terça-feira, 16 de julho de 2024



            Around eight o'clock on a Saturday morning, a citizen named Paulo woke up smelling the coffee. He washed his face, brushed his teeth, and went down to the kitchen for the first meal of the day.

As he took the first bite of toast, the doorbell rang. Looking out the window, he noticed that Rui was playing, a gardener who comes every month to take care of the garden.

This gardener is a very original human being — you will agree with my opinion if you continue reading — aged between forty-five and fifty, of average height, slightly overweight, calm, laconic, and an informal authority, in the neighborhood, in the knowledge of flowers. What he knows he doesn't know through readings, it is through direct, personal contact. He is a much sought after gardener because he is more interested in his colorful “darlings” than in the money he earns with them. He's also a man of word and incredibly persistent.

It is worth clarifying that the fact that Rui loves flowers does not mean that he is something effeminate. He is straight, without a doubt, although respectful in the extreme.

Rui does the job that is asked of him without putting pressure on the customer — or rather, the customer’s wife — because men, “insensitive animals”, in his opinion, are almost always not interested in these delicate and colorful products of nature. Maybe because they don't know that flowers, so pretty, are nothing more than explicit, shameless bisexual organs that only think about “that”: propagating the species. Some have a uterus. Not being able to leave the house, they adorn themselves with colorful petals, thus attracting the attention of insects that, after landing on them, carry with them, on their legs and body, the pollen that will fertilize distant flowers. Rui knows this — but without scientific names — and “forgives” them for the “hassle” because he knows that, not being able to fly need to reproduce “by mail”. And without breeding, his gardening work would suffer.

Continuing, if the owner of the house wants to plant this or that, Rui does not object, even when the customer reveals bad taste. At most he is disappointed, but he disguises it.

Because he is polite, capricious, and respectful — he never says a bad word — the female residents also admire him because they are not afraid that he may take “certain liberties” by probing for possible sexual needs when they are too playful and communicative. As for the price charged for “blossoming” a garden, this is discussed directly with the gardener's wife, a smart, somewhat harsh and business-savvy woman. Her saintly husband doesn't like to discuss prices, budgets and payment methods. He is a top 10 artist but only top 1 merchant. Rui, as I said, is not an ordinary gardening professional. With his distinguished face and discretion, everyone thinks he could be, socially, much more considered. He looks more like an accountant, or manager. He exercises his profession as if he were a kind of goldsmith of the plant world. His wife is more educated than he is, even because the gardener's formal education is almost none in print. What he knows, he knows very well, but little, and only by mouth.

On the first Saturday of each month, Rui appears at the lawyer's house, usually with an assistant, taking three or four hours to take care of the flowers as if they were precious. This Saturday, he's alone.

For the reader to better understand what he is going to read, it is necessary to know a little about the unusual circumstance of the birth of this silent professional, as he is the central figure of this narrative.

Rui had an unusually original biography beginning. His birth was the longest in the entire chronicle of births in the backward village where he saw the light of day. His mother, a tall, burly woman, was pregnant with twins, but, believe it or not, she was unaware of the fact. Doctor in those parts and time was rare. Only the bulk of the belly would provide any indication that the heir would come into the world accompanied by a bosom partner. It so happens because the volume of Rui's mother's womb, in proportion to the overall size of the pregnant woman, was not worthy of attention.

 The birth of the twins was tumultuous. It happened like this: in the middle of the night, his mother felt “the pains” — or was it intestinal cramps? As the local midwife, a curious one, had assured that the delivery was still a month away, the pregnant woman took it for granted that it was just a desire to “go to the bathroom”. And she went, alone, holding a candle, to the rudimentary, dark and smelly “house”, which was a few meters away from the small room in which she lived and was fixing. That night the husband was not at home.

According to reports — always inaccurate and certainly exaggerated —, Rui's mother took the wrong path. In this, the first baby “dived” between the two parallel wooden boards that served as a seat, or rather, a squat in the rudimentary toilet. The bloodied and rosy fruit of love fell from a height of half a meter into the dark pit, whose chemical, and mainly aromatic composition, the reader can well imagine.

I do not understand the resistance and uses of umbilical cords after childbirth, but, lacking more information, it seems that the presence of the cord was not understood by the first-time parturient. The concrete fact is that the greedy little boy plunged into the soup of excrement in the middle of the dark night. This is because, in the confusion that followed the sensational dive, the candle went out, leaving the parturient in despair, screaming, not knowing that a second offspring, Rui — “They forgot about me!” —, was waiting, in the womb, for its turn to enter such a hostile environment.

Desperate, the parturient almost threw herself into the pit after the baby, who she thought was unique. Continuing to scream, her desperation woke up a family who lived close to the “little house” and soon they ran to fish for what, by normal things, would already be a smelly little angel. But to everyone's astonishment, the baby was still alive, practically whistling, floating on its back in the brown pool, not giving a damn about the smelly baptism. Fished, the baby didn't have a single scratch. It was only, they say, a neat bath to be in order. Fortunately — the local “in the know” explained — he had floated on his back.

But Rui, his brother, was not so “lucky”. Or, because of the mother's fright, or because perhaps every double birth have some risk, the fact mentioned is that his birth was the longest and most painful in the history of the village. He was born a few nights later — Rui doesn't really know —, practically strangled, his face colored between blue and purple; something even picturesque, technicolor. It is said that a long depletion of oxygen during childbirth causes irreversible brain damage in the baby. In fact, Rui must have lost a few billion neurons in those suffocating hours that followed his native colleague's diving jump.

This world is full of paradoxes. Rui's brother, who was born, pardon the word, in shit — more literally it would be impossible — had a life free of difficulties because he was a fast learner, energetic, articulate, imaginative, albeit selfish and a little bit crooked — a combination of intellectual and moral qualities that are unfortunately quite common and unfair.

Unfair because the bad guys are usually smarter than the good guys. However, Rui, who was born in poor but clean sheets, had to give up studying after failing a few times in his first year of school. Reading, for him, was a painful, almost impossible task. He just became literate. Perhaps it was a problem of dyslexia, at a time and place when the existence of this learning disorder was not even imagined. But, on the other hand, if there is any area of the brain with the specific function of managing character, that area was not affected by the long suffocation. Perhaps it was even fortified, by some natural form of compensation, for you will hardly find anyone more responsible, correct and persistent than the aforementioned latecomer.

The lawyer's wife — her name is Helena —, is proud of her large, intensely flowered garden. Its size proportionally exceeds the size normally reserved for gardens. This is because the house itself is not very big. It's more beautiful than big. The land has more front than back. There would be space for parking several cars, but, as the owner couple didn't use more than two, Helena insisted on transforming the extra space into something special that would draw attention for its beauty, because she was also very fond of flowers, despite being a woman essentially practical, objective, of German descent on the side of the father and mother. Her husband, when annoyed by her verbal coldness, used to call her "German", or "Nazi".

To take advantage of this wide area, she designed several beds, lovingly tended, giving those who arrive — in spring —, a surprising sight, intensely flowered, almost enchanted. Something unusual in a big city, such is the amount of roses, carnations, dahlias, azaleas, rhododendrons, primroses, and other flowers that, to be mentioned here, would require the specialized knowledge of a botanist, not just any narrator. The couple's older friends often say that the garden, in spring, is reminiscent of the movie The Wizard of Oz in its colorful version. And who takes such good care of this flowery edition of Eden? Rui, always tenacious, orderly, respectful, carrying out to the letter — rarely innovating — all the orders of the lady of the house.

With the gardener's biographical parenthesis closed, let's return to the lawyer's house on the Saturday morning when Rui rang the doorbell.

In order not to leave the gardener waiting at the door, mister Paulo dropped the toast on a saucer and went downstairs to open the garden gate. They exchanged the usual greetings and the gardener went in to do his work.

As usual, Rui used the side corridor to reach the backyard of the house, where there is a maid's room where he usually changes clothes. This time it was not necessary because he was already dressed in work clothes. He just sat at the table at the back of the house — a balcony, next to the kitchen, used for washing and ironing clothes — and waited for his morning snack because the hostess kindly “made a point” for him to eat something and take a drink coffee before starting his work. Since Rui was a silent and patient man, his presence there, near the kitchen — separated from it by a wall with stained glass — was not noticed by the owners of the house, imagining that the gardener was still far away, changing clothes in the maid’s room, which not worked on Saturdays. Rui was, in everything, a perfectionist, never a sprinter.

Returning to the kitchen for breakfast  the lawyer, as he passed through the living room saw, on top of an armchair, a book he had read during the night and which had impressed him. It was the Guinness Book, 1974 edition. He picked it up and when he reached the kitchen he commented, laughing out loud, about the most absurd records he had read the night before. In doing so, by mere coincidence, the gardener was unintentionally listening to everything through the window.

—What people do to become famous!" exclaimed the lawyer to his wife, after reading small passages. — Dangerous activities! Take, for example, the diving record of Italian Enzio Mallorca. On August 11, 1971, in Syracuse, Sicily, he dove to a depth of seventy-six meters. I don't know how the blood didn't foam when he came back to the surface! Who knows, he even died shortly after...

—Nice nonsense...was the woman's cold comment, almost always looking at things on the practical side. — Useless risk to life... If you hadn't read this now, I would have died without knowing it.

—Look at this one,” he continued, flipping through the book: The longest race was the 1929 Transcontinental race (5,898 km), on foot, from New York City, USA, to Los Angeles, California. The winner was Johny Salo, of Finnish origin, who died on October 6, 1931. This took 79 days.

—When was the race?”, she asked, frowning.

—In 1929.

—And he died in 1931?

—Exactly, he replied, checking the text.

—So it was the running that killed him.

—Well, maybe he died of some other cause. Going back to records, I don't see anything wrong with them, as long as those degrading competitions are avoided, as was the case with the slapping championship in Kiev, Russia, in 1931. It's here...' He pointed with his finger at an excerpt from the book.

 —Slaps? Virgin Mary! Tell it”!

 —There was perhaps a tie between Vasilly Bezbordny and Goniuch— he read the names with difficulty— after thirty hours of continuous slaps in the face. Have you ever imagined the state of their cheeks right after the competition? If they were sitting, resting, with their eyes half closed, by a window overlooking the street, the passers-by could only see their faces, they would probably laugh. Or call the police, thinking the two were insulting them by showing off their red, swollen buttocks. The eyes must have been tiny... If there was no marmalade... No, no... If the tournament was in public, sound evidence, the “symphony”, played with four hands and two cheeks was needed. They were real slaps between two friends, probably — the woman said. — Had there been any kind of enmity, even disguised, they would have killed themselves at the base of the “cookies”. The hands must have swollen too...

Speaking of hands, look at this one — he continued: “The world record for handshakes was set by US President Theodore Roosevelt. He shook hands with 8,513 people on New Year's Day at a White House reception on January 1, 1907.

        —Well, there's nothing wrong there... Not even interesting, either...Helena said.

The lawyer didn't like the comment very much, but went on: —You will like this one: 'The longest distance record, for throwing dry cow dung — dry! good... —, a rural competition, was 50.62m achieved by Harold Huler Smith”. And then there's the women's record for that throw, 30.81m set by Patti Bruce, records set at the Beaver World Championships in Oklahoma on April 21, 1973.

        —These two well deserved each other... They should get married...Can you imagine a domestic quarrel? What do you think would fly back and forth?” — she commented.

        —Woman has a lot of space in this book — he read: — ... female record of speaking uninterruptedly was set by Mrs Alton Clapp , of Greenville , North Carolina, USA, in August 1958. She spoke for 96 hours, 54 minutes, and 11 seconds. In the United States, these specific tournaments are called “Gossip Parties”.

          —Chip, compared to some friends of mine on the phone.

—There are also gastronomic records, which, now, perhaps, are no longer accepted by Guinness because they are very bad for health. It appears here that certain records were “claimed”. A David Man ate 130 fresh plums in 1 minute and 45 seconds in Eastbourne , England, on June 16, 1971.

        —And he never suffered from constipation again..." she added, seriously.

        —There's a guy here in Belgium who, holding a cable with only his teeth, pulled two wagons weighing 36 tons on the tracks.

        —I don't believe. If I was  on the judging committee, I would examine the slope of the terrain well... I would like to see him pull uphill...”

        —You want to kill people…

To all this, Rui, sitting on the other side of the window, paid attention. After the report of the world records, the couple fell silent and the lady of the house took the snack on a tray to the gardener, not knowing that the Rui had overheard the conversation.

After breakfast, Rui arrived at the kitchen door to return the tray, asking for “a word” with the owner of the house.

— With pleasure … — The lawyer answered, thinking it was some legal consultation.

Embarrassed, the gardener, noticing that the lady owner of the house was no longer in the kitchen, began: — I'm sorry... I accidentally overheard you talking about those records, those things that made some people famous.

—Well, in some cases it's a bit of a silly reputation... Did you hear the slapping dispute?”

—I heard... Wrong... Very crude... I've heard about this book... Well, I'll tell you a secret: I've always wanted to do something better than others... Something different, that would stay later for me after I stretch my shins. As gardening, I will never appear in a book, no matter how well I work.

            —But you do it very well!

           —I do my best, but I would like to be able to show some world record to my mother, who is old and has suffered a lot. I would like her to be proud of me. Next to my brother, a rich man, I am nothing. I feel in my chest a strange anguish for not being able to do something big, talked about all over the world. I will never be a writer, a scientist, a politician. My problem is that to do anything great you need to study; or a lot of money and, as you know, I have a problem with this reading business. It looks like a disease... I can't, no matter how hard I try. And I can't get rich either because I'm too honest.

        —Well, if you beat a record, your name goes into that book. It's called the Guinness Book and it's published in several languages around the world. But what kind of record do you want? The problem is there... A show of force? Of agility?

—Well, I have strength, but nothing special. And I'm slow... At school my nickname was “Turtle”, but one day I lost my patience.

The lawyer thought but it was difficult to suggest anything. And he didn't want to blame himself for any accident. He did not even mention, in order to avoid a fatal copy, the mad ambition of that citizen who tried to “bite”, that is, to hold with his teeth — coated with a steel plate — the revolver bullet fired into his own mouth. He died, of course, from a gunshot wound to the mouth. In fact, the same way his father had died, both circus professionals. The grandson, if any, was expected to inherit more judgment and less persistence.

—“Doctor”… — suggested the gardener, while the lawyer thought — who knows something to eat? In this I can use my patience.

—It seems Guinness no longer welcomes such exploits. Let me take a peek... Meanwhile, how about getting to work”? he suggested smiling.

The gardener agreed and went to get his tools. The owner of the house sat back down to leaf through Guinnes. He was looking for new information.

After about some minutes, the lawyer left the room and approached the gardener who, on his knees, was pulling weeds.

—Look, Rui, it's difficult... Almost everything requires a lot of strength, or speed, or a very special skill. After all, they are records. Do you know how to dance or tap? He asked, smiling, imagining that heavy Fred Astaire tap-dancing and twirling with his top hat and tailcoat, slinging Ginger Rogers around the waist.

—I'm too heavy for that, doctor...— he admitted, almost smiling.

—There's also mention in the book of a distance spitting contest, or throwing — with the mouth, of course — of a melon seed. Only in the United States. You can't go there, it's too far... Here in Brazil nobody organizes this nonsense. There is even a record of continuous showering. It lasted 174 hours in Indiana in the year 1972... That sounds like a good one! It just depends on persistence, water and electricity. What about?

        —I'll think about it..." he replied, not interested. 'What else did you see?”

        —Well, if you still smoke — the gardener had quit the habit more than three years ago, without relapses, because he had a lot of willpower — you could try to beat the record of a Robert Reynard, from England, in 1971. With a single puff he made 86 smoke rings!

        —My wife would kill me if I do that, she insisted so much that I don't smoke anymore. Besides, I don't think I could make more than five or six rings at a time... Sorry to take so much trouble... What else did you see?

          —A Herbert T. Waldren, here says the city, but doesn't say whether it was in England or the United States, won the national intercity contest of 'screamers' eight times. You have something within your reach! That is, it does not require muscular strength or agility. How about screaming hours and hours?

        —That's one I can think of, but I don't like screaming. " I never scream, you must have seen it. So, what's left? Oh! Bathing for many hours

        —Better say days!”, corrected the lawyer. — But let's stop here… This way, you don't finish my garden. Next Saturday you tell me what you've decided, okay?

        —Thank you, “doctor”. Next Saturday we'll talk again. Today I charge only half for my work.

        —Nothing like that. And get to work!

        —Sorry, I insist! Today I worked less.

The lawyer didn't want to argue but intended to pay Rui's wife straight away, who would obviously demand full payment. He went back to his room to change clothes, a little upset at the disruption of his Saturday morning routine caused by his unusual research. Entering the room  his woman asked him: — What were you talking about so much?

He smiled: — “You have no idea... He wants to be in the Guinness Book ...

        —You are kidding”!

       —Not hard!

      —Doing what?

      —He has not decided yet.

      —I hope you don't mess up...

     —He has, in fact, a great quality, the only one necessary in a competition that only requires tremendous persistence 

    —He is nice, polite, I like him, but he's stupid. I never imagined he wanted fame”.

 —Stupid? He takes good care of our garden...”

               —Because of me!' I'm the one who gives all the tips, when we need to change something. He is incapable of quick improvisations.

 — If he took any initiative in our garden, without you, he wouldn't get out of here alive... In that he's smart...

               — Don't come with hints... Boss has to command and employee has to obey. You are prejudiced against German descendants...

        — I don't think so. I just think that some of Germanic blood exaggerate this discipline thing... On the other hand... No, never mind!... Let's not fight, otherwise you'll go on a sex strike. And tonight I'm prone to introductory acts to the perpetuation of the species.

In the middle of the afternoon the gardener said goodbye. But not before asking the lawyer if anyone had broken a record for eating hard-boiled eggs, which he liked a lot.

— Wait a minute, I think so, I'll see; I more or less remember the page.  In, in a few seconds, the lawyer located the paragraph: — Here is: a Belgian, Georges Grogniet, ate 44 hard-boiled eggs, without breaks. This happened in May l956 ... But look, Rui! It can harm the liver.

           —Don't worry..." was the gardener's reticent reply, leaving.

Two days later, on Monday, around eight o'clock at night, the gardener's wife, a thin woman, tall, not ugly, with decisive gestures, came alone to the lawyer's house, asking to speak to him. He had just finished dinner and was watching television. The visitor was nervous, even somewhat hostile. It was she, as I have already explained, who “managed” her husband's activity, setting prices and organizing the parish's service days. Despite having little education, she was well-informed, watched the news and debates on television and read newspapers. All the money he earned went into her hands, who were thrifty and shrewd. As soon as she sat down, she asked in a scolding tone:

        — Doctor, I would like to know what you suggested to my husband!

        — I didn't suggest anything…” A slight dread crept into his spirit.

— This morning, he didn't even went to work... He was bad, very bad! Wax color, almost fainting. He said his head kept hurting. I even thought he was poisoned because he also vomited.

—Did he explain why he was like that?

—He didn't say anything. I think he was a little embarrassed. Suspiciously, I found a large quantity of eggshells in the garbage can. I gave him a squeeze and he told me he ate over twenty hard-boiled eggs! In one stroke! It was maybe over twenty because after twenty, he admitted, he fumbled the bill and started to feel bad. He did this when I was at my mother's house, otherwise I wouldn't let him.

          —Has he gotten better yet?"

    —He was in the Emergency Room. They gave him an injection... Now he's home, lying down, white and with bad breath! He didn't accuse you, but he said he learned about these records from you. My husband, when he gets something into his head...

          —But what could I do? I don't have to talk hidden inside my own house. Also, your husband is not a child...

        —In some ways, he's still a child...

        —It could be worse... There was certainly just bad indigestion." And how could I have guessed that he would want to imitate those crazy people that appear in Guinness ? For a silly little fame, reputation. To be in the newspapers, or in that book, they do amazing things!

Hearing the words “little fame” and “newspapers” their eyes, already large, seemed to grow. Raising his eyebrows, she asked: — In these records is the prize… in cash?

        —As far as I know, no. “Ah! greed”, he thought , and went on: but, indirectly, there may be some economic benefit if you hire the winner to do television commercials. But I don't advise anyone to...

        —TV? She interrupted him again, her eyes even wider. “Can he appear on television?!”

        —Calm down, I say this as a hypothesis. It is not what has happened often. But who can prevent, for example, a laboratory that manufactures capsules of, say, artichoke, or Chile boldo, or some antacid, from remembering to make a commercial in which the glutton, by hypothesis, speaks on screen as he was soon relieved, taking the medicine after eating too much?

        —In short, there might be some money in the game,” she insisted. 

        — As far as I know, no one tries to break records by thinking directly about the money...

—But you, just before, said that, 'indirectly’, she stressed the word, the record can bring money.

 He paused, while Helena, ten feet away, pretending to tinker with some vases, listened to them with a half-naughty expression, eyes half-closed.

The lawyer sighed, amazed at the turnaround in the visitor's concerns: What are you planning to do? Your husband may even die in such an attempt!

—Well, I was mad because I didn't know that side … but, hey, if he wants to try, and if it's not a dangerous thing, why not?

        —It's not possible! Now, are you the one who's going to want him to stuff himself with boiled eggs? His liver will turn into mayonnaise!

        —The decision will be his, his alone! And who said boiled eggs? Besides, I doubt he'll give up, because he never gives up if he's not doing something illegal. My husband is an honest man. But if he breaks a record, we'll make it! Oh, come on! I will  take care of the commercial part! Let's buy a better house! My brother-in-law, his brother, they are twins, a vain smartass, he'll stop showing off, all rich. We'll buy a decent car! Have you seen the state of our Beetle? It can't even walk without pushing! And nobody wants to buy the carcass. To drive again would have to spend a lot of money! I've also told Rui that if he earns money with a record, he'll be able to help some of his relatives who earn a rickshaw. This reinforced his idea of continuing.

She got up excitedly, pacing back and forth like a caged tigress. Stopping abruptly in front of the owner of the house, she asked: — Could you lend me that book, just for a few days? Since Rui is a stubborn mule, it doesn't hurt to do the right thing. If he broods, he, not me, mind you! — I'm the one who will choose the type of record! Something that no one thought of but that doesn't kill him! After all, I don't want to be a widow. I love my husband. I'm sure he never cheated on me.

         —I can't borrow it. This book is not mine,” he lied. —I was supposed to return it tomorrow morning…

—What a pity … But it doesn't matter. Thank you very much, doctor. It was quite an idea of yours.

—Wait! I didn't have any idea. It is clear?

She didn't even seem to hear. She quickly waved goodbye to the owners of the house and left with energetic strides.

The next day, Tuesday, a public holiday, the gardener and his wife showed up around ten o'clock in the morning. Through the window, the lawyer saw the couple and soon concluded, annoyed, that the rest of the morning was lost. The purpose of the visit was obvious. But what to do? Pretend he weren't home? When he was a lawyer in criminal cases, looking out for the client's interest, he lied more than the devil’, but outside the case he was a man who was a friend of the truth. Resigned, he tied his shoes, went downstairs and went to receive the future celebrity and his manager. He invited them to come in and sit in the living room.

—I found it! was the first thing she said excitedly as she sat down. — Rui has already decided what to do. We just need your help. In return, you no longer have to pay for the garden service.

—Here comes rocket! he thought uneasily. From that ambitious woman could only come some danger. Cautiously, he asked: — What kind of collaboration?

—I thought, indeed we think, of something that no one else has thought of! It's something to eat... Or rather, it's something not to eat, but now it's going to be food. Guess... No, you can't guess !

—Look, don't get me into this, please... I beg you... He was beginning to find the two figures amusing but slightly curious.

        —But there's nothing that can harm you!”

        —So, why do you need me?"

—As a witness”.

—Witness to what?”

—We were there in the house, thinking, thinking without idea, but looking casually at the old Beetle, I had a 'pop'.

—So far, as far as I know, the only snap that worked was that of Father Vieira, joked the lawyer, trying to reduce the tension of the dialogue.

—I don't know this priest... Is he from our parish?" she asked, striving to be polite but not at all interested in the ailments of old priests.

—Forget the snap... What's with the old VWT?

—Rui is going to eat the car! She smiled triumphantly, dropping the bombshell and glancing at her husband, who seemed a little oblivious to the conversation, perhaps still with the excess of yolk in his brain.

— Eat how? He thought he hadn't heard correctly.

—Eat! Eat! With the mouth!

—But how is Rui going to eat the metal, the plastic? There are no teeth that resist! Think about it, the springs, the bumpers!... Or will that be off the menu? He insisted on joking, kindly.

—No, he'll eat everything: doors, latches, steering, horn — no, no horn, because it doesn't have — seats, clutch, brakes, tires, tube or tubeless, gas tank, etc. Even the keys, to impress, as if it were a cup of coffee... Ah! - he reminded -, he won't eat the glasses only because he can cut his intestines.

—I must be dreaming… — the lawyer thought, a little dizzy. He had already faced many strange situations, but now he felt as if he were in the presence of two aliens. Who was the madman there? After all, it was two against one. He was in the minority. And at that moment, Rui, the wise one, was grinning, seeming to understand and approve of everything his wife said — which gave more credibility to the unbelievable project. Rui opened his mouth to say something, but his wife didn't give him time:

—No one thought of it before! Every bit of the car, whether iron, plastic, rubber or wood, will be reduced to dust. Rui eats a portion each day and after a while he will have eaten all the Beetle. Is it or isn't it? He ate, didn't ate? When someone says they ate a whole chicken, they don't mean the chicken went down the gullet the way it came out of the oven.

—Really..." hesitated the lawyer, overcome by the infernal imagination and logic of the tireless ambitious. But an objection was inevitable: — But how are you going to reduce everything to daily dust?

—That's already settled!" A cousin of Rui works in a metallurgical plant near our house. In the factory and in this cousin's house there is the machinery I need. With chainsaw and other gadgets everything will be reduced to dust. I even thought about putting the powder inside capsules, to make it easier to swallow, but then we wouldn't have that impact anymore! In addition, people would suspect that they were being tricked with wheat flour capsules. Every day, ten minutes after stopping the factory, a worker cuts a piece of the Beetle, as if it were a steak, and then shreds it; after which Rui swallows it with water; or milk, which is healthier. What do you think of the plan?

The lawyer, seized with sudden melancholy, did not know what to think. Then he remembered the beginning of the conversation: — What do I get into all this?

—As the witnesses at the metallurgical plant are just workers, simple people, we thought we'd get an educated witness. You, as far as I know, teach at a College. In addition, you will know how to deal with the paperwork, register the beginning of the demonstration, the first swallowed. Appear in photos, supported, smiling.

— I keep dreaming...

—You also deserve to appear." After all, he came up with the idea. I thought, I mean, we thought, of inviting a judge, Prof. Salvador — Rui takes care of the garden at his house —, but the “big guy”, proud, full of wind, as soon as I finished speaking, he already scolded us. He was all scared, asking not to involve his name “in this madness”. It even looked like I was inviting him to rob a bank. Big guy! When I insisted, trying to convince him, he almost threw us out of his house. I think Rui lost his customer.

Paul knew he had to protest but he lacked courage. Unfortunately, he was born with exaggerated doses of kindness, curiosity and patience — how many defendants had he defended without charging anything? — and he didn't want to offend that mole in a skirt, who was thinking of making him head of the legal and marketing department for the grotesque project. Mainly, he didn't want to discourage the already discouraged Rui, who was watching him with humble anxiety. He felt sorry for him. How to close that kindly frustrated person's access to a dream of doing something never done before?

Very carefully, the lawyer explained to them that the best he could do was to write a statement, signed by both of them, plus a list of witnesses—without putting his name, lawyer, at all! — mentioning the specific purpose of the feat, then taking that statement to a registry office for registration. And, when the digestive feat was over, he could declare what he knew about its veracity. But he stressed that he in no way wanted to see his name associated with this kind of thing in the press. He insisted that if he had known that his name was being linked to such an “enterprise,” he would not make no statement. And they would cut ties.

She nodded, somewhat surprised by this reaction. She expected more enthusiasm from him. Then the couple left.

No sooner had they passed the gate the lawyer was already repenting, sitting in the visiting room. Almost ran back to do something. But it stopped in time. He had given in, once again, to his “weakness” in the definition of his wife. She used to chide him for keeping his word on silly promises that no one even remotely felt obligated to respect. In this pledge-to-the-given item he felt a certain solidarity, or identity, with the kind gardener.

When his wife arrived shortly afterwards, he gave her a summary of the conversation he had just had with them.

—What madness! A wingless ostrich! was the comment of Helena between astonished and amused, perhaps still not entirely convinced of the reality of that intention. She asked jokingly: — Is he going to swallow dry? No little wine to push?

—She says that Rui will swallow it with milk, because it is healthier...”

—Very healthy! Of course!... Look, if you're arrested for murder, I won't even visit you in jail! You had to forbid it! Forbid! People can't have too much freedom! Can't you see this guy is kind of retarded?! His wife is nothing but an ambitious assassin!

—But how could I stop it?

—Saying it's forbidden! Lying, threatening to notify the police! And the noble scholar of law still had to write a “declaration!” She rolled her eyes and gestured, twirling her index finger around her ear, as if to say that her husband's intelligence didn't go much further than the gardener's.

Then the lawyer got fed up. He ordered she to stop being stupid, presumptuous and other bad things. He questioned her competence as a teacher, saying that instead of studying harder to teach better — it was a counter-attack to her criticism that he read too much — she pretended to teach, organizing seminars where the “little donkeys”, the students, brayed superficial opinions or kicked at typewriters, while the wise teacher — sat beside, her thick legs crossed, the posture of a wise woman, satisfied with her own ignorance. The discussion was heavy. But in order to prevent him from remarrying, while she was still alive, the woman decided not to mention the matter any longer. She recognized that her husband's fault was being too good, something rare in the world, now and forever. He held his tongue, apologized and an hour later they were fine. Even in excess, without clothes, tangled up in bed, a domestic wonder conceived by humanity for the sleep and reconciliation of couples.

On the eve of the "big start", or "Big Swallowed" — as written on the extended banner — Rui came to the lawyer's residence, asking him earnestly not to miss and not to forget to write, on the same day, that statement, a kind of minutes of the works.

The lawyer attended the event without any enthusiasm. It was a Saturday, so chosen because the factory was not open on that day. Rui's twin brother, that rash baby diver, was also present, without his wife, showing off his new car, smiling condescendingly, discreetly implying that his brother was a poor devil in need of moral support. He had been invited against Rui's wife's wishes. There was an old rivalry between the two.

The news of the “departure” had caused a certain sensation in the neighborhood. The hero's wife just didn't charge tickets because the lawyer said that would be ridiculous and would greatly reduce the number of witnesses, making it difficult to prove the record later. She agreed, but disgusted at this waste of money.

They will say I exaggerate, but the swallower's wife wanted horn and fanfare. It was Rui himself who, in an outbreak of common sense, opposed it. Modesty was ingrained in his nature. He wanted to appear in that book, of course, to be famous, but discreetly, as befits a great man. Just her name, not her face, her person, something like a bearded circus woman.

The gardener's wife read aloud a short speech written by a bad student of journalism — the lawyer was relieved that he had not been asked to write the nonsense             — stressing that her husband intended to be in the Book of Records , performing "a feat never before tried. He emphasized that, with this achievement, Brazil would appear a little more “in the concert of nations” and that they expected to finish the “enterprise” in a given month, calculating the intake of three hundred grams of Beetles per day. He admitted that the feat would involve some risk, of course, but that “the valiant human spirit” overcame all difficulties”. At that time the gardener's brother controlled his mouth not to laugh.

When the speech was over, a worker solemnly, aware of his high responsibility, an old friend of the couple, cut off a piece of the rear fender with an electric saw, the “inaugural bite”. Then he ground the “little beef” in a noisy machine, located a few meters away from the Beetle. Wherever the “surgeon” moved, everyone was glued to the back, curious or laughing.

The car to be digested was well washed. The tireless businesswoman who, preparing her usual salads, meticulously washed tomatoes and lettuce, could not have done otherwise, allowing her husband to eat unscrupulously clean metal or plastic. The only reason the Beetle wasn't waxed, she explained, was because the oily grease could attack the champion's liver, which has been sensitive to fat since his experience with eggs.

When the grinding was over, Rui swallowed the first spoonful. The metallic crumb was pushed down her throat with a glass of milk. Then he blinked, his expression frightened, fearing that some formidable reaction might occur. But nothing happened right away, and the small audience, about thirty people, seeing that he wasn't falling hard, clapped their hands and cheered. Except for the lawyer, who belatedly recognized his wife's correctness in her criticism of his omission in that festival of blunders. He could have aborted the thing early on, even lying if necessary. It was too late now. The “tractor” was in motion. Incidentally, the two two-legged tractors.

Three days later, the lawyer had a sudden turning point in his professional life. A great friend from college days, from a very wealthy family, presided over the family businesses in another state, far away, after the death of his father. Needing to reorganize the legal department of the companies, with directors investigated for financial crimes - headed until then by a lawyer who, lately, took more pleasure in living with the bottles than with the codes and files of the process - this friend asked Paulo to undertake this restructuring, which would take a few weeks. As the remuneration was very inviting, the lawyer accepted the invitation, temporarily moving to another city.

With this change, the lawyer lost contact with the gardener. He even forgot about the matter, thinking, no doubt, that soon the gardener, so sensible — and, fortunately, with a sensitive liver, at least to eggs — would give up the absurd project.

According to later reports, the gardener, a few days after the start, began to lose weight, acquiring a greenish color. He decided to give up, after swallowing the rear bumper — the car would be eaten from the back. Then, next there would be the frame, chassis and engine. But the gardener’s wife did not allow it. The most indigestible part of the competition, it seems, had been the tire. Despite the fact that rubber was a “food” much less hard than the engine — in terms of rigidity, it would be equivalent to a black pudding — there was something in its chemical composition that attacked the guts, liver and other digestive organs of the struggling Pantagruel .

After a month and a half without contacting the gardener, the lawyer returned to his city, discreetly, preferring not to know the progress of the great digestive feat, but three days later he received a visit from the gardener's wife at night.

She was quite wilted: — It's a zebra! was her first sentence. — He can't go on… Now, I'm the one who doesn't want him to go on… There was a moment when he wanted to stop, but I didn't let him. After all, after so much effort! Now it's the other way around. He wants to go all the way, but I can already see that he can't take it. Lost about twenty kilos and has one shit after another. All of a sudden, after he ate the first tire. I don't understand! A poison, those Firestones! They should be banned! Rui feels pain on the left and right side. At first, he only felt heartburn, but now he complains of “knots” that make him squirm in bed, moaning like a tortured person. He doesn't want to go to the doctor because he thinks the guy is going to tell him to stop everything... After so much struggle?... I think it was the damn tires that hurt him. For you to see: precisely the softest part, the filet mignon of the Beetle. Could you not visit him? Who knows, maybe he hears you...

—Madam, you must stop everything immediately! What if he dies?

—That's what I tell him! At least a month break, to rest his stomach and intestines! But he doesn't want to stop... He says it's not long, just a front tire and the seats. It's a lie, there's so much more to go! The engine is still there, I saw it yesterday! But maybe he hears you.

The lawyer decided to make the visit immediately. He told his wife that he was going out and left in his car, accompanied by Rui's wife.

The gardener's house was his own, modest and small, but clean and well-kept.

When they entered, Rui was half lying on a sofa, facing the television, with several bottles and boxes of medicine beside him, most of them antacids and medicines for the liver. There were also remedies against excessive gas and “digestive” remedies, made from herbs. She had lost a lot of pounds and her color was earthy. Even his hair was disappearing.

The lawyer tried to disguise his bad impression. He feigned optimism and unconcern. They talked for several minutes, that is, Rui almost only listened, talking, with a tired air, both about the reason for the absence of the lawyer and about the direction of the solitary “competition”.

—So, Rui, I think you need to stop. You have already accomplished a remarkable feat...

—But it's missing two tires and the bumper—" he interrupted weakly.

—You're a little down... No need to exaggerate..."

At that moment, the businesswoman interjected to say that, with the exception of a certain metallurgical worker, very petty, envious, who frequently supervised the feat — hoping that it would fail — few people checked the progress of the thing. So, it wouldn't matter if, on the days when the “bad inspector” wasn't present, it could be falsely mentioned that Rui had eaten a little more of the tire, without this being true. After all, she argued, comparing to the total of the Beetle, two tires was a “junk”. And this variation in the size of the rest of the Beetle would no longer be noticed by the now rare observers. Due to Rui's gastric crises — which lent a dramatic tone to the feat — no longer maintained a regular swallowing rhythm, as had occurred at the beginning of the race. In short, she saw “nothing big” in doing a “little trickster”, perfectly justifiable, given the size of the Volkswagen Beetle and the state of her husband's health.

—I do not agree! - shrieked Rui loudly, trying to get to his feet, staggering. The visitor had never seen him so fierce against his wife. Overall, the gardener was a wimp , dominated by his wife. "Either I do everything right, or I give up!" I will not lie! When I wanted to stop, you didn't let me! Now, I'm going to the end!

The woman still tried to argue, but the husband, unrecognizable in his indignation, swept the medicine bottles and boxes on the table with his arm. With the movement almost fell. The lawyer held him back, saying that he was right and that everything would be done just right. In a low voice, he advised the woman not to speak further. She withdrew with her head down.

—I do not give up! I do not give up! And I won't fool anyone! he shouted desperately so the woman could hear him too.

The lawyer waited for him to calm down and suggested that he just suspend the test for a few days, just for a health check. He explained that, even if there was a pause, the beetle would be eaten whole, carrying out the feat. It had never been promised that there would be no break. And he would write the report or letter to Guinness , explaining that everything had been done just right, without fraud. This argument that there would only be a “rest break”, not a withdrawal, seemed to convince Rui. He accepted a medical examination - which would even add credibility and drama to the feat. And the progress of the test was officially suspended for fifteen days.

The next day the lawyer talked to a gastroenterologist, his friend and very seriously explained what was happening. The doctor listened to the report, mockingly at first—as if listening to a long joke—but growing more serious as he learned of the competitor's bad appearance. He ordered an endoscopy and several tests, all paid for by the lawyer. A few days later, with the results in hand, he called him to tell him, regretfully, that there was no doubt that the gardener was in terrible condition, at risk of death. Mentioned cancer and other problems.

— All caused by the ingestion of the Beetle? the lawyer asked, remorseful that he hadn't stopped the madness early on.

The doctor shrugged his shoulders: — It must be! In the medical literature I found no studies—neither serious nor even “playful”—about someone “eating a car”, a crazy eccentricity. I could keep looking, but I don't expect to find medical studies on such bullshit. Humanity uses but does not eat automobiles. I have many patients who ate only the best and the best and died of cancer. But it would be rash to say that this extravagance of your gardener contributed nothing to this outcome. It is not part of normal human behavior to swallow cars. No scientist will waste his time studying and writing about the effect of metal, plastic, rubber, etc. To carry out a serious study it would be necessary to find guinea pigs, mice that would never eat metal, plastics. As for human guinea pigs, who would agree to such experiments? Do you know if he ate the battery too? That's pure acid...

“I don't know, I think so, but only the metal. The acid is not part of the car, nor is the fuel. What I ask you is: what can now be done?

— Effective, nothing. There are several foci scattered around: pancreas, large intestine...

— And the chemotherapy?

—…just to delay the outcome.

After that the lawyer went to his house. He felt morally uncomfortable, as if responsible for the illness of a mentally handicapped person. He didn't blame anyone else but himself. Not even the gardener's wife. After all, she was an ignorant woman. In fact, in this case, as the “German” said, freedom was an evil.

In the evening, talking to Helena, she, with her usual practical sense, completely changed the previous approach. She told her husband that there was no reason to feel guilty, as he had not taken any initiative. It had even discouraged the feat. But although from a strictly logical point of view he could clearly prove to himself that he was not responsible, the bad feeling persisted. I could, for example, have said that Guinness no longer accepts such records.

The problem now was to tell Rui that he was doomed to die soon. Or rather, hide the fact.     

A little less than a month later, the lawyer paid another visit to the stubborn couple. The gardener was even worse, but lying down, he proudly reported that he had completed the test. He had “accelerated” the work, eating “the rest”. The plate was the last course, symbolically. He had finished the task the day before, with a little party with sodas and snacks. Rui himself had eaten something, vomiting shortly afterwards in the bathroom.

The lawyer did not reveal anything to the patient about the conversation with the doctor             — he said that he was still studying the exams — and explained that the next day he would fill in the “record approval proposal”, which he would forward to the direction of the competent editor. At home, soon after, in addition to filling out the form, he wrote a long letter, highlighting the feat and even exploring the gardener's personal sacrifice. When the letter was over, he wondered if it might not be better to try to make personal contact with a lawyer who would look after the interests of the publisher of the Book of Records.

After a series of phone calls, he learned that the company was no longer interested in publicizing such extravagances, which were very harmful to health. And even if this policy did not prevail, Rui's feat was neither the only nor the greatest. They had already eaten a “Cessna” plane, a television, a few grocery carts, a bicycle, a typewriter, and other movables.

Rui was now wasting away, in the final stretch, but always anxious for an answer. He wanted to know, after all, when he was going to appear in the Guinness Book of Records . When the lawyer visited, he received him with glassy eyes, already living with death. When his name would be in the immortality of things printed?

The pressure of those eyes drove Dr. Paulo to compromise with ethics and the Penal Code. The man had to die happy! So he forged a Guinness letter addressed to Rui, saying that he had achieved the record he had set himself to achieve. The title would be The Man with the Stomach of Steel. Name and feat would be in the following year's edition. By then, the gardener's sympathetic carcass would be buried long ago. It was an ideological falsehood without any deceit. But even so, its author took care to obtain the prior agreement, in writing, of the gardener's wife. If he didn't, he wasn't sure that in the future he wouldn't be a defendant in a claim for damages, brought by the ambitious “businesswoman”.

The gardener's wife read the letter to her husband aloud with solemn accents. Motionless, Rui was squeezing both arms of the chair, he was afraid of floating, he was so happy to be featured in the book.

Two days later the gardener died. The lawyer cried when he was told, something he hadn't done in years. His wife, the “German”, always cold, objective, just gasped , her eyes red. In addition to crying, Paulo had a very vivid dream: he “saw” the smoky soul of the unfortunate gardener ascending to heaven, being welcomed there by a smiling, bearded old man — it must have been Saint Peter —, who, lovingly holding his hand, forgave Rui for the peccadillo of vanity. So welcoming was the holy porter that he even joked, pretending to hide—behind his back—with his other hand the bronze key to heaven's door, preserving it from a saint's appetite.




Note: The present long tale — or is it a short novel? — is part of the e-book “Tragedy on the Greek Island”.

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