CHAPTER 38 – Teresa, the Dilemma and the Guard, by Álvaro Laborinho Lúcio

©Patrícia Garrido, Sem título, Óleo s/ tela, 60×70 cm

Translated by Rachel Morgenstern-Clarren

Edited by Cecile Berbesi

“It all started when Cacilda came into the cave with the box. Her goal was to develop the Network, to create and programme the prototype that would spread fear throughout the community. Fear would be, once again, the weapon of power.” 

The narrator’s pause allowed Teresa to gather the ideas and questions that were swirling around untethered in her mind. She could feel the night descending outside and went to greet it.

The guard was standing at the gate to the cave.

Teresa finds the little dog that follows him everywhere endearing. The guard smiles at her every time she passes. It was no surprise, then, that he asked to speak with her. Teresa stopped, she couldn’t resist caressing the muzzle that looked at her in a happy commotion while the guard scolded him, “quiet, Kafka,” and she braced herself to hear what he had to say.

“This is serious business, girl.”

“Girl?” said Teresa, surprised.

“If you don’t mind me calling you that. That is how your grandfather taught me to view you, when he imagined the granddaughter that would be born. He would come here and talk to me for hours.”

“How do you expect me to believe that? Given your age…”

“But I have no age. I am the guard. And the guard has always been the same.”

Teresa was about to reply, when he interrupted her:

“I would like to ask you to join me. During the night, your colleagues become shadows and everything else ceases to exist. And that’s when I go wandering about. Come, come with me.”

Teresa couldn’t resist the pull of her curiosity, and, with the dog by her side, she and the guard walked into the cave. Opposite the entrance to one of the chambers, the guard stopped. He dialled the code and, before it opened, warned her:

“You’re in for a big shock, but you should know the truth.”

As the door opened, and the light flicked on, Teresa let out a cry:


It was a tiny, square room. One chair took up almost the whole space. There he was, seated, with his head hanging down, his arms slumped. Teresa repeated:


The guard reassured her.

“Don’t worry. This is the programmed one. The one on the Network. And he is disconnected.”

“But, who did this, who…”

“I will tell you. It’s a long story.

It all started when Cacilda came into the cave with the box. Her goal was to develop the Network, to create and programme the prototype that would spread fear throughout the community. Fear would be, once again, the weapon of power. As her model, she brought a young man with her who she had recruited from among those selling encyclopaedias, which were very popular at the time. In the cave, they called him Reboredo, foreshadowing the robot’s name. Teresa took part in the decision and had a prominent role in his programming. Later on, when he visited her at home, he was still human, like us, but he already understood he had a mission to spread fear and pretend to be programmed while the Network put the finishing touches on the ‘2020 – EVILA-SI-RAEF’ series.”

“But he…” Teresa tried to interrupt.

“I know. It seemed like he was, didn’t it? But no. It was when the series was ready, when it was going to be launched for the first mission, that Reboredo, the encyclopaedia boy, found me, told me about you, and asked me to switch them. I was the one, girl, who hid Reboredo there, the version that had just been taken out of production. The Reboredo who walks around here and who everyone knows isn’t the one who was created in the cave. This is why he is defective, sometimes letting himself be betrayed by feelings, emotions, that old desire of his to be a real boy.”

Teresa listened, dumbfounded.

“Girl, you can’t imagine the lengths he goes to to seem like he’s programmed. The other day he spent a whole night laughing, just to give the impression he didn’t need air.”

The guard paused. He enjoyed Teresa’s astonishment. Then he finished:

“Your grandfather left me a copy of the letter. One day, I showed it to him. I saw a tear dancing in his eyes. He really cares for you, girl. Do you know what he said to me?”

“How could I?”

“He said that he would create a dream for you, and with that all-encompassing dream he would accompany you in your efforts to change the world.”

Teresa looked at the night out there, waiting. The ideas and questions started to get mixed up again. She wanted the narrator to pause once more, but it was no longer possible to slow the story down. She started walking. As she was about to pick up her pace, the guard asked her:

“So, what do I do with this guy? Do you want me to leave him here or switch him on? He’ll be charged in 12 hours. If that’s what you want, just say so, because Reboredo, my Reboredo, I will look after.”

Teresa didn’t respond. The Algorithm of Obedience and Loyalty was pounding in her head and she was running, running far from there. The guard shouted after her:

“Don’t you see it’s him, our Reboredo, who brings food every day to the little dog that you hid, girl?”

Teresa had already stopped listening.

Read the original chapter in Portuguese

Álvaro Laborinho Lúcio was born in 1941. He is a retired judge of the Supreme Court of Justice, and, in February 2019, was presented with and honorary degree in Education Sciences by the Universidade do Minho. He is the author of Educação, Arte e Cidadania (2008) and O Julgamento – Uma Narrativa Crítica da Justiça (2012), as well as the novels O Chamador (2014), O Homem Que Escrevia Azulejos (2016) and O Beco da Liberdade (2019).

Rachel Morgenstern-Clarren is a poet, editor, and translator based in Montreal. Her honors include a Fulbright Fellowship to Brazil, an Academy of American Poets Prize, and residencies from the Vermont Studio Center and the Banff International Literary Translation Centre. Her poetry, prose, and translations from Brazilian Portuguese have appeared in journals including Ploughshares, Narrative, Guernica, and Words Without Borders. She holds an MFA in poetry and literary translation from Columbia University and currently edits the Consulate section of Joyland Magazine.

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