CHAPTER 5 – Scrambled Egos, Power and the Possibility of Sex, by Patrícia Reis

©Catarina Domingues, A luz que me foi endereçada, photography /catarina.domingues.90

Translated by James Young

Edited by Rahul Bery

“In this business of power, who holds the power, who really calls the shots, dear reader, nothing has changed, everything is as old as the world itself, both before and after the virus.”

Entirely mistaken, all things considered, because neither Ricardo nor Cacilda was about to admit anyone else was right, least of all this child, Teresa something or other. Ricardo thought: who even is this girl, this nobody? Cacilda thought: look at her, the clever clogs, trying to win us over.

In this business of power, who holds the power, who really calls the shots, dear reader, nothing has changed, everything is as old as the world itself, both before and after the virus. There are the scrambled egos, the people who crave the spotlight, the scoundrels, and the nice guys and girls – like Teresa – don’t stand a chance. Even if the girl had taken the trouble to read her grandfather’s touching missive, we’re sorry, but nothing would have changed. And so, when Teresa, who was almost consumed by the mythical voice of her grandfather, finished speaking, the silence was brief, because Cacilda was ready to let rip:

“Finished? I hope so, because while it all sounds very pretty, someone has to be in charge, and around here that’s me.”

Ricardo, who had returned to the scene of the crime (please, readers, this is an exquisite corpse, if there are data whose verisimilitude can be challenged, then tough luck, take it up with the great Architect of Literature, the gang down here in the trenches does the best it can) gave an unconvincing cough, as he had the habit of doing whenever he wanted to get people’s attention.

“That’s all very well, but I’m not giving up my research, and this is my research. I’m going, right this second, to speak to the minister.”

“Ah, the minister!” exclaimed Cacilda in a somewhat malevolent manner. “Go on then, go.”

Ricardo left the room and Teresa, without knowing why, for after all, she didn’t even know exactly which team she was on – she had thought they were all in the same boat, but now it seemed otherwise – went after the professor. Maybe it was this tendency to seek a father figure, but the truth is that when the door closed, she found herself in the corridor behind that unpleasant chap.

Suddenly, he turned and stopped. He asked: “When did you get tested, Teresa?”

And she, quick as a flash: “Two days ago, professor. I’m totally clean.”

“Clean,” he muttered, and continued on his way, as he very much wanted to catch the minister. And, more loudly, he said: “Nobody is clean, Teresa, nobody.”

With a gesture, with his hand raised, he made a stop sign and Teresa halted automatically.

“I’m going to have a video conference, I don’t need you for anything. Stop following me. Goodbye, Teresa.”

She stood there feeling foolish and empty. She felt her grandfather’s letter again, there in her pocket, as protection. She didn’t feel like going back to the others, she wanted nothing to do with the minister or the professor, maybe it would be better to pluck up her courage and talk to her girlfriend on the other side of the world. Valéria would know what to do, she was always accurate in her diagnoses, she seemed to be able to read people, like an X-ray machine. They had been together for two years and when Valéria was relocated to Canada it had seemed to her the worst nightmare of all, but in truth she’d got used to it. She’d got so used to it that even sex by video call made sense. She tried not to think about sex. Frankly, it wasn’t the time for that.

Read the original chapter in Portuguese

Patrícia Reis began her career as a journalist in 1988, for the weekly newspaper Independente, before working for Sábado magazine and completing an internship at Time magazine in New York. Returning to Portugal, she was invited to work for the weekly newspaper Expresso, produced a television programme called Sexualidades, worked at Marie Claire and Elle magazines and on special projects for the daily Público. She is the author of biographies of Vasco Santana, Simone de Oliveira and Maria Antónia Palla. She published the photographic novel Beija-me (2006), co-written with João Vilhena, as well as novellas Cruz das Almas (2004), Antes de Ser Feliz (2009), Tudo o que nos Separa por causa de um Copo de Whisky (2014) and novels Amor Em Segunda Mão (2006), Morder-te o Coração (2007), longlisted for the Prêmio Portugal Telecom de Literatura, No Silêncio de Deus (2008), Por Este Mundo Acima (2011), Contracorpo (2012) and Gramática do Medo (2015), co-written with Maria Manuel Viana.

James Young is a Portuguese to English translator and writer. He has translated extracts of novels by a number of authors and his translation of an excerpt from Joca Reiners Terron’s novel Noite Dentro da Noite (Night Within Night) was published by Partisan Hotel. His own fiction has appeared in several literary journals, and he was shortlisted for the 2019 Wasafiri and the 2020 Fish short story awards.

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