Anderson Fonseca "The Librarian" (Translation from Portuguese by Toshiya Kamei)
"No" was his reply. He could have lied, but he let it slip through his teeth. With the word "no," he carried within himself the weight of the truth he himself had ignored for years. "No" was not the answer he wished he had given. All right, pretend it was never inside his mouth. If he had said something else instead, he would now be lying in his bed with a clear conscience. But "no" was what he said, and now he couldn't close his eyes. The word "no" means NOTHING, LIMIT, UNKNOWN, FEAR, DEATH, END, and the breakdown of everything that exists; at that moment it meant all this; in the present, where he is, it echoes in his soul. He would like to forget everything – that morning, that face, that voice, the question, and then the answer. But the answer is the truth that stood before his eyes for thirty-five years, eleven months, and twenty-nine days, and yet he never noticed.
Thirty-five years, eleven months, and twenty-nine days – that was how long he had worked in the municipal library. He started at twenty-three, after passing the civil service exams. At twenty he married a local market attendant. Since childhood, nothing in the world had calmed his restlessness. The old man was the son of a widowed father, as his mother had died of tuberculosis when he was three. All his life he had never felt a certainty, only doubts and fantasies, and a sense of chill that followed him wherever he went. He kept a broken watch in his jacket pocket at 13:06, the exact time of his mother's death. Like the hands of an accurate clock, he was precise in everything he did. He dressed impeccably. His gray jacket matched his suede pants and brown leather shoes. He went to work every day. He would arrive at the library fifteen minutes before the doors were opened. He would set up the circulation counter, organize the registration cards in alphabetical order, and put the books in the correct sections. One minute before the opening bell, he would sit on the chair behind the counter and wait. When he heard the bell, he knew it was time to smile, and then he searched deep inside himself for the best smile he had. For thirty-five years, eleven months, and twenty-nine days, he remained that way, with doubts on the left side of his smile. There was only one day left before his retirement. That day he had bread with fried eggs for breakfast, changed his ivory-colored socks for white ones, put on the bow tie that belonged to his grandfather, and grabbed a gold-plated black ink pen instead of a blue one. And he decided to go on foot rather than ride his bicycle, so he left thirty-one minutes early. When he arrived, he did what he had learned in the last three and a half decades. Then he sat behind the counter and waited for the doors to open. With the ring of the bell, he smiled at a stupid-looking boy coming toward him.
The boy approached the counter and noticed the old man smiling at him. "How long have you been working here?"
"For thirty-six years. Why?" replied the old man.
"I'll bet you know all the books, from front to back."
"Certainly. I know which section they are in, behind which and in front of which book each one is, including the publication date and the place where they were printed."
"Wow! But tell me, have you read any books here or many of them?"
The question hit the old man like a punch to the gut, and he felt a chill run along the surface of his skin.
"No. I've never read them."
"How then can you be sure that you know them if you've never read them? It's like saying you know a woman without ever having fucked her."
The boy turned away and disappeared into the crowd. The boy's departure did not disturb the old man as much as his own response. The chill did not tear his skin. He mulled over the word for a minute before he closed up shop. For six uninterrupted hours he thought about the truth only he knew. Like a flash of lightning the word quieted his soul. It was ten hours before he retired, and he felt certain that there was no way he could recover those thirty-six years.
Born in 1981 in Rio de Janeiro, Anderson Fonseca studied literature at the Universidade Estácio de Sá. He is the author of the short story collections Notas de pensamentos incomuns (2011), O que eu disse ao general (2014), and Sr. Bergier e outras histórias (2016), as well as the novel A ARCA (2018).
Toshiya Kamei holds an MFA in Literary Translation from the University of Arkansas. His recent translations of Latin American literature include books by Claudia Apablaza, Carlos Bortoni, and Selfa Chew. Other translations have appeared in venues such as Abyss & Apex, Cosmic Roots & Eldritch Shores, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Samovar, and Star*Line.
Toshiya Kamei. Maestro en Traducción Literaria por la Universidad de Arkansas. Entre sus traducciones publicadas se encuentran My Father Thinks I’m a Fakir de Claudia Apablaza, South Exit de Carlos Bortoni y Silent Herons de Selfa Chew. En 2019, editó la antología bilingüe La Canasta.