C. P. Cavafy, “Their Beginning", translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard.
A lot of people think I was a prick. You might, even after you hear what I have to say, agree with them. I made mistakes and at times I was weak, I have to admit. But, by and large, circumstances didn’t help me.
Unless the Hindus are right and my spirit comes back as a human or an animal, it’s over for me. I died yesterday morning.
At the moment in which I speak, I must be in limbo, in some kind of eternal inexistence. It’s the most likely explanation.
I’ve maintained my awareness, but I don’t really know what’s going to happen to me in this darkness in which I find myself. Nothing has been revealed to me yet. Everything appears to have stopped, and the only movement I feel is that of my own thoughts.
They say one’s first impression is the lasting one, but I don’t think that’s correct. For whoever sees you die, the last moment is what counts. It’s how you bid the world farewell. It’s how you will remain in the memory of those left behind. No further adjustment will be possible.
Imagine you’ve chosen to spend your life wearing a navy-blue suit, because it’s what suits you best. But one day someone gives you a new garment as a present. It’s not a suit, nor is it navy blue, but you try it on nonetheless. It’s more informal, lighter in colour, to wear outside, in the sunlight.
And you go out in that new garment, still not sure whether you like it on yourself or not. And then, bam: you die unexpectedly, wearing something that isn’t you. You finish your life in a costume, and someone might even find it hard to identify your body.
I’ve only just become aware of the risk.
There are people who spend their lives running from something without understanding that there’s no escape, there’s no point fighting it, there’s no point wanting to be in control. That’s what happened to me and, before my memory fades out, I need to understand how I spent my life.
I want to get some distance on myself and analyse myself as if I were someone else — as I’ve never done before. I will reveal my weaknesses and assess my limitations. I will have to be capable of defending myself, in the event of a possible Last Judgement.
My fifty-one years flew past. I think everyone has the same impression when they think about what has come and gone. Now that I’m dead it’s obvious, but it feels like a dream.
I must be close to knowing the meaning of life, discovering if God exists, finding out if I’m going to heaven or hell, if I’m going to reincarnate or not, if everything ends here, forever, and I don’t know why I’m so calm.
Katherine Clifton was in a plane crash with her husband in the interior of Egypt. Her husband died instantly. She was seriously injured, but survived. She was rescued by her lover, László Almásy.
The crash site was remote, and he found shelter for her in a cave in the desert. He went out to look for medical help. In the nearest village, he tried to explain the situation, but was unable to. He grew desperate, lost control, disrespected authorities and wound up in gaol.
Katherine died in the cave, waiting for László to return. The last words she wrote in the notebook found next to her body conveyed the difficult realization that she was going to die alone: “We die, we die, we die,” was what she wrote. Three times, as if, staring death in the face, she had to repeat its name in order to be sure of its identity.
The scene is from a film I saw at the cinema, I think in Iguatemi Mall. I was with my daughter, Léa. I don’t know why it has sprung to mind here. There must be a reason.
I always wondered what it would be like to look death in the face, but that isn’t what happened to me. When I was dying, I didn’t understand much of what was going on. I thought I was feeling bad because of the heat and the jetlag. I wanted to have a cold shower to wake myself up, but when I stood I felt a sharp pain in my neck that travelled down to my calf. The last thing I remember is my face on the floor and the warm water on my cheek, entering my nostrils.
I died, but I didn’t see the face of death.
My name is Constantino. For now, I’ll leave out my surname. To make it easier to identify my body, I’ll start with what I was physically.
White man, 192 centimetres tall, 96 kilos, greying brown hair, balding, stroke victim, major haemorrhage of the right parietal lobe, lying on a steel tray in a morgue in a foreign country. That piece of meat used to be me.
I am André and Léa’s father, Débora’s husband, Emílio’s friend, George’s brother and Ana Amélia and Pedro’s son. Now that I am dead, which people, places and things will come with me, whatever my dead man’s fate may be? What will remain? What has become a part of me?
In my present situation, I don’t know if it would be prudent to reveal that, with age, I became averse to religions in general. Nevertheless, I can identify a few Christian sentiments in myself, probably learned from the bible stories my grandmother used to read to me at bedtime. The Parables of Jesus for Children: I remember the blue cover of the book on the white nightstand.
If someone comes along — saint, receptionist, guide, divinity — in a few minutes and asks me to present my case, as we lawyers say, what would I have to say? What stories would define me? What has stayed with me? What has changed me? What brought me here?
As a dead man, here in this limbo, my present is dark and sealed. My future doesn’t exist. My reality is this. All I have left is the memory of certain moments of my finished existence.
May these defining moments of mine come to me spontaneously, and may the memory of what was most important in my life prevail. I feel like the mad artist who has prepared the script of his introduction to God.
The difference is that I am neither mad nor an artist and I have no idea what will happen to me in this dimension.
I will have to talk about myself, and you will come to know things I’d prefer no one knew. But it makes no sense to lie. Being dead, I have to be honest.
A corpse found in the condition mine was loses all right to privacy.
One day someone called me a fag. It was Marcos Bauer, who, out of the blue, called me a fag and punched me in the stomach at the school gate, in front of everyone.
It was a defining insult that has echoed forever in my mind.
He mimicked my gestures, laughed at me, made fun of me. He made me feel afraid and ashamed. He made my life hell. I even went as far as to consider suicide.
I was eight years old.
Before going to sleep, I would invent perfect plans to kill Marcos Bauer. Years later, I was pleased to learn that he had died young, even younger than me.
The fact that he had died first — and lived less — gave me the feeling that I had been avenged by fate and that, at the end of the day, I was right and he, wrong. Ironic, isn’t it?
When I was still alive, I had Googled his name: “Marcos Carmenzini Bauer,” in inverted commas.
It brought up no results.
Who doesn’t exist on the internet? Only those who died before the advent of the internet and didn’t do anything relevant, as must have been his case, because something always comes up: a traffic fine, a public notary record, a mention in the Official Gazette.
It was his brother, Fabio Ivan, who told me that he’d died at the age of eighteen, but didn’t go into any detail. At my twenty-five year high school reunion, I talked to a classmate and learned that his body had been found, drowned, in a damn on the Pinheiros River, on Christmas Day. It wasn’t clear from the circumstances if his death had been accidental or not.
I confess that I felt a twinge of pleasure at discovering, albeit late, the tragic details of Marcos Bauer’s death. I tried to push away the feeling. I wasn’t able to.
For many years, I thanked Marcos Bauer for the early warning. He served as a tip-off that being a fag wasn’t good. I had time to prepare myself. For years, I valued that lesson.
Not that I’d always known, but I’d known long enough to have forgotten when it first dawned on me. I don’t know if it’s like that for everyone, if everyone experiences it the same way.
Until the day I died, however, I remembered the smell of chlorine on my swimming teacher’s body. In my memory, there is no older embrace than his. If you had asked me yesterday, ten minutes before I died, if I still remembered the smell of chlorine on my swimming teacher’s body, my answer would have been yes. Three times yes.
I could have described it. My child’s head against his wet torso. His chest hair. The steam rising up from the heated pool, warm water entering my nostrils. Me in his arms, his hands on my body, holding me, teaching me to swim.
Marcos Bauer’s aggression had come as a surprise. I concluded that “fag” and what I felt when my swimming teacher held me — which I instinctively hid — were related.
That word, “fag,” which defined me against my will, took the possibility of innocence away from me. After that revelation, the responsibility of who I was going to be or become was mine alone.
He and I had noticed something about my nature that no one else had. He had put into words something that I suspected, but hadn’t yet been able to define. Marcos Bauer was the first one to put limits on my identity.
I didn’t know if anyone else at school found me effeminate. Just in case, I concerned myself with coming across as masculine. I tried to speak in a lower voice than normal and moved more slowly, controlling my gestures. I spent the rest of my years controlling myself. It was like that my whole life.
I bought Marcos Bauer’s friendship with a Matchbox car. On my ninth birthday, my aunt Zuza and my uncle Carlos gave me two of these cars as a present. The next morning, I took them to school. I left one in my backpack and put the other one on my desk, parked next to my pencil case, on display.
On his way to the back of the classroom, I noticed Marcos Bauer looking at my red dragster. When the bell for recess rang, I didn’t get up. I awaited for the kids from the back of the room to leave, as if I had things to organize before I went.
When Marcos Bauer went past, I was still sitting there. He stopped. He stared at the little car with greed. Looking up at him, before he could say anything, I shot out, “My aunt gave me two. Want one?” already sticking my hand in my backpack to give him the bigger of the two cars I’d been given.
I won that sadistic boy’s heart with a three-dollar metal car. After that episode, his behaviour toward me changed. He began to treat me with respect and even went as far as to say in front of everyone, as we were all leaving school, that I was a “nice guy.”
After the early warning he’d inadvertently given me, I understood that the most effective way not to be called a fag was to have a girlfriend. I went back to school in the third grade ready to reinvent myself.
Alexandre Vidal Porto
(translated by Alison Entrekin)
2. Identifying the Body
PART ONE: ME
1. The Beginning of the End
All rights reserved Alexandre Vidal Porto & Alison Entrekin
3. Identifying the Soul
≈ ≈ ≈
Their illicit pleasure has been fulfilled.
They get up and dress quickly, without a word.
They come out of the house separately, furtively;
and as they move along the street a bit unsettled,
it seems they sense that something about them betrays
what kind of bed they’ve just been lying on.
But what profit for the life of the artist:
tomorrow, the day after or years later, he’ll give voice
to the strong lines that had their beginning here.