappeared off the face of the earth and stopped being a burden. On her and on everyone else”.
On the wake of his excitement, new hits followed suit, this time under the species of kicks, punches in the eyes, smacks on his tempers. The boy restarted to scream and cry in pain. Passers-by began to stop in curiosity or apprehension outside the cabin, but nobody would venture an interruption to ask what was going on inside. Most were thinking bandits deserve a lesson from time to time.
In the officer’s head, other thoughts also zoomed by. He saw himself as a kid, the sixth son in a destitute family, and all the other boys in school or in the neighborhood asking if he did not happen to have a newer pair of shoes, if he would spend his vacation at the beach, what make of car his dad drove. He would always lie, he would not admit to being a looser, though he knew that his father would never be able to afford all those beautiful things, even if he managed to find a second job, as he had always hoped to. As he himself would never get to buy the luxury items that the kids snatched, no matter if he worked a second shift as a private security guard. And the ocean he would only see as he was already fifteen, when he took a girlfriend to Ilha do Mel with the money he had spared from a job as an errand boy, and there, after having smoked a joint, he fucked a woman for the first time. He did not ever ask anything expensive of his father, his oldman would say that it was all vain anyway, though they were not that vain at all. To show off a trendy T-shirt bore moral connotations. It was also a question of honor. Who could better sell himself, would also be the one to fuck the more pussies.
“Listen, kid. I am warning you and I am a man of a single word. This was your last prank. And this was the last time I will ever hear of you or set my eyes on your brownish ugly face. If you come back and fool around, I will have you beaten in such way that you will never wish to draw close. Am I making myself clear? - he yelled into his ear. “Do you want me to repeat? Should I draw it on your face so you will be reminded?”
The man took seat on a fragile fiberglass chair that faced a small white table mirrored by an equal chair on the opposing side, which, together with a steel file holder cabinet, cramped the cubicle.
“This time we are finished. But next I promise I will give you such a solid spanking you never thought you could take. Aren’t you a tough guy? I wear a purple belt in wrestling, to my beating no amateur has any defense. I foot your head and crack your teeth, I leave you blind for two weeks at least”.
He opened the door, showing the boy the outside walk.
“Do we have a deal?”
“Sure, Sir”, the boy rushed to leave the stand, twitching and scrambling with pain. Tears still washed his face.
Soldier Garcez arrived shortly after.
“Yes, the rogues have been hectic of late. Too much drug on the market. Too many mindless women pacing slothfully along the store showcases with a double-heeled pair of shoes, carrying about their showy expensive bags, talking on a 1,000-real cellphone with the guy who pay the credit card bills. We ought to find out who is selling the drug, to nip it in the bud”.
“Yes, but I am sure that is far from being a priority for our respectable representatives in their white elephants. They must at any rate be granted their monthly bribe payments, whereas we down the line get the blows, chap. We are charged with the task of catching the small fish. But, all said and done, we still have to carry on with our duty, don’t we?
“And how was it with the kid?”
“The battered routine. Lonely mother, underemployed, demotivated. The rogue growing more and more hooked, how is it to be stopped? And the local traders swarming by the Inspector General: the Military Police watches at it hand-tied, the customers are being scared away from the commercial streets, the profits are shrinking steadily, and therefore the State also loses input with a lesser amount of taxes being levied. Finally, to cap the argument, the usual icing on the cake: the lesser sales, the lesser jobs. Bunch of hypocrites! But it is not me or you who is gonna change the world. Nobody changes things by himself. The world and people go changing by their own.”
“For the better or for the worse?”
“Hmm... I think for the better, don’t you? Ten years ago we wouldn’t even vote for the President”.
“By the way, when will your own kid be born?”
Sergeant Schaffer was 31 years old and had been married for scarcely six months with Eduarda dos Santos, a mulatto-woman with keen eyes and a sexy voice, like a radio presenter’s. She was representative of one of those cosmetic firms and sold items per catalog. The child was being expected for that same week.
“Five or eight? days for parental leave, you fool...”
“Have not checked as yet, can you believe it?”, he said, smiling.
“And you think, boss, that you’re going to have less work with your own brat than with those here? Lol, I don’t think they will really be match...”
“Who knows? So many things to think about, I think it hasn’t still dawned on me I’m about to become a father. Yes, I’m gonna be daddy, Garcez! I realize the only dream I ever had was fathering a child. Giving life to a creature, that’s the biggest bless God endowed us with. So that we are able to create as well, however stupid or wicked we may behave. But God is father too and always forgives us. How is he gonna be, my son? A brat, as you said. And whatever he turns out to be, I will always forgive him and give him my blessing, accepting him as he is, with all his warts and faults. Just like my own father. He was always rushing me to a hospital, so I could have a broken bone fixed. And would go furious every weekend I spent drinking and fucking in a roach woman’s club with borrowed money. But he would always save my skin, as God always does”.
When he got home, Eduarda was lying on bed.
“Are you hungry? Do you need anything?, he asked his woman.
“No, thanks, honey. My mother is here. She prepared something. There is some in the kitchen for you. I only feel a little sleepy.”
“Do you want me to turn the TV off or are you watching the novela?”
“Not really. Yes, put that off”.
On going back to the living room, his mother-in-law was entering the apartment with a pack of cigarettes in the hand”.
“I go down so I don’t smoke near her”.
In the kitchen, she got a clean plate from the cupboard and filled it with the rewarmed food from the pen. She served him on the sofa and took a seat next to him. Was she intent on saying something?
“I insist that I will choose the name of the kid myself. And have not made up my mind yet...”
She shook her head. “No, it is not the point. It is something more complicated”.
They both kept looking at the blabbering TV set without really listening to what it was saying.
“You know I earn a pension corresponding to the minimum wage, don’t you? With that income, and being my age, I’m not suitable for being granted a loan by a bank. It’s definitely not much money, but my standards are low, and I can always count on the help of my children in the case of an unexpected event”.
Then she needed money. He immediately considered all the extra-costs he would have with the baby. It was true that the corporation fund would afford all the hospital and medical expenses. But unpredictable fees would eventually surge, wouldn’t they?
“I decided not to tell something because of her situation. But her brother had a car accident. Nothing that serious, he is all right. But his car is not working any longer. Since he’s a taxi-driver and didn’t have any money left to pay for the repair. And now he is out of business and can make no money”.
“I didn’t know that”.
“Well, the cost with this serious mechanic, who was a friend of my husband when he was alive, runs to more or less 5,000 reais. So I thought of asking you for help. This is the deal: if you take a loan with direct debit on your pay-check, the interest rates are the lowest, round 1% a month. This way, a loan on that amount would make 24 instalments at 200 reais each for 24 months. Osvaldo would repay you on due date with the money he would be earning with his fares, but” - she underscored opening wide her eyes and arching her eyebrows “if he he failed to, I give you my word that I pay the instalment with my pension. Now that the baby is about to come, I will be around to help Eduarda, so I will not vanish.”, she added with a sighing smile.
“I must only assure you that Osvaldo is an excellent driver. Oh, you know, you have already ridden by his side. He was not guilty. The other car didn’t stop when the light turned red, and you can see in the croquis in the police report that the impact was lateral. Any expert can infer that it was the other car that traversed the lane in front of Olvaldo’s car. Of course, we will have to sue the other driver, since none of them had an insurance”.
The following day was imbued with the anxiety of his being possibly called at any hour to quit his post to race to the hospital. There were no complaints about pickpockets and, with less work to do, he profited his lunch time to go to the popular bank agency to request information on a credit. Calculations were made and he was delivered a prospectus containing a list of all necessary documentation. He assembled all of them that same afternoon, but decided to go back to the bank only the morning after.
The kids had met on Ruy Barbosa Square out of foreseeable chance, as it usually happened almost every day. There were the terminus stops of the buses coming from the intermediate terminals that connected the far-off districts and slums to downtown Curitiba. On arriving, the boys would get down and loaf around until one of them announced he was up to something. They stopped at first in front of a pastry-store and started to beg coins of the customers who went in and out of the shop. They would keep on doing that until the manager would get angry and scream them out of his sidewalk. However, he apparently had not arrived yet. Even so, the morning was hot and the movement in the store well below average, so much so that they were barely offered some plastic glasses with rests of soda. They would not even bother to make sure that the sharing was being done in equal ratios. Weariness and faintheartedness weighed on them together with the heat. The tension of the proposition was looming in the air amidst the kids. Quim tore it, enquiring directly and without further ado his oldest peer:
“Máikon, couldn’t we turn up around the pedestrian streets today?”
He knew he would be tempted. He also knew that they were left no choice. He shrugged his rickety shoulders and said:
“Why not? Come on...”
The spanking’s bruises were still very conspicuous. That day he had arrived at home still in the late afternoon. When the mother saw him, she did not ask anything. She sentenced to herself: a kids’ brawl, and he could sleep until the following noon without being tormented by her pleading with him to go to school.
The youngsters asked themselves whether they should stay together or go separated.
“I stay by myself, if the cops anger, they take only one of us”.
The others agreed.
“If we lose side one of the others, everybody meet here at six”.
Máikon walked straight down Westphalen Street. He traversed the Zacharias Square and two lateral blocks of the pedestrian zone, then turned left, bound for Suíça Street. He sneaked past the Polícia Militar’s post, only one corner away, but opposite its door and window. The youth felt distressed, his body shaking from urge despite the heat. He had asked around if someone had got glue, but they were all going through a dry spell that morning, following a day without thefts. It was vital that he could get some money. He also felt hungry.
On Suíça Street were located the stores that sold musical instruments and scores and the CD shops. There were also a couple of bank agencies, a lottery retailer and a coffee shop. He lurked hidden in the interstice of an apartment building doorstep almost in the corner, from which he was able to oversee the movement. He could notice that one of the businesses’ premises seemed empty. An old lady holding a fancy purse that seemed stuffed with things crossed him and went through the entry. She was smaller than him. He got nearer and observed that she had left the glass door open behind her. From the angle he could visualize the scenery, there was in addition only one young woman dressed in an orange uniform standing behind a short counter on which reposed a telephone. Both chairs in synthetic leather in front of it were unoccupied. It would be easy. All it would take was snatching the purse and bid farewell running through the open door with it.
When he reached out for the bag strap and the woman turned her face to him in a fright, he felt his nape being seized by a dauntingly familiar handgrip.
By a quirk of fate, the old woman with the bag had entered a low-loans agency. Opposite the counter behind which stood the employee, there were two twin chairs, an empty corridor giving way to a toilet door, and finally, leaning against the other wall, a row of attendance chairs, of which the boy could not have caught sight, given his diagonal viewpoint. In one of those benches Sergeant Schaffer had settled himself, waiting for a fax from the Corporation’s Personal Department that would confirm the inscription of the credit into his pay-check.
He dragged the rogue up to the police post. Garcez was absent at the moment, better that way. The boy went in resignedly. Both could anticipate what would succeed.
“I told you I had one single word”.
Again, the sergeant did not worry about the eventual curiosity from passers-by. Should anyone have anything to ask, he ought to knock at the door first.
“Swallow your groans and at least take it like a man this time. The louder you cry, the heavier my blows will strike”.
No matter how hard he tried, the kid could not refrain screams from pouring through his lips.
“Enough, enough, you’ve hit enough, I beg...”
“Who decides how much is enough is me, you villain”.
Gradually, the ache from the strokes and kicks seemed to remove somewhere else. Instead of relief, the boy was filled with the scaring sensation that the blows had gone just too far. With extreme effort he concentrated his attention not to pass out. Vomit was spurting from his throat, obstructing his breathing. In despair, he turned to a last resort:
“It is Galcez, it is Soldier Garcez. He changes the drug for us. He uses the drugs that should go to the deposit. I swear!”, he stammered.
It was not immediately that Schaffer realized the full extent of what the boy sought to bring forth. He kept on hammering Máikon’s head alternately with his boots.
“Garcez...”, his voice going fainter and fainter.
He listened no more. He just proceeded with his blows, now reinforced by a blended feeling of perplexity and impotence. He asked out:
No response come out of the boy’s mouth. His body had also ceased to jerk at the blows. Schaffer tried to control his drive to carry on aggressing that unresponsive body, though he by then could already guess that the kid had lost consciousness.
“What’s up, chief?”
Garcez had just got in, attracted by the number of people gathered around the post.
Schaffer stopped his agressions at last. Now, he held breath only to stutter:
“He said it was you...”
Garcez understood the seriousness of the charge. On seeing the boy’s body, he feared the worst. He bent over it and tried to feel Máikon’s pulse.
“He is dead, man, he is dead!”
“He said it was you...”, Schaffer repeated, almost crying.
“To hell what he said! It doesn’t mind. What really counts is what they will say. I will be a disgrace. We will have to fix this situation!”
“We what?!”, Schaffer regained his composure, shouting indignantly.
“We will of course have to find a way out. We. You scratch my back and I scratch yours! Why would you jeopardize your carrier and ultimately make us lose everything because of a little sucker?”
Inert, Schaffer stood plumb against the wall, staring at the dead body. Garcez was reasoning on his feet:
“The corpse of that Law student who was murdered by her professor was found near the Rio Vermelho’s flanks, are you reminded? If anybody bothers to, none will look out there. They same lightening never strikes twice the same place. All I need is go past home and drop down to fetch a pair of shovels, or do you prefer to dig with your bare hands, Sir?”
Schaffer shook his head in the gesture with which we usually mean no, but in this case he only expressed his utter incredulity before the happenings. He had never witness a death. Never had he come close to take someone’s life.
Garcez pulled over the patrol car on the side of the police post, parking over the sidewalk, caring to align the vehicle doors with the exit way in front of the stand door. He entered hurriedly and tackled the dead body with agility, carrying it outside, holding it firm on an upright position, by sustaining his feet over his own and enveloping his left arm agains its back so as to prevent it from bowing, until he let it slump on the rear car seat. By this time, barely a by-stander had endured. Those few who still followed the act did found no strangeness in the wobbly corpse’s pose, since Garcez, on closing the car door, had the ready tongue to voice out:
“He is high on shoemaker’s glue, those stupid kids. He is gonna be sent to an institution, so he can wean off the vice. Fortunately, it never crossed my mind breeding kids”.
When he started the engine, the tight boy’s body tumbled to the side. Good thing, this way none will take heed of it. On the front seat next to Garcez, Schaffer only reiterated:
“Shit! Shit! Shit! I lost control. Shit is always lurking to happen. I didn’t expect this could end just like this...”
They were lucky, though. It had rained all through the previous weekend, and consequently the earth was softer than usual. Garcez found a small clearing, broad enough for their task, between two araucárias, and he set about penetrating the earth with his pade.
“Wont’t you lend a helping hand, chief? The faster we finish, the sooner all is left here forgotten and buried for good”, Garcez said sarcastically.
When Schaffer grabbed his shovel, he remembered a story his father used to tell about his own father.
He lived in the country, in a remote village raised in a settlement in the North part of the State. The land proprietor, a British firm, was eager to attract workforce for the booming coffee plantations. The peasants were arriving mostly from the northeastern inland of Brazil in irregular throngs, and they would have to wait several weeks to be granted a piece of land and be transported to the distant farms spread hundred of miles in all directions. His grand-father was one of the first migrants to arrive. Now he was living by a port on the longest river, the main traffic hub whereas the roads were still under construction. He was an important guy in the zone because, although he did not have the proper education, he worked as a sort of practitioner and handed out the necessary medical assistance. There was this girl, what was her name, Marissol, yes, probably that, she was young when she arrived, not as yet a teen, but blossomed into an exuberant young woman. They both flirted during many year, until this officer came, sent from the capital, and in no more than two months he had impregnated her and they got married. Grandfather did not know about their liaison until it was consummated, he having had to make a journey further along the river to arrange for a new health post being built in another precabricated new village like theirs.
It was the year of the war in Europe, and the officer was recruited to go to fight in Italy. He left her and remained absent for several months. In the meantime, the child was born. It was him, Schaffer’s grandfather who attended the birth. It was a difficult procedure, she remained too many hours laboring and lost a huge amount of blood. But the baby was worst still. But he kept all the same in love with her. It was a delicate, sickly child, prematurely born. He stood by her and her baby. His love had not subdued and now he sought to deploy all of his forces to get the child his rival’s son to live.
However, the harder he cared for his well-being, the worse his condition seemed to become. He could see death dashing as a stealthy shade through his eyes, he could hear it on the boy’s unsteady heartbeats, he could touch its coldness on the boy’s skin and even notice the reek of it in the air dense with the fumes of the forest fires.
Days passed by and he felt exhausted. One day he decide to leave the boy and his mother sleeping unobserved inside the house, and finally take a look how things were going outside it. For lack of maintenance work, the fences bars were already somehow askew and the plasterboard from the walls was gradually begin to detach. But worse of all, weed had jumped over the marks, recovering the vegetable garden and even nearing the doorstep. He took a shovel and neurotically went around unrooting the weed and clearing the ways. That weed was death, he eventually said to himself. That weed was the approach of the inevitable, a force whose hungry onslaughts he could only temporarily avoid and detain, but which one day would win its patience war and swallow the baby’s breath, swallow wall and path and door, and then bed and then flesh and bone and then everything.
The earth’s mouth was already open when Schaffer’s radio shrill. Taken by assault, he uttered “Roger, over to you”. A message from the central. Eduarda had been let into the hospital.
After the apprehension caused by the radio bleep, before rolling the body into the gaping trench, it occurred to Garcez to fumble in the kid’s pockets. He found on his rear jean’s pocket a plastic wallet with an invisible side zipper, as one can buy for 5 reais at any peddler bag, its background in black, and the blue front side with a sketched beach landscape and an imprint with the initials O.P., for “Ocean Pacific”, in pretended English. Inside, there was a dozen of newsstand cards illustrated with photos of known football players as well as a yellowed birth certificate, gate-fold to fit in the compartment where money bills were supposed to be stored. He handed it out to Schaffer. Then Garcez outstretched his key string, which doubled as a hand-knife, opened the boys palms and scratched off the corpse’s fingerprints. Lastly, he reseized his shovel and began to cover it with the previously unhollowed earth.
“If Eduarda is at Mercês Hospital, you could drop me there”.
“Do you want me to climb up with you?”
“No, you go your home and get rid of the shovels. Clean the car and leave it in front of the post. Tomorrow we talk about what happened today... In case I will have the stomach to look at your filthy face again... Oh, I almost forgot it, no, tomorrow I will be on leave. Anyway, it’s over now. I mean, your misconduct. I will keep a close eye on you, be sure. You’ll have to play by the book. I don’t work with criminals”.
“You take your hero speech and shove it! Don’t be such a bigot. Whoever kills somebody I also call a bandit, and of worst stock!”
Schaffer groped on his holster in an infuriated reaction. “I had no intention to keel, asshole”
“Fuck it. You lost your limits. That thing you are supposed to learn in the academy! Say you had no intention to kill to the boy’s mom, moron”.
Garcez cast a look to the side and could still perceive Schaffer’s face blushed and twitched in an angry grimace. He sought to calm down the nerves:
“Hey, listen. This story finishes now. For me nothing ever happened. I helped you clean your crap. You owe me nothing. And I owe nothing to you”.
Schaffer did not say a thing. There really was nothing left to be said. He hold in his hands the kid’s birth certificate. He opened it carefully, as if he did not want to rip it, and read out: “Máikon de Oliveira”. He folded it back. “God may take care of you now, my son. And may forgive me too, but I have myself a child to look after”. He tore the document and set about scattering the paper snips on the outside of the vehicle, against the wind that drifted away the open window on his side.
It would be Garcez who, two days later, would register the missing report. Mrs. Maria do Carmo de Oliveira would have informed herself by some of his son’s neighborhood friends about his son, who had not come back home one night before. That had told that they had agreed on riding back to the district at six that afternoon, but he failed to show up. Since then, he would not have returned home or given a call to reassure her about his whereabouts.
“But why did they come downtown, lady? they came to pickpocket on the pedestrian streets?”
“Sir, I don’t need a lecture. I do both all I possibly can and all I can’t. I try to look after, but the kids, they grow big. And the bigger they grow, the more they are kids”.
Garcez would excuse himself, he had to talk to his chief for a couple of minutes, in order to be instructed on whether the report should be converted into a police inquiry right there, at the Police Post, or if it should be submitted to the Juvenile Council first. Then he would exchange some brief words with Schaffer outside the stand, so that the woman could not hear them. Soon after that, he would regain his seat behind the thin white table to announce the result of his consultation:
“Yes, it will be handed over to the Tutelary Office and, in the sequence, it can turn into an inquiry, if it is the case”.
When he entered the hospital bedroom, his radiant mother-in-law stretched out to him a boy wrapped in a bright blue sheet. The little one did not shy away from his hold. With open wide eyes, he bit the man’s fingers.
In tears, he headed towards his wife, who observed him attentively from the bed, in an effort to be reminded thereafter of his emotion. He sat by her side, while the child began to tap with his little hands the father’s lips. Only then became he aware of the strong sweat stink rising from his armpits.
“Tell us, daddy, have you decided on his name?”, enquired the anxious grandmother with her hoarse voice mellowed in a sweet pattern.
“Please no Junior! Not Ubiracy Junior!”, Eduarda laughed, twitching from the belly aches her laughing had caused her.
Yes, that did not sound good. He himself had always had trouble with that name, mainly at school time.
After some instants of reflection, surprised with the spell of that name dipped in the depths of the afternoon events, he announced:
“Máikon. What do you think of it? Máikon is a beautiful name”.
Both women nodded with their heads, reiterating as if in a trance one to the other Máikon, Máikon.
São Paulo, 2011, according to a plot developped as a project in the 1990s in Curitiba, where the story takes place.
Notes: 1) Araucária: brazilian pine (bot.), omnipresent in Curitiba’s plateau, an evergreen coniferous tree of the genus Araucaria, native in South America and Australia, characterized by its typical form of straight or capsized cup.
2) Máikon is the Brazilian adaptation of Michael, name popularized by American movies and pop-singers, common among the lower classes.
P.S. The deviations from the style grammar are intentional and correspond to an artistic option by the author.