At that time I was twelve years old and spent most of my time in Zequita’s barber salon, right next to my grandfather’s house, in the square. There, I shined customers’ shoes. The room had a complete, tall, metal shoeshine chair, two large drawers where all the material needed for a good shine in any type of shoe was kept.
I earned a percentage for the number of shined pairs, which represented a sufficient amount of money for my spending on nonsense. And the guarantee of admission on Sundays to see the Sports games.
When he didn’t have shoes to shine, he played checkers with Zequita or with anyone who showed up and wanted a party. There were good players and I, although at a young age, did not look bad with any of them.
I remember some who passed by the salon on weekends: Dr. Humberto, Délcio, Moacyr Braga, Doctor Adair, Juracy Curtinhas, Bastinho, Sebastião Alfaiate, Getúlio, Cabo Bruno, Mestre, Merrinho, Pelé, Sebastião Pelé, Adolfinho, among several others that I had the honor of facing in incredible matches.
In addition to the Zequita salon, there were checkerboards in other places, too, such as the barber salon of Seu João Morais, father of Gessé and Zé Morais, who were also good players, in the ballroom of Tringolingo and Clube Mutuense.
The best games always took place on Saturdays, when Zequita’s barber salon was full, with all the chairs occupied, and on Sunday mornings, because in the afternoons everyone had a commitment to Sport with Tringolingo, on Rua’s soccer field. from beach. Tringolingo was the Independente Futebol Clube, with its yellow shirt like that of the Brazilian team. Esporte Clube Mutum, the oldest and most traditional, had a red shirt, like that of América in Rio de Janeiro. I had the privilege of playing both. Over the years, they were unified and the name of the oldest, Sport, prevailed.
Let’s go back to the Checkers Game.
One morning I was in the salon when a man came to shine his shoes. While I was shining, he was watching the players closely. He was a black man in his fifties, smiling and friendly.
He finished shining and stood there near the board, sapando. Frog was what we called the assistant who stood beside us when we played, cheering for one or the other player and, sometimes, laughing at a wrong move or even guessing when we thought there was a move that we, the players of moment, we hadn’t realized. We often adopted the procedure that we called “deceiving the frog”, which was to see a clear and logical move and make another one, completely inseparable, just to see the “frog sizzle” and have fun as his frustration at not making the move that he expected. It was a dangerous procedure because, in the game of checkers, there are not many possibilities for variation without some complications. But the frog was well worth provoking.
In the case at hand, which I am remembering and reporting, the man whose shoes I had shined was not a flat frog. He was watching the game all the time with an attentive eye, without even shaking his head when one move or another caused the frogs to shake.
When the board was free, he sat down and asked who could play a game with. Soon Zequita looked at the shoeshine chair and seeing that I wasn’t shining, he said I knew how to play and he signaled me to accept the game.
I remember that the frogs were gone and that we started playing with the empty room. Our first matches were play by play, being always decided in the final plays. Then, I started losing always, more and more easily. As much as I tried to resist, I couldn’t. So, I said there was no way, that I couldn’t but harden the game. Then you started talking, praising my way of playing and trying to encourage me. And introduced himself.
He was called Messias, he was a postal worker in Juiz de Fora, he was in Mutum just for a special line checking service and he always competed in the Brazilian Checkers Championship. He praised my game once again and, opening a folder he took with him, showed us some newspaper clippings with reports of Tournaments and Championships in which he had already participated in several places in Brazil, always with great prominence. He was shot better than all of us. So, he became interested in knowing where and how I learned to play checkers.
I told him that I had learned from my Uncle Levy, with whom he played checkers and chess when he came to visit us, on vacation.
Lord Messiah chuckled and told me it was not what he was asking. When I showed my disagreement, he explained to me that, at the beginning of our matches, I had really played in a bold and safe way that he was surprised and had to dedicate himself a lot to win me.
But it was, little by little, But it was, little by little, studying my game and soon I soon had no more difficulty in dominating and winning. Then he asked me if I read Correio da Manhã, a famous newspaper of the time. I said yes and he asked me if I knew Damista, which I confirmed.
Damista was a section of Correio da Manhã that featured the design of a checkerboard and a chessboard, with plays to be studied and decorated, always prepared by some of the best damistas and chess players in Brazil. I used to cut and collect these plays and use them against my opponents when I played at Salão do Zequita.
The Lord Messiah asked me if I had kept some of these clippings and I promptly ran over to the house, which was on the side of the Hall, to search and show him.
He then gave me the explanation for my performance so irregular, strong at the beginning of the first games and so weak in the final games.
Among my clippings there were games of matches that I had used that had, to my great surprise, been prepared and sent by someone who signed something, or rather Messiah, the very one I had faced. And he started to give me an indescribable wash on the checkerboard as soon as he identified, in my plays, his tips given in Damista. That I cut, studied and used in my games against my opponents at Salão do Zequita.
I met Senhor Messias the other day, a Monday morning, at Correios, where I was an apprentice telegraph operator along with Antonio Silvério, Pirulito, Bastinho’s nephew and Sebastião Curtinhas, Juracy’s nephew.
So that I would not be discouraged by the wash that I had taken in the salon, he gave me a portable tray as a gift, and several tips on how to improve my game, among them that I should continue reading, cutting and studying O Damista.