Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 595
The narrator begins by declaring that the miracle he is about to relate was witnessed by hundreds of townspeople, as it took place on a market day. In addition, the illustrious visitor being fêted that day, the widow of the renowned regional novelist Graciliano Ramos—a notoriously truthful woman—can testify to its veracity.
The reader is then introduced to the protagonist: Ubaldo Capadócio, widely celebrated as a lover, minstrel, and composer of popular ballads. His antagonist is also identified: Captain Lindolfo Ezequiel, who is best known as a hired killer and the husband of Sabô, the latter occupation demanding constant vigilance. Sabô is distinguished not only by her beauty and desirability but also by the lack of respect that she pays to her husband’s position. She flaunts herself in front of all, but given the captain’s violent possessiveness, none dare respond—that is, until Ubaldo arrives in town. Ignorant of local custom and ever ready to accommodate a lovely woman, Ubaldo will find himself, the narrator divulges, dressed in her nightgown, braving her husband.
Following this brash preface, the narrator details Ubaldo’s reputation as a minstrel and ladies’ man. His talents as an entertainer are such that he coaxes laughter from the deceased at a wake. As a lover, he is so constant that he never sends a woman away—any of them. He has three women to whom he is devoted, if not lawfully wedded, and nine children, three of them not biologically his. One came with the comely mulatto woman who, though she relented and left her husband for him, would not be parted from her little boy. Another was adopted after being left motherless at six months; the third was picked up by the side of a back-country road.
Ubaldo arrives in Piranhas, scene of the miracle, flush from a successful tour of the rugged Alagoan backlands. The narrator injects that the balladeer has gotten into trouble over women before. He has jumped out of windows and over fences and walls and has plunged into rivers; once a bullet grazed his jacket. Undaunted while the captain is out of town on business for some congressmen, Ubaldo finds his way to Sabô’s bed.
Ezequiel inexplicably doubles back on his tracks. With a curious crowd gathering behind him, he storms into his home, threatening death preceded by castration in the public square. In his haste, all Ubaldo can find to cover himself is the top half of Sabô’s pink baby-doll nightgown, which barely reaches his navel. Leaping through the window, he is pursued by the cuckolded captain. Ezequiel is determined to dispense with Ubaldo as with countless others whose intentions toward Sabô he has distrusted.
Worn out from a long night of love, Ubaldo is losing ground to his pursuer. In his path stands the bird market; he is unable to veer around the piles of cages fast enough. He crashes into them, and birds, freed from their cages, fill the air. They pick up their liberator by his nightgown and fly away with him. Crossing the state line, they set Ubaldo down in a convent, where the nuns welcome him and ask him no questions.
The captain, meanwhile, is rooted to the spot in the middle of the square, where, according to the narrator, he remains. He turns into a horntree, a source of raw materials out of which artisans fashion combs, drinking cups, and other useful items. Thus, the narrator concludes, the feared killer has been “transformed into an object of real public utility.”
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