Sizenando, Life is Sad

Translated from the Portuguese by Rachel Morgernstern-Clarren

Sizenando, Life is Sad

It is proven that waking up earlier makes the day longer. This phrase isn’t mine, and unfortunately I wasn’t able to find out the name of its author, since I woke up very early, but not early enough; when I switched on the radio at 6:10 the lesson had already begun; I listened to the program until the end, but I never learned the name of the professor. “La verando estas vera jardeno, plena de floroi.” I never studied Esperanto, but I assume that the garden in the verandah or the vineyard has lots of flowers; in some way, it is good news, something constructive. 

I admit that at some point I changed the station; I am a restless spirit. The station to the right had dispatches from Algiers, a crisis in France; I went farther on, tuned in to a bolero; tried yet another station, which was commercials; returned to my flowering garden in Esperanto. 

The professor was now responding to letters from his listeners. Mr. Sizenando Mendes Ferreira, from Iporá, Goiás, wrote to say that he found the lessons very interesting and that he would enroll as one of the professor’s students.

I am a man of the interior, I have a certain emotion of the interior, sometimes I think that I deserve to be a Goiano. The morning was dark and rainy in Ipanema; and it moved me to learn that at that very moment, in a world leagues away, in the interior of Goiás, there was such a man as Sizenando, a Brazilian like myself, learning that the jardeno está plena de floroi—and perhaps jotting that down in his notebook.

It doesn’t matter that at this moment millions of Brazilians are foolishly sleeping, while millions of others are drinking coffee or showering or already marching off to work, or that my beloved Joana is, at this very minute, leaving Sacha’s and getting into the car of that scumbag from Botafogo. Sizenando and I cultivate the garden of culture, plena de floroi; we are, to a certain degree, Brazil’s elite; we wake up in bloom.

Then the professor, perhaps invigorated by the Goiano listener’s attention, gave a brief lecture on the usefulness of Esperanto, and also about the benefits of waking up early. It is proven that waking up early makes the day longer. It is not a very subtle phrase, but it is so pure and well intentioned that it could appear in the Boy Scouts Handbook. Deep down there must be some connection between scouting, Esperanto, and waking up early. This is one of my greatest failings; I never was a scout; now it is too late to “break the coconut on the slope,” as the old scout song goes, but maybe I still have time to learn a bit of Esperanto, Sizenando and I. 

“I have a friend”—the professor said—”who admitted to me that he never listened to my show, because he always sleeps late. So be it. Yesterday, he woke up early and heard my show. He told me he spent the whole day in an excellent mood, his day was longer and more productive, he was really pleased.”

Our professor was pleased with his friend’s declaration, you could sense it in his voice. I whispered to myself that this is the trick: waking up early every day, listening to my Esperanto lesson, and then, if there was some exercise class nearby, count me in for that, too, mens sana in corpore sano; by the end of the month, my friends would be amazed, Braga’s doing great! This thought comforted me; I reached out my hand to grab a cigarette from the nightstand, but I smoked with a certain remorse. Deep down, Esperanto may be opposed to smoking, just as it is in favor of scouting.

“Mi estas brunas.” Which is to say: I am dark. Mi estas brunas, o daughters of Jerusalem, the Shulamite said. Joana must be in that joker’s car by now, snuggling up to him, a bit tipsy from whiskey, heading to his apartment—an imbecile who doesn’t even know a word of Esperanto! Life is sad, Sizenando.

June, 1958


Message to Senhor 903

Dear Neighbor,

The man from 1003 speaking here. The other day, I was appalled to receive a visit from the super, who showed me a letter in which the Senhor complained about the noise in my apartment. Afterwards, I received your personal visit—it must have been midnight—and your vehement verbal complaint. I should say that I am devastated about all this, and I’ll give you the whole reason why. The building regulation is clear and, if it weren’t, the senhor would still have the Law and the Police on his side. He who works all day has the right to nocturnal rest and it is impossible to rest in 903 when there are voices, footsteps, and music in 1003. Which is to say: it is impossible for 903 to sleep when 1003 gets agitated; as I don’t know your name and the senhor doesn’t know mine, we remain reduced to being two numbers, two numbers piled up among dozens of others. I, 1003, am bordered to the east by 1005, to the west by 1001, to the south by the Atlantic Ocean, to the north by 1004, above by 1103 and below by 903—the senhor. All these numbers are well behaved and silent; it is only the Atlantic Ocean and I who make noise and function outside of decent hours; only we two shake and bark under the influence of the tide, the winds, and the moon. From now on, after 10 pm, I sincerely promise to adopt the behavior of a calm blue lake. I promise. Whoever comes to my house (pardon; to my number) will be invited to retire at 9:45 pm, and I will explain: 903 needs to rest from 11 pm to 7 am because at 8:15 he has to leave 783 to take the 109 that will take him to 527 on the other street, where he works in room 305. Our life, neighbor, is entirely numerated, and I recognize that it can only be tolerable when one number doesn’t inconvenience the other, but rather respects him, staying within the limits of his algorithms. I beg your forgiveness—and I promise silence.

… But let me be permitted to dream about another life and another world, in which one man knocks on the other’s door and says: “Neighbor, it’s three in the morning and I heard music in your house. Here I am.” And the other responds: “Come in, neighbor, and eat my bread and drink my wine. We are all here to dance and eat, because we know that life is short and the moon is lovely.”

And the man brings his wife along, and the two stay among the neighbor’s friends (male and female) singing songs to thank God for the brightness of the stars and the whisper of the wind through the trees, and the gift of life, and friendship among humans, and love and peace.

January, 1953


The Cashew Tree

The cashew tree must have already been old by the time I was born. It lives in the ancient memories of my childhood: beautiful, immense, at the top of the hill behind the house. Now a letter arrives saying that it fell.

I remember the other cashew tree that was smaller, and died long ago. I remember the pinha and cajamanga trees, the big thicket of Saint George’s sword (that we simply called “splint”), and the tall soapberry tree that was our joy and the envy of all the neighborhood kids because it provided hundreds of black balls for the game of marbles. I remember the date palm, and so many bushes and colorful leaves, I remember the trellised vine that covered the arbor, and the flowerbeds of common flowers, “kisses,” violets. Everything vanished; but the great breadfruit tree beside the house, and the immense cashew tree up above, were like sacred trees protecting our family. Every boy grew and learned the way of its trunk, the sharpness of its fruit, the best spot to support his foot and climb to the top of the cashew tree, seeing the rooftops of the houses on the other side, and the hills beyond, from there; feeling the soft sway in the afternoon breeze.

Even last summer, I saw it; as always, it was covered in yellow fruit, full of tanagers. It rained; even still, I made Carybé climb the hill to see the tree up close, the way someone presents a beloved parent to a friend from another country. 

The letter from my youngest sister says that it fell on a windy afternoon, with a crash, down the river bank; and it fell a bit off to the side, as if it didn’t want to break the roof of our old house. She says she spent the day crestfallen, thinking about our mother, our father, our siblings who are already dead. She says that her young children were scared; but then they went to play among the fallen branches.

It left us now, at the end of September. It was covered in flowers. 

September, 1954


The Friends on the Beach

We were three old friends on the nearly deserted beach. The sun was good; the sea, violent. It was impossible to swim: enormous waves broke in the distance, then their frothy crests advanced, reared up again, growing, changing, swollen and blue, abruptly crashing against the shore. As soon as we entered the sea, the sand dropped almost vertically into a basin too deep for us to touch the bottom. Some meters beyond, there must have been a shoal that bore the brunt of the sea’s violence. We made a few dives, were struck hard by the waves, and decided to just talk on the beach; the sun was good. 

We were three old friends and each was so at ease together with the others that we didn’t have the sense of being together, we were just there. Maybe 10 or 15 years earlier we three had been there, or on some other part of the beach, maybe talking about the same thing. Certainly we three were skinnier then, our hair blacker… but does that matter to us now? Each one lived his own life; sometimes one of us would cross paths with another in some city and then possibly ask about the third. Months, maybe years, may have passed without us three seeing or writing to each other; but here we are together, so at ease, as if we had been doing this all along.

We talked about two or three women, we laughed cordially about other friends (“that time Di came to São Paulo”… “the other day, Joel called me at night…”) but our conversation was as light and tranquil as the morning itself; it was a distracted conversation, as if each one was thinking his simplest thoughts aloud. At times we were silent, just feeling the sun on our wet bodies, watching the sea, carefree. We were three mature animals going in and out of the salty water, enjoying being in the sun. Three good animals at ease, without any malice or vanity, enjoying the hazy comfort of being alive and being together, breathing the fresh sea breeze—like three horses, three oxen, three docile beasts beneath the blue sky. So serene and so innocent that, if by chance God had seen us from above, he would certainly have whispered, “there go those three”—and then thought about something else.

March, 1956

RIO-PARIS-RIO (Chapter 1)

Happiness comes naturally to Maria, but freedom sometimes overwhelms her, scatters her, causes her to latch onto the parked train on the grand boulevard of the imaginary.