ISSN 2359-4101

Brazilian Literature in Translation / Literatura Brasileña en Traducción

Issue / Numero

year/año: 2015
issue/numero: # 07



Another Discourse on Method


Author | Autor: Sérgio Sant’Anna


Translated by Rex P. Nielson

He found himself on the narrow ledge of the eighteenth story. He had
jumped there in order to clean the outside windows of the empty offices
of suite 1801/5, which were to be occupied shortly by an engineering
firm. He was a recently hired employee of Pan-American—General Services.
That he was sitting on the ledge with his legs swinging in space was simply
due to the fact that he had paused to smoke half the cigarette he had brought in
his pocket. He didn’t want to waste this pleasure by mixing it with work.
When he saw the people gathering below, pointing more or less in his direction,
it never crossed his mind that he could be the center of their attention. He was
not used to being at the center of things and so he looked below and above and
even behind at the window to his back. Perhaps a fire had broken out somewhere
or there was some scaffolding in danger of falling or someone was about to jump.
There was nothing identifiable in sight and so he, by a very logical process
of elimination, concluded that the only potential suicide was he himself. Not that
the desire had already crystallized in his mind that perhaps some day, but just like
everyone else, from time to time … And we could say that the lack of importance
he gave to himself didn’t prevent the possibility of such a grandiose gesture from
flowering in his field of decisions. And we could also say that his blind instinct for
survival had carried an advantage of around forty percent over his instinct for
death, so that he had gone on living his life until this exact moment under the most
adverse conditions.
In his pocket, for example, besides the cigarette, all he had was his employee
card and some loose change, not enough to pay for the bus to Central Station at
an hour when the trains would have already stopped running. He could still make it
on foot, though, and he was used to walking with his head down, not because he
was embarrassed by anything in particular, but as a way of finding lost coins, which
weren’t as rare as one might think. A lot of people won’t take the trouble to bend
over and pick them up after they’ve dropped them.
Before coming to work today for the four-to-midnight shift, he had hesitated
to spend his bus fare. But the empty in his stomach spoke loudly and so he had
bought a cup of coffee, filling it three-fourths full with sugar, which at least gave
him some calories, though he didn’t think of that, in terms of calories that is, but
rather that it would take away some of the hunger, and as an added pleasure, a
cigarette, even just half a cigarette, was much, much better after some coffee.
He had also meditated about the current meteorological conditions. Looking
at the sky, he had decided that the weather would remain the same, which meant
he would be able to spend the night on a park bench or on some grass in the
center of the city. It made him so tired, sleeping in the street, facing those endless
mornings while waiting for his shift to begin. He would try to distract himself by
watching the ocean or the planes landing and taking off or the rotisserie chickens
cooking behind restaurant windows or the movie posters with naked women and
action men. But this was a problem for tomorrow and, at the most, for the day after
tomorrow, because on the third day he’d be paid. He was a man who lived in the
immediacy of the present, since the past held no pleasing memory in particular
and as for the future, his was so obvious that it was better not to think about it.
Payday, however, was a chronological marker he latched onto.
The guy who had hired him at minimum wage had even told him he was lucky,
because unemployment was promulgating throughout the country—the guy liked
using verbs like this, from the dictionary, which seemed to grant him dignity and
pomp, though he was incapable of visualizing in his mind such abstract nouns. Yes,
authority and import were the prerogatives with which the man adorned himself in
his position: seated there with a tie and the word, while those who paraded before
him stood mute, except for a few monosyllabic answers such as “yes, sir,” or “no
sir,” when asked about vices such as the bottle. If his audience were a little more
qualified, he would also elaborate on the country’s problems, which stemmed from
the people’s lack of education and the dishonesty and incompetence of the politicians,
which was aggravated by the gargantuan nature of the State. In the intimacy
of his home, he would also point to such causes as climactic conditions, Brazil’s
history of colonization by exiles, and the mixture of races. He was a man without
initiative in an intermediary position of command, and though he felt he earned
very little, he was mollified by the fact of having been moved up the ladder a few
rungs by being persevering and hard to the point of inflexibility. And the name
Pan-American granted him a multinational aura, and though it was nothing more
than this, it was an aura that in truth extended to even the man out on the ledge
sitting in his uniform with those embossed letters, which signified something he
didn’t quite understand and consequently respected, something tied to certain
international athletic competitions Brazil disputed. It was something impressive,
without question, such that this is why they who worked at Pan-American were
prohibited, in theory, from wearing the uniform outside of work: precisely to prevent
employees from disgracing the company name in bars or on park benches.
But for the man on the ledge the thought of spending the night in either of
these two places held the advantage that, not going home, he would not have to
witness what was happening there, with his wife and three kids standing before a
pantry—which is what they called several stacked boxes—totally empty. Not that
he had been thinking about this as he made his way out on the ledge, much to
the contrary; he was accustomed to disconnecting himself from his problems at
home as soon as his feet hit the road. He knew that women were truly capable of
miracles: there was an unwritten accounting of eggs and flour taken and borrowed
among the women of the neighborhood, but if a man found himself nearby, all
complaints would fall upon him. At least this is what he thought, when he was
thinking about it.
Such afflictions existed as but a sort of latency inside him—an agreeable absence—
there on the ledge, and they would have never arisen along with the very
way of getting rid of them had he not identified the chorus of cries from the people
below as requests for him to jump. Not that he would have been willing to give
in to such petitions, well understood; but he merely discovered, a little perplexed
and even fascinated, that this was a plausible alternative for a human being in difficulties,
such as himself, who possessed all of his faculties. And this gave him a certain
unsuspected freedom and a weightlessness, once that tenuous strand was cut
separating him from the common goal of the species, which is to avoid suffering.
One could inquire about fear, whether he wasn’t afraid to be suspended up
there, but it’s important not to forget that he was used to occupying delicate positions
in space.
Any other, in his place, perhaps would have felt offended by how little importance
those below gave to his life. But, as we have already seen, he too gave little
importance to himself, as a barely visible, minor supporting character in a polyphonic
spectacle. That’s why the idea of forging his destiny with a gun in hand,
assaulting individuals or institutions, had never crystallized within him, though it
had in fact passed through his head, just like everyone else, from time to time …
And in this spectacle there were those who simply watched from the margins,
and even he, if it had been one of those mornings in which he wandered aimlessly,
would have joined the gathering below to pass the time, but without raising his
voice, because he was sober in his actions and modest. So he wasn’t offended and
he even knew without thinking consciously that in similar gatherings there were
always those, like certain women who would melodramatically bring their hand to
their face and say things like “for the love of God, no,” or something in that vein,
and there were others who would call the police and the fire department, even
though a truck from the closest station was already arriving at that very moment.
He was a man who respected laws and powers and so in the name of that respect,
and even fear, he immediately stood up to go back to cleaning the windows. The
suspenseful silence, broken by cries of encouragement coming from below, quickly
turned into boos and hisses when the crowd realized that he was simply a man working,
albeit in precarious conditions that suggested risk, action, emotion, and courage.
He was hurt somewhat by the boos and hisses, because the previous shouting
had been something like the enthusiasm of the bleachers for an athlete, and
suddenly he felt like a runner who had just run in the wrong race. With the brush
and towel in his hands, and the bucket at his feet, he turned towards the crowd
and took a small step forward, so he could distinctly hear the cries, “jump,” “jump.”
The fact was that he had never been on a stage, on a pedestal, and this was
affecting his modesty. One need not know the word pedestal to understand that
statues rest upon a base, just as one need not know the word polyphonic to hear
the many voices and mixture of sounds in the city. And there was always someone
who could narrate this for him, until the time that the socio-economic and cultural
conditions of the working class had transformed themselves within the country
such that the working class could speak with its own voice.
When this had happened, for example, in England, it gave rise to the unexpected
phenomenon of the Beatles and the angry young men. Already in the Soviet
Union or in Cuba, the gleam of several voices had been snuffed out in the name
of unquestionable economic priorities. He had seen in the opening of the Olympic
games in Moscow the health and beauty of the soviet youth. Like everyone else in
Brazil, he had found a way to buy a TV. He had bought his from a neighbor boy,
without asking for a receipt or inquiring about its brand or origin. The kid was an
angry Brazilian teenager and he was holding up individuals to prepare himself for
the local bank branch. Neither of them knew the Beatles.
As for statues, he knew them well, though he never read the placards. He
would frequently wander around them and he intuited that they were erected
(though he would not have used a verb like that, which was more the style of the
head of the Pan-American Personnel Department) in homage to people who had
accomplished important things, to the point that they were there exhibited to the
public as moral examples.
He wasn’t exactly in the same situation, for sure, but he was also experiencing
a certain power over the masses, just like some of those other illustrious men up
on pedestals. And this suddenly enlarged, in a literally vertiginous manner, his own
social conscience. Those people below, along with he himself, his wife and children,
were not pretty people, well fed and imbued with high-minded ideals; to the contrary,
they needed to be appeased with blood and circus. So he began to reflect—if
that’s what you could call the flash of anger that swept through him—on several
violent methods of transforming society. Someone more sophisticated might suggest
constitutional methods for change, but these would take decades or even a
century, or might not ever happen at all.
And in the meantime his case was pressing: the financial situation of absolute
deficiency, aggravated by the fact of his having distinguished himself so much in the
previous few instants on the ledge at Pan-American, in a way that was incompatible
with the politics of the company management. And there was the most important
fact that he only had one life to live, in spite of the fact that, paradoxically, he had
been airing in these past few moments, as an exercise, the hypothesis of freeing
himself from his life. Faced with all of this, society as a whole was an abstraction. He
was now becoming, ever more vertiginously, an individualist. If he had had a gun at
hand, perhaps he would have shot it off at random. He in fact did not have a gun at
hand and so could only take aim at himself in the form of an acute sadness.
In compensation, this heightened his poetic sensibilities, perhaps justifying
those who see in art a redemption for suffering. The hour of twilight was approaching,
a beautiful hour, and he thought so too. In the beauty and melancholy
of that moment he considered the possibility of it becoming the moment of his
own twilight, which he could make beautiful and meaningful. If he were to jump, he
would transform himself into a newspaper figure, a martyr of the current economic
crisis, deserving more than a simple obituary, because he would have succeeded
in transforming Rio Branco Avenue below, which had been named for some nobleman
he had never heard of, into pandemonium. With the wailing of sirens and the
arrival of fire trucks the State would take advantage of the opportunity to return
some of the money collected from its citizens.
Crowd control ropes had already been set up so that he wouldn’t fall on top of
anyone, and without realizing it he was approaching one of those romantic ideals,
which is to die young and at the pinnacle of fame. All that he lacked was beauty. He
was a young man of twenty-five, though he didn’t look it. To the conventional arguments
that all this would be of no use to him after death, he could answer—that is if
besides being a romantic he were also a poet or a philosopher—that he was simply
enjoying to the greatest degree possible the dramatic events that could precede
death, like witnessing a duel at sunset. The city was unquestionably beautiful, with
its peaks and mountains, the ocean, some sea birds, a plane was landing in that
instant, and its passengers observed the scene from an angle different than his.
It’s obvious that beauty doesn’t exist unless it’s observed. But, on the other hand,
there wouldn’t exist such an intensity in contemplation, in his case, if it weren’t for a
certain imminence … An imminence that was becoming more and more discernible
to his hears, a polyphonic symphony from the streets, as though he were a sophisticated
connoisseur of aleatoric music, which at the very least demonstrates that
one need not be versed in certain definitions and aesthetic currents to enjoy the
effects and the materials from which they are composed and which here merged
together as a sort of cosmic drone that seemed to emanate from within him.
There was also something of an existentialist in him, with this business of
intensely living some moment on the edge and giving it meaning, like some character
out of Jean-Paul Sartre, beyond having been assailed moments before by a
good dose of existential nausea in relation to himself and the rest of humanity. On
the other hand, even in more favorable socio-economic conditions, there was the
absurd in existence. He was an absurd.
An unhappy conscience thrown out into the world who could die at any moment
and wasn’t happy.
It’s obvious that from the point of view of a psychoanalytic approach, his newly
born anxiety about jumping could possible by analyzed from other angles, some
less and others still more romantic. The fact that his energies should return against
him at the precise moment in which he could not direct them outside of himself
was only the most obvious part of the question that, with just a little patience,
could be explained to him by a government psychiatrist, who would then probably
consider it apt he return to his work. He wasn’t stupid, he just hadn’t been raised in
an environment that cultivated his education.
As for his narcissism, reflected in the act of flaunting himself in the mirror of
the masses, he could channel it toward activities more socially acceptable, such
as progressing in his branch of windows and floors until he could leave them so
impeccably clean that they could reflect an image without distortion or pernicious
fantasies. Or, in the case that his ambitions should extend beyond the realm of
work to the world of spectacle—as was happening now—he could always try the
possibility of making it on some television talent search, or in football, although
probably not this latter case because of an absolutely traumatic event that had
occurred during his childhood when he had been thrown out, literally pushed off
his youth team because of certain deficiencies in technique that possibly stemmed
from his physical deficiencies, though he had been slated to play left wing, a position
that in Brazil is usually closest to being put on the reserve team.
This experience had had such an effect that if one were to mention that Brazil,
in all of its sporting history, had never had on any of its national teams a single left
wing who had been the star of the team, he would have understood in a fraction of
a second the origin and spirit of what was being said, remitting it to his own case
and this, without question, would clearly be an insight that would cause him to laugh
nervously and perhaps convince himself to better accept his own limits, since he was
left-footed and clumsy and could hardly cross the ball with his opposite foot. And
even after he was able to get over this harmfully idealized image, he would still have
to root for and identify himself with a team that could, every once in a while, reward
his dedication with a championship; after all, not everyone can step on stage.
What’s more difficult—and romantic—though not impossible if one could find
the right expression, would be to really get into the issue itself with him in the
sense of understanding it: his sudden temptation to jump, as a desire to return
to the maternal arms and breast and perhaps even to the pre-birth life of the
uterus, to that state of undifferentiation that levels everyone, where he had been
surprised and shocked by certain attempts against his life by inadequate methods—
perhaps felt by him as submarine earthquakes in the liquid in which he was
floating—though, after having at his insistence been born, he was viewed, because
of his rickets, as both a punishment and a gift, which placed him in the world from
the beginning as a paradox and faced with conflict. For the same behavior that
led him to be shaken and beaten when he cried during the night because of a
unexplainable hollow in his bowls was the same reason for which he was rocked
and breast-fed in full public view, in the shadow of high-rise balconies because his
mother complemented their meager domestic income by begging in the center of
the city, where he arrived by an electric train wearing his worst coverings, if he had
on any at all, and at this point, as though he were material proof of their poverty to
pedestrians, he was well worth his weight in coins.
And if, after an initial treatment of shock therapy by the aforementioned government
psychiatrist, he were referred to another specialist in the branch of the
mind, perhaps this other one could note on his little pad, not as a certainty—having
learned to distrust them—but as a beautiful hypothesis to be investigated, the fact
that he had chosen (or had been himself chosen, it doesn’t matter, since coincidences
don’t exist, but are rather necessary causalities) a profession that would
forever bring him to the edge of ledges and that he was now at the imminence of
throwing himself from one of them to fall into his crib, which was the pavement
where his mother had rocked him. To reinforce this deduction there was the unquestionable
fact that he had literally traveled this path in life, where he was always
obliged to take the metro to his place of work, which he mistook for the mythical
point wherein he would be soothed, and from there, perhaps, one could explain to
him his delirious walks and maybe even cure him of them, seeing that on a certain
day, one like today, having spent his money for the commute home on coffee and
principally sugar (since the sweetness in his mouth was a factor that, besides the
calories, necessarily had to be taken into consideration) this action could not stop
from being recognized for what it probably was: a mere pretext to conceal things
even more secretly repressed in his unconscious. And the end of all this concatenation
would reveal that he had spent his money for the bus, the vehicle which
would return him to the suffering of his home, and not for the metro (his little electric
train from his infancy) that would conduct him to the comfort of the maternal
breast. And the specialist would smile at such an insight—not the patient’s but his
own—which could even be taken to a conference and published in a journal, spurring
on the Lacanians, for such associations derived not from any play on words
or alliterations but rather from semantically correct images, the true embryo of a
monograph that could be entitled The Psychoanalysis of the Working Class, and
this time, without any irony, Europe would truly bow before Brazil.
It’s obvious that such a specialist, because of his integrity, to which was added
a good dose of shrewdness, would anticipate with a post-script the possible arguments
skeptical of his model, criticizing it himself precisely on account of its perfection,
as the perfection of a circle, not allowing for any gaps or rifts, but redeeming
it with the argument that, much more than for the scientific correctness of an
answer, a psychoanalytic model validated itself by the greater or lesser possibility
of a patient being able to adjust within himself, in the same way that the possibility
of a cure exists within the individual, if one can speak about a cure when dealing
with such a volatile thing as a mind, which, like a soul, does not properly occupy
a space. And in any event, within the limitations of an attempt at knowledge that
is not exactly a science but a method, perhaps he would favor this model so that
the patient could return home, rather than waste his money in the street, and once
there kiss his wife on the cheek like any other middle-class citizen. Then they could
conclude together, patient and analyst, that in the beginning and end everything is
always love, and on this point all the Freudians, Lacanians, and bio-energetic-Jungians
would concur that what was most important in the analytic relationship was
the affective, even amorous, complicity between the analyst and the analyzed.
What a shame that such a potential client, who was here suspended on a ledge by
a delicate line between life and death, could not pay to see this up close.
So the only thing which in fact remained for him was love. The love of a woman,
for example, who could extend a hand in this crucial moment. Not his own wife,
obviously, since the relationship that had developed between them of late with
the wear and tear of life was the same as that between a stick and a hole whose
dimensions had been more or less adjusted to the stick, though dissociated from
a Gestaltian configuration integrating them in a unity that would include an aspect
of spiritual sublimation, which human beings typically identify as love. Or at least
an intense desire for another’s flesh that was more than the desire to satisfy an
itch. But nature didn’t care about extra-biological conditions: at the end of nine
months a child would be born, and he already had three. A good portion of the
rolling masses circulating below had come from the encounter of bodies in circumstances
of material and spiritual poverty, so it was natural that in terms of quality
there was a progressive degeneration.
The love that could possibly save him would be, for example, that of a typist
he sometimes saw working late at one of the firms he cleaned. She was young,
full-figured and well-proportioned, and would probably become chubby as time
passed. But this was a problem for later and which did not occupy his fantasies,
since we are concerned here with the most immediate present. Besides the fact
that he was truly taken with her comely form as well as with the velocity with
which she typed without looking at the keys, there was a detail that gave her an
appearance that was simultaneously distinct and distant (because he was well
aware of his place in the world): her glasses. It seemed to him so incredible that a
woman could be at the same time young and desirable and complemented by a
pair of glasses that brought to mind one of those mild-mannered teachers that he
had not had the opportunity to know. Those glasses were a symbol of inaccessibility
and culture and the fantasies that surfaced within him in their preliminary form
saw him taking her to the movies and to museums, until one day he would hold
her hand, and only afterward, little by little, would he hold the rest. The moment
he finally slept with her would be solemn and delicate, the last thing he would take
from her body, if he could effectively remove them, would be her glasses. Because
those glasses, without him realizing it, were his fetish.
Perhaps he would be surprised to know that within her were daydreams
in which a sensitive man would discover her gentle soul, sheltered in that body
curved over a keyboard and hidden behind those glasses. Though she had a sporadic
relationship with a married accountant and with a young man in her neighborhood
who owned an automobile, this did not disrupt her dream of marrying
someone who truly needed her, like some young medical student who would make
it to graduation after so much sacrifice, which she would share with happy resignation.
And if she should meet such a man when he was on the brink of despair, she
would be even more vitally capable of giving herself to him, rejoicing amid tears of
joy in what it is to extend one’s hand to a drowning man, to bring him not just to
the surface, but to raise him to the heights of the sublime.
The problem is that for one to have the right to love, in despair, it’s necessary
to bear some recognizable type of beauty, even if it’s through art, like a Toulouse-
Lautrec. Even though Van Gogh, in spite of everything … But as for him, the
man on the ledge, he had been destined to that radical solitude that is ugliness
in poverty. But even he would be capable of recognizing, modestly, if he had had
a more refined education, that Toulouse-Lautrec had suffered more than he, because
he had tasted of that world where the women were beautiful and the men
were artists so eager for that beauty that at times, for lack of beauty, one would
banish himself from that world to a better one.
So the only thing remaining for him, in fact, was the love of God or for God,
who, through one of his Christian personae, the Son, could be concretely seen
with open arms dominating the city. He could be seen, there from his privileged
position, by the man on the ledge. Christ was illuminated at night and turned off
at dawn; he was enveloped in black clouds during storms and then would shine
again when clear skies returned. But never, since the inauguration of the statue, in
1931, and including the Pope’s visit in 1980, was he seen moving even one of his
arms to assuage a single calamity, individual or collective, not even when the torrents
of rain, which descended the hill that held up his image, would precipitate a
catastrophe below, flooding away homes, animals, and people, and leading these
to believe they were receiving some punishment which they certainly had earned.
It was not then foreseeable by the man on the ledge that the Christ should move
a single one of his fingers, let alone that he, finding himself in such a precarious
position, should possess a sense of free will far more accentuated than normally
characterized people in his position, position here being understood in its most
ample sense possible. For not only he dominated the heights, since he had come
to stop there out of duty to his office and not out of despair—not counting that
which was inherent to his office—and he could come down any time he wanted,
from inside the building. And, if he didn’t do it, it was because of the sin of pride.
Though he had many times abandoned Christ for idols from the periphery like
the African orixás and exus, he had heard during his childhood catechisms in his parish—
after which a lunch was typically served—that the poor would receive a place
of honor in the kingdom of heaven and that, on the other hand, suicides would not
be forgiven. So to be with God, in his particular case, he needed only to be patient.
And so what the man did was to open his arms to the Christ, moved a little by
a vague plea, because he did not know how to honorably get out of that snare, and
a little for the sake of exhibitionism or the spirit of imitation, which not rarely are
the origins of madness, when a human being realizes that, if certain realities cannot
be changed, one can simply change oneself, exchanging a modest role for a better
one, like that of Napoleon or some other general, in extreme cases, or that of an
ordinary guard, in less extreme cases. Imitation, in this case, was successful, as the
crowd thrilled below, perhaps because of the popularity of the model, perhaps out
of belief that the personage they were watching was finally going to fly.
It was at this moment that he heard a voice. The voice thundered, not from the
heavens, but from within the office of the engineering firm:
“Sir, come down now because you are under arrest,” said an officer holding
a revolver. He immediately realized he had invoked a semantic impropriety that
could bring grave consequences if the man should jump, so he extended his arm
through the window to grab him.
For the first time in his life, this other man was called sir; treatment, nonetheless,
that the man guessed would be immediately abandoned as soon as he was in
the savage arms of the Law. So he retreated on the ledge to the furthest most precarious
point that fatally placed him under the jurisdiction of the fire department.
The individual present who most categorically represented this organization
had received training which included, among other disciplines, the humanities. He
motioned such that the member of the other organization retreated to a discreet
corner and then assumed command of the operations with a speech that had been
prepared since the day in which, while watching a made-for-TV movie, he had
discovered that his true vocation was to be a fireman. A speech in which formal,
ceremonial language was substituted, along with any weapons, for the most cordial
Brazilianism of “you.”
“Hey man,” he said. “Everything in life has an answer and one day you’re gonna
laugh about the problems that brought you up here, whatever they are. Why don’t
you come in so we can talk? Or if you’d rather talk from there, we’re here to help.”
Besides the mixed signals and a certain rehearsed sense about his speech,
his voice had hit exactly that tone of affective complicity, even affection, that is
needed for any relationship to be established. And it mustn’t be forgotten that the
man had never had the intention of jumping in the first place; he had merely been
tempted, inadvertently, by the vertigo and power of the height. He turned then to
the fireman, who had already come out onto the ledge, with the voluble applause
of the public, and smiled embarrassed, as if apologizing.
He could have explained, simply, that he was there washing windows and that
everything was nothing more than misunderstanding, one need only look at the
bucket of water, etc., and check with Pan-American—General Services.
But the truth is that some quite complex phenomena had taken place in his
mind, which had modified his world view and which he wanted to explain, including
to himself, but he couldn’t find the words.
“It’s like I was someone else. Do you understand?” he said to the fireman,
who had grasped him, without encountering any resistance, to bring him inside
the room. “A possible being inside me, who was whispering thoughts in my head.”
At this moment he smiled widely, because those were exactly the words.
However, the fireman’s training had not taken into account certain more abstruse
aspects of the mind, subtle and contradictory, and from his professional perspective
and within the limitations of his duties, he had no doubt in his assessment.
“He’s crazy,” he informed the others, as he pushed the man into the room
where he was immediately immobilized.
He had been betrayed, but, on the other hand, his savior—if he could be called
such—had given him a new label that also offered him a new identity, perhaps explaining
his new feelings, which he now preferred to keep to himself.
—It’s as though everything were only a dream, including myself and the fireman.
A highly agreeable feeling, nonetheless, because it released him from certain jails.
He was mistaken, but not too far from the truth, though he was quite original:
he was not a dream but rather a social allegory. Social, political, psychological, and
whatever else you prefer. To those who condemn such metaphorical practice, one
must remember that the working class, principally that segment which is called
lumpen, is still far from the day in which it can speak, literarily, with its own voice.
So one can write about it in this way as well as any other.
But in this interim a character arrived on the scene, sweaty, panting, and fat,
quite close to reality: the head of personnel from Pan-American—General Services.
He came imbued with the formality, dignity, and prerogatives of his office, besides
being burdened with the fear of losing said office, facing a public that was not
quite what the company’s Public Relations department had in mind. With his feet
well stuck to the floor, he said:
“You have dishonored the uniform. You can change your clothing and deliver
it to me personally. The act you have committed is a grave lapse, beyond just
cause. You are hereby fired.”
His judicious words, this time, were intended much more than stylistically impressing
his audience to assure all present that he was doing all that he could,
given the circumstances, since his clinical eye for drunks, vagabonds, thieves, and
crazies had lamentably failed in this case. Inadvertently, he was committing one
more error: his words were recorded by the press, which was somewhat frustrated
until then with the refusal of the man from the ledge to give any statement that
clarified his motives. And crazy was a word that editors, excluding those from popular
newspapers, considered a little vague.
And the executive had not really appeared in this story, where, to the contrary
of what he thought, he was also not the subject, but a pathetic piece, the first step
in a downfall that would begin with his dismissal and end with his suicide, when,
from an innate sense of justice, he would come to apply to himself the same severe
code he used to apply to his subordinates. But that is another story.
In this one, only the officers were impressed, and though they too lacked the
right words to say so, they saw there a manifestation of temporal, as well as that
other, greater power that had here been offended in one of its principal personae.
And, as exemplary punishment of the desperate, more desperation.
The fireman, meanwhile, wasn’t quite so harsh, and the young man from the
ledge celebrated in the shadow of his actions, which hadn’t quite reached the status of
heroism. As the veteran of so many fires and landslides, he said to the young man that
he would only change his clothes at the psychiatric hospital, to where he was certainly
headed. These words were also recorded and, once again, with all justice, the department
came off well in the public opinion, as a beacon of hope that not all was lost.
As for the main character of the story, the man from the ledge, upon learning
his destiny, perhaps in other circumstances he would have felt wounded and vulnerable
and taking advantage of their relaxed attention, who knows but he would
have jumped to his death. Not because of the loss of salary, in and of itself, since for
a long time he had found himself but a step from absolute economic depravity. But
more because he could see with clarity that Pan-American—General Services had
been until then more than a mere occupation, a firm where he worked, but an outward-
skin, materialized through the uniform, within which he grounded himself—he
who had felt since birth a sort of hollow something inside—and which, if it had not
afforded him a distinct identity, had given him membership in a team, like in football,
allowing him—contrary to normal—to walk among the local vagabonds without feeling
like he was one of them, though he just like they didn’t have a dime to his name.
The fireman, who had indisputably arisen before his eyes as the individual of
greatest moral authority among those present, had spoken about changing uniforms
at the psychiatric hospital in the same manner that he had made, with respect
to himself and without mincing words, his precise diagnosis: crazy. Thus,
there was no reason for distrust and he walked ahead satisfied and even anxious
to trade positions and teams.
In reality, he had already come under another’s jurisdiction. Not that of the
two men in white who had arrived to take him in the ambulance, even while he
still wore the Pan-American uniform and everything. The jurisdiction under which
he now found himself was that of the “other,” that possible someone who had
whispered thoughts in his head out on the ledge. And he anticipated, intuitively,
that there in the hospital there must be a patio, somewhere where as he sauntered
freely in the shade of the trees or sat on a bench he would have all the time in the
world to meet and get to know better that “other,” until he and they became the
same person and spoke with the same voice.





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