ISSN 2359-4101

Brazilian Literature in Translation / Literatura Brasileña en Traducción

Issue / Numero

year/año: 2012
issue/numero: # 04



ELZA THE GIRL


Author | Autor: Sérgio Rodrigues


Translated by Sérgio Rodrigues

King Kong was playing in Cinelandia, the old man said, a late Saturday
afternoon session. I went to see it by myself, as I often did. I was crazy
about movies. I had already seen that one, it was a rerun, but I wasn’t
doing anything and thought it a good idea to watch it again and once
more try to decipher the prodigious optical tricks that, at the time, we still hadn’t
been taught to call special effects. The old man gave yet another grimace, this time
accompanied by a hoarse chuckle. Can you imagine, son, he said, a time when King
Kong, the first one, starring Fay Wray and that grotesque puppet filmed in stopmotion,
stopping more often than motioning, can you imagine a time when King
Kong was a technological wonder, a chimera that mesmerized crowds in the dark
auditorium? If you can’t, if you do not have such capacity for abstract thinking, I’m
afraid you won’t understand much of my story.
Well of course, Molina began to say. But it must have been a rhetorical question,
for Xerxes stopped him short, not at all interested in his answer.
To understand, or rather to feel the blast of novelty that little RKO film
represented for us, as though you had actually been there, is an intellectual exercise
comparable to breathing the air that we breathed in those days – and now, I wonder
if you have noticed, I am talking politics again. It is hard to explain this to a person of
the twenty-first century, these people who are always ready to kill or die over a traffic
quarrel, but never for their ideas. Oh no. No belief, unless you are a Muslim terrorist
perhaps, justifies the loss of anything, let alone life. The passion for a hooliganesque
pack of football fans, oh yes! In the name of that, sure, one kills, one disembowels,
one dies every Sunday and sometimes even midweek. But ideology, political beliefs,
world view? Bah! You are funny, aren’t you? It is hard to explain that world to you –
my world – but I’ll give it a try.
(…)
Elza didn’t know anything. Nothing at all. Or rather, yes, she knew how to make
soap out of ashes, was impeccable at pressing clothes with heavy irons overflowing
with coals, not letting the fabric burn or be soiled by the black smoke. She knew
a lot of those things that working-class women had to know in her time. She was
the daughter of a Light Co. worker, one of eight children, so she told me, and came
from a town that used to be called the Manchester Paulista, with a proletarian
concentration larger than most big cities’: Sorocaba. But she had no polish, no
political culture and little experience of the petty-bourgeois luxuries that, by then,
radio and especially cinema had started to implant in everyone’s minds, rich and
poor – Gessy Lever, the soap of the stars and all that crap. It was the beginning of
the avalanche of products that has now run over everything, and Elza looked at it
with curiosity, but without quite getting what was going on. The minimum data
was lacking. To begin with, she was illiterate. She loved going to the movies, found
Greta Garbo the most beautiful woman on Earth, but confessed to me with the
utmost candor that she didn’t understand a word of what was said on the screen.
The captions made as much sense to her as newspaper headlines or restaurant
menus – and, unfortunately, she wouldn’t live to see the dubbing age. The movies
were a petty-bourgeois pleasure anyway, she said, quoting Bangu, a close friend of
Miranda’s: a product of the imperialism of the United States of America. But Elza
didn’t really care for that kind of stuff, or the fact that she didn’t understand a thing.
For months on end, her dreams would include certain scenes and details: Garbo
looking in the mirror, a Claudette Colbert hairdo that she believed was similar to her
own. Sometimes she even preferred not to understand what people were saying on
the screen, so she could imagine only beautiful things.
Elza was telling me all this as we walked aimlessly through the center of Rio
that Saturday evening, after we left the Cavé ice-cream parlor. It was she who took
the initiative of entwining her right arm around my left one, a gesture of intimacy
that I hadn’t dared to invite, but received as a blessing. I wasn’t afraid any longer. The
anticipated rain had not materialized after all, and at one point the leaden cover of
the clouds was torn open magically, silently, from top to bottom, right at the positon
where a nearly perfect full moon was shining on the grey sky. Elza snuggled closer
to me, rested her head on my arm and asked me if I could teach her how to read
and write, ‘cause Miranda, see, was trying to do that with the greatest patience, for
she was a hard-headed moron, but Miranda had left her now, and she had no idea
what would become of her life. We had got to the Public Promenade and, amidst the
murmur of the waves breaking against the rocks, I heard Elza sniffling. I stroked her
bush of unruly hair with my free hand and led her to the nearest seat. Tears running
down her face, she smiled sheepishly, saying, I am so silly, don’t you pay heed. Then
my heart swelled and when I came to my senses I was drinking Elza’s tears, a young
girl’s tears, but no longer Miranda’s girlfriend’s tears. The happiness I felt at that
moment told me the future was good, how extremely good the future was. And
amid the most memorable kisses of my life, I promised her everything: teaching,
loving, and never never never letting anything bad happen to her ever.
Molina said: But it is a love story then!
There was no sarcasm in those words, at least not of the intentional kind. It was
a spontaneous remark, driven by surprise and even by a sort of awe. By relief, too:
if the old man’s interest in Elza was purely sentimental, he reckoned, his concerns
about the political implications of that story could safely be put aside.
Xerxes seemed to come back from a deep trance. He blinked several times
and looked at Molina like an entomologist examining a common butterfly, only to
confirm his initial impression of dealing with a specimen that was devoid of scientific
or aesthetic value.
A love story, he echoed Molina’s words. They all are, son.





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