Il y a des natures purement contemplatives et tout à fait impropres à l’action, qui cependant, sous une impulsion mystérieuse et inconnue, agissent quelquefois avec une rapidité dont elles se seraient crues elles-mêmes incapables.
There are purely contemplative natures quite unsuitable for action, which however, under a mysterious and unknown impulse, at times act with a swiftness of which they themselves would have felt incapable.
—Charles Baudelaire, Le Mauvais Vitrier (The Flowers of Evil)
Quote translated by Wallace Fowlie
Fabiano manages to fool security at the luxury apartment block by pretending he’s the gardener, which, as of last week, he no longer is. He was summarily dismissed by his boss, who had become irritated by his good looks and the way they invariably caught his daughter’s eye. Plus, he’d raised suspicions by the way he would gaze at the beautiful young girl wearing a tiny bikini in the pool. Having recognized the danger, the boss fired him immediately, discounting his years of dedication to the flowers, ornamental plants, and immaculate lawn, which stretched as far as the eye could see.
Having moved to a nearby favela, Fabiano experienced the stark disparities typical of the tropics, which were no less tristes than a New York Small-Appled between tourists and the upper class, homeless people and upstarts. That morning he decided to take advantage of his recently unemployed status and return to the house where he had been a live-in employee his whole life.
He knew that, soon after his dismissal, his now former boss would go to Germany to spend the New Year with his family, and that the other household help would go on their summer break. It was the perfect moment to resume his position and grow different kinds of flowers—uncommon, perhaps even evil ones.
Now he walks past the guard and wishes him a warm good morning, pointing his finger to the sky in the typical Brazilian way, grinning ear-to-ear, his teeth sparkling. He hums the funk tune he heard on the radio earlier this morning.
The time has come for revenge, and maybe also for striking it rich. After this he will travel south, away from Guarujá, to look for his brothers, whom he had left behind in order to secure stable employment. It’s the end of one screening and the start of a new film. Knowing every square inch of the house means dodging the security system is no problem. He knows the location of each camera and every wire that runs through the lawn he used to cut so often. He even knows the dogs have been taken far away to the country house. I enter the house like Father Christmas, finding his way into the most impenetrable of homes, let alone the ones he’s already snuck into. He swiftly bypasses the deterrents, pushes open the back door, and goes in.
Party time. He goes straight to the bar and pours himself a glass of premium scotch, imported at an unimaginable sum. He opens the fridge and starts to eat what’s been left there. Revelry and revenge in a single mouthful. This is his moment, and he isn’t pressed for time. He goes into the pantry and lays out all the edibles on the tablecloth. He’s in no rush; no one’s coming home for at least two weeks. The only thing protecting the home from unwanted guests is the ultra-sophisticated alarm system. But this has been deactivated by an old friend of the house . . . Fabiano himself.
For the first time the world belongs to him: an all-powerful ruler naming this planet his kingdom. He switches on the television and turns up the volume at the same time, but not so loud that the neighbors will get suspicious. He relishes the luxurious solitude and, as he sinks into it, his laughter cannot be contained. He dances around, lies on the carpet and the sofa. He takes off his clothes and admires his beautiful, youthful body in the mirror: his skin, his exposed cock, his chest, which has been sculpted by manual labor and the male ego that comes from having many girlfriends.
He puts his underwear back on and goes upstairs to his boss’s room, which has been left in conjugal immaculacy. He lies down on the bed with the bottle of scotch still in hand. He looks around the room for a DVD to watch. When he doesn’t find one, he switches on the TV and puts on a porn channel that doesn’t require a subscription. He lies down and fantasizes about the girl he slept with the weekend before. Then he notices the photo of his boss’s daughter—the sexy one his age.
The photo arouses him, and so he faces his enigmatic muse, and then . . . he . . . comes . . . spilling white fluid down the foto fatal. This is love on paper, of course.
He has a short nap, and when he wakes up, he floats out of bed feeling happier. This isn’t vengeance but justice. In a world of bosses and employees, masters and slaves, this opportunity shines bright at a risky yet felicitous moment. No one to blame him, no one to doubt him, he too belongs to God, a legitimate person, never mistaken for a bastard child. He opens the wardrobe door and is thrilled by his boss’s collection of shoes, trousers, underwear, ties, shirts, and little accessories, which populates one side of it. The boss’s wife’s clothes are on the other side: a perfectly symmetrical collection of tights, ribbons, bows, dresses, gloves, bikinis, and other things.
He puts on his former master’s clothes item by item, and they all fit him like a glass slipper. At last, this is his Cinderella moment, and he the enchanted little prince. As he tries on the clothes, he looks at himself in the mirror, his grin opening wider and wider until it barely fits on his face. His world is falling away and floating off with everything in his life that has been painful, uncertain, or frustrating. Then, in a flash, Fabiano’s heaven appears. Laughter comes easily, he has a house, a support network, and a car, which can drive him far away from his years of poverty to a place with no hunger or death, only happiness.
Meanwhile, from the other side of the universe invented by our imaginative protagonist, Fabiano’s ex-boss is following every plot development. Right before he went on holiday, he replaced his first security system with a brand new one: the latest generation of spy technologies consisting of a network of invisible microcameras positioned all over the house. None of the employees knew about it because they all left before it was installed. And now for the kicker: these cameras are connected to a central system that automatically sends an alert to the owner’s phone, wherever they are, upon any intrusion.
So of course the boss received a message the moment Fabiano set foot in the gardens. News of the intruder passed through the fiber-optic cables in seconds and reached the heart of Germany via satellite. And not only that, the cameras captured the gardener’s entire fairy tale in real time, what the master saw as an unsuccessful attempt to pot these evil flowers and plant them in their beds. It was time to call the police to the scene of the amateur crime.
When he hears the sirens, Fabiano falls from the clouds he has constructed. At first he tries to convince himself that this is nothing more than a film on TV. It isn’t long before he hears the noise of someone banging down the door: a reverse intrusion. He tears off the garments worn for his ceremonial dance, puts on his underwear, and re-dresses himself as a poor child ready for his return to reality. (The scene when Cinderella’s sisters rip off her clothes, made from scraps of their dresses, comes to mind). A tiny window before entering another brutal life in prison, where a new man will be made, one who will retrace his steps to the same house in the future, with no hint of amateurishness this time.
Before this happens, the boss jubilantly watches the last scenes of the short film he has involuntarily directed. He is very surprised to recognize his subordinate playing the part of the baddie. No such thing as innocence anymore. To think that he took the boy into his family when he was still in diapers. I need to rethink the security in the house, this is a major breach, I’ll fix it next time with the latest technology. And so the boss doubles the height of his walls and orders an even more finely-tuned security system, one that is practically invisible, undetectable. Meanwhile, Fabiano strengthens his young, virile body, slowly transforming into a man capable of jumping any wall, dodging any virtual paraphernalia, and, eventually, returning to the scene of the crime. It’s nothing more than a question of time and hard work.
“The Bad Gardener” originally appeared in the Brazilian journal Revista Pessoa. It appears here as part of WWB’s ongoing partnership with Revista Pessoa. Several times a year, WWB will bring readers new work that originally appeared in Pessoa here in English translation, and Pessoa will publish work from WWB’s pages in translation into Brazilian Portuguese.