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Authors: Antonio Tabucchi

Requiem

BOOK: Requiem
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ANTONIO TABUCCHI
REQUIEM
A HALLUCINATION

 

TRANSLATED FROM THE PORTUGUESE

BY MARGARET JULL COSTA

 

A NEW DIRECTIONS BOOK

NOTE

THIS STORY
, which takes place on a Sunday in July in a
hot, deserted Lisbon, is the
Requiem
that the character I refer to as
“I” was called on to perform in this book. Were someone to ask me why I
wrote this story in Portuguese, I would answer simply that a story like this could only
be written in Portuguese; it’s as simple as that. But there is something else that
needs explaining. Strictly speaking, a
Requiem
should be written in Latin, at
least that’s what tradition prescribes. Unfortunately, I don’t think
I’d be up to it in Latin. I realised though that I couldn’t write a
Requiem
in my own language and that I required a different language, one
that was for me a place of affection and reflection.

Besides being a “sonata”, this
Requiem
is also a dream, during
which my character will meet both the living and the dead on equal terms: people, things
and places that were, perhaps, in need of a prayer, a prayer that my character can only
express in his own way, through a novel. But this book is, above all, a homage to a
country I adopted and which, in turn, adopted me, to a people who liked me as much as I
liked them.

Should anyone remark that this
Requiem
was not performed with due solemnity, I
cannot but agree. But the fact is that I chose to play my music not on an organ, which
is an instrument proper to cathedrals, but on a mouth-organ that you can carry about in
your pocket, or on a barrel-organ that you can wheel through the streets. Like Carlos
Drummond de Andrade, I’ve always had a fondness for street music and I agree with
him when he says: “I have no desire to be friends with Handel, I’ve never
heard the dawn chorus of the archangels. I’m happy with the noises that drift up
from the street, which bear no message and are lost, just as we are lost.”

A.T.

 

THE CHARACTERS
ENCOUNTERED IN THIS BOOK

The Young Junky

The Lame Lottery-Ticket Seller

The Taxi Driver

The Waiter at the Brasileira

The Old Gypsy Woman

The Cemetery Keeper

Tadeus

Senhor Casimiro

Senhor Casimiro’s Wife

The Porter at the Pensão Isadora

Isadora

Viriata

My Father as a Young Man

The Barman at the Museum of Ancient Art

The Copyist

The Ticket Collector

The Lighthousekeeper’s Wife

The Manager of the Casa do Alentejo

Isabel

The Seller of Stories

Mariazinha

My Guest

The Accordionist

REQUIEM

 

I

I THOUGHT
: the guy
isn’t going to turn up. And then I thought: I can’t call him a “guy,”
he’s a great poet, perhaps the greatest poet of the twentieth century, he died years
ago, I should treat him with respect or, at least, with deference. Meanwhile, however, I was
beginning to get fed up. The Late July sun was blazing down and I thought: Here I am on
holiday, I was having a really nice time at my friends’ house in the country in
Azeitão, so why did I agree to this meeting here on the quayside?, it’s utterly
absurd. And, at my feet, I glimpsed the silhouette of my shadow and that seemed absurd to me
too, incongruous, senseless; it was a brief shadow, crushed by the midday sun, and it was then
that I remembered: He said twelve o’clock, but perhaps he meant twelve o’clock at
night, because that’s when ghosts appear, at midnight. I got up and walked along the
quayside. The traffic along the avenue had almost stopped, only a few cars passed now, some
with sunshades on their roof-racks, people going to the beaches at Caparica, it was after all
a sweltering hot day. I thought: What am I doing here in Lisbon on the last Sunday in July?,
and I started walking faster in order to reach Santos as quickly as possible, it might be a
little cooler in the small park there.” The park was deserted, apart from the man at the
newspaper stand. I went over to him and the man smiled. Have you read the news?, he asked
cheerily, Benfica won. I shook my head, no, I hadn’t seen the news yet, and the man
said: it was an evening game in Spain, a benefit match. I bought the sports paper,
A
Bola
, and chose a bench to sit down on. I was reading about the shot that had given
Benfica the winning goal against Real Madrid, when I heard someone say: Good afternoon, and I
looked up. Good afternoon, repeated the unshaven youth standing in front of me, I need your
help. Help? For what?, I asked. Food, he said, I haven’t eaten for two days. He was a
young man in his twenties, wearing jeans and a shirt, and was timidly holding out his hand to
me, as if asking for alms. He was blond and had bags under his eyes. You mean you
haven’t had a fix for two days, I said instinctively, and the young man replied: it
comes to the same thing, drugs are food too, at least for me they are. In theory, I’m in
favour of all drugs, I said, soft and hard, but only in theory, in practice I’m against
them, I’m afraid I’m one of those bourgeois intellectuals full of prejudices and I
don’t think it’s right that you should take drugs in a public park, that you
should make such a distressing spectacle of your body, I’m sorry, but it’s against
my principles, I might be able to accept you taking drugs in the privacy of your own home, as
people used to do, in the company of intelligent and cultivated friends, listening to Mozart
or Erik Satie. By the way, I added, do you like Erik Satie? The Young Junky looked at me in
surprise. Is he a friend of yours? he asked. No, I said, he’s a French composer, he was
part of the avant-garde movement, a great composer from the age of surrealism, if one can
speak of surrealism as belonging to an age, he wrote mostly for the piano, a deeply neurotic
man I believe, like you and me perhaps, I’d like to have known him but we were born into
different ages. Just two hundred
escudos
, said the Young Junky, two hundred
escudos
is all I need, I’ve got the rest of the money, Camarão will be
along in half an hour, he’s the dealer, I need another fix, I’m getting withdrawal
symptoms. The Young Junky took a handkerchief out of his pocket and blew his nose loudly. He
had tears in his eyes. You’re not being fair, he said, I could have been aggressive, I
could have threatened you, I could have played the hardened addict, but no, I was friendly,
pleasant, we even chatted about music, and you still won’t give me two hundred
escudos
, it’s incredible. He blew his nose again and went on: Besides, the
one hundred
escudo
notes are cool, they’ve got a picture of Fernando Pessoa on
them, and now let me ask
you
a question, do you like Pessoa? Very much, I replied, I
could even tell you a good story about him, but it’s not worth it, I feel a bit strange,
I’ve just come from the Cais de Alcântara, but there was no one there, and I
intend going back there at midnight, do you understand? No, I don’t, said the Young
Junky, but it doesn’t matter, and thanks. He slipped the two hundred
escudos
I
was holding out to him into his pocket, then blew his nose again. Right, he said, if
you’ll excuse me, I have to go and look for Camarão now, I’m sorry, I
really enjoyed talking to you, have a nice day, goodbye.

I leaned back on the bench and closed my eyes. It
was horribly hot, I didn’t feel like reading
A Bola
any more, maybe it was
hunger, but I couldn’t really be bothered to get up and go off in search of a
restaurant, I preferred to stay there, in the shade, barely breathing.

It’s the big draw tomorrow, said a voice,
wouldn’t you like to buy a lottery ticket? I opened my eyes. The voice belonged to a
small man in his seventies, who was dressed modestly but bore on his face and in his manner
the traces of a former dignity. He came limping over to me and I thought: I know this man, and
then I said to him: Just a moment, we’ve met before somewhere, you’re the Lame
Lottery-Ticket Seller, I know you from somewhere else. Where?, asked the man, sitting down on
my bench and breathing a sigh of relief. I don’t know, I said, I couldn’t say now,
I just have an absurd feeling, the idea that I’ve come across you in a book somewhere,
but it might just be the heat, or hunger, heat and hunger can play funny tricks on you
sometimes. I have the feeling you’ve got quite a few odd ideas, said the old man,
forgive me for saying so, but you do seem a touch obsessive. No, I said, that’s not my
problem, my problem is that I don’t know why I’m here, it’s as if it were
all a hallucination, I can’t really explain it to you, I don’t even know what I
mean, let’s just say I was in Azeitão, do you know Azeitão?, well,
that’s where I was, at a friends’ house, in their garden, sitting under a big tree
there, a mulberry tree I think, I was stretched out in a deckchair reading a book I
particularly like and then I suddenly found myself here, ah, now I remember, it was in
The
Book of Disquiet
, you’re the Lame Lottery-Ticket Seller who was always bothering
Bernardo Soares, that’s where I met you, in the book I was reading under the mulberry
tree in the garden of a farmhouse in Azeitão. I know all about disquiet, said the Lame
Lottery-Ticket Seller, and sometimes I feel as if I’d walked out of a book too, a book
full of splendid illustrations, richly laid tables, finely furnished rooms, but the rich man
died, and the only Bernardo in the story was my brother, Bernardo António Pereira de
Melo, he was the one who squandered the family fortune, London, Paris, prostitutes and, before
I knew it, the lands we owned in the North had been sold for next to nothing, an operation in
Houston for cancer saw off the rest, the money in the bank ran out and here I am, selling
lottery tickets. He paused for breath and said: By the way, forgive me, I don’t wish to
be rude, but since I’ve been addressing you formally as “o senhor”, right
from the start, I don’t quite understand why you’ve been addressing me as
“você”, allow me to introduce myself, my name’s Francisco Maria
Pereira de Melo, delighted to meet you. I’m sorry, I said, I’m Italian and I
sometimes get confused over the different forms of address, they’re so complicated in
Portuguese, forgive me. We can speak in English if you prefer, said the Lame Lottery-Ticket
Seller, the problem doesn’t arise in English, they just use “you” all the
time, and my English is good, or perhaps you’d prefer French, there’s no confusion
there either, it’s always “vous”, I speak excellent French as well. No, I
replied, I’d rather speak Portuguese, this is a Portuguese adventure after all, and I
don’t want to step outside my adventure.

The Lame Lottery-Ticket Seller stretched out his legs and leaned back on the bench. And now,
if you’ll forgive me, he said, I’m going to read for a bit, I devote a few hours
every day to reading. He took a book out of his pocket. It was a magazine,
Esprit
,
and he said: I’m reading an article about the soul by a French philosopher, it’s
odd to read things about the soul again, for a long time it’s hardly been spoken of at
all, at least not since the 1940s, now it seems that the soul is back in fashion, people are
rediscovering it, I’m not a Catholic but I believe in the soul in the vital, collective
sense, perhaps even in a Spinozist sense, do you believe in the soul? It’s one of the
few things I do believe in, I said, at least at this moment, in this garden where we’re
sitting and talking, it’s my soul that was the cause of all this, I mean, I’m not
sure if it’s my soul exactly, perhaps it’s my Unconscious, because it was my
Unconscious that brought me here. Hold on, said the Lame Lottery-Ticket Seller, the
Unconscious, what does that mean?, the Unconscious is something found in the Viennese
bourgeoisie at the turn of the century, we’re in Portugal here and you yourself are
Italian, we belong to the South, to the Graeco-Roman civilisation, we have nothing to do with
Central Europe, no,
we
have soul. That’s true, I said, I do have a soul,
you’re right, but I have an Unconscious too, I mean,
now
I do, you see, the
Unconscious is something you catch, it’s like a disease, I just happened to catch the
virus of the Unconscious.

The Lame Lottery-Ticket Seller regarded me with an air of despondency. Look, he said, do you
want to do a swap? I’ll lend you my
Esprit
and you lend me
A Bola
. But
I thought you were interested in the soul, I objected. I was, he said resignedly, but my
subscription runs out after this issue and I’m beginning to grow into my role now,
I’m turning into the Lame Lottery-Ticket Seller, I’m more interested in the goal
Benfica scored. All right, I said, in that case, I’d like to buy a lottery ticket, have
you got a number that ends in a nine?, you see, nine is my month, I was born in September, and
I’d like to buy a lottery ticket that includes that number. I do indeed, sir, said the
Lame Lottery-Ticket Seller, when were you born exactly?, because I was born in September too.
I was born at the time of the Autumn Equinox, I said, when the moon is mad and the ocean
swells. A most fortunate moment to be born, said the Lame Lottery-Ticket Seller, you’re
in for some good luck. I certainly need it, I replied, paying him for the ticket, but not on
the lottery, I need it for today, today is a very strange day for me, I’m dreaming but
what I dream seems to me to be real, and I have to meet certain people who exist only in my
memory. Today is the last Sunday in July, said the Lame Lottery-Ticket Seller, the city is
deserted, it must be forty degrees in the shade, I should think it’s the best day there
is for meeting people who only exist in memories, your soul, I mean, your Unconscious is going
to be kept very busy on a day like today, I wish you a good afternoon and good luck.

BOOK: Requiem
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