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You will enjoy this psychological suspense

Chapter 5 - Life's Defeats

Information: Three dots (...) indicate that a part of the text has been omitted.


Towards Another Dream


At last, in January 1943, Manoel goes to Cachoeirinha, satisfied and happy. This trip is nine years late...nine years! How time flies and how much has happened! he says reflectively to himself. But I’m gonna start in a better situation than I’d have had at that time, he thinks, satisfied with himself. He is convinced that the other dream, which made him cross the ocean, will become concrete now—undoubtedly, he will get rich.

He enthusiastically buys a piece of land, hires skilled people, and begins building. He works long and hard himself.

As happened before in the countryside, his Portuguese accent and his outgoing pleasant personality bring him popularity and esteem. His well-known nickname is secured as he proudly wears his opa, almost every afternoon, on his way to pray in church. People make jokes and he takes it in stride and with good humor.

“Manoel of the opa, are you going to church to pray or to find yourself a black girl?” Some evidently know about his relation with the young black woman.

“Maybe I’m going there to look for your mother!” he replies, but laughing.

“Manoel, you might as well wear a cassock rather than this foolish black opa cape.”

“No, I’m saving it to give you the last rites.”

“May I have your blessing, Bishop Manoel?”

“God bless you, you son of a not-so-worthy lady.”

On and on this goes, nearly every single day; at times people tease him solely to hear his homeland accent.

But the jokes and tricks are not limited to his coming and going to church. Anywhere he goes, there is always someone ready to kid him.

“Manoel of the opa, would you cross a cattle-preventing road bridge ?”

“No way,” he replies in good humor. “You won’t take me for a donkey!”

The cattle-preventing road bridge is a wooden structure, usually a couple of tree trunks laid to receive perpendicular slats with spaces in between, that is placed to prevent animals from crossing. The joke is in bad-taste, but it is also the question most commonly asked of him.


A Boy ’s Disappointment


When they arrive in Cachoeirinha in the late afternoon, das Dores nearly goes out of her mind spotting so many dangers for her children. People and merchandise move everywhere along the streets, all of which amazes her. The nearby river, seen both from the front and the back of their house, seems like a treacherous mirror to her. She sees the train as a monster that will crush her children if she takes her eyes off them for a second. Her hair just about stands up when she sees so many idle youngsters everywhere. She has been to this place a couple of times before, with her father and then her husband, but always in a hurry. To live here with her three children seems the utmost of horrors ! On the other hand, the children are excited about so many things new to them. Das Dores simply cannot manage to sleep her first night there.

In the morning, she warns all the children, “Don’t any of you go out in the street.”

Joman goes to the front of the house and observes the rising sun hitting him full in the face, in a straight line. Down below on the left, some two hundred yards at the end of the street, the river seems to flow towards the sun. Another street starts in front of their house, ending after about a hundred yards, on a high wall. Folks say that it is the local cemetery. Farther up, where Barge Street starts, there is a huge space that they went through as they arrived. His young heart beats fast and excitedly. All these new things seem about to wake the curious boy, who has hibernated for so long.

Noticing that his mother is busy organizing things, he slips out of the house and goes to the river edge,...


A Boy ’s Disappointment


When they arrive in Cachoeirinha in the late afternoon, das Dores nearly goes out of her mind spotting so many dangers for her children. People and merchandise move everywhere along the streets, all of which amazes her. The nearby river, seen both from the front and the back of their house, seems like a treacherous mirror to her. She sees the train as a monster that will crush her children if she takes her eyes off them for a second. Her hair just about stands up when she sees so many idle youngsters everywhere. She has been to this place a couple of times before, with her father and then her husband, but always in a hurry. To live here with her three children seems the utmost of horrors ! On the other hand, the children are excited about so many things new to them. Das Dores simply cannot manage to sleep her first night there.

In the morning, she warns all the children, “Don’t any of you go out in the street.”

Joman goes to the front of the house and observes the rising sun hitting him full in the face, in a straight line. Down below on the left, some two hundred yards at the end of the street, the river seems to flow towards the sun. Another street starts in front of their house, ending after about a hundred yards, on a high wall. Folks say that it is the local cemetery. Farther up, where Barge Street starts, there is a huge space that they went through as they arrived. His young heart beats fast and excitedly. All these new things seem about to wake the curious boy, who has hibernated for so long.

Noticing that his mother is busy organizing things, he slips out of the house and goes to the river edge, admiring its huge width and how powerful the water is, which flows all the way down to a waterfall. He is fascinated by the barge sliding smoothly on the water surface and by the men with long wooden ores working the sleek canoes. He returns home and sticks for a while at his mother’s side, so that she will think he is following her instructions.

Out he goes again, after a while, heading towards where the street starts. He comes to the edge of the two rail lines, a long and spacious area, whose end cannot be seen either to the right or to the left. “Don’t you go there!” he remembers his mother saying when they arrived, and that obviously aroused his curiosity. He goes back and hangs around for a while on the street corner by their house. On both sides there are a few houses, some long, some odd looking, some so huge (for wholesale grain) that he had never thought they could be so big. Huge trees, far from each other and randomly distributed, remind him of the woods in the farm. Animal-pulled carts are everywhere, hauling things and raising dust. People are either on foot or on horseback, talking, going in and out of shops and stores. He is flabbergasted, awestruck by all that he sees.

Very soon, he is surrounded by some boys who are wearing short pants like him. But unlike him, they are barefooted. He shies away from them and they start kidding him.

“Is your name Manezinho (“little Manoel”) of the opa ?” one of them asks, and all the others laugh at the allusion to his father’s nickname.

Joman does not reply but wonders whether there is something wrong with him.

“Is it Manezinho of the opa ?” insists the boy.

“Name’s Joman,” he barely manages to whisper.

“Say what!?”

He repeats it, louder this time.

“Joman? What kind of name is that?” asks the same boy.

“Them hicks from the woods sure have some odd names,” remarks another boy, and everybody laughs. “Can you cross a cattle-preventing road bridge ?”

He knows what a cattle-preventing road bridge is and, thus, offers no reply, because to him the question makes no sense. More laughter and the bunch of boys go away, leaving him wandering around.

Someone points to a steam locomotive, far away, moving East to West, and most people stop whatever they are doing to stare at it. His first reaction is one of fear, of wanting to dash home at once, but he notices that no one is dashing anywhere. He decides to wait and comes closer to a man, figuring that if he runs, I run. When he sees that the locomotive follows the rail, he calms down a bit. In amazement, he observes and tries to make sense of its shunting, but soon his mother appears, looking half out of her mind, and shouting at him, “Joman, go home now! Right now!”

All the way home she is screaming in his ears.

“Mommy, don’t hit me, please!” he begs her.

The begging does no good. At home, he gets a good spanking. “This is so you ain’t gonna disobey me no more!” She continues to shout and then asks him dramatically, “You wanna die under the train?

Zezito soon arrives. He had been looking for him on the river bank.

Later on, his mother is in the kitchen preparing lunch, and he tells her what the boys in the street said.

“These no-good brats ain’t got nothin’ to do all day long,” das Dores remarks. “So, they hang around on the streets the whole time, lookin’ for trouble.” She then warns him, “Don’t you go fight any of them, you hear me !? They could beat you up pretty good!” She interrupts what she is doing, looks at him, and issues a stern warning: “Joman, don’t you trust nobody ever, you hear me ?! You can’t trust the shirt you’re wearin’. Everybody is out to get us, remember that.” She then turns back to the stove and the lunch she is preparing.

He pensively observes his mother for a few seconds.


On the third day, he risks going out again. Again, he meets that bunch of boys and they all kid him mercilessly.

“There’s the hick who’s always hanging on to his mother’s hem !” Laughter aplenty follows this remark.

“He sure talks funny.” More laughing.

“And he don’t cross a cattle-preventing road bridge neither.” Laughter galore.

“Hey, do you or don’t you cross it?”

“Cross what?”

It follows in a chorus: “Cross?”




“You go figure. It could be his name! Cross!”

Joman remains mute, though upset and angry. He wants to take off but he also wishes to see what is going on in the streets, so he stays until his mother shows up.

The mocking goes on for the next several meetings : “ Look at the Cross again!”

Zezito has explained the meaning of these nicknames to him, so he just says to the other kids, “ Look, Imean, I ain’t no dumb-ass hick.”

That only makes them go wild and the chanting of the nickname goes on.

The more he insists on replying, the more the hazing continues and the louder they shout.


At this time, the district’s name is changed to Tumiritinga, an indigenous name, more adequate than the previous one, since it means “small river rapids’’—and indeed there are some small rapids farther downstream that the people call a waterfall.


Sudden Horror


Out of curiosity, one day Joman and his brother Peri enter a street alley, at the end of which is a construction site with plenty of vertical wood walls. The door is open and somebody calls from the inside, “Come on in!”

They do, and a man gets up, pisses into a can, and hands it to Peri, who is just as dumbfounded as his brother.

“Drink the tea!” he orders and sits down on a bed.

Peri starts crying and the man shouts the order again. Joman is flabbergasted and rooted to the ground. Peri drinks a sip and continues crying. The fellow, with a hard-on, is now before Joman, who says something, gets slapped on the face, falls down, and spills the urine. The fellow grabs him and both desperate boys keep calling for their mother.


An Unhappy Practical Joke


Some ten days after they moved from the farm, the bakery is oper ating and the construction is almost finished. Manoel looks for the school teacher, wishing to enroll Joman in the second grade. Although he is not yet eight years old, she is willing to study his case, to see if he can handle the curriculum, but she needs his birth certificate.

Manoel now has to register his children. Such delay is rather common in rural areas, no documents being needed for one to live on a farm....

He leaves the notary office with the three required documents. To save time, he does not even examine them but goes straight to school. It is class time now and he gives Joman’s paper to a twenty-year-old girl named Valdete, who is responsible for cleaning the school.

... As soon as Joman gets to the yard, he hears shouts.

“ Look at the Cross! Look at the Cross Ôpa!” (TN: ‘Ôpa’ is an interjection denoting surprise.)

“The Cross Ôpa!” Peals of laughter echo in the yard.

They circle him and go on chanting the nicknames:

“Ôpa Cross!”

“Little opa ! Little ôpa!”

“Ôpa! Ôpa!”

“Ôpa! Ôba! Ôba!” (TN: ‘Ôba’ is an interjection that means surprise with admiration and enjoyment.)

“Cross Ôpa Ôba!...”

Poor Joman is astonished at all the yelling, the laughter, and the mocking references to him, even though it is all rather meaningless to him, the noise and the kidding, the ribbing and the teasing, the endless shouting. His eyes wide open, he just listens passively until the teacher arrives and tells everybody to be quiet. She brings him into the classroom and tenderly explains to him that there is a mistake in his birth certificate.


Class starts and Joman remains astonished. His father has not told him anything about the birth certificate, and he has not the faintest idea what is going on. From time to time, a boy whispers, “Little Ôpa!...” and laughter cascades across the room.

Class ends at four-thirty and a final chorus greets the end of the school day: “Ôpa Cross! Ôpa Cross! Ôpa Cross!”

Joman takes off running, leaving all the shouting behind.

At home, out of breath, he gives the teacher’s message to his mother. She, who can barely sign her name, tells Manoel, who says there must be a slight mistake in the certificate, nothing that cannot be easily fixed. In the space reserved for the name, it says Joman de Oliveira Ôpa!

Since the interjection “ôpa” is not known to him, for its use is limited to Brazil, Manoel does not see any problem, because opa, a noun, his passion, has no accent—he is sure of that.

“All we have to do is take out the circumflex accent on top of the letter O and exclamation on the end,” he says, looking at the paper. “No problem, it just shows how ignorant that jerk in the notary office is. Ignorant asses like him abound here in Brazil.”

He picks up the two other certificates and sees that they have the same mistake.

Joman and das Dores listen to his comments but have no idea what he is saying. However, they are convinced that the problem will soon be corrected, although Manoel has to wait for the next day.


Early Sexual Initiation


One afternoon, during class break, Valdete, the twenty-year-old cleaning girl, asks him, “Could you help me to sweep and clean up things after class?”

He naturally agrees, since it is his way to please people. After they sweep the two rooms and the yard, closing the doors and windows, the girl seductively invites him, in a sweet voice, “Let’s go to my house and I’ll give you something.”

She lives alone in a small house, just a few yards from the school. They enter and Joman is taken directly to the room with a single bed. Although the window is closed, there is some light because there is no ceiling, just the roof.

“Take off your shoes and lie down here,” she says in the same sweet voice, sitting on the bed. He obeys her, despite being a little scared.

“I’m gonna take your pants off,” she says, watching for his reaction.


Fenced in by Others


Joman continues to be the butt of all sorts of jokes and kidding by his schoolmates. For no reason, they zero in at the end of class, and, one afternoon, they add other insults, now questioning his manhood: “Cross Ôpa, little girl!” shouts one of them, soon echoed by the others: “Little girl! Little girl!”

“I ain’t no girl,” he replies in a low voice.

“Yes, you are too!” says the same boy. “A girl and the daughter of a priest.”

“I ain’t, I mean, no priest’s child!” he now protests in a louder voice, displaying some mild irritation.

“You wanna fight this out, is that what you wanna do?” the bully insists, grabbing a stick and drawing a line on the ground. He stays behind the line, closes his fists, and challenges Joman: “If you’re a man, cross this line, Cross!”

Joman remembers his mother’s warnings, and, in fear, lowers his head, turns around, and prepares to go away. He takes a few steps and hears the chorus: “He’s scared shitless and gonna hightail his ass home!”

He stops and turns around, as the boys walk towards him. Scared, he starts running and leaves the chorus behind.


The bakery turned out to be just the beginning of a business. Soon the large room is full of cereals, cans of pork fat, cod boxes, olive oil cans, jars of olives, sweets, candies, and cookies, as well as other foodstuff and delicacies. The bread loaves are confined to a rather small window. The bakery, in fact, has become a general store. After more than a year, it now sells home utensils, pots and pans, hardware, farming tools and instruments, appliances, and goods in general, so that it comes to be informally known as Manoel’s General Store. He had this in mind when he built a room so large, far larger than necessary for the bakery business. The business is booming and another person has to be hired to help Manoel while das Dores and Zezito deal with the customers.

One day, during a class break in school, a boy named Joel, usually a hothead, asks Joman in a friendly tone of voice, “Get a little mirror from your store and bring it to me.” He is referring to one of those small, round mirrors, usually with color photos of women on the back, which men like to carry with them in one of their pants pockets.

Joman is initially scared and tempted to say no. But he is puzzled. He keeps swinging his arms back and forth and does not say anything. At home, he is tempted to do it because Joel spoke to him in a friendly voice. In the evening, he offers some excuse, goes into the store and takes a mirror, giving it to the boy the next day without a word. When school is over and the daily suffering starts, Joel defends him. “Stop fooling around with him!” he shouts to the others.

“I say what I want to say and nobody bosses me around,” replies Zé Malta. “You, too, don’t you cross a cattle-preventing road bridge ?”

“Your momma does not!”


The discussion ends when Joel challenges the other boy : “Why don’t we settle this tonight, my gang against yours?”

They decide to meet at 7 PM at the end of Capybara Street, which starts in the wide space they are in and runs opposite to Barge Street.

Joman is happy because he has finally found a protector, something which he had not counted on before.

“You’re coming, ain’t you?” Joel asks him, as they move away.

“Sure,” he answers hesitantly, seeing no alternative, and he swings both his arms parallel to his body.

In the evening, he is scared and thinks about not going. I don’t even know how to fight, he thinks. Then he figures it will not look good for him if he does not go. After all, he is the reason for the fight. He finally goes and the place is not well lit. There are four boys, all from the other gang, and no one from Joel’s side, not even Joel himself. Zé Malta draws a line on the ground with his bare feet, takes a fighting stance and challenges him, “Cross this line if you’re a man, come on, let’s see you dare to cross it!”

Joman remains still and the boys walk towards him. In horror, he can neither speak nor run. Urine runs down his pants. “Let me have him,” shouts Zé Malta, who is much larger and stronger than him, which hardly makes any difference in this case anyway.

Zé Malta advances on him and starts swinging his fists. All that Joman can do is turn sideways to soften the blows. The slugging ends only when Zé Malta hits him squarely in the face. Joman bends over and starts to cry, while the boys shout the usual insults. He is barely able to run away, with the group right on his heels, shouting and laughing because he is hightailing home once again.


At least he learned something when he gave Joel the mirror, as Joel no longer pesters him. So, he discovers that he can soften the situation by giving things to others. At times, he takes a mirror, a marble, a lollypop, some candy, offering these things to the boys, including Zé Malta. They stop tormenting him, and, at least for a while, he can control the group.

Although they still call him by a nickname, their hostility in school is now nearly nonexistent. However, in the streets, other boys haze him, as other adults do to his father. By showing that he hates it, he only fuels the other boys ’ actions. One day, the school problems come back via Zé Malta, who asks him, “Loan me one tostão.”

“I don’t have it.”

“Get it from the store.”

Joman is suddenly afraid and repeats the movement of swinging his arms back and forth, which he always does when he wants to deny something to someone but is not able to. One tostão is tantamount to a hundred réis, enough to buy two dozen bananas or lots of candies. (The Brazilian currency was changed from réis to cruzeiros and three zeros were chopped off, but the old currency is still used in the district.) At home, he thinks long and hard about it but resists the suggestion.

As they meet again, the boy asks about the loan.

“I don’t have it,” he says, stuttering out of fear.

“Why don’t you get it from the store?”

“My mother would spank me.”

The boy sing-songs threats in a low voice, implying that Joman is scared shitless.

Joman gets the message: either he gets the money or everything will be as before. He now faces a drama....


Joman has now become a hostage to threats. He is very careful to avoid a repetition of the hostile scenes of before by pleasing this or that boy, giving a little extra money to Joel and Zé Malta, and changing his voice so that it will sound friendly.


To be good and act kindly, in word and deeds, to be different from what he is, what he thinks and what he feels, to violate his conscience—that is the price he has to pay for freedom and tranquility. However, if purchased, freedom and tranquility breed a pent-up inner anger which increases as time moves on. The pent-up anger ends up breeding anguish in little Joman.

Being social costs him such a high price that he seeks refuge and solace in solitude and loneliness, in a natural, non-deliberate fashion. Solitude is not bad in itself; in fact, it can even be constructive and awaken creative forces. However, in Joman’s case, he is going against his own nature as a curious and active boy, and his solitude is therefore annihilating.

The silent dramas are the worst. They corrode the person and seem to attract further disgrace. In Joman’s case, besides all the personal drama, there is another one at this time, the family’s. He becomes aware of it when a youngster who has come to town to do some shopping asks him point blank, “Do you know that you have a dark-skinned brother?”

“ Me ?... A dark brother?”

“Then you didn’t know?! Ask your dad. He has two more women as well as your mom.”

In shock, Joman runs home. He looks for his mother and tells her what the boy told him.

“You just shut your mouth!” she orders him angrily, interrupting him from talking any further, and she gets away from him.


Between the ages of ten and eleven, the boy witnesses the first serious quarrel between his parents. He has just finished the fourth grade and Manoel brings up the subject of him continuing his studies.

“Well, I say! Joman, now you have to attend junior high and I was thinking about which city we could send you to. Perhaps...” He is interrupted by an alarmed das Dores.

“To leave here and go alone to some other place?!”

“Of course! He can only continue to study in some real city,” he explains patiently.

“To send a child alone to a big city? What’s the matter with your head, Manoel?” She is really getting angry now.

“Well, I say! You continue to see our children as defenseless little ones. Take a look and see how much he’s grown, don’t you see?”

“He’s still too much of a child to go out into the world.”

“You’re exaggerating, das Dores,” he argues patiently.

She dramatically raises her voice. “It’s dangerous enough with me here, imagine what it will be like far away! You wanna kill me and kill him, too?”

“ Look, then we can all move to a city that has a junior high school,” Manoel suggests.

“Go to a city, to a big place? How can I watch over them in a big place, Manoel?” she is still speaking dramatically.

“Goodness gracious, you have to think about their future! What kind of a future will they have if they don’t study?” he argues forcefully. This is the first time Joman sees his father even slightly irritated.

“No need to study, Manoel. You didn’t study and our life’s good. Belma gets married, the boys get into some kind of business, and that’s it!” She sounds like a judge handing down a final sentence, which is her way of speaking when she feels that the children are in danger.

“Well, I say! I hope you won’t be sorry in the future, woman.” He then turns to his son and asks, “What do you think, Joman?”

“I don’t know...” With so many conflicting opinions, he cannot assess what is good or bad for him.

“Belma, go and iron your father’s opa !” das Dores shouts to her daughter, who is in another room, and then she goes away, ending the discussion.

“All right, mother,” the girl answers.

Manoel discusses this matter several other times, but his wife does not budge one inch. In time, her will prevails.

Joman is aimlessly adrift in life, spending most of the time at home, doing nothing, dealing with his sadness or doing little odds and ends. He thinks about things past, such as the fellow making Peri drink urine and wanting him to do the same, plus the attempt at sexual harassment, all the teasing in school, and the meanness to him. He rebels and wants to have his revenge, but he does not know how to get it.


Pre-Teenage Passion


For a few days, Joman is actually sorry that he wished his father would die, but he is still not happy with the way Manoel acts.

He still seldom goes out, except occasionally to see a passenger train arrive or depart at the rail station—one of the few local distractions—or he watches new rail tracks being laid down in the Southern area of the district, so that trains may avoid the urban area, or he sees new streets being opened. ...

One afternoon, on one of the few occasions he leaves his house, Joman is struck by a girl. He has not seen her for months and now he thinks she is somebody else. Her body has changed to that of a young woman. He notices her face, hair, legs, and her whole body and voice. How pretty she is! he exclaims in his thoughts. He follows her and she enters a house in a distant street, in the outskirts of the city, towards the Northwest. For the rest of the day her image never leaves his mind.

Later, he finds out that her name is Vera and that she is the thir teen-year-old daughter of a carpenter. She is only one year older than him.

Vera ’s presence is now constantly in his mind and in his daily and nightly dreams. He wants to date her, but he does not know how. For hours, he thinks and thinks, looking for a solution.

I was thinking maybe we could date, he imagines himself saying to her. No, that’s no good. She could say I’m ugly. Maybe I just say to her: “How about if we go for a walk together, Vera ?” That’s better because if she thinks I’m ugly, she won’t have to say so. Next, he argues with himself, thinking, All I want is to be her boyfriend!

On and on it goes, this talking to himself and searching for a way to approach her. He does not even know how this business of his being ugly crept into his mind.


Another day he thinks of a different approach. He will praise her before asking for a date. “I think you’re so pretty, the most beautiful girl in town, and I would like us to go on a date.” That seems perfect. He practices it day after day. What if she says that I am ugly and laughs at me ? he asks himself. Ah, I know—he is angrily talking to himself now—if she says that, I will recite some poetry from the Almanaque that she will never forget:

“O rose that blooms in the rose bed,

Laughing at my woes,

Remember that in this world,

Everything changes and goes.”

He practices this for a few days. When he thinks he is ready to hear her say “Yes” or “No,” he marches straight to her house....


This goes on for days on end. In his mind, they are now a steady date. Whenever he is sad, her image cheers him up. This platonic yet passionate love makes him think that one day all his torments will go away.

More than a year goes by, and one day he sees her with a boy who looks like he might be around seventeen years old. Mentally, he knows how to solve this predicament.

Vera is mine!” he will say angrily to his rival.

“No, she is mine!” the other one will answer.

Joman will charge into him and they will fight. Although smaller in size, Joman will beat him pretty badly.

“That’s so you learn not to mess around with another boy ’s girlfriend,” he will say arrogantly. The boy will go away, ashamed. Vera will be his again.

But reality insists on being different. Joman sees the girl and the boy together again. He feels betrayed and a terrible melancholy overwhelms him. He is perplexed and puzzled by the world. He asks him self, Why is everything against me ? Convinced that he cannot beat his rival in terms of physical attraction, he daydreams, thinking, One day I’ll be rich and she will want me. However, that will take some time and, meanwhile, he has to face hard reality.

Joman no longer plays with friends by the river side. He sees little of his friend Noel, who now works in a brick-making outfit near the river. In fact, the group no longer exists—some others are also working and still others have moved away. Neneco, who saved him from drowning in the river, moved out of town a long time ago, making Joman feel perpetually indebted because he never could overcome his shyness and thank Neneco for saving his life.

Old ghosts of his relationship with Valdete come back to haunt him, even though he has discovered that she was the one who told the boys about the mistake in his birth certificate, which turned his first school day into a hell he will never forget. But he holds no grudge against her; after all, she also provided him with two fantastic experiences, the smallest details of which remain vivid in his mind, making him feel what it is like to be wanted, even if only for a few days.

He has never forgotten how good it was on that Friday, waiting to go to bed with her again, then wishing the weekend would zip by, so that on Monday they could be together once more. Then came the disappointment a few days later, when she invited another boy to help her sweep and clean the school—but, despite it all, he had still hoped against hope to be invited one more time. He was not, but at least he had hoped to be.

Now, in early adolescence, his body in the full vigor of life, his penis no longer ingenuous, he fantasizes about her. It’s gonna be easier. She’s no longer a virgin. In fact, she has a daughter. His imagination runs wild. Valdete is now a single mother. In his fantasies, it is a piece of cake for him, and he has sex with her whenever he wants to. He waits for the right moment to invite her and make his dreams come true. Several times, their paths cross in the streets.

“Howdy, Joman,” she says and smiles. “How you doing?”

“Just fine,” is all that he invariably manages to say.

But one of these days I’ll have her, he assures himself.


Fear of One’s Self


Progress has come to the Tumiritinga district; due to its location, it is now a center for exporting wood, either logs or lumber, and grains from the neighboring areas, especially from the very fertile North, where the farming output is exceptional. Tumiritinga also attracts merchandise from the state capital and even from outside Brazil, through the Vitória seaport, in the neighboring state of Espírito Santo. The railway from Vitória to Minas was transferred from English ownership to the Brazilian government in the early forties, becoming part of the Companhia Vale do Rio Doce mining complex. This railroad makes all the booming trade possible.

Even though the Atlantic Forest has been nearly wiped out in the region, Manoel decides to operate a saw mill. He builds a huge wood shed, open on the sides, and assembles two sets of mills and circular saws, all self-powered. His output includes all sorts of planks and boards, beams and slats. He makes good money with wood and also with coffee, the international price of which increases sharply after the Second World War.


However, this episode does not change his habits. He helps with sales in the store and with baking bread. He prefers working in the back area, baking bread, even though it means waking up at dawn. Baking had long been Zezito’s exclusive responsibility. Joman finds it painful to work the counter, because it means having to talk to and argue with customers. So, he always finds some excuse to go out during the day. Sometimes he just heads for the backyard and spends hours sitting under a mango tree, fantasizing, feeling resentment or anger, or just re-reading the Almanaque.


One evening, he meets his friend Noel, who bears the bad news that he and his mother are going to move.

“Move? You putting me on?” Joman hopes it is a joke.

“It’s true. Mom has decided to go back to my granddad’s house in the woods.”

“When is that gonna happen?”

“Tomorrow morning.”

“But what about me, I mean, without a friend now?” he asks hopelessly, with a hint of despair in his voice.

That night, at bed time, he feels overwhelming sorrow. Very early the next morning, he goes to his friend’s house and sees all the things on the back of a small truck. When Noel and his mother say good-bye and the truck drives away, he feels a huge emptiness and feels compelled to cry. He just follows the truck with his eyes, as it follows a river-side road upstream, until it disappears from sight.

Deep melancholy overwhelms him. He sits on the river bank and stares at the mirror-like water. Its endless vastness beckons him, and he suddenly wants to walk into the river, never to come back. For a while, silence and peace take over his imagination, but then he recalls the despair he felt, not so long ago, when he was nearly drowning, and he thinks of how Neneco came to save him. He goes back home as depressed as when he had left a couple of hours ago, still puzzled that he wished to end his own life. How could I have thought about that? Dying is so bad! he says to himself. But what good is life, anyway? It would have been better for me to have been born an earthworm, which doesn’t think and doesn’t feel these things...To live is also very bad.


In the evening, he is deeply shaken by his daytime thoughts. He is perplexed as he recalls the morning by the river bank and the fierceness of his afternoon thoughts in the backyard. Am I going crazy or what?! he exclaims to himself. He has the impression that, if he lets it all out, he may not be able to control himself and that he will go crazy indeed. For the first time, he is afraid of himself. This fear increases over the following days. Being afraid of myself is worse than being afraid of others, he realizes in horror.


The Radio Brings Hope


Progress has come to town and Manoel buys a radio. It is a huge gadget and it forces some changes. The first is in the house, in the living-room furniture. The image of the Virgin Mary is moved from the center of a wall to one of its sides. A special, long-legged table, made especially for the radio, is placed next to the same wall, so that the sacred image and the radio are now side by side and roughly at the same height. The chairs are clustered next to the opposite wall. The flower- filled, small center table is moved to a corner to make access to the radio easier.


The shy teenager ’s perspective is also changed by the radio. The world out there, coming to him through voices and music, seems a huge place, wherein everybody lives happily—a world just the opposite of his own. He begins to dream of moving to that world, even though initially it seems an impossible, absurd dream. But he enjoys thinking that in that world no one will tease him, kid him, or call him by nicknames he hates, for it is a world where nobody knows his father, and so he will not be ridiculed for being Manoel of the opa ’s son. At the same time, he begins spelling his last name ‘O.’ —just a capital O followed by a dot. He knows about the promise his father made, but he thinks this change minimizes the chances of him being laughed at.

His adolescence remains lonely and unhappy. The fear of going crazy has taken over his soul and surpasses all other fears. My only hope of salvation is to leave this place, he begins to tell himself, again and again.

He begins to throw hints that he would like to go to a larger city in order to go back to school. Several times, he mentally rehearses a conversation with his parents on this topic, but it only takes place when he is seventeen, when the three of them are together.

“If you want to study, that’s good,” Manoel remarks. “But if you’re thinking of a business, of having your own business, then it’s better if you start here.”

“The thing is that, I mean, in other words, what I mean to say is…” But he can’t say it; he just swings his arms back and forth. “I reckon I don’t like it here much, I mean, I don’t like the place, this city, only the city is what I mean.” The fear of going crazy has now made him more careful when he speaks.

“But we love you so much,” his father says, his voice nearly cracking.


In the Red Light District


At this time, unable to make up his mind if he should leave home or not, Joman decides to visit the “Lagoinha” red light district to have his first mature sexual experience. He arrives in the evening at a cluster of houses on both sides of the rail tracks, in the Western outskirts of town, on the way to Governador Valadares. The place is badly lit and he is afraid of the strangers moving back and forth. He walks the streets slowly, close to the houses with women at their doors.

“Hey, nice guy, come on over here!” one of them invites him. He stops and takes a look, feels terribly afraid, and starts walking again.

“Got a cigarette?” another one asks him.

“Come here, you big hunk!”


He goes home with her pretty image in his head, kicking himself all the way. Not even with a wench? he says to himself.





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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 3 - Tormented Passion
Joman�s birth, his father�s extra-marital affair, and the other dramas that take place within a family.

Chapter 4 - Struggle
Thus begins the struggle between active Joman and his afflictive mother. The dynamic of the nuclear family.

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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