The Biker Who Turned Into a Beast
Sample translated by Ana Fletcher (do livro O motoqueiro que virou bicho, Moderna, 2012)
I woke up the following day to the sound of Conceição knocking on the door. She let me know that Dona Ivete was there to see me. I washed my face and went downstairs, where I found my mother’s friend looking a little sheepish. She had brought cheese, dulce de leche, jams and a tin of home-made biscuits. She wanted to apologise for the elaborate prank they’d played on me the night before. When he heard what had happened, my uncle laughed so hard it brought on a coughing fit. And, in the sober light of day, even I was able to see the funny side – I ended up calling home to tell them about it and gave everyone a good chuckle.
My time in Lorena, reader, carried on as it had done till then: long rides on my motorbike exploring the surrounding area during the day, and joyous tumbles between the sheets with Conceição at night.
One night we were lying together, she and I, resting. I asked if there was any truth in all the talk about the wights and magic and spells in the Paraíba Valley.
Conceição made the sign of the cross. She told me about Miss Vanda. Before getting a job with my uncle, she explained, she’d had the misfortune of working at the old woman’s house. A woman genuinely involved in witchcraft, she assured me. And then Conceição told me a story from the days when she still worked there.
There was a time when her boss had fallen in love with a clerk at the post office. She was desperate to be his girlfriend, but he wouldn’t even give her the time of day. Feeling rejected, Miss Vanda summoned Conceição. She needed a favour. She wanted Conceição to go to the barbershop and retrieve a lock of the clerk’s hair. Her plan was to use the poor soul’s hair to conjure up a spell that would let her seduce him. Conceição tried to refuse, but Miss Vanda wasn’t one to be defied. She promised to transform Conceição into a housefly. The terrified girl finally gave in out of fear. She told me how she followed the clerk to the barbershop, waited on the street for him to have his hair cut, then quietly slipped inside. She was barely able to gather together some locks on the floor before the barber got suspicious and kicked her out, threatening to call the police.
Conceição wandered through town unsure of what to do next. If she returned to the house empty-handed, she would have to face her mistress’ frustration and rage. Then she had an idea. She tore out a tuft of hair from a donkey she found tied to a post by the train station, and took it back to the house saying it was the clerk’s.
At this point in the story Conceição’s big eyes grew wider still.
Miss Vanda was radiant. She showered, applied her makeup, doused herself in perfume, put on new clothes and, after dinner, locked herself up in her bedroom. Curiosity got the better of her, and Conceição decided to spy through the keyhole. She saw her mistress, surrounded by lit candles, admiring herself in the mirror, smoking a cigar as she talked to herself and prayed. Then, she placed a jar stuffed with the tuft of hair on top of the bed and poured a dark liquid into it. According to Conceição, the jar began to smoke. Once the smoke cleared, impossible though it may seem, there stood a donkey on top of the bed. When he saw Miss Vanda, the animal was immediately excited, braying gallantly and graciously raising his front legs. Conceição said that Miss Vanda flung the cigar as far as she could and ran out the room, escaping through the window, followed closely by the enamoured donkey.
Conceição’s mistress didn’t return until the next day. She arrived home early in the morning, dishevelled and spent. She locked herself in her room and slept for two days and two nights. On the third day, she called for Conceição and told her she was fired.
I’ll confess, reader: I was absolutely charmed. How marvellous. How creative. How naive! Faced with facts they cannot explain, common folk will – out of ignorance – make up the most ridiculous things, rather than use logic, reasoning and common sense. How fertile their imagination! So these, I thought to myself, are the popular beliefs we hear so much about… and I remembered a lesson I’d had at school about our national folklore. Suddenly, I felt a strong urge to take part in a primitive ceremony, to watch a magical ritual first hand.
I asked Conceição to take me to Miss Vanda’s house.
I remember her getting dressed in a hurry, swearing she would do no such thing. I remember thinking how attractive she looked, all wound up like that.
I told her to stop being so silly. I promised it would be just the once. I asked if Miss Vanda practiced magic out in the open. Conceição said that she did, during a full moon.
‘There, then!’ I said, putting my hand on her knee. ‘It’ll be easy. We hide and watch from a distance; we don’t get close – we just spy on her!’
Conceição refused. I begged. I said I lived in São Paulo. That none of this existed in São Paulo. I laid it on thick: it would be a crime to come so far, to travel for miles and miles, to visit this magical town, to meet a woman as beautiful as Conceição, only to return to São Paulo without having seen a thing.
I held my uncle’s servant by the shoulders. I kissed her hands. I pretended I was nearly in tears. It was a great injustice, I said. A tremendous act of cruelty. It would be inhuman to let an opportunity like this slip by.
Conceição left without saying yes, but she hadn’t said no, either.
The days passed and I badgered her relentlessly.
The following Friday, Conceição sought me out early in the morning. There would be a full moon that night, she said, and the skies were meant to stay clear.
‘Today, I’m sure of it, the old hag will go out at midnight to perform her sorcery. We can go if you like.’
Reader, I could barely eat my dinner. I actually considered asking my uncle whether I could borrow his camera, but decided against it as the flash might ruin everything.
We went out at about half eleven. My uncle was already fast asleep. I remember how we walked in silence along the streets of Lorena. We crossed the square, carried on to the church, turned down the last street on the right and, two blocks later, took a left onto a dirt track, which was dark and tree-lined. Miss Vanda lived in a house at the end of the track. I followed Conceição as we circled the block, picked our way through a stretch of wasteland, and finally arrived at the wall at the back of the old woman’s property. The night was bright because of the full moon. To this day, I remember the pair of us standing there, completely still, waiting. Every now and again an ant crawled up my leg.
It was almost midnight when we heard the sound of a toilet flushing. Then footsteps. The backdoor creaking. Out slipped an overweight woman with bleached hair and dyed eyebrows. I felt a shiver run up my spine. She was carrying a heavy leather case and her flip-flops dragged as she walked. She stopped in the yard, stretched out a large cloth on the ground, and lit four black candles, one on each corner of the cloth. Conceição crossed herself. Next, the old woman took several plates out of her bag and arranged them on the cloth. I felt slightly nauseous. They were dead animals – chickens, pigeons and assorted small birds – as well as dishes of rice and farofa, and some strange looking brews.
Miss Vanda opened a bottle of cachaça and took a swig. Then, she lit a cigar, looked up at the moon, spread her arms open and began to dance around the laden cloth. It was an impressive sight. She danced with her eyes closed, slowly, almost in slow-motion; she lowered and raised her head, all the while circling the offerings and muttering quietly, the cigar still dangling from the corner of her mouth. After some time, she knelt down, covered her face with her hands, took a tiny bottle from the case and drank a sip from it.
I know this will be difficult, reader, but please, we’re on page 43 already. I ask for your vote of confidence and a dash of goodwill and patience. What I’m about to recount is unbelievable, I know it is, but it’s the truth, it’s reality, these are facts. It happened to me. I saw it with my own two eyes – and then I experienced it in every limb and organ of my body.
On a Friday night under a full moon in a backyard on a narrow dirt track not far from the church in the town of Lorena, in the Paraíba Valley, in the state of São Paulo, I witnessed, in front of my very eyes, Miss Vanda turning into a little blue bird. I saw it, I swear to you.
Then I saw the witch look this way and that, take flight, and disappear.
I think I went a little crazy. All I remember is grabbing Conceição by the arm and beginning to shout.
‘Do you know how she does that? Do you know what she does to become human again?’
Frightened, for she had never seen me in that state, Conceição said that yes, she did. She had seen her old boss do it countless times. I flung myself on the ground. I wrapped my arms around her legs. I kissed her fingers, her shins and both her knees. I begged her as hard as I knew how. I wanted to turn into a bird as well. Conceição tried to shake me off. I was groaning, clinging to her legs. Just for a little bit. I just wanted to fly for a little bit. I needed to know what it felt like. To fly with nothing but my body holding me up. To drift through space like a god. Just one journey through the sky and that would be it. No more than a minute. Conceição was afraid. I fixed my eyes on hers. I asked her to trust me. I begged. It would be the wildest, most beautiful, most marvellous, most important, most unforgettable event in my entire life.
Freeing herself from my grasp, Conceição jumped over the wall. I followed. She was walking quickly. She crouched down, rummaging for something in the case. When she turned to face me again it was with a glass vial in her hand. A tiny bottle with brown liquid inside. She looked at me. She asked if I was feeling brave. I remember smiling, close to tears. Conceição ordered me to drink up, but just a little bit – two, three sips at most. I tore the bottle from her hands, pulled out the cork and, completely determined, I took the three sips. Three damn sips.
I remember feeling dizzy. I remember a prickling sensation growing stronger and stronger in my forehead. Feeling like I was going to fall. I remember everything going hazy and what seemed like a dark mist enveloping me. And my head spinning. And suddenly the ground was bigger and nearer. And my mouth was twisting, my skin wrinkling, my body shrinking and changing shape.
I understand your scepticism, reader.
By some terrible mistake. By one of those cruel flukes of destiny, Conceição had given me the wrong potion and, as a result, I had ended up transformed into a sad, bumbling dog.
I tried to speak, but all that came out were grunts. Conceição stumbled backwards, horrified. Then she burst out laughing. She apologised. She knelt down. She cried. She smiled. She pressed my muzzle up against her face. She reigned in her laughter. Holding my head in her hands, she told me to pay attention. She seemed worried. She apologised. She said there was a drug that would turn me human again, but, unfortunately, the drug was far away, in another town, under a rock, buried between two trees behind the town prison, in Silveiras.
I wanted to scream for help, but all I could do was bark. Conceição carried on talking. She said there was nothing for it now. It would be best to leave immediately. If Miss Vanda came back and found the pair of us messing about with her things, there’d be real hell to pay.