It’s all over
As Natanael had promised, Jean-Pierre was waiting for Opalka at the harbor. It was easy to pick him out among the crowd of curious onlookers and those awaiting friends or relatives to come ashore. He was the tallest and whitest man around. He wore a floppy straw hat, alligator sandals, exposing his toes, baggy, pale linen trousers folded up to mid-ankle, a cotton shirt of the same color, sleeves rolled, and on top, a green-patterned satin waistcoat. A plush alligator around a meter long, the same shade of green as his waistcoat, was draped over his right shoulder. He was accompanied by four women: one white, two indians, and one oriental. They all had tanned skin and were dressed alike: leather sandals, just like Jean-Pierre’s, white cotton dresses with high lace collars, and numerous colorful beaded necklaces. Their hair, worn loose, cascaded down their backs, nearly to the waist. None of them wore a hat. Jean-Pierre walked toward Opalka, who had just disembarked, followed by Bopp and his suitcases.
“Just as Natanael told me: you two look very similar,” said Jean-Pierre, rolling his Rs. “I’m Jean-Pierre and these are the Clodiás,” he added, extending his right hand to Opalka and then Bopp.
Bopp found it strange that the women all had the same name. Jean-Pierre smiled and told him that originally they had not. The only true Clodiá was the white woman, the eldest of the four, who had come to the Amazon with Jean-Pierre over twenty years ago. He had acquired the two indian women, who were the youngest, in the jungle some time ago. The oriental woman he’d brought back from China, when he visited the country the previous year. He no longer remembered what the indian and Chinese women were called: their names were very difficult. He said he’d begun calling them all Clodiá to keep from mixing up their names. All the women he had been involved with had become Clodiá. The same would be true for future relationships. If, by chance, he one day had a daughter, she would also be named Clodiá. It was simpler and more practical that way, and avoided undue hassle. All these various names get us nowhere — they just make men confused, he said, adding that men today have enough on their minds as it is. If, on top of everything else, a man has to memorize the names of his various wives, he’ll go mad! Opalka listened quietly, looking as though he wasn’t paying attention to the conversation, and Bopp thought it best not to reply.
Jean-Pierre ordered the Clodiás to take the new arrivals’ luggage to the car. Opalka and Bopp objected. They would never allow them to carry their suitcases. But the Clodiás, ignoring their protests, closed in and, before the men could even react, picked up their suitcases and ran off toward the car, a black Ford pickup truck. Bopp ran after them. Seeing they were being followed, the Clodiás quickened their step. The white woman — who was the oldest and the most haggard — was unable to keep pace with the others and soon Bopp caught up with her, yanking her by her long hair. She was clutching the smallest of Bopp’s cases. With the sudden halt, she dropped it. It came crashing to the ground and the lock broke, scattering across the pier clothes, notebooks and souvenirs from all over the world. Bopp let the Clodiá go and stooped to collect his things, stuffing everything back willynilly into the suitcase. When nothing else remained on the ground, he closed the suitcase and ran off with it in his arms, only to trip on a rock and fall a few steps away. The Clodiá seized the opportunity to reclaim the suitcase and ran toward the car as fast as she could. The other Clodiás were waiting seated atop the suitcases, which they had loaded onto the pickup’s luggage rack. The white Clodiá arrived at the truck panting, her face blotchy and red from exertion. She placed the remaining suitcase beside the others and jumped into the back of the truck, joining her companions. Bopp, no less winded than her, leapt in and sat down beside her. Jean-Pierre, without removing the plush alligator from his shoulder, took the wheel and Opalka sat in the passenger seat.
Opalka gazed absentmindedly out the window. He didn’t recognize the city he had once considered adopting as his own some thirty-five years earlier. Everything was changed.
“Would you like to go straight to the hospital, or would you prefer to stop by Natanael’s house first to drop off your things?”
“Please, let’s go straight to the hospital.”
The pickup lurched along the potholed streets. Opalka gazed absentmindedly out the window. He didn’t recognize the city he had once considered adopting as his own some thirty-five years earlier. Everything was changed. Not so much the buildings, which were still the same, but everything else. The city had lost its former luster. It was drab. People were hunched over and sad. They walked with their heads down, looking at the ground, at the granite sidewalks, before so new, now cracked and worn.
“This was all really great once,” said Jean-Pierre when he noticed Opalka. “But not anymore. When I arrived, it was bustling. There were people here from all over. But I’m sure you know that already. From what Natanael’s told me, you were here when the city was in its heyday. But all that’s in the past. Today the city’s dead. You’re going to have to get used to it. Because you know you can’t go back, right? At least not for now. Haven’t you heard the news? Poland is finished. They announced it today. Done for. Occupied. Soon the whole of Europe will cease to exist, if it still does. No, the thing to do is to stay right here. Enjoy it, before this town dies once and for all. At least it’s hot here. Not horribly cold, like Europe. And it’s green. Beautifully green. A pity all that will be gone one day, too.”
Jean-Pierre paused before he continued.
“Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about this city. About what to do with this city. You know, I’ve got money. A lot of money. I raise alligators as a hobby, but I’m making a fortune selling these sandals. These right here, the ones I’m wearing. They’re the same ones the Clodiás wear. Ronaldo,” he said, pointing to the plush alligator on his shoulder, “is my good luck charm. Brings me luck. Keeps the money rolling in, makes sure I don’t miss out on one measly cent. With all that money, I could build a theatre, even nicer than the one they’ve got here. Bigger, flashier, more ornate. I could fill it with gold. I could put on classical music festivals. I could bring over guest performers from abroad: tenors, sopranos, pianists. Or even that young lady from the Urca Casino who’s making it big in the States. I could put on theatre festivals too. Maybe even invest in training local troupes. Build music schools, fine arts schools. Bring over all kinds of people from abroad, people who have nowhere to go, now that Europe’s falling apart. I could build other things as well. Cinemas perhaps. Music venues. I could put together a schedule of events for the whole year, a major attraction each week. Stir things up in this town. Put it on the map. Turn it into this country’s great cultural hub, the city of the future. The future! But,” concluded Jean-Pierre, parking the truck in front of the hospital, “I just keep asking myself, what the hell for?”
Veronica Stigger is a writer, art critic, curator and university professor from Porto Alegre, Brazil, and has lived in São Paulo since 2001. In addition to her own published collections of critically-acclaimed short fiction, her work has been included in several anthologies both in Brazil and abroad, and translated to Catalan, Spanish, French, Swedish, German, and Italian. ‘Opisanie świata’, her first novel, was awarded the 2013 Machado de Assis prize, the 2014 Açorianos prize, the 2014 São Paulo Literature prize for a Debut Author over 40, and was a finalist for both the Portugal Telecom and Jabuti prizes.
Zoë Perry is a Canadian-American translator who grew up in rural southeastern Kentucky and is currently based in London. She has translated work by several contemporary Portuguese-language authors, including Rodrigo de Souza Leão, Carlos Henrique Schroeder, Lourenço Mutarelli, and Sérgio Rodrigues. In 2015, Zoe was translator-in-residence at the Paraty International Literary Festival (FLIP) in Brazil, and was awarded a PEN/Heim grant for her translation of Veronica Stigger’s ‘Opisanie świata’.