ISSN 2359-4101

Brazilian Literature in Translation / Literatura Brasileña en Traducción

Issue / Numero

year/año: 2012
issue/numero: # 06

Murder in the Library

Author | Autor: Helena Gomes

Translated by Samuel Gorvine

Thursday, September 3, 1970


Difficult and dangerous times. The AI-5 times. Lara did not know what the acronym

meant, but was frightened enough not to talk about it. People’s silence said it

all. AI-5 was a way that the military government had invented to hunt down people

considered enemies of the state. And anyone could end up on this blacklist: teachers,

trade unionists, students, writers and singers, in short, everyone who did not

agree with the decisions of the military government.

Lara was walking to school, as usual. This time, however, her fear shadowed

her like an invisible companion. It was a cold feeling, made more oppressive by

the threat of the unknown, of what might happen. She was not so much afraid for

herself as for Luke, her brother, who was six years older. She didn’t know if he was

on AI-5’s hunted list.

It was a beautiful day. Lara left Pedro Américo Street and turned right onto

Avenue Ana Costa and passed in front of the Sorocabana train station. At this

moment, no passenger or cargo train was crossing the Avenue, to the delight of

hurrying motorists. When the train passed, all traffic in the area stopped. Lara liked

the sound of the klaxon which sounded before the gate came down and closed

the Avenue so that train cars could pass though on the rails. Santos was really a

marvelous city to live in.

That morning, she paid no attention to anything, not even to tram 42 that

halted to pick up passengers at a stop just ahead. Soon, Santos would lose all its

trams to make way for buses that already circulated in ever-increasing numbers.

A sign that things were changing, some people believed. “Modern times,” said

others. Lara was fourteen years old. She liked the trams, but could not help but

be impressed by the news of a world that seemed to be moving ever faster. In the

previous year, an American, Neil Armstrong, had walked on the moon for the first

time. Lara’s grandmother never tired of repeating that the images that the TV had

displayed showing the astronaut walking on the lunar surface were just fakes. “It’s

all a trick!” She retorted angrily. “Wasn’t the USA the country that had encouraged

the military coup in Brazil?” As Luke explained once, quietly and only to Lara’s sister

and grandmother, the CIA had taught torture methods to the Brazilian police

and military, today the same methods were applied without mercy to prisoners of

the regime.

Lara thought about Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil. Luke had told her that

they had been arrested a year earlier in a nightclub in Rio de Janeiro, where they

were doing a show. After two months in prison, they had gone into exile in England.

And what if that also happened to Luke? Lara was afraid that he too had

just been arrested, was being tortured and would have to leave the country. What

would become of her and grandmother? They had both missed him terribly since

he went to live in São Paulo to study philosophy at USP. How would they manage

if he were forced to live abroad?

Lara took a deep breath and hugged the notebooks she carried to her chest.

Squeezed between two pages, was the money she was to give her brother. It was

all her grandmother could manage. Luke did not reveal any details about what was

happening with him. He had called the day before, asking for his sister to bring

the money and meet him at the school library where she studied. He was clearly

in danger. At times Lara suspected her brother was doing more than just going to

demonstrations against the government, which, actually, was now forbidden. Her

grandmother wanted to take the money personally, but he argued that his sister

would arouse less suspicion. After all, she was just going to school, as usual.

Lara continued along Ana Costa Avenue. Some houses still proudly displayed

the Brazilian flag. Recently Brazil had won its third World Cup, in Mexico. Santa

Maria High School was on one of the side streets to the Avenue, a few blocks from

the beach. It took up an entire block with its low walls of white stone. The main

building had been erected in the late 19th century in neoclassical style, and resembled

a giant “L” lying facing to the right. At the base of the “L” were the main office,

the principal’s office, the kindergarten, and other smaller classrooms. From here a

staircase led to the classrooms of the elementary school and the gymnasium on

the first floor, and the classics, the scientific and accounting departments on the

second floor. On the right side of the building (the stem of the “L”), on the ground

floor, was a large library, which was open on Tuesdays and Thursdays to the general

public. Above it, on the first floor, were more classrooms and a laboratory. An

amphitheater was planned for the still unoccupied second floor.

Painted white, reinforcing its traditional appearance, the main building was on

the way to Gonzaga, a neighborhood with few large buildings and many residential

homes. In front of the right wing of the library, there was a chapel in honor of Our

Lady, for whom the school was named, and on the right side, an area for sports.

Way in back, the caretaker’s tiny house was just visible. Just to the left of the main

building, closest to the wall, was a sort of vegetable garden and deeper inside, a

playground, with swings, slides and seesaws, which continued on into the patio

behind the main building. In addition to this, the college had well kept gardens in

various parts of the grounds, especially in the open area between the chapel and

the main building and in front of the library opposite the imposing entrance gate.

Turning the corner of the street approaching the school, Lara walked faster,

her heart pounding. At the school gate, she forgot to say hello to Gilmar (the janitor

who worked as a doorman), waved to two friends gossiping in whispers at

the door of the main building on the left, glanced at the chapel on the right, and

crossed to the central lane of the garden, which led to the library. Upon entering

the library, she bumped into a beautiful young blonde in a miniskirt, with long hair.

Her bangs covered her heavily made-up eyes.

- Sorry! - Lara said, but the girl left hurriedly without any reaction.

Behind the counter, Conceição, the librarian, fortyish and friendly, became irritated

when she realized that Lara was just there to say good morning.

- Five minutes to get to class - the woman said, peevishly.

- I just came to pick up a book ... - Lara said, surprised at such rudeness from

a person normally agreeable.

- Come back later.

- But ...

- I told you to come back later!

Authority would always prevail, but at that moment she cared only about her

brother, and so ignored her, moving quickly towards the corridors formed by bookcases

crammed with books, certain that the librarian would catch her and pull her back by

the ears. Conceição, however, did not budge from her seat behind the counter.

Strange ... the library was empty. At that hour of the morning it was usual to

hear the murmur of students coming to return books or look for others to help

them with the heavy load of homework that teachers usually assigned.

Lara checked the first corridor, and then the second. Then quickly, took a look

in the third. Luke promised he would be in the tenth corridor, counting left to right

... But what if he was in the tenth row, right to left? That would change everything!

There were 30 corridors in total, running in parallel to the right, just after a counter

and a group of tables that students used to study and take notes.

She hurried to the other end of the library. She heard voices ... voices of adults

and not the usual children and teens. Still, Thursday was the day the library was

open to the general public. Except that ...

Desperate, Lara reached the corridor where her brother was waiting. She

walked in on the worst scene imaginable. Luke was surrounded by three brutal and

heavily armed men. One approached the boy, who did not react, and punched him

violently. Luke was knocked backwards into thick wooden shelves full of books before

falling face down on the floor. Lara wanted to scream but could not. Her body

shook with fear and anger at what she had just seen. The second man approached

the boy and began to kick him hard in the face, stomach, chest and arms-- nothing

escaped the fierce assault. The third man joined the attack, while the first, looking

satisfied, just watched.

Lara was a slender teenager. Still, she raced over to the two men who were

attacking Luke. She had to stop them and get her brother out! She grabbed one

by the arm, pulling him away as hard as she could.

- Stay out of this! - said the guy, pushing her away.

No, they would not take Luke! Lara responded with all the outrage she could

muster, and hurling herself at the man’s back, clung there long enough to bite him

hard on the ear. The man roared and pulled away from the boy he was kicking

mercilessly. The second man pulled Lara off him, throwing her to the ground. Lara

hit the ground hard, and though a little dizzy, managed to get up. She would have

resumed her attack but was stopped by a deafening noise.

Stunned, the girl looked down at her body. Blood soaked the white blouse of

her school uniform. A bullet had struck her in the chest, at heart level, burning and

tearing clothes, skin and flesh. A terrible pain followed.

Lara looked up to find her killer. He was still pointing the gun at her. It was the

same man who had punched Luke and then stayed back to watch the beating, the

youngest of the three. He couldn’t have been more than twenty. His two companions,

worried, also were looking at him.

- Lara ... - Luke muttered, still lying on the floor and injured too badly to move.

He had seen only that agonizing moment. There were tears in his eyes, and he

felt guilty for putting his sister in danger and panic at what had happened to her.

Lara’s body slid down to the cold floor of the library. The three men paid no further

attention to her. They moved quickly and, within seconds, Luke was gone, taken

far away. Alone now, Lara felt a chill premonition of the unknown. Yet, she was not

afraid. When a great, ominous darkness enveloped this brave girl, she met it with

eyes open, ready to face her new future.

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