REGISTERING THE HUNDRED MILLIONTH BRAZILIAN

It was in a mood of bouyant optimism that he drove to the Cartorio to register the new baby. They had talked about having a third child ever since their new life in Sao Paulo had began to prosper.  They were both committed to the idea of the family as a keystone unit in their attitudes to life. Cut off as they were from any family connections, either in Germany or England, after those years at the Gold Mine which had been a mini-welfare state for ex-patriates their combined efforts in getting established into their new life in Sao Paulo had brought them closer together,  they now felt instinctively they had only themselves and their children as a nucleus to fall back on for emotional support.

At the end of the year the pregnancy was confirmed much to their mutual joy and their lives took on a new momentum. Now it was late June and the new baby had made her appearance as Caroline Louise Mason and, on the date of her arrival, the Brazilian newspapers had reported  that a census had shown that Brazil’s population was one hundred million and so their new daughter was the 100 millionth Brazilian because  like her brother, Cliffie, she was considered to be a Brazilian citizen. There are no ‘ifs or buts’ about that because the Brazilians practised the ‘Lei de Terra’ and not the ‘Lei de Sangue’ for those born within their borders.

The Cartorio was in a densely built up part of the city and typical of any Public Service building in this country; uninviting, crowded and disorderly. A large assembly of mainly poorly dressed men were waiting in a bare hall to register the births of their children at counters staffed by an assortment of women attendants who mostly appeared to be indifferent to the task in hand. There was no queuing, no order and no advice and, in general, the public were of the working class who are always timid and deferential in the presence of Public Servants. He used to say that in Brazil they should be called Public Masters.

There was a good deal of shouted instructions coming from the counters none of which seemed to him to be relevant to the service given and, as always, these public functionaries  had a half-bullying, half-patronising attitude towards the people they dealt with. He stood at the back of the milling mass watching to assess the situation. when, to his surprise, he heard shouted out above the din, ‘is there anyone here who can speak English?’ It was a most unusual question and came from a stout, formidable looking functionary on the other side of the crowd from where he stood. He raised his hand and immediately felt all eyes turn in his direction. The woman looked at him and gave an imperious wave of her hand. ‘Come here.’ All was quiet as the crowd made room for him to approach her counter. She had been attending a small, lean, mulatto man who stepped rapidly aside to allow B full access to the woman’s attention.

‘Is there such a name in English as ‘Sher?’ She asked. ‘Sher?’ Queried B and looked at the man  hoping to gain time; he hadn’t recognised the name and wanted a clue. All the transactions and noise in the room stopped to follow this diversion. The name was repeated. ‘Spell it,’ he asked. ‘S-I-R.’ ‘Ah, Sir,’ he exclaimed triumphantly. ‘Yes, Sher’, said the woman, ‘is it a name or isn’t it?’ The man was emboldened to say, ‘it is a name, I heard it in an English film….’ The woman silenced him with a gesture, looking at B ‘Well?’ ‘Well yes, its a title, a sort of….’No, I don’t think it will do,’ she decided cutting him short, ‘Sebastiao is a good name; I’ll put that down.’

She wrote on the document before her and B, feeling as though he had let the small man down retreated to one side as the noise in the room regained its usual volume. As he waited he determined he would put up a fight if they tried to change the obviously non-Portuguese style of the name he was about to register, but it was accepted when he eventually had his chance before one of the counters.

JUNE 1964