credits: Max Gonçalves


Vinícius’ poems, French music, tiny messages on scented paper, even an attempt at a poorly rhymed and poorly written poem. Love stuff, would say the closest friends and the poker group. “That’s madness!”, said the most intimate ones, family and staff.

The woman only wanted to know who the other was, the one who would take him to a different life, but nothing changed, even a hired private detective found out that there was no one else, or that she was so well hidden that it wasn’t worth worrying about her.

She, the current wife, decided to follow him. When he left, she’d go after him, but she never saw a thing, it was always the same absurd, repetitive routine, no imagination. But why this absolute happiness, then? What about the letters, the messages, the different, young clothes? Nothing made sense, it was a dream and a nightmare at the same time.

Since she was our friend, she appealed to us. – What should I do? – she asked, scared. – I’m sure it’s another woman, he’s even smarter!

Due to this last piece of information, that he was smarter, we resolved to include him in our group to discover the mystery. The poet distributed Sherlock Holmes’ books so we could practice, gave us two days to read the adventures of the world’s most famous detective and learn something.

Nara Leão, with scary logic, said: - If by reading books we learned how to be a detective, the police academies out there wouldn’t exist, people would just call someone who could read.

We called Helio Pelegrini, Brazil’s best psychoanalyst, who attentively listened to the story about Zé Manuel’s transformation, and after thinking for a while, asked: - Did he changed his name, got a new nickname, or something like that? Because if he’s still Zé Manuel, it’s difficult to believe. Zé Manuel doesn’t change, is Zé Manuel until the end. She’s the one who should have gotten married to a Felipe, a Marcos Vinicius, someone with the name of an emperor. These change easily, but Zé Manuel…

Marina Morena, a friend of ours, Rute Almeida Prado’s daughter, who got this name in honor of Caymmi, was still on our feet.

- If you guys, who are part of our country’s biggest intelligences, can’t find out, who’s going to discover what happened to Zé Manuel?

We invited Zé to our Friday-morning-meeting at Montenegro’s bar. He was reluctant, he’d have to miss work, but when he knew who was coming and was sure that both the little poet and the maestro would be there, he threw it all up in the air, put a red polo shirt and white trousers on and, as an American tourist, he sat at our table.

It was a shame having that white Zé, with his straight hair and scary outfit sitting with us at our sacred table, but we would do anything for Marina. We started with caipirinhas, and Zé complied with joy. In order to get to the truth as fast as we could, we told him that every time someone new came into our group, this person had to drink two caipirinhas while the little poet drank one. If he didn’t comply with our ritual, he’d have to leave the table, and we would never look at him again.

The strategy was to get him drunk as quickly as we could, and when he had a glazed look, staggering, we would go straight on the subject, forcing him to deliver his redemptive response, and Marina would know the truth.

After thirty-seven minutes, he had drunk eight caipirinhas and was still well, interested, in awe with Ipanema’s irresponsible life, and had even risked uttering a couple of words.

We appeal to our secret weapon, letting him know that after forty minutes the little poet started drinking scotch, and then the proportion had to be three to one, in other words, for each of the poet’s doses, three glasses should be drunk by the newbie.

Zé Manuel agreed on a whim, and even solemnly announced that he would pay the first round, quickly ordering a scotch for each one of us, and three for himself.

The other Manuel, the Portuguese one, owner of the pub, with the logic of a fado singer, asked:

- You’re having all three at once? In three different glasses? Don’t you find it easier to ask for a triple dose, or do you really like the glasses?

Zé Manuel, with impossible tranquility and patience for whom already had had eight caipirinhas, explained to Manuel that that was an acceptance ritual, so each glass that was brought to the poet should be accompanied by three other glasses for himself. Manuel, incredulous, replied:

- You’ll die of alcoholic coma, and those won’t even be there for the funeral.

Another half hour, and nothing happened. Zé Manuel seemed to be sobering up and becoming the owner of the situation after every three doses he drank. There had been nine doses of scotch and eight capirinhas for him so far. That was when, with the finesse of an elephant, Edu Lobo, who had just recently arrived and aware of the objective of that meeting – if you don’t know, Edu was kind of in love for Marina – was anxious to blame Zé, to get them to divorce, and then marry his loved one.

As we were saying, he subtlety asked:

- So, Zé, you’ve so many women, are you straying with a blonde or a brunette?

A staggering silence fell, we all looked at Edu and waited for the answer. Zé Manuel, somewhat graceless, as someone who would have to expose himself beyond the limits, answered.

- Dude, you’ll find this strange, but I was married a virgin and up to now I’ve just had Marina, sorry, that’s who I am, probably boring to you, without stories nor romances to share it’s even worse.

We fell into a joint, sound laugh, and we were laughing so hard that Zé Manuel got suddenly drunk, and started laughing not exactly knowing why. After all, with a simple reply we had solved half of the problem, the other half was understanding his behavioral changes. Marine would never accept this simplistic conclusion, since he had even changed the perfume he wore, and there had to be an explanation for that.

Impossible to get anything else at that time, Zé was completely drunk, he couldn’t hold his head straight, and we estimated that he’d be game over in eleven minutes max.

É had been carried by the waiter, Esteves, and put on a cab that dropped him by his building. From there to the penthouse, where he lived, he got carried by the doorman, Otacílio, and by the driver, Fagundes. The door was opened by an afflict Marina, they took him to bed, ready to receive him, with its Egyptian thread sheets, and lavender scent.

Nervous therefore polite, Marina asked if he was still alive.

- Yes, he is – Otacílio answered -, but oh so drunk!

With this sentence, they left. Terrified, Marina looked at that man who was now unknown to her, now even more, because in twelve years of marriage he had never drunk a thing, not even beer. Since Zé was unable to answer anything for the next hours, she grabbed her phone and did not leave us in peace, she wanted to know it all, and blamed us for our indifference towards her suffering.

We had agreed we would say nothing until we could solve the other half of the problem. There was no point, anyway, since she wouldn’t believe us and we would loose our only Marina Morena. So we justified the drunkenness by Zé’s amateurism.

We apologized and promised that we needed just another week to solve the issue, we would know the reason for so many changes. At an emergency meeting, we decided to split in two teams. One team would go to our encounters at Montenegro’s, we would all be there, making sure Zé was comfortable, and little by little we would be able to analyze his behavior and discover the truth.

And the other team would adopt the strategy of tête-à-tête meetings: each of us would try to go out with him alone for a drink, dinner, or even the movies if that’s what it would take, trying to enter that huge secret of his and discover the reason for his changes.

Nothing! The week was gone and we had to beg to Marina Morena a postponement, we explained that the science of investigation was much harder than writing poems or music, we gave her other reasons and we got ourselves another week. Before giving this deadline to us, though, she made sure she told us that after he started gathering with our crew, he was even worse, he had started reading poetry before going to be, and that meant, for Marina, a new love.

- Only men who are in love read poetry, men hate those things.

- What about poets? – we asked.

- Oh, if not gay, it’s a lover boy, or makes poetry to present or impress the ladies.

And with that, reduced to this simple definition, we got two more weeks to work. The first tête-à-tête meeting was with Edu - after all, he was the most interested party, wanting to solve all of that quickly and freeing Marina from Zé Manuel.

They set up a meeting at Garcia, a drink and maybe even some food, if the conversation was too long. Edu went straight to the point.

- Everyone is finding is strange this transformation of yours, Zé, people want to know what’s happening, and most are betting that you have found a new love, a lover, anyway, you’re into something.

Zé, excited, asked:

- Am I better this way?

- Of course – Edu replied.

It was the moment to please him so the truth would come out.

- Well, you know, I was feeling a bit boring, it was boring even to myself, I looked in the mirror and was depressed, so I started to think how could she like me like that, I had to change.

- So there is a she? – Edu replied, anticipating the solution and finding himself the best of the improvised Sherlocks.

- Of course – Zé Manual answered, smiling.

- Tell me who this goddess is, then.

- She’s the best of the goddesses, but I can’t tell you, you’ll laugh on me.

Even with all the insistence, several scotches, even a lobster lunch, Zé remained irreducible and didn’t say the name everybody wanted to know.

When Edu told us about the meeting in details we were obliged to gather the group. A confession had been made, Zé was changed because of a woman. There had been a previous confession in which he said he was married a virgin, there was the detective’s work that hadn’t turned out well, there was Marina checking everything that belong to Zé: address book, phone and all that, trying to put her hands on anything she possibly could.

After gathering all the facts, as Sherlock Holmes did in his books, we called a doctor Watson, no one else than our psychoanalyst, Helio.

- Elementary - he said -, after all you have told me, I’m sure Zé’s in love, deeply in love, one of those unique moments in life.

And once he said this sentence, he solemnly rose, because he would soon be attending another patient. We were answered and staggered. The mystery still went on. We decided to tell everything we knew to Marina, to prove her we tried, that we actually had the motive, but we didn’t have a name. In fact, all the changes had been in the name of love, but who was Zé’s muse?

Deep mystery… Marina cried nonstop, if she were Greek she would be disheveled, throwing sand on her face, but since she was from Rio and vain, she cried even without tears so her make-up wouldn’t be ruined.

We required another two weeks, and she agreed without reacting. On her side the search also showed signs, but nothing concrete. She had found poetry clippings in his wallet, with the renowned words highlighted: … immortal while it lasts… And so many others that indicated the inevitable. Zé Manuel was completely in love.

As expected, we commented the fact that he had gotten married a virgin, Marina not only confirmed the information, but also cried a little bit more, tear-free, when she was reminded of such passion.

- He’s capable of those things, and now everything belongs to someone else…

Some more dry sobbing, and then we walked all together by the beach towards the pub. Edu spoke quietly, with a very serious voice: - Why don’t you do the same, get yourself a boyfriend? Let’s see what’s his reaction.

To Edu’s discouragement and sadness, Marina answered: - There’s no way, the more he changes, the more I like him. Maybe that’d work before, he was too boring, always the same, but now…

And so the future of that impossible love was sealed. Marina confessed to be lost in love by the new Zé Manuel. In despair, we decided to have something to drink, we got there earlier, and no one would risk an opinion. We had failed. Marina started to doubt about our capacity to know it all.

The maestro tried a few words:

- Why don’t we open up to him and tell him the whole story? It can’t get any worse.

In the absolute lack of another idea, we invited Zé Manuel for an encounter on Friday at Montenegro’s, with the possibility of staying until Saturday. Once it was all set, we invoked Helio, who would just sit and listen before determining, to his knowledge, if he was telling the truth or not.

We organized the seats in a way that Zé was between the little poet and me, in front of the maestro, with Helio the psychiatrist and Edu beside him.

It dawned as it only dawns in Ipanema, no rain, no wind, with the smell of sea and fresh sand. It was all set for the big day. Zé was on time, all smiles, dressing a patterned T-shirt, as if he were an American lost in the world, white trousers and a Panama hat. I was in charge of conducting the subject. Once we had chosen our caipirinhas, distributed the seats, I went straight to the point an, with striking details, just like Marina’s dry tears, I didn’t hide a thing.

To our surprise, Zé started laughing and jumping up and down. As it was too early for soccer, the waiter Evaristo came to help him, thinking he was having a heart attack, but Zé laughed and jumped, he took the maestro to dance, spinning around the tables as if he’d just won the lottery.

When we finally calmed him down, we complained: - Are you crazy, man? Speak now, say her name.

All smiles and full of reason, Zé spoke:

- She’s Marina, you guys. It’s been a few months since she started going out in the afternoon, every time I left she’d leave too, and then I thought: there’s got to be a man in this story, she’s in love with someone else.

- I started myself in the mirror and concluded I had to change. Who would like a guy who was called Zé Manuel who only had gray and black clothes? Who would like a boring man like me? I spoke to the barber, a guy who’s expert about women, and he advised me to white clothes and matching shoes, I had a haircut, remember that I even started drinking? And that worked. Little by little Marina was closer, we had sex all the time, she asked if I weren’t tired. I became a friend of you guys, but still suspicious, she went out a lot, she always wanted to know where I’d been. I trusted the barber and myself, and told myself:

- I’ll win this battle. Now you guys come and tell me that the other guy was myself, halleluiah!

And there went Zé Manuel, dancing among the tables, joyful as a young boy. While he danced, we asked Helio what that was all about.

- That’s love. True love.


Max Gonçalves

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