• Posted:

    29 November, 2013

  • In:A palavra mágica e outros contos

Two businessmen in a small restaurant.

“Isn’t our waitress fantastic?”

“Yes, she’s good.”

“I think I’ll leave her a nice big tip.”

“No need to,” says the other. Businessmen never forget the value of money. “The service is included.”

But the first one insists: “Today I’m feeling generous.”


A surprised waitress.

“Excuse me, sir.”

A heedless businessman: “Yes?”

“You left…”


“… too much money.”

An unflappable businessman: “I don’t think so.”

A stunned waitress: “A hundred euros? Your bill comes to fifteen euros and forty-five cents, sir.”

A self-confident businessman: “I know how to add and subtract. And I left exactly what I meant to leave on the table.”

A stunned waitress: “A hundred euros? To pay for a bill of fifteen euros?”

A witty businessman: “And forty-five cents. Don’t forget the forty-five cents.”

“Are you sure you don’t want any change back?”

A magnanimous businessman: “No. You keep it all. For being so nice.”



A nosy coworker. “How much did he leave you?” ⁃

“A hundred euros. For a bill that came to fifteen…”

An outspoken coworker: “Wow! That’s what I call a generous tip.”

A hesitant waitress: “Should we split it?”

A coworker with her mind made up: “No. He gave it to you. That’s how we do it here, so that’s how it should be. I worked at another place where we split the tips, and it only caused problems. There was a schmuck who didn’t put his tips in the pot. This system is better.”

“All right. If you say so…”

An insidious coworker: “And you must have done something to earn that tip.”

A waitress who’s afraid she doesn’t understand what the coworker is insinuating: “What do you mean?”

A coworker cool as a cucumber: “Nothing. The tip is yours. You earned it.”

A waitress who’s afraid she understands all too clearly: “What do you mean?”

A coworker cool as a cucumber on ice: “Nothing. I don’t mean anything. Merely that you must have earned the tip that the man left you. And let me add that he wasn’t bad-looking.”

Yes, a waitress who’s afraid she understands all too clearly: “What do you mean by that?”

“Me? Nothing. Just that you’re really lucky.”


“Why are you pulling that face? I didn’t say anything.”


A husband who arrives home.

“So how was your day?”

An intimidated wife: “Fine…”

“Just fine?”

A wife who’s not sure what her husband is getting at: “Fine. Normal.”

A husband who knows there’s more: “That’s not what I heard.”

A suddenly tensed-up wife: “What did you hear? From whom?”

A husband-turned-lion who won’t let go of his prey: “Are you sure there was nothing special?”

A wife who finally understands. Who understands that, even if she’d forgotten, no one would let her forget. About her fantastic luck. About the great thing that happened to her that day: “Oh, of course. You’re right, there was something.”

“And what was that?”

A wife who smiles, trying to show she’s happy: “I received an 85 euro tip.”

Why, after all, should she feel guilty? She didn’t do anything wrong.

“And that was something special, don’t you think?” she hurriedly adds. “It’s not every day we get lucky like that.

A husband who smiles, but it’s not a friendly smile: “Oh really? Quite a tip, I must say. Splendid.”


“But I don’t understand. You received this tip?”

“Yes. That’s what I said…”

A sardonic husband: “And from whom, if I may ask? Don’t tell me it was from the Holy Spirit.”

A wife who doesn’t believe what’s happening: “No, no. It was… from a customer.”

“A customer?” repeats a husband with a nasty smile.

“Well that’s just grand, darling.”


A husband who hasn’t called her darling for years: “A customer.”

“A customer, of course. Who else would it be?”

A husband with venom in his words: “An appreciative customer, I dare say.”

A wife who denies it, of course. What else can she do? “I didn’t do anything to receive that tip.”

A self-respecting predator who won’t let go of his prey until its neck is broken: “A satisfied customer, right? I imagine he was quite satisfied. Correct?”

A nervous wife. A wife who knows they haven’t been getting along for some time now but who still wonders why he has to be so nasty: “But darling…”

Not only that, for once in her life she did absolutely nothing wrong. She merely received a good tip!

“It’s not really all that much money…”

Too good, that’s the problem.

“Eighty-five euros?” A husband who whistles an astonished whistle: “You must have provided him with exceptional service.”

Too good of a tip. Much too good.

“Don’t talk like that. I didn’t do anything, I just…”

A predator who, losing his patience, comes right to the point: “What did you do to satisfy your delighted customer, huh?”

“Don’t talk like that. Please…”


A terrified wife: “Stop it, please. Think of the neighbors. You know they hear everything.”


A wife who doesn’t know which way to turn: “Don’t talk like that. You have no right to… Aaah!”


A good lawyer: “Your honor, my client doesn’t deny the tragic events that took place.”

A judge who doesn’t like being taken for a ride: “The crime he committed.”

A lawyer who smiles as if at a child, okay, you win: “The tragic events in which he played an active role, your honor. My client is perfectly aware of that. I merely wish to point out that there are extenuating circumstances.”

A judge who looks over the top of his glasses at the lawyer. An old trick to let him know that patience has its limits. “Extenuating circumstances? Hmm. You may proceed.”

A grateful lawyer: “With your consent, I call my first witness.”


A very good lawyer, in fact: “Is it true that the deceased received an especially generous tip on that day?”

An ex-coworker on the defensive, a fish out of water in the courtroom: “Yes… But that wasn’t her fault.”

A curious lawyer: “Is it common to receive tips of almost one hundred euros?”

A hesitant ex-coworker: “Well…”

“Have you ever received such a large tip?”

An ex-coworker whose honor has been insulted: “Who, me? God forbid!”

A contented lawyer: “Is that right?”

A tongue-tied ex-coworker: “I mean, I was never that lucky.”

A satisfied lawyer: “Thank you. I think we’ve all understood. You were eminently clear. I have no more questions.”


A good neighbor: “Well, it’s not like we put our ears to the walls, but you know how it is in old buildings…”

An understanding judge: “Just tell us, Madam, what you heard on the night in question.”

A good neighbor who hesitates: “Well, they started yelling and…”

A prudent judge: “Both of them?”

A good neighbor with a fuzzy memory: “I think so, I’m not sure.”

A judge in search of facts: “And what were they saying?”

A direct speech in the first person: “Tell me, what did you do to make the customer like you so much?”

A judge who wants facts, only facts: “Is that verbatim?”

“Excuse me?”

“Is that what you heard? Are you certain that’s what you heard?”

A good neighbor protesting innocence: “Yes, more or less. You could see that the husband…”

An ever-ready lawyer: “That man there in the dock?”

“Yes… You could see that the husband had his reasons for being angry at her. I mean, all that money…”

A judge trying to put the witness at ease: “Eighty euros isn’t exactly a fortune, is it?”

A good neighbor brimming with honest simplicity: “I know, your honor, but it’s a…”

“It’s what?”

The triumph of common sense: “Your honor must admit that it was a very big tip. Anyone in his place…”

A judge arching his eyebrows: “Would commit murder? Is that what you mean?”

A good neighbor squirming like a caught fish: “No, that’s not what I mean. But… A man can lose his head… Can suspect that, you know…”


A just sentence. Three years.

Well, not exactly three years. An offender with no previous record and significant extenuating circumstances.

The incident that prompted the tragic event, namely the exaggerated tip, was after all highly suspicious. Three years, therefore, two and a half of which were suspended, leaving the offender to serve six months in jail. At heart it was an accident, nothing but a lamentable accident. Perhaps, the judge had to admit, it was even a terrible misunderstanding. Involuntary manslaughter, in any case, and not premeditated murder, which would have resulted in a far harsher sentence – fifteen to twenty years without parole.

One of life’s unlucky tragedies…

Seven blows in the head was a bit much, but the witnesses had been convincing: it was an impulse of jealous passion, leading to an unjust death but motivated by a cause that, although not just, wasn’t entirely unjust. What, after all, would induce a man to give a one hundred euro tip to a mere waitress?


Two men on the telephone, face-to-face and separated by a thick sheet of glass – not bulletproof but close to it.

“When do you get out?”

“Three more months.”

“Must be a bitch.”

“Don’t worry about me. The time goes by quickly.”


“Yeah, quickly.”

“I’d never have guessed.”

“Especially when the end is in sight.”

“Well, that makes sense.”

“I’m learning to work with clay. It’s fun.”

“Glad to hear it.”

“Anyway, thanks for coming to visit.”

“I’m the one who needs to thank you. The dough we agreed on has been deposited into my account.”

“A decent wad of dough, if I say so myself.”

“But I earned it.”

“I don’t deny it,” says the imprisoned man.

“I hope not. It was a job well done.”

“Even so… Five thousand euros just to have lunch is pretty decent pay.”

A businessman never forgets the value of money. “Four thousand and nine hundred euros. Don’t forget that I had to pay for the lunch.”

“And leave the tip.”

“And leave the tip – right. A nice big tip.”

A satisfied ex-husband: “An unbelievably big tip.”


Translated from the Portuguese by Richard Zenith, 2005

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