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  • Infamous
  • João Guimarães Rosa (bio)
    Translated by Steven Byrd

It was completely unexpected—the incident. Who could expect something with neither heads nor tails? I was at home; the village was calm. A stampede stopped at my door. I went to the window.

A group of horsemen. Or rather: a steadfast horseman in full attire at my door, a rigorous man, and a band of three rowdy types sitting in their saddles. At a glance, everything was downright unsettling. I got nervous. That horseman—a man's man—a friendless face. I know the science of judging a man's character by his appearance. That man had journeyed to die in battle. He greeted me forcefully, dry, curt. His horse was tall and reddish-brown, bridled and shod, and sweating. And I sensed great doubt on his part.

No one dismounted. The others, a cheerless trio, had hardly noticed any-thing, including me. They looked like frightened people, a confused gang, repressed or embarrassed, perhaps coerced. The shrewd horseman had an air of commanding them in his this-for-that way, with half-gesture, scorn, and motioned to them to remain where they were. Since the front of my house was far away from the street, and on both sides was a fence, there formed a corner, a type of hideaway. He forced them to a place where they would be less visible, prohibiting them from leaving; not to mention that the horsemen were packed together, lacking mobility. He saw everything, taking advantage of the landscape. The three seemed to be his prisoners, not his henchmen. The man could only be one mean hombre, a hardcore hired gun. I felt it was of no use to show fear. I didn't have a gun at my reach. And even if I had one, it wouldn't have mattered. In the blink of an eye he would have put me down. Fear is extreme ignorance at an intense moment. The fear of the devil. The fear overwhelmed me. I invited him to dismount, to enter.

He said no, consistent with his customs. He kept his hat on. I saw that he had relaxed in the saddle to prepare for the difficult task of thinking. I asked him how I could help: he replied that he was not sick, nor had he come for a consultation or prescription. His voice was scanty, desiring calmness; his accent was distant, perhaps from São Francisco. I know his type of boldness that neither boasts nor brags. But on the contrary, very strange, perversely brusque, who could explode at the drop of a hat. Carefully, subtly, I began to collect my thoughts. He spoke: [End Page 171]

"I came to ask you, sir, for an opinion explained …"

He raised his eyebrow. His demeanor, his leathery skin, made me more anxious. He calmed himself, almost smiled. Then, he got off his horse, easily but unexpectedly—to show his best manners, or as an act of deceit? He kept the reins in his hand, and the horse was at peace. The hat remained on his head. He was a rustic, with impervious eyes. And he was battle-tested. He was a sight to behold: an armed man—and with polished guns. It was easy to sense the firepower in his belt where he was always ready to draw with his swaying right hand held at a perfect level. His saddle was a rare piece, made of a vulture tree, hard to find in the region, especially one made with such handicraft. All typical of tough hombres. His tenseness seemed to indicate that he was out for blood. He was small, but with hard features, thick like a tree trunk. He could blow away anyone at any moment. Had he entered the house and had coffee, it would have calmed me. Instead, the band outside, without the cordiality of a guest nor deafness of the wall, was enough to make one uneasy, without measurement or certainty.

"You, sir, do not know me. Damázio, dos Siqueiras … I come from Serra …" What a scare. Damázio, who had not heard of him? Stories of this fierce one...


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pp. 171-174
Launched on MUSE
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