‘Halloween’ arrived, the day of the feast of the witches. The children of the enchanted city who used to visit the magic community appeared euphoric and cheerful because that night the traditional ‘Witches’ Ball’ was going to take place in the City Hall. The youngsters brought masks and costumes that they had made, to show them off to the members of the community. John Atkins, Veronica, Julie, Sue, Tony Chivers and their elven friends, Roger Elliot, everyone came and went (in droves) in the house. Saturday’s festivities started in the sunny morning with the birds singing and the sun shining. I was still asleep, wrapped up in my sleeping bag on the living room floor when the house received the first invasion of festive children. I opened my eyes and the first person I saw was the cheerful Sue with her hand held out to me, offering me a daisy picked in one of the city's gardens. "Good morning!" she greeted me. Penny brought me a cup of tea and a slice of bread with orange marmalade. I ate my frugal breakfast still tucked inside my sleeping bag, and only afterwards could I go to wash my face and brush my teeth, have a pee, etcetera.
In the bathroom, locked in, in front of the mirror I decided to take some LSD that day, hoping to have a revelation, an answer to my doubts of the past few days. I had kept – since London – a tiny ‘pink square’ of acid, to take when I felt it was the right time. I don’t take drugs so often as I used to. Only now and again, with months between one trip and another. The last few trips had been – all of them – bad trips, with paranoia and everything, and I’d entertained all kinds of horror and fearfulness.
But on that happy Saturday the vibrations seemed to be the best and I thought I wouldn’t be troubled by either ‘cricket’ or ‘mosquito’. I took advantage of a moment when all the youngsters were chatting amongst themselves about what they were doing, with tradition and all, for the Witches' Ball, and so on. I took advantage of the opportunity and went out for one of my short solitary walks. I went to the Cathedral, greeted the ‘head’ who worked in the janitor’s office, and who was in charge of some of the hidden secrets in one of the rooms situated behind a high gate in the depths of the Cathedral. I looked around and admired the stained glass, the tombs, the sepulchres, the tomb of Saint Osmund, the inner chapels, Gothic, serene and the tranquil, things that I can't describe here because there were so many details. I heard the sound of the organ, lost myself within the Cathedral and came out through the door that leads from the cloisters, which leads to the secret side of Salisbury, the part of the city that tourists don’t take notice of. I walked through the cloisters, inhaled and breathed the fresh air, I thanked God and the Sun for such a beautiful day, for the green of the grass, for the firm strength of the trees, for the birds, for all that I could be thankful for and that did me good. I walked under the blue sky. I passed through a hidden gateway and arrived on a path where there was no-one, only a sign saying "keep to the right". Because of my doubts and curiosities I decided to keep to the left instead of the right, and I involved myself in following the path without knowing where I was going to end up. Just around a corner I caught sight of an orchard full of trees covered in fruit: apple trees laden with enormous ripened apples. There was no-one in the orchard and I went in, walking with care so as not to make any noise and not to be caught ‘in flagrante delicto’, since I had already transgressed the warning to keep to the right. The ground around the trees was covered with apples. These were apples so big that I’ve never seen anything like them; and I hadn't – not yet – taken my LSD and so what I saw was no ‘optical illusion’, as they say. The apples on the ground were firm, very good, having fallen off ripe, I supposed, that same night. I gathered several firm apples from the ground and I filled my bag and the pockets of my olive-green jacket with them. And I continued following the path that, at a certain point, passed along the bank of the River Avon, until I got back to the point where I’d started, where there was that notice, "keep to the right". My head let itself melt a little. Then I thought of a pile of daft things: Why was there that notice at the beginning ("keep to the right") when both the left and the right were in fact the same thing, one way only, one path only, that would lead to the same orchard and the same apple tree from where I’d collected some apples from the ground? Who knows, I thought.
I walked a little more around the outskirts of the city, day-dreaming whilst soaking up the tranquility of those timeless residences located on the banks of the crystal waters of the Avon; I dreamed whilst watching the swans gliding along; I dreamed of the past of that place; I wandered through very simple little cemeteries; I dreamed whilst reading those names carved simply on the gravestones, without that heap of marble statues, clustered together, with mountains of Jesuses and other saints, ostentatiously repeated one by the side of another in Brazilian cemeteries that I knew, in the heat of almost forty degrees centigrade. Not in Salisbury. Everything was simple and poor and agreeable, even the cemeteries. It was then that I took the ‘pink square’ acid and kept walking through the little streets and gardens and finally, still alone, I came to Churchill Gardens, where I found my way to the riverbank, where I sat and waited for the effect of what I had swallowed.
The effect came on and I went mad, possessed by those thousand demons that I’ve already talked about. I wanted to go back to the house in Saint Anne Street but I lost my courage. I found that on the day of the witches my demons were coming out through my pores, through my mouth, through my eyes, through the tips of my fingers on my hands. And the acid was still only just beginning and the effect would last for hours on end. I stayed walking around the garden trying to be discreet, moving further and further away from the city and the children. The day was going by and I was more and more afraid of going back to the house. My surroundings were beautiful but also seemed too strange, too medieval, too eternal. And I was many thousands of miles away from my parents' home, my land, my language. I lay down on the grass and begged the earth for help. I searched for some kind of support by going back (in thought) to the small town where my parents and brothers lived in Brazil. It was even worse. It was unbearable to see myself through my mother's eyes. She was crying because of the state I was in. My brothers didn't even recognise me. I was just no longer the same and I was even speaking another language, a language that my family couldn't understand. At the same time as they felt pain for the state I was in I felt, from what I saw in their eyes, that my family was also accusing me of madness. My father said, “Didn't I tell you, I didn't warn you?!" and he went on, giving me a sermon into which came enormous grown-up phrases, such as, "He who plays with fire ends up getting burnt”, endless words from popular wisdom. And I really could no longer say which suffering was the greater: if it was their suffering for my pitiful broken state, or if it was my suffering because of the state – also pitiful – of all of them – I thought – for my unique and exclusive culpability. Not being able to bear seeing so much suffering I fled from my parents' house and went out into the streets. I walked through the humble streets of the poor neighbourhood where my family lived, and the neighbours and the neighbours of the neighbours went inside their houses and locked their doors and windows. The children of my town teased me, threw stones at me, swore at me, hurt me and screamed words at me that my ears did not want to hear. And wherever I went I couldn't even look back, nor to the sides, and neither could I lift my head and my eyes as I ran away because my slightest gesture was taken as a provocation and was enough, ‘as quick as a drop of water’, to put the entire town where I had been born and brought up to join together, its inhabitants, old neighbours and friends from my childhood, adolescence and first coming of age, and also summoned from my adulthood, everyone, they came together to grab hold of me, as if they were seizing a bull with horns, and taking me to the central square where a fire was already waiting for me and where I would be burned alive.
And then, to avoid my premature death, I walked with my head lowered, with my eyes fixed on my toes, pretending not to see or hear anything, until I reached the bus station, where I caught a bus that would go by the main road and take me to the centre of the great city of São Paulo. There I hid myself in the middle of the anonymous crowd, in the midst of those ‘lost at night’, in the midst of my fellow like-minded creatures for ‘like attracts like’. But even there I was received as a stranger, my face revealed more than did their vivid faces. People pretended not to see me, and when I experimented by laughing at those who I had believed to be ‘my kind’, even though I didn’t know them, they lowered their heads and went about their business. I went to find help from a few old friends who, like me, had fallen into the great lies of the world. But they didn’t want to see me or hear me either. "I am busy at the moment, I have a very serious matter to attend to," my old friends said to me, politely asking permission to slam their doors in my face.
I woke up from my nightmare, there in Salisbury, with another day's sun already fading behind the spire of the friendly Cathedral. I got up with my body and bones all aching and I went walking with difficulty through the empty garden. I fell into a deep hole and wasted a lot of time until, with great difficulty, I managed to get out from down in that pit. I caught sight of ‘Bruce's favourite spot’ and I went there. I sat myself on the severed tree stump and cried. That severed tree symbolised lost innocence. The poem "I came with the key ..." was still etched into the surface. I cried some more and saved some further tears for later. "Who knows ..." I thought. The night was Saturday and the ‘Witches’ Ball’ had still not yet begun.
I left Churchill Gardens and walked along the path that leads to the house in Saint Anne Street. On the way, under a bridge, I met two pretty young ladies dressed for the ball. They smiled at me without the slightest fear of me. A gust of cold wind made dozens of yellow autumn leaves come to salute my journey. The show was beautiful and for a moment everything was forgotten. The wind, though cold, was a friend and refreshed my head a little.
I knocked on the door of the house and Bruce came to open it. He smiled when he saw that it was me. There was no-one in the house except for Bruce. Everyone had left for the ‘Witches’ Ball’. I excused myself to Bruce, saying that I was exhausted and I lay down on the sofa in the living room, near to the heater, shivering with cold. Bruce put the kettle on and went up into his room to bring me a blanket to cover me. He made me drink a cup of tea and then he left me to sleep. I was half asleep and half awake, almost dead, when there was a knock on the door. I pretended I was asleep and let Bruce see who it was. It was Martha (my dear), complaining about her life and suffering like no other. Bruce talked to her and Martha wanted to know who was sleeping. Bruce said it was me and kept saying nice things about me, to Martha. There was a moment when, full of pity for me, she said, "Poor child". They talked enough and then Martha excused herself from Bruce, saying that she was going to lie down for a while in Don's (empty) bedroom.
I awoke from my sleep, happy and changed, because of the touching words from Bruce and Martha. Bruce's wise words had brought me right up. We went up to his room where we stayed talking and so I came to tell him that I was ‘tripping’. He wasn’t a bit surprised at my confession, nor with the story of my ‘bad trip’. I asked about Martha and he cut that conversation, saying that she was Don’s girlfriend.
It was comfortable to have Bruce there in the house so I could give vent to all my angst – I didn’t measure my words and I went on talking ‘with my elbows’, non-stop. Maybe a little possessed by what he had said to me the other day, "I learned more from you in one week than in all the rest of my life”, I said everything that came to my mind and couldn’t hold back the words that many horrible times came flowing out of my mouth. I talked about the kind of life I led, of the people that I knew, of scenes that I’d frequented, of what they talked about and what we got up to in those scenes, until I told him of a conversation I had overheard at a dinner in London, about an impoverished impresario who’d become rich at some time or another, thanks to a second-rate film, of which he was the backer, a film that no exhibitor wanted to buy until then, because the film was not commercial. The film became commercial thanks to the death of its star, a pop music idol, who had died some months before. I didn't know why I was telling him that, I who had nothing to do with the story. Bruce was horrified by the story and covered his ears, the same reaction that I’d had myself when the same story was told at that dinner I had attended, in London.
I, in turn, was horrified when Bruce covered his ears, as if he no longer wanted to hear me. We stayed in silence for a while, there in his room, a mute silence that was so difficult for both of us. I left the room, the house, and went out into the streets. I turned wanderer during the night of the witches. And I didn’t have the slightest doubt that witches were indeed abroad that night.
I was trying to distract myself by looking in the window of a little shop called ‘Salisbury Tropicals’, which sold such exquisite things as used and out of fashion clothing, 78 RPM records of rumbas and of Glenn Miller, books that had been read and re-read, and other bric-á-brac. I was trying to divert myself with this when Roger Elliot appeared and pointed out a book in the window whose title was ‘Hold my hand because I am dying’. I became terrified and looked straight at Roger who smiled and gave me a hug. Next he shoved his hand into his bag and brought out a little sweet from inside it. Without even looking I immediately put the sweet into my mouth. I felt some stabs in the roof of my mouth and took it out to have a look. It was a pointed sweet with black and white stripes just like on prison uniforms. Roger Elliot and the others were already off down the road and they gave me a fraternal wave. I walked a little more and I was just about to go back to the house when I met a common young guy, friendly and drunk. We went along together and I listened to him complain about the boring life that was led in Salisbury. He tried to say my name, always trying different ways but never managing to pronounce it right. By the end of the night he still hadn't understood my name. His name was so much easier and simpler that I learned it straight away, though I don't remember it now. I’m going to call him Nicky, here. Nicky wanted to know where I was staying
and I told him the address. "Ah, you're living at the hippies' house," said Nicky. Early next morning, at dawn, he left me at the door of the house in Saint Anne Street. We arranged to meet for a beer the next day, in a pub called ‘The Queen’s Head’ (which was a name used by many pubs in English cities).
The house was full of people when I came back from my extended walk. And I was astonished that everyone happily called out my name on my arrival. Some of the visitors had brought a little hashish and they were mixing it with tobacco. Lots of tobacco and a pinch of hash. In spite of being exhausted, my head was in a thousand places. Roger Elliot treated me like it was me who was the biggest innocent in the house. He affectionately called me ‘Bull's Eyes’. Tony Chivers, the elf, wanted to know why ‘Bull's Eyes’ and Roger, a little shy, explained that it was because I came from the land of the bulls. Nobody rightly understood the explanation but I, for my part, adored the nickname. Suddenly heavy rain started falling and I, accompanied by Tony Chivers, Veronica and John Atkins, went out to soak ourselves a little. I found an enormous worm on the pavement and brought it back to the house to scare people. David Hayward pretended to be disgusted and exclaimed "Oh, Beaver!" to me. David was glad of the happiness that reigned in the house after the ‘Witches’ Ball’ and invented nicknames for everyone. The elves went out and came back in and sang happy and fantastic songs. When they were out, David asked "Where are the elves?" Then the elves came back, bringing bars of chocolate and other sweets. Penny made one pot of tea after another.
There were many new faces that as yet I didn't know. One of them, John Malston [Palmer?], was the son of a baker from Amesbury, a small town about twenty minutes from Salisbury. John Malston’s accent was very amusing, a Wiltshire accent like a peasant. John Malston kept up a monologue for several hours, making incredible and clever games with words, straining his peasant accent to the limit. Everyone died of laughter and many even rolled on the floor, laughing and holding their bellies with their hands, even though no-one really had a "belly". John Malston made up a story for everyone there, one by one, and when my turn came he made a speech about me, about Brazil and about South America. While he was speaking he was mixing everything up – intentionally – so as to maintain the humour. People died laughing. But John Malston's face was always serious; that is, he himself was good, and never laughed once. He wrinkled his forehead and his eyebrows as he spoke. But his sad style of humour excited me secretly and sexually. He gave a veritable show and never got weary for an instant. It was the other people who were exhausted, one by one. He and David Hayward called me ‘Beaver’ and I went into a dance, acting as a beaver; at least, the way I imagined a beaver. There came a time when I could no longer take any more fatigue because of all the energy I’d used up on my ‘trip’. I stuffed myself into my sleeping bag and fell asleep with the lovely voice of John Malston wafting in through my ears and pleasantly tickling the inside of my head.
The following day, which was Sunday, I went with John Atkins, Veronica, Tony Chivers and other elves to the Cathedral. I didn't know if I was avoiding Bruce or if Bruce was avoiding me, because of my madness the previous evening. I felt very uncomfortable every time we met anywhere in the house and exchanged a few difficult words of forced cordiality. I thought I must have hurt him a lot, though none of the other members of the community had changed in their behaviour towards me. It was as if what had passed between Bruce and I was ours, mine and Bruce's. It was David Hayward who was a little worried about Bruce’s condition and my state. One moment when there was no-one in the living room I took my rucksack and my sleeping bag and I fled. It was just reaching night-time.
In the street, on my way to the train station, I was still to meet up with the cheerful Sue and she was sad when I said I was going away. But I promised I would come back, one day. In another street I met John Malston, who was just coming out of a house somewhere when I passed by. He was serious and sad and wasn’t at all in a humorous mood and he wasn't the same John Malston as the night before. His eyes were so human and good that I cried in front of him and he was embarrassed, not knowing what to do. I asked him to thank the people at the Saint Anne Street house for everything they had done for me, for their hospitality, their welcome, good treatment, etcetera. John Malston told me to come back to Salisbury and wrote down his address in Amesbury, and he even said that his house was at my disposal whenever I might want to appear. He gripped my right hand and my left shoulder, strongly.
I caught the train at the station and went to London where I arrived late that night. Since I no longer had the room in King’s Road I went to sleep at Gilberto Gil's house in Notting Hill Gate, where besides Gil, Sandra and Pedrinho there were various other Brazilians.