Dom Casmurro Chapter 110


The rest will take up many chapters; whole lives could be told in less and even so emerge finished and complete.

At five or six years old Ezequiel gave no signs that he would fall short of my dreams on Glória beach; on the contrary, he seemed suited to all possible vocations from that of idler to that of apostle. Idler is used here in its good sense: a man who thinks much but says little. At times he seemed introspective, and in this he took after his mother when she was a girl. At other times he would get excited and insist on going to convince the neighbours’ children that the sweets I gave him were really sweets; if he did not do so before eating his fill, it is equally true that the Apostles did not spread the good word until their hearts were full of it. Escobar, a keen businessman, was of the opinion that the principal reason for this was an implicit invitation to his companions to adopt the same policy whenever their fathers brought them sweets. He laughed at his own joke and declared that he would take him into partnership.

Ezequiel liked music no less than sweets, and I told Capitu to play for him on the piano the jingle of the black man who sold cocadas in Matacavalos.

‘I don’t remember.’

‘Don’t say that. You mean you don’t remember the man who used to sell cocadas in the afternoon?’

‘I remember a black man who sold sweetmeats but not any jingle.’

‘Not even the words?’

‘Not even the words.’

The lady reader who remembers the words, having read me with attention, will be amazed that anyone could be so forgetful, especially of something that will bring back memories of her own childhood and adolescence; something she may forget, for no one can keep everything in his head. That is what Capitu said, and I didn’t know how to reply. However, I did something she didn’t expect – I looked through some old papers of mine. In São Paulo, when I was a student, I asked a music teacher to transcribe the jingle for me, which he did with pleasure (I only needed to repeat it from memory), and I had kept the paper, which is what I went to look for. A little later, with the paper in my hand, I interrupted a romance she was playing and explained what it was. She played the sixteen notes.

Capitu said the music had a special appeal, it was quite delightful, and she explained the words to her son, singing and accompanying herself on the piano. Ezequiel took advantage of the music, suggesting I give the lie to the lyrics by giving him some money.

He played at being a doctor, a soldier, an actor and a dancer. I never gave him oratories but, rather, wooden horses and swords, which were more to his taste. I needn’t mention the battalions that marched past in the street and that he ran to see like all children do. But not all watch them with his eager eyes. No others displayed the sheer joy his did as he gazed at the troops marching by and listened to the beat of the drums.

‘Look, Papa! Look!’

‘I can see it, my boy.’

‘Look at the captain! Look at the captain’s horse! Look at the soldiers!’

One morning I found him playing an imaginary bugle, so I gave him a toy one. I bought him tin soldiers and engravings of battles, which he would gaze at for a long time, wanting to know about a particular gun or a fallen soldier or another with his sword raised, which drew all his admiration.

One day (ingenuous age!) he asked me impatiently, ‘But, Papa, why doesn’t he bring his sword down?’

‘Because he’s painted, my son.’

‘Well, why did he paint himself?’

I laughed at his confusion and explained that it wasn’t the soldier who had painted himself on paper but the engraver, after which I had to explain what an engraver was and what was an engraving. A curiosity just like Capitu’s, in fact.

Such were the principal exploits of his childhood; one more and I shall finish this chapter. One day, at Escobar’s, he found a cat with a rat in its mouth. The cat would neither abandon its prey, nor did it try to escape. Ezequiel said nothing but stopped, crouched down and stayed there gazing. Seeing him so intent we called out, asking what it was, but he signed to us to be quiet.

‘I expect the cat’s caught a rat,’ Escobar said. ‘The house is still infested with rats. It’s the very devil. Let’s go and see.’

Capitu, anxious to see what her son was doing, came with us. It was indeed a cat and a rat, a commonplace occurrence, of no interest whatever. The only circumstance of any note was that the rat was alive and struggling, while my little boy looked on fascinated. This didn’t last long. The cat, sensing the presence of more people, prepared to run away, and the boy, without taking his eyes from it, signalled again to us to remain silent. The silence was complete; I was going to add religious, but I crossed it out. However, I now choose to employ the word not just to give an idea of the completeness of the silence but because the drama of the cat and the rat held one as if it were a ritual. The only sound was the last feeble squeaks of the rat, whose legs by this time gave no more than an occasional spasmodic jerk. Somewhat disgusted I clapped my hands to make the cat run off, which it promptly did. The others had no chance to stop me, and Ezequiel was disappointed.

‘Oh, Papa!’

‘What’s the matter? By now he’ll have eaten the rat anyway.’

‘I know, but I wanted to watch.’

The other two laughed, and I, too, found it funny.