There Was Once a Man Celso Braga Rosa
Years went by just like this, in the most pungent absence of human contact, in the most desert and cold of places of human geography of emotions. Was it unbearable? If God had created him this way – he sometimes asked himself – then why giving him emotions? What use could he have for feelings? At the mission school, he was taught to love God, that God is good and knows what is best for each one of us, white or black, but what he learned was to hate Him with all his strength. He would have given everything to live a different life. Because a life like his was not worth living…
One starless night, hot but so dark he hasn’t even dared to go outside, the Devil came looking for him in his wretched hut. After the initial shock and loss of words of the goat herder, the Devil made his proposition: “I’ll give you what you wish! I’ll reinvent you in a way that will allow you to finally know what a kiss feels like, as well as all the other things people feel. What I demand from you is just one thing. You can never, ever, tell anyone that you love her! That is forbidden to you, to say it. Never forget this. If you do say it you’ll be lost in a worsen desert than the one you take your goats to! I will come back tomorrow to see what your decision is”. And the same way he appeared in front of him, so he disappeared, dissolved in the same smoke of the fire still lit. Flames dancing in yellow and blue.
The next day, exactly at the same time – but what is time here –, the Devil returned to the spouseless hut in search of his binding answer. And the decision was positive, he accepted the Devil’s contract. Dust rose in the starless night.
The next morning when the shepherd woke up all was different. It was a whole new world. He no longer had a limp, to start with, and when he looked at his reflexion over a polished brass mirror, his heart raced towards the horizon! There he was, flawless, beautiful dark and lustrous skin, a prince ready to take possession of all the hearts in his world. A shepherd prince!
He then slowly emerged from his hut, slowly, filled with expectation. First one leg, then the other, and finally the whole body. The first girl he encountered looked him straight in the eyes and wept. She wept without knowing why, in front of a man who didn’t knew nothing about nothing anymore. That same afternoon, hidden in the tall grass, the contract was signed! A kiss was at last given, at last received. Clothes shredded, stripped from the burning flesh in swirls of pleasure and pain. Birds cried out in the distance. The air was still. The seal was indefeasible.
And so, days went by for the shepherd prince. Days, months, from lips to lips, from hips to hips, from body to body, from river margins to grassy plains… farther and farther away from his previous existence. Until a day came, a rainy and hot day, one of those days when you just know something will happen, when you can almost smell it in the air. A white engineer and his young daughter came to the village to stay for a few weeks. The girl caught his eyes immediately. She had short hair, the colour of sun heated corn. Her big eyes were green, like the Namibe desert had once been. To his eyes, she moved like in a dream, making his body shiver and loose strength. He wanted to run away from there, but his legs wanted something different. His legs grew roots right there in the hard and dusty soil, deeper and deeper, heading for some underground and forgotten stream only existing in his imagination.
The shepherd was brave and eager, the girl was curious and rebel-at-heart, and so they met in each other’s flesh. Time stood still for those two. Suddenly, months went by in a second, seasons changed in minutes, night and day were intertwined. Until that moment, that decisive speck of dust in time, when he knew he wanted more. Better yet, he wanted less! Less of everything else, and more of that young woman. He wanted her, he wanted to marry her, he wanted children with her. But she was from a different world. The contact point between her world and his had to be kept hidden from all. The Devil was watching everything. The Devil always saw everything. But still the words came out of her mouth: “It’s almost impossible for us two. I know that. But I think I could be falling in love with you… If you just… Do you love me?”
Just a moment ago it was hot, and now a cold wind rose up scary clouds of dirt. It was done. What to do with an almost forgotten memory? How could he answer? There came the smell of ashes from the fire, birds crying in the dust… what to do with the pact? What to do now? How could he regain purity? If he told her he loved her he would be lost forever. If he told her he didn’t loved her she would forever be lost. Either way the road lead to damnation. What was there to be done? Waves in the nearby shoreline kept crashing in the rocks.
I tried to give you an idea of the general picture. I wanted to fill you in about a story I heard about when I was young. Do you understand me? The one who told me this story is no longer with us. And if I remember well, even he couldn’t tell me how it ended. It was so long ago. And it is well known that this people has his own way of trying to forget about bad things that happened. But that’s no excuse either. The truth is that when something really good is lost, there’s no point in explaining the reasons why. It just was. As for all the rest, the explanations, they serve only to poke a wound that still hurts. Nothing was there to be gained in this story. All things were built over debris of different lives and false hopes. The distance between those two was far too great, they were defeated from the start. But can someone criticise? Can you? Yes you, you who is reading this!
But to think all of this happened right here, in southwest Angola, in a place so near to where I am now, where nothing ever happens, where nothing ever will happen, makes this old heart of mine bleed once more. I had done much in the war, but I am not the Devil. I’m just another white African.