ISSN 2359-4101

Brazilian Literature in Translation / Literatura Brasileña en Traducción

Issue / Numero

year/año: 2012
issue/numero: # 02



Amid those hills, after the rain


Author | Autor: Edival Lourenço


Translated by Eric Becker

And, when the question was posed to the Indians where they’d found
  the gold leaf in which they were adorned, the chieftain replied: “Amid
  those hills, after the rain.”
  Captain Antonio Pires de Campos, comrade of Anhanguera


One


Anhanguera. The Old Devil. A living, breathing legend debating with himself, tumbling down on top of himself. A broad-rimmed logger’s hat covering a head of evermore scarce hair, rifle exhausted by war, as if it were now a crutch, lending its support to his position more than providing the usual protection against a future enemy lacking in aim and shooting ability. Close by, bringing up the rear, with instructions from the family to not ever leave the old man’s side, is his youngest son, at least among the legitimate offspring, the bastards are too numerous to count. Behind them, further up where the slope trails off, there still rests beneath the stubborn morning fog a row of small, decaying huts, nearly uninhabited, barely holding on despite the precarity of their palm leaves and mismatched bamboo. Any outsider looking from a distance, at first sight of the collection of huts, would, for a moment, necessarily become confused. He’d hardly know if what he saw were a village of relapsed Indians or an agglomeration of the abandoned nests of some species of giant bird whose existence the discoverers had not yet managed to spread word of. But in reality it’s the decadent hamlet of Arraial da Barra, the first settlement erected by colonists in the land of Goyazes, under the guidance of improvisation during the first gold expeditions of Anhanguera and his allies there an the season neared during which the Rio Bugre delivers its waters unto the Rio Vermelho. In the preceding years, nearly everyone had moved to the Arraial de Nossa Senhora de Santana, which had also been founded by the very same Anhanguera, the so-called Old Devil, because in those parts the precious golden metal could be found more easily and plentifully. At that time, by lawful decree, Anhanguera became Intendant-Coronel of the mining province of Goyazes, drawing royal powers into his hands and applying them according to his whim as though the king himself had been present. But after falling victim to senility, to disorder, to general discredit and bureaucratic demotion, he returned, completely dried up, to this old settlement, to his primitive hut, to his old toils, like an aged elephant that, grumpy and full of nostalgia, falls away from the rest of his group and purposely loses itself upon long-abandoned trails with an eye to fulfill the secret rituals of death.
  His son—the poor kid. He acts as Anhanguera’s page. The page of an elderly man, a son of little worth, it’s said, a sickly and silly lad, already growing old himself, wobbly in the knees, bowed in body and soul, the bearer of a horrendous hump on one side of his back who goes by the nickname of Major. The Old Devil, rising to his feet, stands on the summit of the riverbank, pensive, like one who listens to funeral bells in the distance. With panoramic vision, dimmed by the travails of old age, he contemplates with a heavy heart the riverbank below, where the ground on each side had been noisy with the roar of the gold miners’ fury only a few years ago. From between the heaps of earth, water dark like gangrenous blood, its free flow obstructed, slowly escapes beneath a dirty, immobile foam. For the Old Devil, mining is a miserable activity, more bluff than true adventure. Worse than a spell of bad luck, is the sensation that the little gold collected in the bottom of a gold pan begins to lose its worth after some time. The impression he now has of the world differs greatly from that which he’d had before in those same surroundings on the day that, seven decades earlier, walking alongside his old father who is now more alive than ever in his memory, he heard the benevolent chief, when it was inquired where one could find some gold leaf with which the Indians always adorned themselves, respond while pointing to an indistinct location that appeared to be Eldorado: “Amid those hills, after the rain.”
  It appears, however, to the decrepit adventurer and tamer of the backlands, a dramatic glimmer amid the cruel circumstances in which he lives, to he who as late has been cultivating nothing more than fields of misunderstanding and bad luck. All is gangue and waste beneath the crepuscular light of the autumn of his life, the light riddled with darkness at this hour of nostalgic rumination upon a glorious past of exceptional achievements. He moves like a wild beast inside a windowless cage, a sticky atmosphere dense with lucid nightmares. Now he speaks in whispers, to himself, like one who rehearses a speech so he might utter it loud and clear on a favorable occasion. Not because of any senility, for despite his extreme age, lucidity had not yet failed him, thank goodness. He merely rehearses for the moment when he finds himself before an interlocutor of stature. Perhaps for when he stands before the captain-general, who according to reports come from the Arraial de Santana, was making his way to seize the rains of the Mineral Province of Goyazes and to make cease the excesses that had so contravened the law and order which, incidentally, no one bothered any longer to obey. To be frank, for the poor Old Devil, in the solitude of this hour, the silence is more than sufficient and all that he desires.
  Life. Life, my Lord, life! It’s as if life threw a lasso around us then tugged with sufficient roughness to bring down a wild bull. Allowing only variations only of the setting and surrounding landscape, reality insists on resisting change since the most remote of times. Our dreams always have someone in the wings ready to achieve them in our absence. Even in another time and place, in the boldness of another generation. On the other hand, our nightmares, like our marrow, cannot be taken from us without first grinding our bones. For this reason I say: no man of ambition elevated to the status of hero should ever survive his heroic destiny. Or so I suppose. Under the weight of his own heroism, in his downward slide, the hero is tossed, without the least pity, into the gorges of existence. Into the limbo of the catacombs. The whole thing seems a dirty trick spun by the devil’s hands, in the shadows off stage. As if God, with finely honed aim, illuminated the target before the devil fires his arrow. Different from that of mere mortals, the life of a hero has a crystal clear, fatal purpose and a strict expiration date. Nothing in the world is more humiliating and grim than a life anointed with fame and triumph, whose time is already a memory, and the acidity of the soot produced by the heroic mechanism itself destroys and erases each of the superhuman feats duly noted in a manuscript of the hero’s biography. The buttresses collapse, the moorings come undone and poof. From that moment on, all light becomes darkness, all greatness small, each glory converted to the misery of ruins and dust beneath an indifferent Heaven.
  But before we occupy ourselves with these and still other questions, which we’ll be obliged to address at another moment, when our time is greater, I must say that I’m filled with a gratitude larger than anything on earth that our gracious God, in his infinite charity, allowed me to witness so many feats of bravery and heroism and perhaps a greater number yet of infamy and villainy. Thus was I given the privilege of surprising people of all different walks of life, in the most disparate circumstances, as they lived and died in this harsh and brutal clime. Of the feats I was unable to witness, the Good Lord—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—saw fit that the most trustworthy reports reached me, so that I might give Your Excellency a full account of them. However, let me warn you from the start, so that no one might later allege he was duped, that those events at which I was not present or of which I received reports of the utmost credibility I’ve recreated in the most minute detail with the full exertion of my ideas and all the strength of my imagination, desirous that this concert of the facts with my ingenuity not stray, be it by a dot or a line, from that which may have indeed took place. Which ought not to meet with skepticism, for there’s no demerit in this approach, seeing how the outer edges of facts, much like a cloth recently taken from the loom, always leaves scraps that, if woven with artisanal rigor, may be used to increase the size of the cloth, be with lengthwise or widthwise, while still maintaining the piece’s texture and pattern. For this reason, I affirm with an apostle’s conviction, to whomever it concerns, that should the facts related here by chance prove untrue in this case, they will remain, notwithstanding, possibilities. Provided that one doesn’t leave the realm of said possibilities, I believe, without fear of appearing flippant, that the known version of a story proves more important than any version of which people have no knowledge. Especially because the version widely divulged takes the place of hidden facts entirely in importance and allows itself to be called, without the least bit of embarrassment, the truth. Let me clarify, however, that although no veil of doubt separates me from the innumerable facts I have witnessed or of which I obtained trustworthy information, I did not have the courage to give them the adequate repairs, to remove any superfluous flaking, file the calluses or disguise the blemishes, prune, whittle, soften the irritations, smooth over any incidents of lost patience, give it the splendor of some varnish, which might with any luck have granted my story fit, proportion, coherence, harmony, an appreciable beauty. Certain facts, in their raw state, as elaborate and true as they present themselves, don’t lend to the construction of a good story in which one can place his trust and experience with the full vigor of his heart, so much that it transcends his soul. A story that becomes a certified work of art, in which man can see and reflect himself. Exactly like a crude stump of Madeira mahogany or cabreuva, which to become a crucifix must undergo various interventions. Even that it keeps its knots, its crevices and the other wooden characteristics it previously held. Only now infused with other dimensions and transcendent meaning. Proceeding in this manner, upon taming the facts with ornate molds and adornment as if they themselves were objects of attainment but without, however, the deliberate purpose of excessively embellishing or dulling them, I’m careful not to betray the truth, but only to relate it like one who translates a rude, wooden stump into a refined object of adoration and respect. Such is my way of thinking. May it be so.
  I want to tell Your Excellency something, and what I have to say from the start, and which I in fact am now saying, without feelings of resentment, for all my false prudence, which even so desiring I’m unable to avoid, is that I‘m the emancipated bastard son of the discoverer of Minas dos Goyazes, Bartolomeu Bueno da Silva, the Anhanguera, the Old Devil by nickname, with a filthy cafuzo. A household slave is what she was. May God protect her and retain her in the comfort of His bosom, for every mother is deserving of divine deference. I’d like to put you at ease, too, that the fact that the Anhanguera is part, even if secondary, of the story I intend to tell and which, in fact, I now recount, does not create the risk of my coming and sparing him with the solicitude of a loving son, nor of my detracting from him with a bastard’s fury. I shall seek to maintain him within the just measure of his acts and failings: neither larger nor smaller than a reasonable sense or a measuring tape could perceive him. Not that being the son of the discoverer of Minas dos Goyazes is unsavory for me, empty of meaning. I can attest to Your Excellency that it brings me more satisfaction than disappointment. What I mean to say, if indeed I’ve not already said it, is I’ll seek to portray him with the proper distance, or with the same involvement, if you prefer, of the other persons mentioned over the course of tilling and cultivating this prosaic work of mine.
  Thinking it over, until today I never understood why my father would have dragged his wings for my mother and have impregnated her with his descendence, seeing how black girls (my mother was cafuza) are known to be the preferred servants, as much for the mistresses as for the masters of the house. Not for the same reasons, it’s better we already clear that up. The mistresses prefer them for the well-known abilities of the women of their tribe in the kitchen: they possess a divine hand for the seasoning of tidbits and ambrosias, as well as for looking after the house with the cleanliness of an ant. The masters’ preference also relates to these women’s heralded propensities. Only for their bedroom sorcery: it’s said they possess devilish bodies primed for the voluptuous sway of lovemaking.
  Ordinarily, bastards of infected blood, those same of my sort and ilk, are sold while still children as slaves or exploited for their whole lives by their own progenitors as such. Especially as giving up such livestock, so highly valued in the market for servile labor, is a luxury few can grant themselves, and those capable of doing so are nearly never so disposed. In such matters, financial necessity, real or many times invented, always has the last word. Not to mention that a bastard son beneath one’s roof, or however close he might be, is a steady font of misunderstandings and vexation without end. The second Anhanguera, nevertheless, had this noble trait: he lacked the big eyes, so to say, to thrust his own son into the grind of slavery.
  His own friends, at various periods and at different turns, censured him for this with severity.
  Where have you ever seen such a thing? The way slaves are running scarce, with a value heaven-high, Your Excellency in this very unpleasant, precarious situation, nearly off to the poorhouse, and not making use of the opportunities you have. It’s even a sin of pride, such a thing. Sell off this chum already, friend, some said, while others commented, behind closed doors, that what my father had in talent to discover gold he lacked in ability to manage the gold he’d already discovered. 
  It’s like they say, others justify, bastards only give us two pleasures in life: one, when we make them; the other, when we sell them off. Sell this worthless good-fornothing rascal, Coronel. That’s what, and that’s all, they’re good for.
  My father never lacked an interested buyer. They abounded, in fact, as far as I know. I even saw some of the more audacious ones, urged on by cupidity, taking gold dust from their packsacks, and running it between their fingers from one hand to another, in front of him, the gold glittering against the sun, in way of argument, a temptation to break his resistance, waving the means of instant payment, ready to be exchanged then and there, once the buyer had his livestock there on a rope, fettered and branded with the identifying mark of his new owner’s dominion. As soon as the slave’s Achilles tendons were cut or his big toes lopped off so as not to run the risk of his moving about more than the desired distance. He retreated into feigned misunderstanding, poor Anhanguera, every time he faced these temptations. I remained emancipated by this serene forbearance, this almost carelessness of my father, but mostly because of his compassion. Which, nevertheless, leaves me leagues and leagues away from being recognized as his legitimate, or even natural, son and from having the honor of carrying the legacy of his name. Of being an illustrious, respectable man of the Old Devil’s venturous and intrepid paulista dynasty. For that matter, there’s no road, nor path, imaginable toward this end. I can beat my dead horse, saddle him up and give him new horseshoes, but I’m not part, nor will I be, of the flowing vein that directs this river. I’m merely a branch, nearly imperceptible kindling in the riverside countercurrent that churns and churns in infinite anxiety and that, even though part of the river, never moves from the same spot.





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