Francisco C. P. Rodrigues
(This short story is merely a description of a robbery that actually occurred in Brazil, if I remember rightly in Rio de Janeiro, a few years ago. The person who told me what happened was a friend of the victim of the robbery. I read nothing about it; I only heard an account of it, coming from a person who had no interest in lying and never imagined that the occurrence would be transformed into a story, many years later. Let’s say that it is “a tale based on real life”. It is violent but, in this case, not due to a decision made by the author. The real world is violent.)
Just before seven in the morning, Benvinda arrives at the residence where she has worked for several years. Her steps show an unusual vivacity.
A forty-year-old, dark-skinned housemaid, she is smart and level-headed, despite little schooling. She has an eighteen-year-old daughter, who is just as level-headed as she is and who works in a bank, studying at night.
Walking to work, today Benvinda experiences a euphoria that she has not felt for years. She is in love... And also surprised. How could that handsome, virile “hunk”, with a Spanish accent, have a “fixation” on her, a woman older than he is?
— Does it have to do with love? — she asks herself. — Why not?! — On one occasion, she heard her employer, exhibiting a magazine, with photos, comment to her husband, a court judge, that a certain Arabian sheik, passing through Brazil, fell in love with a chambermaid at the hotel where he was staying, taking her to marry him in the Middle East.
For sure — Benvinda reminds herself — the powerful Arab had several wives in his homeland. But this was another matter, a question of country, of legal differences that should be respected. As far as she knew, in his land, the big boss could have as many wives as he could support. What interested her was the fact that, in a “flash” — “the craziness of love!” — the hotel chambermaid had become the third or fourth — she couldn’t remember exactly — rich “madam” of a wealthy, important man. With a right to luxury, servants, limousine, chauffeur, etc. And the photo of this lucky chambermaid, in her opinion, did not show any unusual beauty. It was an ordinary face, more or less like her own, only younger. Comparing the two males, Benvinda smiled, feeling superior. In the photo, the sheik was fat, rather old and ugly, whereas the object of her affections was a handsome “hunk”, capable of seducing any rich “lady of leisure” with the utmost ease. In addition, he is not likely to be short of cash, bearing in mind the elegant shirts that he wore.
Speaking of a lady of leisure, Benvinda nurtures an intense contempt for young women who, dressed in miniskirts, over ventilate their “private parts”... By the way, she likes this expression, considering it to be very “chic” and uses it frequently... She believes it to be elegant, making it unnecessary for her to mention ugly words. And she was even more shocked with the first “dental floss” swimwear, which would certainly be uncomfortable and itchy “down there”, in the aforementioned “private parts”. She would never wear such “indecencies”. And her daughter, miraculously — because the second generation almost always reacts against the first — agreed with her.
One day, when washing one of these items of swimwear — or cord? —, owned by one of her employer’s nieces, she was greatly impressed by the diminutive size of the item. On the occasion in question, it was impossible not to indulge in some wry speculation, of an odoriferous nature, related to that cord that permitted display of the bu…., or should I say “private parts”, so shamelessly. But what was more baffling for her was the fact that the wearer of that swimsuit seemed to be a sensible level-headed girl. If she was level-headed, why did she not wear a complete swimsuit? How could fashion have so much power? And why did the government no take any appropriate action?
Júlio — the name of the “hunk” — had been courting her for almost a week; however, to date, he had not made any more amorous advances, one of those “petting” sessions, so normal at all times. And this worried her a little. It seemed that his approach was to solely converse, show concern for her, a tenderness more appropriate for an older man, making it impossible for something more primitive, concrete and carnal. At most, he took her hand, but only for a short time. And she thought: respect is good, of course, but in excess, it’s disturbing.
Benvinda is not a shameless woman. Only in need of affection. She suffers a little with prolonged abstinence, but she would never give herself to a man on the first or second encounter. However, let’s say after the third or fourth, there would be no reason to maintain so much formality, that exaggerated respect, which is no longer adhered to by other young people. That would be too much! “After all, I’m not the Queen of England!”
She even thought, for a moment, that there was something amiss in such shyness: — “Damn it! Could he be gay? I had not thought of that! No, it’s not possible! That virile manner, hairy forearm, chest with hair coming out of the opening of his shirt, thick beard, man’s voice. No. Gay? No way!”
Benvinda had known, in the biblical sense, very few men; a maximum of eight. She was terribly deceived when, very young and pregnant with her daughter, she discovered that her boyfriend was married and lived with his wife. The shock was too much for her. She hoped to get married, or to at least live together in a decent manner; however, instead, she was left with loneliness and a growing belly. She even thought of killing herself. Or of having an abortion. But she was supported by her employer at the time, a kind, wise, Catholic woman, firm in her convictions, who dissuaded her from committing a sin. She would be killing an innocent being who could come to bring her happiness in her old age. And, in fact, being sensible just like her, her daughter only brought her happiness.
This relationship left her with a very bitter opinion of the character of men in general: “liars and egoistic”. After the birth of her daughter, she only “lost her head” occasionally, when her libido started to bother her like a pressure cooker, almost exploding. When things got to this point, she went to public dance halls — known as “forrós”, “gafieiras” and “pagodes” — where she always managed to find provisory company; equally in need of discharging their libido free of responsibilities. Although plain rather than pretty, she had a body that was sculpted by involuntary, forced domestic gymnastics — sweeping, washing, making beds — the “gym” of the poor, who are paid to “work out”.
Unfortunately, she left these libidinous meetings only physically satisfied. Catholic by instinct, without any indoctrination, she could not free herself of a feeling of blame after such encounters. In order to cleanse her soul, she prayed and promised to no longer permit such liberties.
She had already changed religion three times, in a search for peace that was never attained. And it was in this way that her life continued until, unexpectedly, the attractive and respectful young man came onto the scene. She got to know him by chance, on leaving the residence where she worked, at the end of an afternoon. He was on the other side of the road, looking for an address that was impossible to find because the number did not exist. On seeing her leave the house, he asked for her help. And so, the chaste and unexpected romance began.
What left Benvinda “uneasy” was his habit of asking questions. It was impossible to imagine someone more curious: — “Are you happy? Are you sure?” — She thought this part was rather idiotic. — “Are you well paid? Couldn’t your employer pay you more? It has come to my knowledge that, a few days ago, he received several gold bars and thousands of dollars as an inheritance... He needs to be careful and keep these valuables safe; if not, you know what may happen... Has he considered keeping the gold in a bank?”
Such questions left her worried. She asked Júlio how he came to know of the inheritance, but he explained that he came to know about it by mere coincidence, as he had a friend who was an employee of the Law Court, working in the registry office that was dealing with inventory proceedings involving the judge’s father. On telling his friend that he had a girlfriend in the same street — Benvinda herself —, working at the residence of a judge, the young man inquired as to the name of the judge. Once informed, he mentioned the inheritance. The court employee commented on the fact because, in general, beneficiaries do not mention inheritances in gold and dollars, in order to pay less tax on the inventory.
The explanation was plausible but, even so, Benvinda continued to be uneasy. But, on the other hand, if Júlio were a bandit, a robber, he would not need to beat around the bush so much. He would only need to draw his revolver and overpower the head of the household at the right moment, when he arrived by car at night or when he left home in the morning.
She put an end to these reflections when she arrived at the home of her employer, situated in an upper-middle-class district.
She had hardly put the key in the lock when she felt a hand, coming from behind, firmly secure her left arm, at the same time that the barrel of a revolver pressed into her ribs.
Behind her, there were two assailants, both with stockings covering their heads. She was pushed forward and, in a matter of seconds, all three were already inside the house.
The initial scare was followed by a diffuse weakness. Benvinda felt her legs grow weak. She almost lost control of her bladder, a common reaction of hers in moments of great fear. Despite her natural quickness of mind, her head froze, empty, dominated. Her mouth was firmly covered by the same man who grabbed her from behind and now closed in on her from the front.
— Not a sound, auntie! — was the firm but whispered warning of the bandit who dominated her. — If I shoot, I will blow your brains out! — And she clearly imagined, “saw”, her bloody brains, in pieces, flying in slow motion through the living room.
— Where does your employer keep the gold and the dollars? — questioned the robber in her ear. In the meantime, his partner made a quick inspection of the ground floor of the beautiful two-story house.
— What gold? — murmured Benvinda, becoming surprisingly quick-witted once again.
The villain through it was amusing. He did not seem to be tense. Calmly, without desire, he pawed her with his left hand, massaging her breast, while he smiled beneath his disguise.
— Congratulations! I never imagined that you would recover so quickly auntie! But the time for playing games is over. I know that your employer has gold and dollars. Do you want to play Joan of Arc? Look, we’ll rape you and even torture everyone here! — And, on saying this, he pressed the barrel of the revolver hard against Benvinda’s left nostril, hurting her with the gunsight. Her eyes filled with tears, but she did not dare to shout.
— You don’t need to reply... He must be in the bedroom... Let’s go upstairs very slowly; you in front and me holding a gun to your head. At the bedroom door, you are going to ask your employer whether he wants to have breakfast. Pretend that you are taking it to him on a tray. Did you understand? Or do I need to beat you? If you obey, I’ll let you live. I’ll even let everyone live! I only want the dollars and gold bars. So, don’t try to be a heroine.
Dominated, she nodded her head in agreement and, without noise or stumbling, she was pushed up the stairs that led to the upper floor.
The three stopped at the door of the couple’s bedroom, Benvinda in front. She received a prod on the back of her neck with the gun barrel and a sign that it was time to play her role as a waitress. So, she asked in quite a loud voice:
— Dr. Nelson... do you want breakfast? I’ve brought it on a tray.
Benvinda, despite being smart, or exactly because of this, was not a good actress. The question came out in a shrill, strange voice, both screechy and irritating.
Her employer, a little more than forty years of age, a Criminal Court judge and also a professor of criminal law at a private university, awoke to the sound of this harsh, strident voice. Without any difficulty, as it was at this hour that he normally arose. He soon found two things rather odd: first, the change in voice of his housemaid; second, the offer of breakfast in bed, something that never occurred. Why this change in routine now? Even so, he did not immediately think of a robbery and only thanked her:
— ... Thank you, Benvinda, but I will have breakfast downstairs, as always.
On hearing this, the “principal” villain, holding the housemaid — the other one had still not opened his mouth — hesitated a little. He didn’t expect this reply, but thinking quickly whispered in Benvinda’s ear: — Again... Offer it again!
And she insisted: — You must have breakfast! — she shouted, almost wailing, desperate.
This immediately aroused the judge’s suspicions in a manner he could not ignore. — Something’s up! — he thought, his heart racing.
He jumped out of bed and, without putting on his slippers, he tip-toed to the door. Crouching as low as possible, he peeped through the gap under the door. Based on the shadows and considering that Benvinda was not an insect, with various legs, he found that there were other people in the corridor. This abundance of legs, together with the desperate appeal for him to have breakfast in bed, could only be yet another chapter of the menacing “true crime stories” that he read on a daily basis in court case files.
— Just a moment, I’m going to open the door! — the judge shouted, while trying to maintain a normal tone of voice. He immediately drew close to his wife who, already standing, immobile, stared at him with eyes wide open, aware of the situation. In her ear, he whispered: — Lock yourself in the bathroom. Quickly! Without making any noise!
Following this, he took a few steps in the direction of the fitted wardrobe, where he kept a double-barreled hunting shotgun that was always loaded, despite the risk implicit in this practice. He did this because, as a judge, he had heard innumerous accounts of robbery victims who did not have time to load their weapons when the robbers were already inside their homes.
The judge took the shotgun and returned to the bed, where he reclined and placed the butt on his shoulder. He cocked the weapon and waited, pointing the barrels at the middle of the door. At this moment, his wife was already locked in the bathroom.
The excessive delay and suspicious silence convinced the principal robber that the owner of the house was up to something. It was now or never. He pushed the maid aside and kicked the door vigorously three times, making a noise that echoed through the silent house. With the fourth kick, the door suddenly opened.
At this exact moment, the judge squeezed one of the triggers. Apparently, — based on that subsequently found in the court case files —, for some reason, the robber in front turned his head. This was because his lower jaw had been ripped away, almost entirely, by the joint pressure of the small lead spheres fired, at short range, by the powerful hunting weapon.
The shot also had the effect of a violent “Heavyweight” blow on a frail “flyweight”, as the robber in front was thrown backwards, taking his companion with him in the confusion, as well as Benvinda, who had not had time to go down the stairs, as she was rather dumbstruck.
All three went tumbling down the stairs, while the involuntary “hunter of jawbones” rose from the bed and prepared for a possible second shot.
From the top of the stairs, the owner of the house saw that, down below, neither of the two assailants were holding a firearm at that moment and both were dizzy. A revolver had fallen at the bedroom door, on the upper floor, and another on the top step, both out of reach of the robbers.
Although lacking his lower jaw, the criminal who seemed to lead the robbery managed to lift himself up, stumbling, confused, eyes staring, with one hand holding on to the lowest part of the banister. With the other hand, he touched the hole where there was formerly a chin. A large amount of blood flowed from this hole. His companion, also injured, but not severely, sought to drag his colleague away in a supportive gesture, holding him by the waist and placing the injured arm on his shoulder. They dragged themselves in the direction of the kitchen, certainly with a view to escaping via the back yard of the house, where there was a wall that was not very high. Their only thought now was to escape.
With the utmost caution, Benvinda’s employer followed them at a distance, attentive to what was happening, taking care regarding the possible existence of a third robber providing cover for the others. However, he soon convinced himself that they were alone.
The robbers reached the yard wall, beyond which was an empty plot of land. The individual who was less injured quickly managed to climb the wall and, straddling it with one leg on each side, attempted to lift his companion. But his efforts were in vain. The man without a lower jaw had no strength. He seemed to be giddy. He could hardly remain standing. Loss of blood, together with violent trauma, had weakened him to the extent that he could do no more than decrepitly lift his arms and emit a few groans — an expression of pain or an explanation of the fact that he lacked strength. Subsequently, at the time of the autopsy, the owner of the house found out that the lead shot had dilacerated his tongue.
The robber who was on top of the wall explained, shouting, to his companion — as understood by the judge — that he needed to escape, leaving him there, but that he should keep calm because he would soon return, well-armed, to take him.
The other, however, seemed not to accept this solution. He wanted his companion to take him right away. Although weak, he protested, wheezing and coughing. Until, exasperated, the man on top of the wall fixed his gaze on the owner of the house. He raised his fist in hatred and yelled: — I’ll be back to kill you!
This robber had hardly lifted his leg, preparing to jump down from the wall, when the owner of the house fired a second shot, which hit the criminal full-on. As the distance was now greater, the lead shot was able to spread to a greater extent, also hitting his companion who, stumbling, took a few steps from the wall and fell face-down into a small swimming pool. The other robber fell dead on the other side of the wall.
When the police arrived, half an hour later, Benvinda was already being medicated — noting serious — and told her employer about the fleeting and extremely chaste “affair” that she had with that young man, who asked so many questions and was dead on the other side of the wall. Pulling the stocking from the face of this robber, she recognized Júlio, the chaste boyfriend. At the beginning of the robbery, he did not utter a single word in order to avoid being identified. During the police inquiry, it was found that the two robbers were brothers, born in Paraguay, and with criminal records both here and there.
With regard to the judge, this traumatic event for particularly bitter for him. To date, as far as mammals are concerned, he had only killed a capybara in the state of Mato Grosso. Afterwards, he had felt a certain malaise, observing the dilacerated state of the animal.
Going against his principles — he was a law-abiding man —, but due to his understandable defensive instinct, he found himself obliged to change the facts a little when he reported them to the Police Chief who arrived at the scene. He said that the robber, on the wall, mentioned drawing a firearm to shoot him.
That second shot made with the shotgun — he knew, it was written in all treatises on Criminal Law — could not be considered to be legitimate defense, as the danger had passed. The robber’s threat was only hypothetical. However, as a citizen, he asked himself, seeking to clear his conscience: — “And if the robber came back in order to fulfill his promise? Was I not duty-bound to protect my home, wife and children?
A few days later, he asked to be re-allocated to a Civil Court. He felt traumatized, without the level headedness necessary for judging violent criminals.
He continued lecturing on Criminal Law, but his students complained that, although he was a demanding teacher, paying attention to details, he became evasive and brief when he explained the formal requirements for legitimate defense. Most notably the item “actual or imminent aggression”. He did not seem to feel at ease explaining this aspect, and quickly went on to another topic.
One month later, they moved to an apartment, where they have not been robbed to date.
With regard to Benvinda, she spent several months in a state of sadness, disappointed with herself. Every time that she looked in a mirror, it seemed that a stupid ass was staring back at her.
(Francisco Cesar Pinheiro Rodrigues is a Brazilian writer, retired judge, who resides in São Paulo, Brazil, owner of the website www.500toques.com and the blog francepiro.blogspot.com. Contact by email: email@example.com)
Translated by: John Upson