The rapping on the door reverberated like the drumroll to a samba. At that midnight hour, Ana Davenga's startled heart grew calm. Then, all was peaceful, relatively peaceful. She jumped up from her bed and opened the door. They all came in, all of them except her man. The men crowded round Ana Davenga. The women, hearing the commotion in Ana's shack, came over too. Suddenly, the whole world seemed to fit into that tiny space. Ana Davenga had recognized the knocks. She hadn't misinterpreted the signal. A knocking that imitated the start of a samba or macumba session was to say everything was okay. All was at peace, insofar as it was possible. A different signal, consisting of hurried knocks, indicated something bad, awful, dreadful was imminent. The rapping she had heard didn't forewarn of any disaster. In that case, where was her man, given that the other women's men were all there? Where was her man? Why wasn't Davenga there?
Davenga wasn't there. The men surrounded Ana with due care, and so did the women. Caution was required. Davenga was good. He had God in his heart, but when provoked, he was the devil incarnate. They had all learned how to look at Ana Davenga. They looked at the woman while trying to ignore the vitality and allure that burst from every pore of her skin.
Davenga's shack was a kind of military command center, and he was its boss. Everything was decided there. At first, Davenga's companions viewed Ana with envy, desire, and mistrust. The man lived alone. He and the other men devised and planned all their exploits in that place. And then, all of a sudden, without consulting his companions, he installed a woman there. They thought of choosing another boss and new headquarters, but didn't have the courage. In due course, Davenga announced to them that the woman would be staying with him, but that nothing would change. She was blind, deaf, and mute in matters that concerned them. At the same time, he wanted to make one more thing clear: if anyone interfered with her, he himself would castrate that person like a pig, and leave him to die in his own blood. His friends got the message. And when they felt their desire rise on seeing the woman's full, round breasts, something like a deep pain spread through their nether regions. Desire then waned, faded away, dissolving any chance of physical excitement and ensuing pleasure. Ana thus became like a sister to them, inhabiting the incestuous dreams of Davenga's partners in crime and law breaking. [End Page 60]
Ana Davenga's heart ached with anxiety. All the men were there except hers. The men stood around Ana. And the women, as if they were picking a partner to dance with, stood in a circle around their male companions, each stopping behind the man who belonged to her. Ana looked at them all and didn't notice any sadness whatsoever. What was going on? Were they harboring a deep pain and merely masking their suffering so that she shouldn't suffer? Was it some practical joke of Davenga's? Was he hiding behind them all? No! Davenga wasn't a man to do such things! He wasn't beyond a joke, but only with his comrades. And when this happened, the horseplay was of a brutal kind. Punching, kicking, shoving and slapping, you sons-of-bitches … it was more like a fight. Where was Davenga? Had he got mixed up in some fracas? Yes, her man couldn't keep to himself. And he was a child in everything. Hed do things she just didn't want to think about. Sometimes hed be on the run for days, even months, and then when she least expected it, she stumbled across him right there inside the home. Indeed, Davenga seemed to have the power to become invisible. Sometimes she would just go out for a minute to take some washing in from the line or chat for a while with her women friends, and when she got back, she found him lying in bed. No clothes on. Handsome Davenga lying there in his birthday suit. His tight, smooth, gleaming black skin. Barely had she shut the door before she offered herself up to her man. Davenga, Davenga! And that's when something would happen that she could never fathom. Davenga, who was so big and strong, was also just a child whose pleasure came bathed in tears. He would cry like a baby, sobbing and soaking her. Her face, her body were left moistened with Davenga's tears. And every time she gazed at that man on the verge of his weeping climax, she felt intense anguish. It was as if Davenga really were suffering, and she was the cause. Afterwards, they lay together, both of them still naked. She wiping his tears away. It was all so sweet, so satisfying, so painful! On one occasion, she thought of refusing Davenga's advances so as not to see him cry. But he begged her, hunted her, sought her out. There was nothing to be done but wipe away the tears he shed in pleasure.
Everyone stood still, looking at Ana Davenga. She recalled that none of them had been friends just a short while ago. They almost had been enemies. They had detested Ana. As for her, she neither loved nor hated them. She didn't know what part they played in Davenga's life. And when she began to understand, she realized she couldn't be indifferent towards them. She would have to love them or hate them. So she decided to love them. It was hard. They didn't want her there. None of them were happy about this woman inside their chief's headquarters, knowing all their secrets. They thought Davenga would go off the rails and compromise them all as a group. But Davenga was head over heels in love with the woman.
When Davenga first set eyes on Ana at a samba session, she was dancing effortlessly, teasingly. Davenga liked the way the woman moved her body, the way her butt swayed. She was so absorbed in the dance that she didn't notice Davenga staring at her. At the time, he carried a deep feeling of dread in his heart. He needed to be careful. There were men after him. There had been a [End Page 61] bank raid and the cashier had given the description of a man who looked like him. The police had already come up the hill and searched his shack a number of times. The worst thing about it was that he had nothing to do with any of that shit. Wouldn't he be dumb to rob a bank right there in the same neighborhood? He did his jobs far away, and besides, he didn't like robbing banks. He'd already taken part in a few, and he didn't think much of them. There was no time to study the victims' faces. What he really liked was to see the fear, the horror, the terror in people's faces and the ways they behaved. The stronger they were, the better. He loved seeing the big shots, the top cats, shitting themselves with fear, like that congressman he had once robbed. It was so comical. He was hanging around the man's house. When the congressman arrived and got out of his car, Davenga went over to him.
"As you can see, sir, life's hard! Just as well there's a man up there like yourself standing up for common folks, the poor." It was a lie. "Sir, I voted for you." That was a lie too. "And I don't regret it. Have you come to pay your family a visit? I'm on my way to see mine as well and I want to take them one or two little gifts. I want to turn up all well dressed, like your good self."
The man didn't give him any trouble at all. He anticipated the gun Davenga hadn't even pulled out yet. And when Davenga did pull it out, the congressman had already handed over the goods. Davenga looked down the road. It was dark and desolate. It was early morning and cold. He ordered the man to open the door of his car and hand over the keys. The congressman was shaking, and the keys tinkled in his hand. Davenga bit his lip to stop himself from laughing. Then he looked the politician right in the eye and told him to remove his clothing while he gathered them up.
"No, sir, not your shorts! Not your shorts! I don't know whether you've got some disease or if you've got a grubby asshole!"
When he had got everything together, he pushed the man into his car. He looked at him, dangled the keys in front of him, and said goodbye; the politician returned the farewell. Davenga wanted to burst out laughing, but he held it back. He quickened his step. He didn't want to hang around. It was a quarter past three in the morning. A patrol car would pass that way soon. He had checked out the area some days before.
It was about the time he had robbed the congressman that he met Ana. The sale of the watch had made him a bit of money, apart from the cash in the wallet. And, feeling good, he had decided to go to the samba along with his friends. But he knew he had to remain alert. And he was alert too, oh yes. He was alert to the woman's movements as she danced. She reminded him of a naked dancer he had once seen in a film on television. The woman danced, free and unselfconscious, in some festivity in an African village. It was only when the drumbeats stopped that Ana made for the bathroom along with the other women. Davenga watched it all. When she returned, she passed close by, looked at him, and gave him a steady smile. He plucked up courage. Courage was needed when approaching a woman. More courage even than going out [End Page 62] on a job. He went over and invited her to have a beer. She thanked him. She was thirsty, she wanted some water, and she gave him an even longer, deeper smile. Davenga was moved. He remembered his mother, sisters, aunts, cousins, and even his grandmother, old Isolina. All those women he hadn't seen for years, ever since he had begun to wage war on the world. It would be so good if that woman wanted to be with him, live with him, become part of his life. But how? He wanted one woman, only one. He was tired of having no fixed home. And that woman who reminded him of the naked dancer had stirred something deep inside him. She had induced in him a longing for a time of peace, childhood, Minas. He had to try. He just had to give it a try … Ana, the dancer of his memories, drank water while the besotted Davenga drank beer without even tasting it. When he finished, he took the woman by the hand and left. Davenga's friends watched him cross the dance floor, oblivious to any risks, and make for the exit, already a lover leading his woman, emerging into the open, having almost forgotten danger.
Ever since then, Ana remained in Davenga's shack and in his life. She never asked what the man did for a living. He always brought home money and things. At times when he was away, his companions had their women bring her food. She never questioned things. Davenga would often tell her to go and give money to his friends' women. They would receive the gifts and want to know when their men would be back. Davenga sometimes let them know when they would return, and sometimes not. Ana knew only too well what her man was up to. She knew the risks she ran in being by his side. But she also thought that there were risks in any walk of life, and the biggest risk was in not trying to live. And on that first night together in Davenga's shack, when all was done, and they lay there calm and dry eyed—after he had wept copiously as he reached orgasm—Ana decided she would take his name. And so she resolved that from then on she would be known as Ana Davenga. She wanted her man's imprint on her body and in her name.
Davenga had fallen in love with Ana at first sight and forever. He had given Ana his name and himself. It was while with her that he had begun to reflect, and to find a reason for living. He had also begun to think about the other women he'd had before. And one of them gave him cause for remorse: Maria Agonia, whose death he had ordered.
He had met the woman when he was visiting a comrade of his in prison. His friend had panicked, and things hadn't gone well. Prison must be horrible. Just thinking about it caused him fear and despair. If he was put in jail one day and couldn't escape, he'd kill himself. And it was during that one visit to his friend that he met Maria Agonia. She was going around talking about the pain of life when we don't have the Lord to watch over us. That day, they fell into conversation as they left the jailhouse. She was pretty, her dress fell below the knee, and her hair was swept back. She had a calm voice, accompanied by calm gestures. Davenga was enjoying listening to what Maria Agonia had to say. They arranged to meet the following Sunday in the square. When he [End Page 63] got there, the pastor was speaking, and she had the Bible open in her hands. She raised her eyes and saw Davenga looking at her. He piously averted his gaze. He left and went over to the bar nearby. When the service was over, she left along with all the others, signaling to him as she passed. He followed her. When all the others had dispersed, she told him of her desire to be with him. She wanted to go somewhere they could be alone. Off they went and engaged in passionate lovemaking. He, as always, wept. They met like this over and over, on many occasions. First they were in the square; there was the preaching, the acts of faith. After that, it all happened silently, hidden away behind closed doors. One day, he became fed up. He suggested she come live with him on the hillside. She should face all the dangers with him. She should leave her Bible and everything else behind. Maria Agonia recoiled. Did he imagine that she, a pastor's daughter, a woman with schooling, was going to give up everything to go and live with an outlaw, a bandit? Davenga was furious. Ah! So that was it? Was it just for pleasure? Just for the thrill? For what happened in bed? Was she going back to her Bible now that it was over? He told the woman to get dressed. But she refused. She wanted more. She needed the pleasure that only he could give her. They left the motel together, and at a certain point, just as he always did, he got out of the car and walked on alone. There was nothing to worry about. He knew someone who would do the job for him. Some days later, the following news item appeared in the papers: "Pastor's daughter found naked and riddled with bullets. Next to her body, there was a Bible. The girl was in the habit of visiting prisons to preach the Gospel"
No matter how hard Ana Davenga tried, she couldn't work out why her man wasn't there. All the others were present. This meant that wherever Davenga was, he was on his own. And it was unusual for people to be on their own during times of war like these. Davenga must be in danger, in a tight spot. The stories of Davenga and his feats came vividly and feverishly to her mind. Among these was the incident of a woman like herself, found dead. Not even when Davenga, so contrite, told her about the crime, was she frightened of him. She searched the faces of the other women there. All she saw was calm. Was that because their men were all there? No, it wasn't because of that. The absence of one of their group always meant danger for all of them. Why were they so calm, so impassive?
There was more knocking on the door, and this time it wasn't to announce a samba. It really was a samba. Ana Davenga tried to break through the circle around her to open the door. The men hemmed her in even more tightly, and the women began to sway their bodies. Where was Davenga, where, for God's sake?! What was going on? It was a party! She heard children's voices. Ana Davenga caressed her belly. Hers was inside her, still tiny, still no more than a dream. Among the children, there were some who watched their fathers' activities from afar, and some more closely. Some were destined to walk down the same path. Others—who knows—might follow a different course. And her child by Davenga—what path would he follow? Ah, that belonged to the future. [End Page 64] It was just that the future came fast. Time for growing up was short. The time for killing and being killed also came quick. And so what about their child, hers and Davenga's? Where was Davenga, for God's sake?
Davenga broke through the crowd. He was full of cheer, the scallywag, the airhead, up in the clouds as always. He hugged her. And as Davenga embraced her, she not only felt his body, but his gun too.
"Davenga, Davenga, what's this party for? Why all this?"
"Hey woman, are you out of your head? Are you stoned? Have you forgotten about life? Have you forgotten about yourself?"
No, Ana Davenga hadn't forgotten, but at the same time she didn't see the point of remembering. It was a birthday party, the first in her life.
Ana Davenga's shack, just like her heart, now contained both people and merriment. Some of them lounged around in the limited space of the yard. Others crammed into the neighboring shacks, from where liquor, beer, and all the rest flowed. In the early hours, Davenga told everyone to go home, advising his comrades to remain watchful.
Ana was happy. Only Davenga could organize something like this. And she, so steeped in pain, had brought such anxiety on herself in the moments leading up to her greatest joy. There was Davenga, lying in bed, dressed in no more than the smooth, lustrous black skin that God had given him. And there she was as well, stark naked. It was so good to lie there, touching each other before anything else. Then, there was Davenga's weeping, so pained, so deep, that she delayed her own climaxed cry. They were about to explode inside each other when the door flung open and two policemen rushed in, guns at the ready. They ordered Davenga to get dressed quickly and not try any funny business, for the shack was surrounded. Another policeman outside pushed in the wooden window frame. A machine gun was aimed at the bed, straight at Ana Davenga. She curled up with her hand covering her belly to shield her baby, no more than a tiny seed, still barely more than a dream.
Davenga put on his trousers slowly. He knew it was over. So what now? Was it worth living? Was it worth dying? As for jail, no, never! His gun was there, under the shirt he was about to put on. He could grab them both. He knew the gesture meant certain death. If Ana survived the war, who knows, maybe her fate would be different?
His head bowed, not looking at the two policemen in front of him, Davenga grabbed his shirt, and immediately two shots rang out.
The news reports lamented the death of one of the policemen. In the favela, people mourned the deaths of Davenga and of Ana, who had perished in bed, mown down by machine-gun fire, her hands protecting the dream of life she carried in her womb.
In a beer bottle full of water bloomed the rosebud that Ana Davenga had been given by her man on her first-ever birthday party. She was twenty-seven. [End Page 65]
Conceição Evaristo was born south of Belo Horizonte in 1946 to a poor family with nine sons; she later moved to Rio de Janeiro and studied at the Universidade Federal de Rio de Janeiro. In the 1990s she began publishing in Cadernos negros, a series from the Quilombhoje writers group. She published two novels: Ponciá Vicêncio in 2003, and Becos da memória [Alleys of memory] in 2006. Her recent books include Insubmissas lágrimas de mulheres [The insubordinate tears of women] (2016) and Histórias de leves enganos eparecenças [Tales of minor deceptions and appearances] (2016). In 2018, she received the Literature Award from the Government of Minas Gerais.