Translation, Notes, and Bio by Paul Southern
Even today it is a well-kept secret. Almost no one knows the man’s real name. What is certain is that Admirable Rough Diamond is not on his birth certificate. But then how is it that all his documents bear the name, Admirable Rough Diamond? It is said that when he arrived in Lisbon, in the wave of African immigration in the 1980s, supposedly to join the junior squad of Sport Lisboa e Benfica*, he not only changed his date of birth but also his name. However, he did not enjoy his expected success on the soccer field and the ‘reds’ did not waste any time getting rid of Admirable. He had to leave the team residence and make his own way. Alone and penniless, he decided to look up a cousin who lived in Amadora, on the outskirts of Lisbon; Ansumane Sidibé was the only family he had in Portugal. They had broken off relations some time before, but Ansumane was not prepared to turn his back on his cousin at a time like this, it would run counter to the code of solidarity which typifies African families. Nevertheless, there are some things that are not easily forgotten. Ansumane felt hurt because in the early days when his soccer playing cousin had enjoyed some success, he had been ignored, and even avoided by Admirable Rough Diamond on the occasions when he tried to speak with him.
Ansumane Sidibé arrived in Lisbon two years before his cousin. Shrewd and pragmatic, he realized early on that with little schooling and no documents he would not get much of a job other than unreliable construction site work. He threw himself into the work with great humility and with more than a little pride. He worked week in week out without rest or time off, with no extra benefits, but he was always paid on time. To begin with he rented a room, then a small apartment. Later, through hard work he managed to become a subcontractor and, from there, he set up his own small business. He ended up in charge of fifty workers. Consequently, Ansumane Sidibé did not have a bad life. On the contrary, he was able to buy a plot of land in Amadora where he built a home, a pleasant house reminiscent of the ‘big house’ in the Cuntum-Madina district of Bissau* where he grew up. On that Tuesday morning when he arrived early at his small business there was a message on his counter. Someone with an unusual name saying he was a cousin had come looking for him; it was Admirable Rough Diamond. Ansumane crumpled up the message and threw it into the trash can but then, he could not hide a wry smile wondering, ‘what does that character want with me?’
Despite always calling him ‘cousin’, Ansumane naturally knew the true name of the ex-soccer player but did as he had asked since arriving in Portugal, what mattered now was his new and bizarre adopted identity - Admirable Rough Diamond. Nobody knew how he came by such a name, perhaps it had been the title of a magazine, a phrase he had read in a book, in a political short story, or in one of the crosswords that he enjoyed doing, who knows? Ansumane took the message and decided to contact his cousin the following day. After his first meeting, he quickly realized that Admirable Rough Diamond was in trouble and Ansumane Sidibé decided to help the man who in former times had disowned him. The subcontractor apparently believed that disdain tempered by love had its rewards. And that is what happened. After a surreal interview, he decided to entrust his cousin with a job in the business. Right from the beginning of that interview Ansumane had to think hard about the work he was going to give to his cousin; the reality was that his cousin hardly knew how to do anything. After much thought he decided that the best job for Admirable Rough Diamond would be the firm’s ‘book-keeper’. After all, the job did not take that much expertise; it was just reckoning up. He would do the entries, outgoings, one-off expenses, days off, regular payments and the company revenues. However, Admirable could not even manage that. His cousin knew this and he himself took charge of the job he had ‘officially’ given to the former Benfica Juniors’ midfielder. He just had to help him, which is why he had given him that fictitious job. He never checked his timekeeping, even less his effort or productivity. He gave him a fixed salary and a room in the house at Amadora. So, in the African manner, he fulfilled the sacred and secular family duty of never letting one of its own fall through the net. Ansumane had a lot of sympathy for his cousin. ‘He’s not a bad boy, he just doesn’t have any common sense’, he would say to his wife when she questioned his familial tolerance. Admirable used and abused his cousin’s goodwill. He struggled in vain to comply with the stipulated hours of work. He never did more than what was absolutely necessary, as he had other interests.
Daily, after five in the afternoon, his tall figure was clad in one of the few smart suits that he owned. He put on a fine-looking necktie, and with his executive-style leather briefcase, bought with his very first soccer salary, began his late afternoon ritual. He looked for a hotel – it had to be four star or above – he walked in and pretended to talk on his cell phone. Sometimes, he never even gave the reception desk a glance, he made straight for the lobby. He sat down and made himself comfortable, picked up one of the papers, and passed the time reading Le Monde, Liberation, El País, The Times, O Globo, Diário de Notícias, Público, whatever was there. When he entered the hotels his self-confident and refined manner created few misgivings. On the contrary, the receptionists and managers of the hotels he visited were always convinced that they were dealing with an important person. He arrived around six in the evening, and then settled down in the first hotel on his itinerary. He lit a cigarette and picked up one of the newspapers lying on the coffee table. He began a long read. The pleasure the man got from this ritual was indescribable. It was, one might say, the great moment of his life. He felt like a successful executive, a big-wheeling politician, a very dignified African ambassador, a secret agent in disguise, a diamond merchant and more. From time to time, he pulled out his cell phone and in a bored voice pretended to speak with someone whom he was supposedly waiting for. This act lent even greater credibility to the scam. The hotel employees had no doubts whatsoever about him. The man had to be well treated. On not a few occasions the visitor was offered water, a drink, something in the way of a welcome. The wily young man with the athletic look toyed with the situation. At times, he accepted, but also delicately rejected the offers.
Once in the Sheraton Lisbon SPA, he even got to enjoy a complementary bottle of Moët & Chandon, it was an afternoon when he had risked taking a girlfriend and when it came to paying, he pretended to present a credit card, but was surprised by the manager’s pleasant reply, ‘It’s on the house sir, in the name of good public relations’. He smiled and winked at his companion who thought it as unusual as man’s name. Admirable Rough Diamond simple adored luxury hotel lobbies. At the Lisbon Ritz, he listened to sublime performances of Mozart and Chopin. In the Dom Pedro V he bumped into the most famous figures, from Dom Duarte of Braganza*, the pretender to the Portuguese throne, to the legendary former Benfica stalwart Eusébio*. At the Corinthia Lisbon Hotel he saw Elton John and spent a long time speaking with the Brazilian actress Maitê Proença* about a play that she had brought to Lisbon.
Admirable Rough Diamond spent the mornings looking at his cousin’s job sheet, doing an inventory for the building materials and checking on the workers’ timekeeping. In the afternoons, he would go on some administrative errands to the bank or the tax office. In the evening, he was dressed for another world; he took on the anonymous identity of someone he always dreamt of being. One night, on entering the Meridien President, he went to the reception desk and, in the refined way that he greeted people, asked, casually, if Madame Monique Arnaud (a name he had read the day before in a business supplement of Le Monde) was staying at the hotel. What a surprise our Guinean charlatan got when the receptionist gave him an affirmative answer. ‘Yes, she is. It’s that elegant looking lady sitting at the end of the lobby’, said the young woman pointing to a beautiful woman wearing a mink coat and smoking a cigarette with a long holder. The man who loved to spend his evenings in hotel lobbies looked and, to maintain the farce, pretended to walk towards the slim figure. The woman got up and held out her hand. ‘Admirable Rough Diamond’, said the Guinean. ‘Thank you; I’ve never had such a flattering compliment’. The man felt that it was best not to explain that he was merely introducing himself. The beautiful Frenchwoman went on, ‘Well, I must tell you that I’m absolutely flabbergasted. The agency didn’t tell the half of it, you’re a good-looking man and just the type I’m looking for. All you need to do this week is to accompany me to meetings and cocktails here in Lisbon. Then we’ll go to Madrid for a couple of weeks. You won’t regret it, I pay well. And you can have whatever you want. Well, that’s enough talking; you must have done this sort of thing before’. Admirable Rough Diamond just could not believe what was happening. He was lost for words and utterly surprised by the situation. He merely nodded his head. He decided not to enlighten her in order to see how far the farce would go. And it went a lot further.
The rich, French businesswoman Monique Arnaud was delighted by the African and decided to prolong the man’s services. Two months later they were married in Paris, it was a great party which appeared in every socialite magazine and newspaper. Ansumane Sidibé was best man, chosen by his lazy cousin who had now become rich. Admirable continued to frequent luxury hotels in various cities of the world, but he never again spent any length of time in their lobbies.
When he passed through Lisbon, he would still acknowledge the hotel staff where he used to read their newspapers. The last time he was in the Portuguese capital he stayed at the Ritz. The first evening, he made an excuse to Monique, saying he could not go to the reception at the French Embassy. He remained in his room until six, then dressed in his tuxedo went down the stairs. He was walking slowly and confidently, like someone who knew the way. He greeted the staff on reception and headed for the armchairs in the lobby. He sat down and picked up a newspaper. ‘What memories, my goodness!’ he thought aloud. He realized that the receptionists were whispering about whether he was the man who used to spend hours in the lobby. Admirable Rough Diamond smiled and kept them guessing.
Sport Lisboa e Benfica: Two sports clubs, Sport Lisboa, founded in 1904 and Grupo Sport Benfica, founded in 1906, merged in 1908 to form Sport Lisboa e Benfica, which today is famously known as Benfica, the most successful Portuguese soccer team of all time.
Bissau City: Capital, principle port and largest city in Guinea-Bissau, situated at the mouth of the Geba River. It became the capital of former colonial Portuguese Guinea in 1941. Part of the city’s historic heritage was destroyed in internecine post-independence conflicts.
Dom Duarte de Bragança 1945-: Swiss-born, Portuguese-educated pretender to the Portuguese throne vacated by King Manuel II of Portugal after the 1910 revolution. Dom Duarte lives in Portugal with his family.
Eusébio da Silva Ferreira 1942-2014: Born in colonial Mozambique in Lourenço Marques, now Maputo. He was one of the greatest soccer players of all time. He played for the Benfica club from 1960-1975 and regularly represented Portugal at international level including the soccer world cup in 1966 in England.
Maitê Proença Gallo 1958-: Born in São Paulo, Brazil, she is an actor, author, columnist and popular TV personality.