Padre João's Eel
Translated from the Portuguese by Toshiya Kamei
Olavo Brás Martins dos Guimarães Bilac (1865 – 1918), commonly known as Olavo Bilac, was a journalist, poet, and founding member of the Brazilian Academy of Letters.
His work includes poems, advertising texts, chronicles, and school books. He was known as the "prince of Brazilian poets" in his time.
Along with Alberto de Oliveira and Raimundo Correia, he was a part of the so-called Parnassian Triad. The publication of Poesias in 1888 paved the way for his literary consecration.
Toshiya Kamei holds an MFA in Literary Translation from the University of Arkansas. His translations of Latin American literature include books by Claudia Apablaza, Liliana Blum, Carlos Bortoni, Selfa Chew, and Leticia Luna.
At dawn, in a small village on the seashore, Padre João, still drowsy from sleep, walks along the white beach toward the little church, which appears in the distance, clear and cheerful, its slender tower rising up through the mist. There goes the good priest to say his Mass and preach his sermon for Lent . . . Old and fat, very old and very fat, Padre João is well loved by the whole village. And the fishermen who come to him leave their nets behind and also head to the church. And the good priest blesses his flock, all smiles, with that smile all kindness and all indulgence . . . Senhora Tomásia, an old devotee who adores him, comes out the door of the church to greet him:
“Padre João! Here is a gift I want to offer you for your lunch today . . .”
And she takes from the basket an eel, a superb one, thick and appetizing, alive, swaying from side to side.
“God bless you, my child!” says the good priest, and his eyes shine, full of joy and gluttony. And he holds the eel and goes inside with it in his hand, followed by the old devotee. What a beautiful eel! Padre João voluptuously caresses the fish...
But here comes the sacristan. The church is full . . . The Mass will begin . . . What is Padre João supposed to do with his beautiful eel? Leave it there, expose it to the appetite of Padre Antônio, who is also greedy? Padre João does not hesitate: he lifts up his cassock and ties the eel around his waist with a string.
The Mass is over.
Padre João, moved and grave, climbs up to the rustic pulpit of the church. And his quiet voice begins to narrate the delight of abstinence and deprivation: we must love God . . . we must avoid the wickedness of the world . . . we must escape the temptations of the flesh . . . And the congregation collectively hears the good priest's soft speech.
But suddenly, what is that? The men open their eyes in amazement. The women stir, curiously raising their eyes to the pulpit . . . Just below Padre João's belly, under his cassock, some thick object is wiggling . . . And the crowd of believers lets out a few muffled giggles . . .Padre João understands. Poor padre! He is at a loss! He blushes up to the roots of his hair, stammers, and gets dizzy and muddled. Then he musters up his courage and, overcoming his shame, shouts:
“It’s not what you think, my daughters! It’s not meat! It’s fish! It’s fish! It’s not meat!”
While his hand trembles, Senhora Tomásia’s eel waggles in the air . . .