It was Friday on a hot spring night; Juvenal didn’t show up at the office all week. Everyone commented that two weeks ago he looked very strange, with his head down, he didn’t speak; he who always animated the mornings with his jokes, stories, served everyone with cordiality, was a key part of Happy Hour.
I called his cell phone several times “The phone is off or out of range”; no one answered.
The day before yesterday, when I called his landline, the operator said the number was out of service!
Before going up to his apartment, I passed by the restaurant-bar below, glued to his building entrance door. No, Mr Juvenal had not even shown up for breakfast.
I rang the bell once, waited, rang again; nothing. He could be taking a shower or doing his own thing; I waited 10 minutes, rang again, nothing! I knocked on the door and shouted “Juvencio! Are you there? Are you all right? It’s Louzada. Need to talk to you!”.
It seems that this last sentence resulted in an “open sesame”: I heard the door unlock, a crack opened, “What do you have for me?”.
I put my foot between the half-open door and the jamb, “Juvencio, I do need to talk to you! Open this door for good!”.
He opened, retreating; dirty curly hair, dishevelled, unshaven for days, face as pale as the A4 paper on the table beside his laptop, deep purple eyes, corneas with veins of blood from those who are tired and slept very little, but clean: he had not taken drugs; yellow tank top stained with coffee and oil stains, shabby black shorts.
Good God, Juvenal! What happened to you?
- Did you come to bring something for me or did you just come to bug me?
What should I bring?
- If you don’t know it is because you just came to disturb me, to piss me off!
I tried to put my hand on his shoulder, he walked away; I pushed him gently into the armchair, which, due to the crumpled cushion, was the one he was supposed to be sitting on.
Please sit down and listen to me. He sat down, leaning on the arms of the chair.
The apartment was nice and well decorated, — certainly Zelia’s work -, three suites, a breakfast room, a living room, a small office, and two balconies.
We were in the living room where to the main door opened; there he had brought his desk and laptop. To the right, a three-seater sofa, another armchair in front, large windows at the back, now closed by blinds and curtains, a table at right, with a bowl overflowing with butts; I pulled up a chair from the dining room and sat down very close and in front of him, looking him in the eye; I pretended I didn’t smell the stink.
Juvencio, you know that for me you are the best friend, almost a brother, companion, adviser to whom I told what I didn’t even know, shoulder on which I cried with sadness, celebrated joy; you are a part of me.
Brother, I need you, please, tell me what happens or happened, tell me how I can, how I should help.
Juvenal, bent over, hands on his face, eyes closed, elbows on his knees, it was hard to spill.
- Give me a cigarette?
I gave one to him and got another one for myself.
He lit it with the lighter beside the bowl; he took a long drag, slowly let out the smoke from the corners of the mouth, rising through his moustache, beard, and nostrils.
- Phew! Four days without smoking!
It took a little longer …
- Lu, I’m like on death row, waiting for a pardon that doesn’t come.
I didn’t comment, I waited.
- Do you remember Ze Greasy, Josef Carindo or Durindo?
Carlindo, I said, I remember, boring guy!
- Two years ago, at the beginning of summer, or was it still spring? I left the restaurant under the office and went to have coffee and smoke a cigarette on a sidewalk table.
He arrived, stopped in front of me,
- Dr Juvenal,
- Put the doctor down.
- Yes sir; I know that everyone comments that I’m boring, naughty, but it’s my job, my breadwinner, I have to sell my product and I don’t know how to be a better seller. I need to talk to you for a few minutes, nobody up there lets me finish …
You know how I am or was …
I said: well, sit down, but be brief, I must go back to my breadwinner.
Sir, I was hired to sell applications at Laziness Constructions, well known and recognized as a good contractor and developer, I have the audited balance sheets, portfolio, here…
And started to open the folder.
- I don’t want, have no time, no interest, to see these documents; continue.
- The company is constantly expanding and is willing to pay, more than twice the savings, whoever wants to participate in its current and new launches. The member receives, as guarantees, a check for the value of the investment, a contract in which a property under construction is collateral, responsibility ensured by the company and partners, with the stipulated monthly amount. Balances that are not withdrawn are subject to monthly interest equal to the monthly income from the investment.
- But is this legal?
- Of course, doctor, sorry, sir, everything accounted for and audited, contracts made by the legal sector. There are more than three hundred associates, two of whom you know,
- He gave me the names; I knew them.
- Well, even myself, “Greasy” (I know they call me that up there), I already managed to sell eight.
- ‘Okay, Ze, it looks interesting, but I’ll think. Meet me right here, in two days.
- Thank you, Mr Juvenal. And he was gone.
Juvenal went to the kitchen, brought two glasses of water, without saucers. He took a few sips and asked for another cigarette. He swallowed without so much anxiety, blew the smoke normally.
- Yes, I had the names of the company and the friends he mentioned; I pulled the Incorporation Registration, called the acquaintances. Everything seemed to be in order and working well.
Thursday, when I left the restaurant, there was already “Greasy”, hands on his knees, looking at the crowd of people who pass by the avenue at this hour, paying more attention to, you guessed it … he smiled for the first time.
Yes, I said, and I smiled too.
- He already had a contract with someone, signed with the witnesses, recognized firms, only the amount was missing.
I told him the value: he didn’t even blink, but I felt his enthusiasm.
- Mr Juvenal, if you can, tomorrow I will bring you an equal contract, in your name and a check of equal value; I just need your full qualification, name and ID and your witness. He stretched out his notebook.
I already expected this and had chosen as a witness a friend of the company where I had worked.
- Of your signature, I will recognize the firm myself, in this office next door, where I imagine you have a record.
- Well, I’ll wait for you tomorrow.
He stopped talking, swallowed, a few more sips of water, sawed me another.
Elbows on knees again, hands holding head down.
- On death row, without reprieve!
Go on, Juvêncio, what is this crazy story?
- Lu, I got this post because of you, and …
I just gave you your name, your credentials, experience, did everything, and at a time when the office needed someone like you. Litigation was no longer possible with just three lawyers.
Not only did you enter, but you also closed the picture for years. I know you were asked to head the department, and you declined, saying that the job should be of one of the oldest.
The partners were so excited that your bonuses must have been quite large.
- It’s true, that’s why I had that money I applied with Zé Greasy. I still kept a little in the Bank.
He sobbed and said quietly: Zélia and the children were sorely missed …
- Everything worked fine in the first four months; in the fifth, they did not deposit; I called and they had the nerve to say that they were in difficulties and could only pay again in two years!
I freaked out. I looked for Alfredo Júnior, partner’s lawyer, I took all the documents I had. He examined and said that, if I agreed, I would file lawsuits, an annulment with a request for indemnity and a request for an injunction, anticipation of guardianship, who knows what else. He guaranteed that we will win the case and, for that reason, he would only charge me 3% fees on success; will also receive succumbing.
Unanimity in the first instance. But we know our Justice: petitions and other naughtiness, the Court did not accept and sent it to the Court of Appeals.
In the first trial session, an “Honourable”, who maybe have been “graced by some favour” (Juvenal made the quotation marks with his fingers), asked for views and returned only after the 120 days, the maximum allowed by the Law.
In a new trial, the good lady’s son left the room, the Rapporteur moved on to another date!
And there it is, awaiting retrial for who knows when.
We were living with what I had at the Bank.
There came a time when I had to make a drastic and painful decision: I convinced Zelia to go and take the children to her parents’ home in Vinhedo before we had even more food. There they have food, help, and a lot of affection. I love my in-laws.
With reason! I said. I met them on your or Zelia’s birthday; a friendly, firm handshake, warm hug, eye to eye, delicious and intelligent prose. Your father-in-law tells better jokes and better than you …
He smiled again.
- Yeah, and now here I am, as I said feeling as on a death row, without the family, without even a phone to talk to them, unpaid bills, name in the SPC …
The doorbell rang.
- Don’t answer! Do not move!
It rang again and again.
- Let it be! I don’t wait for anyone, but I’m glad to see you.
And he continued to parade his ailments, repeating himself, becoming confused.
I heard a graze on the door. Wait a minute, I won’t open it, just see what this noise is.
I took the envelope addressed to him, handed it over.
It seems that something has assured him that it was no other charge, more problems. He opened the envelope, coughed, choked,
He reread it aloud to me.
” Juvenal, I am trying to talk to you without success; I’ve come here three or four times and nobody was there. I leave this envelope and, when you get my message, call me.
I have here what you call freedom or something, “THE” check and something else; but I must deliver it to you personally; and receive my fee from you”.
They may have money, but we have respect.
(A scribble in which you could guess “Alfredo Júnior”).
He looked through me, dumbfounded.
He started to jump and shout: “The Pardon! The Pardon! “
- Lend me your cell.
He knew the number by heart.
- Alfredo! I was here and didn’t want to answer thinking it was more of a problem. Excuse me! I can’t believe it!
- Like? Now? … I’ll wait at the bar down there.
He called Zelia.
- The Pardon! The Pardon!
And he started to explain. I left, took the opportunity to go to the bathroom; I gave him plenty of time to speak in privacy.
I came back, he had lit another cigarette.
- Let’s go to the bar now!
- Go take a shower first, you stink!
- Now! Everyone will do like you who pretended not to notice.
And headed for the door.
We entered the restaurant-bar and there was a shout: Mr Juvenal! You are back!
We sat at the same table we always sat at, outside.
Beppo himself came to see us.
- Sio Juvenale, che joy! We thought that you male. Good night Sio Losada. What desirette?
- Two draft beer and two shots of that cachaça from the barrel.
Beppo returned with the drinks and a deep plate full of slices of sausages baked in the charcoal oven, lemon, pepper, ketchup, mustard, paper napkins …
- Oggi è dia dell’amico: the piatti san per conta di me.
- Thank you, Beppo, but we are waiting for Dr Alfredo.
- Chiaro! He is also my invitation.
Juvêncio spoke like a rattle, told about Zelia, their children, that she would return on Sunday, of the cachaça, what happened at the office, what with of his long-term work, that this time he would take a vacation when could, would travel with his family …
He didn’t see Alfredo coming from behind, looking like a kid; white t-shirt, jeans with little expensive tears, white sneakers, back brim cap, motorcycle boy style …
He arrived, Juvenal grappled with him, wet his shirt with tears, stained it with his mouth smeared with mustard.
Finally, Alfredo managed to sit down; he took the envelope out from under the armpit, opened it and showed the check and the judgment in which the court ordered Laziness Constructions to pay him the entire balance, corrected by the same amounts agreed in the contract, in 12 months, monthly instalments always correcting the balance payable, under penalty of fine and imprisonment if not paid within 30 days of the dates. The Judge overlooked the venial sins committed by the parties by making payments that could be interpreted as interest and then as a crime of usury.
Alfredo held out his hand …
- Calm! First my fee check.
- I left the check folder in the apartment, I’ll get it.
- No need: I have your chequebook, remember? Here it is and already filled; just sign.
General laughter; Check and envelope plus chequebook changed hands.
Beppo arrived with three more draft beers and three cachaças.
- Beppo, don’t get me wrong, but cachaça gives me a headache; bring me a dose of that Red Label that moulds on the shelf and a low glass with a lot of ice.
- You can leave it, Beppo, I’ll share with Lousada.
Beppo Returns with the bottle of Red Label, low glass and an ice bucket.
- Servate Dottore.
Everyone with their drinks in hand got up. Beppo came running with a glass with Amaro Averno.
TO THE PARDON!