Temper – November CW Comp.

This boardroom was a strange place. Boardrooms usually conjure up images of oak panelling, dark portraits of former chairmen on the walls and the smell of cigars and whisky, but this one was a shed – literally. This particular boardroom had bowed boxwood panels for walls with weak shafts of daylight percolating through the gaps, a two-year-old calender topped by a photograph of a pneumatic blonde astride a large motorbike nailed to a convenient beam and the smell of linseed oil (óleo de linhaça) and goats It was, it has to be said, more of a small warehouse, um pequeno armazém, than a shed, its darker recesses filled with sacks of fertilizer, piles of obscure agricultural implements, an ancient, asthmatic tractor and a couple of crates of empty beer bottles forgotten in a corner.

Outside, a chill autumn wind and squalls of rain whistled across the bleak plains of the Alentejo. Cattle accustomed to the fierce summer heat of this, the second most southerly province of Portugal, lowered their heads and turned their backs as another blustery shower battered the twisted cork oaks. Inside, the titular board of directors, dirigentes da empresa, of José Ramos e Filhos SA sat round an old card table, the atmosphere as fiery as the locally distilled and half-empty bottle of medronha that was doing the rounds. The board meeting, if you could dignify it with such a sobriquet, had been going on since lunchtime marked by a thick stew of potatoes, turnip tops, onions, chickpeas and copious extremities of pig known universally as feijoada followed by oranges and apples peeled individually with the razor sharp pocket-knifes carried by every rural Portuguese man. The directors comprised just four – José Ramos and his three sons, Miguel, Manuel and Pedro and the three filhos were at loggerheads with their father.

“We can’t go on like this, Pai”, Manuel shouted, banging his fist on the table. “The world’s changing. The country’s in the depths of recession and we’re being hit the worst. All we do is work all the hours God sends harvesting cork, olives and carobs and then all we can do is to sell at rock bottom prices to that thieving wholesaler Vitor Rosa and he’s driving around in a new BMW while we can barely afford a couple of trucks between us. We ‘ve got to get modern. We have to change.”

“Or sell the business”, added Miguel. “I’d rather have a wad of Euros in my pocket right now than go on working myself to death for a living any longer.”

José sighed. They were both right, of course, but only he knew that the business was already mortgaged to the hilt in order merely to put food on the table and was to all intents and purposes worthless to his headstrong sons. It was only his force of personality that had both kept them in check and persuaded his long time friend Carlinho, the local bank manager, against his better judgement to make the loans. José Ramos e Filhos SA was hardly good collateral at the best of times and José had been less than honest with his old friend about its prospects. ”Temos um problema crescente – we do have an increasing problem” he had admitted, “which is why I need your help, but the profits are good and the boys are working hard. It’s only a short term cash flow difficulty and we just can’t afford to wait for buyers to pay when we need to expand the business and buy new equipment. You know how it is.” “Yes, I do, José” Carlinho replied seriously, “but all you have are the crops. One more dry summer like the last few and you’ll be wiped out and I have to tell you, in confidence you understand, that Vitor Rosa is talking about retirement. What will you do then?” “Ora bem, o meu amigo, Rosa isn’t the only wholesaler. We’ll look elsewhere and probably get better prices anyway. C’mon, Carlinho. I need this and you know I’m good for it”

The bank manager sighed resignedly. “OK José. It’s against my better judgement, but you’re a good friend You’ve got your loan. Go and see Dália on your way out and ask her to print out the contract for you. Have a look through and if you’re happy sign it and bring it back to me next week.”

José lifted his head and faced his sons. “And what about you, Pedro? You’ve hardly said anything.” The youngest boy took another gulp of medronha and raised bloodshot eyes to his father. “Why ask me?”, he slurred aggressively, “You three take all the decisions and treat me like a baby. Sell the bloody company and give me my share. Or drop dead!  Either way, I want out. I can get a mechanic’s job in Beja and be rid of you for ever.”

With every fibre of his being José resisted the temptation to fling his own glass across the table. “How dare you speak to me like that! I’ve done everything for all of you since your mother died. You’ve done nothing, nothing, I tell you! We’re in business to make money. That’s what we’ve always done and carobs, cork and olives will always be there. They grow every year and all you have to do is harvest them. There are other wholesalers apart from Vitor Rosa if you want to be choosy, but at least he provides a reliable outlet. If it wasn’t for me, Rosa and the company you’d all be on the bones of your arses. I’ve had it with you. We’ll do what we’ve always done and that’s an end to it.”

With that José rose unsteadily from the table and made his way outside to lean against the damp walls of the warehouse. Dark clouds scudded across the sky as if to reflect the dark prospects facing the family. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a pack of ‘Portugues Vermelho’ and a lighter, turning his back against the wind to light one up. He inhaled and immediately felt a terrible pain in his lower back. The strength slipped from him and he slumped against the wall before collapsing on the wet earth of the yard. As his world faded into blackness, José looked upwards into the face of his youngest son which had turned from one of absolute hatred to one of complete horror and the bloodied penknife in his hand. “You’ve got it wrong, Pedro, so wrong.”

In case anyone needs it for the ‘foreign’ bits, here’s a linkey thing

OZ

Author: O Zangado

Just loping around. Extremely fond of roast boar in particular, meat in general and cooking on the barbie. Fish is good too.

9 thoughts on “Temper – November CW Comp.”

  1. Yes, but only when it’s a slow news day and persisting down in southern Portugal. I got a slap on the paw from Pseu last time for finishing too early (something the NSW also mentioned recently, for some unknown reason) 😦

    OZ

  2. Tush, OZ, if you think that was a slap on the paw….. any hoo. However, a well rounded finish is important, don’t you think?

    Nice one Mr Royalist. Nice not to have the judge’s hat on this time as I can read the stories as they come in.

  3. Most enjoyable, OZ.

    I particularly appreciated the link which allows your readers to check the non-English bits.

    Would that JW had shown us the same consideration!. I fear that parts of his entry may be in an obscure Weegie dialect. of Jockinese with subtleties which the judge might miss.

    Never mind. I’m off to volunteer as an interpreter.I speak passable Weegie from my visits there.

  4. Gosh, I have ‘likes’ from both Embra and Weegie. Jockland is mine, ha ha – next step, the world!

    Pseu – Erm, yes Ma’am.

    OZ

  5. Mrs Confused here, with apologies. … I appear to have muddled this as Mr Royalist’s story. I’ll go and read his now…..

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