CHAPTER 40 – Love Between Humans, by Luís Filipe Castro Mendes

©Gil Heitor Cortesão, No diving, colagem e técnica mista sobre vidro, 2020 , 21×29,5cm www./artists/gil-heitor-cortesão

Translated by Paul Castro

Edited by Andrew McDougall

 “The metics were descended from slaves forced to work outside in daylight at the time of the Second Great Pandemic, caused by the Sun virus.”


Human love

Love that restores all that we might lose”

Mário Cesariny

Chest heaving, Teresa sank down on a bench at the side of the tunnelway. Before her a stream of metics clomped past, long used to the presence of citizens on their designated routes. The metics were descended from slaves forced to work outside in daylight at the time of the Second Great Pandemic, caused by the Sun virus. They had coal black skin, much darker than Lúcia’s African complexion, but were strictly marked off from citizens and could on no account share their food or dwellings.

Metics were destined from birth for all unavoidably outdoor tasks and thus everyone was utterly dependant on them for food. They had evolved an uncanny resistance, not to the virus – which was another reason for their segregation – but to death; an as yet inexplicable resistance that had proven impossible to replicate in either citizens or androids. Kept at arm’s length in the beginning, bit by bit they had come to interact with the rest of the human population, though any actual physical contact with metics was strictly forbidden and punishable by a lethal dose of fear.

All the same, Teresa drew the odd curious glance as she sat there shivering to herself, all bundled up in fright.

‘How on earth?’, Teresa whispered again and again. ‘How on earth?’

The Reboredo she had taken such great pains to build, the Reboredo designed to ration out among citizens that precious stab of fear so vital to their survival sat abandoned in the corner of some cupboard. And all along it was that poor encyclopaedia salesman who had murdered Maria!

Teresa took a deep breath and made for one of the disinfection corridors, where metics were hosed down before reaching their workplaces. The guard frowned to see a citizen, but if metics were banned access to freemen’s tunnels, the latter often used metic routes, which served as shortcuts for all.

“Beware contamination,” mouthed the guard, blankly bureaucratic.

Stepping from the lift, she suddenly found herself face-to-face with Reboredo, just as she had dreaded. She froze before the door to the laboratory. Should she call the police? They were always too caught up with metics to get anywhere in time so Teresa, resorting to guile, addressed him instead with gentle affection:

“Fancy seeing you here, Reboredo” she said, cloaking her fear with sweetness.

The man was dumbstruck. The words crumbled to nothing in his throat, his eyes misted over with tenderness, a violent, desperate love flooded his voice. From the first day they met, he would have done anything for Teresa. To avoid losing her he had dumped his robot offshoot in the back of a storeroom and waited all these years to come and find the woman who had awoken him to love and to life.

Deep within her immense fear, now that she saw Reboredo in human form, Teresa felt the inexplicable stirrings of an absurd physical desire. It was as if a new voice had drowned out the endless duties and compromises that governed her life as a loyal agent of the Network and were now calling the shots. As if the burning desire for all the women she had ever loved had joined together in a single flame and, with an almighty flash, set life itself ablaze.

Moments like this really do happen. They’re not just the stuff of books. The force pulling Teresa and Reboredo towards one another could be felt in the air, in the light, in their very breath, in the gleam of every shining surface. They were both petrified. Both knew they couldn’t back out now.

That’s when Professor Ricardo loomed in the doorway.

Read the original chapter in Portuguese

Luís Castro Mendes (1950) is a Portuguese poet, novelist and career diplomat. Between 1965 and 1967 he was a regular contributor to the newspaper Diário de Lisboa – Juvenil. In 1974, he completed a degree in Law at the Universidade de Lisboa. He was a political activist in the lead up to the Carnation Revolution (25th of April, 1974) and carried on this work until 1977, the year he began his diplomatic career. He was consul general in Rio de Janeiro, Portuguese ambassador in Budapest, New Delhi, at UNESCO – Paris and the European Council in Strasbourg. He was Portugal’s Minister for Culture between 2016 and 2018. He published his first book, Recados, in 1983, followed by Areias Escuras (1984), Seis Elegias e Outros Poemas (1985), A Ilha dos Mortos (1991), O Jogo de Fazer Versos (1994), Viagem de inverno (1993), Correspondência Secreta (1995), Modos de música (1996), Outras Canções (1998), Os Dias Inventados (2001), Lendas da Índia (2011), A Misericórdia dos Mercados (2014)and Outro Ulisses regressa a casa (2016)In 2018, he published Poemas Reunidos, a collection of his poetry.

Paul Castro was born in London and lives in Edinburgh. He teaches Portuguese and Comparative Literature at the University of Glasgow and has translated short stories from Portugal, Brazil, Cape Verde, Macau and Goa. His latest translation is Monsoon by Vimala Devi (Seagull, 2020).

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