©Gabriel Abrantes, Bikini Cat Lady, Óleo sobre linho, 283×210 www.gabrielabrantes.com
Translated by Julia Sanches
Edited by Rahul Bery
Teresa exited the metro. The station was deserted around that time of day. She rushed down endless tunnels that branched into an underground city. She used her card to swipe open the door to the building where she lived and entered an antechamber the size of an elevator. She pushed a button, triggering the disinfection process. After three minutes, the gate in front of her slid open and she walked into a large lobby with eight doors. She took off her helmet and went through door number five; she slipped off her shoes, removed her gloves and the outdoor suit she wore over a pair of lightweight pants and a shirt, lathered her hands in the hand sanitiser that sat on top of the chest of drawers, checked herself in the mirror to fix her hair, and ran all the way to Cacilda’s room. Maria sat on the edge of her bed. She rushed toward her and took her in her arms.
“We did it! The first phase of testing is complete and we’ve had positive responses from our subjects. We just got the confirmation today.”
She turned toward Cacilda, head resting on a pillow, white hair catching the scant light in the bedroom; her eyes were closed and there was a bit of drool in the corner of her mouth. She took her hands, covered in brown blemishes. The old woman fluttered her eyes half-open, two watery black pupils floating in a milky substance.
“Professor Cacilda, did you hear what I just said? We’ve found a cure! A powerful antivirus that works across all known mutations!”
Cacilda made a faint gesture, then closed her eyes again.
“How’s she doing today?”
Maria sighed, then said:
“Really agitated. Looks like she’s finally resting now. She was delirious again. Went on about the beach, the ocean, the waves, the sky, the trees, the wind.”
“Poor thing. . . She’s changed so much since then. I was terrified of her when we first started working together. She and Professor Ricardo hated each other so much. . . For what? That’s what she realized after he died. I think she felt responsible. She was never the same again. And now, in this state …”
“I know the story.”
“Such an intelligent woman, her brain eaten away by dementia …”
“She’s not getting any younger. How old is she, anyway?”
“Around ninety, I think.”
“Oh, wow. It was really generous of you to bring her here. Your colleagues couldn’t care less.”
“I can’t just abandon her, can I? We owe her so much.”
“Do you still remember?”
“The stuff she was talking about. The sun, the wind … The blue sky.”
“Sort of. I was born near the end of the first pandemic. At that point we were still unaware of the dangers of direct sunlight.”
“I was born during the second pandemic. We were consigned to darkness. I grew up surrounded by night and never once saw daylight.”
“Consider yourself lucky. People born after 2059 never saw the stars or the moon. Sometimes I still wonder how we’ve managed to survive down here, like moles. It’s been twenty years! The body really is a mystery. It was thanks to Professor Cacilda’s machine that we finally realized sunlight wasn’t the only danger.”
Maria already knew the story, but she let Teresa tell it to her again and again.
“These viruses had been frozen for millions of years, but after the ice caps started melting, they were suddenly released into the atmosphere. First they attacked animals. It was only a matter of time until they got to us. The first pandemic was the easiest one to control. The second, the onset of a nightmare. The first virus mutated, tripling the fatality rate. But things didn’t stop there. Sunlight seemed to worsen the infection.”
Teresa was getting carried away. As though teaching a class of invisible students.
“Professor Cacilda’s machine allowed us to safely study bats. Bats are carriers, but they aren’t infectious. They’re passive carriers. The first caves we sheltered in were actual nests. It was a constant risk. We had to isolate them in special chambers, which we only entered wearing appropriate protection, in order to study them. We had to make sure to contain the entire bat population. And that’s what the machine helped us do, by emitting various ultrasonic waves.”
Teresa fell quiet. Maria looked at her with a smile. She seemed not to be paying attention to what she said.
“What’re you thinking about?”
“About the day we met. On Tinder. Do you remember?”
Teresa let out a small chuckle.
“Like it was yesterday.”
Gabriela Ruivo Trindade (Lisbon, 1970) graduated in psychology and has lived in London since 2004. She was the winner of the Prémio LeYa in 2013, for her first novel, Uma Outra Voz, which was also awarded with Prémio PEN Clube Português Primeira Obra (ex-aequo) in 2015 and published in Brazil in 2018 (LeYa – Casa da Palavra). Her other works include the children’s book A Vaca Leitora (D. Quixote, 2016). Between 2016 and 2020 she contributed to a number of poetry and short story anthologies, and her first poetry collection, Aves Migratórias, was published in 2019 (On y va). She manages Miúda Children’s Books in Portuguese, an online bookshop specialising in children’s literature written in Portuguese.
Julia Sanches translates from Portuguese, Spanish, and Catalan. She has translated works by Susana Moreira Marques, Daniel Galera, Claudia Hernández, and Geovani Martins, among others, and is a founding member of the Cedilla & Co translators collective.
(video production by Edite Queiroz)
(video production by Gabriela Ruivo)
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