Translation by Christopher Schindler


One: The Journey

It was at the crack of dawn on Christmas day 1897 that we said our good-byes by the Gate of Patos in Pernambuco - my mother and I.  I never saw her again.  The whole town turned out – people I don't want to remember.  I left with two changes of clothing in a suitcase tied up and sewn together and a stereoscope to look at views of Manaus, Belém, Paris, London, Vienna and St. Petersburg.


I rode along on a mule in a wool convoy through the Borborema and three days later I was in Timbauba de Mocós, head of the rail line, gathering place for cowboys from Paraíba and Rio Grande do Norte. There I boarded a train to Recife where I found lodgings in the Brum near the Lingueta wharf and stayed for five days before boarding the Alfredo bound for the Amazon. I was still in my teens.


We traveled that day and awoke the following morning at Cabedelo. The dock was filled with anxious people out to meet fighting men from Canudos, Monte Santo e Favela, Travessia and Uauá. Spirits were high but there was also a lot of weeping and wailing. We did not linger there but went on to Natal where migrants fleeing from the Northeast were waiting for a boat to the Amazon country. Besides 500 soldiers of the Pará state police, the entire 4th battalion of infantry returning from the War, without casualties, was already settled in the hold of the ship; so, in Fortaleza, Commandant Bezerra had to have a list read aloud of more than 600 souls done in by the dry spells of the Northeast, part of a steady migration since '79 to the Amazon because it had stopped raining. The ship which not even a single crate of pigs would fit into, accommodated that horde stinking of dust, sweat, manure and urine - hammocks crisscrossing - there was stealing, drinking, rapes, fighting, knifings and death. A father caught a guy by surprise with his daughter in a livestock stall and skinned him; another, drunk, pissed right on the floor where it trickled towards a crowd of people sleeping on the floor; on top of a wicker chicken cage a man defecated, relieving himself under the light of a yellow oil-lamp full of flies. He was a soldier.


I was still in the hold when we passed the lighthouse at Acaraú and stopped in Amarração to get rid of a corpse, a prisoner and two passengers covered with smallpox. But we sailed right past Tutóia and arrived at the port of São Luís where the Alfredo was surrounded by small boats and dinghies transforming the water into a gigantic, floating market. They all climbed aboard: sellers of fried shrimp, sweets and fruit. What a wonderful journey it was! Then untied and sent off, the heavily laden Alfredo continued her run along the coast towards Belém and, as it was growing dark, we slowed down to let on the Lighthouse Bar pilot. When the Alfredo crossed the estuary of the Amazon, it penetrated the great river, pilot at the helm, with binnacles lit, as it was night and covered with stars despite everything.


In Belém I stayed at a hotel called “Two Nations” (one of its owners was from Portugal, the other from Spain). As I had to wait a month for the Barão de Juruá to go up the Amazon, my money started to run out. I slept outdoors to save money for meals and I already owed the skipper for advancing me passage-fare.
Once embarked I would arrive in Manaus without hindrance after six days at eight miles an hour. Two days later we passed Boca do Purus and 5 days later the mouth of the Juruá. We traveled all day and all night. At the mouth of the Juruá the Solimões River is 12 km wide and birds unable to fly far (the trumpeter, curassow, cujubim) could not manage to cross it but died, tired and drowning, at the bottom of waves brushed with yellow from the headwind. In eight days’ travel on the Juruá we arrived at the Tarauacá River and docked at São Felipe, a nice, clean town of forty-five houses. Nine days later we entered the Jordão River from which point the Barão, because of its deep draft, could not continue. So we went on by canoe on the Bom Jardim Bayou. We paddled upriver and came to our final destination, our node point, the terminus, the final boundary, the farthest and innermost place on this terrestrial orb – we finally got to Hell’s Bayou, the limit of the ends of the earth where we encountered the legendary, mythical and vast Manixi rubber plantation wrapped in the weight of its fame and unexpectedness – forty days after leaving Belém, three months and five days since leaving Patos.


Now I didn’t mention that I came to look for my brother Antonio and uncle Genaro who had been sent off to Manixi. No. They had been rubber tappers on the Jantiatuba for the Pixuna rubber plantation, 1,270 miles from the city of Manaus (where years later the Alfredo would shipwreck). They were staying along the Eiru river on a bend, almost a lake, really. From there they left on a barge, boat and canoe to the Gregorio river where they worked for Frenchmen. From there to the Mu, on to Paraná da Arrependida - free tappers that they were - they went up to where they say the son of Euclides da Cunha, who was a deputy, died in a tappers uprising. They traveled on to the Riozinho do Leonel, along the Tejo, Breu, the beautiful Corumbam Bayou – magnificent! – the Hudson, Paraná Pixuna, Moa, Juruá-mirim, up to the Paraná do Ouro Preto, entered the Amônea via the Paraná dos Numas, near the Paraná São João, then along a natural canal without name leading to an unknown place and there they met the boat that went to Hell’s Bayou. It left them in Manixi, in Acre, where they settled down, free tappers of the rubber plantation owner.


I confess (this whole book is a confession of my life) that I felt at that moment that Genaro and Antonio were longing to return to the brush country. The Amazon crisis was getting worse and conditions already were getting bad for tappers – so my brother and uncle fretting and wasting away in order to draw milk from the jungle without profit.


When they saw me they couldn’t grasp what I was doing there. I emerged thin, overwhelmed under my curls of brown hair, forlorn, like an apparition, from a bench under the canopy of a shed (I remember a dark, stormy downpour, night lightning and the whistling of the wind). No, they wouldn't recognize me (since I was a witness to their wretched fate); they were not overjoyed to see me, rather, they resented me. Hadn’t they left, quite young, more than ten years ago with the memory of a kid in bleach-worn diapers? Didn’t they see me as the incarnate killer of their hopes, the bold headline of one more crisis coming to this part of the country upon more bad news, renewing a complaint which already had gone on so many years, scattering the family in all directions (people that I neither knew nor knew if they were still alive) – one went to São Paulo and became a soldier, another with muscular legs left suddenly for Belém returning later via Piauí passing through Serra Grande to Teresina, then via Maranhão to Goiás, a footloose ruffian he was, then climbing the Tocantins to Bahía where he finally disappeared and there was no news of him except that he ended up in the leprosary of Paricatuba (“I have faith in a man who eats and walks armed,” he told us the day he left. “It gives you muscle and guts. With a full stomach, a gun and knife at my side I can take on any kind of wild animal!”). The other, the oldest – ah! – was dying of hunger, exhausted, worn out, because he wouldn’t leave his old mother (she loved him most of all. She died two years after I left. She despised me; I know she hated me, cursed me on her deathbed). And our sister, pretty, captivating, the youngest - her husband left to work as a drover in Vila de Santa Rita to earn something to escape the hunger of the world while the brush country was peeling with drought; yes, our whole family, screwed over  and broken, as I later saw, left me all by myself in the fear of God.


They didn't say a word. They were withdrawn and I just sat there in the dark for a long while brushing off the rain from my tied-up suitcase, crying in desertion and solitude. I wanted to leave and not be there. I wished I hadn’t come. But I had no way back. And I never returned.


Slowly from the next day on, I began to do the necessities: cooking, cleaning the hut, fishing, gathering fruit so I wouldn’t go hungry. And since I now owed the boss (whom I didn’t know), I had to start running, a prisoner of odd jobs, going along the trappers’ path with a small tin cup, doing the smoke-curing with aricury, chips of cow tree and acabu, making my own rubber balls. The milk turned black at my touch. Farming and rubber tapping don’t mix? Produce what you eat? They told me nothing, taught me nothing, like they didn’t know I was there. And they didn’t talk to each other. They had become dumb animals – I don’t think they knew how to talk. They returned at dark, like worn-out monkeys, mute and dirty, they ate and they slept, stinking. At dawn, they were back on the trail; they moved mechanically as if by some internal wire contraption. I don’t know where or for what.


But I learned to cut the trees, cure the latex, pile up rubber balls with the pervasive sound of oily bubbling from the nudging dark waters of Hell’s Bayou (which I can still hear to this day and will keep hearing until the hour of my death in this middle of nowhere).









Two: The Palácio


This narrative - a parody of an historical novel which defines my long overdue confession with sufficient accuracy - will reveal to you the quite surprising life of Ribamar de Sousa, the adolescent that I was, emerging on an unexpected day of the Amazon winter, to an extremely percussive ostinato of dense rain under the improvisatory direction of an imaginary score, in tune with the surroundings, composed of polytonal chords, as I was sitting on a wooden bench in a thatched lean-to, to the accompaniment in 5/4 time of Hell's Bayou, which flows into the Bom Jardim Bayou, which flows into the Rio Jordão, which flows into the Rio Tarauacá, which flows into the Rio Juruá, a tributary of the upper Amazon River (the so-called Solimões), to which we were returning.


I remember how, on Hell's Bayou, yet lower on the farthest line that marked the horizon on that late afternoon – there was a golden diagonal and a storm approaching on the other side of the horizon – the handsome art nouveau form of the Palácio Maxini (the mansion's name), seat of the rubber plantation and residence of Pierre Bataillon, appeared magnificently before my eyes like an outline of a scene from a detailed historical dream; we were returning then in search of that forbidden past, since we arrived at the end of the era when that mansion appeared dazzling in its multiple reflections of crystal baubles, window and door transoms transformed into bright plates of shining, vivid and delirious gold, a wild and vibrant gold, of striking brilliance, golden and frenzied, illusory and delirious, out of this world and unimaginable, brought into being by the early accumulation of nearly a century of exploration, investment and endeavor of layer upon layer of heterogeneous levels of history, in a creation of the entire sweep of the modern world, confined here, circumscribed here, centered here in permanent dependence on itself and of its lingering isolation and anachronistic testimony.


We were returning to the elaboration of our luxurious past; we arrived unconscious and fatigued in that golden, dark late afternoon,, in which the mansion in its singularity possessed all the details of an appearance of dazzling light.  The Palácio (as this structure was known, later went into decline after the rubber bust, a ruin and dead), a transparent and unexpected mansion awaited us in the tranquility of its points and angles, with which it beckoned and came to meet us, with its immortal exaltation, above sheets of dark and primitive waters originating from the life of the world: on the surfaces of Hell's Bayou glided the riches of the world's high altars, from the frontier, inevitable, indeterminate, virgin trees.  Lost, vacant, undemarcated...  So, because all its strongest codification of a building, a two-story mansion with a cellar (since abandoned), of art nouveau style, looking towards a return to civilization, surrounded by exquisite fencing of gracefully shaped iron, convulsive and violent scrolls of tendrils of elegant and effeminate contours, disguised, unseemly, decorating the twisting and bombastic marble staircase, dark and in full fruition of reproduction European villas.  Its majesty was something felt even at a distance, as from afar it made its grandeur and distinction known; a concern for taking for itself terraces and balconies that project into the air...- but all that is in discontinuous ruins, all that is no longer here today, and this description corresponds to what the mansion was many years ago in my youth and the proliferation of lost memory, ah, yes, because I am old but not senile, and the sources of wealth are still there in the middle of the forest: cultivation and substance to confirm their existence and development.  I see clearly the twisted body of that escapist nineteenth century (since pillaged) edifice on its height of terra firma, planted in relation to a truth of this end of the earth, to the account of rivers of blood and scandal of tons of pounds sterling of glittering rubber gold – oh, gods!, that luxury existed, unacknowledged or supposed, misfortune and extortion, waste of the pleasures of wealth at the seat of the Manixi plantation, far away, at the farthest reach, remote from everything, remote from itself, a distance of almost 2,000 miles from Manaus …


I do not exist in the present, but in another epoch.  I am from the time of a primitive, archaic, sumptuous capitalism, interlaced with gold and precious stones, a time out of fashion now when the Palácio was an image in search of its deeper nature.  There, a music room was arranged mainly for listening to Beethoven, with a Pleyel grand piano, the showcase where Pierre Bataillon exhibited his collection of violins (the Guarnerius, the Bergonzi, the Klotz, the Vuillaume), prints of Viotti, Baillot, David, Kreutzer, Vieuxtemps, Joachim and the death mask of Beethoven with a bronze laurel wreath by Stiasny.  The library where someone read aloud verses of Lamartine.  Rooms and rooms asking “why?”, salons, galleries and apartments interconnected by doors which opened into private halls and passageways and which closed in on themselves to the sound of Pierre Bataillon at the piano in dialogue with Frei Lothar's violin in a Mozart sonata, like someone fixing one's attention within, with a mortal, agile and terrible energy which was expressed in the painted stucco walls, by an iridescence of greenish and dark gold, in the interlaced rhythms of branches and foliage, of a hallucinated and Japanese vegetation which rose in these shapes toward the ceiling reflected many times over in beveled  mirrors and in the crystal prisms of chandeliers to evoke the remembrance of exotic pleasures.  Yes, I am an old man of another century and there I lived all those years, observing, learning and absorbing, within the magic circle and around that population of antique objects and furniture that portrayed devouring monsters: like the vision of sexual fantasies in the decoration of the Venetian commode; the Boulle armoire and its hunting scenes with defeated wild boars and dogs chewing on bloodied birds shot down by the Duc de Chartres and other aristocrats on horseback dressed in the idiocy of red trousers and black boots; in the strict silence of the English study, in the dynamics and prostituted morphology of the Delanois divan; in the unity and elliptical variations of the settee -  and in the vines, irises, thistles, diverse stylized insects, incorporating themselves in the furniture and the lines of the French panels in a neo-rococo delirium such as nature never intended: statues on lambrequins, eclectic beads and rosettes, urns on the cymas of the balconies symbolizing energy, the ontology and desire of capitalism devouring everything, spending everything, producing everything, preserving everything, needing and appropriating everything, spilling over and miscarrying into madness, misery and death – caryatids, capitals, forest foliage – a seemingly small Pierre Bataillon ate and consumed and threw away his entire immense fortune in the taste of his furnishings, sumptuous, amassed and useless, in a process of cupidinous and grasping schizophrenia, by the suction of his refined, dehumanized mouth, to put an end to the surplus of his surprising profits, in autophagic pleasure of the minimum daily expenditure of his miraculous capital, bloody and luxuriant, by transplanting to that place, at whatever cost, the whole spirit of European humanism that was transported in chartered and laded ships, to the confusion of his beautiful, exquisitely crafted but useless objects, of a vain, futile art, suicidal because unproductive, insatiable and banal.  Such is the irony of these efforts for putting gold filaments on the horizon and making the impression of distance more distinct, to defile the pestiferous history with gold – in illness, madness, deaths, impuned and imperial crimes (various native peoples disappeared), in obedience to criteria of an odd capitalistic aesthetic, in the emptiness and inocuousness of a coquettish, amoral and modern paganism. 





Three: The Numa


I saw them on the other side of the river, two little girls, Indians, naked,  among the trees.  They were on the other shore of Hell's Bayou between the columns of trees; they came from the bend upstream where it flows from  dark green to chalky green up to the steel skirt hem of the river's cold sheet.  When it comes to beauty nothing is absolute.  What makes something beautiful is the beauty of the moment it appears unexpected and surprising.   As they began to come into focus their lips were none other than lovely.  Wow!  They had come out of nowhere.  They were in plain sight.  Two girls, two Numa, unmistakably Numa.  A challenge, inducement, suffering. An ancient bathing ritual.  They moved slowly in total silence.  One was a child, the other an adolescent.  They perfumed the air in which they moved, long legs swaying, virgins, tall and thin, descending upon the archaeology of the shore in delicate and cautious delight.  Yes, it was all right.  Now - and what smile appeared in their eyes... - delicately pointing her foot, the older one put her toe in the water.  She tested the water and was filled with pleasure.  Thrilled.  She drew from her body its essence and transmitted it to the life of the surface.  The river whimpered like a plucked, taut string.  The water was dense like black oil.  Melpomene on a columnar plinth on a terrace.  In her minimally hastening movements, any false step would be terrible, a terminal act.  Warmth, pleasure.  The dull river came to life like latex the consistency of warm blood.  Bending in graceful curves - stucco detail on ballroom cornices.  A sudden, violent excretion of temper that dissipated.  Foam of blood.  My view being blocked, I could not see them.  A white cloud right in front of my whole body, in solid thin pieces.  They did not see me.  They did not know I was there.  They just disappeared.  One after the other.  They caressed, held hands, slipped into the air.  The wind concealed me; they were not on the lookout for me.


They did not pick up my scent.  But I saw them.  I was the first person to see a female of the Numa people.


The waters flow from the beginning-less, secret places of their brutal narrative under two hundred foot high trees; the waters flow from the unknown places of origin of the Numa people.  Waters of survival, cold, they are forgotten and left behind.  The people got lost, and became dangerous, terrifying.  At first where the Numa territory lay could not be precisely determined in relation to the Manixi rubber plantation.  Then it became obvious.  By feel.  Rare, smooth markings.  An arrow propped up on a tree trunk, lying across the red trail.  A broken branch saying: “Go no farther”.  Beyond the Tucumã Bend the crossing of the axis of the river separates.  You can swim and fish this one side.  Little by little the Numa infiltrated, advanced, crossed over.  They went beyond themselves, not respecting their own boundaries.  Crossing the river and the order imposed on the forest by it.  Led on, entranced, they reached up river from where I lived.  This happened through the perfect dominion that the Numa exercised over the many sides of the “S”-shaped river, an invisible (you could not see them) and secret dominion, around which the rubber tappers fanned out, the high ground, terra firma, under careful almost cordial control.  Phantoms invaded the plantation every night.  Everyone retrenched.  Harmony above all.  Restraint.  At no time involuntary or violent gestures that could break the tenuous, working pact of the spirit of ready silence.  Knowledge was insufficient.  Be mindful of your actions, do not speak loud, ensure the peace, stealthily, as if peace depended expressly on silence.  Vigilance.  Do not frighten them, do not provoke them.  Do not menace them with any behavior that could break the fateful, established hierarchy, because they were ghostly and mythical, at the liberty of the wind.  They were like wisps.  Void.


When Pierre Bataillon first arrived in these parts in 1876, he came across a little village of the Caxinauá people in fear of the Numa as if subject to their forwardness and changeability.  For the time being, it was fair to that the Numa tolerated the Caxinauá, but at any moment they may decide to come to torture and exterminate them.  The village of the Caxinauá was squeezed between the unforeseeable Numa and the civilized and known part of the Rio Juruá, where it was possible to meet only lost tappers, people left behind from the 1852 expedition.  The Caxinauá had contact with Romão de Oliveira.  But not the Numa.  Since 1847 they reacted violently, when the scholar Francisco de Castenau passed through there and described them in Expedition dans les parties centrales de l'Amerique du Sud, a rare copy of which was in the library of Pierre Bataillon.  Travestin, also, in Le fleuve Juruá, refers to fighting with the Numa.  In 1854, João da Cunha Correa, Director of Indian Affairs, went up the Tauacá, discovering the Gregório and the Mu, without any contact.  Pierre Bataillon arrived in 1876.  It was as I said.  In those years there were no Numa.  Several years went by without them.  Pierre established his dominion with ease on the territory of the peaceful Caxinauá.  This was one of numerous Caxinauá villages in the State of Amazonia.  Pierre imposed peace and order.  He destroyed the Caxinauá culture through progress, the new god of the age, and to whom they submitted without complaint, almost happily.  From then on the women and children of the Caxinauá became subjects of the plantation by the force of the Colonel's troops.  And the little village, infected with typhus, malaria, measles and syphilis almost disappeared, in '91, a third of the population was decimated.  The Caxinauás were reduced to a population of 84 farmers, serfs on the Colonel's fields.  


Ten years later, with the return of the Numa from the mountains of Peru, the picture changed profoundly.


But not for the Numa.


Straying, on the move, on the alert, wandering from the Andes, pressed on by a perilous winter, they continued lost and free, persistent creatures, prevailing in their endurance.  No and no.  They reacted to agreement, to touch, to contact.  Is there power where there is stamina?  The Numa submitted to and took refuge in themselves.  In the multiplicity of their limits of strength, insisting on existing in the unforeseeable space.  They were, in the beginning, everywhere outside of the power of the plantation, in the forest network outside of domination.  The Numa surrounded the plantation, restricting it to its own limits, hindering its inordinate expansion.  The immense plantation (you could travel for days within it), had to halt, restrain itself, retreat, bound by invisibility, of knowing, of encountering, as if they did not exist except in the void of their numberless absence, recovered, nowhere, in the non-delineated.  Often they resembled trees and birds of the air.  They were not appearance but immanence, and whoever has traveled the Amazon knows what I am talking about, in the ambiguity where everything is uncertainty and unknowable, hermetic, heightened and magnified.  The Numa, without revolt, rebellion, raiding, up the river, potential and improbable, mythified, solitary, violent, irreconcilable.  Always ready for the attack that did not happen.  Destined to kill.  The Numa terrified us.  They were unknown strategic points in the correlation of the power of nature of which the Numas were the guardians.  They were dispersed in an incomprehensible and irregular manner in focal points of strength (it was said that they could survive under water in certain air pockets).  They spread out with more density in the space of night, prepared traps with small poisonous snakes on the paths.  Oh, the disruptions!  Cold beings, clouded by legends from the mountains, gods that would come down to punish us for nocturnal offenses.  It was if their eyes were fixed everywhere so that people felt they were being watched by those strange creatures.  At times, they let themselves be seen.  Many trappers tried to hunt them down and shoot them (and they were dead days or months later in cold and precise revenge).  They moved about rapidly, like a puff of air, transitory; they're not there and then break out in front of us.  Naked, groaning like a wounded beast, a bird.  Just sound.  To regroup on paths already covered, leaving deliberate footprints.  They cut through the air with whistling arrows, marking their tracks everywhere, in the tenacious houses of our fear.  They crossed interconnected networks within the plantation, infiltrating, traversing, arriving in defiance at the garden of the Palácio.  They were there without being there.  Agile, dangerous nomads.  Naked men with enormous, dark phalli.  Some months they disappeared, vanished, atomized, disunited, quiescent, gone away forever.  Or just wind integrated with the leaves of the trees.  But then, a fleeting arrow mixed its trajectory with the air to say that they never went away, they were always there, beautiful, their almond and dark eyes, large exposed sexes, in bodies of grown-up children.  In a certain way delicate.  But mere phantoms, they were enchanted; the prehistoric forest neutralized them, the forest of gold and milk.  Bataillon had advanced into the most secret part of the forest, up the bayou.  Now he skirted the imprecise boundaries of death.  Between the soldiers and the forest of the Numa a tactical reciprocity of respect and fury was established.  Pierre left presents for them, glass beads, knives and fruit on wooden trays.  The Numa never touched them.  There was no channel between the plantations and the Numas.  The plantation, waiting.  Observant, the Numa proscribed boundaries which they broke.  Pierre avoided war, sought a political solution, held back, acted according to the nature of his single-minded principle without the risk of paying the high price of death.


That thin, short (five foot two in height) man, always elegant, stiff, erect, his head held high disguised his small stature, tiny mustache à la Carlitos, by which he appeared arrogant but without ridicule, haughty, noble, grandson of the Duke de Cellis, one of the most aristocratic families of Spain, which came from ancient Rome, intelligent, cultured, speaking several languages fluently, always with his wife, Dona Iphigenia Vellarde, catholic, illegitimate daughter of the grandee, Don Angel Vellarde, a woman who loved the Amazon and its wild extravagance, a candy maker, embroideress, in her simple and elegant clothes of warm, pink silk, with two big diamonds falling like tears from her earlobes, two frightful suns – her ancestry was used by her husband in the alliances and treaties of the Acre War, when Pierre made a clever game of duplicity with Brazilians and Bolivians, remaining in peace with the two and drawing equal advantage from both, mainly availing himself of the fact of being protected from the war by an uncrossable mass of 400 square kilometers of forest, marshes and flowers – yes, it was impossible to conceive, I tried, how this nobleman set in the forest, surrounded by all that Parisian luxury and his many books – the classics, Schopenhauer, Rousseau – like a conquistador of the Amazon, of the vast empire of latex ( - “Such is latex”, he used to say, “elastic like character.  And because of that it comes out of those trees like a sticky prima materia, like viscous fluids under the body's skin, pus, white, watery plasma, gum, wild sap of mucus which makes the forest bleed clammily – such is the rubber latex: the blood of the Amazon that we collect like a strange evil and for which some day we will have to pay a very big price”) - yes, this man was not morally disturbed in his abysses and the extremes he went to to transform and fortify the plantation into a concentration camp during the Numa dominance.


No, most acutely obsessed, Pierre Bataillon had inherited the spiritual remains of the monarchy of great kings, admired by nations, or raw material of literature – as if he were anticipating as obvious that the Numa would come to prostrate themselves and pay homage to his supreme character and style – the uncommon reactions of the man, to be determining, outside the indistinct mass of humanity, belonging to the number of those who represent something exceptional, who distinguish their name with an internal image for their own use, associating themselves with the metaphysics of the creation of a peculiar superman and inscribed in the atmosphere of everyday fantasy.


About 500 yards upstream from the thatched shed there was a stretch of the river where Hell's Bayou closed in - still flowing, deep, dark and cold - the Tucumã Bend, beyond which no one ever ventured, a universe ruled by the Numa - “Don't go beyond there”, uncle Genaro said that evening.  “You should never cross the river”.  The boundaries projected out on the river bank overlaying marks significant to life, watchfulness and warning of danger in unfathomable and  lines (“Do not cross!”).  Because of this, that place, forbidden, different, attracted you all the more onto the steel blade of the repeated and interior mirage, which liberated the sharp tendency toward a leap into unforeseen trouble.  So, those two men stayed like frogs in their pond on this side.  I was condemned to what was some kine of family with those protagonists of the enigma of my silence and anxious gestural communication, relatives like mute animals, who justified their forsaken lives with monosyllabic grumbling, living without women or friendships, existing in a geographical prison where recall was only possible under the pressure of a savage materialism and militaristic solidarity: at dawn they left for the road as for death, impelled by a biological order, always leaving me with the daily chores: fumigate the rubber balls in the ever the same awareness that I had lost my way to paradise  - yes, I cast my fishing pole which filled the idle hours, idle days, idle time, I thought without thinking - weeks, months, it would be so year after year until I died, life just this, the world merely expectation - until everything came to stagnate in the mute and null anonymity of a circular and sterile monotony, of a mechanistic life masked by impersonal catastrophe - because I knew that I would get sick - and ailing here would die without absolution.  I divined my insignificant individuality in the class condemned to die of malaria in the abyss of the forest, eaten by wild beasts.


But life is a road that can suddenly branch off.  And it happened one day, that day - and it was exactly 3 o'clock in the afternoon, a calm afternoon, hot and, above all, among the trees, green - at the Tucumã Bend there was a trunk I sat on, waiting - it was well before the full bend of the river: the place was good for fishing because the bayou, at this height, jutted into a rapid and free turnaround, nearly overflowing, a pool-like inlet, half-closed off and dark (a tall man could hide above the shore) below the general singing of birds with long beaks and colorful feathers - when, on purpose, surprising, in an indecorous and comical manner, there appeared those little naked Indian girls. 


It was true after all, the Numa were returning from their legendary and unknown mountains in Peru.  Gigantic and ferocious they were indeed returning, moving into the equally imaginary regions of the Pique Yaco River, the Rio Toro and even farther beyond.  Still they never appeared, wherever they were: they were not visible, out in the open, in the forefront, distinct, unless on the bias, diffusely met with, merely suspected in the obliquity of sight.  But those girls there - poetry fabricates one world, prose another - were very real, more real and human than their brothers, rebellious males.  Neither was it a retaliation for all the exaction endured by the forest during the rubber tappers' occupation.  Where there is power, is it exercised?  For me, they were one in the other, embracing each other under the water which was so natural for their little hands that I caught sight of from my perspective of fantasy.  Real, humanly real, there on the other side – the first Numa females that appeared in all the world, beautiful as the sun on the furrow of the Earth.


 I choked from emotion.  I cast my fishhook.  I was cramped, stooped low to the ground, protected by a clump of brush.  I knew the Numa were near, on the low water mark.  I had never really seen any, but we knew  they were around because game had disappeared! - where the Indians are there is no game, because they eat it all – pig, curassow, tapir – they killed them with arrows of strong sugarcane plume grass and bows from palm trees, the spiny peachpalm, bacaba palm, pataua, paracouba, itauba.  All trumpet bush?  And tapir, mostly tapir which they especially liked – tasty, always crossing their paths.  No kidding.  I stayed there until they left.  It was enchantment!  I didn't tell my uncle and brother who would have seen I was done in, if they had ever looked at me.  And, in the middle of the night I dreamed  intensely.  I was ill and bruised.  I dreamed about the older girl – her whole body in union with mine, in the middle of the night my uncle awoke to my sighs and came in, I don't know why, with firearm in hand, he shook me but went away, calmed down into sleep, snoring lightly – my uncle, a light sleeper, always with a firearm beside him. 


On the following day, at about the same time, the girls reappeared and I was the navigator of my obsession and looked for the lost intimacy in the substantial benefit of that reappearance, sliding on that humid earth of the Amazon of my former days.


This, however, happened on the third day: They were there almost at the same time, bathing, and I – to see them better, closer – set myself in the foliage of a fallen trumpet tree from where I had to get out, headlong - nearly howling – helter-skelter, totally covered with a coat of carnivorous sauba ants.  I jumped into the water.  The Indian girls looked at me.  They were not frightened.  They did not budge.  It was if they already were aware of me.  They had already seen me, those other times before.  They stayed where they were.  Without fear.  Not surprised.  Impersonal.  Covered with blood, I washed away the ants clinging to me with their barbs.  I, noisy and making a scene, leg bleeding.  Then laughing at my being in the water and putting my head out, I yelled to them: “Speak!”  Serious, they did not reply.  Statues.  The unexpected dunk revived me.  The two girls were there almost within reach of my hand.  Tranquil.  Joyous is what they were on the line of the dry talweg.  I played in the water.  - “Say something!” I yelled to them.  The rapid and cold current of the river and my amazement carried me.  To get closer, I got out of the confines of the pool and entered vigorously into the current.  I swam blind.  I got out farther, downstream, pulled by the current.  - “May I come closer?” - I hollered, certain that they understood me.  In a few strokes I would reach them.  In agony, I dove down into the water and crossed.  Sometimes we do what the impulse of our heart bids even if it's the last thing in our life.  I emerged in front, yards beyond.  I came through the reeds on the shore, naked without care, getting closer.  They were not such children when I saw then.  They looked at me without fear.  Their bodies radiated a strong light.  I, more blinded, came closer.  I had never seen them like that.  And I tried to see them through the light.


It was then the smaller one came up to me and touched my stomach with her tiny hand as if attracted and surprised by my white skin.  It was a cute thing to see.  Suddenly I reached out my hand to touch her also, on the head - and then, she bit me.  A quick bite.  I felt it and shouted.  With pain, with surprise.  Blood shot out on my hand, the swift and ferocious little creature.  That was it.  Thus, the impersonal attitude, then rapidly dissolved.  Did they become disenchanted?  I was now in front of them.  The two started to laugh, and they came assure me, together, and laughed a lot.  Hi hi hi they laughed.  And I also laughed.  They laughed and supported me laughing.  It was just as I the Narrator say.


They did not appear on the fourth day.


The river was a wilderness.  I had not succeeded, in the madness of the previous day, the fullness of which, that a while ago, in me, was only an obscure and nameless impulse of desire.  I had risked my life.  I had been capable of actually changing my life, which was worth it, which was worth life, in a surprisingly twisted equivalence – the course of life is not a straight road -, but in the initiation to the Parcae, I trace the name of “daemon” with serpents .  My truth.  Tamped by time.  An ultimate truth to be implanted inside the head in the catalogue of the best and most ancient profundities, in the subversive imagination of terror and violence – to love them for me would be to demystify: the fugitive girls, in the quickest of action, in an instant they could not be caught, in the desirability of the gesture, in the discernment of accounts.


I awoke suddenly in the middle of the night: the whole forest was in flames!  It wasn't a dream, oh no, I saw it wasn't right away and heard the shots from my uncle's firearm.  Shouting and shouting.  In the exposed, red clarity, among black clouds of smoke, my brother contorted in great pain, riddled with arrows of pig bristles - a pin cushion of pain!  And my uncle, behind the balls of rubber, in a bad way, dying.  The Numa attacked us in the middle of the night, but... I was still alive and unhurt.


Then I knew nothing more of what happened.  I didn't know how I escaped and dove into the invisible water of the bayou of cold and swift darkness, and I was carried along and taken away.  From afar the shots became silent at once, I no longer saw fire with its serpent flames and a dark current embraced me, enveloped me and carried me on.  I hit into sticks and rocks but I kept on and on in the pitch black night, weightless, rapt and unthinking, with the stars, as if all this was the continuation of my dream in the hidden and very dull, blind night, hypnotic, horrifying, continuing thus for many hours among shadows, secrets and tears of everything in dissolution … So it was.



Four: Paxiúba


Someone said,”Hey!”.  (The voice, like what?)

It was that big strapling caboclo Paxiúba who is entering this story and talking - at this time about nineteen years old, but already endowed with size, reputation, status, at a height of six foot three.  (Ah yes, I remember him all too well.  We get old but before dying, memory revives us and we live in it until the tamp of time snuffs us out; a glossy, big tomcat swipes his tongue in the forgotten stillness, nothingness, so that we disappear; it will be as if we never existed, not even as a fictional character which is what we are.)  But his bestial eye sees everything, and registers it – his voice like a fly on the blood rose and void of conversation.  It was said Paxiúba was the son of a black man from Madeira-Mamoré, Barbados, and a  Caxinauá Indian woman, whom I did not know, and became legendary and eternal - it was he himself approaching, rowing, silent and menacing in the height of the morning towards the lush growth in front of Laurie Costas's door, located on the left bank of Hell's Bayou which was subsumed and meandered through the renowned plain.


So he came saying only: “Hey!” addressing himself to a certain Zilda, the wife of Laurie Costa, a washerwoman, squatting, crouching over a smooth, leached itaúba board, a soapy scrubbing board, - she had not even seen him nor could she foresee him covering her entirely like an gigantic caiman -  Paxiúba in his dugout, a handsome spectacle to see (in a literary sense), an enormous tetrapod, as I thus later came to know, a dark caboclo and tiger, huge, wanton, with snake eyes, bold, intensely savage, fierce, shining in the yellow eye of the sun, ferocious, his noble musculature would make the statues in the Louvre envious, head raised on a thick neck, solid, alert, belligerent, murderous, frightening subjectivity - it was thus he was coming, cynical, predatory, sparing or tolerating no one, not even a judge, as if he were saying to himself: “I know you: I know who you are” - the certainty of guilt, the indecent and menacing look enough to frighten a policeman – his power came from the the smell of the tonka bean tree that extracted from his easy victim the expected confession, indeed, he weakened and anesthetized people, putting them to sleep under his power (it was known he was never to be trusted) - imposing his bulk which backed up his bloody designs and commands, acquisitions and pleasures, which he found in the depths of ourselves, wrenched out and submitted to his access, ah, the brute, but primordial: from the fleeting impression to the exact and guilty certainty that, in the logic of our dark innocent region, coerces and presses to reveal itself, impelled outward by a hypnotic force toward new submissions, smiles infiltrating into the cracks of power from which he rules, cunning and intimate, in the empty intersection and prohibition of response, in the inversion of retrograde forces, unmasked roguery, his sole nobility, any left-over dignity: “Speak his truth” was the language of an order from his eyes in the perfidy of his sensual and perverse smile, underscored by an outline of sin that photographed us, that spoke to us, in the considered mirror of indignities.  It would not be good to meet Paxiúba suddenly on a deserted road.   He demanded caution; fear and mute experience of a dim familiarity with sensitivity was seen in the transmission of his secret.  In one word: obvious.  When he left, people crossed themselves.  Because he came off as a warrior of irregular seasons, of inverse time, of the most remote, crafty mechanisms, of corporeal possibilities that were his prerogative, out of the ordinary and capable of much accomplshiment, forming an alert and ready muscle.   Paxiúba, emblem of overgrown and brutal Amazonia, shadowy, unknown, pernicious.  And the dugout, having traversed areas requiring caution, gently collided into the plank of the dock where Zilda was washing clothes, white and clean, shining, suds rising and going forth in soapy and glassy bubbles scattering on the white edge of the river's surface reflected by the sun and in religious purification of the water.


With her back to him, (she didn't know that would be the day) Zilda attentive to her work, concentrated, absorbed - and plop - she beat the wash against the heavy soap board to scatter the accumulated heaps of flying and colored bubbles into the air, vaporized, elevated, exploding into little panics.  And the fixed urgency of his look frightened her and made her feel ill, like the coming of a sickness, of death, in a quickly developing turnabout into hatred, nausea, loathing and congested phlegm.  The voice she heard in its flight of sounds, native sounding, diction of a conniving phenomenon, curiously sharp, metallic, like a needle in its vibratory height, plucking and peeling of arpeggios and aggressive trumpets, and undertones of violin and harpsichord, a continuous ensemble behind the domination of the whinny of an excited horse with a black and shiny mane, a voice that she didn't know where it came from, as from all sides but not from his mouth, and yet it reverberated in the opposite direction, outside of the surrounding space, like it immediately came out strong from his abdomen, and generating, to the extent that it existed in lax and heavy modulations, an entreating and irresistable appeal, a low and earthy blow, but attentive, like a snake that makes itself known as a queen, propagating, gradual, delayed, primal, intrinsic, in the glands of an established and fecund operation, the nervous schemes of his body's musculature and primary clinical urges and needs, awakened and abounding, hard, such “ssss” vibrations inclined to weaken a woman's supports and defenses.


 Zilda was stirred inwardly under that pressure, troubled, and in a panic, with loathing and odious horror, feeling herself affected by the hospitable penetration of the killing and bestial head of that voice, native of the tonka bean tree, fructifying earth – autonomous and sibilant timbre of a serpent, not aggressive but insistent, of a demonic audacity that said: “I know you”.  And which was saying: “You can't hide from me”.


Now she knew.  She knew in her whole being the outcome of that voracity, what his body wanted.  She knew what he expected of her.  Sickness: her guard dropped, apprehensive, hidden, cowering, squatting, exposed to the intimacies of that sound.  What happened then?  She could have secured the gun that was always kept behind the shrine of Saint Rita.  But she was afraid of the paralysis of her will.  Her husband far away.  The nascent aggressive figure.  Confrontation.  Her wet clothing leaving bare the solid, concrete, white corpulence of her large breasts and her mature woman's body, ripe for fecundation, skirt between plump legs attainable in the amplitude of morality. 


Due to the Morgados, her husband was the only rubber tapper on the Manixi plantation who was able to bring along a wife.  Laurie Costa was a favorite; Bataillon liked him and approved, though provisionally.  Zilda became the personal laundress of the Palácio's linens, except those laundered in Lisbon, as the dross of the river water, beggars' water as it was called, soiled some of the laundry.  The Morgados, having sold the plantation of the Riachuelo Bayou upon the direct order of Dona Isabel Morgado who was afraid of the fevers, had become rich enough to move to Lisbon, where they settled in the Amoreiras district.  Laurie and Zilda said good-bye to their friends, the Indian Iurimão and his young Indian wife Ianu, who went to Rio Ji-paraná, where they were never heard from again.


 Now then,  Paxiúba was walking dangerously near on the dock, his glance fixed on his prey and near the lurking malice of an odious and arrogant false friend; alert, she drew back instantly, polarized, armed in the preservation of the defense of her integrity against the straight aim of that corruptor's look.  She hoped that Paxiúba would not come nearer, that he would exclude her from any harm ever since the time he was a person of the Palácio, head of the police apparatus of the plantation, body guard of Zequinha Bataillon (they said a friend who slept with the boy), a man of primary importance.  Paxiúba, armed assassin, eagle and snake, eliminated whoever needed to be in his function of coercing and killing.  Thus, the cynical face, perverse and damp, glued on her, possessing something that pulsated in him, in delight.  Oh, this was happening when she was alone in the hours of her solitary drudgery.  The king's gunman, Paxiúba, police soldier.  A look was enough to know he would exact something, examine, humiliate her, corner her, surreptitious, excessive, cynical, obsessive, dominating, provocative, pornographic, hypnotic.  Greater danger: he was looking at her!  It meant that he saw her, was aware of her, powerless against that devastating, forced, psychologically invasive and debauched knowledge.  Would she tell her husband?  No, she would say nothing to prevent the death of Laurie Costa, her only darling.  She loved him, the most kind of men.  But she didn't have children, she couldn't.  And what's more: she never felt anything with him.  She served her husband.  Only a loose woman should have an orgasm.  Laurie would kill her if she moaned, experience pleasure.  Trying to impregnate her Laurie regularly got on top of her with his clothes on and not touching her.  A child would be the cement for a happy family.  She married quite young, guided by her godmother Rita, from one of the best families of Vila da Serra da Mernoca, in Ceará; then had come a prolonged, approved courtship.  They went to Roçado de Dentro, but godmother Rita died, the crisis came and, banished, they had to come to the Amazon.  Laurie always reliable, proper.  Now peace infiltrated by the tonka bean tree.  In the last few days she was troubled, becoming sick just being seen by that brute.  The situation got worse with the weekly solicitations.  Paxiúba showed a certain affection, courtesies, in a choking voice that indicated that he was still a child after all.  And Zilda, disliking it because he was a bully, read in those eyes what he wanted, expected, begged for and which said: “I will wait for you.  You will be with me one of these days”.     


Zilda's house was a one-room thatched hut with a floor of beaten clay, walls and doors of rasp palm, with two doors: one opened over the bayou passing below; the other opened onto the forest ahead where there was a garden box on four poles.  Their dog had died, bitten by a snake, leaving her even more alone.  The smell of beans cooking on the fire came from the kitchen located by the door into the bush.  But,  Paxiúba was coming towards her, the smell of tonka bean tree upon her.  He had a present, a big cichlid spread out on a plam leaf, barely alive.   Paxiúba was the best fisherman of the Amazon, as if by magic, with his eye of a snake of the hypnotic and horrifying type.  Almost happy with the fish, Zilda felt her hatred increase in a brutal rush.  It was the first time she hated somone; remoseful, she crossed herself.  She felt nauseated near the fellow, her mouth contracted from disgust, from repugnance of something repulsive, phlgem, thick gum like latex, her mouth filled with saliva that she spit out when he came to her, which seemed strangely satisfying for the brute, as if she were spitting out of love.  She never looked at him directly, however; gathered into his desire by her timid look, she was afraid to glance at him, so as not to take in directly and see something menacing.   But there came to her in the last few days such a foolish, silly idiocy, a dizziness of enchantment, a jinx in the smile from the lips of the fellow; she became paralysed without strength, anesthetized without power, useless in spite of his ugly face and a smirk that came to have an energy, an excitement (as it was insane) that crazed, she plunged against herself in a vain reflex awakening a certain irresponsibility and attraction in the weight of an unknown madness and the strange fragrance that emanated from her body such that everything that boy represented to her, might contaminate her; it was the force of the Manixi Palace's power, the splendor of the rubber plantation, in its orgy of charismatic luxury -  Paxiúba, the brother of Zequinha (son of Dona Iphigenia, her mistress) - all that resounded in her contradictory dreams, in everything wrong and other in her life, ingrate and destroyed, without discretion and now without a future, here, unlucky, lost, idle in the Amazon, the most far away of worlds, and she knew well that the body of that brute, mainly the broad chest and handsome shoulders, exuded the heat of power of the Bataillons as if he were the firm and strong iron of the authority and glory of the estate, imbued with that fragrance of tonka bean, oily, contaminated; she also felt it within her as the odor of love, honey from the body of unknown love in the midst of soapy sweat on the skin.


Then what happened was the following: Zilda unable to refuse him, she picked up the fish from the palm of that hand, without touching it and no thank you's, rose decisivley from her work leaving the laundry there in its soap suds and went stright and quickly; in the house she took the lid off of the jug and drank a mug of well water that made her choke – but it was when she saw in a panic that man displaying himself there in her house, without being able to react that she became ill, twisted inside, struck dumb; he seized her firmly by the wrists with those enormous hot hands and she yielded completely, so that when she decided to scream the scream did not come; she collapsed at the moment of being bound with him, defenceless, drunk, silly, washed out and nauseated, suffocating... Oh! grief of griefs!  Oh! defeat of defeats!  Oh, woe, the weakness of the human condition.  “Quiet, little one!” he was saying in a gentle voice... “Be a good little girl”, he begged, whispering very softly in her ear, adding: “Keep still, my love”.  Demons!, how soothing was that soft and docile voice, for the victim horrifyingly docile!, she bleeding inside, irregular, against a monster of so many initiatives and resources that she encountered within her a treacherous demon, allied with an enemy, hidden in darkness, seeing how helpless it was to react, to struggle, disengaged, the impregnating enemy in the contraction of disconnected forces.  The cry was fast and terrifying.  It could have been heard at the Manixi Palace if it had been heard there.  It was as if she was being swallowed alive.  It was the cry of the oppressed, of despair, of horror in the encounter with inimical forces...


On the next day Zilda's husband was dead, his liver pierced by an arrow.


But the day before, after Paxiúba left saying to her “thank you, my love”, she remained stretched out on the floor and realized she was not going to die while her husband was on his way bringing her a stalk of bananas gathered from the road beyond the risky limits of the Numa and their signs marked in the shadows of the edges of Hell's Bayou; at home he found the cichlid cooked and fragrant, prepared in sauces with fine herbs, a beautiful fish, king of Amazonia.


What more? How? Unexpectedly the day after, as he had not seen where he was tearing the veil, he had departed from the boundary and broke the law; he was suddenly killed at the limit where Amazonia determined the directions to the right and to the left, boundaries of the Numa which were there and were advancing, finding their origin in everything and everywhere realizing the course of their weave of nodes that reveal nothing of themselves and upholding themselves, in blood veins that cover it in Amazonia, in its permutation, in its alteration, in all its unknown grandeur. The corpse was thrown in front of the Palácio as a warning. And in those same days there occurred important events in other places and times, historical and decisive for this fiction and which I will relate at the opportune moment, but for now, I have some surprises of many other occurrences.


Five: Ferreira 


     First thing, I caught sight of the Palácio. 

     Day was just dawning.  The veranda was like a stage set where a breakfast scene was playing with Pierre Bataillon and Iphigenia Vallarde.  Young Ivete was serving.  I was at the dock, carried there by the current.  Benumbed, my body almost dead, I touched the steps of the stairs, but did not feel them.  They did not see me, but I saw them.  There was the king, the builder of the Amazon empire of rubber, of land and latex, who built everything with hundreds of men, workers and tappers.  I was brought forth upon the waters like Moses in Egypt.  Faint flashbacks appeared and disappeared.  The image of my dead brother came in and out of my mind.  But it did not pain me.  It was a vague, fuzzy picture. 

     Bataillon was a shorter and thinner man than I had imagined.  Well dressed, erect, broad gestures, haughty and nervous behavior, dignity, old-fashioned manners.  Aquiline nose.  Fine hair.  Little black mustache.  His head raised, noble,  he had an aura.  Bow tie, jacket of white linen, wide coattails and trousers, patent leather shoes.    His air, the gaze with which he looked upon the outside world, was arrogant, superior, proud, like a sovereign by royal concession.  He put you on edge.  He made a display of his importance.  In spite of his small stature, it was as if he were looking down from on high, from an upper platform.  Yes, there was elegance and dignity.  I heard him speaking erudite Portuguese, artificial, bookish, classical and correctly pronounced, but fluent.  I got bits of his speech … “she gave birth to a son named” … “it was agreed upon that” … The white three-piece suit shone.  Well tailored.  Silk shirt, suspenders, collar, a solid gold John Bull watch attached by a metal chain of double rings, heavy, platinum and gold.  He was a man in a showcase, in a museum, on exhibit.  In his belt there was a Smith & Wesson of nickel and silver with an ivory handle.  It was said that he was a good shot, like a military man, that he collected firearms, revolvers, rifles, antique muskets that filled the Hall of Weaponry of his shock troops. 

     I don't know why Pierre Bataillon wanted me to stay, to work with him.  He liked me. 

     But now, a visitor is coming down the gangplank of the Comendador, a young attorney whose professional credentials were recently publicized in the city of Manaus.  The Comendador is a fine ship, a long white boat.  It belongs to the rich Commander Gabriel Gonçalves da Cunha, father of Glorinha, or Maria de Gloria, “the Dullard”, wife of the young lawyer who is arriving.  The Comendador, shining white, contrasts with the various shades of the surrounding green and blue, crackle moss green, snake vines, emerald, cobalt of the water, the blue sky vault.  The lawyer leaves the gangplank laughing.  His name is Antonio Ferreira.  He is the agent and business successor of the extremely rich Commander.  He has the appearance of a child.  A big white child, elegantly manicured hands, curly black hair, falling in ringlets over the gold frames of his glasses.  Cambric three-piece suit, Panama hat, black, narrow pointed shoes.  The sun beats down and the contour under the fine fabric of his clothes is that of a strong body, stocky legs, full buttocks.  His eyes sparkle and flash joviality; they explode  

with lightheartedness and active fantasy underlined by a permanent adolescent smile, candor and slyness inscribed on sensual lips.  A needy child.  Boyish face, outlaw, killer.  Friendly, educated, sociable, exhibitionist.  Ferreira was the greatest propagandist for himself.  It was not other women that he really loved, but Glorinha; and he was at her service in various ways.  His ambitions were concentrated upon her.  In spite of being the son of a humble, middle-class family, he was elevated to the podium: he had married “the Dullard”, or better yet the most solid fortune in the land; how the young man knew like no one else to make himself liked by his father-in-law, who saw in him the personification of intelligence, loyalty, merit, equal understanding equal, and the more corrupt the more loyal to the type of capitalism in practice there at the time; the old man loved him his whole life like a son, even after he separated from the daughter, as we shall see.  Glorinha was tall, thin, pale, skeletal, wan, buck-toothed, big-nosed, the image of a fairy-tale witch, bony, an illustration from a children's book.  Practically an imbecile.  She fled from her groom on the wedding night with ostentation and scandal - which betrayed her later madness – crying, to her father's house, racked with fear, in a panic, a fit of nerves. 

     Even speech was controlled in that house in which storks with enchanted babies were seen in the dream fantasies of a shut-in little girl, benumbed, warped by a strict father, about whom the neighbors on the same street knew nothing; any trivial event, which was everything, had to be hidden from Glorinha, brought up as a freak, going out in company only inside a closed carriage, puffed up in pillows and amid the ruffles of the clean, indigo-dyed and aseptic white skirts of a legion of old maid aunts and her proper, severe, vigilant mother Dona Martha, who saw everything, knew everything, even what the girl was looking at.  Hidden in the corners and back rooms of the house, nervous and insecure, depressed, pallid, she never appeared, fearful of everything, never visited anyone regularly, embedded in her fears until her sad end.  Alas!  When anyone arrived, she retired saying she had a headache.  On the rare occasions she remained in the room, she stayed seated, quiet, hunched over, saying nothing, looking idiotically at everyone, agreeing with everything that was said, she smiled vaguely, as is from afar.  Glorinha did not speak, did not play, did not hate.  All was a passive introversion of fear, terror, obedience, silence.  An example of a Manauara education, it was said she remained a virgin her whole life and that Ferreira did not violate her.  Perhaps he loved her.  She was the living inheritance of the immense fortune, influence, political power of her father: a rising force, head of a political class, leader, boss, cruel murderer, corrupt, corrupter of that age of splendor and glory of Amazon rubber gold. 

     This is the young man whom we see coming off the gangplank of the Comendador onto the dock on this Sunday morning, and Sunday mornings are different on the plantation: the rubber collectors come on principle, of necessity, for no reason, by a string mechanism pulling them to the headquarters, which was a large open shed, to be sure not the Palácio, the separate residence of the Bataillon family which no one approached; they come to deliver the balls of rubber, exchange products for provisions (as few see actual cash), seek out a pint of cachaça on credit to go off and drink alone.  Sinister, heavily armed, the Colonel's men go by.  The air is full of the smell of caxiri beer.  The open inlet of Hell's Bayou, an intersection of two plains, is smooth as a mirror; there are cries from the tree tops.  Two Peruvian prostitutes arrive in a canoe.  The movement of men, boats and machines give life to the place that overflows with the agitation of the day; it is Sunday morning after all. 

     In the shade of the door I see a human figure.  It is Colonel Bataillon with a stiff collar, daring red tie, Havana suit, hands in his pockets, appearing happy on the ridge of the marble staircase, eyes on the fixed horizon like the king of a green sea without limits.  Now he gestures with his index finger in the air, an inaudible order given to the urchin servant Mundico, frolicking near him, and who then disappears toward the back of the house.  Ferreira, on his way up the steps, continues to smile towards his host who awaits him. 

     “What brings you here, then?” Pierre says extending his hand, slanting his head to the left, ear towards his shoulder.  “You must have had an excellent trip in this weather...” 

    “How are you?” Ferreira asks, one step lower, his hand going forward to take hold of the older man. 

    “Well, I tell you,” Pierre continues.  “These last days have been the best for travel to these parts.  I understand the courage of travelers who arrive here.  Fifteen days ago we had a superb rain.  A day of deluge.  If you had seen …...” (his accent sounded Frenchified).  Pierre led the young man by the arm.  They walk toward the house slowly.  Halfway there, however, Pierre stops, motionless.  Then he raises his arms, dramatically and turns around.  He points to the sky with the tip of his finger, “See those clouds.  The weather is changing.  Cumulus clouds are forming. Tonight the forest will exhale its sylvan soap bar perfume.  Tomorrow the waters will be fresh and clear... we have rains par-dessus les autres.  Water washes water, not the muddy turbidity of the Upper Amazon.  Heavenly weather with the blessing...”  I do not hear any more; the two enter and disappear beyond the portal.  A scarlet macaw, red and yellow, makes its fabulous brush stroke on the sky. 

     When the two reappear on the terrace in the evening, near the upper gallery, the rain had already passed and,  in front, two children are bathing in Hell's Bayou in the line of vision of the statue erected on the patio, “Splendor of Amazonia”, an allegory on latex extraction, commissioned by Dona Iphigenia Vellarde in Paris in 1894. 

     “You have the good fortune to live among works of art,” Ferreira says. 

     “Works?  These?” Pierre stops short with beady snake eyes.  “The arts, my good man, corrupt the spirit and morals.  They are a heap of impurities.  Only contact, direct relation with the natural world, the forest …” 

     “You don't prefer the civilized world?”, Ferreira interrupts. 

     “To the uncivilized world?”, (Pierre exults:) “The expression of wickedness accumulated by culture, all this, isn't that entire thing uncivilized?  Look: I am transplanted here, at Manixi, Social Democracy.  See my dog Rousseau.  I love him and for that he is faithful.  He protects me and for that I love him and feel protected and loved.  What does that mean?  What is this dog?.  What separates the two worlds meets in him, the pure sentiments of the corrupted.  You believe in the purity of the heart, don't you?” 

     Ferreira looks at him as if he were looking at a crazy person.  I can see from where I am that he is dismayed.  So to calm him, he asks,  “When is your son returning from Europe?” 

     As if he had heard nothing, Pierre continues speaking, “Have you seen the ... bordered in pure gold ... Cattleya edorado in the deepest recess of the forest?  Do you know the famous, rare and unmatched Cattleya superba?” 

     The two urchins are visible and audible, crying like birds.  They are in the line of sight of the statue on the terrace.  “Splendor of the Amazon” is an art-nouveau lady of white marble and she is dancing with a basket over her shoulder; she represents fertility, wealth and the abundance of latex.  She is covered with earth and sprinkles of latex.  In her basket a live seedling of a rubber tree is planted; it is already the length of a palm of the hand.  Ferreira notices it.  The two are on the terrace.  Pierre grasps the outer edge of the parapet; I see the glint of his signet ring.  The terrace is an old part of the construction.  Four caryatids stare at the Amazonian shades of green-yellow.  The Amazona festiva parrot squawks on its perch. 

     Abruptly, incomprehensibly, interrupting with impetuosity and effulgence like Phoebus on the horizon – a tall, hardy, intense, vigorous, marvelous Maacu Indian woman, like a goddess, emerges, appears, explodes through the door with arm tattoos of red and blue; she is almost naked, wrapped in a coat of silvery silk and in a brilliant blaze like the sky.  Spread out in her arms, she is carrying a round tray of gilded silver, as if it were the sun itself, incandescent, impossible to look at, thousands of megatons above what would be bearable, the coffee and liqueur service of rose-colored Baccarat - a shock, Ferreira closes his eyes blinded by the diamond brightness and she places the tray in front of him, almost in his lap, on a table top of red-streaked marble placed there on a tripod of embellished iron, feminine, in an offering gesture of French symbolism, a banana tree branch, exotic bird of paradise plants, of straight petals in the form of long birds with orange crests inspired by art nouveau, vivid and above the balanced paradise between elegant impulses, between subtle meditations of the node, of acrobatic sarugaku, air-borne – Ferreira is dizzy and fails to understand the most beautiful of women, Maacu Amazons, pure bronze, Diana leaving the Teatro Amazonas, a slightly sweet vision of the delights in the sumptuousness of the panorama and in its contagion, in the intoxicant that smells of pomegranate, inhamuí, panquilé, which might have come out of a bath of roses, hair the fragrance of wind, strength, passion, clean and pure love of a young being, twenty years old, irradiating freshness, luster, energy; Ferreira sees her from his low cane chair, the strength, the savage color of those long legs. 

     Maria Caxinauá, an Indian woman who seems as old as the forest serves lunch. Still there, the lively Maacu woman exposes her arms to the imagination of a glance.  The silk accentuates and glides like runny paste.  Everything drips at this time of day.  Listless, lazy, sensual.  The bayou brightens in invisible speed, in its oily flow.  Silence.  Unctuous river.  It is called “bayou” by geographical economy, for its narrows, its hidden pass between two large silk cotton trees.  “Hell's” means “of the Numa”, from which it comes, of latex milk and Indians.  Concentrated wealth.  Pierre Bataillon discovered that bayou in 1876.  Extraction in the Amazon was doubling every decade.  From 1821 to 1830 it was 320 tons.  In the following decade it expanded to 2,314 tons.  From '41 to '50, 4,693 tons.  A big development came from '51 to '60: 19,383 tons. From '71 to '80, 60,225 tons.  After his arrival: 110,048 tons!  Up to that year Pierre managed to extract 20 thousand tons, saving up a fortune in pounds sterling, employing almost 500 men who were spread out into an area into which several European countries would fit.  The Maacu looks.  Ferreira feels a mortal shiver pass through him.  He feels cold at the hottest time  of the day.  Large mosquitos and blood-sucking flies buzz in his ears.  The buffalo gnats are annoying.  The heat is heavy, humid, sweet with genipap and honey.  He melts.  Fantasies, day dreams, deliriums, reveries.  This is Ferreira's first trip into the interior.  His father-in-law and he want the plantation; they are preparing for the complicated bidding of a commercial chess game.  Ferreira looks tired from the voyage.  Pierre puffs smoke into the air.  He is all caution and anticipation.  A surprise at any moment.  Now, Pierre starts to talk about the Numa.  Ferreira goes from desire to apprehension.  He looks with fright at the trees, as if afraid a monster will appear.  Pierre appears calm. He suppresses his phantoms, legs crossed as in a Parisian cafe.  Why doesn't that man liquidate his fortune and return to Paris?  Pierre, the unexpected.  His ambition is his antidote to the tedium of the Amazon.  Provoking, Ivete (as the Maacu woman was called, Ivete Romana) observes the young man from afar.  She, defiance and incitement.  Ferreira coughs and arranges himself in the chair.  Ivete's eyes move with serpentine elasticity, devastating and tactile.  Ferreira recedes into his chair feeling tipsy.  Beyond the stone columns of the parapet the excessive panorama of the stylized neo-rococo Amazon panel is unveiled, interlaced with tendrils and offshoots.  The forest tightens its embrace.  But the young man attempts to survive in the fullness of the amphitheater of the crowns of the pre-columbian silk cotton trees.  At Juriti Velho there is a tree 200 feet high.  The whole building is like a fortified castle, a capsule of the civilization of European humanity.  It is a place where juridical erudition does not reach.  As if betrayed, Pierre sees the possibility of neutralizing the visitor.  He wants to draw out the secret motive that brought him here.  He intuits menacing cordiality.  He is wary in his deliberations, conversation, narration.  The urchins play on the moored dugout.  They hold their noses with two fingers and jump in standing.  Then they run along the shore.  Shrill, incessant, like a band of parakeets.  Mundico, the oldest, is the son of Isaura, the cook at the Palácio.  She has two sons from different fathers.  The second son is not there.  His name is Benito Botelho and he is in Manaus.  Benito was the greatest intellectual in the Amazons.  As a boy, he was stricken with smallpox; Benito was taken away by Frei Lothar who was fond of him.  He ended being brought up at the Vassourinha, the orphanage of Padre Pereira, as Frei Lothar never remained long in Manaus.  Flies buzz about malignantly in the silence of the afternoon.  The bayou weaves dizzily between the trees.  There is no one about.  The trees at a standstill.  Profound.  Immersed in green ecstasy, in the heat, in eternity, in the fecundation of the late afternoon.  The young jurist's spirit is with the Indian woman.  A macaw, the national bird, breaks the silence of space and flits toward the other shore.  It repeats its screeching, proud of itself, its clamor and ostentation.  A silent rower appears at the bend of the river, salutes the Palácio and touches the liquid lamina of the water's surface lightly with his oar.  In the progression of new incidents, a very handsome lion monkey appears.  A very small one.  In the papaya tree, near the terrace.  It begins to come down.  It jumps on the parapet.  Looks at the motionless men seated.  Turns toward the trunk.  Stops.  Looks up, fearful of the sky.  Looks down, fearful of the ducks.  Looks at me.  The monkey looks with its entire head, not only with the eyes.  Then he descends, very quickly hazarding the air, disappearing in the duck yard.  Now there is the odor of a matrinchão fish, smell of pepper and tucupi seasoning.  The air is so oxygenated that I become dizzy.  Calmness falls.  It penetrates the pores.  Vaporous, tranquilizing flavor.  Stasis, impassibility.  A dark god is sleeping, in the unnamed, in the universal, immersed, incomplete, prehistoric of a million years ago, when this was a sea.  We are almost 2,000 miles from Manaus.  Gabriel Gonçalves da Cunha had bought the Rio Jordão and the whole left bank of the Bom Jardim bayou up to the São João bayou and an inlet of the Cruzeiro do Sul bayou.  He has isolated the Manixi Plantation.  The price of Amazon rubber is rising on the London stock exchange.  Production of tires is increasing.  The Amazon, only producer of latex in the world.  Rich Manaus copies Paris.  Businessmen get rich.  The Teatro Amazonas show off its crystal mirrors.  Millionaires play cards with fingers weighed down in diamonds, risking fortunes at the Hotel Cassina, at the Alcazar, the Eden, the Casino Julieta.  Tiles from Marseilles in the moonlight on the Rua dos Remédios, on the Rua da Glória.  Art nouveau architecture of the Ernest Scholtz palace – then the Palácio Rio Negro, seat of the government.  Wall brackets, transoms, rain spouts.  Intercolumniation.  Corner, lambrequim, scroll, capital, cornice.  Architrave.  Cleric's cap, lattice, balcony, loft, jade, ringbase, wing, stipe.  Enxalso, cinammon pediment.  Galilé.  Little Manaus, big Paris!  Shops, stores, tobacconists, book stores, tailors, jewelers.  Bissoc.  Pastry.  Sugar, fruit, cream.  

     A la Ville de Paris, Au bon marché, Quartier du temple, Villeroy's Closet for Women, Casa Louvre, Palais Royal Bookstore (in the Rua Municipal, No. 85, the newest books), Universal Bookstore, Freitas Agency, Casa Sorbonne (inside the Grand  Hotel), the Bijou Confectioners, the Progresso Bakery.  Lanterns of morona stone and puraquequara. The beautiful Villa Fany, total luxury.  The Barés Wharf, the Provincial Library (that was set on fire fraudulently to destroy Public Files in the back rooms). The Student Craftsmen's building that gave its name to the neighborhood.  Amazon Steamship Navigation Co.  A building imported piece by piece from England: the Customs House set up there.  Another, a project of Gustavo Eiffel, of iron: the Municipal Market.  Serviço Telefônico serves the city.  Electricity illuminates the streets of Manaus at the beginning of the century, perhaps the first Brazilian city to have this service.  Sidewalks of the Praça São Sebastião of black and white Portuguese stones in a wave design that allegorizes the “meeting of the waters” of the Rio Negro and Upper Amazon (later imitated on the beach of Copacabana).  Electric Trolleys of the Manaus Tramways.  People consume Veuve Clicquot, truffles, champagne.  Huntley & Palmers, Cross & Blackwell.  Cork, Pilsen, Bordeaux, cold cuts, Estrella Sierra Cheese.  Lobsters, Crystalized Guava Jam. Charteuse, Anisette.  Champagne Duc of Reims. Vermouth.  Vichy Water.  Milk from the Swiss Alps.  English coats and tails, H. J., pongee, tulle. Canes with gold knobs.  Top-hats, gloves, French perfumes, silk handkerchiefs.  Silver pistols and ivory handles. Victor Gramophones. Double-sided phonograph records of Caruso.  Wholesalers.  The State of Amazonas participates in the St. Louis Commercial Exhibition, in Missouri, and later in the Universal Exhibition of Brussels, where it wins 32 gold medals, 39 silver, 70 bronze, 6 Diplomas of Honor and the 13 Grand Prizes.  Manaus-Harbour.  Chessboard.  Operas, operas, operas.  Daily.  Imported prostitutes. The Miranda Correia Brewery. 

     Praça da Saudade.  The Roadway, the Quay.  Syphilis.  Malaria.  Glasses of  Labarraque quinine.  Cod-liver oil.  Silva Araújo wine.  Fermentation regulator.  Rose-colored pills.  Coffee Beirão.  Winchesters with butt of waxed mahogany.  Beggar's Asylum (built by the Commander).  The Empress Bridge, Big Waterfall Bayou. The Sawmill on Holy Spirit Bayou.  Baths of the Seven Pools.  Buritizal.  Games in the Parque Amazonense. Departure at Barcelos.   Night in Jirau.  Wall of the Aleixo Leprosary.  In the recess - the Chalet.  View of the Bomba d'Água.  Travel.  Steam Lines.  Manaus-Belém, Manaus-Santa Isabel, Manaus-Iquitos, Manaus-Marari, Manaus-Santo Antônio do Madeira, Manaus-Belém-Baião.  Gonçalves Dias in the Hotel Cassina.  Coelho Neto in the small palace of Epaminondas Street.  Euclides of Cunha in the chalet of the Villa Municipal.  Amazonas Comercial, O Impartial, Rio Negro, Jornal do Comércio.  126 ships operate within Amazonia.  Two-stack steamboats, small river steamers and barges. In 1896 the Teatro Amazonas was inaugurated at a cost of 3.3 million dollars, the most expensive and useless Pharaonic public work in the History of Brazil, no expense spared and everything imported, with paneling, hundreds of Venetian crystal chandeliers, columns of variegated marble, bronze statues signed by great masters, beveled crystal mirrors, porcelain vases the height of a man, Persian rugs – all of which disappeared in 1912 when the theater was emptied in order to turn it into a rubber storage depot for an American company.  At that point, the treasury was buried in a debt of 10 million milréis: the Teatro Amazonas cost the price of 5 thousand luxury homes.  The dollar to three milréis. For 300 thousand dollars the courthouse was built.  And for 525 thousand dollars the Government's Palace was built, never finished.  The Theater cost 10 thousand lives.  Yes: In 1919, 150 thousand immigrants had already arrived in the Amazon.  Rubber in those years was as important as coffee.  Amazonia exported 66 million dollars in rubber against 100 million dollars coffee from São Paulo state in the same period.  In 1908 the oldest university of Brazil was founded in Manaus, with courses in Law (the only to survive), Engineering, Obstetrics, Dentistry, Pharmacy, Agronomy, Sciences and Letters.  At that time 12 million French francs disappeared, robbed during Constantino Nery's government.  Manaos Improvements was fraudulently and unnecessarily expropiated for 3.3 million dollars –  the price of the Teatro Amazons.  Accumulation of corrupt extravagance is the history of the Amazon. 


     That evening Antonio Ferreira was snoring in the hammock and dreaming of large expanses of empty land, forests, secret places where no civilized man had been – rivers, waterfalls, rocks, mountains, beyond, beyond the horizon, undefinable, out there, beyond the emerald curtain and the shade of the left bank of Hell's Bayou – Aurora, Itamaracá, bends of the Rio Jordão, to the southeast, even to borderlands of Peru towards the Rio Pique Yaco and fantastic, dazzling El Dorados... 

     He awoke.  A light pressure on his left leg, something alighted there like a feather in the middle of the splendor of his sleep; it brushed his body with velvet.  He saw the spider, furry and red, about 6 inches in diameter, lethal, coming up his thigh, but then the Maacu woman removed it with a piece of cloth, venomous – rare and menacing –  a type of tarantula, the acanthoscurria atrox! - it jumped onto the parapet, turned on itself raised its front legs in an aggressive, protective attitude, bristled and disappeared.  To comfort him, the Maacu woman sat on the edge of the hammock.  She looked at him and laughed, stooping over his chest.  Ferreira took a hold of her head firmly and drew it towards him.  She neared with a muffled, wild moan.  From the edge of the roof an eagle took flight reaching the blue spaces.  It was an uiraçu, a harpy eagle. 

     “In '94 my son acquired the nanny Maria Caxinauá, an Indian girl a little older than he, who was four years old at the time.  They grew up together.  When the boy did anything naughty the girl was punished for it instead. 

Iphigenia hit hard but the Indian girl didn't whine; she didn't cry.  She didn't seem to feel pain.  I don't trust Indians.  They are treacherous, cruel, vindictive, capable of revenge, even after years.  But Iphigenia would not listen to me, would not believe me.” 

     Pierre puffed out smoke before continuing, “Every three years her parents came to get her on the pretext that she not forget her tribe.  She remained a month at their encampment and returned, skinny and sick – her parents said she did not like being away from Zequinha...” 

     They were silent for a long while during which the four chords of a night hawk were heard, coming out the darkness and silence of the night.  Antonio Ferreira inhaled some snuff.  He had smooth, combed hair parted in the middle connecting with long side whiskers which he was caressing. 

     The music room was empty.  There was little furniture there, the baby grand Pleyel, a table, four chairs and the armoire for the violins, closed.  Pierre offered a cigar and said: “Until the year the Numa showed up...”.  That room was situated apart from the Palácio.  No one could enter, especially when Pierre was playing.  The two men stared at the table separating them.  There was a carafe on the table and two goblets.  Pierre sighed.  His aged eyes looked troubled by his reflection on the remote past.  His face was elongated.  He lifted his arms on high, remained silent and looked at the other man in a vacant manner: 

“The stories I am going to tell you are absurd; they don't deal with human problems but with a different realm than ours.” 

     Ferreira made an effort to get a hold of the goblet and drink.  He was appreciating the luxury of the Baccarat when he heard the following: 

     “In November of 1905, the Numa appeared and started to hunt down the Caxinauá.  They came every day.  That had never happened before, not the Numa, so close and aggressive.  There was a drought, low water.  I had to take forceful measures.  I gathered the Caxinauá together at Quati and brought in armed men.  Since becoming docile, the Caxinauá were defenseless.  They came and hid their belongings.  They are masters of this, in the art of safekeeping, of hiding, of camouflage.  They can make entire canoes disappear, burying them under water that they disinter years later, even.  Each Caxinauá always has a hidden treasure. 

     Pierre nipped the end of his cigar.  He propped himself on the cushions of the Voltaire chair.  Two candlesticks of five movable bobeches each illuminated the paneling of the walls and softened the glare of ivory silk in which the panels were painted.  In a scene from the 18th century, a mythological figure was preparing to shoot an arrow.  Pierre sank into reflection. 

     “Do you know what happened then?” - the older man asked. 

     He remained silent. 

     “A robbery,” he replied.  “A small box was stolen”. 

     He got up, stood up, got on his feet and walked, solemnly to a chiffonier placed against the curtains.  From there he showed him a metal strongbox.  “Like this one.”  It was a medium size travel chest.  About 30 cubic centimeters and made with iron coating separated by non-combustible substances.  It was opened by an artistically realized, filigree key. 

     “Were there jewels?” 

     “No,” the older man intercepted.  “Iphigenia kept money in there - pounds sterling and coins of 0.900 fine gold.  It was the only thing robbed that I was unable to find.  After this I keep all valuables in the big safe.  I never got to the bottom of it; Iphigenia always said Maria Caxinauá was at fault.  They tied her to an anthill and she almost died.  But she confessed nothing.  When my son found out, he came to her defense.  Even if I had continued the investigations and ordered her to be tortured to death, she would have died without confessing anything.  Frightening!” 

     He coughed.  He took the cup, leaned back straight against the chair and straightened his neck with a jerk.     Ferreira, troubled, stirred and asked: 

     “Some servant?  Someone could have become rich, a spendthrift, showed signs of good fortune...” 

     It was as if the old man was at a megaparsec: 

     “No one.  I couldn't have been any servant … it was hardly a Caxinauá … the chest is here, it's been here all along, I'm certain.” 

     “How do you know?” Ferreira asked, clutching the string of his tie. 

     “Simply because of that.  No one seemed to be rich and the Caxinauá do not know the value of money.  Besides, it is impossible for a Caxinauá to live outside the tribe.  They make up a simbiotic people, a single organism, living, unique.  They are not individual beings.  The individual is the people, the race.  Because of that it was só easy to pacify them.  One Indian alone could not have stolen the chest and fled to Manaus or Belem.  Not a Caxinauá.” 

     Slowly the big door opened and the Caxinauá appeared. 

     “Come here, my girl,” Pierre said to her.  And as the Indian girl come near, the old man frowned, looked straight into the face of the girl and asked: “Do you know Maria Caxinauá? Did you see her before?” 

     Her coarse long hair darkened her face like a mask of death.  Her pupils were bestowed with an incomprehensible white aura, a frightful horror.  Aquline nose, cunning.  Dark, burnt and tarnished, bronze skin crushed like paper.  Dirty, long blue garment, torn on one side, without a belt, creeping along the ground like a madwoman in an asylum.  Observed at a distance, she was the concentration of hatred.  Close up, she was fear, uncontrollable dread, eyes wide open.  Her wizened face indicated that she had lost all her teeth; her eyebrows were thin.  But that woman was not old!  Suddenly she revealed herself!  “There is arrogance, contempt, defiance, a dangerous look, venom in her face,” Ferreira thought, gripping the string of his tie.  Hostile, that silent and animal existence was concentrated in her, reflected in her, like a snake.  From that night on Ferreira feared her.  He saw an enemy,  Because the Caxinauá was accumulated, petrified revenge.  All the innumerable multitude of Indians massacred found their territory in her body.  All those tortured, expelled, exterminated by European humanity, plundered, deprived of their culture were mapped there, in the physical and individual person of Maria Caxinauá.  Entire races were deprived, traumatized, dispossessed of their gods and their wealth built up over centuries, consumed in hecatombs, liquidated forever.  Comtaminated with diseases, enslaved and corrupted, submitted to slave labor that consumed millions of persons deprived of their subsistence economy, tragically tranformed into proletarian masses – twenty million indigenous people massacred in Brazil embodied there in the blind gesture of Maria Caxinauá. 

     With tense hands, the Numa warrior turned around abruptly and yelled a feline-like cry; the loud call was heard throughout the forest on the arid ground; there was commotion of his blood-red eyes under locks of hair and warlike shiver of his skin.  His entire strength increased and seemed to hurl itself with the fire he threw out and strewed into the palm hut.  His weapon of long shadow extended into the air and opened the skull of a young Caxinauá who appeared on the side, hurling him to the ground – his eyeball left the socket spit out on the ground like a rolling boiled egg, a ball in the dust of the earth.  He hurled a heavy rock on the enemy who jumped up like a wounded and hunted tiger and he howled with torn flesh, the voice of a thundering wretch.  His face distorted with hatred,  his shoulders apart, he raised his arm with the heavy weapon and advanced to kill like a winch raised aloft, the hull of an enormous ship pulled from the bottom of the water, water dripping like the dribble of dark and rotten mucus.  Others screamed and ran.  The fire spread wide, high, tears and overcame the night air with its wings of fire like the opening of butterflies.  Great and inexplicable fear took possession of the Caxinauá frightened by some God and death descended on every one and scattered them into  the fatal night of paralyzing ire, all strength and courage absent, neutralized.  Oh! She was completely burned, enveloped in flames, naked, but she did not feel pain or fear.  She disappeared toward the shade expecting with empty hands the adversary pursuing her.  Yes, he was coming.  And coming with the intent to kill in the darkness.  In the ominous bed of Hell's Bayou she searched for a stone, but she only bumped into rotten cadavers of her Caxinauá brothers that the quantity of dark blood buried.  The Numa was coming to look for and seek her out in the water.  She had difficulty cleaning the caked blood in her eyes, which made her vulnerable to the near and audible enemy searching for her weapon in hand.  For the enemy, his was the hour.  Blood burnt her eyes and she was unarmed.  Silence.  The enemy listened and waited for an effective reaction, but did not know where she was, did not sense her and proceeded in the dark.  Then there was an interception by a Caxinauá warrior who rushed in, cowardly fleeing, and was attacked.  It was time to get out of there as the two were arm and arm in combat to be killed and be carried away by Hell's Bayou.  Was she farther away than she thought?  Three hundred of her tribe's people exterminated.  The fire illuminated the forest and was seen from the Palácio.  Wasn't she fit for the sacrifice?  Frei Lothar, who appeared suddenly, took her in.  She no longer looked at her face in a mirror.  No one wanted her anymore, as a woman 

     Pierre looked at the young man and coughed.  Sleep still permeated the thoughts of Antonio Ferreira. 

     “Do you know Padre Pereira?” 

     “Yes,” he said. 

     Pierre Bataillon had the Amazonas Commercial in his hands, the newspaper of Abraham Gadelha, the political adversay of Ferreira's father-in-law.  The young man, adjusting his tie, felt this as an agression. 

     The older man, calmly, cordially, as if he did not know that on the previous page the Commander was toasted with adjectives such as “low life” and “thief”, said: “Fund-raising banquet of Padre Pereira for the Vassourinha Orphanage and birthday party of my friend Juca de Neves.  I'll ask you for two favors: represent me at these symposia … the Events column says of Ricardo Soares, Jr. ...” 

     “But look!”, Pierre interrupted himself, changing his dry, dull tone, as if he were submerged, stuffed, cadaverized.  The young man looked at him – he looked pale, suddenly aged and seemed even smaller. 

     “The wreck of the Bitar!  I didn't know.  I hadn't read about it.  Oh, mon Dieu!” 

     Since the disaster of the steamboat Izidoro Antunes, he was preocupied with the frequent shipwrecks on the Amazon.  He knew them by heart: the Izidoro Antunes had made only a single voyage, it had just come from England.  Modern,  comfortable, equipped with electric lighting, it was full of merchandise when it sank.  After this the Otero, the Perseverance, the Prompto, the Macau, the Etna, the Colomy, the Julio de Roque, the Waltin, the Mazaltob, the Ajudante (collided), the Manauense (rolled over), the … - all under water, dragging with them people who disappeared into those muddy and dark waters, ripe and with funereal murmurs, vague and indifferent, covered with a veil of mud, dense and compact in the dissolution of life's liquids, in the horizontality of those endless rivers stretched out in the slow movement of time – elemental cadavers decomposed in the marshes of water lilies, eaten by fish, listless, sunken in the dissolved material of the briny surface. 

     Pierre was frightened to travel in those waters full of sticks, logs, sandbanks, hardened clay blocks, rocks, hidden riverbank ledges and whirlpools, eddies, beaches, overflow lakes, turbulence, ponds, shoals, dead heads, depressions, ship skeletons, two-headed beaches, bends – all obstacles and dangers of ordinary navigation, for ships of large and small draft, motor boats, canoes, dugouts and wide sailing canoes, everything, the whole mass of an infernal theory of dangers to avoid, bypass, be on the alert for, defy, fear. 

     Suddenly the silence of death fell upon the whole space of the Palácio, static as if the entire Amazon was immobilized over the Marseilles tiles.  The night hawk emitted its four octaves.  In the distance a fisherman shook his fishing rod in the water.   

     “One day,” Pierre said, “an official from Santarem asked Bates on which side of the Amazon River the city of Paris was located.  He imagined that the entire universe was intersected by that great river and all the cities had arisen on one bank or the other.” 

     “Are you expecting to return?” Ferreira asked. 

     “I don't know,” the older man replied.  “I think that I should some day.”  And turning toward the young man with his shoulders: “Do you know why I came here?” 

     “No,” Ferreira replied. 

     “For my health.  I have to live in a warm climate.” 

     The cry of the screech owl tore through the night; it heralded death.  Ferreira looked at the little man sitting there, while rubber latex was at 308 pounds per ton.  The year before it was at 374 pounds per ton.  Modification of the price, however, would give it a jump to 655 pounds per ton!  But the fall would be abrupt; in 1921 it fell to 72 pounds per ton.  Ten years later, in 1931, it would fall even more, it went to 32 pounds per ton, less than half the price 109 years earlier, even discounting the evolvement of prices and slight inflation.  It was Death.  The decadence and death of the Amazon empire.  From sole producer, Brazil came to produce only one percent of world consumption.  A figure disappeared out the door vanishing in the arcade of the corridors.  High stucco walls, heavy decoration, baroque, fantastic, surreal luxury.  A trumpeter cried out in the duck garden.  Those rooms interconnected in an area of fifty-four hundred square feet.  There were fifteen apartments with painted baseboards, column balustrades and ceiling of gilded friezes, floors of Brazilian teak and boxwood.  The  building's entrance opened into a spacious hall at the end of which was the office of the colonel.  At the left, the door to the isolated music room.  At the right was the alcove and the circular gallery which wound around the back of the building and toward the back of the music room, as well as the terrace which opened up from there at a right angle.  An iron grating closed off the duck garden.  Pierre invited me for coffee in an adjacent room served by a Caxinauá boy.  We sat on a pair of Voltaire chairs.  A lost false viper shook the leaves of roots where it curled up like a toad.  It was the strong coffee with which Pierre would stay awake all night, wandering like a ghost through those large rooms semi-lit by candles and firefly lamps.  Pierre would play the piano in the middle of the night, read, walk around inside the house at the end of the world.  Nights were gloomy, lugubrious; they enveloped the Palácio in demons that came out of the darkness.  Pierre, indifferent, walked and his steps were heard along the arcade of doors and windows.  He would look at paintings, follow the row of windows with double shutters down to the ground, heavy, padded, transoms furnished with tulle pleated drapery.  In the shed was a pen for ducks who protected the Palácio from snakes, spiders and scorpions.  The steely surface of the water attempted to hinder an invasion of ants.  But still you could encounter a furry spider on top of a bed, be surprised by a scorpion crossing below the dining table or come upon a snake slithering along the empty space of a hallway.  The doors and windows were closed as night fell.  They would start burning a mixture of cow dung and tapir oil in censers scattered throughout the house to repel insects; the odor permeated and marked the palace.  Even so the building was besieged at night by clouds of flying insects that wanted to enter attracted by the lights.  Ferreira felt dread.  All the people, servants, balata gum gatherers, wild rubber collectors, fishermen, drovers, hunters and Indians seemed like demons.  The house was frightful, supernatural.  The eyes of Paxiúba and Maria Caxinauá.  The curtained off halls, like in a theater, the sculptured furniture – demons and lions – gloomy luxury.  Pierre opened the doors of the armoire and took out a carafe of Black Velvet.  Ferreira drank keeping in view the Caxinauá urchin standing up right in front of him.  Pierre's fortune had its source in the  slave labor of the entire Caxinauá nation that produced the food which Pierre exchanged for the harvest of the rubber tappers who seldom received any money.  The small figure of the man seemed painted at last on its true facade. 

*     *     * 

     Worn thin on the carpet, the embroidery plays with the shadow and light coming from the door.  Lights reverberate on the surface of the mirror, fire from tapers in the iron candlesticks and large candles that sing a lyrical moment.  When the colonel plays they seem to dance.  Family remembrances bring me to a shore of the imagination.  My mother liked to go barefoot.  Since leaving Patos on Christmas of 1897, I had not thought of her with such tenderness.  I've been here a long time.  My brother and uncle, dead, intrude along with disturbing stains on the ground, with the death of everyone, everyone from Laurie Costa to Maria burnt in the attack of the Numa, to the Caxinauá encampment.  The solitude of the empty room was veiled.   An enigmatic sensation that the doors were not closed tightly, that the horn-shaped hinges were open – the incised parts of the stop in the door jamb on the double rabbet rubbing out the oblong of the rims.  I entered very cautiously.  I crossed the empty space on tiptoes.  On the facing wall I discovered a door unknown to me, somehow concealed in the decoration.  I touched it with my finger, probing it.  I tried the hidden doorknob, the edge gave way and sounded like an squeaky wheel.  Chairs of dark wicker were scattered here and there; bats sounded like wind, nervous, their strident squeaks shattered the night air, tiny ones.  I was on the threshold of the room.  Someone was sleeping in the torpor of the penumbra, half-illuminated by a lamp that was going out.  Startled, I saw there the figure of fallen twisted metal, the variegated, disperse figure of a man sleeping, powerful, submerged, big, legs extended and open on the easy chair.  It was Paxiúba, frightening body, his large, bronze, strange, curved member visible.  Yes, he was sleeping the bloody sleep of his dead victims. 

     “And where is Ribamar?” - I heard the voice of Dona Iphigenia looking for me.  I closed the door and followed to attend to her.  I was on call during the night. 

     “I am very lonely,” Pierre said taking leave of his guest, “but my son will be returning.  He is lonesome for Caxinauá and Paxiúba,” he added with some irony.  “They're friends, Paxiúba is his bodyguard.  Maria a second mother and lover.  José wanted to take them to Paris, but I managed to dissuade him from it.  Good night, my friend.  Sleep well.  Ivete should arrange a good bed for you,” he concluded, serious, dignified, natural, extending a sincere hand to him. 

     The Juruá is a river of deceptive waters, yellow, muddy; when leached they deposit three inches of thick sediment in the bottom of a drinking glass.  In these waters Pierre Bataillon and Iphigenia Vellarde disappeared in 1910 when the launch Angelina wrecked. 





Six: Julia


     At the apogee of the price of rubber, it was quoted on the London Stock Exchange at 655 pounds per ton, a speculative quote which benefited the interests of British companies in the Orient.  It was the last year of the Amazon Empire.  Subsequently, the Teatro Amazonas closed its doors opening only once two years later for Villa-Lobos to give a cello concert on June 12, 1912.  Immediately after the tragedy, the junior Bataillon arrived from Paris and received Antonio Ferreira on board: there he sold the Manixi plantation, except for the Palácio, in a transaction that was never made clear.  As he always did, José left for Hell's Bayou without setting foot in Manaus.

     Pierre's son Zequinha was a handsome young man, wild, educated, delicate, strong, Apollonian body with soft, golden tan skin, mysterious, very dark almond-shaped eyes.  His fine hair fluttered in the air.  To some, a half-Indian, to others a Parisian snob who used to go deep into the forest with Paxiúba and his men in search of adventures, like the time he forayed into the mountains of the Pique Yaco River in search of Numa, without coming across any.  He was not married and did not have a girlfriend other than Maria Caxinauá.  Paxiúba slept at his feet like a dog.  Maria bathed him.  He was born in the middle of the river in 1890, on board the Adamastor, a birth foretold by shamans as that of a god coming from a distant star named Thor.  In 1854, Visconde de Mauá barred foreign nations from sailing the Amazon and held out until his fall.  The Santa Maria de la Mar Dulce met up with the Adamastor a few months after José was born and, to save him from malaria, which was decimating the children of the area, he was taken and shipped with his mother via England to Strasbourg where he was left with his uncle Levy, with whom he lived his infant years, first on the Place Kleber No. 9, then above the Pharmacie du Dome until 1894 when he returned to Manixi.  He stayed another three years before leaving for Paris in '97 where he lived on the Boulevard Saint-Germain.  He did not return until he was 15 years of age, in 1905, shortly before the attack of the Numa, which was in the middle of November.  In 1906 he was back in Paris for his studies.

     After the massacre, Maria Caxinauá hid and stayed for some time in a thicket of brush near the Palácio, totally alone.  She thought of dying and did not want to be seen anymore.  Pierre had about five hundred men in the vicinity, hunters, foresters, rubber tappers, balata gatherers, freelance tappers, escorts, field workers, fishermen, laborers, servants, housemaids.  No one.  No one saw her.  To be invisible when one wants to be is the same as being invisible.  How we were easy targets of hurled snakes, arrows, darts and blowguns.  The blowgun discharges a very small and fast dart into the air and is very precise and lethal; it is poisoned with a type of curare made with uirari vine and venom from snakes, flies, spiders and scorpions mixed together in a kind of ritual.  It paralyzes the nervous system and kills by asphyxiation.  Some Indians use snakes as weapons.  A certain Othoniel das Neves, from Juruá, famous for his cruelty and murders, died bitten by a rattlesnake found under his pillow.  Painted with special herbs, the Indians elude the best hunting dogs.  In the Numa massacre only charred bodies were found.  Almost dead, Maria had to be taken quickly to Manaus by Frei Lothar and Zequinha.  It was the worst war in the region up to then.  After that, Pierre Bataillon, who liked witty expressions, and to lift the morale of his troops who were beginning to respect and fear the strength of the Numa warriors' resistance, in spite of the difference in weapons they were using, came to call the Indians “ new Ajuricabas”, a reference to the hero of the Manau who in 1723 confronted and defeated the soldiers of the Portuguese crown under the command of Manuel Braga.

     “Now we're declaring war on the “Ajuricabas”, he said to João Beleza, a hired assassin and perverse and cruel bandit who was his war commander.

     Ajuricaba lived on the Hiiaá river, at the left bank of the Rio Negro between the Padauari and the Aujurá in the district of Lamalonga.  When he went to rescue his son, he fell into an ambush and was taken prisoner by the Crown in 1729, which wanted him taken alive to torture him with punishment and death.  On the way Ajuricaba got loose from the clasp which was fastening him and with manacled hands and feet started killing Portuguese soldiers before suddenly hurling himself into the dark waters of the Rio Negro which condemned him.  Because of that the waters of this river are sterile, there are hardly any fish in them.  But soon after, Belchior Mendes de Moraes went on a shooting rampage of 300 Indian villages, in a sacrificial killing of twenty-eight thousand Indians on the shores of a river which came to be known as the Rio Urubu.  Artillerymen under the command of a priest with a pious name – Father José dos Inocentes, later the name of a street in the red-light district of Manaus – dispersed contaminated clothing that disseminated an epidemic that devastated forty thousand Indians with smallpox, an infectious, contagious disease whose virulence rots the body still alive with eruptions of pus and rachialgia, papules, pustules, blindness and the agony of a slow bacteriological death; the corpses are devoured by flies, gnats, giant mosquitos, matuca flies, beetles, rove beetles, horseflies, catuqui gnats, wasps, suvelas, venomous beetles and mainly ants.  Man-eating umbrella ants can devour a cadaver in twenty minutes.  On the construction of the Madeira-Mamoré railroad in 1908, corpses were spread out on the road to be buried (30,430 workmen interned in the Candelaria Hospital) and when the locomotive returned there were only dry bones, cleaned and eaten by umbrella ants.  Also, fire ants, swarm ants, stinging ants, manhura ants, sauba ants, red-brown ants, worker ants, tree ants, tracuá ants and the worst, the tucandera ant, furry, enormous, poisonous, a single bite is all it takes to kill a man, with acute pain and fever – and it was used by the Indians in the male initiations of boys, who had to stick their arm in a gourd full of tucanderas and endure to prove they were men.  And the leaf cutting ant, the sauba, the warrior ant and the army ant.  Von Martius describes whole populations fleeing from ants.  Sugar ants could make an army retreat!

     A week after the death of the wife of the rubber tapper Laurie Costa and immediately right after the massacre of the Caxinauá village by Numa warriors, Pierre Bataillon formed a military unit under the command of João Beleza to confront the invasion.  Then regulars began to march in pursuit of the enemy.  The possibility of a frontal attack by the Numa was not  dismissed and an emergency drill was carried out since the majority of the men had never been under fire; they were north-easterners who swore by the success of their knives.  The Manixi garrison had about 150 men armed with 45-caliber English Webley II revolvers and Winchester 94 American repeating rifles of eight 44-caliber cartridges.  They were dressed in boots, bandoliers, rawhide breeches and vests to withstand thorns and snakes.  Equipment followed on mules and canoes.  Recruits, armed men, swift Caingangue bushmen determined the location of the Numa camp and active troops advanced quickly in barges attacking repeatedly in rapid incursions and achieved significant victories, killing some Indians and keeping the Numa under fire inside the forest.  But the Numa fled and disappeared.

     João Beleza, who was lame, still pursued and sought them out for a week, but only caught up with old people and women carrying children who could not run and were immediately executed.  Lock, stock and barrell, they were all killed thus in cold blood crushing the heads of the children who were running from the discharge of bullets.


     One day João Beleza, who was camped in the evening on the shores of the Pique Yaco river to wait the Acre with new provisions and as the day began to dawn, ordered commandos to proceed forward along the river advancing slowly with mules and canoes that were carrying heavy combat equipment, when a white-skinned man named Julio, who was walking ahead, stopped and, cocking his rifle, lifted to take aim, fired a shot that echoed in the vast Amazon atmosphere.  Then, a scream of a woman in agony emanated from a thicket of brush; she went running toward the forest; she was carrying something, a kind of ball that she was holding with both arms to her breast, hiding it from the pointed rifles of pursuers ready to shoot.  She ran quickly until up ahead she fell stretched out on the ground, dead by the barrel of João Beleza himself.  João Beleza cut her down in the space between her hiding place on the water's edge and the border of the forest.  But the Indian woman, upon the impact of the 44-caliber bullet that crushed her ribs and shoulder, let go of that ball wrapped in straw from her arms onto the ground from where it went rolling down toward the river.


     It was a baby girl.  A new born that the Indian had just delivered.  João Beleza took it and held in the air, saw that it was a girl and lifting her up said, “You will be called Julia!” - and she was placed in a fiber hunting bag between the bullet cartridges on a raincoat.  When the commando returned to Manixi, they carried her to the shack of João Beleza, who wanted her to bring up.

     Oh, I remember that little girl, how I remember her!  From when she was a tiny infant, a child barely two feet in height and different in everything – she never cried or whimpered, she did not talk or make any noise whatsoever.  No.  She was not happy or sad, just a being, a being who observed, a mysterious being who looked without fear or terror, as if she saw nothing with her dark enigmatic eyes.  Yes, that was Julia, I neither invent nor lie – she did not get sick, beg for food, and stayed motionless in a corner, without moving, not requiring care, growing up, growing up strange and mute as if she knew what would happen.  When she was still a little girl, a piranha from Lake Quati hollowed out a spherical piece of her thigh, tearing away a chunk of soft flesh.  Julia just laughed and laughed, “hee, hee,” she kept laughing under her breath, as if the wound gave her pleasure. 

     João Beleza treated her like a daughter.  Years later, Julia prepared meals for him, cleaned the shack, took care of the animals and tamed them.  And she must have been an extraordinary lover as João Beleza always slept with her.

Seven: Disappearance


The reader is not going to believe what I am going to relate, as I have seen wonders that even now surprise me.  How, not returning to Paris to finish his studies, José Bataillon (he would be twenty-eight years old in 1918) remained on Hell's Bayou and led a strange life, by whimsy, removed from normal customs and expectations; the tappers withdrew several leagues from the Palácio, next to the Caxinauá and what remained of them within the boundaries of Amazonia.  Let us now descend into this unknown world.

     Apart from Maria Caxinauá, at Manixi there now lived the strapling caboclo Paxiúba, the boy Mundico and his mother, the cook at the Palácio, Isaura Botelho (the mother of Benito Botelho who was living in Manaus, taken, as I said, by Frei Lothar and then left in the care of Padre Pereira at the Vassourinha orphanage).  I, Ribamar de Souza, also stayed on at the Palácio, still a young man, having come from Patos in search of my brother Antonio and our uncle Genaro – now both dead.  There was as well the Indian Arimoque, whose fantastic stories still spread throughout the region even today.  The lame João Beleza and some men of the guard stayed at the big shed at a certain distance.  The Maacu Ivete was married to Antonio Ferreira and lived in Manaus, - Ferreira separated from Glorinha “the Dullard”, daughter of Commander Gabriel Gonçalves da Cunha, and was frequently mentioned in the social chronicle of the Amazonas Comercial with a certain irony.  The proprietor of the newspaper, Abraão Gadelha, a political enemy of the Commander, had been on the brink of ruin but was saved by the intervention of Dona Constança das Neves, wife of Juca das Neves who disbursed a fortune in social works.         


     But let's not waste time.

     When the urutu viper bites, it causes severe pain and the flesh swells up; it becomes a dark purple until appearance of hemorrhaging and death.  Now the rattlesnake bite attacks the central nervous system, the pain goes away, vision becomes blurry, the victim slowly becomes blind and starts to lose movement in the body, at first the fingers and toes.  Then come pains in the neck, ever stronger, paralysis will ensue, the death process will be seen to progress from the extremities to the center, the body becoming rigid, hard, death comes with clammy rigidity, by asphyxiation when the diaphragm hardens.  Death conquers the body.  The coral snake, like a jeweler's creation, is beautiful, red-yellow, brilliant colors and short fangs but rarely bites.  This beauty should not delude since biting, it kills.  But the worst of all is the bushmaster, large, aggressive, strong and, unlike the others, it comes on the attack.  It contains a good quantity of venom and remains in ambush on the dark edges of rivers and lakes.

     But, reader, we continue silent, alone.

     So from what I could gather from newspapers of the time and letters of those close to him, the disappearance of Zequinha Bataillon on the shores of Hell's Bayou occurred in January of 1912.  If this was not a work of fiction I could cite in footnotes at the bottom of the page the sources from where I obtained such information.  But the disappearance of the son of Pierre Bataillon, a man who lived from the riches in the Alto Juruá, remains shrouded in such mystery, an event forever mythologized in the popular imagination of Amazonia and Acre, and all the hypotheses raised then could not justify, nor explain, at least for me, the reason why I later had recourse to those alternative sources that I had the good fortune to come across, sources still alive, testimony of the main persons involved that I must omit, unfortunately, but which ingenious readers may soon discover if they know my family.  In the meantime I know and I said it before that this is merely a work of fiction and as such mendacious, among the several which exist in the literature of the Amazon, but a surprise awaits the reader, in spite of this, by what the thread of destiny will reveal.  All the facts disclosed here were significant realities and actually happened for my imagination and, if not exactly as I describe them, perhaps they would be even more extraordinary if it was not I who were writing them in the passages of the sections of the composition of this complex narrative.





Seven: Disappearance


The reader is not going to believe what I am going to relate, as I have seen wonders that even now surprise me.  How, not returning to Paris to finish his studies, José Bataillon (he would be twenty-eight years old in 1918) remained on Hell's Bayou and led a strange life, by whimsy, removed from normal customs and expectations; the tappers withdrew several leagues from the Palácio, next to the Caxinauá and what remained of them within the boundaries of Amazonia.  Let us now descend into this unknown world.

     Apart from Maria Caxinauá, at Manixi there now lived the strapling caboclo Paxiúba, the boy Mundico and his mother, the cook at the Palácio, Isaura Botelho (the mother of Benito Botelho who was living in Manaus, taken, as I said, by Frei Lothar and then left in the care of Padre Pereira at the Vassourinha orphanage).  I, Ribamar de Souza, also stayed on at the Palácio, still a young man, having come from Patos in search of my brother Antonio and our uncle Genaro – now both dead.  There was as well the Indian Arimoque, whose fantastic stories still spread throughout the region even today.  The lame João Beleza and some men of the guard stayed at the big shed at a certain distance.  The Maacu Ivete was married to Antonio Ferreira and lived in Manaus, - Ferreira separated from Glorinha “the Dullard”, daughter of Commander Gabriel Gonçalves da Cunha, and was frequently mentioned in the social chronicle of the Amazonas Comercial with a certain irony.  The proprietor of the newspaper, Abraão Gadelha, a political enemy of the Commander, had been on the brink of ruin but was saved by the intervention of Dona Constança das Neves, wife of Juca das Neves who disbursed a fortune in social works.         


     But let's not waste time.

     When the urutu viper bites, it causes severe pain and the flesh swells up; it becomes a dark purple until appearance of hemorrhaging and death.  Now the rattlesnake bite attacks the central nervous system, the pain goes away, vision becomes blurry, the victim slowly becomes blind and starts to lose movement in the body, at first the fingers and toes.  Then come pains in the neck, ever stronger, paralysis will ensue, the death process will be seen to progress from the extremities to the center, the body becoming rigid, hard, death comes with clammy rigidity, by asphyxiation when the diaphragm hardens.  Death conquers the body.  The coral snake, like a jeweler's creation, is beautiful, red-yellow, brilliant colors and short fangs but rarely bites.  This beauty should not delude since biting, it kills.  But the worst of all is the bushmaster, large, aggressive, strong and, unlike the others, it comes on the attack.  It contains a good quantity of venom and remains in ambush on the dark edges of rivers and lakes.

     But, reader, we continue silent, alone.

     So from what I could gather from newspapers of the time and letters of those close to him, the disappearance of Zequinha Bataillon on the shores of Hell's Bayou occurred in January of 1912.  If this was not a work of fiction I could cite in footnotes at the bottom of the page the sources from where I obtained such information.  But the disappearance of the son of Pierre Bataillon, a man who lived from the riches in the Alto Juruá, remains shrouded in such mystery, an event forever mythologized in the popular imagination of Amazonia and Acre, and all the hypotheses raised then could not justify, nor explain, at least for me, the reason why I later had recourse to those alternative sources that I had the good fortune to come across, sources still alive, testimony of the main persons involved that I must omit, unfortunately, but which ingenious readers may soon discover if they know my family.  In the meantime I know and I said it before that this is merely a work of fiction and as such mendacious, among the several which exist in the literature of the Amazon, but a surprise awaits the reader, in spite of this, by what the thread of destiny will reveal.  All the facts disclosed here were significant realities and actually happened for my imagination and, if not exactly as I describe them, perhaps they would be even more extraordinary if it was not I who were writing them in the passages of the sections of the composition of this complex narrative.





 Eight: Rats


     We come to the point in this road where I should state that, at a certain time, I remember well seeing a dark streak between the floorboards.  It was something that went by like a moving, dark straight line.  A cinematographic dash, continuous.  Then it looked like a straight, tiny snake infiltrating itself between the cracks of the worn-out structure, something passed through time, traveled across the world, flowing as if it were gliding to bore and hollow out the earth.  Then it appeared as a larger body, a solid body – an end, a tail.  Indeed, it was the tail of a rat.

     Perhaps a big rat came out of there ahead of me from its rats nest.  Maybe.  Ratania of Pará.  Maybe a large rat, an enormous rat, like a water rat, a swamp rat, gnawing, chewing under ground, eating away husks, nibbling and gnawing on crusts, consuming, devouring, in constant mastication.  Or more.  Or the black back, or dark gray, with a tail nearly six inches long, leather, tail of leather and a field mouse, murids – and behind, others are coming, house mice, small rats, and another black rat with a bristly coat, a rather fat mouse, maggot mouse, spiny mouse, palm mouse, spring mouse and more.  More.  And there were many more rats entering the big shed, vermin, varmints, tens, hundreds, thousands – Manixi was being consumed by rats and not only at night but even at any time of the day.

     I am telling that this happened in those years, later,  as I witnessed the process of decline and death of Manixi.  To describe what I saw then, I will say that rats, daring, voracious, famished, were multiplying, aggressively.  All the earnest efforts of João Beleza, who was managing the property, all his struggle against the rats furthered nothing, the rats did not disappear and they increased day by day; it was like there was nothing that would rid us of them, as even cats were unsuccessful; the cats could do nothing, they ended up dead, corpses of cats pillaged and eaten by hungry rats, avid, manifold, as if it were the last judgment.

     Taken over by his fury, João Beleza got a boa constrictor to frighten them, the rats, and rid the big shed of them, but the snake disappeared and then the trader Saraiva Marques, a man the worth of many men, showed up; he recommended and sold João Beleza a rat poison having a base of Prussian green arsenic.  João Beleza proceeded thus to feed the rats every night serving them food in a large pan.  The rats were eating a puree of manioc for days, each time more and more until they were sated and on the last day they ate the poisoned puree.

     Julia was laughing.  She was the first to make known their demise.  She smiled then, and guffawed, high pitched, nervously, “hee, hee, hee”, deliriously; the rats were dying in front of her.  She watched them die with an amiable interest, one by one, and looked upon them with affection; Julia dealt with them, crazed and enraptured, saw them die in the light of day, touched them, nestfuls here and there, on the bank of Hell's Bayou she started to laugh outright – the rats seeming to decorate everything, a collar of dead rats lining the water's edge, and there were tens and hundreds and thousands of dead rats; Julia laughing at those moribund beings, she took hold of them by the tail, speaking tenderly; she showed them off and bundling them together, laughing, she threw them into the condemned waters of Hell's Bayou.

     Afterwards there was a strange peace at the Manixi plantation.

     It came about that João Beleza woke up sick.

     He had colic; he went to the latrine but could not defecate, his bowels were burning inside him.

     He spent the day like that and ate the soup that Julia gave him.  When night fell he was worse, his stomach swelled even more and his arms and legs were falling asleep; they became cold.  His vision started to become blurry and darkening; he was dying slowly with pain and putrefaction, since Julia had poisoned him with the rat bait arsenic and on the following day he was completely dead, indeed.

     For the first time ever, Julia started to cry.  Julia started to cry, and she cried clasping her hands; she cried to the sky and she poured out tears made tender by her immense misfortune.


So it was that she left, without anyone seeing her, and disappeared into the forest without allowing anyone to come near her, like an enchanted being. No one heard anything of her again.  No one.  She was a young woman when this happened some years later.  I don't know exactly when, I just don't know, no, don't know...


Nine:  Frei Lothar


     The seated figure, waiting for a tambaqui fish to be baked and served on a banana leaf, which would be reinforcement to his heart and stomach, was rendered sadder by the shade of the kapok tree.  It was the first substantial meal he would be eating for the two days in which he had been traveling.  Frei Lothar felt tired and reflected on his life and misfortunes like the one he had just endured.  He was still gasping, upset by the calamity.  He felt a certain obscure fragility, old age at the least, and so he knew that the appointment of his days in Amazonia was coming to the end and that now he would have to abandon everything, retire and die.  Coming by canoe through a channel of the Numa Slough, he was passing over a floating island of tea wort when the canoe tore into a kind of moving fabric, a horrible carpet in the shape of a map of Brazil formed by crackling and armed yellow scorpions, in an area of several square yards; they were advancing, one on top of the other, crossing the river in migration.  A caboclo started to shout and the canoe almost overturned.

     “Quick!”, the padre commanded.

     But already the scorpions threatened to climb on board and Frei Lothar, lighting a fire with the newspapers he was bringing to the judge in Calama, filling the barque with flames and getting burnt all over, exclaimed, “Oh, my Amazon!, God is great but the forest is greater and I am not the same.”

     Beginning to recover strength, he was waiting to depart after lunch on the Barão do Juruá, now owned by Antonio Ferreira, as was everything else there.  But Ferreira had gotten a bad deal; the price of rubber was declining more and more from what it had been a hundred years before, as the Brother had seen on the trip he made this month to the Rio Machado – rubber tappers decimated by fever, ruined by the crash, unemployed since rubber from Ceylon, without microcyclus, supplanted production in the Amazon; thousands of tappers witnessed the permanent end of the gigantic empire, in which vast fortunes made overnight disappeared and the Amazon returned to what it had been before 1850: hell entrenched in an economic crisis that lasted a half century and killed thousands.

     There were still a few places where Frei Lothar could stand to go and Manixi was one of these.  The brother had lost his faith, spoke coarsely, spit on the ground, went around armed, was cross and smelled bad.  The Rio Machado dazzled him, seduced him, its green water running over emeralds, strange country of a strange world where one only met with adventurers and Indians: the sparrow-hawks, the macaws, the bobtails, the shelf fungi, wild, savage, indomitable, hidden in the high and shady forest.  It was paradise, it was hell, and Frei Lothar loved it; he could not live without those trips, adventures in search of the unknown.  But the worst trip he made was in 1908, when Frei Lothar, in a caravan carrying rubber latex from Cruzeiro do Sul to the Cocame plantation, from the Rio Juruá to the Rio Tarauacá, crossed the Manixi plantation, crossing the Rio Gregório, the Acurauá, proceeding on a rough trail over a distance of two hundred miles.  At that time, however, Frei Lothar was young and at his hardiest.

     Not much time had passed when, with sandals sinking in the muddy clay, he was watching the loading of the barge that the Barão do Juruá would be pulling to Manaus from the Rio Jordão.  His old cassock stank, as it was soaked with sweat.  Sweat dripped upon much older sweat drenching the patches.  Under a big, old and ill-fated black umbrella, the friar looked ridiculous on the steep river bank, a strange type, exotic, on the edge, in the greatest difficulty.  The Barão do Juruá was being loaded and the friar debarked for lunch, unsteady, in need of terra firma and an escape from the heat, his feet sank in the soft mud.  He was clambering up the slippery ladder of the bank with difficulty when the first dogs appeared.  At first, there were two that came down the ladder in a fury.  Then others came and Frei Lothar eventually found himself surrounded by dogs and was using the cross of his rosary to defend himself.  The children and men were laughing – the old good-for-nothing.  Some of them owed their life to him.  But Fernando Fialho, the harbormaster, showed up suddenly and rescued him.  Fialho was busy loading jute, the new commodity of the region, on its way to Manaus.  It seemed that Frei Lothar could not board because the stevedores had taken the gangplank away and, strong and squat, they were going back and forth on it weighed down by their loads so that they were sinking into the bank.  Frei Lothar looked at the muddy water that dirtied his sandals.  Boys had gone down the ladder.  They had not even asked for his benediction.  It was said that he liked little boys, which was a lie.  The boys jumped into the turbid water near him.  Water sprayed, sparkling.  They were near to giving the missionary a bath.  Frei Lothar did not protest because he was ill, with the illness of old age, without strength, without courage, without nerves, without vitality, without spirit, without faith.  He looked upon all this with compassion, sweat and impatience.  It was truly satisfying – that splashing which refreshed him.  If he could he would have taken off his smelly cassock and happily submerge himself in the water.  All these events blended together for Frei Lothar: the scorpions, the dogs, the dousing, illness, old age, calumny.  The end.  Annihilation.  Death.  His legs trembling, Frei Lothar was on the point of fainting in the heat.  Miserable dogs!  Miserable urchins!  Miserable life!  Evening began to fall and night was approaching.  The  Barão do Juruá was going to sail, finally, empty – a blessing that Antonio Ferreira forbade it to carry passengers.   No, it was not true that the world was against him.  Just the day before he had been treated well.  Ferriera tolerated the old padre who administered medicine to people on the plantations.  The  Barão do Juruá  and everything that belonged to the Bataillon empire was the property of Antonio Ferriera.  The  Barão was going empty, the friar would travel in peace, in comfort.  He had known trips in vessels full of pigs and hammocks, stinking of excrement and putrid fish.  The padre's neck was burning with the heat, sweat was pouring and was rushing into his chest.  How easily those men lifted and loaded the heavy bales!  Oh, youth, youth!  Ah, the strength of their arms!  Frei Lothar had come from Tarauacá, which he still called Villa Seabra, had crossed on foot the arduous São Luis slough and the São Joaquim, by way of Universo, Santa Luzia, Pacujá, he came by canoe by that hidden channel.  Now, no...  He was no longer up to it.  Let him prepare to die.  But Frei Lothar did not want to die, he had spent his life fighting death.  He would end up sunk in a hammock in Manaus in the parish of Aparecida in the midst of wretched charity.  Well no, that was not certain.  He would like to die in peace or return to Europe, a dream that dissipated, as he was poor.  Forty years in the depths of this hell, forgotten, diminished, lost in the jungle.  Would he know how to live far away from this savage world?  How would he be able to get to Europe, to Strasbourg, his native city?  He had done everything that had to be done, fought off wild animals and fevers, said masses among the Indians, baptized illegitimate urchins on river banks.  What more?  Would they still want him?  As he could no longer ride horseback due to sciatica, he had to live on foot, bent over by the weight of years and arthritis – my God! - his entire life most sad, wasted, among serpents, vilified, chased by dogs … a difficult world!  And within the Church, Frei Lothar only saw the struggle for power!  He had saved the lives of thousands of men and was accused of illegitimately practicing medicine!  The families of Manaus had nothing to do with him as he had a bad reputation and bad character.  He spit on the ground and used vulgar language.  No, he received nothing in exchange, he never had money, never had a place to live, never flattered the powerful, never tolerated them, always irritated them.  After working forty years he only reaped enemies.  And the heat and mosquitos, the suffocating nights.  He had forged his way into impenetrable forests full of snakes, spiders and scorpions.  And how did they acknowledge him?  With malicious gossip, with dragging his name through the mud.  Those scoundrels could not understand his life among the Indians as other than for some sordid motive born from their sick imaginations.  No one believed that he had labored in that hell for forty years in exchange for nothing.  This ate at his soul.  There were letters from superiors with accusations, the Provincial came with rumors … Ah, let them take him from there so he would be gone forever – if they killed him they would be doing him a big favor! … He was superfluous in that world; he would certainly like to die to oblige the parish priest who detested him.  No one liked that ugly man who only wore the habit of a padre.  His rough and weary voice, his crude and strong hands, his fierce expression.  Frei Lothar hated the ruling class, hated religion and the faith; rather for him it was medicine and practice.  He did not talk of pious matters, scratched his balls, prayed unwillingly, was irreverent, laconic, frank, aggressive, gruff with the authorities, primitive and rude.  Frei Lothar was an irritated soldier in Amazonia, God's officer, armed.

     The night was quite dark when the barge was fully loaded.

     The plank was transferred to the  Barão which was already stirring and near departure.  Frei Lothar carefully climbed on board and went to his cabin where he took a bath before dinner.


     Then, clean and sated after his dinner, he was in a better mood.  The  Barão continued its journey in the middle of the night – risky, but as could be expected Ferreira wanted the boat in Manaus right away.  The sound of the engines did not bother him, he was resigned to it.  Frei Lothar went up towards the stern in the dark to a sort of terrace.  He was alone.  The wind began to feel good to him, that wind had a delicate scent, an atmosphere; he remained looking out at the dark night while sailing downstream between the forms of shadows.  It was as he always felt – a passenger in the world.  He never stopped, here today, gone tomorrow... He thought of the man he had been tending in Villa Seabra.  That man was about to die … What is death?  What is faith?  Many men had died in his arms and he could do nothing.  What was death?  His faith lost long ago.  Let the Provincial get angry!  What Frei Lothar saw and observed his whole life – it was not God: it was suffering, pain and death, misery and desolation.  Frei Lothar got up with effort and left to go to his cabin from which he emerged with his violin.  He sat down.  He would practice until sleep came.  It was Bach's Second Partita that he knew by heart but he never succeeded in overcoming certain difficulties.  He played without the score.  He practiced without a score, in the dark, in the fleeting wind.  Alone.  Without a score and without light, without anyone.  Oh!  It was thus in the Amazon.  The Amazon did not have a score, light or anyone.  The Amazon was an immense plain of misery.  The economic depression hovered in its monstrous silence.  The Partita came out rather well from his old, arthritic fingers.  He never had time to practice, never had the conditions, the leisure.  He traveled with his violin in ships and canoes, in channels and pools, and almost lost the violin with the scorpions: it was a valuable violin and symbolized what he had never been.  A bad padre, a bad doctor, a bad violinist.  He had never done anything well.  Nothing complete.  Now he was old, weak, having little faith, little knowledge, little technique.  “Oh, worse than death is mediocrity!”,  thought Frei Lothar; the violin moaned, litanies, recitations, reflections.  He attended the sick without resources; said masses without passion; and now played the Partitia badly.  Without remedies, without scores, without know-how.  Frei Lothar played with imagination.  The violin was a Guarnerius.  It was a present from Juca de Neves, one of the few men with whom Frei Lothar was on terms of friendship.  Actually, a Guarnerius is not an imitation.  It is a refinement of a Stradavarius and much more resonant, appropriate for concert halls and with large orchestras, whereas Strads were for suited for chamber music.  Aided by inspiration the Partita came out quite well.  The  Barão continued on in the middle of the night.  Suddenly, the friar recalled the Brahms Double Concerto – what beauty! - and he modified one of the sections of the Partita with the violin part from that other work.  All was unease and sublimity in the Double Concerto.  He imagined himself surrounded by the orchestra, remembered his dreams of becoming a musician, and not a priest; he immersed himself in the concerto, hearing the cello and the entire big orchestra.  He saw full galleries from which triumph burst forth, the applause, all that far away from the Amazon, far away from death.  He was elevated by his daydream.  Why?  Nothing was left of the old mysticism.  Why?  He played Brahms plying his way through the Amazon forest.  Night was at its height and the Amazon sky suddenly became transparent and clear, covered with stars that sparkled, and everything appeared to him as of one nature, in a whole in which he did not exist but was integrated in a totality – and Frei Lothar stopped playing, ran to the ship's rail with tears in his eyes and suddenly saw, ecstatic, immensity and eternity appearing suddenly there before him, approaching and arriving to him, wide, entering through his eyes, his ears, and everything was one Immeasurable... - and he, one with it, eternal, gave a shout and felt incomprehensibly happy.


Ten: Lost


     Day was breaking when the Caxinauá woman arrived there.  Large shoals of sardines were passing under the liquid surface of the river.  She got to the lake across a splendid labyrinth of channels and bayous.  Stagnant waters, gloomy, lost crossing of sealed byways, the Quati lake in the middle of marshes on the penumbra of the low water line, channels going through branches, hidden.  Beyond, the horrible Mucura slough.

     Maria Caxinauá lived right on Fedegoso Point on Cuco Beach where they said Zequinha Bataillon had disappeared.  She would not leave that place since the disappearance of the boss's son.  They said she was expecting him to return.

     At that time Manixi plantation was in distress, unproductive.  Ferreira himself had not appeared there for two years and the headquarters, since the death of Captain João Beleza, was under the command of a certain Ribamar (d'Aguirre) de Souza, a native of Patos, Pernambuco, as related in the first chapter of this narrative.

     The Caxinauá woman advanced alone among the gigantic roots.  One could say lost, quiet among the large prehistoric trees, in the marsh, among water hyacinths, caimans, clumps of tonka bean trees, under murity palms, licania trees.  Her oar cut the water without a sound; the canoe glided along in the dead side of the world.

     She arrived at a clump of arum.  She caught sight of black vultures on high.  Under the fabric of the water fish could be seen, indolent, immersed in a dreamy sleep in the spillway of the lake.

     She was in no hurry.  She took off her clothes and entered into the water, in the heavy humidity, stepping on the smooth-stoned bottom, which she recognized by the end of the submerged white stone.

     Anyone who saw her would have seen a beautiful woman.  Her face, neck and shoulders blighted, burnt – the tortured skin, burnt in the Numa's attack.  But from her breast on down she was beautiful and unharmed.

     She glanced at the shores.  Her ancestors had lived there.  She was among her own there.  The Caxinauá loved to visit that historic site.  There was no trace of the past; the forest had triumphed.

     Suddenly she sensed danger.

     She felt at once that, from inside, deep in the brush, something menacing was approaching.  She knew it was coming very quickly – there had not been any indication of anything and she got out of the water in a flash.

     But it was too late: she was seized by enormous hands, enormous arms of a monstrous being, from behind, and she could smell the aroma of tonka bean and the strong warmth of that body; she knew immediately who it was, that she would be another one of the Paxiuba the Mules' victims.  She summed up the situation: one of the Mule's arms could break her neck, she was starting to suffocate, she understood his insurmountable, savage animal strength.  She remained motionless.  She let herself be lifted.  She knew what he wanted.  The monster's body trembled with pleasure, it was hot, desire grazed along the back side of the Indian woman, heaving like a dog.

     She saw that he would not leave her alive.  She knew she would get her revenge if she escaped alive.  But Paxiuba now tried other means, he tumbled over with her on the grass and, strangely, he took his pleasure, right there, howling while finishing himself off like a furious bull, sparing her.

      After he disappeared, as mysteriously as he had appeared, she fell into the water to wash off that venomous sticky fluid. 

    Eleven: Ribamar


     She – and I remember as if it were yesterday – did not like to have her nails done in the morning.  She preferred to have them painted in the afternoon, because in the morning, besides the flock of children, there was always a lot to do in that house.

     The manicurist, however, came early as she was all booked up in the afternoon (after all, it was not her day).  Sebastiana – Sabá Vintém, the manicurist was a black woman from Barbados, rather well-known in Manaus; she served all the society ladies with her impeccable work – she painted little flowers on the nails of the ladies and little hearts for the girls.  Thanks to her contacts, Sabá herself was a force to be reckoned with.  She knew all the scandals of the city, the intimate lives of all the families and because of this Sabá Vintém was the municipal megaphone: lovers, abortions, hidden pregnancies - she had a special knack for finding out everything, then discretely she added up fragments of overheard conversations in various houses, sewed and fit them together, like an attentive police detective.  She became valuable to the ladies of the house who let her talk at the price of a good tip; passing herself off as a silly woman, she made herself a confidante of all of them without irritating anyone.  She made whomever her present client was think that she was preferred and it was just to her that she confided what she knew.

     “For the love of God, Dona Diana,  I'm only talking because it's to you ...”

     So,  Sabá had no free time during the week.  She became prosperous with age.  She had lunch and dinner in the houses of ladies while amassing money for decades.


     Yes - she did not like to have her nails done in the morning.  Dona Maria de Abreu e Souza, young and pretty still, as I knew her, beautiful, elegant, lived on the Rua Barroso in a house whose backyard looked out on the Aterro Bayou.  That evening, Dona Maria was going to a birthday party and sent a black boy to summon Sabá to repair her nail polish and had already made an appointment at Mezzodi, the fashionable hair salon at the time.

     That was when there was a knock at the door.


     In those days the Amazon had changed.  The recession was great, but in Rio Branco there were 250,000 head of cattle, between thickets of fanwort, waterlilies and grasses - wealth luxuriating among marshes and swamps.

     No servant was near.  It was Dona Mariazinha herself who, solemnly rising from her chair, went to see who was at the door.

     “Good day, madame,” said a badly dressed caboclo, linen trousers, stiffly starched rough cotton shirt, straw hat on his head with his hand wrapped around a wooden travel bag.  The man took off his hat to speak to her.

     “Do you know where Seu Juca das Neves lives?”

     When Dona Maria saw him she stiffened but became courteous in her reply as that was how she treated those who were beneath her station.

     “Next door,” she said and returned sitting in front of the black woman, Sebastiana Vintém.

     She was the most refined, elegant and beautiful lady of the day, yes, it is as I, the narrator, am telling you.

     And that man was Ribamar (d'Aguirre) de Souza. 


Twelve: Manaus


     Juca das Neves was not in.  An old caboclo woman said to him:

     “He's at the Mercantile.”

     “Where's that?” Ribamar asked.

     The woman was startled.  How could there be anyone who didn't know where the Novelty Mercantile was, the famous store of Manaus?  But she replied:

     “There on the corner, on the Eduardo Ribeiro.”


     Ribamar descended the Rua Barroso.  He took the 24 de Maio through the shade of the mango trees that had been there for many years.  They were huge mango trees that provided a broad shade of clear green and which would be cut down fifty years later.


     Without father or mother, no relatives that he knew of - not even any friend nor anyone in this world - Ribamar went down the Rua 24 de Maio.  But instead of feeling alone, he felt light and open to the many possibilities of the city.  Everything inside of him said that he had set foot on that ground to emerge winner.

     One day, Maria Caxinauá said to him:

     “You should go to Manaus now ...”

     He did not say anything, but he knew she was right.  There was nothing more at Manixi and the Palácio where he was living was in ruins.  Maria Caxinauá recommended that he look up Ivete and Juca das Neves.  Within a week Ribamar left.


     But he was surprised by the nice street, as Manaus was lovely.  Quiet, deep in the stagnation of the economic crisis, forgotten, abandoned, but solemn.  The big and beautiful mansions, the air of art nouveau supremacy - Manaus was a kind of ghost town, a neglected mini-metropolis, beaten by the clarity of a splendidly brilliant sun  Its shine trickled along the calcite pebbles of the sidewalks.

     Ribamar proceeded slowly, he passed by the chapel of Saint Rita - a place so very sacred, which no longer exists.  The street was deserted.  All the houses had the windows and door shut.  But it was a lovely place, clean.  It recalled Paris.

     He felt happy as is it was the beginning of his conquest.  Manaus in decay seemed to him something he could reanimate and that he would love.

     The last of the employees of the Novelty Mercantile left the city to try his luck in São Paulo, so the job was his.  The Mercantile, however, was nearly going out of business.  Ribamar would receive little, would work as a porter, sales clerk, secretary in exchange for room and board.

     That same night after dinner, the boss chatted with him.  Ribamar told him his life's story, how he did not know his father, how his brother and uncle Genaro has died in the attack of the Numa.  And told him more.  Talked about Rio Jantiatuba, the Pixuna plantation, the Alfredo.  Of the Rio Eriu, the Rio Gregorio, of Mu, of the Arrependida Slough, the Leonel Rivulet, the Tejo, the Breu, the Corumbam Bayou, the magnificent, the Hudson, the Pixuna Slough, the Moa, the Numa Slough, the little Juruá, the Ouro Preto Slough, the Paraná das Minas, the Amônea.  He lingered over talking about the Numa Slough, Hell's Bayou, the Pixuna and the tapper agents of the Ramos.

     Juca das Neves rambled on about his illnesses and his misfortune.   



Thirteen: Conversations



     “Good Evening,” is what Father Pereira said upon stepping into the room where Commander Gabriel Gonçalves da Cunha, who was playing chess, awaited him.

     The Commander lifted his eyes from the chess board and stared at him.

     Gabriel was still a strong, thin and elegant man.  He always wore white linen suits that matched his silver-colored hair.  He pointed out a chair, facing him, where the Padre sat down.

     Gabriel had been playing chess alone.  The two remained in silence for a while as if they were thinking what they would say.  They could hear sounds from the kitchen, the steps of someone in the next room, street noises.

     A maid entered and the Commander handed her the chess board which she took carefully so the game was not disturbed.

     The heat in the room was mild, large mosquitoes buzzed around.  Modest furniture.  Exquisite.  Modern.

     “And our man?” the Commander asked.  That was the topic of the visit, then.  Father Pereira, very reluctantly, had asked to meet with the Commander on a delicate matter.  Gabriel accepted, inviting him to dinner.  They would have an opportunity to chat.

     “A little better,” the Padre answered.  “It seems some orders came in from the interior and he managed to sell something.”

     “Wrong!” the Commander yelled at him gruffly.  “You know nothing!”

     The Commander never lost his Portuguese accent despite having been in the Amazon for decades.

     “Juca das Neves' debts amount to more than his inheritance!”

     A few days ago Padre Pereira had heard this sentence from Juca das Neves: “ Only you can save me”.

     “How?” the priest asked.

     “Speak to the Commander.”

     Juca das Neves had been a great friend of Pierre Bataillon.

     When Zequinha disappeared, Juca das Neves ordered them to look for him out in the jungle.  His envoy, Raimundo Bezerra, organized an expedition.  They left from Praia do Cuco with two guides, looking for the place to which the Numa had carried off the rich and powerful youth.

     The rumor was that Zequinha had arrived at the Praia do Cuco in a canoe to meet a Numa girl who was his sweetheart and that in company of the entire Numa nation left from there with her in an undetermined direction, vanishing into the jungle with the whole retinue to get married in the village.  Everyone said that he went of his own will and, because of that, it would be totally impossible to look for him as they were doing.

     In spite of that, however, they searched for nearly ten years in vain – later, to give him up for dead.  His case was listed among other disappearances of persons and even whole ships, like the Presidente do Pará, in 1896, the Jonas, on the Uerê Lake, the Japurá 517 miles from Juruá, the Tocatins at the mouth of the Cobio Bayou in 1900, or the Ituxi  in the Mixirire overflow in 1897, or the Douro in some place in 1900, the Leopoldo de Bulhões returning from the Encarnado in 1897, or even the Herman, the São Martinho, the Alagoas – and many other ships that disappeared in the Amazon, as if they had not shipwrecked but simply vanished, bewitched, no one having any news of them again or of any of their crews.


Smoke from lamps, which cast a yellowish light, impregnated the room.  The exotic atmosphere combined two cultural phases, art nouveau with the up-to-date style which was starting to emerge from modernity in the industrial production of North America.  It was a room with very high walls, it had a set of striped armchairs, an antique chest of drawers.  And an R.C.A. Victrola.

     “Juca das Neves will not get out of this,” the Commander said cruelly to the priest seated opposite him.  “He will fail.  He is broke … finished!”

     “It so happens that he is ill...” Padre Pereira started to say.

     Padre Pereira was there on a mission to appeal to the Commander.  He knew his mission was impossible; the Commander was cold, logical.  During all these years the Padre had received much money from Juca das Neves for the orphanage.  Now it was incumbent upon him, at the very least, to do something in his favor.

     “Ill, you say?” asked the Commander who was the biggest creditor of Juca das Neves.  In spite of considering that money lost, it was always unpleasant to know that someone was going to die without repaying, a surprise, a discourtesy.  The Commander became even more irritated.  “What does he have?” he asked.

     “I don't know exactly,” the Padre said evasively.  “It seems that the situation of the company is ending with him ...”

     “And his daughter?” the Commander rebutted.

     This was the reply Padre Pereira did not expect to hear.  The priest's look became severe; the old man looked like

he was reprimanding him to have asked such a question, and it was with the most melancholy air that he answered:

     “As always!  Juca ...”  the priest started, trying to change the subject.  Gabriel cut him off:

     “A bitch in heat.”  The eyes of the Commander glowed in the darkness.

     “Yes,” the padre responded with a restrained voice.  Losing control of himself, he added, as if he were recriminating on high, imploring the heavens:

     “ The worst is that her father has no authority over her; he is dominated by her!”

     At that exact moment Juca das Neves' case was irremediably lost.

     “And her mother, as you know, is a neurotic, she does nothing, knows nothing.”

     Dona Constança was the mother.

     “The child has gone astray ...” the Padre said lamenting.

     “And the father is broke!” old Gabriel added, victoriously.  “Fiery whore!  But she's a pretty one, yes indeed.”

     The priest turned away as if to parry the insult.

     “To complicate things,” Padre Pereira added, “Juca das Neves has taken a man into his house...”

     “A man?”

     “Yes.  A young man from the interior.  Shrewd and well-mannered.  He is living there and works now at the Mercantile.  His name is Ribamar.”


Fourteen: The Fan


     That same night Ribamar moved into the basement.  He found the Mercantile abandoned and during the entire day he was there, no business was transacted.  It was as if a plague had descended upon Manaus.  The crisis was evident in that hot silence, the moribund lights at sunset, the extinction of the capitalist heyday.  The Amazon was left without 80% of its economy, a lifeless, sterile desert on a flood plain in a crisis that would last a half century.  Rich families left for Paris and Lisbon.  Those who remained were nearly dead.  Colossal fortunes were reduced to dust.  Maurice Samuel, one of the rich men, even lost the furniture in his house, pawned, and moved to a small rental house in the Silva Ramos.  Jewelry was sold at any price.  Women became widows and turned to sewing to survive.  Capital vanished.  Everything solid dissolved into thin air and toppled like a house of cards.  The Teatro Amazonas was abandoned, becoming a depot for old rubber.  What was left was very little, but it was what I loved the most.


      Dona Constança had been brought up as an air-head baby doll.  She overdid it and became mad.  Very thin, petite, nervous, after her beauty was gone, she seemed like a witch, an ogress; she had a pale face right in the center of which was a curved nose and the straight knife line of a mouth, when open a fine gash without lips.  Her big eyes blinked constantly, without pause.  Dona Constança shook her fan as if burning with an internal fire.  She had a very bad temperament.  A person only needed to turn their back on her and she started her retaliation.  A thin voice, a viper's tongue.  A look flashing hate.  People of the lower classes were “riffraff”; they did not exist.  Pedro Alonso, on the day he was ousted as Inspector of the Treasury, was cut from her dinner list when he had already left his house (he found out on his way there).   She was the arbiter of society: one day Aristides Lourenço, a person she never greeted, found in his hands an unexpected invitation after he was elected to the City Council.  Dona Constança, full of friendliness during his entire term, turned her back on him when he was not reelected and returned to the humble position of editor of the Official Press,  Dona Constança discriminated openly, without pretense.

     She never had a woman friend.     She started talking about all of them as soon as she shut the door to the street.  She talked to Juca das Neves; she spoke very rapidly, her voice nervous, thin, anxious.  She spent hour upon hour gossiping, slandering, hiding behind doors to listen, peeking through windows to spy.  She embellished her stories about people from her imagination, nurturing a hate for everyone that infected her entire being.  She was even capable of going out of her way for the pleasure of “being in the know”.  Her face then lit up, her eyes sparkled, she was overjoyed.   “Doooon't tell me, dear...”.   News kept her alive.   It tortured her if she did not have the latest gossip, she hired people to find out for her - “I must know, I swear I'll find out” - her life depended on information, such that they said Juca das Neves was half deaf because of her thin and incessant voice, which injured his eardrums with its cruel timbre concealed in the little voice of a defenseless child.  And during lunch  Dona Constança talked without interruption, not pausing for breath as if words were burning her mouth, a metallic ratatatat, talking about other people's lives, fanning herself frenetically, talking and fanning herself, talking next to her husband, whispering in his ear, nudging him below the table if someone was coming and fanning herself; she was gracious and well-mannered.  Fan and  gossipy babble  reached their greatest splendor in the petite and delicate Dona Constança!

     She became worse as she got older.  She started talking and fanning herself alone seated in her rocking chair  where she talked and fanned herself late into the night.     And talking alone, talking, fanning herself, fanning, her eyes staring, a characteristic of hers, at the “tail of the eye”, she called it, not looking at anything straight on, not looking anyone in the eye, but with her glance fixed to the side and the edges of the eyeballs as if she was constantly looking to see or hear something happening on the side and beyond, a glance frozen in hate, and I remember her to this day seated thus, looking off to the side and beyond as if she were surrounded by enemies, fanning herself frenetically and talking anxiously, speaking ill of imaginary people, of people who had been dead for a long time; lonely, forgotten... 


Fifteen: The Bookstore


It was a windowless room under the staircase and inside it felt very hot, humid and moldy.

A luxury for Ribamar. For a decade, the very tidy Benedita, an old employee, now deceased, of Juca das Neves had lived in that room. But on the moldy wall the humidity has enlarged two brown spots. Ribamar set up his hammock and lay down. He could exit without being seen by others in the house through a side hallway. On the second floor, to which he would move later, the Melina's piano was heard. Juca das Neves had already retired. That day Ribamar became acquainted with the Hotel Cassina, in decline, later transformed into the Cabaré Chinelo. He found the Alcazar and the Royal Bookstore at Rua Municipal 85, where works of popular authors - Garcia Redondo, João Grave, Júlio Brandão and Bento Carqueja - were on display. A book by Carmen Dolores was there and another by Haeckel. There were panegyrics and light reading. The “People's Library”, the “Rationalist's Library”. Village Night Work by João de Lemos. One book was called Happy Look by Alfredo de Mesquita and had been a bestseller. It cost 50 reis. Juca das Neves had a part of Pierre Bataillon's library at home. Melina did not play badly. Ribamar remembered Pierre Bataillon playing Schubert. Ribamar passed by the door of the London Bank. Smooth launches could have entered the door of the bank building. When she was a servant, Ivete went around half naked. Ribamar was astonished to meet her now, a great lady married to Antonio Ferreira.  


Sixteen: Benito


     Conspicuous, drunk, leaning on the counter of the Bacurau Bar at the beginning of João Coelho Street, master Benito Botelho, discoursing, supercilious, resembling most that representative of Brazilian modernism Mario de Andrade, was at the head of an animated conversation about one of the subjects of his main preoccupation: the disappearance of the son of Pierre Bataillon in the depths of the Amazon forest.  Benito had speculated and investigated and on that very day published an article concerning it.  He was 37 years old at the time.  Thin, pale, poorly dressed, drinking and smoking to excess, he had rotten teeth, a large and yellow head, mostly bald with already graying, curly hair.  Big, lively, shining, mordant eyes were the only trace of his once handsomeness.  Being a man of irony, bringing venomous insinuation and certainty against the powers that be and the mean, conservative milieu in which he lived, had made him no more than the lowliest proofreader of the Amazonas Comercial.  But poet and polyglot, he read and spoke French, English, German and Italian, besides having a solid knowledge of Greek and Latin.  Self-taught.  Library employee Dona Estella Souza said that he had now read everything in the Amazon State Public Library.  Conversant with the two worlds, his mastery went from philosophy to literature, from history to philology.  He could recite almost the whole of the Divine Comedy and the ocean of his photographic memory enabled him to cite, in various languages, his favorite authors, some with full references – page, publisher, city and date.  That had never been seen before.

     The scum of Manaus society came together at the Bacurau.  There were fishermen, police, queers, poets, prostitutes, communists, fishmongers, musicians and the group from the Gregório de Matos Satire Club who made life hell for the Madrugada Club.  Mirandinha always appeared at dawn to conduct Leonildo Calaça, a big, mature caboclo with a voice of renown.  Calixto Dinis, an uncouth and introverted little poet appeared.  Old women came by looking for companionship, food and cachaça.  The great poet Lopes left early.  But the whole ambience smelled of fish, obscenity and murupi pepper.

     Benito questioned, argued and described the whereabouts of Zequinha Bataillon.  The boy had been his childhood companion; Benito grew up at Manixi, he had seen the Caxinauá, Maria, the Mule, the Myth.  Oh, Benito!  A sage and scholar!  Unfortunately he scorned and was scorned by all.  He was despised!  Irreverent, loose tongued, ironic, savage, irritating.  A perpetual drunk, every night, as always.  Expelled from the State College.  He was unrecognized.  In the city the belletrists, the Academy barons, men of letters, jurists with glasses on their noses and impeccable overcoats, doctors, counsellors, magistrates and judges pontificated.  Benito was not taken seriously with his penchant for vulgarity.  But he was talked about in academic circles.  Retalitorily.

     At first Benito lived with Frei Lothar who taught him German.  Then, at the orphanage of  Padre Pereira who wanted him to become a priest.  He was expelled from there at age 17.  Then, he lived with aunt Eudócia who sold flowers and coconut candy on the Remédios Beach, artificial flowers which she learned to make as a girl in the house of her ex-mistress.  Benito joined the Communist Party.  He did everything at Amazonas Comercial: he was typographer, proofreader and reporter.  He wrote articles that were very advanced for his time; they came out when the newspaper did not have any material to fill in empty spaces.  Benito wrote them very quickly, sometimes even at the linotype machine from which the text emerged almost without errors.  He had the article in his head and knew his references by heart.

      Eudócia's house was a straw shack on the edge of the Sete Cacimbas Bayou.  When the river rose, water splashed on the door sill.  Two rooms without lighting, no running water, the bathroom a ditch.  The main room - as it was called - was office, library, alcove and kitchen all in one.  Aunt Eudócia slept in the bedroom.  Dirt floor, hardened clay.  A type of general use table where they ate between piles of books.  An enormous armoire without doors transformed into a bookshelf, books heaped up and lying on their sides.  This piece of furniture, a legacy of Eudócia's ex-mistress, was about 2 meters square and contained about two thousand books in several languages.  His whole life, miserably there.  At five in the morning Eudócia left in the direction of the Stairway Market of Remédios Beach.  Benito spent his mornings in bed, afternoons at the Municipal Library, where he was often the only patron.  In the evening he worked at the newspaper, the brothels and sordid bars.  The Municipal Library had a valuable collection.  The two thousand books in Benito's wardrobe were considered by his students (as I was one) to be the most important in the history of human culture: from Homer to Machado, from Parmenides to Marx.  Benito only read serious literature, ancient and modern.  People could not understand how he remained lucid, drunk that he was.  A photographic memory and instantaneous intelligence.

     In the Typographical, Historical, Descriptive Dictionary of the District of the Upper Amazon, authored by Navy Lieutenant Lourenço Amazonas, published in Recife in 1852, Manaus was a city “on a gentle and pleasant hill” that consisted of a public square and 16 streets “yet to be paved and illuminated”, houses covered in tiles with “900 whites, 2,500 half-breed Indians, 4,070 natives, 640 mestizos and 380 slaves”, a population “which spends part of the day in baths provided by the lakes and beaches”.  When the rubber merchant Manuel dos Santos Braga arrived from Portugal in 1877, however, Manaus was already modern, just 20 years later.

     Dona Maria José was already up in years when she hired Eudócia to help in the kitchen.  Aunt Eudócia did not like Benito, who was a moral obligation for her, a duty at the end of her life.  Eudócia was unmarried as were all servants at that time, and very tiny, visibly thin, cheery.  She smiled with an expression of thousands of wrinkles of her face - her big eyes, a suffering, wide forehead.  She worked until quite late.  Dona Maria José liked her service, her cleanliness, honesty, silence, respect; she worked as if it were a religious rite, perfect and anonymous.  The mistress wanted to take her to Portugal when she left, but Eudócia did not want to go and she went on to live off of coconut candy and paper flowers that she sold at the edge of the tapioca porridge table of Godmother Lula.  No.  Eudócia really did not hate Benito, but could not love him nor be happy to see him; but tired and old as she was, she had to support him from then on - the boy never earned any money to help the household, though she felt pride having him and knew that he loved her in his own way.

     Benito used up the little money he earned at the Amazonas Comercial buying books and booze.  He even had to ask  Eudócia to lend him money for the “Flores” streetcar.  Long spells unemployed, reading and writing without leaving the house.  Would she be better without him?  Before him, she had managed to save some money that he gradually spent by simply existing.  She increased her workload.  Benito was a researcher, a thinker and knew nothing more.  Submerged in his internal world from which he only emerged drunk (and he had to drink to endure Manaus and other people) he would not have survived without her.  A born contrarian, hated by the powers that be, Benito, personally unbearable, did not forgive anyone's mediocrity; he had not managed to get the job at the Municipal Library that he set his heart on.  His was the only voice of opposition in that flattering, self-congratulatory, servile, laughable and patriarchal society.  And he never loved anyone, nor knew any woman other than the prostitutes of Frei José dos Inocentes Street to whom he went when he was already quite drunk.  Benito was the enemy of the elite to whom Eudócia was ally and slave – because of that, however, and being grateful toward her patroness whom she considered a saint, she did not understand her nephew's hatred, a hatred of which she was a victim.


Seventeen: The Street of Flowers


     Conchita del Carmen presumed the man would turn back.

     There was no one in the  street.  A narrow street, in the Vila de Transvaal, sloping.  Plants and flowers in exuberance.  The Rio Jordão, which ran through the town at the end of the descent.  On the sidewalk two cats were licking themselves.  Conchita, sitting in a rocking chair, was watching the man and filing her nails.  Fernandinho de Bará smiled nervously at her when the man turned around.  Fernandinho was standing beside her under some begonias.  Before the man turned around, distracted, examining her nails, a French magazine fallen on her lap, Conchita del Carmen had not observed him closely.  She was a fat woman, very fat and very sexy.

     Fernandinho de Bará was a middle-aged transvestite.  She began her life there as a housekeeper, hired by the owner, Pedrosa the Turk, whose lover she was in the early days.  De Bará was then a young and pretty girl, solid legs and easy smile, a light-colored Indian.  Discreet.  Timid.  Gentle.  Pedrosa, an associate of the mayor, a thin man, bald with a bushy mustache, was with her ever since she arrived from Celismar on the Embira River, expressly to this place famous in the whole Amazon - she had run away from her father who wanted to kill her when he found her out.  The scandal in the Vila de Celismar made her famous.

     When she arrived, young, De Bará personified cheerfulness.  Very strong, a dancer, electric, splendid feminine body, helpful and loyal, amiable and neat.  She cleaned up the Street of Flowers with the energy of ten men.  Madam's house was the envy of the street.  In a few hours De Bará, alone, could clean all the rooms like a whirlwind.  She never tired, she worked the whole day from early morning and spent the evening frolicking in her feminine luster. Streets ornamented with flowers that she cultivated in made-over houses.  The former Street of Old Women became the Street of Flowers under her reign.  With the wisdom gained only from his experience, the river peddler Saraiva had advised the young woman to seek out a living in Transvaal.

     Fernandinho proved to be worth an entire city hall.  She transformed Transvaal into a tourist destination, vernal and poetic, a model, the most beautiful in the region in my (the Narrator's) mind - vases and beds of flowers on the sidewalk, along the curbs, in window sills, at the entrances of houses.  She was the unmatched landscape architect of the Amazon, the first to use tropical foliage as an element of urban decoration.  It was a monument to green!  The Street of Flowers was really the most beautiful city garden that I had ever seen in the whole history of the Amazon with colored flowers and plants of the region - caladiums, tropical vines, arums, leguminous plants, heisterias, peperomias, passion flowers and belladonna, crinums, palm plants and even ornamental banana plants – a natural talent for gardening.

      De Bará alone reigned over her decorative work for decades.  If she had been born in a great cultural center,  De Bará would certainly have been a plastic artist, a couturier, a set designer, an interior decorator.  As she had had no model or school, everything came out of her futurist imagination.  Fernandinho de Bará painted the doors and windows of the Street of Flowers golden yellow, cobalt blue, dark violet blue, antique red, emerald jewel green - according to the mixture and combination of colors that the inhabitants inspired in her, like mandarins, or maybe birds, country women in a strange family of green or pink.  Over transoms she painted flowers or motifs, long-life mushrooms, ducks in a landscape, mythical knights - rough to be sure, but which became transformed into aphrodisiac stained glass on the walls of slate houses covered with an always recent layer of whitewash with robust gesso in a thick paste, a virgin layer garnished with silver.  An unimaginable luxury.  Whoever went to the Street of Flowers never forgot it: palatial, polished wooden floors, with throw rugs of colored patchwork - oh, that place: purity of caboclo perfection and art, magical, with saints in niches, framed figures of Our Lady of Grace.  The place was domestic - a holy fairy she was! - and frequented by gentlemen above suspicion, respectable men from the town and its surroundings, travelers - all got together at night for profitable conversation with the women, general and instructive chats, drinking a bottle of XPTO and confiding in their favorites.  A place of rest and relaxation, safe and quiet.  Domestic.  And also towards morning the beardless students from the public school appeared, playing truant to get exercise in practiced brawls.

     Conchita del Carmen was ever the madam of the Street of Flowers.  Perhaps you are wondering what the Street of Flowers has to do with this story.  You will see.

     But Conchita did not believe what she was seeing almost in front of her.  Fernandinho, always attentive to that kind of observation, called her attention to the one whom she had never been seen before as.  In spite of her years, De Bará had never lost her sense of curiosity from the explosive and glorious early times.  That was true, indeed.

     He was a tall and dark fellow, a monstrously enormous a fortress of muscles and limbs, half Indian, half Negro, badly dressed and barefoot.  He was, however, in a certain sense, appealing.

     Conchita del Carmen was still living in her dream of the son of the legendary Colonel Pierre Bataillon, who had been the opposite of the one now standing before her.  Zequinha had been gentle, courteous, childlike and sensual.  The fame by which he was glorified as the greatest fortune that was ever seen in the whole history of the Amazon transformed him into a mythical being – so, Zequinha was the most handsome young man that Conchita del Carmen had ever known.  One day he just appeared: elegant manners, a young gallant, he did not wake in her love at first sight, no.  When she saw him for the first time she was frightened - the fear that powerful men awoke in her.  After that she was astounded.  Only on the next day she was in love.  But it was late.  She would have given her life for him, be his slave in return for nothing, she would have followed him beyond the ends of the forest in which he had hid away and was lost forever.

     She had already attempted to follow him, with all her weight and broadside in a caravan of women, in canoes, into the mists of Hell's Bayou, in search of the younger Bataillon Colonel.

     Zequinha was her Prince Charming.  He treated her like a court lady.  Oh, she would have been capable of anything!  Zequinha appeared only once and stayed with her whom he had chosen above all others.  He behaved as if she were a queen, attentively and gently.  He cuddled at her breast,  a defenseless child, with delicate love during the night that passed with sweet nothings and tenderness in his Frenchified Portuguese.  Seated on her lap, naked, he reached his arms to her neck and spoke very close to her, in her ear - feeling his breath on her, she grasped his tanned body, caressing his dark and smooth hair, gazing at his eyes that shone with a kind, intelligent and sad expression.

     No - she was not going to pride herself, through vanity, to have been held in the arms of the Prince of the Amazon, master of the world, accustomed to life in a European capital, living in the palace of a king, in gold and luxury.

     And that was not all.

     After having spent the night with her in amorous conviviality, at dawn the prince gave her a present.  A curious thing and worthy of telling.  Zequinha sent to wake up the man - whose name I do not wish to recall - who was the District Judge, Mayor, Chief of Police and owner of the only store in Transvaal and, not even discussing the price, right then and there bought for Conchita del Carmen the famous Street of Flowers, which had had Pedrosa as a partner.  The transaction done, so say the gossips, Zequinha in his shorts ordered the Judge to draw up the papers in that very room and go receive payment in cash at Manixi.

     The following year Conchita del Carmen got bigger - as she was pregnant.  So, the following year she had a son - Maneco Bastos, a genuine Bataillon.

     That monster of a man was the opposite of him who was her lost prince.  Rich, powerful, Conchita did not need to work.  She was disgusted at the sight of him.  The monster was moving away towards the end of the slope of the Street of Flowers, his hat that he tipped to them in his hand.  He had come from the Rio Jordão.

     But he turned around.

     He was returning!  He passed in review the doors of the houses.  As it was morning, they were sleeping.  Every bit the Mule.  Then … he decided on her.

     Women at that time had dignity.  They enticed before giving in, which increased their value.  Not so gallant, accustomed to ravishment, the men saw themselves worthy by desiring something more difficult, as what was offered easily did not merit consideration.  The women, as ladies to be respected, affected a sultry look, pouting lips and a certain offended air of timorous, fleeing gazelles.  That was part of the game of love, the etiquette.  Ladies were requested first, gentlemen were rejected later.  The men regained a conquering role, an easy woman was an offense; the woman was the desired one which granted her favors as a concession.  The man had to conquer, show himself capable.

     And so it was.

     But Conchita did not feel herself flattered by that courtesy, it was something other than that.  Obese, Conchita was still magnetic, she made her entire body desirable.  She lived in delight.  Especially now, in voluntary abstinence.  She would not lack customers if she had wanted them.  But she had retired.  It was impossible to say how old she was.  Made up, hair tied in a knot on the nape of her neck, a red flower on her bosom, crimson lips, her fat visible through her pink dress as well as her girdle, enormous legs, very plump, feet thrust into slippers with red fur pompoms – no, she was not ugly.

     But men did not want her.  Just an Indian among them – he looked like an assassin, a bad lot, with whom it would do to deploy an amiable, but firm, evasive discourse.  She knew well he was an outlaw.

     The man was coming closer.

     Half-blushing, as it befitted treating a lady, he came saying his hellos.

     Seeing the man up close was when De Bará cried out,

     “Dona Conchita, it's Paxiúba from Manixi.”

     Magic words.

     Suddenly before her appeared the companion of her lost prince.  Paxiúba was the confidant of Zequinha, slept in his bed, brought up with him from infancy, adored him, like a dog.  He, the protector, would kill for his master - the guardian angel of her great love.  Paxiúba here, at her arm's reach.  She had never seen him before but always knew of him.  Paxiúba did not frequent brothels.  He was aged but still a wild bull – and by a swift, immediate process, as a contagion, a lightning flash, she was smitten.  That body had rubbed against the body of her Lover.  For years on end, the two had had an Indian friendship, a type of quasi homosexual liaison, Paxiúba combing the boy, picking lice from his hair, sleeping in contact with him, each pressed together into the body of the other as if they were lovers.  Paxiúba bathed him in the bayous.  At once that enormous and imposing body came to be for her a negative enlargement of the other one, a monument of the one who had disappeared and she was infatuated at that instant and remained so.

     The Street of Flowers perhaps had been one of the most safe places in the Amazon.  No one was talked about there, an implicit law dictated that what another person did was not seen.  The fact of being there was considered a natural thing.  Because of this everyone felt at ease as if they were in their own homes, free from blame, without consideration of the value of their actions - I would remind, within the norms of respectful and harmonious familiarity.  For example, one did not speak loudly.  And getting drunk was not permitted.  The Street of Flowers, so antiquated - it would function for decades – succeeded in imposing proper conduct on its visitors.  It was the custom not to greet anyone, to betray acquaintance.  A relief for the burghers who frequented it.  Like no one would be capable of asking: “Going already?” when it was time to leave.  No one expected to meet a relative or acquaintance there.  Mainly because few - only travelers - circulated freely through the entire street.

     Clearly there were always those who arrived there in triumph as if saying to themselves: “I'm here, girls!”, flaunting their being there as major and public proof of their existence and masculinity.  The majority, however, assiduous clients, appeared discretely, on the sly, in escapades of everyday informality – some with aversion stamped on their face, fear of being recognized coming with heads lowered, hats down, rapid footsteps, hiding while penetrating those familiar doors that were quickly closed.  So the Judge, the sons of Dona Consuelo, the seminarians from the Ponte or the vicar himself, who appeared at dawn, before mass, when the streets were still deserted.

     At closing time, the distress of some gentlemen increased.  Then, relieved by the competent professionalism at work, they were not so boisterous as they returned to the contrition and guilt of fathers and grandfathers of families, venerable persons that the city knew how to respect.  Because of this, when those customers ended exercising their functions, Fernandinho de Bará went to see if the street was clear and cast a glance around the corner.  And those gentlemen dispersed, nervous as if they had carried out some horrendous crime or were fleeing from the flames of hell.


Eighteen: Encounter


      It was a dark and rainy night cut through by flashes of lightning.  The street was unlit and there was only wind on wet roofs.  The eyes of the man would have difficulty finding his way.  He was crossing the Educandos Bridge stepping in puddles of water.

     He entered the Chalet in the middle of the Heliodor Balbi Square, ordered a cognac, drank it and disappeared under his umbrella toward the Bridge.  In his head only thoughts of doubt and apprehension.

     Crossing the Bridge he went down a narrow road to another wooden bridge in the middle of which he was expecting to meet someone and lit a cigarette.  The little flame cast a yellow light into the air, as a signal, a distant beacon.  From there he saw the outline of the city from afar, empty, dead, aged.  The rain became less intense.  Benito Botelho waited for some time, then moved forward.  The minuscule ember of the cigarette below the umbrella was certainly visible to the one he was waiting to meet.

     Earlier he had been correcting proofs when someone tapped on the window pane at the side outside the back windows of the office of the Amazonas Comercial.  Just he and Margarido the linotypist were there.  Benito interrupted his work and went to look, but when he got to the window he could barely make out the fleeing shape of an old Indian woman in the dark; she spoke to him quickly.  She said something to him and disappeared.

    When Benito could no longer see her, he returned to his desk and, apprehensive, he put out his cigarette, opened the drawer from which he took out a revolver, which he put into the pocket of his coat, and left in the pouring rain towards the Bayou of Apprentice Craftsmen.

     He came to the plank bridge that the woman had indicated, the passageway over the bayou connecting an island to the mainland where there was the Gloria Bridge that crossed the Remedios Bayou.  The rain was dying down but the plank bridge that Benito used to cross over was still wet.

     Then, growing larger as it approached, the figure of an old, black caboclo, sinister, tall, smelling of tonka bean and urine, bent and monstrous, emerged like an armed demon, bellowing like a wild beast.

     Benito shot him in the middle of the chest, killing him.  Yes, Benito killed him.  The dead man was Paxiúba, the Mule.

     A week later Benito went up the River Jordão and entered Hell's Bayou.  For hours the motor boat navigated the bayou, cruising along the shores where at another time the wealth of rubber was to be found.  This region had been depopulated for decades.  Intersecting with vines, thorns and marshes, it was as if the boat was asking permission to penetrate the forest full of the cries of unknown birds.  An unusual silence awaited them – Benito and the men of the first expedition in search of Colonel Zequinha Bataillon that the newspaper Amazonas Comercial organized.  Abraham Gadelha was convinced that a successful result would give him political advantages.

     Suddenly, the silence was broken by a scream: the caboclo Jutai had his mouth open as if he would vomit.  He fell into the water and everyone started firing in all directions without knowing where the arrow had come from.

     Thus ended Benito Botelho's first expedition.  They returned from there firing at random without seeing anything in the bush.  Their descent was swift due to the current.

     “We could not have gone on,” Benito said in an aside to Gadelha, “we would have needed a regular army ...”.

     But Benito kept working in other ways to discover what had happened with Zequinha.  In the series of articles he wrote (all made use of here), he reconstructed the apogee of the Manixi rubber plantation.  Listened to testimonials, consulted newspapers.  


Nineteen: Mystery


     It was impossible to save the Novelty Mercantile of which only old furniture remained, out-of-style luxury.  In spite of everything, Ribamar opened the store every day.  The owner did not show up so as not to be humiliated by his creditors.  Weakened, prostrate, almost always drunk, he hid at home as if imprisoned by illness.  By and by Juca das Neves grew old.  Was he a ruined man?  Money for food began to become scarce.  He sold objects and jewelry so he could go to the market.  On the day that one of the bills which he could not settle became due, he sank into bed in anticipation of death.

     But Ribamar appeared at the threshold of his door.

     Ribamar had not opened the Novelty Mercantile that day.  He was already living with someone whom you will finally see entering this work of mine - Diana Dartigues.  But for the time being I will leave her in peace.  Diana was quite a bit younger than he was.

     He worked there for years hardly receiving any remuneration.  Ribamar, however, was a frightfully quick learner and quickly understood the company's situation.  Juca das Neves could confide in him - in part because he was the only one.  As a sign of friendship he gave him a room in the upper part of the house, a comfortable apartment with two windows opening on the garden.  But Ribamar almost never slept there since he was already acquainted with the mysterious Diana Dartigues, about whom no one knew who she was or where she came from.  She rented a small house in the Vila Municipal, a house that had belonged to the director of the Manaus Harbour, Baron Rymkiewicz, when he arrived there in 1900.  Certainly Diana was paying the rent.  Ribamar was no longer the same.  Elegant, natty and well-groomed, he was changing into the man that people would come to know as an older man.  He wore the best clothes and inherited suits from Juca das Neves, who was the same size as the young man.  Ribamar was seen in a collection of expensive coats, English H.J., silk shirts with stiff collars.  Juca das Neves had been very rich; he ordered his clothing from the best European couturiers.  When Juca das Neves returned from Paris he brought an entire Parisian collection with him.  He was more vain than his wife and daughter.  He had a wardrobe that would dress ten men.  But he became fat, didn't work and lived on booze.  Juca das Neves saw misery as a concrete reality.  He only opened up with Ribamar - Dona Constança, already completely mad, could not comfort him.

     “Tell me, my good Juca.  How much are your houses on Rua Frei Jose dos Inocentes worth?”

     “Nothing, my son,” replied the old man, tiredly.  They're old houses, mortgaged ...”

     Ribamar went toward the bed and sat down in a chair nearby.  He lit a cigarette.  He was strangely calm.  He was strangely confident.  He started to speak.

    Their conversation was leisurely.  At first Juca das Neves listened lying down, like a dead man.  Then, he was sitting up.  He put his foot out of the bed.  Then he was sitting on the edge of the bed, he stood up and walked around the room from one side to the other.  Following that, he started getting dressed - and lastly he left with the young man, he was someone else!  He was a changed man!  Another man entirely.

     What was deduced from that conversation and became known was that Ribamar managed to have the debts put off and the next day he, Ribamar, traveled to Transvaal to the Street of Flowers, which was for sale, and he went to make a proposition in person to Dona Conchita del Carmen to bring the women from there to the city of Manaus, to the houses on Rua Frei José dos Inocentes, where they would be lodged.  In short, Ribamar was about to enter upon the biggest enterprise in the history of the Amazon crisis and the only profitable one, which would prosper from then on, mainly because it had the support of the Gonçalves da Cunha family, Commander Gabriel, then governor who would give police protection.  Juca das Neves committed to settle his debts when the establishment was up and running.

     Antonio Ferreira, the ally of old Gabriel, sealed the contract himself.  For Ferreira it was better to wait and see, rather than lose everything, since nothing Juca das Neves owned could be sold and everything was pledged to the London Bank.  The bills were substitued with other bills payable in five years.  The mystery was finding out how Ribamar arranged so much money.  Clearly it came from Diana Dartigues.

     After a few years Ribamar de Souza would not only pay off the debts of the business but start to get the houses from hock, not only those on Rua Frei José dos Inocentes, but also the one on Rua Barroso and even the building of the Warehouse, which had remained closed all this time.  Ribamar, with the help of Juca das Neves, modernized the Novelty Warehouse and began carrying various North American products, like Singer sewing machines - enormously popular.  Ribamar expanded his operations and started to threaten the commercial empire of the powerful  Gonçalves da Cunha family and his ex-son-in-law Antonio Ferreira.  It was then that Ribamar finally got married - in a discrete, but elegant ceremony - to Diana Dartigues.

     Years later Ribamar de Souza was mentioned in connection with one of the most solid fortunes of Manaus and a political enemy of Commander Gabriel and his ex-son-in-law.  The elder Gabriel lost his prestige in the Federal Capital.  There was a mystery involving the origin of Ribamar's power that no one could quite figure out.  I don't know if you remember the figure of Diana Dartigues.  Tall, thin, elegant, Diana had a small oval head on which her long, sleek, black and shiny hair fell.  She had a dark complexion, almond-shaped eyes, a long and straight neck, fine, long hands.  You couldn't say pretty, but she was an exotic woman.  The last time one must have seen her was in the cemetery at Juca das Neves' burial.


Twenty: Night


     It was seven o'clock in the evening.  Benito had to wait for the aged Frei Lothar to finish his soup before he could speak.  The friar, weak, with an embittered expression, had to be lifted so he could then fall, prostrate, onto a nearby sofa.  Benito lit a cigarette and listened:

     “The Caxinauá.  You have to find Maria Caxinauá.  Only she knows,” he said, passing his arthritic fingers over the cheek of the young man.

     An Indian woman brought him coffee - he drank coffee day and night.  Benito accepted a cup.  The cup shook in the friar's hand with its long, thin fingers, like twigs.

    “She must have returned to Hell's Bayou.  What...Paxiúba tried to kill you?”, asked the friar.

     Benito responded: “Yes.”

     “But, Paxiúba, why?”  Frei Lothar was still shaking his head.

     “Well, he was coming at me. I fired a shot, but I don't think I killed him.”

     “Thank God...thank God.  Wasn't he with Conchita del Carmen?”

     “No,” replied Benito, “he killed her.”

     There was a pause.  Silence, the friar sighed, his eyes tearful.

     “Maria should be on the Praia do Cuco, if I know her.  That's where Zequinha Bataillon disappeared.  You must reach her.  You won't know anything without her.  Listen, my son.  Before Pierre came to Brazil he lived in Paris.  He must have relatives there.  The last time I saw him was at Manixi.  He must have brought that pistol from Paris,” he was silent for quite some time.

     “She is the proof of the crime,” he added, finally.

     It was a Belgian pistol from the end of the century, silver.  Very popular at the time.  A relic.  I saw it several times on Bataillon's belt.

     “I saw it at Rio Ji-Paraná,” Benito said.  “Personalized.  It had the initials “PB” in gold...”

     “I saw it near the Richuelo Bayou,” continued the friar, “in the hands of the Indian Iurimã, who was married to Caciava, an Indian woman, who told me that he got it from the dying Zequinha Bataillon.  But I know they were lying.  Iurimã was a warrior.”

     He went on:

     “Zequinha's fortune today would be worth 20 million dollars.”

     And after a silence:

     “Pierre was a good musician.  I played the Kreutzer Sonata with him, failing to keep up with his tempo.  Those were unforgettable nights in the middle of the densest forest, in that well-lit music room full of curtains and carpets, playing Beethoven's Kreutzer.  He at the piano, an authentic Pleyel, a baby grand, though.  That sonata has a motif that repeats and on this pair of notes Beethoven constructs his plot, a warp and weft of questions and answers, examinations, a series of loving queries, passionately transcendent, that the violin takes up and prolongs, developing into quick and loud phrases in dialog with the piano...  the second movement tells a short and simple story, a consequence of what came before, that the violin repeats, retells, reinforces, harmonizes, supports and resumes.  The violin enters with soul...”

     Frei Lothar was hearing the music in his imagination, his eyes tearing up.  He was more of a musician than a mystic.  As a mystic, he was a physician. 

     “That palace,” he said, “was a museum of paintings and crystal, silver, Limoges china.  What happened to Dona Ifigenia's jewels?  Her jewels, big ones, were the showpiece of the house.  One day Ifigenia went to Belém to see Pavlova with whom she dined at her hotel.  She was a friend of intellectuals.  She came to Manaus to see that author of best-sellers at that time...what was his name?”

     “Coelho Neto...”

     “Yes.  Ifigenia corresponded with him; he had wonderful handwriting.  She often visited at the house of Thaumaturgo Vaz.  In 1889 she gave a reception for the the Count d'Eu at the Municipal Villa.  But she liked to stay at the Hotel Cassina.  I remember her in 1883 accompanying Paes Sramento à Conceição to the ceremony conferring the distinction for which he was honored by the Emperor - Induction as an Officer into the Imperial Order of the Rose.  Another coffee?”

     Frei Lothar was lost in reminiscences.

     “But who ended up with the pounds of gold?”, Benito asked returning to the main topic of his visit.

     “I don't know.  Nor the paintings.”

     “The paintings are at Ferreira's house,” said Benito.

     “Really?  There was a Fromentin in the music room.  They took over the Bataillons' assets...but how are you going to prove that?”

     There was a long, deadly silence in the room.

     “How are you going to prove that they killed Zequinha Bataillon?”

     No one said anything more.  Until the friar sighed:

     “Oh, much has happened!  Near the Crystal Waterfall, Pierre constructed a Japanese chalet.  Everything has disappeared.  The same also with the Marinchões' rubber plantation, at Calama.  At Ayucá the owner, I don't remember his name, personally set fire to everything he couldn't take, before leaving.  Ah, terrible!  Ah, yes, it was Rigoberto.  He lived in a struggle against gnats, strong men, the country, snakes.  At Ponta do Poedeira, I had to attend a childbirth, near Ayucá.  The mother died in my arms, but I was able to save the child.  On the Rio Jantiatuba, which runs very swiftly...”

     And there followed a prolonged silence.

     “And the gold, Father, the pounds of gold?” Benito asked.  “Who ended up with the pounds of gold?”

     But the friar was sleeping.


Twenty-one: The Portico


     A monotonous, watery course through the green meanderings of the submerged forest - and they chugged on.

     It was Benito Botelho's second expedition in search of information concerning the young Bataillon's disappearance.  For several days the landscape was unvaried.  Smoke from the funnel puffed in rhythm with the sound of the motor over the pure air, the dripping heat and the crowns of trees bent down by the strong and heavy sun; rays of light filtered through dark green onto the liquid ground, bright specks on networks of a fluffy, haphazard covering arranged in layers of dead leaves like a sylvan pâté, a wet, veneered, creamy, brown pavement where wild flowers lay – yes, this was Hell's Bayou revisited, invaded after so much time, much further along than where the previous expedition had reached.  Hell's Bayou, though deep – a vessel with good drift could navigate it – was a narrow and camouflaged trap, which they entered from the Bom Jardim Bayou.  An island set in its mouth closed it off from inside.  The damp bush concealed it, as in a description.   An observer with a good eye would not see it behind the glorification of that vegetal splendor.  Syncopated and intrusive, the launch, named Solar, penetrated it like the blade of a knife, long in that aquatic park of ancient giants, dignified, haughty, discontented from being inconvenienced.  It was the unknown, unnamed, distant route to the sopping place of magical beings, the Numa.  It could be said that the archaic structures of the world were hidden there, that the world ended there in its unknown motives.

     No one had navigated those waters in thirty years.  Benito and his men had to pass through the Embira channel from Tarauacá.  Traveling that way, however, through the Rio Jordão, their journey might run into the hidden fur of some wild animal which they could encounter and surprise at any moment after rounding some bend, as if it was a prehistoric monster.  The Solar was a typical Amazon river vessel, eight meters longs, the housed mid-section, pilot's seat under the bow cover, windows, bunks, engine in the center, cans of fuel under greasy, dirty benches.  The turns were interminable.  Benito did not remember the place where he spent his childhood.  The area was abandoned and given over to the Numa who had come down from the mountains of Peru.  Hundreds of people had perished in those forests full of rubber trees.  Hundreds of people shot with poison darts fashioned from quills of the scarlet ibis.  This was the final hidden place on the earth yet to be civilized.

     Seated on the hatchway, armed with a rifle on his knees, a heavy 44-caliber Winchester 92, Benito appeared to be a happy man.  Raised in a library, of delicate complexion, this trip revived him, excited him.

     The political career of Abraham Gadelha had increased in the New State.  He had the support of Vargas and in order to dampen his adversary's strength, he tried to discover the alleged crime committed against Zequinha Bataillon in the past, which had been carried out on the orders of Gabriel Gonçalves da Cunha and Antonio Ferreira.  Investigations had yielded nothing, but the former journalist did not give up.  The death of Zequinha had an influence on a series of facts of vital consequence for Amazonian politics.  Gadelha had been the federally appointed temporary governor and now a candidate for State Governor by direct vote on the slate of candidates which concurrently had Ribamar de Souza for Senator.  As you remember, Ribamar's proxy would have been his own wife – Diana Dartigues.

     Ribamar was a powerful ally of Abraham Gadelha and the two, as complementary forces, had tried to destroy the resurgence of the policies of  Gabriel Gonçalves da Cunha and his ex-son-in-law. 

     A crime of that period could involve their names in a dark, bloody and unknown episode – so thought Ribamar de Souza, a successful entrepreneur who represented modernity, industrialization and the entry of the State of Amazonas into a new type of non-extractive capitalism.

     He had a chain of department stores that branched out to Belém and São Luiz, he owned a hotel in Rio and still had the women's houses in the Rua Frei José dos Inocentes.  The investigation continued, a secret project of Abraham Gadleha.  Ribamar was against the idea – the tables could be turned on them:  he, Ribamar, had been a childhood friend of José Bataillon (and always mentioned the obscure origin of his own immense fortune).  But Gadelha wanted to cast suspicions: a crime would offset the unstable balance of public opinion.

     It had not been easy to organize that expedition.  Benito Botelho wasn't telling the truth.  For one thing, he was working for a São Paulo entrepreneur who was looking to buy land.  At Porto-das-Duas -Canoas he had to dodge mentioning the topic to the ship's crew, caboclos who were not keen on traveling Hell's Bayou and its Indian country, abandoned for years...

     Suddenly, there appeared on the bank of the river a woman bedecked in green as if dancing on an elevated part of the ground: with her arm raised she held up a vase from which a full-grown rubber tree emerged.  The trunk of the tree went behind the marble statue, now green, which Dona Ifigenia Vellarde had brought back from Europe at the end of the last century.

     Behind this frozen woman there it was – magnificent, dominant, unutterable, majestic – the Manixi Palacio!

     They had arrived at Manixi.

     The shock was hallucinating and beautiful.

     Long and thick branches of leafy trees that had sprouted inside were coming out of the open windows and it appeared as though the Palacio had grown wings and was beginning to take flight.

     The Palacio was blaneted by a patina of extraordinary beauty, a monumental presence – right there, alive, washed out: a crazed landmark of its time.

     It was a sanctuary, it dominated its surroundings, an ancient temple lost in the middle of the forest from another era.  It radiated a light all around itself, of another civilization, of another century, of another unknown world, a living boundary of the luxury and splendor of the rubber boom at the end of the Empire.

     The forest was closing in on it forming a strange enclosure over the moldings and iridescent coloration of its ancient architecture, covered with vines and branches of abundant foliage which emerged from inside the exquisite rooms and created the aura of an ecstatic spectacle.

     They moored the launch and Benito got out and walked toward the marble stairway.  A rattlesnake slithered away to safety underneath rocks coming loose from the foundation.

     The entire past of the Amazon was there on those steps covered with dry leaves, on the fine and flowery railing of corroded and rusted iron.

     The door was open.  From the portico Benito peered into the middle of the spacious hall, on its floor of worn planks covered with plants and, about to topple over, the intact, noble, Faustian, small Pleyel grand piano of Pierre Bataillon.  It was the only thing in the room, the single piece of furniture that remained and there it was, abandoned, closed, stifled, in silence, just like after a concert when they turn off the lights and the theater becomes empty and depopulated.

     But all the sumptuous phantoms arose there.  The course of the whole history unraveled.  Time was frozen, defenseless, in the middle of the spacious rooms, disappearing along the same corridors, dripping along the lugubrious walls heavy with stucco and baroque decoration.  Invisible beings appeared once again dragging long and heavy, squalid garments of green velvet, putting on glittering full dress, emerging from the luxurious sepulcher of that time, through those open spaces populated with symbols inside that enormous construction of another world, of the end of the world from which everyone had fled, now peopled with demons, guilty, expiating their dead faults.

     And at night they paraded by along those corridors, through a series of windows and doors, reflecting their successive silhouettes in the dim mirrors mixing with the figures painted on the walls, famished, icy, not daring to go out into the abandoned garden, this side of the door ornate figures of fine and fierce glance who would not allow anyone to penetrate that sanctuary of refuse of old and condemned wealth, let no one go up that staircase and go through the rooms beyond which were marble figures brought countless years ago to accompany the ashes and waste.  It was if they were saying: “Disappear!”.  Or threatening: “Get out!”.

     The hulk of the former, disenfranchised owner of the house could be seen at night through the windows, as if a cathedral were illuminating him, showing his terrifying and desperate face, his eyes sunken in darkness, searching for something, searching for time, searching for himself – and passing into his infinite misery without anyone seeing him.  All the splendor of that former luxury was a torment sinisterly plunged into the destruction of an empire silenced there at last.


Twenty-two: The Daily News


     Benito Botelho stood in front of the house of Abraham Gadelha for some time without making a move to enter.  At 52 Joaquim Nabuco Street.  Two stories, Moorish style.

     He had a feeling that he would be fired.  A few years ago he would not have worried, but the situation was different now.  Aunt Eudocia was old, sick and did not get out of her hammock.  He had to provide some money to take care of her, pay for a cabocla maid to come in, and opportunities in Manaus were rare now.

     Surprisingly, Gadelha received him amiably and invited him for dinner.

     Gadelha foresaw his defeat at the polls.  It was just a month until the elections and Antonio Ferreira had an advantage over him.  Ferreira was livelier and physically stronger, more likeable and was solely occupied with politics, working at nothing else.  On the contrary, Gadelha was seldom in Manaus, was employed in Rio de Janeiro where he resided; Antonio Ferriera was a professional politician, Abraham Gadelha a journalist and entrepreneur and the influence of his sponsor, Getulio Vargas, was beginning to decline.

     But Gadelha would form an alliance with Antonio Ferriera in those first years.  As the State of Amazonas had not come out of the pre-failure situation in which it remained since the end of the rubber boom, it would be impossible for Ferreira to institute good governance and so Gadelha finally broke with him, accusing him of corruption and being irresponsible; he would assume power again and choose Ribamar de Souza as his candidate.

     Ribamar de Souza, however, was elected to the Senate.

     Abraham Gadelha counted on Benito Botelho to write a serious article against the coming government.  Benito would write signed articles, polemics, putting a lot of wood on the fire as only he knew how.  Meanwhile, Gadelha would go to Rio.  When things cooled down, he would return to Manaus, dismiss Bentio Botelho and make an alliance with the new Governor.  He knew that only Benito had the courage for a direct attack.  Benito figured in his plans.  Benito had nothing to lose.  There had been a bounty on his head for a long time now.

     The meal was simple.  They ate at a roomy table covered in the middle with a folded tablecloth.  Gadelha lived alone, far from his family.  Black beans and rice, fried and cooked fish, banana farofa.

      “So?”,  asked his host, suddenly, fork in hand.  “You found out nothing?”.

     Bentio Botelho took a swig of beer before replying.  He felt guilty about the decline of the party.

     “Nothing,” he said.  “But I ran across something I wasn't looking for.”

     “Really?  At least it would give up some good material and compensate for the money lost.  Tell me.”

     “Unfortunately, it's something not for publication,” said Benito.

     “All the better, then.”

     “Listen, Gadelha, one step at a time … do you know the story of the Caxinauá Indian woman?”


     “I told you about her, Gadelha.  She was brought up at Manixi with Zequinha Bataillon.  She was his nursemaid.”

     “Yes, I remember.” said Gadelha.

     “It happens, Gadelha, that Maria Caxinauá is living and is the grandmother of Diana Dartigues.”

     Gadelha choked.

     Gadhelha was coughing; he became very red.  He took a swig of beer.

     Gadelha did not easily recover.  Now the powerful Ribamar de Souza, his ally, who had come from nothing, from the village of Patos in Pernambuco from which he left with two changes of clothing in a tied-up and sewn together suitcase, was revealing his secret?  Gadelha's head was spinning at a frightful speed.  Because Diana Dartigues was a mystery to everyone.  No one knew the origin of the couple's wealth.  Money appeared as by magic.

     The social columns fed the Diana Dartigues myth.  Ricardinho Soares said: “Diana is divine.”  She was mentioned as one of the most elegant women of Brazil in the column of Ibrahim Sued of Rio de Janeiro.  Thin, tall, elegant and sensual, no one denied the position she always occupied among the most progressively fashionable of her time.  Her walk, her way of flinging her arms forward, her adroitness in twisting her long neck, a long-legged crane, studied movements, French model.  Diana did not walk – she sashayed past.  Always with bright clothes making her brown complexion stand out, always with high heels.  She wore almost no jewelry, always in a certain moderation – a small brooch, or a single finger ring, a string of pearls.  That was it.  Sometimes a ribbon around her neck with a ruby.

     It was a fine sight to be there when the couple of Ribamar and Diana got out of the white Buick with their chauffeur.  Ribamar, very much older, an entrepreneurial type, smiling at everyone.  And Diana with her hat, a hint of a smile, dignified, tall, thin, aristocratic, one foot, then the other, young, arms raised or flung forward with indifference, hips a little askew, but not exaggerated.

      A handsome couple.  Even their adversaries respected and feared them.

     “But that is not all,” continued Benito.

     “How did you find out these things?”, Gadelha asked.

     “An Indian woman named Irini told me.  She brought up the child.  It was she who brought her to Manaus...I was with her.”

     “You were going to say...”

     “Yes, look, Gadelha.  Juca das Neves was bankrupt.  Who paid his debts?”

     “No one ever knew,” said Gadelha.

     “She did.  Diana Dartigues!”

     Abraham Gadelha looked at his interlocutor with disbelief, but Benito continued:

     “Years ago, Maria Caxinauá stole an iron chest full of Pierre Bataillon's pounds of gold.  She hid it the whole time and then gave it to her granddaughter to start out on life...”

     “Don't you think this story quite extraordinary?”

     “I do and it is,” said Benito.  “But it's the truth.”

     Getting up, as the dinner was over, they went out to the indoor garden.  Portuguese mosaics, glazed walls, cane chairs.  The garden was a circular orchidarium with a pool in the middle, Cattleya superba, Cattleya eldorado, fairy-like, hallucinatingly beautiful.  They sat surrounded by orchids, the host's favorite spot where Gadelha received politicians.  Warm air wafted down through the skylights.  Humid hothouse atmosphere, botanical garden.

     “And Diana's mother?” Gadelha asked.

     “She died a long time ago.”

     They remained silent.  Then Benito spoke:

     “Do you know who Diana's grandfather is?


     “Zequinha Bataillon... Diana is the granddaughter of Zequinha and Maria Caxinauá.”    




Twenty-three: The End


     Years later, when Antonio Ferreira was elected Governor and an alliance had been made with Abraham Gadelha, Benito Botelho was then indeed unemployed.

     I see him in the Bacarau drinking away the last of the money earned from writing a speech for Deputy Fonseca Varella.  Benito was drinking it away while listening to the river peddler Saraiva Marques who was there in the company of a short, nasty, thin little mustached man, Maneco Rastos, son of Conchita del Carmen.

     Maneco, meanwhile, was saying that his father was the famous son of Pierre Bataillon.  Maneco drank a lot, he had a tab at the Bacarau and was losing credit.  This was his favorite place because he could avail himself of master Benito's erudition.

     But Benito was in decline and Maneco could not help him.  Benito Botelho was drinking more and more; without his aunt, he was more thin, pale and shaky.  He fell down in the street and had lost his former luster.  Drunk, he said nothing coherent anymore, dulled, inert.

     Then the river peddler Saraiva Marques said:

     “Do you know what happened to Zequinha Bataillon?”

     Benito Botelho in his cups raised his head, looked at the old man but did not see him.

     “After he had disappeared for ten years, he showed up on the Praia do Cuco from where he left:  he was crazy.  Maria Caxinauá found him and hid him for years.  One day he got worse and she had to tie him up.  He still survived tied up like that for several years.  When he died, she buried him on the banks of Hell's Bayou...”

     But what seemed like a tall tale was the truth.  Saraiva kept quiet.  There was silence.  It was death.

     Then Benito got up with difficulty and started to recite a poem of Álvaro Maia, called Night.

        The night is hunger-giving.  Black chasms are rising...

     Benito recited from memory.  The sonority of the phrases echoed in the surroundings.  A sensitive man, Maneco was deeply affected by these verses which he knew well.  The words came out of his alcoholic mouth booming like thunder.

     A young prostitute entered the Bacarau and sat down at a table where there were leftovers from a meal.  A cat was licking itself on the counter and cigarette smoke enveloped it.  The pitched voice of a drunk Benito continued:

        In the lugubrious unfolding of eternal tragedies …

     That morning Abraham Gadelha was wounded by a bullet fired by an unknown person assumed to be on the order from his ex-fellow party member Ribamar de Souza.  The whole city had talked about this, but the shot was forgotten at the Bacarau.  Gadelha survived.

        In the solemn silence there are magic and rituals...

        In the confusion of lives and debris are seen

        Consolations from God, hatreds from Satan.

     Benito was down-and-out.  He had had pancreatitis and could not continue drinking.

     His fingers shook in the air and already he saw nothing.

     Something was dying.

     That was when the poet Lopes, who signed himself Aflopes, entered, towering, athletic.  He was a strong young man, friendly and talented.

     “Hey, Lopes!”, Maneco shouted seeing him.  He approached the assembly.

        How the moonlight terrifies!  how it shines is so sadly!

     Lopes waited for the poem to end.  Benito was forgetting verses, confusing stanzas.

     When the Master was finished, the poet Lopes spoke:

     “I am the bearer of sad news.”


     “Do you know who has just died?”

     The cat jumped off the counter.

     “Frei Lothar.”

     Blinking, proud, heavy with alcohol, eyes closed, Benito rose from his chair that very instant, on foot, not looking at anyone, motionless.

     Then he opened his dull eyes and said, leaning on the table:

     “Gentlemen...dear Gentlemen...One of the greatest men this earth has known has just died...Frei Lothar spent his whole long life in the arduous task of fighting against misery, against diseases, against Amazonian ignorance...”

     He did not continue, but fell onto the table breaking a glass of cachaça into pieces on the floor.  He died five days later and was buried under an unmarked cement stone in the Major Gabriel cemetery.  A few years after that, Ribamar de Souza and Diana Dartigues were separated.  But at this point I am running out of breath as I come to the end of this my story; day is dawning and coming upon us and it is time for me to leave you, my friend, I am still here who have seen everything that was to been seen and, in spite of this, your make-believe Narrator who is at his end is still alive until now to bring the matter to a close.   There is no more, it was just as I told it - this story fashioned and spoken by me; those things took place according to what I, the Narrator, have said.  Good-bye, my son: remember me your Narrator who will be alive no longer and do not forget this very fine story of the lover of the Amazon.  The Amazon is a particularly fantastic place which is also at its end, and when you dream, dream of Hell's Bayou going inside that marsh, passing by the Manixi Palace of long memory, of the young Zequinha Bataillon.  Remember Maria Caxinauá, the big fellow Paxiúba, Benito Botelho, Pierre Bataillon at the piano and Ifigênia Vellarde.  Do not forget Antonio Ferreira, Ivete the Maacu, Conchita del Carmen, Juca da Neves and his wife Dona Constança and the Commander Gabriel Gonçalves da Cunha.  But also, Frei Lothar and Ribamar de Souza who is leaving now as this your Narrator and disappearing at this point.