I had just finished lunch when it started to thunder and suddenly the electricity fell in the house. My first reaction was to go to the fuse board and put it back on but the lights did not restart. The problem was external and only heaven knew when the electricity company would sort it out. I went out to the big balcony to see if a lightning had damaged anything in the house. The view was stunning there, it overlooked a valley with a river and on the other side there was an endless sea of hills and mountains, which were now covered by dark clouds releasing a thick curtain of rain. The storm was heading towards me and as I was alone in the house, there was no time for my usual nap: I had to run in to shut the windows and the glass doors before the water came pouring in.
I closed the doors and the windows of the dining room and the living room, both the glass ones and the wooden ones and it got dark inside. In the kitchen, I slid the glass windows until their locks clicked inside. For some reason the cupboard doors had all opened up, so I shut them and then I checked the fridge to see if anything had happened inside; the light didn’t come on but everything else seemed fine. After that, I dealt with the two guest rooms on the ground floor. When I finished, I went back to the kitchen to grab a slice of cheese from the fridge and bizarrely the cupboard doors were all open again. I didn’t think much about it and closed them for the second time, went to the living room got a glass of water from the table and sat on the couch and drank it all in one go. It was strange in there; the rain and the wind were making a huge noise on the windows and the doors. There was some light coming in from the kitchen but otherwise it felt like nighttime and the air was very damp.
I heard a lightning crack and a loud thunder after it and remembered that there were still the windows of the upper floor to deal with. I rushed up, closed all of them, and worried because the rain had wet some of mom and dad’s books as well as some of their furniture and the things on them. I went back to the living room and started to gather the plates and the leftovers from lunch to wash them up. When went back in the kitchen, every cupboard door in the kitchen was open again, even the ones bellow the sink. I felt goose bumps climbing up my spine and in panic, I rushed out of the house. Soaking wet, I thought to myself that there was no way I was going back in and that there was nowhere else to go other than the caseiro’s, or housekeepers’ quarters, located under the balcony. With the heavy rain pouring all over my body, I ran down the stone path and knocked on the door. Jorginho, our new caseiro – or housekeeper – was not in, but his wife and his kids were. It was embarrassing to explain what had happened, but hey… I was the owner’s son so she had to welcome me in.
Housekeepers usually came as a couple; the man would deal with the maintenance, the garden, the security etc… while the wife would clean the house and cook when we were there. In exchange for this, they lived there for free and got a salary. I had seen that place being constructed, first it had been the construction’s depo and then it became the place where the workers slept. This was the first time I had been in there after caseiros started living there. Although with no light, it felt a bit like a dark, damp and cold favela hut there was something familiar in there that I liked, especially as we waited for the rain to settle. I stayed there trying my best to socialize and left when the electricity came back. I then returned to the house to face a creepy and lonely night in my room.
I would never have been in the Teresopolis if I did not have to study for my university exams. That house was too weird and too isolated for anyone to feel well in it; there was no TV and even if there had been one, the signal would have been too weak. There was nothing decent to play music on, nor was there anything else that could help a person feel sane. Outside it was gloomy, on weekdays there were only other empty country houses around and the closest store was a twenty-minute drive away. That was why I went there; I was almost forced to study as this was the only thing to do up there.
The next morning Jorginho came up to talk to me. He was different to the previous caseiros, first of all he seemed Nordic rather than Brazilian, he was as blond as blond can be, with blue eyes and much more clever and more articulate than any other person who had worked for us or, for that matter, any other local whom I had ever met. He made fun of me in a polite way, said he had to buy some things for the house and asked me if I could drive him into town. Having something to do and company was more than welcome so I accepted on the spot. Every time I spoke to him, the impression I had was that he was too good for the job. A we drove skidding on the curves and lifting mud all over the dirt road that feeling continued. We bought the stuff we needed and then he asked if it was ok if we went to the town’s center for him to deal with some personal things. Of course, I was cool with that.
When we started to drive through the town’s traffic, Jorginho seemed to know everyone around. On several red lights, he stuck his head out of the car to call his pals. That was no bullshit stunt, all of them knew him, answered back and then he would say something funny or tell them he would talk to them later. He also pointed at people and told me about their stories.
“See that dark guy in blue jeans, he’s from Rio, he told me he is running away from a gang in the Baixada Fluminense.”
After a few minutes. “That guy with dark glasses crossing the street he’s my friend, he’s a sargeant the military police.”
And then again; “Can you see that guy over there in the bar playing snooker, he sells stolen cars, do you want to buy a new one? This one is a bit of a mess.” He said with an insolent smile.
We parked in the city center, he left the car and kept me waiting there for twenty minutes and came back offering no apologies. On our way back he started to talk about the house, how he liked working and living there, how honorable my Dad was, how he liked my Mum, and gave suggestions about what we should do in terms of maintenance and improvements in the infrastructure. Last but not the least, as we were coming up the dirt path he took a joint out of his pocket, lit it up and after a puff he passed it to me. I didn’t know better and accepted it, and after my first puff he told me not worry about the police in the Jardim Salaco, as they never went up there.
According to him, the only problem in that area was an old woman who lived alone in a small house close to us. Her home was on top of a low hill just after the curve before the end of the road where our house was. I had already seen her several times and indeed, she was strange. That woman was the only person who lived permanently in the vicinity but seldom spoke to anyone, rich or poor. She had an Eastern European accent, and many suspected that she had a Nazi past too. She lived alone, had no children, no pets, never received any friend and was famous for turning her hose onto anyone who passed in front of her plot. That shower was always followed by rude words in her own language and in Portuguese. In fact our family and a few guests had received this treatment and it had never been clear to anyone why she did it.
What probably Jorginho didn’t like was that the eccentric woman had taken upon herself to police the area. In the past, she had always made a point in telling my parents whenever I arrived late and had said that I was smoking weed. She was also well known in the police force for pestering them with calls about irregularities in the neighborhood, real and imaginary. She had gone as far as sending a letter to the President of Brazil complaining about the lack of policing in the Jardim Salaco.
“Dona” Ingrid, if I am not mistaken, took one step too far when she shot a horse that was grazing in front of her entrance. Because no one liked her and no one wanted to deal with such a disgusting situation, the corpse stayed lying there for months and as time passed one could smell the carcass from a mile away. Every time we went to the house we were exposed to the goory spectacle of vultures feeding on the exposed flesh and organs, which were covered by a carpet of flies. One day Jorginho decided that enough was enough and poured a five-liter tin of kerosene over the carcass and finally set it on fire.
This may have been a turning point. Weeks later we received a complaint from a farmer; one of his cattle had wondered into our land, had been shot and then had become barbecue while we were not there, In order not to anger my parents, Jorginho had been careful to give us some of the meat. I am not sure how my parents dealt with the situation, but the case was dropped soon after. What I do know is that one day Jorginho’s wife, who was way more attractive than any servant we had ever had in Teresopolis – or even in Rio – came to my Mum to tell her she was leaving with the children. She also told mom to be careful and that ahe didn’t know who she was allowing to look after her house.
Burglaries started to happen in the area and every house was affected except for ours. One of the neighbors was General Lemme, a man who was very high up in the ranks of the fading dictatorship. It may have been because of the possible combination of the old lady’s big mouth and the General’s power to get things done that freaked Jorginho out. Anyway, one day she was found dead in her hut. It was not a natural death, she had been murdered – not surgically with a shot, but savagely ripped apart with a knife. The walls had graffitis written with her blood reading maconha (marijuana) and putaria (dirty sex). The house stayed abandoned, and whenever I went up with my friends, we would use it to smoke weed and to have jam sessions, the first times it was eerie but then we got used to it.
Dad died around this time – although it was in Teresopolis it was for natural reasons and had nothing to do with our caseiro. I stayed for some time without going up and Jorginho continued to “keep” the house for a couple of years. By then Mum knew who she had living under her balcony but was threatened when she tried to fire him. It took a long time for me to know about this part and can’t say what I would have done if I had known. As most criminals in Rio, he disappeared from one day to another. By then mom had remarried and it wasn’t difficult to find a replacement..