Passport to Crime
A Second Opinion
by Fernando Santos de Oliveira
Translated from the Brazilian Portuguese by Clifford E. Landers
As soon as she set foot in the school courtyard, Renata saw Lucas, with whom she was in love, kissing Angela, the most stuck-up of her classmates.
Trying to recover from the shock, she darted behind one of the columns beside the wall to watch what was happening: She saw Angela’s faithful clique grinning as they shared her triumph. Anna and Veronica were as treacherous as any serpent Renata had studied in biology class. Wearing scornful smiles, they must be dying to find her and say that Lucas wasn’t the least bit interested in her the way she thought.
“If only I could,” she said, clenching her teeth until her jaw ached, “I’d show them!”
Lucas hugged Angela, lifted her off her feet, spun her around as if at a dance, a dance to which Renata had never been invited.
It was the last straw. Focused so intently on the spectacle, she hardly blinked. She jumped when suddenly a hand tapped her on the shoulder.
“What’re you doing here, Renata?” asked a girl she knew, passing by oblivious to everything.
“Nothing,” she said evasively. “I was just leaving.” And she quickly moved away, avoiding the people in the courtyard, instinctively seeking to escape the humiliating scene.
She moved as far away as she could, going into one of the school’s empty hallways. The building was old, full of details in wood, with numerous long corridors that made it seem more like a museum than a school. Without caring where she went, Renata wandered aimlessly, opening doors and following paths she had never seen before.
“Why does this only happen to me?” she thought aloud. She dried a tear of hate and leaned against the near wall. She took a deep breath and looked around: She was in a large corridor with a lone door at its end. Above the door she could make out the word Library. She had come there by chance, but the happenstance seemed somehow fortunate. Without anywhere else to go, she slowly allowed her steps to take her there.
It could be the perfect place for some time to herself.
Curious, she entered the library. She had never been there, true, but the place was magnificent, just as she had once been told. A circular space with old wooden tables and chairs and, at the edges of that immense circle, various bookshelves housing thousands of volumes. Renata saw signs hanging from the ceiling indicating the subject matter of each aisle of shelves.
Thinking that it might call attention to be there without anything to read, she took a book from the nearest shelf without even glancing at its title. All the tables were empty. There was not even anyone behind the counter, which afforded her a sense of comfort at the moment.
She pulled up a chair, sat down, and dropped the book onto the table.
Now that she felt more relaxed, she stopped to consider what had happened in the courtyard. She thought about everything that had been going on in her life for a long time. She felt ugly, the bathroom mirror a threat that seemed to say You’re going to end up alone. . . . Other people took advantage of her low self-esteem to hurt her feelings, of that she was certain. She was tired of it, truly tired.
Suddenly, footsteps from outside the library awoke her from her reverie. Who is it? she thought. She leapt up and grabbed the book, looking for a place to hide from the intruder who had robbed her of her moment of peace.
She chose an aisle at random and ran down it. Peeking through the openings between books, she recognized a girl from her classroom at the door. Renata didn’t want to be discovered by anyone at that instant. She moved toward the end of the aisle, where the narrow space opened to the left. She continued walking, leaving her classmate farther and farther behind.
Ahead, she saw an open door to what seemed to be a reading room.
“Perfect!” It must be a large area, though she couldn’t see everything in it. For a reading room, it was poorly lit, with shadows on all sides. She managed to make out only a wooden table identical to those at the entrance to the library, along with scattered books in the corners.
As she went inside to look for a place of refuge, she experienced a shock: She wasn’t alone. There was a girl on the other side of the table. She felt confused; maybe it would be better to leave and let the other girl read in peace. But Renata needed calm and distance from the crowd. Making a quick decision and summoning her courage, she pulled up the nearest chair and sat down.
“Hi,” said the girl, to Renata’s surprise. Her voice was charged with rage, probably at having her study interrupted, and now she wanted to know what Renata was doing there.
“Hello,” she replied, trying to sound natural. “I came to do some reading. Can I stay here?”
“I know you’re not here to read,” said the unknown girl.
Renata’s eyes widened. Who was this meddler to say something like that?
“Of course I’m here to read. Why else would I be in a library?” she said ironically.
“Well, then,” the girl replied, “what’s the book about that you picked up?”
Renata blushed, because she hadn’t even looked at the book’s cover.
“If you want to be alone, I can leave now.”
“You don’t have to leave,” the stranger said, smiling. “If you do, they’ll find you. They’re all waiting in the courtyard to make fun of you over what just happened.”
It was impossible. It made no sense. The girl had no way of knowing about the shame Renata had experienced in the courtyard unless she had been there or had somehow heard the news.
“How do you know what happened?”
“Doesn’t everyone?” she said mockingly, enveloped in darkness that obscured her face.
“You enjoyed it too, didn’t you? Are you a friend of Angela’s?”
“Then who are you?”
“Someone who doesn’t understand how you can go on being so nice in a situation like that.”
Feeling even more unyielding, Renata shot back: “That’s what I think, if you must know! I should do something bad and stop being the girl who does the right thing all the time.”
“Why not react? Give them a taste of their own medicine.”
“I don’t know how to do that kind of thing. . . . That’s the problem.”
“If you need some tips, I think I can help you.”
“You mean it?” exclaimed Renata, with a malicious smile that she had never before displayed. “What do I have to do?”
The girl across the table began speaking of horrible things. Her ideas were as dark as her image still hidden in the shadows. Renata listened intently, eager to even the score and avenge herself in the most terrible way possible.
“Before carrying out these plans,” the other girl said, “you need to change your appearance.”
“Don’t you realize why the other girls are popular? They don’t wear tacky clothes or old-fashioned hairstyles like you.” Renata leaned forward to hear better; so did the other, in order to whisper something. “Clothes show a bit of what we are inside. Be more daring, charming, and . . . sensual.”
The bell for first-period classes sounded. Renata picked up the book from the table, pushed back her chair, and went to the door, glancing behind as if consumed by curiosity.
“Will I see you here again?”
“You can count on it.”
Despite the half shadow, she noticed an odd glimmer in the stranger’s eyes. She felt a frisson of fear, became aware of the chill in the reading room creeping up her neck and causing her hair to stand on end.
“No need, you don’t owe me anything.”
Feeling happy, she left the room, following the same route by which she had come until she arrived at the main area, where the chairs and tables were still empty. She hurriedly deposited the book on the first shelf she saw and departed as if nothing had happened. She took the stairs toward the classroom, entered with the rest of the group, and took her place, but barely managed to pay attention to what the teacher was saying.
Angela was calmly chatting with her friends, as always with something interesting to say, judging by the other girls’ rapt attention. But in an unpretentious glance, she saw Renata seated two rows from her. She was staring icily at Angela, observing her the way a wolf does before sinking its teeth into its prey.
Angela turned back to her companions, who were waiting for her to resume. And, her expression changed, she resumed her conversation.
When classes ended, Renata dashed out, made it to the street, heading directly home to put her plans into action. She barely managed to sleep. At daybreak, she began preparations for the new Renata. After all, wasn’t reborn the meaning of her name? She had seen that in a book. Now what mattered was to start from zero. To rise from the rubble of a good little girl and become someone respected and feared.
To start, she needed to buy new clothes. She rummaged through the small chest beside the night table where she kept her allowance. She counted it to the penny, but it wasn’t enough. The only person who could help in this situation was her mother. She found her and bargained away her birthday presents and Christmas gifts in exchange for her aid now.
“I promise I won’t ask for anything for the rest of the year,” she insisted.
Her mother resisted a little but finally yielded, in the hope that her daughter was becoming less withdrawn and more self-confident, like other girls her age. Renata hurried to the mall to choose what she would wear from then on. She tossed aside her old rags and put together a new wardrobe, buying whatever struck her fancy in the display windows.
At the start of the following week, she went to the hairdresser recommended by her mother’s friend.
“He’s great, Renata! He’s got the hands of an angel,” she said, smiling. “After he’s done fixing your hair, you’ll feel like a different person, believe me!”
Coming out of the hairdresser’s, she stopped in front of the mirror to check the result. It was excellent. It was unbelievable to see she wasn’t like the other girls at school, she was much better!
The next day, she took the rest of the money and went to a perfume shop. She didn’t know much about such things, so she asked the saleslady for help in choosing an outstanding fragrance. It took the entire afternoon to finally find something she liked. Still, she needed a second opinion, so she went to the school early and entered the library to look for the strange girl in the reading room.
Renata went in calmly so as not to interfere with other students who might be reading or doing homework. Luckily, there was no one around except the girl on the other side of the table. Renata sat down across from her.
“So, what do you think? Am I pretty or what?” she asked directly.
“Congratulations! This time nobody can put you down.”
“Will they maybe notice me now?” she said, concerned. “I’m so nervous I feel like running home and hiding under the bed.”
“There’s no reason to worry. Stop being dramatic.”
“All right, I’ll try.”
“Don’t try, do it,” she insisted. “Do you remember everything I taught you?”
“I think so.”
“Then I have another piece of advice for you.”
“Get rid of those stupid friends of yours. They’re not for you. Now you belong with more interesting people.”
Renata thought for an instant, then decided to take this advice.
She needed to break free of the idiots who were her longtime friends. They obviously had no class and didn’t think like interesting people, and therefore when they began calling on weekends they heard flimsy excuses why she couldn’t go out with them. Over time, when they came to realize she was actively avoiding them and was always hanging with the popular kids at school, they felt hurt and began ignoring her too.
Without fail, Renata went once a week to the small, dark reading room in the library, where she had met with her strange friend with the really unusual ideas! She sat in the customary chair and related everything she had done and the new male friends she had won almost effortlessly. She mentioned that her old friends had finally stopped pestering her. Now she was free as a bird! She then said goodbye to the girl in the shadows.
“Weird but studious,” thought Renata. “Never leaves the library for anything. She must make terrific grades.”
Now the only thing left to do was put her plans for revenge into action. She couldn’t stand looking at Angela, so full of herself, trying to be better than her in everything. And so, one cloudy day she gathered her school materials, put on makeup as she had been doing for some time now, and without greeting anyone in the courtyard hastened directly to the library to look for the girl in the reading room.
Once again, she found her in the same place, as if she were waiting for her every time.
“Hi!” Renata said, smiling.
“So, how do you feel now?”
“Wonderful! My life has totally changed, just like I always wanted,” she said. “There’s just one thing missing, right?”
“I know what you’re thinking.”
“I want them to suffer the way I suffered!” she said, livid with rage.
“Don’t worry. They’re going to suffer. . . . Lots of people are going to suffer.”
Renata wondered what she meant by “Lots of people are going to suffer,” but it could wait till a later time.
“You have a plan?”
“Of course I do. Listen closely,” the strange girl said. And she explained step by step what she had in mind to remove the girls from Renata’s path. All that remained was to put the plan into action.
Veronica was the first name on the list. Renata closed her eyes and recalled the scene as if it had been only moments before . . . the way she had smiled while Angela was stealing her dreams.
Renata waited a time in the library before slipping unnoticed into the empty classroom during the interval between periods. Predictably, the teacher had left her handbag hanging from her chair near the blackboard, as she always did.
Stealthily, she approached the chair. She could hear distant footsteps in the hallway. She opened old Miss Sophia’s bag and quickly located her cell phone. It was chic and expensive and was always ringing in the middle of class. Renata carefully closed the bag and placed the phone in Veronica’s backpack, a few desks away from her own.
Copyright © 2024 A Second Opinion by Fernando Santos de Oliveira