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THE DWARVES OF
PAISSANDU STREET
by Bernadete Piassa
I lied to you, trying to make things look better
than they were. I was afraid that you would
criticize me if you knew what really took place
that day. However, it did happen in New York,
as I told you. The afternoon was cold and rainy,
like I said, but I wasn't scared and there
weren't any men chasing me. I went inside that
building out of curiosity. After having left you
at home, shouting at our children, all I could
think about was running away.

On the street in front of me, an old lady, bent
but agile, was walking fast. She had a worn out
black hat with a feather. In her hands she held
an ordinary plastic bag. Her dress was plain
and black. Her shoes were traditional and old.
There was absolutely nothing attractive about
her, and that was exactly what attracted me.

I started to follow the old woman. She went
inside a building and I went in behind her. She
climbed two flights of stairs and I climbed
behind her. She continued through the hall and
I continued behind her. When she stopped
close to a door and started to look for a key in
her pocketbook, I approached her and begged,
"Please help me. Two men are running after
me. Please help me."

I was shaking because I was really upset,
imagining how I could have the courage to
make up such a lie. I looked haggard, like
someone in danger.

The old woman glanced at me and instantly
realized this. Without saying a word, she
opened the door of her apartment and gestured
for me to step inside.

I entered a cozy living room with antique
furniture. Side tables were in the corners, with
embroidered tablecloths and numerous pictures
on them. A big table in the middle of the room
held a glass vase with no flowers. A china
cabinet was full of cups, glasses and plates.
Besides this I could see a black piano, a small
TV, a fireplace and lots of chairs. The place
might have been a waiting room with its many
chairs, but the piano, the pictures and the
other pieces of furniture contradicted this
impression.

Without paying me any attention, the old
woman hung her pocketbook on a chair and
turned on some lamps. Only after this did she
look at me and ask, "Do you want some tea?"

I said yes. Actually, I just nodded because I
was still too nervous to speak. The old woman
left. I stayed there, thinking that I was crazy
and that I should run from that place before it
was too late. But now that I had started the
lie, I was excited and curious.

I had the feeling that I waited for hours.
Suddenly, the old woman reappeared holding a
tray.

"Sit down," she commanded, pointing to a chair.

I obeyed. Without speaking, she poured me the
tea, not even asking me how I liked it.
Afterwards she cut a slice of cake for me and
another for herself. We ate our cakes still in
silence. I didn't feel brave enough to talk yet.
When we finished, the old woman asked, "Are
you married?"

This time I found my voice and said "yes."
Before I could say anything else, she told me
that she also had been married.  Unfortunately,
her husband died a long time ago. He was a
merchant, and sometimes he used to go to
Brazil to buy alligator skins. I was from Brazil,
wasn't I? Of course, she had realized that since
the beginning.

Looking intently at me, the old woman
continued her story….

“As I was saying, my husband traveled several
times to Brazil, and one time I asked to go
with him. We boarded a ship and after almost a
month arrived in Rio de Janeiro. Our hotel was
on Paissandu Street in a neighborhood called
Flamengo. Isn’t it strange that after so many
years—almost forty years—I can still remember
all these details? Well, it would be impossible
for me to forget, even after all this time.

“In this hotel on Paissandu Street there were
two dwarf doormen. Their wicked, mocking
faces always frightened me. My husband was
busy with his business all of the time and
encouraged me to go out and enjoy myself. I
knew a little bit of Portuguese and he was
confident that nothing would happen to me. I
was not worried when I went out by myself, but
every time I got back to the hotel I started to
shake. When I tried to explain my feelings to
my husband, he laughed.

“One day I came back to the hotel sweating,
loaded with packages. In the lobby I saw one
of the dwarves, who scared me as always. I
decided to ignore him and went up to my room
to take a shower. It was so hot I felt like
opening the window that led to the dirty,
normally empty patio. That day, when I opened
the window just a crack, I noticed that
something was happening out there.

“The two dwarves were standing in the middle
of the patio wearing baggy pants, long jackets,
black patent leather shoes and black top hats.
They had their faces and hands painted entirely
in white and in their hands each held a sword.

“As soon as I opened the window, they started
to fight. I stayed where I was, fascinated, just
staring at them. In the beginning, the fight
seemed to be just a game but, little by little, it
became dangerous. One of the dwarves cut the
hand of his opponent. I held my breath in
dismay, watching the blood pour out. The other
fought back, made a hole in his opponent's
jacket and skillfully cut his pants from waist to
knee. After this, the first dwarf attacked the
other with no pity, fighting ferociously until he
stuck his sword in the other dwarf's chest. His
opponent fell down unconscious.

“At that moment, I couldn't restrain myself any
longer and let out a terrified cry. The victorious
dwarf raised his bloody sword, pointed it at my
window and laughed. Teasing me, he took his
hat off and bowed in my direction, showing his
horrible bald head. Shocked, I slammed the
window shut and ran to the safety of the
bathroom.

“I stayed there a very long time, feeling my
heart pounding, trying to convince myself that
everything had been only a fantasy. Suddenly I
heard a knock at the door, then another, and
one more. I was still too petrified to answer,
but then I heard someone say, in a whisper,
‘Maddy, Maddy.’ It could be only my husband—
who else would know my nickname? Relieved, I
dashed to the door and there he was—the bald
dwarf, still holding the bloody sword in his
hand.

“I wanted to cry out, but my voice stuck in my
throat. I wanted to run, but my legs seemed to
belong to someone else. At last, I fainted. The
next thing I remember, my husband was
kneeling beside me, calling, ‘Maddy, Maddy.’

“Seeing him instead of the dwarf, I cried as I
hadn't done for a long time. When I calmed
down, I tried to describe to my husband what
had happened.

“But Maddy,” he interrupted, "the two dwarves
were at the lobby a few minutes ago when I
got here!"

“I ran to the window and threw it wide open.
The patio was dirty and empty as always. I ran
back to my husband and hugged him, sobbing.
After this, I never spoke about the dwarves
again, even though I would see them every day
at the lobby smiling at me.

“One night, I woke up and realized that my
husband wasn't in bed beside me. On the night
table, I found a note from him, explaining that
he was hungry and had gone out to get
something to eat. My heart throbbed, and my
fear only increased when I heard someone
scratching at the door. At first, I thought about
hiding under the covers, but then I decided it
would be worse: I didn't want to be killed in my
bed. Grabbing the pocketknife my husband
always carried on his trips, I opened the door.
Nobody was there. I ventured into the hall.

“I noticed that one of the rooms at the end of
the hall was lit. Slowly, I started to walk in
that direction, and even more slowly I pushed
the door of the room open. Suddenly I found
myself staring at a very bizarre scene: a
dwarves’ party. There were all kinds of
dwarves: young, old, black, white, men,
women. Some of them danced while others
talked or drank pinga, a strong Brazilian liquor.
An old romantic Brazilian song played on the
radio, talking about forbidden love and
betrayal. Couples of dwarves danced, faces
together, eyes closed. Women chatted at the
corner of the room. One of them burst out
laughing, showing an enormous mouth, totally
toothless. Horrified, I tried to close the door
and run back to my room. Before I could move,
someone pulled my arm strongly, and I found
myself in the middle of the party, staring at the
dwarf who had been fighting in the patio. He
wore the same baggy pants with long jacket
and still held the bloody sword.

"’Maddy, Maddy. Finally you came to me,’ he
said with a broad smile and started to pull me
toward him as if he were going to kiss me.

“I tried to shout, tried to run, tried to do
anything to escape him, but found myself in a
faint on my bedroom floor, with my husband
beside me whispering,
‘Maddy, Maddy.’

“This time I didn't even try to explain to him
what had happened. I just hugged him and
begged him to bring me home. Next day, very
early in the morning, we left for the United
States.

"Do you want more tea?" The old woman asked,
letting out a sigh. I declined and mumbled that
I needed to leave. For sure there was no longer
any danger; I knew no one would come after
me again.

"Wait," she told me. "I want to show you
something."

The old woman went to her room and I stayed
in the living room, trying to imagine what she
wanted to show me. Suddenly she appeared at
the door holding in her right hand the biggest
butcher knife I had ever seen. She ran towards
me. "You thought you could deceive me, didn't
you!?” she shouted. She tried to stab me in the
belly, barely missing. “But I didn't fall for your
game! I knew since the beginning they sent
you!” I recovered my wits and started running.
She ran after me and raised the knife again,
this time aiming at my face. “Those devil
dwarves are still trying to get me, but they
won't!” She almost cut me as she wildly
slashed the air around me with that long
butcher knife. “Not this time! Not again!"

I ran around and around the table, screaming,
with the old woman at my heels trying to stab
me with the knife. Desperately, I grabbed a
chair and threw it at her. I sped to the door,
unlocked it, flew to the hall, down the stairs,
through the lobby and the streets until I
reached our apartment and found you here still
shouting at the children. When you saw me,
you were astonished, and I told you there were
men running after me.

I lied to you. I just couldn't bring myself to tell
you the truth. How could I explain that I had
followed a strange woman to her apartment
and that she had tried to kill me?

But now I can't lie anymore. I need your help.
She is after me, the old woman. I just looked
out of the window and saw her staring at our
apartment. She will try to kill me again, I know.
You need to help me, please. Can't you see
her, over there, staring? What? Are you sure?


Bernadete Piassa has been living in the U.S. for the past 24
years. In Brazil she won many awards for her writing, including
one for her article, “Abortion: The More Frequent Questions,”
published in Nova, the Brazilian edition of Cosmopolitan. In the
U. S. Ms. Piassa won first prize in the Townsend Press Writing
Contest with her essay, “A Love Affair with Books,” published in
Keys to Better College Reading by Townsend Press Books and
reprinted in the U.S, the U.K., the Middle East, Japan and China.
Her essay, “Half a Pound of Ham,” was published in the book,
Basic Writing Skills with Reading by Townsend Press Books. Latino
Stuff Review published her short story, “Cheese.” At the moment
Ms. Piassa is at work on a novel set in Brazil.