An unidentified object parked on the moon – and no one seems to know where it came from. Gustavo, a middle-aged computer programmer with a comfortable and grey life, decides to make a list of what he would need to survive a hypothetical attack. He becomes obsessed with the list, spends a fortune, robs a drugstore: his own family thinks he is going insane. However, after the attack, it’s the insane who are well prepared for a new era in society.
The plan was clear, they would silently make their way into Monforte da Beira at three in the morning, break into the gypsy houses and capture everyone. It was a dark night of March and the sky was covered with clouds and there was a crescent moon, which illuminated the way a little, revealing twenty-three men armed with an impressive arsenal. Nothing had been left to chance, for months Zeca with, a retired sergeant from Monforte, had outlined a plan of attack to the village and was just waiting for Gustavo’s approval to go advance.
Gustavo wanted the population’s support for the assault; therefore, he waited patiently for a thief to be captured so that he could blame the gypsies for it and thus justify the attack. Both Gustavo and Zeca had chosen the twenty-three men who would act in this offensive; almost all of them had been soldiers or police officers and were completely trustworthy. The assault had been planned in absolute secrecy, the soldiers involved in it were only told about it the night before it took place; Gustavo made sure to let aside both Ramiro and Anselmo, the man who had asked him to talk to the gypsies.
All of the twenty-three men had maps on them with the location of the houses where the gypsy community lived and had orders to kill in case of resistance; they had received individual instructions for the operation to be swift, clean and organized.
At the scheduled time, the men arrived at the vicinity of Monforte and left their horses behind, approaching the village on foot so as to not make any noise. They went dressed fully in black with their faces covered and with machine guns, rifles and handguns. At three in the morning, the attack took place. Confusion was installed almost immediately, shouts, shots, smoke and cries filled the previously quiet night. The men in black broke into the houses quickly and removed their residents who, among screams and blows tried to defend themselves. The non-gypsy population, who woke up with all that commotion, did not want to believe in the horrific spectacle their eyes witnessed, but when they saw that the ones being attacked were their neighboring gypsies, they began to applaud the operation and insulting the captured people. Gustavo was in the middle of the street where the prisoners were taken; he helped to handcuff them and shut their mouths with a tissue. Whenever someone resisted, Gustavo removed, from his pocket, a Taser and knocked the person unconscious.
At five in the morning, the operation had come to an end with the fall of the last gypsy house; all of them had been captured. Those had been two hours of much violence, with five gypsies dead and one of the assaulting men injured. It was astonishing and unforgettable to see the main square of the village full of men and women dressed in their pajamas, or even less, showing signs of violence, wounds, blood, tears, suffocated screams and children who held onto their parents crying helplessly. It would be impossible for any human being to remain indifferent to that degree of violence, but still, the native population gathered around the captured and shouted: “get out of here” or “Serranos, Serranos”; this recognition, along with the name of the radio-station, led Gustavo to later suggest that the region governed by him and the committee would be called Serrano.
Gustavo ordered for the gypsy community leader to be brought before him, outside of the village, near a bunch of oak-trees at the limit of Monforte. José Lino had been the patriarch of the community for less than one year, due to his father’s death right after the attack caused by a lack of medicine; he was aged fifty and had long, mostly white and very dirty hair which reached down to his shoulders. When he approached Gustavo, he thought he was going to die; he regretted not having listened to that individual some months ago and, especially, felt he was a lousy leader. He had his hands tied and had a tissue on his mouth, which Gustavo removed and asked him to get on his knees while he sat in front of him, in the trunk of an old oak-tree.
– Well then, good morning, dear José Lino; how nice to see you again. – He made a signal to the men that followed him to leave them alone. – The last time we met, our positions were different, you had an arrogant look about you, and you had brought armed men and practically didn’t allow me speak. And I had brought the most tolerant and wise people of my team; but, since it didn’t work then, today I brought another kind people.
– You’re mad if you think you’ll get away with this.
Gustavo released a spontaneous laugh and seemed to have a lot of fun with the situation.
– Oh, do tell me what’s going to happen. Are the police coming to save you? The State? Some organization or left-winged party that supports ethnic minorities?
José Lino felt frustrated; Gustavo was right, there was anybody who could help him, he was at the mercy of a crazy man who had just finished an atrocious act towards his people and he could be close to witnessing a massacre; he preferred to stay quiet and hear what that insane man had to tell him, but only after clarifying one point.
– The thief you caught is not a gypsy.
– I know that; he is a simple thief who was unlucky enough to get caught; he was the perfect excuse we needed in order to carry out this attack; now, we’re going to say that we found, in your houses, plans to attack and assault our village. You know, José Lino, every great empire and regime needs to find a common enemy in order to create a mutual goal; you gypsies were clearly the perfect choice for an enemy for my own regime – Gustavo made a pause and touched the oak-tree’s trunk where he was sitting. – I love oak-trees, I’ve always thought it was amazing how a tree could evolve and create a bark, the corkwood, so perfectly that it could even protect the trunk from fires, the roots of these trees reach astonishing depths to obtain water and in these roots there are mitochondria, which are small organisms that, in exchange for shelter along the roots, give mineral salts to the plant, this process is called symbiosis, which is a mutually advantageous relationship for both parts. Another kind of relationship in the environment is called parasitism, which you certainly know better than anyone; I believe your people are experts in this matter; as far as I can remember, you have always lived in the limits of society, not wanting to mix yourselves with us, believing you’re too good for this, making a living from less-than-clear businesses, like selling drugs, selling thing of doubtful quality, declaring very low incomes to the State, always in search of subsidies, help, support, new houses, making yourself look like the victims of discrimination and racism when you’re the biggest racists of all, the ones who don’t want to mingle with us. You are the perfect example of parasitism, those who give nothing to society, but demand equal treatment. I’ve always wondered why you, like other people without nation, didn’t want to build a country in a place maybe between Romania and Bulgaria, but then again, – Gustavo laughs again. – who would you steal from? Who would you deceive? Now, we’re at a new age, an era in which there’s no place for you in this new land we’re creating, and because I’m a good and generous leader I’m here to give you two options. The first is: you will be taken outside the limits of the region, then you’ll all be murdered, except for the small children, your bodies will be given to the pigs which will eat pretty much anything, officially you were expelled from the region and were not seen anymore. The second option is: you will work for me, always in your area of expertise: deceit, causing confusion, stealing, that is, being yourselves, but when and where I tell you to do so. Should you choose this, you will be taken outside the limits of the region, and you will be able to mount your camp freely, but I want some of you to settle camps in some of the villages that still haven’t joined us or that still have their doubts; there you will have carte blanche to do as you please and use your tricks to strike chaos and fear until we step in and save it, chasing you away. Then you will do the same at another village and so on. For this to work properly, you will be given some guns. In case you try to deceive us, I will be more than happy to make use of the first option, and trust me on this; we have plenty of guns and means to do so. And naturally, officially you don’t work for me, your orders will be given to you by someone on my behalf. Which option will you choose, Mr. José Lino? The first one or the second one?
José Lino remained quiet, he could not even utter a word, could what his ears had just heard be true? That mad man’s plan was really Machiavellian; someone should stop him, shoot him and give the power to someone with more common sense and moderation. And the worst part was that the population was by his side and he used every means he could to have more power and impose his laws, and now they would also be one more means for the ambition of that nuts; but the options he gave him were clear – to survive, they would have to join his play and do what the crazy playwright ordered.
– I need an answer now. Let’s put an end to the parasitism or let’s turn it into symbiosis? Which option do you choose?
– The second one. – José Lino answered between teeth.
Gustavo gave the order and all the gypsies were lined up, tied to each other and forced to leave the village, only the elderly, the diseased and the children went by horse carts. Anselmo Carneiro looked in amazement at that image; it made him remember the old movies where black men and Indians were treated like animals. He felt ashamed of that situation, especially since next to him, the population applauded Gustavo and insulted and spat on the gypsies, who left the village crestfallen and in tears.
Minutes after the departure of the gypsies, Gustavo gave a well-planned speech to the population where he thanked them for their support; he talked of new times, of freedom and that they should choose a committee for the approval of the bylaws. After the speech, the population, who treated him like a God or a saint, took him by the shoulders. Gustavo felt like crying of so much emotion and he was fully convinced that he had just finished performing one of the best actions of his life.
At the end of the day, tired and feeling like returning to Lentiscais, he still had one last task to take care of: speaking to Anselmo. In Gustavo’s mind he would be the ideal man to lead Monforte, an honest and entrepreneurial man – well seen by the population. Curiously, Gustavo had not seen him the whole day and began to suspect that Anselmo was not on his side. He went alone to Anselmo’s house and when he knocked on the door, Anselmo left with his grandson aged some eight years old, his only direct living relative.
– Do you mind me coming in, Anselmo?
– Please do, Gustavo.
Anselmo had a very simple house, even though he had been one of the richest men of the village, but his house was its proprietary’s mirror, without great luxuries, only what was essential.
– I want you to be very frank with me, what did you think about what happened today in your village?
– Honestly? – Anselmo made a pause to wait for Gustavo’s consent. – It was one of the biggest injustices and humiliations I’ve ever seen until today, and believe me, I’ve seen a lot things, I have even been to the war overseas1.
– There wasn’t other solution, you know I tried.
– Your attempt was ridiculous, without any conviction. Those human beings were treated in an inhuman way. They hadn’t done any wrong; they just wanted to have some more lands and justice to be able to maintain their traditions and their culture. Among those people, I can assure you that 90% of them are honest, hard-working people, ready to help.
– So, why is the population on our side? They are not angry at me like you are.
– They are mistaken; they live on the idea that every gypsy is a thief.
That conversation, at the end of the day, was spoiling what, for Gustavo, had been a perfect day.
– I was willing to support you, so that you could take over the committee’s presidency of your village, but I see now that you perhaps don’t want my support.
– I have no ambition for power and I’ll never be able to support what happened today in my village. As far as I’m concerned, it was the darkest day of your story. If you don’t mind, I’ll see you to the door because I want to have dinner with my grandson.
Gustavo felt offended, the way Anselmo had treated him felt impolite, having been kicked out of his house, he did not expect such a hostile reaction from one of the most influential people in the village, and he feared the population would listen to Anselmo and all the operation ended up having been for naught. He even considered that Anselmo might have a point and that maybe thing could’ve been solved in a peaceful way, but he reminded himself that Monforte was on his side and that Anselmo did not have any say on this. Now the plan moved onto the next stage, having the gypsies to instill fear in Malpica do Tejo, a delicate but very appealing operation.
Already with six villages in the nation called Serrano, it was time to constitute the over-government. A government that should stop thinking locally, and would now think on behalf of the whole region. The six presidents of their respective committees gathered and decided to create a government composed by elements of the six villages that would meet once a week to discuss and legislate any new laws and then apply them to their villages. Gustavo became the president of the government, as expected, with Pedro from Alfrívida as vice-president.
The population had a feeling of unity, hope in the future and pride for the accomplishments achieved so far. The railway between Lentiscais and Alfrívida had been finished with the voluntary help of the citizens, and the locomotive was an old train, spared from the attack, which ran on coal. At first, it traveled every other day, but its success was overwhelming and it quickly began to travel daily and a company was created to take over the business; then the other villages requested that the railway was expanded so that everyone could use it. Both Lentiscais and Alfrívida were the economic poles of the new country, but with the arrival of the new villages, Gustavo wanted the development to grow equitably, and as such the power supply was a priority, followed by the introduction of the Escudo, the creation of street markets, the incentive for the creation of companies and businesses in the new villages and, consequently, the migration of the population in search of new opportunities. Another priority was a basic health and education service in all the villages.
Gustavo’s popularity was on the rise; he had the respect and admiration of the majority of the population. Now the president of the government relished these feelings and the days when he had been just a simple computer technician seemed to be too far, part of another life in which his opinion had never mattered for anything; now he felt like a powerful man with an ambitious project ahead, but not everybody supported his leadership and among those was Ramiro.
After Monforte’s assault, Ramiro had started to avoid going to the Casa do Povo and to the committee. Gustavo quickly noticed his absence and thought that it was because of the attack, which certainly Ramiro disapproved. Gustavo did not make any effort to communicate with Ramiro; he preferred to wait for things to settle down, and, in addition, his increasingly greater responsibilities left him constantly busy. It came as no surprise that, a week after the attack, he saw Ramiro walk into his office very displeased.
– Welcome, Ramiro, I was already concerned about your disappearance.
Ramiro walked in and sat down quickly without Gustavo needing to invite him to sit.
– I wanted to come with a cool head, had I come right after the attack, I would’ve said things I’d regret at a later time.
Gustavo became a little worried, he knew since the beginning that Ramiro would be against the assault, but he had believed that he could convince him that it had been a necessary evil and that nothing had changed in their struggle to build a better society. Now he doubted that he could convince him; Ramiro’s face and attitude denoted that he had decided something important, he imagined he would resign.
– I’m obviously interested to hear you. – Said Gustavo, leaning back on the chair and putting his hands together.
– First, I want to clarify what you already know, that I’m completely against the cowardly and unscrupulous attack that happened in Monforte. As a member of the committee, I wasn’t informed about what was going to take place, which seemed to me to be a huge lack of trust in me. Besides, we had begun a process of dialog with the gypsies that apparently was only a disguise, since I doubt that you wanted to talk to them at all and you took advantage of a prisoner to justify this shameful attack.
– I understand your position, but, Ramiro, you saw that despite our best efforts, the meeting with the gypsy leader turned out to be a failure; they didn’t have any interest in talking things through, the plans and evidence we found in their houses to attack us prove that. And let me clarify something, you were not informed about this attack because it was a secret matter that only Zeca, the soldiers and I were aware of.
– I don’t believe in your words, Gustavo, the evidence you talk about are false, as well as the origin of the prisoner, since there are people that recognize him as a being from Maxiais, he has never been of gypsy ethnicity. Gustavo, please, don’t lie to me because we both know Norton was aware of this operation.
Gustavo remained quiet, feeling uncomfortable that Ramiro was better prepared than he was. He would’ve liked to have had a few minutes to think about some excuses, but he remained still, with no excuses, awaiting another wave of accusations and with some fear of what would come. Ramiro continued:
– My lack of trust in your leadership doesn’t come only from this attack and all the lies involved in it. It also has to do with the way you’ve followed economically and democratically. As far as the economical part goes, you said at first that there would be no taxes, that electricity would be free for all, but little by little you’ve created a tax that has been already increased and you prepare yourself to create a company to manage the business, which means that, those who have money, have power, those who haven’t got it, will be in the dark.
– Sorry, Ramiro, but you know that creating a tax for the population to have security, health, education and other services was inevitable. Nobody is an eternal volunteer, no matter how much good will the population has, people want to see their work compensated. Besides, I don’t want to create a socialist society that believes in the utopia that the State has to be in every business, nor do I want to create a society that lives in the wild capitalism in which those who have more money call the shots. No, I want to use the best from both systems in terms of economy, as such, let them create private companies that manage money and works, but we’ll have a limit on how much they can earn, so that they don’t give birth to the massive economical differences from our time. We need to make sure that the system is healthy and respectful towards the worker, environment and society in general, while making sure to allow it to be creative, innovative and, why not even a little competitive. Moreover, our intention is that there are no monopolies, that people may choose the companies that offer better quality-cost ratios, except for some areas where we see there is no advantage in this, as is the case of the bank: there will be only one bank, which will have the objective to facilitate the credit for the population and the companies, because we mustn’t forget that they were the responsible for the economic crisis we lived before.
– As far as monopolies are concerned, when will the law give us the freedom to create political parties? When will you let the radio be run by some independent company? Currently, the radio is a means of government propaganda, that doesn’t accept any kind of different opinion from the official one. And why not encourage new means of communication? It’s come to my attention that you didn’t allow the creation of a newspaper. Because, while I find it easy to agree with you in the economic aspect, in terms of individual freedom I’m having a far harder time.
– As for the means of communication, my opinion and consequently the policy we follow is clear, the media are a dangerous instrument that, in wrong hands, may cause a lot of damage. It’s impossible for the media to be completely impartial, there’s always some sort of interest, some economic or political group behind. We may not allow this power to be at the mercy of everyone, nor should we allow it to fall into sensationalism, the sort of sensationalist news that only serve to sell more, without any concern for the consequences. Yes, the media will be controlled, with the right to different opinions, but without giving in to irresponsibility, which can create controversy and confusion. I also agree that radio Serrano is still wet behind the ears, without great journalistic rigor, but so is this nation, it’s just been born, give it more time. As for the political parties, you know perfectly well that I believe in democracy, moreover, our bylaws must be voted in every village, and you know as well as I do, because you have written them with me, that a new leader for each village must be chosen, every four years, through democratic elections. Anyone can be a candidate, he or she doesn’t need to be bound to any party, it’s enough to collect signatures and apply for it. What do you want parties for? We know they only serve to satisfy the interests of their partners and the companies that support their campaigns. Democracy is much better without parties.
– I disagree with you, Gustavo, and do allow me to disagree. I can’t agree with the control of the media and the news, I don’t agree that democracy is better without parties, quite the contrary, they represent the plurality of society. And after having said this, I’d like to inform you that I’m not a member of this committee anymore and that I’d like to have airtime in Radio Serrano to give my point of view and inform everybody about the creation of a political party or a political association.
There was a silence in the room, for Gustavo, these news were like a punch in the stomach that let him almost out of breath; during the discussion he felt like he was winning, both of they had had a similar discussion when they traveled to the wind park and they wanted to build an improved society, but now the inevitable had happened, he knew that sooner or later someone would ask him for the same.
– So, are you letting me talk in the radio or is it only for your own voice?
– One week from now, you’ll have one hour of right to airtime during prime time.
– I don’t need a week, but I thank you for the fair-play.
Ramiro left the room and Gustavo stayed alone, he felt as if he had an arrow in his chest that didn’t allow him to breathe well; that wasn’t what he had wanted for his new society, his dream of a democracy where political parties wouldn’t exist and where the people voted for the individual, for his work, his experience and his projects was in risk. He now saw a society divided by left and right wings, by people who entered politics to make a career for themselves, by voters who saw the parties as if they were soccer clubs and that they supported until death, even if they knew they were full of corrupt people and thieves. He had one week to decide what to do: let Ramiro speak openly or shut him up by force, but if he chose the second option, who was there to say that there wouldn’t be someone else asking for the same in the near future? It was time to meet his comrades Norton and Zeca, he would decide, with them, what to do, but before that, he wanted to be with Rute, he needed some consolation, he was needy.