David Arioch – Jornalismo Cultural

Jornalismo Cultural

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The Clement guard

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I saw his dark mustache, thick and long like the curtains of the sky

Crossing where Clement saved Beto (Photo: David Arioch)

Crossing where Clement saved Beto (Photo: David Arioch)

When I was six year old, every day there was a guard waiting for us down the street to help us cross. Hundreds of children went through there every day. Clement smiled and reached out with such devotion that even the sunlight seemed more intense, illuminating his forehead and highlighting his snowy teeth.

He took the whistle to his mouth and emitted a short, but effective oxytone sound. It was enough for everyone to stay alert. So Clement held my hand firmly and led me to the school sidewalk, protecting me from motorcycles, cars, vans and trucks. Carefully, he always kept his body closest to the vehicles while my body was hidden by him.

The synchrony between the whistle and the instantaneous stop was surreal, as if choreographed. Few drivers dared to even touch a centimeter of the tire on the crosswalk. If anyone did, Clement took a pocket tape measure, crouched on the asphalt per second, walked to the driver and greeted him with a warm handshake.

“How are you? All right? It’s hot today, huh? I suppose you’re in a hurry, of course, who isn’t nowadays, right, my friend? So I understand why you have the two front tires on the track. It happens. The hurrying makes you commit these little slips. Take a look here, you just invaded 25cm. I believe that you, like me, know it will not guarantee that you get anywhere faster. Of course, now we don’t have many children on the street, but there are times when this small space has a lack you can’t imagine. Can I count on your cooperation? “, he said in early afternoon, returning the driver’s compliance with a nod and a frugal smile.

During the crossing with Clement, I raised my head, looking at the sky with his nose, and watched him. Small, I believed he could touch that wild blue yonder with the top of his cap. I saw his dark mustache, thick and long like the curtains of the sky. The clouds moved near his head, reaffirming the idea that at least during the crossing he was the supreme authority, and beyond him there was no one.

After 5.30 pm, when the school bell was triggered, warning that the classes were ending, we did the same path. Hours passed, and Clement kept smiling and extending his hands. He never showed fatigue, irritation or boredom. He was so polite, that sometimes drivers parked their vehicles and walked up to congratulate him for the good work.

That made him one of the most remarkable characters of my childhood, someone who could serve as an inspiration for me to become a worthy human being. It was not uncommon to see people giving gifts to him. Committed to his work ethic, he always thanked with brightened eyes and refused, unless gifts made by hand, a simple food or a homemade sweet.

At that time, I had never heard of racism until I asked my classmate Bob why he and other boys never held Clement’s hand. I remember one day that I saw him taking the guard’s hand over his shoulder. “Why? Because he’s black! My father said that black guards should not exist because these people are not reliable; because the only white part of their body is their palm. Furthermore, they have a bad smell and wiry hair”, he replied spontaneously.

Startled, I was silent. During recess, without knowing what it meant, I sat in a corner of the yard and thought about Bob’s words. I realized that Clement really was a black man, the first I have seen since I was born, but so what? A few days later, Bob gave me an ultimatum, saying that I could not walk anymore with him and three other classmates if I kept holding Clement’s hand. I ignored his advice, and over the next month I was excluded from the games on the playground. When it was time to play indoor football, Bob convinced all the other kids to leave me out.

A month later, I had not seen Clement at the crossing, wich was his workplace. He never returned. In his place, they put a blond and clear-eyed boy, who devoted his attention to teenage girls who circulated the vicinity. Bob’s father had intervened, and Clement was transferred  to another city. They invented an excuse for lack of guards and convinced him to leave.

Later, on saturday, Bob was walking and sucking a popsicle when he was surprised by a runaway car that invaded the sidewalk at the crossing of Pernambuco Avenue and Souza Naves Street. Stunned, he threw the stick, closed his eyes and cringed his body. Bob didn’t see Clement coming out of the market, throwing his bags and jumping with him on the asphalt.

The guard had superficial wounds throughout his body. Seeing Bob unharmed, he smiled, regardless of the torn clothes. Embarrassed and with haggard eyes, the kid remainded in the fetal position. He discovered that the rejected hand is the one that more should have been stroked.

Written by David Arioch

October 2nd, 2016 at 5:11 pm