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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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