ISSN 2359-4101

Brazilian Literature in Translation / Literatura Brasileña en Traducción

Issue / Numero

year/año: 2012
issue/numero: # 06

Mil rosas roubadas

Author | Autor: Silviano Santiago

Translated by Lisa Shaw


I wonder if our first meeting occurred because he alone wanted it to and willed

it to happen? Could the version of events that I gave you all be false?

Could the supposition that this first encounter was the result of a strange

coincidence – although more convincing - also be quite false?

Neither too much, neither too little.

I can categorically and responsibly assure you that there is only one concrete, and

therefore indisputable and true fact: he was the one who approached me from the

right on Carijós street, on the corner with Praça Sete square.

The passengers who catch the tram from the final stop are different from

the passengers who, returning home after a day at work, wait for the bus in the

city centre. The bus passengers form a long and well-organised single file, running

parallel to the edge of the pavement, from where they inspect those hurrying past

in the opposite direction. Those who are in the queue chiefly entertain themselves

by watching those who walk past as if they were the day’s newspaper headlines

so they can speak ill of them. But waiting patiently for the bus can be a profitable

experience for the not-so-beautiful dreamer and office assistant. When she gets to

the door of the vehicle, she continues to look into the distance. Finally she spots

her colleague and waves at her. She leaves the queue, forsaking her hard-earned

place, and goes with her friend to the back of the line. She begins the slow journey

again before locking herself away at home to have dinner with her family and a

night of rest. She feels a sense of fulfilment for having had the courage and the few

extra minutes to flirt with the young men who walked past on their own.

The tram passengers do not form a single file running parallel to the edge of

the pavement, if for no other reason than because the vehicle has multiple entrances

on both sides. Each bench in the tram has a door to its left and right. The step

being lowered and also raised can cause a jam among the mid-fielders, rousing

them into action and making the passengers trying to get on and those trying to

get off push and shove each other aggressively. The latter, shoulder to shoulder,

are arranged into two or three parallel and continuous lines. Like zombies magnetised

by the tram tracks and the electric cables connecting the posts to each other,

and stretching as far as the eye can see down the street or the avenue, they stand

there waiting for heaven knows what. The most courageous are not prepared to

give up the comfort of sitting down on the journey, so they go into battle. Those

who are dragging their tired and lazy bodies home, however, prefer to remain leaning

against the wall of the building next to the stop. Passengers who are laid-back

by nature detest the bodily combat with those getting off at the last stop. They are

the ones who are not afraid to travel on the tram step.

Zeca came up to me on the right (following the contours of the Praça Sete

square’s perfect circumference) and immediately started chatting. That was after

I had made it clear to him, with a friendly smile and turning my body to the right,

that I recognised him without actually knowing who he was.

Whether he wanted to approach me and willed it to happen is still something

of a mystery. If there were ulterior motives, it is not difficult to discover his

motivations, especially with the information that has been accumulated over time

and that I will be passing on to the reader; if there were further hidden agendas,

one can only hazard a guess at these or, at least, consider them a mystery. Today I

can ponder over the ulterior motives and hidden agendas again and make up my

mind, assuming it is humanly possible to reach a conclusion that is not arbitrary or

invented in the heat of the moment.

I prefer to attribute his motivation for approaching me to his ulterior motives

and just guess at the content of the hidden agenda. But first I will move on to an

illuminating exercise that has been occupying increasing amounts of space and

time in the life of this retired professor. My digressions revolve around the differential

role that each of the five senses, if given precedence, fulfils in the formation of

the adult human personality.

The departure point for my reflections on this subject is as follows: none of

us has the ability to give continuous, equal and balanced weight to each of our five

senses. In everyday life each human being’s actions are conditioned by the privilege

that they give to one, and only one, of the senses, which, in turn, definitively

shape a person’s character and acts. Based on the privileging of one of the five

senses, individuals establish and define themselves differently in the world. In ideal

circumstances the unconscious emphasis given to the chosen sense locates each

of us — in this not-so-varied human comedy — into a universal family of psychological

types. We are not so different from each other, and Westerners are not as

different from Easterners as they would have us believe, since we all belong to five

distinct lineages.

Let us now look at the first universal family.

Affectionate types are also angry and they can be identified by the importance

they attach to the sense of touch. Governed by opposite and extreme feelings,

they physically handle another person and acutely sense the quality of that

person’s skin, the strength of the hair on their body and their head, the fragility

of their spine and the muscle tone of their arms and hands, the edginess of their

nerves. They also handle the objects around them and can intuit the good or bad

omens of vertical and horizontal, straight and curved lines. Faced with an animate

or inanimate target the tips of their fingers and the palms of their hands reject the

sensible middle ground. They advance. They bend and stretch their bodies. Affectionate

types rush in with open arms. At the slightest sign that the other person is

of a different type, and is demanding moderation or rebuffing this excessive openness,

arms, fingers and palms of hands go into reverse. They retreat abruptly —

fingers and hands go back to being an integral and component part of their arms,

which immediately line up vertically alongside their frustrated bodies. The lack of

interest demonstrated by the other person or the detachment displayed by the

glimpsed object wound these affectionate types like mortal arrows fired at them

out of the blue. If it were possible, affectionate types would die there and then.

Since this is not an option, they die of shame instead, with their tail between their

legs, and they get angry. They walk away with a face like thunder and breathing

fire, which once encouraged them and strengthened their resolve.

Loving types nourish and fool themselves with the sense of smell. Newspaper

and television advertising backs me up on this. To better prepare themselves, to get

themselves in the best position in relation to the object of their desire and the world

around them, loving types close their eyes (love is blind, isn’t it?) and submit to the

power of their olfactory cells. Once under the command of these cells, they hand

their entire soul over to the sublime delights of the scent exuded by perfume, or they

take their cells and their soul down into the depths of the dark and pestilent caverns

of someone else’s natural smell, which is the indescribable opposite of the scent of

perfume. Whether a woman or a man, a boy or a girl, all loving types are flirtatious

and promiscuous by nature. They do not distinguish between perfume and smell. All

loving types are also unpredictable. And they are all criminals: as soon as the perfume

or the (bad) smell are exuded from someone’s skin, that person’s body loses

its precise and concrete contours and vanishes as droplets into thin air. The strong

and powerful presence of the other person is murdered by loving types, just like the

felt of the board rubber removes all the words written in chalk on a blackboard. The

air becomes ordinary again and loving types try in vain to smell the scent. But the

arousing perfume of the other person has gone away. Loving types conclude that it

was all just a mere illusion of the olfactory cells in their nostrils, which are still poorly

trained in the ways of love. Just another fantasy within the wider fantasy world of

the eternal emotional frustration experienced by human beings.

Individuals who are detached from life as it really is, entrust to the sense of

hearing the task of recycling their own bodies, which have been denied excitement

and action, when any sound whatsoever – whether a common or unusual one –

reaches their ears in an unforeseen and all-consuming way. Once the sound has

been detected, individuals detached from life allow their bodies to float on the airwaves,

on this side or that of friendly everyday conversation and their interactions

at work. Sound is a neighbouring and intimate foreign body, neither human nor

animal. It is an abstract image of the wind that, in turn, makes human life abstract.

If sound reached wary eyes unexpectedly, it would immediately be eliminated by

tears. But there is no way of covering one’s ears without the help of an accessory,

such as hands or the earplugs used by the French (which, moreover, tell us a

great deal about the French as a whole). Sound is authoritarian and drifts around

the airwaves, transforming them into a one-way street leading the individual to

transform the ear of each and everyone into an absolute. It is the absolute ear that

gives immediate access to the artificial paradises that only exist in a overbearing

and exclusive way if enhanced by auditory and abstract images. For individuals

detached from life, human or animal speech only makes sense if expressed via an

equal number of syllables and in rhyme. Individuals detached from life love reading

poetry, although they do not know how to write it. They hate prose. They find it

conventional and mute. The excessively dislocated speech of sounds also makes

sense to them, a great deal of sense. Provided that the tone is inopportune and

cohesive, the sonic and penetrating noise that violates the eardrums makes sense.

Individuals detached from life like it is are similar to the female fan in the live audience

who feeds and nourishes herself passively on the show taking place on the

spot-lit stage of life, a place where the soles of her shoes will never have access.

Activated twenty-four hours a day, the palate makes fat people smiley, captivating

and affable. Fat people are fat because they have a trigonometric conception

of the tongue. They know that its parallel sides taste acidic things. On the tip

they taste sweet things, and at the back, next to the throat, bitter foods. Savoury

foods are tasted all over the triangular area of the mucous membrane. When they

put food on their tongues, fat people do not think twice. They opt for complicity

and balance between the four parts that make up the sense of taste, and which

leave the untrained palate in a predicament. Fat people are round like balls used

in all kinds of sporting activities. They do not walk along taking one step after the

other. They roll down hills like skateboards under the feet of daring youths; they

are like soap bubbles that, when they come out of a pipe, are already round, fully

formed and ready to glide through the air with the slightest puff of wind and

delight us. Greed is the mother of good manners; gluttony is the goddaughter

of kindness, and her godmother is indiscriminate conviviality with absolutely everybody.

When playing Danton in Andrzej Wajda’s film, the French actor Gérard

Depardieu became a role model. Life imitated art. Today he has a farcical body. He

looks like Oliver Hardy’s companion.

Of the five senses only sight remains to be discussed.

If my friend Zeca is not considered unique for the way he uses his eyes, there

is no doubt that he must at least be seen as unusual, extremely unusual, among his

contemporaries within the universal family. Well ahead of his body, which goes from

the tip of the 98 hairs on his head to the soles of his feet, come his bulging eyes.

Like in a clip from a cartoon, his eyes open scandalously wide and stick out from his

face. They protrude as if propelled by an internal spring. The two spheres are not

made up of flesh and blood, but of rubber. They go beyond, well beyond, the tip of

his nose. His sight acquires the power of a telescope that – wanting to follow the

trace of a rocket on its way to the moon — stretches its lens into space, unfolding the

instrument’s compacted parts. Bulging eyes do not blink. His started blinking after

he began smoking two packets of Hollywood-brand cigarettes per day.

The lit tip of a cigarette itches the retina, as if the threat of an imaginary fire

were really being licked by flames. When it leaves the lips and gains height, the

column of smoke — although the nervous waving of the hand tries to disperse it —

stimulates the eyelids to blink.

His eyes are rather ludicrous, I should warn you, so that the reader does not

recall his face in an unfavourable manner.

His eyes are calm only on the surface, since they imitate, via reflection, the

infinite acrobatics of the external image that they capture, observe and privilege

with intensity and excessive concentration. Many times have I wanted to escape

from his cinematic gaze. I knew, however, that his eyes would not let my image

evade the lens that was framing it and the shutter that held in a medium shot my

scared and panic-stricken face.

They are severe eyes and (to some extent) those of a detective, which can

detect any scam, trick or lie. They are close relatives of the Germanic eyes of

cursed Peter Lorre, as they appear in John Huston’s film The Maltese Falcon. The

eyes enter into bodily combat with the camera lens and it is they that determine

for the cameraman the shutter speed. There is no grade of film stock that is not

impregnated by their remarkable charms. In The Maltese Falcon, furthermore, all

the actors give the impression that they are playing the part of my friend. All the

eyes are bulging, like those of Peter Lorre, or popping out, like Elisha Cook Jr.’s The

bulging eyes are due to the violent attraction exerted upon them by the black statuette

of the Maltese falcon encrusted with precious stones, which has disappeared

and is being hunted.

His eyes spot people in a crowd, or in groups, and in the confusion of the

panoramic scene captured by the frame, they are capable of glazing over at the

same time all the other figures just to privilege, capture and set apart — in a camera

movement that quickly leads to a close up — the particular person in question.

His gaze concentrates on the most discreet and obscured human presence

in the crowd or the group, isolating it. His eyes do not only intensely scrutinise this

person but also read them from top to toe, looking them up and down, in the split

second of the snapshot. Like an effective isolation cordon, the camera’s eyes not

only disconnect the figure from those surrounding it but also separate the wheat

from the chaff within the person in question, with the intention of delighting only

in his or her good, beautiful and useful aspects.

Zeca is inimitable in the way in which he manages to enter into a dialogue

with a person he does not know. Armed with the delicate, confident and incisive

dagger of his eyes, he dresses them in kid gloves and goes straight in to bite the

carotid artery. He decorticates it to be able to tear it apart. With his mouth closed

in the intensity of his desire, only the figurative tongue of his eyes has the power to

part his lips so that it can move outside his body in order to lick the open wound

and suck the blood. Grace, charm and seduction combine to create the formula

for poised self-control that brings about his success with his unknown interlocutor.

Confronted by an anonymous person, he enjoys something of the success of

the modest, conscientious, self-taught teacher, who rounds off carefully and scrupulously

the inescapable and unavoidable certainties of human knowledge to realise

that his student will make progress in his introductory studies and earn his admiration.

His eyes deny loneliness and predetermine the life of a couple as a place

and a time where the perfection of unforeseen circumstances is transformed into

a pure phrase, which requires an exclamation mark to finish it off. Like in a sonnet

by Petrarch or Camões, the eyes arrive at the golden key via the pair of adjectives

that qualify a single noun and dignify the rhythm of the verse. The sensation of

victory (or of elation?) stems from the most recent individual found on the street

of chance encounters. The flag of conquest is raised above him, summing up and

announcing the day’s extensive accomplishments.

If Zeca did not come across in the street at least ten people that he wanted to

talk to, his afternoon would have been a tedious one.

The passage of life — the flow of the fine grains of sand within the hourglass —

is responsible for showing him the unforeseen facets of the chaff that, disrespectful

of his eye for goodness, mocks the grain of wheat that has been selected for storage.

Hastened by a sense of eagerness, understandably so, it has always allowed

time to run its course so that the machine of the world could perfect unhindered

the unknown and warped individual, putting him or her back together in the form of

another different person under the command of goodness, beauty and utility.

As magical as the chance discovery of a diamond in a stream, the duration of

Zeca’s gaze continues unbeknown to the human being who is being focused on.

The duration of his gaze can be short- or medium-term, it can be boring, lengthy

or eternal, but it is this that presents itself to a person — it is this that presents itself

to me at this moment in time — as the only real enigma of human relationships.

The duration of his gaze fluctuates like the value of precious stones and gold on

the international market, or the price of shares on the stock market. The following

morning, the new value already acquired can both far exceed all expectations and

plummet into the infernal depths of bankruptcy.

All prospected diamonds are rough and ruffians; the ruses that they resort

to, and live and survive by, are perverse — Zeca has always known this simple truth

about finances and I am not telling anyone anything new here. Diamonds without

flaws only exist in the imagination of the stonecutter who lives in the cumulus clouds.

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