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  • From St. Bernardo
  • Graciliano Ramos (bio)
    Translated by Padma Viswanathan

Let me start by declaring that my name is Paulo Honório, I weigh eighty-nine kilos, and I turned fifty on St. Pedro's Day. The age, the weight, the bushy gray eyebrows, and this whiskery red face have brought me quite a bit of respect. There was less respect when I lacked these qualities.

Frankly speaking, St. Pedro's Day and the exact number of years are conventions I adopted because they're in the parish book of baptism registrations. I have a certificate that mentions godparents but doesn't mention a father or mother. They probably had reasons for not wanting to be identified. So I can't celebrate my birthday precisely. In any case, if there's a discrepancy, it's probably not big: a month, give or take. It doesn't matter: other important events are in the same situation.

So I'm the originator of a family, which on the one hand causes me some dismay, but on the other hand frees me from the nuisance of supporting poor relatives, the type you ordinarily find slithering, shameless as anything, alongside people working their way up.

If I tried to tell you about my childhood, I'd have to lie. I guess I drifted around. I remember a blind man who used to pull on my ears, and old Margarida, who sold sweets. The blind man disappeared. Old Margarida lives here at St. Bernardo, in a clean little house, and doesn't bother anyone. She costs me ten mil-réis a week, hardly enough to compensate for the mouthful she gave me. She's lived a century, and one of these days I'll buy her a shroud and bury her near the high altar in the chapel.

Until I was eighteen, I had a hard row to hoe, earning five tostões for twelve hours' work. That was when I committed my first act worthy of mention. At a wake that ended up in a free-for-all, I put the brakes on this girl Germana—sarará, a blonde mulatta, flirty as hell—and tweaked the stern of her ass. The kid about wet herself, she loved it so much. Then she turned around and got in with João Fagundes, a guy who changed his name so he could steal horses. The upshot was that I knocked Germana around and knifed João Fagundes. So the police chief arrested me. I was beaten with a bullwhip, took my medicine, and stewed in my own juices, rotting in jail for three years, nine months, and fifteen days, where I learned to read with Joaquim the shoemaker, who had one of those tiny Bibles, the Protestant kind. [End Page 159]

Joaquim the shoemaker died, and Germana was ruined. When I got out, she was in the life, open door, with the clap.

By that time, I wasn't thinking about her anymore, I was thinking about making money. I got registered to vote, and Sr. Pereira, a moneylender and political boss, loaned me a hundred mil-réis at five percent interest a month. I paid back the hundred mil-réis, and took two hundred with the interest cut down to three and a half percent. He never went lower than that, and I studied arithmetic so I wouldn't be robbed any more than suited me.

Like a beast at the gelder's (to put it crudely), I thrashed in Pereira's claws. He sapped me, muscles and nerves, the scum. I got my revenge afterwards: he mortgaged his property to me and I took it all, left him in his breechcloth. But that was way later.

At first, capital kept escaping me though I chased it without rest, traveling through the backlands, trading in hammocks, livestock, pictures, rosaries, knickknacks, winning some here, losing out there, working on credit, signing notes, carrying out extremely complicated operations. I went hungry and thirsty, slept in the sand of dry riverbeds, fought with people who spoke in shouts, and sealed commercial transactions with loaded guns. Here's an example: Mr. Sampaio agreed to buy a...


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pp. 159-165
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