Dom Casmurro Chapter 34


We heard footsteps in the corridor; it was Dona Fortunata. Capitu pulled herself together quickly, so quickly that when her mother reached the door she was shaking her head and laughing. With no guilty look or trace of embarrassment her laughter was frank and spontaneous, and she justified it by saying gaily, ‘Mamma, look what this fine gentleman hairdresser has done to my hair. He asked me if he could finish combing it, and this is what he has done. Just look at these plaits.’

‘What’s wrong with it?’ said her mother, good-humouredly. ‘It looks very nice. No one would say it was done by someone who didn’t know how to arrange hair.’

‘What, Mamma? This?’ retorted Capitu, undoing the plaits. ‘How can you say that, Mamma?’

And with that charming, capricious air of disdain she occasionally displayed, she picked up the comb and passed it through her hair to redo it. Dona Fortunata called her stupid and told me not to mind, her daughter was just a scatterbrain. She gazed tenderly from one to the other. Then, so it seemed, she grew suspicious. Seeing me standing silent, glued to the wall, she perhaps realized that we had been engaged in something more than hairdressing and gave a dissimulating smile.

Since I, too, was anxious to say something to disguise my confusion, I summoned up a few words; they came all right but in such a rush that they filled my mouth, not one being able to escape. Capitu’s kiss had sealed my lips. No matter how hard I tried I was unable to utter so much as an exclamation, not a single syllable. All my words flowed back to my heart with the message: Here’s a fellow who won’t get very far in the world as long as he is dominated by his emotions …

And so, caught red-handed by her mother, we were two utterly different people – she concealing with her words what I cried aloud by my silence. Dona Fortunata brought my hesitation to an end by saying that my mother had sent for me for my Latin lesson; Father Cabral was waiting for me. It was a means of escape; I said goodbye and went out into the corridor. As I went I heard the mother scolding her daughter for her bad manners, but the daughter made no reply.

I ran to my room and gathered my books, but instead of going down for my lesson I sat on my bed to think about the hairdressing and the rest. I shuddered and suffered black-outs in which I lost consciousness of myself and the things around me. Then I came to and I saw the bed, the walls, the books and the floor; I heard some vague sound outside, either near or far off, and then everything vanished and I could feel only Capitu’s lips … I could feel them, soft and full, against my own, pressed to hers, joining each to the other. Suddenly, involuntarily, without thinking, the proud words broke from my mouth, ‘I am a man!’

I was afraid that someone might have heard me, for I spoke the words out loud. I ran to the bedroom door, but there was no one outside. I came back inside and repeated to myself in a whisper that I was a man. I can still hear the echo of those words. The joy they gave me was indescribable. Columbus knew no greater when he discovered America. Forgive me the banality in view of its aptness,

for it is a fact that in every adolescent there is an undiscovered world, an admiral and an October sun. More discoveries were to come later, but none stirred me so much as that. José Dias’s accusation had alarmed me, as had the old palm tree’s advice, and our names scratched on the wall by Capitu had been a shock; but these were nothing compared to the ardour of that kiss. Such feelings might have been false or illusory. But if they were true, they were the bare bones of truth, not its flesh and blood. Even our hands touching, clasping, fused, as it were, together, could not express everything. ‘I am a man!’

When I repeated this for the third time I thought about the seminary but did so as one thinks of a danger that has passed, an evil avoided, a nightmare ended. Every instinct told me that men are not priests. My blood was of the same opinion. Once again I felt the touch of Capitu’s lips. Perhaps I am overdoing my osculatory reminiscences, but it is the essence of nostalgia to live and relive our memories of the past. And of all those from that time, this was, I believe, the sweetest, the freshest, the most all-embracing, the one which most clearly revealed me to myself … I have others, also sweet, vast and numerous, of various kinds, many of them intellectual and equally vivid. But no man, however great, can have any to match this.