The story goes that, as a result of the attacks he suffered, Leon Trotsky died at least three deaths. The first of them, on May 24, 1940, when the painter David Siqueiros led an attack on the house where Trotsky lived. But despite heavy fire from machine guns, 30 caliber automatic rifles and incendiary bombs, Trotsky narrowly escaped. “I was born again,” he reportedly said.
The second death, which everyone thought was final on August 21, 1940, would have been the result of a pickaxe blow delivered by Ramón Mercader on August 20. But no. Not even Isaac Deutscher, Trotsky’s great biographer, knew about the third death that was created among the popular communists in Recife.
So it was, and I recover.
Saturday night, João’s bar, which we called the caldinho stall (the “caldinho” is bean broth plus tomato paste and liver pâté, sold with sugar cane brandy) with its doors closed. Seven o’clock at night, 1971.
Spinelli, Zanoni and I are in our best clothes for the art session at the Cine Coliseu. In front of the small wall that limits the land of João’s house and shack, we make our starting point.
The heat of the Água Fria suburban night makes seu João come out with his shirt open over his belly. He comes out to see us, for a chat, but he comes out as if by chance, without direction, as if he just came to rest his eyes in the dust of the night. He widens his eyes and, to better assure himself that there are no strangers around, starts the conversation by irrelevant remarks, while turning his face to one side or the other. Leaning back against the gate of the house.
– Have you “entropofogado” yet, Zanoni?
– All “entropofogged,” Uncle.
“Entropofogar” is a verb created by João. The meaning changes according to the circumstances between him and his friends. It can mean “have you already eaten?”, or “have you left everything ready, shrimp, lemon juice, brandy, for Sunday?”, or even: “have you already put your week’s pay in your pocket?”, or, if the reference is to a client, “so-and-so was drunk? But who knows? Who will know? Mr. João has already insinuated, in those times of military dictatorship, his definitive security maxim: “You never know”. So he addresses us, prisoners and victims of this night:
– Are you going to entropofogar?
Entropofogar now could possibly mean, go to the whorehouse, kids?
– No, we are going to the movies. To the cine de arte – we answer very dignified.
– Ah, they come back entropofogados.
They come back fucked without sex, he may now mean. We swallow dry. Let’s not discuss the return, as if we were satisfied with the art cinema session! His John now comes closer, to tighten the bond better. But still cautiously.
– It is so hot. The leaves don’t even flutter.
Look to one side, look to the other.
– João Aticum-Cagão came by today. He already arrived here. He wanted to talk about the United States, about the American, because he wanted to, I mean, he really wanted to attack American imperialism. With the balcony full of people. If I gave him a little bit of rope, in a little while he would be talking (lowers voice) about Vietnam, about Cuba, about Fidel. Huh? Am I a boy? Oh, come on.
– But Mr. João – says Spinelli -, a conversation like this, as long as you limit the level of the approach…
– Approach… And I am a ship, Spinelli? (He goes to the rest, looking for support) All kinds of people come to my shack. Men, women, old, young, black, white, entropofoga from there, entropofoga from here…
– But Mr. João…
– Listen, pay attention. You never know. (And more quietly) Or do you think they come to the shack with a uniform and bayonet? It was funny!
There’s a whisper among us that can’t be articulated in a more intelligible sound. This murmur means that we disagree with your John, but we don’t have much strength to come up with an answer that contradicts him. To get around the impasse, one of us points a way out:
– Shall we go? If not, we’ll lose the movie.
But it is clear that João is not satisfied. From our whispering, he knows that his thesis has not been agreed upon. And, even more clearly, he is not going to be alone looking at the stones of Zeferino Street, at number 178. Here’s to our movement:
– Listen. Psst! Did you understand?
– Of course, Mr. João. We understand…
– It’s not that, my son. You still don’t understand. Just one more thing.
And he calls us with gestures, emphatic and emphatic, for one last secret by the wall of the caldinho stall. In a low voice:
– There are a lot of fifth columnists out there, do you understand? With these people only the mustache of steel. The mustache of steel had no buts, but not with him.
As his voice lowers, blood colors rise on his face. To those who pass by the side of the Alfredo Freyre School, on the other side of the street, he seems to pass a fiery criticism.
– Do you know how Trotsky died? (Murmurs) Shush, listen!
We hush, all around him.
– Ever since Lenin, Trotsky had been preaching counterrevolution. But Lenin was half a diplomat, very intellectual, it was Trotsky undoing and Lenin talking, “it could be Trotsky, let’s see, Trotsky”…
John takes a deep breath, as if coming to the end of a long race.
– Lenin dies. Lenin dies and Stalin, the steel mustache, takes over. Then the conversation was already different. It was action! Do you understand? The situation changed. The capitalists are all trying to put the Russians on the brink, laying siege to them, what do you want? It’s the same thing as your doctor and madam coming here, to my shack, to change my business to their liking. Huh? It’s from this wall out!
And he goes back to the narration about Stalin and Trotsky:
– But listen. So what is Trotsky doing? If it’s Trotsky changing, no, he thought that with the steel mustache it was easier. He started to want, openly, to overthrow Stalin. Listen. Stalin, still out of respect for Lenin, tried to talk: “Trotsky, you stop it. It’s not the way you want it, no. Let’s make it smaller. And Trotsky said: “No, because it is too early for Russia to become communist, let’s slow down, let’s stop”, and he said this to everybody. What he was really trying to do was to play into the hands of the enemy, do you understand? It was… And Stalin, already losing patience: “Trotsky… Trotsky, you’re killing me already. And Trotsky, poof, poof, poof, you’re wrong… and opening the flank for the enemy. Then Stalin lost his patience and expelled Trotsky: “Damn you, go to the imperialists.
Listen. That’s how it was. Pay attention. You see, if Stalin had been a wicked man, he could have finished Trotsky off right there, right now, in Russia. He didn’t lack strength, courage, a strong fist. If he demolished the elite troops of the Nazis, if he destroyed the largest military force in the world, eh?
– But Mr. John,” we dare to provoke, “wasn’t it General Cold who defeated the Nazis?
– Yes, it was the cold general… Stalin was a very cold general.
And he keeps wagging his chin, staring at us.
– Shush! Don’t interrupt. Then Trotsky goes round and round and stops in Mexico. He stops there, but he keeps talking. You can see how things are. From Mexico, Trotsky continued to want to command the fifth columnists in Russia. And Stalin, from time to time, would send a warning, “Trotsky, Trotsky…” (and your John speaks “Trotsky” like a dog that growls at anyone who wants to take his bone): “Trotsky … Trotsky ….”, and Trotsky speaking. Trotsky spoke, he wrote, he made connections with the reactionary Russians, with the English, with the Americans…
John looks at me, looks at Spinelli, looks at Zanoni. He is now absolutely certain of domination, the powerful outcome is his.
– To make a long story short. To make a long story short. There in Mexico, right there in Mexico, spontaneously the Mexican people revolted and killed Trotsky!
A silence falls over us like that of the unbelievers when faced with a testimony of faith. We are left without the slightest desire to oppose a restriction, to correct, to amend the third assassination of Trotsky. If we correct the third, we turn fifth.
– Shall we go?
We go. From the corner, before we reach Julio Ramos Street, we still see his João beckoning us, “psst, just one more thing.” We hurry to the Cine Coliseu, before it is too late. Costa-Gavras’ The Confession awaits us.