CHAPTER 22 – The Feet, by Hugo Mezena

©Pedro Proença, Assimilar a sorte https:///pedroproenca5

Translated by Amanda Hopkinson

Edited by Charlotte Hammond Matthews

“The face, too small, oval-shaped, and with a nose that could have been stuck there by a fabricator of malicious intent, finally appeared in the slanting light coming from within the installations.”

“Everyone has their limits,” Ricardo said. “And none of us have any idea of what ours might be, until we come up against them.”

“And have you reached yours?” asked Teresa.

“How would I know if I had?”

“My point entirely.”

Three weeks earlier, Cacilda had come into the cave with the device and the appropriate patent.

With this she had assumed leadership of the project with which they were hoping to prevent the propagation of the first virus. But for now Teresa had managed to avoid her obligations in order to go and meet the Professor. They were in a park together where, under different circumstances, they could well have spent an afternoon happily exchanging silly ideas. Instead of which, there were bodies on gurneys to be loaded into the back of military trucks parked outside one or other of the wings flanking the field hospital.

The man directing manoeuvres was a soldier wearing a nurse’s cap clipped to his head. It was as if, when he was getting ready, he was incapable of deciding what type of war he was going to wage, whether in uniform or wearing a round white cap, the sort you wear in order to save rather than kill people.

“There’s one important thing,” Ricardo began again. “One thing that will make all the difference when a succession of people begin turning up dead with a knife in their chest.”

Not far from Teresa, the soldier wearing the nurse’s cap passed by pushing a gurney. Resting on it was a well cared-for patient, whose feet were nonetheless poking outside the sheet there to protect him.

“When that happens, there is something that a certain person needs to be made aware of,” continued the experienced scientist, simultaneously handing Teresa the envelope with a name written on it. “I myself would take responsibility for this if I could but, as you know, to all intents and purposes I’m dead. Do you think you would be able to do this?”

“To deliver the letter, no problem,” said Teresa and, from the way in which she was saying it, he could see the indecision of someone debating with herself over a catastrophe for the first time. “Handing over the letter is the easy bit. Finding the best way to deal with everything waiting for us out there, I’m less sure of. That’s what makes me afraid.”

“There is still so much you need to know about fear,” said Ricardo, and his eyes rested on some distant place. To Teresa, somewhere unattainably distant.

That night, it rained. From outside the cave, two of the youngest members of the team were labouring to prevent water from entering. Then the rain stopped. The youngsters came back inside and stored their shovels as if already certain that they would use them again soon, and wanting them as clean and ready as possible.

At the entrance, smoking a cigarette, Teresa was thinking of the patient’s feet, solitary and white, submitting to the jolts of the gurney against the pavement.

“The Professor is working on developing a parallel investigation,” said Cacilda, taking advantage of the fact that they were alone together in order to touch the young scientist’s waist. It was a strictly prohibited rupture of protocol regarding hygiene. “And he’ll do everything in order not to find a cure. That’s why I came here in such a rush, bringing you a falsified patent for the device.”

“Of course.”

“And, in the event that we do find a cure for this virus, he’ll go and devise a new one. I know that you two met up this morning.”

Then, from amid the great darkness of the mountainside, there emerged something resembling a miniature lighthouse that little by little transformed into a swinging lantern carried by someone making their way through the rough vegetation.

“I need to talk to the person responsible for the project,” gasped a voice still some thirty metres away.

“And whom should I announce?” Teresa asked, at the same time treading on her cigarette as if that instant of escape was now forever lost.

“Alberto,” the voice whispered. The face, too small, oval-shaped, and with a nose that could have been stuck there by a fabricator of malicious intent, finally appeared in the slanting light coming from within the installations.

Read the original chapter in Portuguese

Hugo Mezena (1983) is the author of Gente Séria (novel) and As Velhas (short narrative). He has written opera librettos, as well as two melodramas for narrator and piano, A cidade, o gato, and A praça, o tambor. Some of his works have resulted in pieces of visual art and music. He lives in Lisbon.

Amanda Hopkinson is a literary translator, a writer and an academic. Former director of the British Centre for Literary Translation and Professor of Translation (at the Universities of East Anglia and City University, London) she has published 50+ literary translations from the Spanish, Portuguese and French. Most recently these include A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende (co-translated with Nick Caistor; Bloomsbury, 2020) and Lisbon Tales (OUP, 2019). She also writes widely on popular culture, particularly literature and photography, but also C20 Russian art. She has contributed chapters on photojournalism to Insiders Outsiders: Refugees from Nazi Europe and their Contribution to British Visual Culture [Lund Humphries, 2019]; Crime Writing to The Routledge Handbook of Literary Translation (co-written with Dr. Karen Seago, 2019) and Travelling Testimoniesof Latin American Activists to the Routledge Handbook of Translation and Activism (Dr. Hazel Marsh, 2020)

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