RAPIDINHAS

    By Still frightened, but much relieved by the disappearance of the
    apparent danger, André decided to look at the site where he saw the two men leaving. The
    silvery light from the poles was of no use to brighten those remote spots of the woods.
    Without stopping, he kept looking, but the eyes of fear were blind to everything.

    Eram sete e quinze da noite quando André saiu de casa todo satisfeito da vida pois iria
    finalmente assistir ao tão esperado filme de Bertolucci recentemente liberado pela
    censura. Embora tivesse bastante tempo resolveu descer por Botafogo como sempre fizera,
    independentemente de já estar escuro e das inúmeras estórias de assaltos que contavam
    sobre aquele trecho da ladeira. No íntimo, André gostava de sentir perigo, e como era um
    jovem sensível via com diferentes olhos aquele matagal espesso que margeava a estrada e
    diziam abrigar profundos mistérios.

    A ladeira fora construída no princípio do
    século para ligar Botafogo à Copacabana muito antes da tecnologia tornar possível a
    ligação por túnel. Ainda hoje continua sendo trafegada mas não tão intensamente como
    antes. O lado que dá para Botafogo é deserto e inóspito. Se por um lado uma estreita
    calçada junto a um alto muro a margeia desde o Hospital São Zacarias até ao ponto
    máximo da estrada que termina numa ponte qual Arco do Triunfo, a outra margem é apenas
    delineada por um meio fio de pavimentação que separa a estrada da floresta que desce
    alta dos penhascos e vem morrer em formas de arbustos contorcidos à beira do caminho.

    Bem ao meio da ladeira, quando já passara o único casarão daqueles lados, André viu
    cruzar a rua, mais embaixo numa curva, dois rapazes que saíam apressadamente do mato e
    olhando para trás como que assustados por repentina visão. André diminuiu os passos sem
    contudo parar. A estrada estava muito bem iluminada à luz de mercúrio e via-se com
    bastante nitidez certos trechos do caminho. A princípio pensou ser assaltantes, mas uma
    curiosa idéia fez-lhe ver que talvez os dois rapazes também o julgassem assaltante.
    Satisfeito com a perspectiva de que os jovens o temiam e, encorajado pela providencial
    aparição de um fusquinha que começava a subir ruidosamente, André retomou o ritmo dos
    passos, enquanto que os dois rapazes, já bem lá embaixo, deram mais uma olhada para
    trás e desapareceram por uma escadaria que conduzia à grande avenida. Com o coração
    sobressaltado, mas de certa forma aliviado com o desaparecimento do perigo, resolveu
    espiar para o lugar de onde vira sair os jovens. A luz prateada que jorrava dos postes de
    nada servia para iluminar aqueles recessos sombrios da mata. Sem parar, continuou a olhar,
    mas os olhos do medo estavam cegos para qualquer coisa. A esta altura, o fusca já
    completara a sua penosa ascensão e a ladeira voltava a ficar deserta como antes.
    Apavorado com as enormes sombras projetadas na calçada e, sobretudo ao ouvir uns gemidos
    quase humanos de uma gata no cio, André resolveu andar mais depressa e, só não correu
    porque os sapatos novos e lustrosos apertavam-lhe os calcanhares. Lá embaixo, no meio da
    avenida iluminada e barulhenta, sentiu-se confortado e rapidamente esqueceu o incidente.
    Um vento fresco soprava do fundo da baía e inundava a noite com um cheiro de marisco e
    sal. Inebriado com as doces recordações do mar que a brisa lhe trazia, aspirou
    demoradamente o ar e fez planos de correr na praia, na manhã seguinte.

    Ao passar em frente da igreja de Santa Terezinha persignou-se e fez um pedido aos
    céus. Era sexta-feira e o altar externo da igreja onde a santa ficava incrustada numa
    pedra, ardia ao fogo de dezenas de velas postas ali em oferendas tanto para o deus
    católico quanto os deuses pagãos. Olhou o relógio, acendeu um cigarro, e quando se deu
    conta já estava em frente à Morada do Sol. Cruzou a Lauro Müller em direção ao túnel
    do Pasmado, pois o caminho era mais curto. Ainda em frente ao Colégio das Irmãs, uma
    curiosa tabuleta chamou sua atenção, pois anunciava em caracteres góticos um recital
    renascentista com o grupo Arts Antiqua. Com desdém e muito desprezo olhou de relance os
    motoqueiros amontoados no portão do colégio e lastimou a falta generalizada de cultura
    entre os jovens que não apreciavam um evento daquela monta. Se fosse na França, pensou
    com enlevo, e sua imaginação corria antecipando cenas do Tango numa Paris que só
    conhecia de livros e de cartão postal, seria diferente. Por uns segundos os seus
    devaneios foram interrompidos pela chegada repentina de um Porshe que saía ruidosamente
    do túnel e entrava na Afonso Gusmão quase o atropelando, em direção à sinagoga. Olhou
    cuidadosamente para os dois lados da rua e a atravessou com segurança. Mais uns
    cinqüenta passos estaria na pracinha que antecedia o túnel. Para sua surpresa não viu
    os casais de namorados que costumavam se esconder pelos labirínticos canteiros da praça
    para fazer amor por detrás das palmeiras. Não achou nada que lhe excitasse a libido. Só
    viu um asqueroso mendigo deitado num banco com a boca aberta e a língua esquecida,
    pendida para o lado, o que muito lhe impressionou. Sem ter mais ninguém a vista, e desde
    que o mendigo fizera menção de se levantar, André ainda impressionado apressou os
    passos e entrou no túnel.

    Uma infusão de luz e som invadiu-lhe os sentidos. A intensa reverberação sonora que
    ecoava pelas abóbadas enegrecidas de carbono e pó impedia-lhe de ouvir os próprios
    passos, o que lhe aumentava ainda mais a ansiedade, pois sentia a angustiante sensação
    de estar sendo seguido pelo mendigo. Só pôde finalmente recuperar a calma quando
    alcançou a outra extremidade do túnel e já via, à pequena distância, um grande
    movimento de jovens no guichê de bilheteria do Clube Náutico. São e salvo da perigosa
    jornada, como assim resolveu nomear aquela pequena aventura, aliás a segunda da noite, de
    bom humor, e agora mais seguro no meio dos jovens que compravam ingressos para a
    discoteca, contornou toda a ala leste do clube, desceu pela passagem subterrânea da
    freeway e, minutos depois assomava em frente ao Cine Ópera, onde havia uma pequena
    multidão apinhada em grande desordem à entrada do edifício. Um carro da polícia fazia
    guarda sobre a calçada. Como já havia comprado o ingresso, conseguiu entrar sem muita
    dificuldade. Apesar do desconforto do cinema completamente lotado, a sessão transcorreu
    normalmente sem nenhum incidente. À saída, para sua surpresa, encontrou-se com o Chaim
    Mamed, seu amigo e vizinho de longa data.

    —Não sabia que você gostava deste tipo de filme—disse André. Podíamos ter
    combinado e viríamos juntos.

    —Nem eu tampouco sabia que vinha. Só resolvi hoje à tarde no escritório, depois
    de ouvir os comentários da secretária do chefe sobre a cena da manteiga—respondeu
    Chaim rindo maliciosamente.

    —Não deixa de ser original, apesar de nós outros usarmos a vaselina ao
    invés— acrescentou André com cumplicidade.

    —Pois é, e o filme em si—continuou Chaim—deixou muito a desejar.
    Pensava ver a coisa mais trabalhada… mais insinuante… mais explícita, você sabe
    como.

    —É Chaim, mas este não é um filme pornográfico. A temática é outra. O
    erotismo faz parte, mas não é o essencial.

    Falavam enquanto caminhavam em fila indiana pelo estreito corredor, espremidos como
    gado num matadouro. O calor e o burburinho de vozes eram tão grandes que André fingia
    ouvir o que Chaim dizia e respondia com um sim sem muita convicção. Finalmente
    alcançaram a rua. O ar fresco e saudável da noite reanimou os ânimos e André,
    satisfeito por ter encontrado o amigo o convidou para tomar uma cerveja, ao ar livre, no
    bar junto ao cinema.

    Beberam demoradamente e já há muito não falavam do filme. A conversa girava agora
    sobre o jogo de futebol de praia que teriam no domingo. André, cansado de ouvir o amigo
    que falava descontroladamente, achou por bem pedir a última cerveja e correr para o ponto
    do ônibus. Passava de uma hora e os ônibus começavam a rarear. Mas Chaim não parecia
    disposto a sair, pois tão logo engoliu a tulipa ordenou outra ignorando por completo os
    protestos de André. Chaim só se convenceu que tinha que ir embora quando os garçons
    começaram a empilhar as cadeiras e recolher as últimas garrafas dispersar pelas mesas.

    Não conseguiram ônibus e muito menos táxi, pois os motoristas se recusavam a subir a
    Ladeira do Leme àquela hora da noite. Não havia outro jeito se não retornar a pé. Um
    vento quente filtrava-se por sobre as palmeiras da orla marítima e fazia tremer as velas
    dos barcos ancorados no iate clube. O movimento de carros e pedestres ia diminuindo e
    parecia que a cidade também se recolhia naquela imensa noite cálida e de nenhuma
    estrela.

    Os dois jovens entraram pela Rua da Passagem, pois queriam evitar o túnel. Um carro da
    polícia se aproximou, deu meia parada, mas logo tocou a diante. Não queriam problemas
    com bêbados, os estúpidos, pensou André.

    Finalmente chegaram à ladeira. A passos lentos começaram a subir o longo e suave
    trecho que conduzia até ao Hospital São Zacarias. Embora daquele ponto só pudessem ter
    uma visão parcial da ladeira, podia-se compreender então, o porquê das escabrosas
    estórias que contavam acerca do lugar. Vista de baixo, apesar da ofuscante luminosidade
    da estrada, via-se, por cima das folhagens que tremulavam no alto, junto aos rochedos, uma
    pálida luz se difundir pelas sombrias copas da floresta, o que causava um certo
    estremecimento em tão forte contraste.

    À medida que subiam uma discreta inquietação tomava conta dos rapazes cuja fingida
    naturalidade era traída pela inusitada disputa de um querer preceder o outro. Desde que
    passaram o Hospital, André vinha percebendo sem dar a devida conta, um movimento
    cadenciado que vergava as copas das figueiras de forma extraordinária. A princípio
    pensou ser o vento, mas agora percebia melhor que só determinados galhos vergavam
    enquanto os outros permaneciam imóveis, pesados na solidão. Ao se aproximarem da grande
    curva, quase por baixo da enorme amendoeira, Chaim quebrou o silêncio e, sem fôlego
    gritou apontando o matagal.

    —Olhe, André, macacos! Eu nunca os tinha visto de tão perto. Estão ali em cima,
    nas figueiras.

    Deram uma meia parada e perscrutaram as folhagens. Havia muitos a julgar pelo
    movimentos dos galhos, mas a ramagem estava tão entrecruzada de cipós que era
    impossível reconhecê-los não fora os inúmeros pares de olhinhos brilhantes no fundo
    escuro. Não sei se se assustaram com a súbita parada dos moços, mas logo em seguida
    moveram-se para os ramos mais distantes da estrada e desandaram em infernal gritaria. Ao
    retornarem a caminhada, Chaim disse, como se falasse consigo mesmo:

    —Estranho, não lhe parece André? Já passam das duas horas e esta bicharada
    ainda irrequieta.

    —É a época do cio, não se esqueça. Também na hora que desci havia grande
    agitação neste mato e foi bem ali em baixo desta mesma figueira que ouvi um gemido de
    gata sendo abordada por algum gato tarado.

    —Mas é assim, todos os bichos no mesmo tempo?—perguntou Chaim com ar de
    incredulidade.

    —Acho que sim—respondeu André sem muita convicção, e concluiu: —Os
    animais não são sábios nestas coisas.

    Sem perceberem já haviam vencido mais da metade do caminho. Mais alguns minutos
    alcançariam a Ponte dos Arcos e então estariam a salvo dos perigos da noite, sob a
    proteção da guarda do Exército. Era raro encontrar soldado acordado naquele posto
    àquela hora, mas só a presença da guarita e a confortante visão da bandeira tremulante
    na casa militar, era o suficiente para recobrarem as forças e desanuviarem os espíritos.
    Passada a inquietação, os ânimos se acalmaram e Chaim voltou a falar com redobrada
    energia. Sob uma luz forte de um poste de iluminação da tranqüila rua acertaram mais
    uma vez o esquema do futebol de praia e, antes que Chaim enveredasse por outro assunto,
    André desvencilhou-se do amigo e voou para o portão de casa. Caiu na cama e dormiu como
    um náufrago, arrastando consigo os últimos mistérios da noite.

    No terceiro dia após o incidente dos macacos, André ao retornar da Faculdade, via com
    grande espanto e horror, médicos da Santa Casa em espetacular ação com o Corpo de
    Bombeiros retirarem de uma corda sob as figueiras, as mesmas da sexta-feira anterior, o
    corpo de uma mulher enforcada, já em adiantado estado de putrefação.

    It was a quarter past seven when André very excited left his home to go to the theater.
    Finally he was going to watch the highly acclaimed Bertolucci film miraculously approved
    by the censors of the military dictatorship. André lived on the top of Babilônia Hill,
    one of the loveliest places between Botafogo and Copacabana, in the south side of Rio de
    Janeiro. Although he had plenty of time, he decided to take the steep road toward Botafogo
    as he usually did, regardless of the darkness and of the many stories about robbery,
    common to that side of the road. He was not really a brave man, but at heart, he liked to
    feel the danger, and as a sensitive young man, he saw the dense bushes alongside the road
    with the eyes of a poet searching for deep mysteries.

    The curving road was built at the
    beginning of this century to link Botafogo to Copacabana much earlier than the technology
    making possible the connection of the two neighborhoods through a tunnel. The road is
    still used by many cars, but not as a primary route. The Botafogo hillside is wild and
    largely uninhabited. There is only the narrow pavement alongside a wall that starts at
    São Zacarias Hospital, at the bottom of the hill, and ends exactly under a bridge like
    the Triumph Arch, high up on the hill. Across the pavement, there is only a curbstone,
    which divides the road from the woods on the mountainside.

    Right at the middle of the road, when André had already passed the only house in that
    area, he saw, on a downhill curve, two men leaving the woods in a very suspicious way. The
    road was well lit with mercury lamps, and certain parts of the hillside could be seen with
    perfect clarity. He first thought of burglars, but a curious idea crossed his mind.
    "Maybe they think I’m the robber," he said to himself, amused. Liking the idea
    that the two men also feared him, and with the providential appearance of a noisy
    Volkswagen that was painfully struggling to climb the road, André confidently walked
    steadily again, while the two men, almost at the bottom of the hill, looked back once more
    and disappeared down a flight of stairs toward Lauro Müller Avenue. Still frightened, but
    much relieved by the disappearance of the apparent danger, André decided to look at the
    site where he saw the two men leaving. The silvery light from the poles was of no use to
    brighten those remote spots of the woods. Without stopping, he kept looking, but the eyes
    of fear were blind to everything. At this time, the Volkswagen had already finished its
    arduous ascent and the road had returned to its usual quietness. Scared by his own shadow
    projected on the wall, and especially after hearing the moans, almost human, of a cat in
    heat, André hurried down the hill. Once on the noisy and bright avenue, he felt
    comfortable and secure again, and the incident was immediately forgotten. A fresh wind
    blew from the bay and flooded the night with a smell of shellfish and salt. Inebriated
    with the sweet remembrances that the sea always brought to him, André inhaled the air
    slowly and made plans to run along the beach the following morning.

    As he passed in front of the church of Santa Terezinha he crossed himself and made a
    wish to the saint. It was Friday and the outside altar of the church, where the saint was
    encrusted in the rock, burned with the fire of numerous candles placed there in oblations
    as much to pagan deities as to the Catholic God. He looked at his watch, lit a cigarette,
    and before he realized it, he was already in front of Morada do Sol. As a shortcut, he
    crossed Lauro Müller Avenue and headed toward the Pasmado Tunnel. As he walked by the
    Nuns’ College, a curious signboard caught his attention, because it announced in gothic
    characters a Renaissance musical recital with the Ars Antiqua. With disdain he glanced at
    the young people with their motorcycles gathered at the gate of the college, and he
    lamented the generalized lack of culture among the young, who did not appreciate such an
    event. "If it were in France,"—he thought with rapture, and his imagination
    ran foreseeing scenes of The Last Tango in a Paris that he only knew from books and from
    post cards—"it would be different." His daydreams were interrupted for a
    few seconds when he was almost run over by a Porsche entering noisily into Afonso Gusmão
    Street toward the synagogue. He looked carefully now at both sides of the street and
    crossed it safely. In a few more steps he would be at the small public square just before
    the tunnel. To his dismay he didn’t see any couple engaged in lovemaking behind the palm
    trees. He didn’t see anything to excite his libido. He only saw a repellent beggar with an
    open mouth lying on a bench. With nobody else in sight, André hurried and entered into
    the tunnel.

    An infusion of light and sound invaded his senses. The intense echoes inside the tunnel
    prevented him from hearing his own footsteps, which made him more apprehensive because he
    deeply feared he was being followed by the beggar. He only recovered when he finally
    reached the other end of the tunnel, and was at the vicinity of the Nautical Disc Club,
    which was already full of young people at the ticket window. Safe and sound from his
    dangerous journey, as he called that little adventure, as a matter of fact, his second of
    the evening, he walked along the east wing of the club, went down through the underground
    passage, and minutes later emerged in front of the Opera Movie Theater. There was a small
    crowd in great disorder at the entrance of the building. A police vehicle was on guard on
    the sidewalk.

    Since André had already bought his ticket, he managed to enter without difficulty.
    Despite the discomfort of the theater in its full capacity, the session ran without
    incident. At the exit, to his surprise, he met Chain Mamed, his close friend and neighbor
    for a long time.

    "I didn’t know you liked this kind of film," said André: "We could have
    arranged to come together."

    "I didn’t know I was coming either. I only decided this afternoon at the office,
    when I heard the comments of my boss’ secretary about the butter scene," answered
    Chain smiling with malice.

    "It doesn’t fail to be original, despite our use of Vaseline instead," added
    André with complicity.

    "That’s true, but the movie by itself was a disappointment to me. I would like to
    see that scene more developed… more insinuating… more explicit, you know."

    "Yeah, but this is not a pornographic movie. The theme is not sex. Eroticism has
    its role, but it is not essential."

    They talked while walking in line in the narrow alley toward the exit of the theater.
    Finally they reached the street. The fresh air of the night had the effect of a balsam on
    both young men. They immediately agreed to drink a beer at the nearby bar.

    They drank slowly and the movie was quickly forgotten. The conversation was now about
    their soccer game at the beach, on Saturday evening. It was getting late and André,
    already tired of hearing Chain talk restlessly, asked for their last beer. Chain,
    however, didn’t seem willing to leave the bar, because as soon as he swallowed his beer,
    he ordered another one for both, ignoring totally the protests of his friend. He was only
    convinced it was time to go when the waiters started to pile up the chairs on the tops of
    the tables and collect the last empty bottles scattered all over the place.

    They didn’t find a bus or a cab because all the taxi drivers refused to climb the steep
    road of Leme at that hour of the night. There was no other way, but to walk. A warm wind
    balanced the palm trees in the marine edge and the boats anchored, far away in the Yacht
    Club. There were few cars and pedestrians now and it seemed that the whole town was also
    about to sleep in that immense and hot night of no stars.

    To avoid the tunnel, the two young men took the Passagem Street. A police car
    approached them, stopped short, and went away. "The fools," thought André.
    "They don’t want to talk to drunks."

    Finally they reached the ramp. With slow steps they began to climb the first stretch up
    to the São Zacarias Hospital. Although from that point, the road was barely seen, it was
    understandable why there were so many scary stories about the place. Seen from underneath,
    one could shiver just from looking at the pale luminosity diffusing above the foliage and
    scattering along the high cliffs.

    As they climbed, both men were discreetly aware of their fears. Neither one wanted to
    stay behind the other, and they laughed about it. Since the Hospital, André had noticed
    without giving any consideration, a rhythmic movement on the crown of the fig trees. At
    first he thought it was the wind, but now looking more carefully, he realized that only
    certain branches bent, while other remained still. As they approached the curve next to a
    big almond tree, Chain broke the silence, and breathlessly cried and pointed to the woods.

    "Look André, monkeys! I have never seen them so close. There, there, in the fig
    trees."

    They stopped for a brief moment and searched the trees. There were many monkeys as the
    movements of the branches would tell. They were, nevertheless, behind the foliage and it
    was almost impossible to recognize them if it were not for the numerous pairs of little
    eyes glittering in the dark. The sudden stop of the young men probably scared the monkeys,
    because they moved to more distant branches from the road, and they broke into an infernal
    hullabaloo.

    As they resumed walking, Chain said: "Weird, isn’t? It is after two o’clock and
    these animals still wondering around!"

    "I guess it is heat time. When I passed here earlier, there was also some
    excitement in the air, and it was exactly under these same fig trees that I heard a moan
    of female cat being raped by some perverted cat," said André jocosely.

    "But is that the way? Cats and monkeys at the same time?" asked Chain with an
    air of incredulity.

    "I think so," answered André without conviction, and concluded: "The
    animals are not wise in this matter."

    They had already covered more than half of the slope. A few minutes more they would be
    approaching the "Triumph Arch", they would be free of the dangers of the night,
    since they would be under the protection of the small Military Guard that served the
    community of Babilônia Hill. As expected, there were no soldiers in sight. They crossed
    the bridge, entered Cardoso Aguiar Street, and as they were almost at their homes, Chain
    began to talk with redoubled energy. Under a strong light of a pole in the quiet street,
    the young men discussed once more their tactics for the game later in the day, and before
    Chain could start another topic, André freed himself from his friend and ran home. Chain
    also went home and since there was no one else awake to talk to besides his dog, he fell
    into his bed. He slept like a shipwrecked man, dragging with him the last mysteries of the
    night.

    Three days after the incident with the monkeys, as André was returning from his
    university, he saw with great alarm and horror, doctors from the São Zacarias Hospital
    and the rescue squad workers withdrawing from a rope under the fig trees, the same fig
    trees of the monkeys of the last Friday, the corpse of a woman strangled and in a late
    stage of decay.

    The original title of this short story is
    "Recordações da Ladeira do Leme"

    Willer de Oliveira (b. 1954) was born in Rio de Janeiro,
    Brazil, the son of an Army Lieutenant. He studied chemistry at Rio de Janeiro Federal
    University and worked for several years in Rio and Lorena, SP. In 1985 he went to Virginia
    Tech, Virginia, on a scholarship, where he graduated with a MS degree in Forest Products
    and a PhD in Materials Science. In 1990 he attended a Writer Workshop in Blacksburg, VA
    and since then wrote his first book of short stories, The Dress and Other Stories, the
    collection from which the above story is taken. He is looking for a publisher. He works as
    a Chemical Engineer and lives in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina. He can be reached at home willer1@home.com, or at work wxdeoli@westvaco.com 

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