Sergeant Garcia

In memory of Luiza Felpuda

I

“Hermes!” The whip cracked against the worn wood of the table. Louder, almost shouting, almost angrily, he repeated: “I called Hermes! Which of you numbnuts is that?”

I stepped forward from the back of the room.

“I am.”

“I am, Sergeant, Sir. Repeat!”

Naked like me, the others were watching. The only sound was of the rusty ceiling fan blades turning, but I knew they were laughing quietly, nudging one another in excitement. Behind him, the peeling plaster wall, the window painted navy blue that opened onto a courtyard full of chinaberry trees with trunks whitewashed halfway up. Not a breeze in the still treetops. And flies made sluggish by the heat, so dizzy they collided in midair, amid the stench of hot horseshit and dirty male bodies. Suddenly, there I was, in the center of the room, more exposed than the others. Sweat ran from my armpits.

“You go deaf, idiot?”

“No. No, Mr. Sergeant.”

“Sergeant, Sir.”

“Sergeant, Sir.”

“Why didn’t you answer when I called?”

“I didn’t hear. Sorry, I . . .”

“I didn’t hear, Sergeant, Sir. Repeat.”

“I didn’t hear, Sergeant, Sir.”

He seemed amused, his cold, green snake eyes almost hidden beneath eyebrows joined in a sharp angle over his nose. I was beginning to hate that thick mustache, a hairy caterpillar crawling around his mouth, a black velvet curtain parted over his wet lips.

“Got wax in your ears, moron?”

He looked around, seeking approval, giving permission. Relief swept over the room. The men laughed openly now. To my right, I could see the German with the broken rib, the tip almost poking through his belly shaking with halting laughter. And the stocky black’s shriveled balls.

“No, Sergeant, Sir.”

“How ’bout up your ass?”

The chorus of laughter let up in surprise. The fan blades cut through the silence again, like in a cowboy movie, just before the shootout. He looked at the men, one by one. The shrill laughter started up again. The tip of the German’s rib quivered in the air, uhn accident in der fields with mein sister. The leaves atop the chinaberry trees unmoving. The shriveled balls, as if nothing were inside, I’m a black belt, y’hear? A fly flitted by my eye. I blinked.

“Forget it. And don’t blink, stupid. Except when I say so.”

He stood and came slowly toward me. His white undershirt with big sweat stains under the hairy arms crossed over his chest; the tip of the short riding whip, erect and tense, tapping rhythmically against his close-cropped hair, stiff with grease, glued to his skull. Suddenly, the whip came right at my face, veering less than a palm’s width away, zinging, to crack down on his boots. I shuddered. It was ridiculous, the feeling of my exposed white ass, probably trembling, in front of a half-dozen stripped men. The caterpillar contracted, a slug sprinkled with salt, the curtain drawing to one side. A glint of gold danced over his canine.

“You afraid, lazy ass?

“No, Sergeant, Sir. It’s that . . .”

The whip snapped against his boot again. Leather on leather. Dry. The entire room seemed to tremble with me. On the wall, the portrait of Castelo Branco moved. The laughter stopped. But along with the drone of hot blood in my head, the rusty fan blades, and the weighted flight of the flies, I detected heavy, disgusting, oily breath. The others waited. I waited. Was this how it was for a Christian in the arena, I thought without wanting to. The lion toying with the victim, idle paws in the air, before delivering the fatal blow.

“I’m the one who does the talking here, got it?”

“Got it, Sergeant. Sergeant, Sir.”

“Keep it to ‘yes, Sergeant, Sir,’ or ‘no, Sergeant, Sir.’ Got it?”

“Yes, Sergeant, Sir.”

Up close, the smell of horse and human sweat, steaming shit, alfalfa, cigarettes, and hair grease. Without moving my head, I could feel his snake eyes slithering over my entire body. Bored lion, Spartan general, so intent on details that he could find the barbed-wire scar hidden on my right thigh, the three stitches from a hurled rock in my hair, and little spots, blemishes, even the ones I was unaware of, all the secret warts and birthmarks on my skin. He flicked the cigarette with his teeth. The burning ember brushed by my face. The nipple of his protruding chest grazed my shoulder. I shuddered again.

“Little pansy, eh? One a them prissy mama’s boys? If I catch you in a tight spot, you’ll find out what’s good for you, fruitcake.”

The men stirred, restless. Romans, they wanted blood. The whip, the boot, the snap.

“A-tten-tion!”

I straightened my spine. My neck was stiff, aching. My hands seemed made of brittle bones, without flesh, skin, or muscles. He ground out his cigarette with his boot heel and spat to one side.

“Aat ease!”

He spun quickly on his heel, heading back to the table. I crossed my hands behind my back, trying futilely to hide my bare ass. Beyond the chinaberry treetops, the blue sky held not a single cloud. But down below, along the river, the horizon was beginning to turn reddish. Someone crushed a fly with a swat.

“Silence, maggots!”

He looked at my chest. And lowered his eyes a little further.

“So you’re the one called Hermes?”

“Yes, Sergeant, Sir.”

“You sure?”

“Yes, Sergeant, Sir.”

“Where’d you get that name?”

“I don’t know, Sergeant, Sir.”

He smirked. I sensed the attack. And almost admired his ability to command the reactions of that herd of animals, to which I might as well belong, in his eyes. Juicy prey, weak, defenseless flesh. Like an idiot, I thought of Deborah Kerr amid the lions, in Cinemascope, Technicolor, white tunic, roses in her hands, an old picture in my grandmother’s house, Cecília among the lions, or was it Jean Simmons, a figure from catechism, the-Christians-were-obliged-to-renounce-their-faith-under-penalty-of-death, Father Lima ran off with the barber’s daughter, who must have become a headless mule, the daughter, not the priest or the barber.

Growing silence. A run-down horse crossed the empty space of the window, stage, screen, my mind was racing, Steve Reeves or Victor Mature, alone in the arena, sweaty-chested, the martyr, strangling the lion, the corners of its mouth, it wasn’t like that, the ligaments-of-its-jaws-pulled-downward-in-a-herculean-effort, the hero triumphed over the ferocious monster. The fly landed right on the tip of my nose.

“You by chance found on a doorstep?”

My face burned. He put out the cigarette in a small inverted military helmet, supported by three crossed rifles. And he looked at me head-on, for the first time, steadily, sharp eyebrows over his nose, deeply, a hawk sizing up its prey. The fly took off from my nose.

Don’t hurt me, I thought hard, I’m seventeen years old, almost eighteen, I like to draw, my room has a guardian angel in a broken picture frame, the window overlooks a jasmine bush, in the summer I get dizzy, Sergeant, Sir, it’s like a sweet sickness, all night long, every night, all summer, onceinawhile I climb into the window naked with something I don’t quite understand happening in my veins, then I open the Thousand and One Nights and try to read, Sergeant, Sir, You’re a good dervish, used to a simple life, far from the cares of the world, the next morning my mother always says I have circles under my eyes, and knocks on the door when I’m in the bathroom and says over and over that the Nara Leão record is very annoying, that I should stop drawing so much, because I’m already seventeen, almost eighteen, and have no sense of shame, Sergeant, Sir, no friends, just this dry giddiness from starting to live, lots of things I don’t understand, every morning, Sergeant, Sir, forever and ever, amen.

Sparks darted like comets in front of my eyes. I was afraid of falling. But the leaves on the chinaberry treetops began to move. The sun was about to drop into the Guaíba River. And I don’t know if it was because of his look, or because my nose was free of the fly, or because of my story, or the breeze coming off the river, or sheer exhaustion, but I stopped hating him then and there. Like someone changing a radio station. This one, I sensed vaguely, without static.

“So, Mister Hermes, you the one with flat feet, an irregular heartbeat, and low blood pressure? The doctor told me. And you’re the family provider?”

“Yes, Sergeant, Sir,” I lied quickly, the doctor a friend of my father. Doubt crossed my mind, what if he found out? But I was sure: he already knew. All along. From the start. I moved my shoulders, lighter. I looked deep into the cold depth of his eyes.

“You work?”

“Yes, Sergeant, Sir,” I lied again.

“Where?”

“In an office, Sergeant, Sir.”

“You study?”

“Yes, Sergeant, Sir.”

“What?”

“For college entrance exams, Sergeant Sir.”

“What’re you gonna do? Engineering, law, medicine?”

“No, Sergeant, Sir.”

“Dentistry? Agriculture? Veterinary science?”

“Philosophy, Sergeant, Sir.”

An electric current ran through the others. I expected him to attack again. Or laugh. He examined me again, slowly. Out of respect? Or pity? His look lingered, below my navel. He lit another cigarette. Continental unfiltered, I could see, the lighter shaped like a bullet. He peered out the window. He must have seen the reddish sky over the river, the orange sky above, the almost purple color of the clouds clustered on the horizon of islands. He turned his eyes back to me. Pupils so constricted that the green seemed like smooth glass, easy to break.

“Well, Mister Philosopher, you’re excused from serving your country. Your paperwork’ll be ready in three months. You can get dressed.” He looked around, the German, the black, the other men. “And you, you illiterates, oughta show some shame on your filthy faces and follow the boy’s example. Weren’t enough he’s the family provider, he’s gonna be out there philosophizin’ one a these days, while you all keep grazin’ like cattle till you die.”

I walked to the door, so triumphant that my step was like a wayward leaf, dancing in the afternoon breeze. Slow-witted, defeated, they made way so I could pass. Before entering the next room, I heard the whip cracking against the black boot.

“A-tten-tion! You think this here’s a free-for-all?”

II

Standing at the iron gate, I looked right at the sun. My old trick: everything around got so bright it became its opposite and turned dark, filling up with shadows and reflections that gradually came together, organizing themselves in the shape of objects, or just dancing freely in the space in front of me, without forming anything. These were the ones that interested me, the ones that danced unattached in the air, without becoming part of the clouds, the trees, or the houses. I didn’t know where they went, after my eyes, readjusted to the light, put everything in its place, so: house—walls, windows, and doors; trees—trunk, branches, and leaves; clouds—wispy or puffy, sometimes white, sometimes colorful. Each thing was each thing, and whole, in the union of all its infinite parts. But the shadows and reflections, the ones that didn’t join any shape, where were they kept? Where did the part of things that didn’t fit in go? To the back of my eye, awaiting the glare so it could come to the surface again? Or among the things that were things themselves, in the empty space between the end of one part and the beginning of another small part of the whole thing? Like a spirit of shadow or light behind the real one, a chiaroscuro form hidden within the innermost part of a tree trunk or in the space between one brick and another or between two wisps of cloud—where? The cicadas chirped in the courtyard of whitewashed chinaberry trees.

I breathed deeply, lifting my shoulders a little to take in more air. My whole body had never seemed so new to me. I started to go down the hill, leaving the barracks behind. The sun was a suspended ball of fire, sinking into the river. I shook a branch of jasmine, the sweet-smelling flowers rained down on my head. At the first bend, the old Chevrolet pulled up beside me. Like a big gray bat.

“Heading inta town?”

Acting surprised, I peered inside. He was leaning out the window, the sun illuminating his half-smile, making the gold filling in his left canine flash.

“Want a lift?”

“I’ll take the tram right over on Azenha.”

“I’ll drop you there,” he said. And opened the car door.

I got in. His cigarette moved from side to side in his mouth, while his hand shifted into first. A wind coming through the window tousled my hair. He held the cigarette, Continental unfiltered, I’d seen, between his yellowed thumb and forefinger, spat out the window, then looked over at me.

“Were you afraid a me?”

He was no longer the lion, or the Spartan general. His voice soft, he was a regular guy driving his car. I pulled a pack of gum from my pocket, opened it slowly without offering any. I chewed. The sugar coating broke apart, a cool burst opened my throat. I sucked in the air so it would be even cooler.

“I don’t know”—and almost added “Sergeant, Sir.” I smiled to myself. “Well, I was a little at first. Then I saw you were on my side, Sir.”

“No need for ‘sir.’ Garcia, the whole pack a them calls me Garcia. Luiz Garcia de Souza. Sergeant Garcia.” He made a mock salute, then spat again, first taking the cigarette out of his mouth. “Y’mean ta say you thought I was on your side then.” I tried to say something, but he didn’t let me. The car was reaching the bottom of the hill. “It’s that I could see right away you were different from the rest.” He looked at me. I wasn’t cold or afraid but shrank on the seat. “I hafta deal with stupid people all day. I won’t even tell you. So when a polite young man like you shows up, you take notice.” He ran his fingers over his mustache. “So you’re gonna be a philosopher, eh? But tell me, what’s your philosophy a life?”

 “Of life?” I bit down harder on the gum, but the sugar was gone. “I don’t know, the other day I was reading this guy. Leibniz, the one who came up with the monads, know of him?”

“The what?”

“Monads. He’s this guy; he said that’s what everything in the universe is. Like closed windows, like boxes. Monads, understand? Separate from one another.” He furrowed his brow, interested. Or not understanding at all. I continued. “Unable to communicate, get it? Things that sort of have nothing to do with one another.”

“Everything?”

“Yes, everything, I think. Houses, people, every one of them. Animals, plants, everything. Each one, a monad. Closed.”

He stepped on the brake. I put my hands out in front of me. He didn’t seem to notice.

“But d’you really believe that?”

“I think so.”

“Well, ta tell you the truth, I don’t get that stuff. I spend all day in those barracks, with that bunch a thick-headed jackasses. And you gotta treat ’em like that, use force, keep a hold on ’em, a short rein, or they ride you and life becomes a living hell. I don’t got time to waste thinkin’ ’bout how the universe works. But I think it’s cool.” His voice softened, then hardened again. “My philosophy a life is simple: screw others before they screw you. None a them monicas. But you got a long road ahead a you, kid. Know how old I am?” He studied my face. I didn’t say anything. “Well, I’m thirty-three. At your age, I was wanderin’ around pretty aimless, killin’ smugglers on the border. The barracks are what put me on track, or I’d’a become a criminal. Life’s taught me to be an open guy, I take it all in. Just can’t stand Commies. But thank God the revolution’s taken care a them sons a bitches. I’ve learned ta look out for myself, Mister Philosopher. Ta defend myself tooth and nail.” He tossed out his cigarette. His voice soft again. “But with you it’s different.”

I chewed the gum harder. Now it was just a tasteless wad.

“Different how?”

He looked right at me. Even though the breeze was coming in the open window, something warm had settled inside the car, in the smoke-filled air between him and me. There could be bridges between the monads, I thought. And I bit the tip of my tongue.

“A nice, well-mannered kid. Good-lookin’.” He made a quick turn. The tire squealed. “Listen, d’you really hafta go already?”

“Not right away, no. But if I get home really late my mom’s furious.”

Two more blocks and we’d be at the tram stop, in front of the Castelo movie theater. I had to say or do something fast, I just didn’t know what, my heart was racing abnormally, my palms were damp. I looked at him. He kept looking at me. The low-lying houses of Azenha went by heaped on top of one another, a pink wall, a blue window, a green door, a black cat in a white window, a woman with a yellow kerchief on her head, calling someone, the cemetery ridge, a young girl jumping rope, the cypresses fading in the background. He reached out his hand. I thought he was going to change gears, but his fingers swerved from the stick to rest on my thigh.

“Listen, how’d you like ta take a little drive someplace close by with me?”

“What place?” I was afraid my voice would crack. But it came out firm.

Spiderlike, his hot hand slowly crept higher, slid toward my inner thigh. And squeezed.

“Someplace nearby, where we can be more comfortable, y’know how it is. No one’ll bug us. Wanna?”

We’d passed the tram stop. Down below, where the stream met up with the Guaíba River, only the upper part of the sun was above the water. It must be dawning in Japan—antipodes, monads—I always thought at this time of day. I’d get the feeling the world was huge, full of unknown things. Not good or bad. Free-floating things like those reflections and shadows stuck in the middle of other things, as if they didn’t even exist, just waiting for people to face the glare, to come drifting out amid tangible things. So: hidden things lived inside tangible things, and only became visible when our eyes were so flooded with light that they could make out the invisible things among the tangible ones. I hadn’t known.

“Give me a cigarette,” I said. He lit one. I coughed. My father with his belt doubled, now you’re gonna smoke this whole pack for me, you worthless bum. The hot hand rose higher, untucked my shirt, a finger slipped into my navel, poked, joined the others, hairy spider, headed downward, creeping between my legs.

“Of course you wanna. I can see you want it bad, kid.”

He grabbed my hand. Led it between his legs. My fingers spread a little. Hard, tense, stiff. Almost bursting through the green pants. It moved when I touched it, and swelled further. Porous-cavities-that-fill-with-blood-when-aroused. My cousin shouted in my face: fag, faggot, nyah-nyah-nyah. The wind disheveled the green of Redenção, the palm trees of João Pessoa. Faggot, fag, nyah-nyah-nyah. And no, I hadn’t known.

“I’ve never done this.”

He seemed pleased.

“Don’t tell me. Never? Not even when you were a kid? Foolin’ around down in the gully? Or with a woman? Some cheap whore? I don’t believe it. Never even did it with a horse? Big man like you.”

“It’s true.”

He slowed gears. Bent over me.

“Well, I’ll teach you. Would you like that?”

I inhaled deeply. My head was spinning. From inside the houses, the trees, and the clouds, the hidden shadows and reflections were peeking out, waiting for me to look into the sun again. But it had already gone down in the river. During the night, the sparks of light slept quietly, hidden, tucked away in the middle of things. No one knew. Not even me.

“I would,” I said.

III

I wanted to stop, but couldn’t control my legs, my mind going in different directions, climbing the hillside behind him, y’know how it is, there’s always people spyin’ on others’ lives, better I go ahead, it’s at the blue gate, come along slowly, like you don’t know me, like you’ve never seen me in your entire life. As if I’d never seen him before in my entire life, I followed that green splotch, hands in pockets, lit cigarette, suddenly disappearing inside the gate, with a quick look back, hook to catch me. I ducked into the shadow behind him. Climbed the cement steps, pushed the half-open door, old wood, cracked glass, entered into the dark living room, with its smell of mold and cigarettes, wilted flowers floating in slimy water.

“The usual, then?” she—looking closer, and more carefully, I almost immediately made a mental correction, to “he”—asked, dressed in a colorful robe, the quilted kind, covered with red stains, from tomatoes, lipstick, nail polish, or blood. “Nice going, eh, Sergeant?” She, he, winked knowingly at the sergeant and at me. “This your victim?”

“You know Isadora?”

Her hand was damp, ring-covered, long red nails peeling, like the door. I shook it. She laughed.

“Isadora, darling. You’ve never heard of her? Isadora Duncan, the dancer. A mar-velous, su-per elegant woman, my idol, I adore her so much I took her name. Can you imagine if I used Valdemir, the name my dear mother gave me? Poor thing, she meant well. But that name, oh, that name! Just dreadful! So I changed it. God willing, one day I’ll die strangled by my own scarf. Could there be anything more chic?”

“Cool,” I said.

The sergeant laughed, rubbing his hands.

“Pay no attention, Isadora. He’s kind a embarrassed. Says it’s his first time.”

“Goodness. Such a strapping fellow. And you’ve never done it, my dear? Never ever, swear to Auntie?” Her hand was on my shoulder, one of her ring stones lightly scraping my neck. She rolled her eyes. “Tell Isadora the truth, the whole truth, nothing but the truth. You’ve never done it, kid?” I tried to smile. The corner of my mouth quivered. She talked nonstop, beady little eyes somewhat crossed, shadowed with blue. “Well, look, relax, it’s going to be OK. There’s always a first time in life, it’s a historic moment, darling. Even deserves a celebration. A little drink, Sergeant? I have some of that divine cachaça you like.”

“The boy’s in a hurry.”

Isadora winked, maliciously, paint-stiffened eyelashes leaving little black dots on her cheeks.

“A hurry? Do I ever know. It’s not every day we get fresh meat. Prime quality, wouldn’t you say, Sergeant?” He laughed. She twirled the key in her hands and, for a second, I thought of a majorette at the front of an Independence Day parade, tossing a baton with colored ribbons up into the air. “All right, all right. I’ll take you lovebirds to the bridal suite. How ’bout room seven? Lucky number, isn’t it? After all, there’s only one first time in life.” She passed by me, slipping into the dark hallway. “I’m sure the boy will just love it, become a regular. No one forgets a woman like Isadora.”

The sergeant pushed me forward. There I was, squeezed in the narrow corridor between the green uniform and the stain-covered robe, the smell of sweat and sweet perfume. Isadora was singing, what do you want from me why are you with me if all is lost my love? A dry sound, iron against iron. The bed with soiled sheets, a roll of pink toilet paper on the box that served as a bedside table. Isadora poked her uncombed head through the doorway.

“Have fun, children. Just don’t scream a lot, otherwise the neighbors get riled.”

Her head disappeared. The door shut. I sat on the bed, hands in my pockets. He came very close. The bulge stretching his pants, right at my face. The smell: cigarettes, sweat, horseshit. He stuck his hand through my shirt-collar, slid his fingers down, pinched my nipple. I shuddered. Pleasure, nausea, or fear, I wouldn’t know. His eyes narrowed.

“Take off your clothes.”

I tossed my clothing, piece by piece, onto the dirty wood floor. I lay down on my back. Closed my eyes. They burned, as if I’d woken up very early in the morning. Then a heavy body fell on top of mine, and a wet mouth, a mouth deep like a well, an agile tongue licked my neck, entered my ear, slipped into my mouth, a dry clash of teeth, iron against iron, while skilled fingers headed down toward my groin, inventing a new way. Why am I to blame if even the tears I wept may not have been for you? Isadora’s voice came from far off, as if emerging from inside a fishbowl, Isadora drowned, her streaked makeup coloring the water, the shrill voice mixed with the moans, inserting itself between that warm breath, cigarettes, sweat, horseshit, which now commanded my movements, turning me facedown on the bed.

I smelled the sour sheets, wondered how many bodies must have rolled on them, and who they were. I held my breath. Eyes open, I saw the coarse texture of the fabric. With his knees, he slowly, firmly, opened way between my thighs, seeking entry. Red-hot dagger, barbed spear, sharpened lance. I tried to scream, but his hands clamped over my mouth. Groaning, he pushed. I pictured a torch tearing open the darkness of a long-hidden cave, a secret cave. He bit the nape of my neck. I tried to throw him off me with a brusque move of my body.

“You cocktease,” he moaned. “Dirty little queer. Crazy little fairy.”

I grabbed the pillow with both hands and, with a heave, managed to roll onto my back again. His stubble scratched against my face. I heard Isadora’s voice again, what more can you give me what more have you to give me the mark of a new pain. Wet, writhing, his tongue reentered my ear. His hands grabbed my waist. He pressed his body along the length of mine. I could feel his damp chest hair making my skin sticky. I wanted to push him away again, but before I could act on the thought, he drew even closer to me, and then there was a deeper groan, and then his whole body shuddered, and then a thick, warm, viscous liquid spread over my belly. He relaxed his body. Like a sack of wet sand tossed on top of me.

I saw the yellow wood of the ceiling. The long cord, the light bulb at the end. Dangling, unlit. That sweet smell floating in the gray half-shadows of the room.

When he reached out his hand for the roll of toilet paper, I managed to slide my body along the edge of the bed and suddenly was in the middle of the room, slipping my clothes on, opening the door, glancing back in time to see him wipe his own belly with a piece of toilet paper, a green uniform draped over the chair, beside the shiny black boots, and before he could raise his eyes, I disappeared into the dark hallway tunnel, the deserted living room with its decaying leaves, Isadora’s voice even more distant, may not have been for you, the sound of glasses in the kitchen, the cracked glass, the peeling wood of the door, the four cement steps, the blue gate, someone shouting something, but far away, as far away as if I were in the window of a moving train, trying to catch a scrap of voice on the platform of the station growing more and more distant, without being able to put the sounds together into words, like a foreign language, like a wet, writhing tongue quickly entering the most secret part of me to awaken something that should never be awakened, that should never open its eyes or experience smells or tastes or touches, something that should have remained deaf blind mute forever deep down inside me, like the hidden reflections, that no glare should make come out again, because it should remain caged, muzzled deep down in the swampy depths of me, like an animal in a stinking cage, between bars and grates quiet tamed beast that’s forgotten its own ferocity, forever and ever.

Even though I knew that, once awakened, it would never go back to sleep.

I rounded the corner, passed in front of the school, sat in the square where the lights were just starting to come on. The stone statue’s bare ass. Zeus. Zeus or Jupiter, I repeated. I recited: Pallas Athena or Minerva, Poseidon or Neptune, Hades or Pluto, Aphrodite or Venus, Hermes or Mercury. Hermes, I repeated, the messenger of the gods, a thief, and androgynous. Nothing hurt. I didn’t feel anything. Touching my wrist with my fingers, I was aware of the beating of my heart. The air went in and out, cleansing my lungs. Above the trees in the park, you could still see reddish clouds, the pink turning purple, then gray, until the darker blue and black of night. It’s going to rain tomorrow, I thought, it’s going to rain and rain so hard that it’ll be as if the whole city were bathing. The gutters, the drains, the sewers would take all the dust, all the dirt, all the shit from all the streets to the river.

I wanted to dance on the flowerbeds, full of such a cursed joy that people going by would never understand. But I didn’t feel anything. That’s how it was then. And no one knew me.

I hopped aboard the first tram, without waiting for it to stop, not knowing where it was headed. My path, I thought, confused, my path doesn’t fit along tram tracks. I paid my way, sat, stretched my legs. Because no one forgets a woman like Isadora, I repeated without understanding, leaning out the open window, looking at the houses and greens of Bonfim. I didn’t know him. I’d never seen him in my entire life. Once awake it will never go back to sleep.

The tram screeched at the bend. Tomorrow, I decided, tomorrow without fail I’ll start to smoke.

Translation of “Sargento Garcia.” Copyright Caio Fernando Abreu. By arrangement with the estate of the author. Translation copyright 2011 by Kim M. Hastings. All rights reserved.