Issue 199, Winter 2011
Someone who has never stolen is not going to understand me. And someone who has never stolen roses will never be able to understand me. When I was little, I stole roses.
In Recife there were innumerable streets. The streets of the rich were lined with little palaces that stood in the middle of large gardens. My girl friend and I loved to play at guessing whom these little palaces belonged to. “That white one is mine.” “No, I already told you the white ones are mine.” “But this one isn’t completely white. It has green windows.” Some days we spent a long time with our faces pressed against the fence, looking.
That’s how it began. One day, during a game of “this house is mine,” we stopped in front of a house that looked like a small castle. In the back, we could see an immense orchard, and in the front, well-tended beds, planted with flowers.
Anyway, off in its own bed was a half-opened rose of a deep pink hue. I was amazed, gazing with admiration at this haughty rose, which had not yet become a woman. And then it happened: from the depths of my heart I wanted this rose for myself. I wanted it, ah, how I wanted it. And there was no way to get it. If the gardener had been there, I would have asked for the rose, knowing all the while that he would drive us away as one drives away naughty children. There was no gardener in sight, there was no one. And because of the sun the windows were shuttered. It was a street where the trams didn’t go and cars rarely appeared. Between my silence and the silence of the rose, there was my desire to possess it—a thing that belonged only to me. I wanted to be able to grasp it. I wanted to smell it until I felt faint, my sight dimmed by such a dizziness of perfume.
Then I could stand it no longer. The plan came to me in an instant, in a wave of passion. But, great director that I was, I reasoned coolly with my friend, explaining to her what her role would be: to keep an eye on the windows of the house or to watch for the possible approach of the gardener, to keep an eye on the few passersby in the street. Meanwhile, I slowly pushed open a gate in the rusty fence, knowing it would make a slight creak. I opened it only enough to allow my slender child’s body to pass through. And, tiptoeing, but quickly, I crossed the pebbles surrounding the beds. By the time I reached the rose, a century of heartbeats had passed.
Here I am in front of it at last. I stop for an instant, despite the danger, because up close it is even more beautiful. Finally I start to break off the stem, pricking my fingers on the thorns and sucking the blood from my fingers.
And suddenly … here it is, all of it, in my hand. The race back to the gate also had to be in silence. I passed through the half-opened gate, clutching the rose. And then, pale, the two of us, the rose and I, we ran far from the house.
And what did I do with the rose? I did this: the rose was mine.
I took it to my house, I put it in a vase of water where it reigned supreme, with its thick and velvety petals of various shades of rose tea. In the center the color was more concentrated and the heart seemed almost red.
It felt so good.
It felt so good that, simply put, I began to steal roses. The process was always the same: the girl keeping watch while I entered, broke the stem, and fled with the rose in my hand. Always with my heart pounding and always with that glory that no one could take away from me.
I also stole red berries. There was a Presbyterian church near my house, surrounded by a green hedge that was so tall and dense it blocked the view of the church. I never managed to see beyond the corner of the church roof. The hedge was of pitanga berries. But pitangas are hidden fruits. I never saw a single one. So, first looking all around to make sure that no one was coming, I put my hand between the railings. I plunged it into the hedge and began to feel around until my fingers touched the moist fruit. Many times, in a hurry, I crushed a ripe berry, which left my fingers looking bloodstained. I picked a bunch and ate them there, and I threw away the ones that were too green.
No one ever knew this. I don’t regret it: a thief of roses and pitangas has one hundred years of forgiveness. The pitangas, for example, asked to be picked, instead of ripening and dying, virgins, on the branch.
—Translated from Portuguese by Rachel Klein