A graveyard chronicle


The roar of the horde of São Paulo fans grew more distant as I hurried up one of Pacaembu’s wide avenues towards the largest cemetery in the neighborhood. It was close to midnight, and the streets were dark except for the occasional burst of colors from the celebratory fireworks. When they exploded they illuminated a strange drawing on the cemetery wall. I came closer until I could see it clearly.

Someone had crudely etched a lynched stick figure on to the wall. I slowly traced the crooked lines with my fingers. An arrow pointed at the stickman’s head labeled him as “Zeca.” Another arrow pointed from the tree in the drawing, where Zeca hanged, to a tree near me, adjacent to the wall. I looked up at the tree. The wind shook the leaves and branches eerily, but there was no sign of a body. Driven by curiosity, I examined my surroundings, rummaging through the dead leaves and exposed roots for any kind of clue.

Suddenly, I caught a glimpse of something shifting behind me. I froze. A cold wind made my whole body twitch. I was too afraid to move. The world went silent around me for a moment, and then there was a loud crash behind me. I sprinted in panic towards the tree and hid behind it. The only sound defying the night’s muteness was the distant cheer of the crowd of soccer fans. I poked my head out from behind the tree and looked for the source of the clamor. It was the cemetery gate, which never opened for anyone living unless they carried a body. I had heard this from my Dad. He told me that it was from that entrance, the only one wide enough for a hearse, that they brought in corpses for burial.

I decided to go into the graveyard. When I passed through the gate, I stepped on something cold. I lifted my feet hurriedly, but it was just chains, lying inert beneath my feet. At the time I was puzzled. I only made the association between the open gate and the chains afterwards, when I got home and endured my parents’ desperate screams as I told them what had happened. But that night there was only one thing on my head; entering the cemetery. So I did.

It was clear, without even reading the inscriptions on the stones, which of the bodies were still fresh and which had long rotted. The oldest ones had fallen into neglect, covered with weeds and bereft of flowers. I began to stroll around the graveyard, but then heard a high-pitched yelp and a groan. I stumbled backwards in the opposite direction until I hit a large stone wall. I turned around to find the sight of the sepulcher in front of me. There was no doorknob or handle, just a slab of a door almost indistinguishable from the rest of the building. I pushed with all my strength and it groaned open.

There was nothing special about this grave. It was exactly the same as the hundreds of others in the cemetery. The only difference was that someone had splurged and gotten walls put around it. I was disappointed. As I turned to leave, I bumped into three large figures blocking the entrance.

The three men were tall, completely covered in mud so that their skin was barely visible. They carried old jewelry in their hands. I never understood the reason behind burying people with valuable objects.

“What are you doing here, kid?” the largest one asked in crude Portuguese. I told him I was just curious to see the the cemetery. He shook his head, and another man gripped my arm. They dragged me towards the street exit, covering my mouth so no one could hear my cries for help.

They tossed me on to the sidewalk and started running in the opposite direction. I should have just walked away, but I couldn’t resist.

“Did you guys kill Zeca?” I shouted. The three men froze. They all turned around together, synchronized, like terrible ballerinas. They drew closer and my eyes grew wide. I could smell the dirt mixed with sweat. One of the men leaned over, and spoke in a voice like dried mud.

“No, no we didn’t. But if you see him let him know that we’re looking for him.”