The Smuggler

The chronicle "O Muambeiro” (“The Smuggler”), by Lima Barreto, is read here by one of contemporary Brazilian literature’s most prominent figures, Conceição Evaristo. The text was republished in Toda crônica: Lima Barreto, organized by Beatriz Resende and Rachel Valença (Editora Agir, 2004). With Lima Barreto’s characteristic sharp eye, the story brings us closer to the author’s wanderings through the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro and portrays the misfortunes of the workers who circulated in the area. By recounting stories heard while waiting for the streetcar, Lima Barreto exposes the tensions between daily life in Rio and the country’s economic situation, at the same time offering ways to navigate its contradictions.

Translated by Daniel Persia


When I leave home and go to the corner of the Estrada Real de Santa Cruz, to wait for the streetcar, I get a good look at the misery that runs through this Rio de Janeiro.

I’ve lived for over 10 years in those parts, and I don’t know why the humble and the poor consider me an important, powerful person, capable of arranging jobs and resolving difficulties.

One man asks me if he should join the Brigade, because he hasn’t worked at his carpenter’s job for eight months; another asks me if he should vote for Mr. So-and-so; and sometimes, they even ask me about embarrassing cases. There was a pig-slaughterer who asked my opinion about this curious case: whether he should accept ten thousand reis to kill Captain M’s fattened hog, which would give him work for three days, with the salting and sausage making; or whether he should buy the canastra for fifty thousand reis and resell it by the kilo in the neighborhood. I, who had never been versed in matters of the slaughterhouse, looked at the still smoky organs on these hazy mornings and thought that my destiny was to be the vicar of a small parish.

Recently, on the corner, a man came up to me, with whom I chatted for a few minutes. He told me about his misfortunes in that unhurried manner of the commoner.

He was a laborer in I don’t know what trade; he was out of a job, but since he had a small farm over in the Rio Timbó area and some savings, he wasn’t troubled at first. The savings went away, but he kept the farm, with its orange trees, its tangerine and banana trees, the tree of the future with which Mr. Cincinato Braga, after saving the coffee, would save Brazil. Take careful note: after.

This year was particularly abundant in oranges, and our man had the bright idea of selling them. Seeing, however, that the buyers who came to his door were not giving him the right price, he tried to set the value of the product, without offering a 30% loan.

He bought a basket, filled it with oranges and went out shouting:

Good oranges, here! One for a penny!

He was happy and, on his way, earned some two thousand reis. When, however, he arrived in Todos os Santos, he was met by the law, in the form of a municipal guard.

Where’s your license?

What license?

I know, intimated the guard. You’re a smuggler [muambeiro]. We’re going to the agency.

They took the basket, the oranges and the money and, with great difficulty, left him with the clothes on his body.

And that’s how you protect pomology.

Ebook Espalhe Lima

As part of the Hearing Lima project, Companhia das Letras has made available a free e-book with a selection of short stories by Lima Barreto, organized by Lilia M. Schwarcz. The stories are part of the book Contos completos (Complete Stories) by Lima Barreto, published in 2010.