Was about five in the afternoon when we reached the Brief Heaven and begun to get dark. The heat of the day was mutating in cold with the promise of squall. The building accompanied the altered climate as a hulled cumulus. The enthusiastic red lights, without the complicity of the obscurity, did not achieve the spintrian alchemy that attracted disillusion, and the door, rather than closed, seemed bricked up. However it opened at my first knock.
—Come in —the Madame said with a nod from the gloom.
The initial stir passed and the mistrust came before giving way to the booze interlude. The final acquiescence made shore as the time was departing. I already had the napkin with the address of Anne the French, but there I was still stranded.
—What else is haunting your bonne humeur? —des Champs Elisèes, being on the ball, inquired.
I waited for an expletive and being finally dispatched short shrift, but she told me inside.
—Furnished ones are the cloisters of the modern age —that wise woman said, no trace of makeup, her hair supported by an array of hairpins and barely covered with a brief linen robe under which her white breasts were hovering—. Of course, you pay in advance.
I left my bag and went in search of the French. The whacky taxi driver was still outside. I hadn’t paid him.
—The party goes on —the cab driver said after taking a quick look at the napkin.
—Do you know the French?
—Who doesn’t? If you were looking for her wasn’t necessary to come to Brief Heaven.
I was starting to pay the school fees. The driver pulled away and I lean back on the rear seat. As we returned to town, he noted that Anne was not among the most beloved women. While Champs Elisèes and her rotund pupils were whores without mincing words, the French posed as a respectable and moderately independent woman.
—A wolf in disguise. The entire town knows —he summarized.
He stopped the car by a low house with a small garden in front, in a shadowy and seclusive block.
—They say she’s doing half sick.
As I had not confided to him the reason of the visit, curiosity must burst in his brain with the power of an aneurysm.
—Is it too much to ask why you want to see her?
—I’m weak in languages —I said as I paid.
If Anne were obliged to her reputation among the populace, she must at least welcome me in bodice, garter and lace stockings, and not wearing a sober street ensemble, no makeup and the hair up in a bun, as did the woman who opened the door slightly after I announced myself as a good friend of the geologist.
—I arrived today from Porto Alegre, got a job over there —she told me as if we knew each other—. Next week I’m moving.
I smiled with effort, trying to explain the reason of my visit without mentioning that I didn’t know the geologist. It wasn’t necessary, nor is deception my specialty.
—I regret your disillusion —she said, smiling rather naturally—. I guess you don’t know each other.
—You’re right —I had to admit—, but I need to talk to him.
I accepted the coffee she offer me and sat on the couch. I saw her walking through the kitchen and turned on the radio. It played a melancholy song with Mexican guitars and trumpets, farewells, loves that at dawn seem they had never existed, all that. I wish she never comes back with the coffee; it warmed me to see her floating in the rectangle of the door, her long legs and smooth figure, like a photograph somehow blurred in which a face almost doesn’t count.
But she returned. The coffee was bitter and very hot; I didn’t ask for sugar and she waited until I finished it before speaking, as if had taken for her that long to find the words.
—It won’t be possible. He is hiding for weeks.
If she said that yesterday, I would have looked at her without knowing what she were telling. But after what had happened in that town the past two days, my shivering was negligible.
—You are not surprised.
—Not as much as I should be.
She had waited for her coffee to cool, took a sip and lit a black tobacco cigarette.
—I’m not French— she said unexpectedly.
—It’s the first thing they told me about you.
—And the softer —she guessed, and I nodded sheepishly—. I’m Swiss.
I laughed and it passed on her, and that did us well. She said it was the absolute truth: she was born in a village near Zurich. From there her parents emigrated, first to North America.
She paused, as repentant of the light tone with which she had wanted to suspend her assertion on the geologist.
Then she told her father was doing business.
—Although I never knew either of them. A distant active man, who was always returning home late, passing away from my room, I guess. In 1978 something went wrong and we came to Brazil.
Could be an interesting story, the one of the father, but that day I was more concerned on present situations. I told her about my efforts in the municipality and my adventures with the police. Anne noticed the change of frequency.
—I know you didn’t come to talk about my childhood.
—Why is he hiding and from whom?
—It has to do with what he found.
She removed the cups, and returned from the kitchen with an ice-bucket and two glasses, and took a bottle of whiskey from a cupboard.
—There is wind outside —she said—, maybe we’ll have a storm—. She poured the whiskey and put ice in my glass without consulting me—. Light me a cigarette —ordered with a whisper.
After all it was possible she was what they said in the village. Although, of course, weren’t unpleasant to fall into her net.
—He was studying the concession during a few months. Came hired by the landowner, and it seems the results were quite promising.
But at that moment the storm was announced with a succession of lightning drawing white bristly lines on the closed window, and a muffled thunder, still distant.
—Then a mining delegation of the Chinese Government intended to buy the rights, and everything seemed to go smoothly.
What she hadn’t done with the coffee: she emptied the glass of whiskey in one gulp. She poured another shot and some more in mine, although I hadn’t sipped any.
—He became friend with the Mayor, who was also an anthropologist, and there the problems began —she added.
She further explained that the Mayor had no authority to take any decision on mining concessions, that was the responsibility of the Provincial Department of Mines in Puerto Alegre, but he threatened to orchestrate an anti-mining campaign which would paralyze the negotiations with the Chinese. They didn’t count with him at the time of sharing, so he sought out another company, mine. For some reason the negotiations with the Chinese stagnated, and some people got nervous about my arrival.
—Why the geologist is hidden?
—They think he advised the Mayor on your company and doesn’t feel safe. Some people threatened him a few weeks ago.
—Why not go to the police?
—Because you can’t be sure that they are not behind all this.
Interesting point, I thought.
—Do you know where to find him?
—It’s three weeks I don’t know anything about him —she added—. I also feel insecure, that’s why I’m leaving this town.
—Do you think the Chinese could get to kill the Mayor?
—It’s a Government’s company, and they only have two surveyors in the area. It is quite unlikely —she said.
—I’m beginning to suspect Não-Me-Toque is not a regular town —I said, annoyed.
A lightning that split the land outside and the apocalyptic thunder that succeeded it gave me the answer.
In the “Diula” language in Mali, the term « dugutigui » (chief of the village), literally translated, means: «owner of the village»; «dugu» means village and «tigui», owner. Probably the term is the result of the contraction of «dugu kuntigui» (literally: chief of the village).