©Martinho Costa, Livro de Pinturas, dia 2 de Abril de 2020 http://martinho-costa.blogspot.com/
Translated by Rhian Atkin
Edited by Andrew McDougall
Her whole body immersed in the tepid water, her thoughts wandering over the white of the empty, inert tiles, she was held within the contours of the kidney-shaped bath (one of her small luxuries along with French wines), and then, at last, before the scream, her gaze fixed on her toes rebelling against the rest of her feet as they came to the surface like little autonomous heads, and Teresa heard a resonant Eureka thundering out of her like Archimedes. She sank a little further into the water, rather than running out into the street as the philosopher was said to have done. She gulped a mouthful of wine and submerged her feet in the foam once more.
Freedom, that’s what was missing for this terrified human race. Between the age-old systoles and diastoles of cures and diseases, constructions and cataclysms, raging wars and armistices (negotiated with open wounds), the solution, which, as it happens, would be final and pleasant, and would not resort to extermination, would be to inoculate everyone with a vaccine that would free them from the great illness. Voluntary servitude.
Her inventive epiphany soon gave way to doubt. It would be crazy megalomania to aspire to a great discovery like that. More than likely, it would degenerate into an uncontrollable chaos, leading to arrests, misbehaviour, mass crimes, worse than any pandemic which, decades before, had consigned all human beings to the caves.
The human condition was one of confinement, whether in a cave, a cell, within the limits of intelligence or on a planetary scale. There could only be freedom in the imagination, but a vaccine, even if it were in the form of a placebo, who knows, might lead everyone to dedicate themselves to art as a means of saving the world…
How, then, could she announce it to the world without being taken for one of those gurus who fell into disgrace after their manipulative avatars were found out? Never in Universal History had a liberator, however heroic and enlightened they may have been, managed to do more than leave a trail of hope, and the majority of leaders, statesmen and women, emperors, prophets and their disciples, ended up being killed or becoming hostages to their own failings.
Revolution was necessary, a vaccine essential, but it would only be possible if everyone, individually, were to declare disobedience and reject blind loyalty, whether to a teacher, an algorithm or a Deus Ex Machina. The only possible freedom was within each one of us, and once each person realised that, fear would be unable to resist it any longer.
She would start the experiment on herself, out of the bathtub, where she could not keep the water at body temperature, because that would lead to distraction. She put on her silk robe, ate an apple, and installed herself on the rug in the living room, taking up the lotus position. She read the quotation from Jiddu Krishnamurti that flashed across the screensaver of her laptop monitor.
“Life demands extraordinary, creative, revolutionary action. Only when that creative intelligence is awakened is there a possibility of living in a peaceful and happy world.”
In the end, however great the voluntary (or involuntary) servitude to a standard, and even if by means of a well-studied and rational plan, nothing escapes the realm of the mind, and what comes from the mind would always have a purpose, a vision, no matter how much Teresa might be willing to sacrifice herself and maintain the anonymity of her discovery.
Great discoveries had to be announced, just as vaccines should reach everybody, with no cost. But nobody need know that she was its creator, or if it was the Professor, Cacilda, or whoever else, because everything was the result of teamwork and a series of facts. For better or worse.
Everyone was acquainted with the lifesaving qualities of penicillin, but its creators were Alexander Fleming and Pryce, and even then, the discovery itself had been down to chance after Fleming went on holiday and forgot about some petri dishes containing micro-organism cultures that he had left in the laboratory of St Mary´s Hospital in London. Just as Fleming had discovered the properties of lysozyme, or Archimedes had solved King Hiero’s problem, so had Teresa observed her toes as though they were freed from her body, poking out of the foamy water of her bathtub, and thanks to a sequence of unforeseen and surprising events like taking a bath at an unusual time, she had thought up the freedom vaccine as the solution to all evils.
She was familiar with the ego, desire, hatred, and the full range of primary and profoundly human emotions that had led to the creation of all kinds of victims, starting with herself. As long as she was trapped in the conflict between loving and hating (which was born of fear), no acceptance or rejection (of the body, of an idea) could be considered to be free. She lived in a constant battle between herself and society, even though she did not see the majority of others except on a screen, in the texts they published in books, scientific journals, online newspapers, political posts and tweets, and even in bizarre pamphlets by mystic authors.
Her time was taken up between creating a better world and fighting against the proliferation of those who opposed it, whether those were fatal viruses or disruptive beings. Just as the viruses were mutants, she too, or any of her cave-dwelling equals, could choose between remaining distrustful, hesitant, scathing, malicious and cynical, or accepting everything as a part of nature, including human nature. She could transform each small detail, the grotesque arm of Reboredo the sower of fear, Cacilda’s sinewy vulva (and her swaying, sensual, cat-like movements), or the serenity of a virus-carrying bat on a ledge in the ceiling of the cave, into a part of a whole where great freedom could exist.
As soon as she was on the outside, she would be able to breathe at last.
Tiago Salazar is from Lisbon, Portugal, but has been travelling and living abroad since 2003. He works as a freelance journalist, writer, TV editor and broadcaster, as well as a press advisor and communications manager. He has published articles and reports in various newspapers and magazines, as well as writing twelve books. He also wrote and hosted the TV program Endereço Desconhecido on RTP2 – one of the main TV channels in Portugal. He was awarded the prize for First Novel in Portuguese at the Premier Romains Festival in Chambéry in 2018.
Rhian Atkin is a translator, editor, research assistant, and training provider specialising in academic publications (www.rhianatkin.com). As a researcher, she has published on twentieth-century Portuguese literature, culture, and culinary practice. In a previous life, she was a senior lecturer in Portuguese at a British university. She is based in Almada, Portugal.
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