©Teresa Pavão, sem título www.
Translated by Sarah Jacobs
Edited by Paul Crick
“Don’t you see, Reboredo? It’s clear now. I hate how long it’s taken me to understand this. Ricardo’s presence in this story was as a seemingly elusive character. He was important to begin with and then he withered away, or rather, he seemed to. I sometimes felt he was superficial, but I wasn’t looking at him carefully enough. It was all so obvious. That’s the danger of ignoring what we don’t want to understand, of treating people who are different to us with disdain, or even of laughing when we think something seems too ridiculous to be true. These mountains of nothingness, wretched and gloomy, pile up in every nook and cranny because we colluded in their growth by not giving them any credit or attention. Ricardo is himself the personification of this type of malign behaviour that spreads when we stop asking questions: a dangerous distraction. We’ve reached a crucial moment, my dear Reboredo: the virus might just be an allegory planted in every one of us via those boxes of fear that you delivered. The pieces of the puzzle are finally falling into place, Reboredo. The problem was that we didn’t realise that, while we were searching for a cure in order not to die, we were actually living.”
Teresa shook as she saw Ricardo getting smaller with every dry cough. She remembered what her mother had told her, a story that always scared her when she was little and which now made terrifying sense. Almost a thousand years ago, a great pandemic occurred and an extremely dangerous virus quickly spread like a tsunami to all four corners of the Earth. It was a plague that got inside aeroplanes, cruise ships, beachside houses, trains, metros, buses. There was one part of the world where the pestilent and monstrous virus spread at such a rate that it didn’t just kill people, but the humanity inside them too. The leader of that country spread the infection meticulously. To the unquestioning among the population, he said that the propagation was an invention and that it was nothing but a flu, a common cold.
“My mother said that the story was a never-before-seen tragedy. Fearful of running out of money, instead of being cautious, people went outside, went to work, used public transport, always worrying about having enough money to eat and to live. But what started to happen was that, as time passed and the virus spread through this guy, some knock-off Ricardo, there came a point where there were more jobs than there were people to do them, because the dead can’t work. This was the clearest consequence of the virus to most of us. But the plague continued to spread and ended up decimating the country that was once the country of the future. Artists were no longer anywhere to be seen. Writers, actors, dancers, musicians, journalists, anyone with any knowledge and talent went to Portugal, leaving the heart of South America without even the faintest of heartbeats. Without the arts, the land turned dry, hostile, infertile. The tropical forests, once so sumptuous and abundant, were transformed into desert. The plague generated three types of indestructible virus, thanks to a macabre mutation. Zero 1, Zero 2 and Zero 3. They contaminated a whole country and this marked the end of a large part of South America, a part of the world that no longer exists. Didn’t we learn, Reboredo? Look how well it fitted, that beautiful clue from earlier in the story: ‘Look back and you will see the future.’ But we failed, Reboredo. Instead of writing books, putting on plays, composing music, inventing choreographies, painting pictures, we built caves underground, a subterranean city where we run around like mice, without art, without kisses, without sex, without sun. A virus that spreads via people, naturally, but that also benefits from countless connections and wide-ranging networks. If it were just a physical illness, we would already have a vaccine, a medicine. The virus that spread in many forms through Professor Ricardo was not a virus; it was the fear of feeling alive, of daring to be happy, that unbearable feeling. I need you to die, Reboredo. My duty, now, is to make your role completely useless. Your packets of fear should not be going anywhere. You need to be destroyed.”
The cyborg, completely overwhelmed by feelings of passion and generosity towards Teresa, heard her speak with complete attention, before making a surprising revelation.
“Teresa, the time has come for me to contribute to the extermination of the virus. Up until now you have been exempt from most of the collective fear. I have been keeping your box this whole time, but I can no longer delay this process. You are about to embark on the true path of understanding this virus. This path doesn’t involve Cacilda’s machine or Lúcia’s hacks. Here is your box. It contains love letters: from your grandfather to your grandmother, for you, for your mother. There are family objects, extracts from diaries, books, drawings, pieces of music, cake recipes. How long has it been since you ate a freshly cooked corn cake, Teresa? The cause of much of your unhappiness could lie in your excessive slenderness that comes from taking medicines and pills. Nothing inside this box requires technology to exist. The box only contains the things that humans are still able to make: love and art.”
Teresa’s trembling hands were grasping for a bottle of wine. She needed courage to face what she once was. She was scared of not needing all this cyber reality, of finally having to live naively. As her desire to open the box intensified, Professor Ricardo was wasting away.
“When you open the box, Teresa, you will understand the only way to fight the darkness that we’ve been buried under. Your duty will be to spread this knowledge as quickly and as widely as possible. Make your discovery reach Latin America and the heart of that part of the world. It’s possible that there’s still a tiny bit of light hidden in its arid, dirty core. But before you open the box, I need to tell you that you have two choices: the first choice is not to open it, continue with the routine that you’re familiar with and save the professor from wasting away. The second, more risky option, is to open the box and dive into uncharted waters. If you choose the second option, I will self-destruct in five seconds and no more fear packets will be delivered. The choice is yours.”
Nara Vidal (Minas Gerais, Brazil) graduated in Literature from the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro and has an MA in Arts and Culture from London Met University. She has published children’s books and novels, including Sorte, which was awarded the Prémio Oceanos and will be published in the Netherlands this year. She is a columnist for Caderno Dois de Cultura, a supplement of the newspaper A Tribuna de Minas. She coordinates the Brazilian Translation Club, alongside the Latin-American Studies Department of UCL, and manages the online bookshop Capitolina Books. Her other awards include the Brazilian Press Award in Literature (three times) and the Maximiano de Campos award for short stories. She has lived in the United Kingdom since 2001.
(video production by Gabriela Ruivo)
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