Chapter 3 - Tormented Passion
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The Family Grows
The young couple is now awaiting the arrival of their first-born. Four months after the wedding, on a Christmas Eve, Manoel returns home after a Christmas vigil service, and das Dores simply tells him the good tidings: “I’m expecting a baby.”
He has just gone into the house—has not even unsaddled the horse—to remove his black opa and put on a coat, for he had been hit on the way back by a fine yet persistent drizzle. He stands silently and nearly breathlessly for a few seconds, just staring at his wife.
“ Are you sure?” he finally asks her.
Das Dores, standing about a yard from him, nods her head and breaks into a wide smile.
Manoel hugs her. They both laugh, and he raises her and spins her in the air and shouts joyfully, “I’m gonna be a dad! I’m gonna be a dad!” He looks lovingly at her, still holding her, and goes on to add, “Well, I say! The Blessed Mother has heard me. She always hears me.” His eyes shine, as often happens to those who see their faith confirmed. “The Holy Virgin Mary heard me, you can believe that, das Dores ! She sends the signal now, on the eve of Her Child’s birth and after our prayer service! Isn’t that just amazing?”
The prospect of being a father seems to give him even more energy. He now wants to enlarge the house they live in, to throw a big celebration when the child is baptized, and to build that chapel, for otherwise where is the baptism going to take place? The rainy season put the building of the chapel off, but it has to start now.
He leads and rallies everyone around the chapel project. For the overall coordination, he picks José Vítor, a fellow in his early thirties, cordial, helpful and hard-working, who gets along very well with everyone. He is also the most experienced in the region on these matters. The location chosen for the chapel is right in front of Manoel’s house, across the road.
In early August, prior to their first wedding anniversary, his wife goes into a long, difficult labor, so painful that she thinks she is going to die. Manoel watches everything in deep anguish, praying to the Virgin Mary in the chapel or in his bed. In utter despair, he makes a vow in the chapel that he promises to carry out if his wife and child live. They do, and the baby is born crying, apparently protesting that his birth took so long. It is a healthy boy, and the father is proud to see that, despite some swelling, the face resembles his own.
The first time the young couple talks about naming the child, the proud father says what he has in mind: “I was thinking about Manjo.”
He explains that the name mixes the first two syllables of his own and his father’s name, which was Joaquim.
“Manjo? That’s not a boy ’s name. Men are named Zé, Antonho, Pedro, Mané, I mean, Manoel, Quinzim... but Manjo? I never heard such a name!”
He insists, saying that the name pays homage to himself and his father, but his wife remains adamant that Manjo is not a proper name.
Actually, Manoel’s idea for this name is old. Back when he was in Rio de Janeiro, he overhead someone asking somebody else, “ Você manja disso?” (Do you know anything about this?). The other fellow answered: “Manjo” (I do). Manoel was instantly in love with this word, not only because it united the initial syllables of his and his father’s name, but also because it was a Brazilian word. ‘Manjo, Manjo, Manjo, Manjico... he would repeat to himself from time to time, marveling at its sounds. He finally decided that if one day he had a son, Manjo would be his name.
Maria das Dores asks for her mother’s help because it is difficult to change her husband’s mind. Her father and brothers also jump into this discussion, but a stalemate ensues, a deadlock that is only broken when the family talks to José Vítor, Manoel’s sole friend, whose opinions he values dearly.
“Manoel of the opa, we have to respect the elderly,” his friend starts, having prepared the argument beforehand. “The respect has to start with your own father. How about if you call the boy Joman?”
The time has now come to take care of the baptismal ceremony.
Manoel leads a movement in the community to have a priest come to that region for the first time. He comes, blesses the chapel, says Mass, and, as he collects the full names of the children to be baptized, Manoel, without consulting anyone, says, “Joman de Oliveira Opa.”
José Vítor and his wife Matilda, a.k.a. Tilda, are chosen to be the boy ’s godparents, which is the greatest show of friendship one can demonstrate. At the moment that the child is being baptized, das Dores hears the surname Opa. Leaving the chapel with the child in her arms, she shows that she is displeased. “This is the name of a cape, not of a people, Manoel.”
He explains to her, “When Joman was about to be born, I thought that you and he might die. So, I made a promise to the Blessed Mother that, if you two lived, all my children would carry the name Opa. Thanks to that promise, we are all here happily together.”
Surprised at this revelation, the young woman no longer looks upset and remarks, “Then the name was well given.”
Das Dores gives birth to a girl in July, 1936, when Joman is eleven months old. On the one hand, she is very happy because she wanted a daughter so much, but she is also increasingly concerned about the boy, who is beginning to walk, is very active, and has to be watched the whole time so that he will not get hurt. Manoel names the girl Belma, honoring his mother Belen and his wife Maria, adding the surnames Oliveira Opa.
As his family grows, Manoel thinks about making more money. The farm so far has yielded barely enough income to survive. He even thinks about moving from the farm, but he puts this thought aside be cause he realizes how important his mother-in-law is while the children are still small. He has to find some business right on the farm. After some time of observation, he realizes that rice is frequently bought in Cachoeirinha, since practically no one plants it in the region. He sees the opportunity he was looking for and talks with his friend about it.
“Rice has to be planted in wet land,” José Vítor starts to explain, “but it’s really a good business. If you find some good land, you can sell everythin’ right here.”
“Do you know any such piece of land?”
“‘Matter of fact, I do but I ain’t sure if the owner’s willin’ to sell. He plants rice in a plot, but not every year.”
They decide to check it the next day, a Wednesday. In the evening, Manoel invites his father-in-law and brothers-in-law to be his partners, but they show no interest, arguing that the distance is the main hurdle.
Florinda, the Temptation
“Well, I say! I’ve got a mind to plant some rice, and you have that marshland which interests me. Would you sell it?”
“No, I can’t ‘cause I need it to do just that.”
“But I see that it’s seldom used.”
“Yeah, but I ain’t selling.”
“Maybe you can lease it,” José Vítor suggests.
The old man is willing to discuss leasing, and they finally come to an agreement in which Manoel will use the land for five years in exchange for a modest sum paid after each harvest.
He now needs workers experienced in rice cultivation and asks the farmer whether there are any around. “There are some good at it,” says the farmer, explaining how to get to two houses.
In the first house lives Zeca, a strong man of few words. When asked whether he is interested, he mumbles, “How much you paying?”
“Ten tostões a day; is that good enough?”
“No way!” he replies curtly. “Fifteen hundred réis.”
That is fifty percent more than what Manoel intended to pay, but he tells the man, “I’ll think about it.”
In the next house, they meet two blacks, brother and sister, Abidias and Florinda. She starts the conversation by saying that the marshlands are very fertile and that Manoel will make money there. As regards wages, she says, “Around here, menfolk get paid fifteen hundred and women a thousand.”
Manoel looks to José Vítor and shrugs his shoulders.
“Well, I say! Good enough. We can start at once.”
“It’s about time,” the young woman remarks. “We gotta plant in October ‘cause come December, the place’s full of water.”
“You two working, then?”
“The two of us, for sure. We ain’t doin’ nothing now,” she says, and she is the one doing the talking.
“Well, I say! Not bad, not bad at all! We’re all set for next Monday.”
She makes some recommendation about the tools needed initially. Manoel and his friend then go back to Zeca’s house and hire him, too.
On the way home, Manoel remarks, “Well, I say! Pretty smart young black woman! Did you notice that?”
“She sure is; and pretty decisive, too. She does all the talkin’ and makes all the decisions.”
“And she knows what she’s talking about.”
Because of the distance, and to save time going and coming back, he decides to ride his fast white horse every day.
He arrives early on Monday morning, hands the tools to the workers, who are waiting in the shack, unsaddles the horse, and takes it to graze in a nearby pasture. He comes back and asks them about the best way to proceed with the work. The young woman does the talking. “We gotta start clearin’ out the low grass here and, then that high grass and ‘ em weeds over there, takin’ out all them stumps.” She gestures as she speaks. “We split the labor : one of us clears out the low grass, another the weeds, and the third one takes out the tree stumps.”
“Is it necessary to root them out?” asks Manoel.
“It is,” she says, “so that we can till, and also it ain’t gonna be in the way when it’s all full of water. That dam over there’s gonna have to be fixed,” she says, pointing to a pile of earth at the end of the terrain, “to hold in the water. Rice likes water down below and sunshine up above.”
Manoel eyes the area carefully, also thinking how interested that eager girl seems to be.
Manoel tries to think but is not able to—his eyes are fixed on her. She waits for his answer, but, upon noticing him staring at her, she smiles slyly and joyfully, showing sparkling white teeth and eyes as shiny as polished black onyx. Her hair and face round out the hypnotic image. Manoel’s eyes travel her body from the top to bottom, covering her large firm breasts, thin waist, well rounded hips, what little of her legs her simple dress allows one to see, and her strong, sandal-clad feet. He tries not to stare and, without thinking, says automatically, “Well, I say! Fine, sounds like a good idea to me. Let’s go.”
Florinda moves ahead, and again his eyes are fixed on her, this time on her large, curved behind. Obscene thoughts take over his mind. He makes the sign of the cross and, remembering how happy and fulfilled he is with his wife, asks sadly, Most Holy Mother, why do I always have to want more and more?
They start clearing the land, side by side, he at times stealing a quick look at her and finding it highly pleasurable when she strikes the ground with the hoe. He makes the sign of the cross several more times. Most Holy Mother, why do I always have to want more and more?
He tries thinking about the farm and the work he will have to do there after he gets home past four in the afternoon. It works for a while, but before he can perceive it, that shrewd smile comes to his mind like a portrait. It`s a curse! He makes the sign of the cross. Most Holy Mother...
Before long, those large firm breasts invade his mind. Again a curse, again the sign of the cross, again... why do I always have to want more and more?
He recalls when he came to the farm for the first time and how das Dores had enticed him. He dwells on the details, thinking of her removing her slippers, but suddenly those feet are no longer his wife’s but the hard black feet of this fiery young woman waiting for a male. Get away from me, Satan!
And on and on it goes, a struggle the whole morning long.
The same afternoon, he goes to the chapel to do penance for his sins. He rolls his pants above his knees, places some corn on the floor, and kneels on them, opening his arms wide so that his body is now in the shape of a cross.
“...Most Holy Virgin, forgive my sins and deliver me from this temptation...” He continue the prayer in front of the image of saint adorned by flowers planted and harvested by his wife. He prays to the point of exhaustion, until he can no longer hold his arms wide open.
“What’s this, senhor Manoel?” she asks, feigning surprise even as she moves to get her body closer to his.
Like a stud in heat, he lays her on top of his saddle cloth and possesses her wildly.
“Now I’m only yours,” she says somewhat enigmatically, her voice relaxed, as they rest.
On Saturday, he wants Florinda again, now feeling almost no guilt because he loves his wife the same as before and is convinced that he is not perfect. He says to Florinda, “Well, I say! I was wondering if there’s a safe place for us to meet.”
“I know one.”
“Which is where?”
“When we finish work today, I’ll go in front, followin’ the trail, and wait for you.”
But nothing is perfect in life, and one day, Florinda tells him, “ Senhor Manoel, Zeca sure is suspicious.”
“Suspicious of what?”
“I ain’t sure. I reckon it’s ‘cause I no longer want to spread my legs for him.”
“You were having an affair with that fellow?” She nods. “But have you stopped?” After some time, she nods again. “When did you stop?”
“After I met you.”
Manoel smells trouble in the air. He and the girl are sentimentally linked, and there is a jealous man in the middle. He tries to think of something he can do to prevent eventual danger, but, as so often happens in most situations like this, he cannot translate his intentions into actions.
Manoel rides his horse slowly on the way home, happy with life and feeling like a vain stud, remembering their bodies together and how she deliciously made him feel a complete male. He even appreciates the yellow sunset at the end of the day.
Then, suddenly, Zeca appears on a curve, as if out of nowhere, holding a heavy stick over three feet long, and, before Manoel can grasp what is going on, he is hit on the left side of his back. Surprised and in pain, he lets go of the reins and spurs the horse, which takes off at a gallop. Manoel is unbalanced, his feet dangling loose in the air, and he tries to straighten himself up, holding on to the saddle and to the horse’s mane, but he realizes that he is going to fall. He decides to jump off the horse, falls down sprawling, and rolls on the ground until he hits some shrubs. Zeca is immediately upon him, stick held high.
In a fraction of a second, Manoel realizes that his head will be split. He manages to leap up and avoid the smashing blow. The two of them fall, Manoel underneath, feeling that Zeca is about to grab the stick again. He resists with his left hand and, with his right one, pulls his little knife from his waistband and strikes Zeca on his neck. Blood gushes forth. They look perplexedly at each other, both still struggling for the stick, but in a matter of seconds Zeca falls down, blood still coming out of his wound.
Astonished, exhausted, and crazed of out his mind, Manoel manages to get up. When he sees the full scene around him, he is overcome by despair and limps around Zeca.
“Woe to me, Blessed Mother! How could this happen to me ?! Lord in Heaven, stick by me.” Over and over again, he blesses himself with the sign of the cross.
The gushing blood is making a large pool. Zeca moves for a while and then stops. In growing despair, Manoel bangs his head against a tree trunk several times, moaning: “Woe to me ! Woe to me !”
He remembers his friend José Vítor, who lives nearby. He is his only true friend, deserving of full trust. He puts on his wet clothes, mounts the horse, and rides the horse trail leading to his friend’s house, shouting for him as he arrives.
Seconds later, the door opens and José Vítor appears, a gas-lamp in his hand. His wife and two small boys are right on his heels.
“Is that you out there, Manoel?” he asks, moving the lamp sideways, so that he can see better what is around him.
“Yes, it’s me.”
“You around here at this time of the night? Come on in.”
“No, thank you,” he replies anxiously. “I fell from the horse and hurt myself.”
“Come on in, then!” insists José Vítor, in a friendly voice.
“No, thank you. Could you please help me home, because I’m feeling a lot of pain.”
They go on talking, and, upon reaching the main trail, Manoel ask s his friend to stop, and all his despair comes to the surface.
“A terrible thing has happened, it couldn’t have been more terrible! Zeca, that fellow who worked for me, tried to kill me. It turned out that I killed him! Woe to me !”
“You don’t say!”
“It’s true, woe to me ! What will happen to me now? Why would a thing like that have to happen to me ? Woe to me, poor me !” he goes on moaning.
After a few seconds, recovered from the shock, José Vítor says, “Calm down, take it easy now and tell me what happened.”
It Could Be a Nightmare
Getting home, Manoel finds das Dores very worried. He quickly tells her about the fall but avoids exposing his clothes to light.
“Well, I say! Nothing that you should worry about. All I need is a little water with some salt to rub in after the bath.”
He quickly grabs clean underwear and a gas lamp and heads for the creek. He washes himself and then his clothes, which are still blood- soaked. He leaves the clothes in soapy water outside the house and returns into the house. He walks in his long-john underwear, telling das Dores that it is better for the wounds this way. He unsaddles his horse and lets it loose. His wife rubs the salt and water on all his scratches. On the back, towards the left, there is some swelling.
“Well, I say! This is where I hit the ground hard.”
He lies down but cannot manage to sleep. The horror flashes in his mind, over and over again, in all its gory details: being suddenly hit with the stick, the horse galloping, him jumping off, a hateful Zeca in front of him, holding the stick with both hands and about to hit him, the two of them fighting, and suddenly all that blood gushing forth. It could be a dream... more likely a nightmare...
The night is infernal, and he realizes that he cannot even pray. He even begins to doubt José Vítor. Why did I tell him? Now my life is in his hands!
He pictured a Vítor-led mob shouting, Manoel is a criminal! Manoel is a criminal! as a soldier marched in front. It could be a dream...more likely a nightmare.
At home, Manoel picks up Joman and tells him, “Ask for your godfather’s blessing.”
The boy extends his right arm.
“Your blessing, godfather.”
“God bless you. You getting smarter all the time, ain’t you?”
“Well, I say! He talks like a parrot.”
“He never stops fooling around the whole day long,” says das Dores, as if complaining, while she serves them coffee. “He sure keeps me busy and he gets his hands in everythin’.”
“That’s how kids are,” says José Vítor.
Thirty days after the tragedy, he goes to see the widow. He has to know how she is living and what she is thinking.
“Well, I say!” he starts off after the greetings. “I’m very sad about your husband’s death.”
“He was very angry with you,” she says suspiciously. “Why would that be?”
Suddenly afraid, he widens his eyes.
“I didn’t know that, madam,” he stammers lightly, and then they fall into silence. He attempts an explanation: “Well, I say! One day I complained he was working slowly. That might have been the reason. He’d get upset for very little.” After another short silence, he continues, “You must be going through some hard times.”
“Things are hard; the children are so small.”
“I was thinking of helping you. After all, your husband worked for me until one week before.”
“I need to work so the children can eat.”
“Well, I say! You can work in the rice paddy, replacing your late husband. Until the actual work begins, I’ll pay you one thousand réis a week, to watch the rice in the shack, which is going to be used for seeding the next harvest. How about it?”
“Sure, I wanna do it!”
Manoel takes her to the shack and leaves pleased with himself.
The first time he and Florinda are together on the grass, after the tragedy, the young woman is a bit quiet.
“What’s the matter with you, my ebony doll?”
“My monthly blood run didn’t come.”
“Didn’t it?” He half smiles and then exults, “I’m gonna be a father again! How wonderful!”
His reaction scares Florinda, who has expected him to curse her or abandon her or, at the most, to be indifferent. Recovering after a few seconds, she finally breaks into a rather shy smile.
“Will it be a boy or a girl?” He is really enthusiastic now, lying on his side, elbow on the grass, head on the palm of his hand, smiling. “What do you think?”
“I don’t know,” she replies, not yet sharing his enthusiasm. “I’m sure worried.”
“Don’t you worry. Well, I say! I won’t let you lack anything. I’ll register the child!” he concludes, looking at her and wishing her wide smile was back.
“But I’m scared.”
“Well, I say! No reason to be. The only thing is we won’t say that it’s my child.”
However, as Florinda’s womb grows, word spreads through the community that Manoel is the father and that he also helps Zeca’s widow financially. A local gossip remarks to all within earshot, “That Manoel of the opa is quite something, yes sir. He can handle three women and still has energy left to work harder than a jackass.”
The malicious comments intensify at the time the marshland is prepared for another planting. Manoel hires two more men, and the two women now have lighter chores. The widow, who is also pregnant, and Florinda enjoy special privileges: they can go home whenever they need, without notifying anyone. The widow abuses this privilege, but Florinda rarely leaves her work.
Manoel’s relationship with his three brothers-in-law turns sour. Initially, they ignored the rumors that he was having an affair with Florinda. But now it is different: she is carrying a baby, and, still worse, there is all this talk about his affair with Zeca’s widow. The three brothers meet him in a remote area of the farm, without warning him, and each one gives him a message.“
Life goes on and the community awaits yet another birth.
A Family Split
In December, 1937, Florinda gives birth to a boy and the news travels fast.
“He’s dark skinned and his face is just like that of Manoel of the opa,” they gossip.
That same day, as they do every day now, Manoel and two workers keep busy plucking out weeds and high grass which have resisted the flooding, controlling the water and clearing out areas to ensure uniform irrigation. In the afternoon, as he prepares to go away, Manoel asks Abidias, one of the workers, how Florinda and the child are.
“They are fine,” he says shyly, as is his way.
“Well, I say! I want you to tell me if they need anything.”
“They don’t.” He stops and then stammers, “My father...” But he does not finish.
“What about your father?”
“He...” Again he hesitates. “He is sad because folks are saying bad things.”
Manoel’s heart is in pain and he needs to ask no further questions to humiliate young Abidias. Returning home, he rides the horse slowly. He imagines that Florinda too suffers humiliations, and he feels responsible. He thinks about his son—whom he does not know yet—and wonders what future he will have raised under such circumstances. He just has to find a solution for this problem.
The next day, in the evening, Manoel is back, but, before coming to the farm, he goes to the region where Florinda lives by another trail, arriving at her house when it is dark.
The first thing he does is to ask to see his son. Florinda removes him from a straw basket, which is suspended by ropes from the ceiling. Manoel sits and holds the child in his lap. His emotion is expressed not in words but in the long, moving silence, as he simply stares at the baby under an oil lamp. Then he says, “Well, I say! I figure you best leave here. The best place I found is near Itanhomi. What do you think?”
“I reckon it’ll be a rest for us,” replies Chico, Florinda’s father.
“Then, get ready. The day after tomorrow, before daybreak, I’ll be here with the animals to haul all your stuff.”
He heads home now, by the other trail habitually used.
Das Dores is relieved to see him, but she dares not ask about his plans. She is afraid he might tell her that he has decided to go away.
The community gets the news that Florinda has moved away.
“Manoel of the opa has left das Dores !” There are excited remarks everywhere, typical of people who seem to enjoy their neighbor’s misfortunes.
This community, like every community in the world, harbors those who love to see things slide from bad to worse, especially if successful people are affected, no matter what his or her type of activity. A farm hand meets Cândido on the road, that same day, and adds fuel to the fire by remarking, “ Goodness gracious, what a thing to do, Cândido ! Manoel of the opa is so in love with Florinda that he’s gone with her and the family, taking all their stuff.”
“I ain’t sure. Maybe there ain’t no need to. Perhaps he’s gonna be back,” replies das Dores.
“Be back?” retorts Cândido, indignant. “You, my sister, ain’t got no shame?” Then, he shouts an ultimatum to her: “If he ever comes back one day and you let him, I’m leaving, I tell you. If you ain’t got no shame, I do. I’m telling you now so that you know it!”
Das Dores starts to weep.
“Mommy! Mommy!” exclaims Joman at her side.
“Mom! Mom!” Belma echoes her brother.
Manoel, on the other hand, is traveling with Florinda’s family. She rides a horse with her baby, and her mother is on another horse. Her brother and father walk. Beasts of burden haul their stuff. In two days, they reach a farm near Itanhomi. The owner, Tonico, has agreed to let the family stay in a small house which is not being used. Manoel stays there for three days, making sure they are safe and comfortable. He leaves some money with them and says that he will send more from time to time. He makes sure that Tonico will assist them in the first few days of adaptation. Seven days after leaving his farm, he is back.
In the meantime, the three sisters-in-law have taken turns to provide assistance to das Dores. She misses her husband fiercely and, when he returns, greets him with a mixture of joy and concern.
“Manoel, don’t leave the house. Cândido ’s very angry.”
“What’s he been saying?”
After a few seconds of silence, she answers in a low voice, “He’s been talkin’ about killin’ you and then goin’ away.”
Manoel thinks it prudent to pay attention to his wife’s warning.
Cândido begins to carry out his ultimatum. As soon as he sees that his brother-in-law is back and has been welcomed by his sister, he rides a horse to Cachoeirinha, where he rents a truck to move his family. He takes them to Figueira do Rio Doce.
In secret, and through José Vítor, he provides monthly financial assistance to Florinda’s family, and his friend brings him news—always good news—of her and her kin. He longs for them and strives to figure out some way to assist them personally, without embarrassing das Dores and his own family; he also struggles to make more money, buying coffee in the region and selling it elsewhere.
In May of 1938, Peri is born, his name honoring Pedro and Riso leta. The surname is also Oliveira Opa.
Joman by now is almost three years old, restless all day long, which earns him some occasional spankings—“so he will learn how to obey,” says das Dores. He is curious, has his hands on everything within reach, and constantly asks interesting questions, which his father always answers. Das Dores is not so patient. A struggle begins between mother and son, a no-win situation.
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The book has 11 chapters.
Chapter 1 - The End at Hand
The victim of an incurable disease, Joman prepares to die.
Chapter 2 - Prior Events
How did Joman’s father, an immigrant, meet his mother? What was the wedding like? What was Joman’ father’s nickname?
Chapter 4 - Struggle
Thus begins the struggle between active Joman and his afflictive mother. The dynamic of the nuclear family.
Chapter 5 - Life's Defeats
Joman begins to get along with other boys, attend school, and experience his first disappointments outside the home. The suffering he passes through during his early years, a secret pre-teen crush, the difficulties he had fitting in, the anxieties and humiliations, the desperate efforts to have close relations with others and be respected, as well as the hazards, are the themes of this chapter, which extends up to the age of eighteen.
Chapter 6 - The Other World
In spite of his fears, Joman moves to another town where nobody knows him..How his shyness influences his choices such as those related to work. The first victories. His first real girlfriend at the age of twenty-five. His marriage. The suffering and harm caused by his shyness.
Chapter 7 - The Hand Tremors
Before the age of thirty, he is stricken with a life-threatening illness. He and his wife struggle desperately to find a cure. The loss of hope. His return to his hometown to relive past experiences in a different way and fulfill his ultimate desire: to be free!
The last four chapters – more than half the book – are pure adrenalin.
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