Short Stories

The Zé Botarras (2nd part)

A youth wheel was formed around the poster, and by the expressions no one seemed to recognize the page. Only Jose Miguel examined the text carefully, stopping at some names that seemed familiar to him. But he felt compromised in this group and walked away. She asked the clerk to give her a photocopy of the page and went to the place. Dona Alda had thought of everything – there were a small number of copies for the most reflective competitor.

Tom Sharpe’s Wilt was for later. I had to solve this riddle first. He took the sheet, pulled out a pencil and began to underline words; every now and then he would raise his head, turn the page, read on the other side, bite at the tip of his pencil, and in a deeper bite his face lit up with revelation. Had he found out? He got up, went to the shelves of foreign literature, and began to scan the titles. He seemed to have found the right shelf and, with the help of his finger, separated the books one by one. He took three: the first one had pages 31/32, the second one too, and the third … there it was! Without said sheet. The crystal slipper had just gotten in the foot! Satisfied, he went to the librarian’s office and knocked gently on the door.

In front of her, Dona Alda had the nice young man from the day before. With the book in hand.

– Looks like I found out! – just says the boy.

– Bravo! … The fringes of S. E. Hilton. Had you read it?

– A while ago, I read the author’s two books published in Portuguese: Tex and Restless Youth. This one not yet. It was through a few words from the pages that I got there.

– Explain to me how it was … !!! Mrs. Alda expected him to identify himself.

– Jose, Jose Miguel. Notice here on page 31 – and showed him the thread of his deduction on the scribbled page – ‘You see here these English words … Cherry … Ponyboy … could only be English fiction … or else American! More down here … here is rodeo, it was American! Then the writing style is lively, full of dialogue and things like that … it had to be a recent book, and for guys, my people. Then there is talk of young sects fighting in the streets, and that reminded me of a movie of … Coppola … Francis Ford Coppola, which I saw recently on television, by the way based on this book. That was when I went to the bookshelf and it wasn’t hard to find him … precisely the one I hadn’t read!

– Brilliant, Jose Miguel! Tomorrow you can come by to receive the prize. A book, if you don’t mind.

Didn’t care a thing. Thank you very much. He was pleased for the place and most pleased when he was on his way home half an hour later. He had seen Rosa and they had greeted each other. She had her hair caught, as he liked it, and the girl had promised him an AC-DC poster he didn’t like, but she thought he liked it. And he needed to like what she and her friends liked for everyone to like him. And he liked books (some, of course!), And others … no!

This conflict of tastes tore at his head. Who was he anyway? What did others expect of him or what did he feel? Could it still be two at the same time? Did he really have to hide from others to read? Being … looking … “to be or not to be” … arrived at this philosophical essence, began to feel stronger, with a personality to affirm. Starting at home. That evening at dinner, he asserted himself in the stewed meat. It was stiff and too palatable. Did not eat!

On his way to Sampaio’s house later, he asserted himself on a rock and kicked. Bad luck. He didn’t calculate her size well, and despite his buttons, he was injured on his big finger. He sat on a bench nearby to ease the pain and rethink his claims.

He wanted to be himself but… his mother’s roast meat was not to blame, much less the stone. Where was your problem anyway? He looked at the time. The friend did not like to wait. He joined Sampaio, Teixeira and Ensign and all the others who appeared at Café Estrelinha. The usual conversations, which are after all your age. For what debates?

– Now let’s all go to Serafim’s garage! A robbery! The guy has heavy music there.

And they went and Jose Miguel liked it. Your mother a little less, because she was up until two in the morning. The other day had classes until 17.30. She would still pass by the library to see the book Mrs. Alda reserved for her as a prize. He apologized as best he could to his friends and quickened his pace. Along the square that gives access to the library, he saw Rosa coming in the same direction. He stopped, turned back, and … phew … … lost sight of her. What a most inconvenient encounter!

Finally he climbed the stairs and headed for the librarian’s office. There was on his desk the package of his gift. The Margins I had discovered the day before.

“Since you were the only author who has not yet read, I thought you would like it,” she tells him.

And I really did. Marginal. Marginals like him, after all, who made books a clandestine ghetto. I had to … High up there! Through the cabinet’s glass separator, he spotted a familiar tail in the reading room. It was Rosa. The rose in the library. Jose Miguel didn’t want to believe it. He got out of his ghetto and headed for the girl’s place. He sat in front of him. She looked at him in astonishment:

– You over here ?! Look, I didn’t bring you the poster! I had no idea meeting you here!

– Forget the poster. After all, I don’t want it anymore. They no longer fit the walls and I even need to clean the room. Still lingering here?

– A little bit. I need to look for a book on the shelf to take home, ”Rose replied, not quite understanding the poster.

– If you want this one, I’ll lend it to you. I just received it now as a prize. It was the librarian who gave it to me right now.

– But you come here a lot? Rosa was understanding him less and less.

– Yes, yes … – and gave details – Look, the other day, I even forgot the time and it was the employee who …

On the way home José Miguel revealed his hidden facet. Her other secret side, and Rosa even thought it was funny. They said goodbye with a longer handshake. At dinner chewed the meat well, this time yes, a little stiff! On the way to Sampaio’s house, he no longer kicked in stones. He had just shined his boots. The Zé Botarras! Natália Caseiro The Book Eaters Leiria, Editorial Difference, 1999 (Excerpted)

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