David Arioch – Jornalismo Cultural

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The beard and the boy Yusuf

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“I never imagined that one day I would see you speaking Portuguese. Amazing, son!”


In 1957, the boy named Yusuf died in Port Said (Photo: Copy)

When I was much younger, I had never considered the possibility of growing a beard. The truth is that I did not even know if there was a beard to grow. However, from an early age I was intrigued by the number of bearded thinkers and writers until the early 20th century.

Among the Brazilians, my earliest memories of my time at the college involve authors like Machado de Assis, José de Alencar and Gregório de Matos. I do not know whether the fact of growing a beard was a preference with aesthetic motivation or whether it had a relationship with the zeitgeist. In addition, I also recognize that in the past it was customary to keep facial hair to hide imperfections and scars caused by diseases such as smallpox.

Thinking internationally, Plato, Chaucer, Melville, Victor Hugo, Ibsen, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Whitman, Bram Stoker, Hemingway, D.H. Lawrence, Bernard Shaw and Ginsberg are some bearded men who come to my mind at this time. And analyzing periods, it is fair to say that from the beginnings of philosophy and literature, the beard was present, and here I speak not as a form of social distinction, but as a resource of personal construction. However, today, unlike other times, bulky beards and long beards are almost always associated with hipsters, terrorists and religious fanatics. Of course, political parties.

Thinking about it, I remembered a singular experience after I became bearded. One day, I left around 8:00 am and went to the house of a man named Francisco, who arrived in Paranavaí in 1944. He agreed to give me an interview about the colonization times of the Northwest of Paraná. In front of his house, I rang the bell and watched a little dog roll around inside his wooden house.

It was not long when someone shouted from the distant porch: “Come in, my son. Come to me. “I opened the gate, climbed a few steps, and crossed the garden. There he was, tall and thin, sitting on a comfy brown chair with beige upholstery. Beneath his feet was a scattering of sand inside a small box. “What a nice old man!”, I thought, and then we shook our hands. Suddenly, he looked me in the eyes and said: “I bet you understand it more than I do.” I did not catch the message and I noticed his feet sinking slowly into the sand.

“Sand is life, isn’t it? How many shades of sand can you recognize?”, he asked. I was confused and I laughed, suspecting that the man was drunk or under heavy medication. Still, I replied: “It depends on the incidence of the sun, the factors of action and reaction. Hmm…thinking better, I suppose, I can identify 25 to 30. ”

– Splendid! I already imagined something like that. I was suspicious when I saw you”, he said.

And the conversation went a completely different way, leaving me sometimes hesitant. We talked almost nothing about his life, because most of the questions were asked by him. “I never imagined that one day I would see you speaking Portuguese. Amazing, son!”, he pointed out in the first ten minutes with a dubious smile.

He digressed heavily, and occasionally asked to see the palm of my hand. “You may not see it, but the traces of your hand say a lot about your beard. And whoever says that a beard is nothing more than hair on the face is a fool. It says a lot about the ways of a man’s life. It, in its sinuosity, is like a physical extension of your own mind. I know this because I have been growing a beard for almost 60 years”, he told, touching his gaunt white beard that covered his chin. So, he regretted that at the age of 86 he was no longer bearded like 20 years earlier.

I also noticed his damp eyes as he bent over and slid his index finger into the sandbox. Some tears dripped painfully, as if coming out of an eyedropper. Seeing that, I apologized and suggested that maybe we’d better schedule the interview for another day. Trembling, Francisco got up and asked me to give him a hug.

“Of course, mister Francisco”, I replied.

When his translucent wrinkled hands touched me, I heard his restrained sobs and his heart pounding. “Now, I could even shave my beard,” he whispered, weakened. Soon, he faded. I screamed and his wife appeared. She asked me to put him on the bed. Fainted, his expression was serene and I saw his meager smile. Respectfully, I did not ask for explanations, I said goodbye and walked to the porch, where I found a picture of a seven or eight-year-old child sitting on the shoulders of Francisco still young.

The following week, I discovered that the smiling little boy in the photo was an Egyptian orphan who would be adopted by Francisco, a former soldier of the Suez Battalion. In 1957, the boy named Yusuf died in his arms, after being shot in his head by an Israeli soldier on a mission in Port Said. “I will never shave my beard again in my life. Never! I swear by everything in this world, unless Yusuf returns to life”, shouted Francisco in tears that day.

Written by David Arioch

December 27th, 2016 at 11:54 pm