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Authors: Jose Saramago

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prompt us respectfully to doff our hat and hope that it will be always thus for them, or for each of them, whoever their future partners might be, if, that is, the candle that is burning now does not last beyond this brief, final spasm, the very spasm that, even as it melts us, also hardens and drives us apart. Bodies, thoughts. Tertuliano Máximo Afonso is thinking about life's contradictions, about the fact that in order to win a battle it might sometimes be necessary to lose it, the present situation is a case in point, to win would have been to guide the conversation in the direction of the desired total and definitive split, and that battle, at least for the time being, had to be given up as lost, but to win would also be to distract Maria da Paz's attention from the videos and the imaginary study on ideological signals, and that battle has, for the moment, been won. According to popular wisdom, you can't have everything, and there's a good deal of truth in that, the balance of human lives is constantly swinging back and forth between what is gained and what is lost, the problem lies in the equally human impossibility of coming to an agreement on the relative merits of what should be lost and what should be gained, which is why the world is in the state it's in. Maria da Paz is also thinking, but, being a woman, and therefore closer to things fundamental and essential, she is remembering her anxiety of mind when she entered the apartment, her certainty that she would leave here vanquished and humiliated, and yet, after all, the one thing that she had never for a moment imagined would happen has happened, going to bed with the man she loves, which just goes to show how much this woman still has to learn if she does not know that it is in bed that so many dramatic arguments between couples end up and are resolved, not because having sex is a panacea for all physical and moral ills, although there are plenty of
people
who think it is, but because, when bodies are exhausted, minds take the opportunity to raise a timid finger and ask permission to enter, ask if their reasons can be heard now and if they, the bodies, are prepared to listen. That is when the man says to the woman, or the woman to the man, We must be mad, what fools we've been, and one of them, out of compassion, does not respond as in fairness they could, Well, you might have been, but I've been here all the time. Impossible though it may seem, it is this silence full of unspoken words that saves what had been judged to be lost, like a raft that looms out of the fog looking for its sailors, with its oars and its compass, with its candle and its cache of bread. Tertuliano Máximo Afonso said, We could have lunch together, if you're free that is, Of course I am, I always have been, No, what I meant was that there's your mother to be considered, Oh, I told her I fancied going for a walk alone and that I might not be home for lunch, An excuse to come here, Not exactly, it was only after I'd left the house that I decided to come and speak to you, And now we've spoken, Meaning, asked Maria da Paz, that everything between us will continue as before, Of course. One might have expected a little more eloquence from Tertuliano Máximo Afonso, but he will always be able to say, I didn't have time, she flung her arms around my neck and kissed me and I did the same, and, God help us, there we were once more entwined, And did God help, asked the unknown voice that we haven't heard for a while now, Well, I don't know if it was God exactly, but it was certainly good, So what next, We're going to have lunch, And you're not going to talk about it, About what, About you and her, We've talked, No, you haven't, Yes, we have, So the clouds have all blown away, They have, Does that mean you're no longer considering ending the relationship, then, That's
another matter, let's leave for tomorrow what belongs to the morrow, A good philosophy, The best, As long as you know what does belong to the morrow, We can't know that until we get there, You've got an answer for everything, You would too if you had had to lie as much as I have in the last few days, So, you're going out to lunch, Yes, we are, Well,
bon appétit,
and what will you do afterward, Afterward, I'll take her home and come back here, To watch the videos, Yes, to watch the videos, Well, have a good time, said the unknown voice. Maria da Paz had already got up, one can hear the sound of the water in the shower, they always used to take a shower together after making love, but this time she didn't think of it and he didn't remember, or they both remembered but preferred to say nothing, there are times when it is best to be content with what one has, so as not to lose everything.

It was past five o'clock in the afternoon when Tertuliano Máximo Afonso got home. All that time wasted, he thought, as he opened the drawer where he had put the list and while he hesitated between
Arm-in-arm with Fate
and
Angels Dance Too.
He will never put either in the VCR, which is why he will never know that his double, the actor who looks just like him, as Maria da Paz might have said, plays a croupier in the first film and a dance teacher in the second. He suddenly rebelled against the self-imposed obligation to keep to the chronological order in which the films had been produced, from oldest all the way up to the most recent, he thought it wouldn't be a bad idea to vary things a bit, to break with routine, I'm going to watch
The Goddess of the Stage,
he said. Within ten minutes his double appeared, playing the part of a theater impresario. Tertuliano Máximo Afonso felt a jolt in the pit of his stomach, a lot of things must have changed in this actor's life for him to be playing a character who was
gaining in importance all the time, after years of playing, fleetingly, a hotel receptionist, a bank clerk, a medical auxiliary, a nightclub doorman, and a police photographer. After half an hour, he couldn't stand it anymore, so he fast-forwarded the tape to the end, but, contrary to expectation, he failed to find in the credits any of the names on his list. He rewound back to the beginning, to the opening credits, which, out of force of habit, he had ignored, and there it was. The actor playing the part of the theater impresario in the film
The Goddess of the Stage
is called Daniel Santa-Clara.

 

 

 

 

 

D
ISCOVERIES MADE OVER THE WEEKEND ARE NO LESS VALID
or valuable than those that first find being or expression on other, so-called working days. In both cases, the person who has made the discovery will inform his assistants, if they happen to be working overtime, or his family, if they happen to be near, and, if there's no champagne on hand, they will toast the success with the bottle of sparkling wine that has been waiting in the fridge for just such an occasion, congratulations will be given and received, details for the patent noted down, and life, imperturbable, will move on, having shown yet again that inspiration, talent, or chance are not particular about either time or place when it comes to revealing themselves. There can have been few cases when the discoverer, because he lived alone or had no assistants, did not have at least one person with whom he could share the joy of having bestowed on the world the light of a new piece of knowledge. More extraordinary and rarer still, not to say unique, is the situation in which Tertuliano Máximo Afonso finds himself at this precise moment, for not only has he no one to whom he can communicate his discovery of the name of the actor who is the very image of himself, he must also take great care
to
keep this discovery secret. Indeed, it is impossible to imagine Tertuliano Máximo Afonso rushing off to phone his mother, or Maria da Paz, or his colleague the mathematics teacher, and saying, the words tumbling over themselves in his excitement, I've found him, I've found him, the guy's name is Daniel Santa-Clara. If there is one secret in life he wants to keep under wraps so that no one even suspects its existence, it is this. For fear of the consequences, Tertuliano Máximo Afonso is obliged, possibly forever, to maintain absolute silence on the results of his investigations, both the results of this first phase, which ended today, and of any further investigations he may carry out in the future. He is also condemned, at least until Monday, to total inactivity. He knows the man is called Daniel Santa-Clara, but knowing this is about as useful as being able to say that a particular star is called Aldebaran, but knowing nothing else about it. The production company will be closed today and tomorrow, so there is no point in trying to phone them, at best a security guard would answer and he would only say, Phone back on Monday, no one's here today, Oh, Tertuliano Máximo Afonso would declare in an attempt to drag the conversation out, I thought there were no Sundays or holidays for a production company, that they filmed every day the Good Lord sent, especially in spring and summer, so as not to waste all those daylight hours, That's not my business, it's not my responsibility, I'm just a security guard, A well-informed security guard should know everything, They don't pay me to know everything, That's a shame, Anything else, the man would ask impatiently, Can you at least tell me who I should contact there to find out about actors, Look, I don't know, I don't know anything, I've already told you I'm just a security guard, phone back on Monday, the man will say again in exasperation,
if he doesn't unleash a few choice words that the caller's impertinence more than justifies. Sitting in the armchair, in front of the television, surrounded by videos, Tertuliano Máximo Afonso comes to the conclusion, There's nothing I can do about it, I'm just going to have to wait until Monday to phone the production company. He said this and immediately felt his stomach contract as if with sudden fear. It was very quick, but the subsequent tremor lasted a few seconds longer, like the troubling vibration of a double-bass string. In order not to think about what had seemed to him some kind of threat, he asked himself what he could do with the rest of the weekend, what remains of today and all of tomorrow, how to occupy all those empty hours, one possibility would be to watch the remaining films, but that wouldn't provide him with any further information, he would merely see his face in other roles, perhaps as a dance teacher, perhaps as a fireman, perhaps as a croupier, a pickpocket, an architect, a primary school teacher, an actor looking for work, his face, his body, his words, his gestures, repeated ad nauseam. He could phone Maria da Paz, ask her to come and see him, tomorrow if not today, but that would mean tying his own hands, no self-respecting man asks for help from a woman, even if the woman doesn't know he's asking for help, to just send her away again afterward. It was at this point that a thought which had occasionally raised its head behind other more fortunate thoughts, without Tertuliano Máximo Afonso paying it the slightest attention, suddenly managed to push its way to the front, If you went and looked in the phone directory, it said, you could find out where he lives, you wouldn't have to bother the production company then, you could even, always assuming you felt up to it, go and see the street where he lives, and the house, although obviously you'd have to take
the elementary precaution of disguising yourself, don't ask me as what, that's your problem. Tertuliano Máximo Afonso's stomach gave another lurch, this man refuses to understand that emotions are wise things, they worry about us, tomorrow they'll say, We warned you, but by then, in all probability, it will be too late. Tertuliano Máximo Afonso has the phone directory in his hands, which tremble as they search for the letter
S,
they leaf backward and forward, here it is. There are three Santa-Claras, but none of them is a Daniel.

It wasn't such a big disappointment. Such an arduous search couldn't just end like that, it would be too ridiculously easy. It's true that telephone directories have always been one of the prime investigatory tools of any private detective or local policeman endowed with a little basic intelligence, a kind of paper microscope capable of bringing the suspect bacterium to the investigator's visual curve of perception, but it is also true that this method of identification has had its difficulties and failures, all those people with the same name, heartless answering machines, wary silences, that frequent, discouraging reply, Sorry, that person doesn't live here anymore. Tertuliano Máximo Afonso's first and, logically speaking, correct thought was that Daniel Santa-Clara had not wanted his name to appear in the directory. Some influential people, with a high social profile, adopt this procedure, it's called defending their sacred right to privacy, businessmen and financiers do it, for example, as do corrupt politicians of the first order, the stars, planets, comets, and meteorites of the cinema, brooding writers of genius, soccer wizards, Formula One racing drivers, models from the worlds of high and medium fashion, and from low fashion too, and, for rather more understandable reasons, criminals with various crime specialities have also preferred the reserve, discretion, and modesty of an
anonymity that, up to a point, protects them from unhealthy curiosity. In these cases, even if their exploits make them famous, we can be sure that we will never find their names in the phone book. Now, since Daniel Santa-Clara, at least from what we know of him so far, is not a criminal, and since he is not, and of this we have not the slightest doubt, a film star, despite belonging to the same profession, the reason for his absence from the small group of people bearing the surname Santa-Clara is bound to cause real perplexity, from which only profound thought will free us. This was precisely what Tertuliano Máximo Afonso was engaged in while we, with reprehensible frivolity, have been discussing the sociological type of those people who, deep down, would like to be included in a private, confidential, secret telephone directory, a kind of
Almanach de Gotha
that would record the new forms of ennoblement that exist in modern societies. The conclusion reached by Tertuliano Máximo Afonso, even though it belongs to the category of the blindingly obvious, is no less deserving of applause, for it demonstrates that the mental confusion which has tormented the history teacher's past few days has not proved an impediment to free and impartial thought. It is true that Daniel Santa-Clara's name does not appear in the telephone directory, but this doesn't mean that there isn't some, shall we say, family connection between one of the three people who do appear and Santa-Clara the film actor. Equally admissible is the probability that they all belong to the same family or even, if we are going down that road, that Daniel Santa-Clara does, in fact, live in one of those houses and that the telephone he uses is still, for example, registered in the name of his late grandfather. If, as children used to be told, in order to illustrate the relationship between small causes and great effects, for want of a shoe the
horse
was lost, for want of a horse the battle was lost, the trajectory followed by the deductions and inductions that brought Tertuliano Máximo Afonso to the conclusion set out above seems to us no less dubious and problematic than that edifying episode from the history of wars whose first agent and ultimate culprit must have been, when all's said and done and with no room for objections, the professional incompetence of the vanquished army's farrier. What will Tertuliano Máximo Afonso do next, that is the burning question. Perhaps he will be satisfied with having whittled away at the problem with a view to a subsequent study of the necessary conditions for drawing up an oblique approach strategy, of the prudent kind that proceeds by small advances and constant vigilance. To look at him, sitting in the chair where there began what is now, by any measure, a new phase of his life, back bent, elbows resting on his knees, and head in his hands, you would not imagine the hard work going on inside that brain, weighing up alternatives, pondering options, considering other variants, anticipating moves, like a chess master. Half an hour has gone by, and he hasn't moved. And another half an hour will have to pass before we suddenly see him get up and go over to the desk with the telephone directory open at the page containing the enigma. He has clearly taken a bold decision, let us admire the courage of this man who has finally put prudence behind him and decided to attack head on. He dialed the number of the first Santa-Clara and waited. No one picked up the phone and no answering machine came on. He dialed the second number and a woman's voice said, Hello, Good afternoon, madam, I'm sorry to bother you, but I'd like to speak to Senhor Daniel Santa-Clara, I understand he lives at this address, No, you're wrong, he doesn't live here and
never
has, But the surname, The surname is just a coincidence, like many others, Oh, I thought you might perhaps be related and be able to help me find him, Look, I don't even know you, Forgive me, I should have told you my name, No, don't, I don't want to know, It would seem I was badly informed, It would indeed, Many thanks for your time, That's all right, Good-bye, then, sorry to have troubled you, Goodbye. It would have been natural, after this inexplicably tense exchange of words, for Tertuliano Máximo Afonso to pause in order to regain his composure and his normal pulse rate, but this was not the case. There are times in our lives when we think that we might as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb, and when all we want is to find out as quickly as possible the true dimensions of the disaster, and then, if possible, never to think about the matter again. Therefore, the third number was dialed without hesitation, a man's voice asked abruptly, Who is it. Tertuliano Máximo Afonso felt as if he had been caught out and so mumbled some name or other, What do you want, the voice asked in the same harsh tone, although curiously there was no hostility in it, some people are like that, their voice comes out in a way that makes it sound as if they were angry with everyone, and, in the end, you discover that they have a heart of gold. On this occasion, given the brevity of the conversation, we will never find out if the heart of this person really is made of that most noble of metals. Tertuliano Máximo Afonso expressed a desire to speak to Senhor Daniel Santa-Clara, and the man with the angry voice replied that no one of that name lived there, and the conversation seemed unlikely to progress any further, there was no point in revisiting the curious coincidence of surnames or the chance possibility of a family relationship that might lead the
questioner
to his destination, in such cases the questions and answers are always the same, Is so-and-so there, No, so-and-so doesn't live here, but this time something new happened, the man with the dissonant vocal cords mentioned that more or less a week before someone else had phoned with exactly the same question, It wasn't you, was it, no, the voice is different, I have a very good ear for voices, No, it wasn't me, said Tertuliano Máximo Afonso, feeling troubled, and was this person a man or a woman, A man, of course. Yes, of course, a man, stupid fool, it stands out a mile that however many differences there may exist between the voices of two men, there are far more between a female voice and a male voice, Although, the man added, now that I think about it, there was a moment when I thought he was trying to disguise his voice. Having duly thanked the man for all his help, Tertuliano Máximo Afonso replaced the receiver and sat looking at the three names in the directory. If the man who phoned had been asking for Daniel Santa-Clara, simple logic dictated that, as he himself had just done, he too must have phoned all three numbers. Obviously Tertuliano Máximo Afonso could not know if anyone would have answered at the first number, and everything indicated that the ill-disposed woman with whom he had spoken, and who really was rude despite her neutral tone of voice, had either forgotten or deemed it unnecessary to mention the fact, or, and this was a far likelier reason, she had not taken the previous call. Perhaps because I live alone, Tertuliano Máximo Afonso said to himself, I tend to assume that other people do as well. The deep disquiet caused by the news that an unknown man was also looking for Daniel Santa-Clara left him with a troubling sense of bewilderment as if he had been handed a quadratic equation to solve when he had already forgotten how to do simple ones.
It was probably a creditor, he thought, yes, that's probably who it was, a creditor, artists and literary people tend to lead fairly disorganized lives, he probably owes money in one of those places where people gamble and now they want it back. Tertuliano Máximo Afonso had read some time ago that gambling debts are the most sacred of all debts, some people even call them debts of honor, and although he did not quite see why these debts should be any more honorable than others, he had accepted both code and prescription as something that had nothing to do with him, Ah, well, it's up to them, he had thought. Now, however, he would have preferred those debts to be less sacred, to be ordinary ones, of the kind that are forgiven and forgotten, as was not only prayed for but promised too in the old Lord's Prayer. To calm his mind, he went into the kitchen to make some coffee, and, while he drank it, he took stock of the situation, I've still got to make that call, now, two things could happen when I do, they will either tell me that they know neither the name nor the person, and that will be that, or they'll say, yes, he lives here, and then I'll hang up, at the moment, all I need to know is where he lives.

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