©Manuel Baptista, “Sem tempo”. 1 de Maio 2020 https://gulbenkian.pt/museu/artist/manuel-baptista/
Translated by Mark Sabine
Edited by Kim Olson
Entity, narrator … Why do I keep my distance from myself, like someone who, turning aside and whistling, thinks they can pass unnoticed through a suspicious crowd? What do I want, ultimately, when I write, when I divide myself up into characters and voices, if not to be God? We live between modesty and vanity: the modesty of discovering how large we are, and the vanity of not fitting within ourselves. We are dichotomous beings, oscillating, from the dawn of consciousness, between the fear of death and the fantasy of eternity. And so lacking in affection and sense that we need to invent gods to protect us from the fear we have of them.
This is what I do, when in creative mode: I imitate divinities. Entity, narrator … what does it matter? My name is Ivy. I will turn forty in two days’ time, I suffer from a rare heart condition, I’m a translator, and have, as well as the dream of writing a book, a five-year-old son who asks me, every day,
“When you finish writing the book is everything going to be OK again, Mummy?”
Because I, I lack the courage to tell him anything other than yes, it’s just the time it takes to write the book and then … everything will be OK again. How can I tell him the truth of which I myself am ignorant? How can I tell him that the world lies in the hands of overgrown children, and that it might be necessary to keep writing for months and months before everything can be OK again? How can I tell him that the world that I had promised him might never return?
And, because the magical thoughts of children are the superstitions of adults, I keep writing, without an end in sight, shuttling between the hope that this too shall pass and the fear that it might not. I gaze at Gi, on the floor, playing with his superhero action figures, and think: if I can finish this story by tomorrow, everything will be OK again. I’m like God, with neither power nor glory, writing non-stop in mysterious ways. In the end, someone has to create the stories that get told.
“Do you reckon everything’s going to be OK again?” asked Gahell, staring at his father.
“When was everything ever all OK, Gahell?” smiled Reboredo, tossing a stone into the lake.
“Before the Great Pandemic … Wasn’t it?”
Reboredo smiled again, looking at his teenage son.
“The Great Pandemic wasn’t the beginning of the end, Gahell. No empire ever falls if it’s not already rotten within. Humankind had reached the limit of its own folly. Image and appearance were everything. Even in the poorest countries, the aim of the fight for survival was to imitate the seeming happiness that they’d got wind of from the ‘First World’. In all fields, the competition was fierce. Science and technology were no exception. The ruling powers had replaced the deafening threat of the bomb with the silent terror of viruses, both biological and electronic. Thus, wars came to be waged in a gloomy underworld. All over the world, scientists and programmers worked on new viruses. And because those who try to imitate God end up being as power-mad as He … things ended up the way they did.”
“But did the virus really come out of a lab?”
“The virus came from the arrogance and folly of men, Gahell,” Reboredo replied, flinging another pebble into the lake.
Gahell watched the water settling. And, after a lengthy silence, he asked, “Was my mum to blame as well?”
Reboredo placed his hand on his son’s shoulder. “Your mum’s heart was in the right place.”
“And you’ve inherited that from her!”
“A heart in the right place?”
“Do you think it’s possible to be human and machine at the same time?”
“Isn’t that what we are?” shot back Reboredo, with a wink of his bionic eye.
“At times I feel like we’re nothing. Still not humans but no longer machines.”
“We’re an evolutionary stage, just like the humans, between the great apes and the algorithmic consciousness of times to come.”
“Is that why we’re always turning back, to the past, to the land, to our roots, our feelings?”
“What do you mean?”
“So that we don’t lose our humanity?”
Reboredo saw Teresa’s features shining out in his son. His every biological component beamed with pride. There was no doubt about it: he’d got his mother’s heart; a heart in the right place.
Night fallen, a deserted city square, a cloistral silence, like the end of the world… And here I am, made God, orbiting the universe of myself. What shall I do with the cave? What shall I do with Ricardo, with Cacilda, with Lúcia, with Teresa, with Reboredo and – now – with Gahell? I’m tired. The vaccine against the virus will come, sooner or later. But the cure for fear… That has to be made up here, line by line, that ancient potion that has been with us since the earliest times, whenever night would fall, and out of the dark would loom ghosts and phenomena then still to be explained.
We are dichotomous beings, oscillating, since the dawning of consciousness, between the fear of death and the fantasy of eternity. Beings that, one day, gathered in a circle around a fire to listen to the first story, without knowing that fear runs from fantasy the way that ghosts shrink from light.
I need an end to this story, an end to this torture, an end that can be a new beginning, an end so that tomorrow, when Gi asks me,
“When you finish writing the book, is everything going to be OK again, Mummy?”
I won’t be afraid to say,
“Yes, my love. Everything is going to be OK again.”
Norberto Morais was born in Germany. He graduated from the ISPA and worked as a volunteer psychologist at the Associação Portuguesa de Apoio à Vítima. He also attended the Hot Club jazz school, in Lisbon, and was a vocalist, lyricist, composer and musician in a band. He is author of the novels Vícios de Amor and O Sítio de Lugar Nenhum (2008), O Pecado de Porto Negro (2014) and A Balada do Medo (2019). He lives in Lisbon and is a full-time writer.
Mark Sabine is Associate Professor in Lusophone Studies at the University of Nottingham. He has written and published widely on Portuguese and Lusophone African authors, from Eça de Queirós and Fernando Pessoa to Luís Berndardo Honwana and, in particular, José Saramago, and also on the cinema and cultural history of the Portuguese-speaking world, focusing on the representation and remembrance of dictatorship and the anti-colonial struggle, and on issues of gender and sexuality. He teaches translation from Portuguese at the University of Nottingham, and recently published translations of poetry by Prémio Camões laureate Hélia Correia in Journal of Romance Studies.
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