ISSN 2359-4101

Brazilian Literature in Translation / Literatura Brasileña en Traducción

Issue / Numero

year/año: 2015
issue/numero: # 07



While God’s Not Looking


Author | Autor: Débora Ferraz


Translated by Lucy Greaves

PART 1


The end of the world came too soon this time. I’m walking uphill. The

cobbled street is deserted, even though it’s not yet eight p.m., and I’m

surrounded by small, still houses which only occasionally give some

sign of human life. The odd house has a window open with the lights on.

I slow down. I look for doorbells. But it came too soon this time. And I’m already

so torn apart that I couldn’t care less about the end of the world or anything else.

‘Érica!’

I keep walking. There are puddles all over the pavement. They soak the hems of

my jeans and my boots squeak with every step as water squirts out of them. I can’t

help but think how the leather will never be the same again. I can’t help but consider

giving up on this mission once and for all. My legs are tired, the effort of walking

uphill is making my thighs stiff. Too torn apart, I repeat to myself. And now I don’t

just mean my headache, the cuts, the bloody scabs. I stand in the middle of the road,

halfway up the hill. I mean something much bigger. Something like an exhaustion so

overwhelming it stops me replying to his shouts, which are echoing up the street.

‘Érica!’

He hasn’t turned the corner yet, but I can already hear his footsteps echoing off

the walls. I would have said ‘I’m fine,’ just to see if he would finally give up. He’s been

following me for six blocks, always exactly twenty paces behind me. I know because

I counted. From my aunt and uncle’s door, down the road, around the corner, across

the new square, up one then another big hill, turning another corner to get here.

‘Say something!’

But shouting back would require an effort much greater than I can manage. I

give up. My body slumps and I rest my hands on my knees to support my weight.

And when I look up again, from that position, the top of the street is the horizon. It’s

so steep I can’t see what’s beyond it. From my point of view, there’s only sky: the sky

without a single star, heavy with clouds. Patches of phthalocyanine blue with titanium

white and pale ultramarine. A demarcating wall: this is where everything ends.

‘Move!’ he shouts from the bottom of the hill. ‘If a car comes...’

An old exhaustion. That’s it. What other explanation could there be for the fact

that, as I squat there, my brain whirrs away, trying to figure out what shade of blue the

sky is and stubbornly combining tones as if composing an imaginary tube of paint?

After ten paces, he slows down too. I hear him panting, struggling to speak

as he tells me again: ‘You can’t stay there.’ He tries to walk quicker again. Even if I

could hear people or a car... Then, feeling even more exhausted, I drag myself to the

side of the road and let my body collapse so I’m sitting on the pavement.

‘What’s up with you?’ he mutters. He sits beside me and leans his back against

the wall formed by the high curb. I look at his pale face glistening with sweat.

‘Where do you think you’re going?’

That’s a good question. Where do I think I’m going?

Twenty-four years without getting anywhere, becoming anything. Barely

any friends and only one ready answer: I’m walking in artistic exploration. Or: I’m

searching for my style. Or: I’m seeking expression. Really, my life hasn’t started yet.

Or, even: I’m looking for my dad. Do you know this man?

‘I wanted a cigarette,’ I reply. There are no shops open because it’s Sunday. He

raises an eyebrow, lowers the other. And since when do I smoke?

Where am I going now, that’s what he wants to know. Sitting on the curb, at

eight p.m., silently protesting against the situation: ‘It’s not right,’ I say to myself.

‘Shouldn’t you only have to look after your parents once you’re grown up?’

This is where I contradict my ID card, which says: twenty-four. Does that seem

grown-up enough to you?

‘You can’t just go out like this,’ is all he says. ‘Your family look at me weird

when you’re not around.’

They look at everyone weird like that. They look at me as if I’m a circus freak.

My family is weird, that’s the truth. If I had a normal family, do you think I’d have

ended up like this?

‘He isn’t here.’

‘Your dad?’

I nod. Resentment is a force that puts us violently in our place. He looks away, as

if doubting what I’ve said. But I know he’s not here. I’ve walked around the city like a

madwoman. I’ve visited all my relatives. I’ve called at properties on the outskirts. I’ve

looked everywhere. He really has disappeared this time. He hasn’t left a trace.

‘Do you want a drink?’ He offers me the little bottle of whisky. And would anyone

else, except me, wonder why he’s giving me a drink at a time like this?

I look at Vinícius’s faded jeans, Prussian blue with plenty of titanium white.

Meanwhile, I hear a motorbike approaching.

‘Can I?’

‘Yeah. Down it. I don’t know. Maybe it’ll work as anaesthetic. Or reorganise

your ideas.’

The sound of the bike gets closer, louder all the time, almost unbearable, stirring

something up inside my chest.

But if I say that resentment and my dad are the reasons why I’m like this, that’s

only my version of the facts. And my heart is reacting against the noise. They put

holes in the exhaust pipe so it makes that sound. I drink the whisky. Vinícius explains

my nonsense in another way, using Newton’s laws: An object stays at rest or

in motion unless acted upon by an unbalanced force. So it’s completely natural for

me to be like that, he says as the buzzing reaches its peak, the motorbike about to

burst our eardrums and destroy everything around us, but instead the sound gets

gradually softer and softer, until it becomes inaudible.

‘Are you trying to tell me that this is natural? That a father can abandon his

children, and his wife, just like that? Look at the state I’m in.’

‘It is natural,’ he says, putting the bottle away, ‘but that doesn’t stop it being

shit. That’s where the drink comes in.’

And I understand the concept of inertia because less than forty-eight hours

ago I had a plan. I mean, it was a good clinic, that one. Everything was under control.

I was having a studio built. Nice neighbourhood near the beach. Internet, cable

TV, icing on the cake, resigned from my job, slammed the door in my boss’s face...

Now travel, at the very least, five hundred kilometres to the west. Imagine an

absurd place where supermarkets, snack bars and pharmacies don’t open on Sundays,

where folks show up at other people’s houses without warning, where they

don’t know me and I don’t know them, and worse, they call me by the illustrious

codename ‘Aluízio’s daughter’ and Aluízio, my dad, has disappeared. Go back to

the beginning. There’s no plan whatsoever any more. What can I do?

‘We could look for a bar.’

‘There’s nothing open here on Sundays, I already said that.’

‘Outside the city. There are always bars open on Sundays.’

Two days ago Vinícius didn’t know much about me either. He would have said:

‘Érica... Yeah, I used to know her, we were friends, but I haven’t seen her for ages.’

I look at him. Bag on his back, yesterday’s grimy white t-shirt. Raw umber with

white brushstrokes. Maybe he doesn’t realise that time has passed, either. What

else could explain why he’s here with me now? It doesn’t make sense.

‘You don’t know this city,’ I say, looking around. ‘This city,’ I tell him, ‘is a hole.

And I don’t mean a metaphorical hole, I mean a real hole.’ I feel a wave of nausea,

acidic lava rises up into my oesophagus. ‘The city formed just like that. In the depression

where two mountain ranges met. An actual hole! Everyone here is dead

and no one said anything.’ I think to myself: isn’t the third of March too early for

it to be raining? Because that’s what they all say. ‘Everyone’s dead, I mean it. This

here is the end of the world.’

‘If you say so...’

I would have said that that was it: my life changed. It was no use thinking

about paint, about spatulas. It was no use thinking about painting. I had another

life to take care of, and I was behind with that. Maturity with no time to wait. And

tomorrow. Tomorrow those romantic aspirations will be as long gone as my dad.

But he wouldn’t understand. I know that. And the reason I know is because my own

head is still five hundred kilometres away.

‘I need to go home.’

‘You should,’ he says, putting the bottle away. ‘Everyone’s pretty worried

about you going out like this...’

‘I don’t mean home to my aunt and uncle’s. I mean really home, to my house.

I’m tired of this city. He wouldn’t come back here.’

But, with the low visibility and those five years of fog covering our friendship,

he can’t read my thoughts any more and I don’t want him to say: ‘I don’t... I don’t

think your dad’s coming back this time. They never come back.’ A motorbike rolls

down the hill in neutral. It doesn’t make a sound. Going so fast that I jump with

fright. But he just nods sort of nostalgically and, still sitting, says:

‘Fine.’ He places his hands on his knees and pushes on them to stand up.

‘They’ll have a drink for me at the bus station. And they must have cigarettes, too.’

There were lots of specific pieces to that limbo. I lowered one foot out of

the bus and immediately felt certain: the world had changed drastically. The hot,

stifling weather. The sun tinging the dirt, passers-by, women, children, beggars...

People all over the place. A hot mess. My sore hand throbbing, people passing

me with their excess weight, baggage, hair. Motors roaring. Thousands of them. A

scene flashed by in less than a second: the world has changed – I said to myself –

it’s changed, it’s changed, it’s changed. But no one noticed. They kept on moving

around at ten in the morning, with the sun beating down, carrying packages, going

every which way. The world changed. Was it really a second?

But my hand was still throbbing. Any chance you can hurry up?, he asked. I

looked back in his direction, still half senseless, feeling what jet lag must be like, if

you could get jet lag from a bus ride between the mountains and the coast. I can’t,

I wanted to say, but how could I say that? The right thing would have been to explain:

Look, I’m not going to manage to find my dad in this chaos of people. It’s impossible.

It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack, but instead of saying anything,

I put my other foot on the ground and tried to fake it. I know how it works. I took

two more mechanical steps, moving away from the bus and joining the multitude

gathering on the platform to collect their bags. Another two steps: You can go, I

know how this works. But what are you saying? Are you really OK?

There was no way the journey could have been comfortable. I was broken and

Vinícius, sitting next to me, was getting hurt by the shards. He must have wished

he could disappear plenty of times, but he was still there. I distracted myself with

my own reflection in the bus window. It wasn’t a nice image for either of us. That

watery creature, an inert composition with dark half-moons and a face covered

in scars was me: the daughter of a drunk, her semi-transparent face reflecting

the dry, moving landscape. In the same reflection, Vinícius faced me and smiled

slightly, leaning his head to one side, almost pitying. It was clear that among his

handful of carefully selected projects he had included, for the nth time, the project

of fixing me.

‘Here. You were about to leave your bag behind.’

I looked at him, then at the bag, at the roulette of the platform and back at

the bus.

People said I’d done all I could. That the best thing was to carry on with life as

normal. That it was nobody’s fault. That I had to help my mum. After all, my dad,

Aluízio, was a real character, wasn’t he?

I wanted to get back on the bus and go back to where I’d come from, but

then, at that moment, I looked at Vinícius again. A drop of sweat was running down

his forehead as he pretended everything was OK, too. He wasn’t convincing me.

Something was bothering him and it was my fault.

To start with, I shouldn’t worry him so much. Every time I faltered – like then,

in front of the bus – he seemed determined to find a way – like then, urging me

to keep going and not interrupt the flow of people moving around us. There were

people perched on the upper floor, watching others disembarking, smoking cigarettes...

I felt a hollow pressure in my mouth, squeezing my teeth.

He held my bag out to me again. With a film of tears covering my eyes, protecting

me from the rest of the world, I reached out my hands to take it. I pushed

the turnstile and carried on walking, not stopping until I got to the other side, to

the few rows of plastic chairs. That was when I realised I was alone.

I looked back. Vinícius was saying something to the security guard by the gate,

as if asking for information, frowning, gesticulating directions, nodding his head,

holding the straps of the bag on his back. I shouldn’t have brought him into this. He

crossed and uncrossed his arms insistently, or pushed his hands into his pockets. But

none of that was, in fact, my fault. It was my dad’s fault for having gone too far this

time. What else can a daughter do, in those circumstances, but make her dad get

treatment? Even if he screamed, even against his will. It was for his own good. It was

for everyone’s good. It didn’t have anything to do with the workshop.

I sat down to wait for Vinícius on one of the old plastic chairs. A sign above

me said ‘Intermunicipal’ and, next to me, a beggar was asleep, stinking of cachaça.

Two women hugged:

‘Give me your bag, let me help, you had a long journey, right?’

It was all wrong.

‘It’s really not far,’ they were saying, ‘we missed the bus but there’ll be another

one soon.’

My impulse was to get up from the chair, interrupt their cordiality and say to

them: Don’t you understand that the world has ended? But they surely wouldn’t

understand. It really has ended, I would insist. Forget about the bus and the delay.

Useless! They’re all on autopilot. The world has ended, can’t they see?





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