To live is too dangerous

portinari_retirantes“I tell you, Sir, from all I lived: the most difficult deed isn’t a good being and an honest behaving. Really difficult is a defined knowing on what one wants, and having the power to go till the tail of the word.” From “The Devil to Pay in the Backlands,” Guimarães Rosa.

For someone who spends his days in front of computer screens, his body is comically covered by scars. He could easily be mistaken for an unlucky war veteran or a goofy criminal. But each of those scars had the most banal and stupid reason for being.

His left arm is crossed by two thick and long patches of bright pink skin looking like a skull smile. He got those when he was very young. Apparently his parents thought that it would be a good idea to let a seven-years-old child go walking on the street, holding a big glass bottle. Well, it wasn’t.

His forehead also brings a scar from that distant past. Distracted playing hide-and-seek, he didn’t see the window stool running against him.

He thinks that it wasn’t much later when another scar was imprinted on him—that time on his right knee. He was trying to trespass a barbed-wired fence to pick up mangoes from a tree.

From many years later, a small cut hides between his fingers in his left hand. A minor kitchen-knife accident. More impressive, however, is the cicatrix on his right wrist. No, it doesn’t shamefully denounce a failed suicide attempt, but just a silly slide on a wet bathroom floor.

If you see the big mark cutting through his left elbow, then you would bet that it was to remove a bullet dangerously lodged near his heart. What else could it be? Well, it was in fact nothing more than a simple atheroma surgery butchery-performed by an old Hungarian doctor.

And these are only the external marks.

For almost three decades a gastritis haunts him, probably engraving scary marks on the inner walls of his stomach, where—he hopes—he will never glance at.

That’s not to speak of all those unavoidable emotional scars, whose marks carved in the soul, he doesn’t dare to face.

He agrees with Guimarães Rosa’s character: to be good and honest isn’t even difficult. The difficult task has been to know what he really wants and how he can make it real. Specially with all the scars-to-be hidden ahead in his future, just running invisible against him, to strike when he least expects… To live is too dangerous, isn’t it?

But cautious, he already left instructions for his eventual funeral: he wants to be burned. His ashes must be stored in a jar, in such a way that whenever anyone opens it, he will suddenly burst in a ghostly cloud and grant the person three treasured wishes. This will be his biggest, or, more probably, only legacy.


  • This post opens with a citation from “The Devil to Pay in the Backlands” (“Grande Sertão: Veredas“) by Guimarães Rosa (1956). It’s one of the most impressive pieces of work in the Brazilian literature. Curiously, it’s also almost completely unknown out of the Latin world. An English translation was published in 1963, but it has been out of press since then. You can know more about the book in this blog.
  • The citation is my free translation from the following excerpt:

“Afirmo ao Senhor, do que eu vivi: o mais difí­cil não é um ser bom e proceder honesto, dificultoso mesmo, é um saber definido o que quer, e ter o poder de ir até o rabo da palavra.”

  • The illustration is the Cândido Portinari‘s “Retirantes” (1944).
  • If you enjoyed this post, you may also like “One billion faces.”
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Categories: Fiction

Tags: , , ,

3 replies

  1. I loved this short piece. You pulled me in from the start.


  1. The End and the Life | Much Bigger Outside

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