B O O K E X C E R P T ~ I N T R A N S L A T I O N ~ P A R T T W O
NOTE TO READERS: This story is in two parts.
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JOĂO-LÁZARO'S RESURRECTION TOOK PLACE ON THE DAY OF THE VISITATION OF THE DEAD AND THE FAITHFULLY DEPARTED, AND MANY PEOPLE WITNESSED THE EVENT WITH THE VERY EYES OF THEIR OWN FACES. THERE WERE MOTHERS STRETCHED OUT OVER GRAVES WEEPING FOR THEIR ANGELS, THEIR MILK-DOVES, AND
bold women, trembling and in a panic, were talking convulsively to the earth where their old wax-colored husbands were sleeping forever; there were hands arranging the branches of boxwood shrubs and the roots of rosebushes and lilacs; and the mausoleums, open like sacrariums on Sunday, were giving off the smell of candles and incense; there was still the undecipherable whisper of funeral prayers, as monotone and ancient as the breathing of the stones themselves, so that the silence was only a vegetable thing with hands pruning its roots, and the scattered sobs were black, like the great black bird of death -- of a weary and afflicted death.
When the first signs of Joăo-Lázaro's resurrection appeared, Father Governo was methodically using his hyssop from grave to grave, and his Latin that omitted syllables here and there floated about like a sonorous mist above the figures: requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine: et lux perpetua luceat eis. He was calling on God and men in such a terrible way that the November wind, blowing in sparse gusts, made the bodies of the cypresses and the canas-da-índia whistle. It was a bitter, sibylline wind, like the sound of the women's wails. He'd made a complete turn around all the flowerbeds in the cemetery. He'd blessed the earth with holy water, and, in Latin, he'd once more warned the memory of the living and the dead of the temptations of this world, for it was written in God's wisdom that all beings created by Him had been born of dust and would return to dust one day, just as all food returns to the maternal breast of the earth of our creation: memento homo quia pulvis es et in pulverem reverteris. Then he walked to the small funeral chapel, stumbling, his face tightened by deafness, and he was surrounded by crosses, surplices, purple banners. There he prayed with a honeyed tone made up of liquid sounds and brown syllables accompanied closely by the response of the faithful. He rested in peace the dead and those afflicted by death, reciting for them the psalms of the Hebrew poets:
Dies irae, dies illa
Solvet saeclum in favilla:
Teste David cum Sibylla
It was vinegar weather, the damp, oppressive weather of a barren island, with wind and fog, and the cold curled the grass and twisted the cypresses until they took on the geometric shape of cones. When that happened the people cried out in terror in a chorus alongside the wall of their lamentations and from there they broke into a run in search of the priest: at that exact moment, as if by some miracle of God, the earth began to breathe with life, heaving up like a set of bellows and slowly going back down, and it opened up with a boom. It was an enormous forgotten and magical chest that was opening up with a sound of rotted fittings, and from its bottom they saw a short man with a long and sumptuous red beard woven into threads and yarn emerge. He had, that man, eyes as bright as phosphorescence and his hair falling down over his shoulders made him look so much like pictures of Christ that the people immediately stopped running and began to kneel on the ground, believing at last in his appearance. Jesus of Galilee was in the habit, it's true, of visiting sad people on his earthly pilgrimages. And he'd worked miracles with paralyzed and starving people and had distributed bread and fishes, had walked over the waves and restored sight to the blind, health to lepers and life to the dead. Jesus had been water for the thirsty, food for the poor, and clothing for the naked who bore the sack of their misfortune along byways and through deserts. But now he was there in front of that still incredulous people, at whom he gazed with the sapphire of his calm and saline merciful eyes. It was like the look of a satanic lamb, as in bygone days when he'd driven the money-changers from the temple. And his great large hands, almost transparent, had slender, knobby, pink fingers, like the images on altars, while his flesh, soft, like that of a child on the body of a man, assured everyone that there was still a possibility of a new birth for the dead.
Father Governo was quickly summoned to come and witness that apparition when, precisely, he was reciting the psalm of the Hebrew poets. Coming out of the funeral chapel, he limped over to meet that stranger and stood before him in ecstasy. His mouth fell open, revealing the toothless craters, and he stood mute and anxious for a long moment as his body became covered with a froth of sweat -- a strange blue sweat that speckled his forehead with drops and dripped across the small spaces between his wrinkles. Then, standing face to face, as in the year of the plague, they didn't recognize each other. But Joăo-Lázaro smiled at him with kindness and, opening his arms wide, invited him for a holy embrace. The priest's body reacted quickly with a shudder of terror, for he thought that if he embraced that man returning from death he would inevitably be embracing his own death and would immediately see the end of his days. Facing that possibility, he realized full well that he wasn't prepared to die as yet. So a sudden temptation to cry out and flee far away from there came over him. He was so old and lacking in strength that his legs started to shake and the veins in his neck were throbbing strongly, to the point of telling him that he was about to have a stroke. Inside his spirit a cloud of affliction and amazement floated, a kind of fainting calm mingled with the disorder of all his senses. He was certainly going to flee from the face of death, flee from its embrace, because fear was showing through once more and was flooding his face with sweat. Then he noticed that his human sheep, as afflicted as he, had knelt down and were praying. Joăo-Lázaro's smile continued on, still motionless, seraphic, inviting him to that holy embrace. Should he really challenge him?
In a flash he realized that everything had already happened to him in his life: the miracle of the wise children illuminated by God at the time of his appointment to the parish, the mystery of the weeping of animals, the cure of the plague, the disappearance of the body of Sara the Saint, stolen away by the angels who came down in the leaves of the fig tree, the ninety-nine consecutive days of rain, and, lastly, the resurrection of that strange luminous and satanic being. He could even die, because nothing more miraculous was certainly going to happen during the rest of his days. He only needed one last breath of spirit to manage to understand the secret of such and so many divine signs. Unable to gather them from those surrounding him, he took inspiration in the earth.
He looked at the Island rising like an amphitheater into the mountains right before his eyes, and he admired the majestic grandeur of the Pico da Vara, where later on he would see the airplane fall, and beyond that the eternal clouds that ran like sprites made of delicate glass, hovering over the mountains whose march toward the south had the sway of all dozing shapes. On the other side, to his left, Cadete the healer's white sea, the sea of the Azores, was roaring with the despair of its Apocalypse horses, and there were gods on its surface armed with tridents whose white horses, winged and heavy, were moving the very bosom of the waters. The gods were along standing in their swift war chariots and the sea was as white as the wrath of the crosswinds as they passed. Crushed by the steamroller of such affliction, he decided to question the man. A kind of physical resignation was already calming the tremor in his legs and softening the rush and heat of his sweat glands.
"Tell me, my good man, who are you and where do you come from?"
Then a distant white voice, snaking out like a serpent uncoiling from its nest, came from inside the man and could be heard with perfect clarity, to such a degree that the priest thought his deafness had come to an end and the nostalgic sounds of the world were clear:
"I am Joăo-Lázaro, the one who died one day to return from the future," the other man replied. And he explained, rather softly, that he was sent there by the wisdom of peoples and nations to announce the fleeting joys of life and to soften the suffering of the men of the Island.
"I bring you the proven science of peoples that they call progress and growth," he added with humility.
Fright. Fright is a spring that leaps out just as flowers, sponges, and mushrooms explode at birth; a spring that opens mouths and broadens nostrils, enlarges eyes, brings unexpected wrinkles to the brow. It's an animal ill with jaundice, fright, a green and bilious November animal. Joăo-Lázaro's white voice was even more illuminated now inside and suddenly began to pour out for those men and women who were so amazed to hear it, and over the fabulous distant worlds of the great imagination of poets and, perhaps, of madmen; the worlds where men are not the sad and worn-out creatures of an island, but the creators of joy; where machines are moved by the electricity of lightning, and war and peace make use of such machinery with the precision of the Sun and Hell, and where the days in May always announce repose from great weariness. And as he said that, men and women began to rise up slowly and were moving closer to Joăo-Lázaro. His face was profiled against the landscape, as soft as the breeze that flickered in the bosom of the trees.
It wasn't long before they were following him in a procession through the streets of the parish, without even knowing that they were walking: something like that had only happened once in the history of Achadinha, when the bishop of Angra had come to confirm the whole population. They went to greet him at the top of the Caminho Novo, carrying standards, guidons, and large, medium, and small flowers. That visit had been surrounded with such majesty that the slightest gesture by the prelate was immediately interpreted as a blessing. The bishop made use of a solemnity that could only be compared to that of a pope or of the Christ of the Resurrection himself, with his little purple biretta, his great sapphire ring, and his ample vestments that transformed him into a kind of voluminous and regal lady, as the people followed him to the church in silence and were sobbing with emotion. As for Joăo-Lázaro, as he went down the old road, he gently waved at the people who were watching him from their windows. A smile of milky quartz, thick and motionless, made him look, in his dignity, like an exalted and grand biblical patriarch, dressed in his perfect denim, smelling of musk, and softly placing his wooden-soled sandals on the ground, as during the time they had dressed him and put shoes on him to conjure away the plague. As so many years had passed since those events, it was frightening to see how his bearing had become filled with solemnity and his former status as beggar had been abolished from the memory of all the people, and his body didn't have the dull tone of days gone by but had the secret and nervous incandescence of fire. In spite of that, the dogs recognized him, because they came to lick his hands and howled deliriously. Babes in arms also greeted him, extending their hands in his direction along with a smile that as yet had no memory. He wasn't recognized by the old and middle-aged people, however, because they'd completely lost any knowledge of his name. And, furthermore, Joăo-Lázaro had never existed in any part of the world before his resurrection. He probably was, according to what they thought, some crazy foreigner who'd come from God knows where, speaking in a strange way about the transformation of things: of other unknown places, names, and powers like electricity, radio, motors, and telegraph. They listened to him, amazed and incredulous, without understanding any of the things he named, but taken by the warmth and the absurd velvet quality of his white voice as if by an invisible lodestone.
"Where are the white trains?" he inquired at one point, turning to the crowd.
White trains? they thought. What trains? They didn't know, they weren't things that could be seen on an island as distant from the world as that one, they'd never heard of trains, what were they? White, on top of it all, because whales were white sometimes when they passed in the distance and in view of the children themselves or came to die and rot on the shore on the eve of the eternal rains, and the sea was white, the sea of the Azores, according to Cadete the healer, as white as Joăo-Lázaro's voice had always been, not the trains.
"What about steamships? What about airplanes? Haven't any steamships or airplanes ever reached here?"
Steamships, airplanes, white trains, none of that had ever happened on an island so far-removed from the world. The houses had thatched roofs and adobe bricks; the roads were made of tamped gravel and rubble and lumps of mud, and the horses and oxen were docile, but there were no steamships, or airplanes, or trains. You left the Island on the sailing vessels of corsairs and wandering navigators, guided by an astrolabe and well-disposed winds. Joăo-Lázaro then asked if they knew of the existence of other peoples and their languages, and he experimented by speaking the dialect of sirens, the languages of the Saxons and the Gauls, and he sang the music and poetry of the Greeks and Trojans. He invoked the civilization of Phoenician merchants, Armenian warriors, Eudonian peasants, and Beterastas shepherds. He spoke to them of cities and terrifying countries -- but they'd only heard of Egypt and the cities of Jerusalem and Babylon, places in the Bible. They'd also heard tell of popes and bishops, of conquering kings, of crude navigational things, and secrets of good seamanship for any course. Their frightened looks still went back to the times of shipwrecks and the last earthquake, without forgetting the solar eclipse and the prophecy of the biblical waters that were to submerge everything one day and not leave one stone upon another nor any living creature on the face of the Earth. They were forgotten men and women, accustomed to looking around and measuring everything by the spinning direction of the Sun that gave them their view of the sea and time.
As for science, they possessed the science of the tides, the winds, and the great eternal rains, and they had scientific knowledge of the cycle of orchards and harvests, the age of rut in animals, the fiery sermons of their great faith in the saints. In the matter of instruments and machines, they had ox carts, plows, packsaddles for donkeys, harrows and rakes, hoes, scythes, saws with which they patiently guillotined living trees, a gibbet for every animal condemned to the servitude of men, infinite skills to accompany an infinite number of work tools, beginning with the tasks of carpentry all the way to staves and work in vineyards. They also had their hands, and hands again, and more hands. Joăo-Lázaro countered all this immediately with great agility of thought: mechanical devices for farming, clocks, the surprising advantages of electricity in all its forms of application, and he envisioned someone someday comfortably seated in Achadinha and talking through a wire to somebody else on another continent, or listening to a radio by means of a wireless system. And he also explained the delicate system of machines that did everything all by themselves, precisely because that occult force, electricity, had been endowed with intelligence and discernment in order to supplant men in the most complex and costly operations.
"The intelligence of electricity has been proven absolutely by the superior state of electronic intelligence. Machines talk, machines handle numbers, discover and treat illnesses. The white trains themselves fly along commanded by that ultimate intelligence, the way airplanes and birds fly."
The people were startled by the revelation of so many hidden things missing from their wisdom and pestered him with questions: Was it true, then, that airplanes held themselves up in the air, belly down, like hawks? Was it certain, then, that the white trains flew?
"Without a doubt, yes. They fly through deserted landscapes with no beginning or end carrying people from one kingdom to another," Joăo-Lázaro assured them.
In a short while he was surrounded by people more and more amazed at his revelations. Whole families even began to fight over him, offering him bed and board and all the comforts normally dispensed only to notables and on special occasions. He invariably spoke to them of the flying apparatuses that crossed cosmic space in a number of hours no greater than the fingers of the hand, overnight, going from torrid climates where it was hard to breathe to frozen places; about the white trains, about underground trains that flew along under the marvelous cities of the world through tunnels and huge silos like rats and other vermin; of automobiles, of threshers and other agricultural machines -- stating finally that the time of the great Island revolution against the tyrants was at hand, against intriguers and priests, the great revolution of men over the obligation to work and suffer until a miserable and unjust death.
"People must make ready for the change, then. They will have to take it on as a good thing and as a force for change." And he explained: "Revolutions are made in the craziest ways, sometimes against God, other times against men in their status as animals."
And the people were struck in the nervous system of their faith:
"Are revolutions made against God? What revolutions?"
"Well, now, my friends: not against the visible God, but against the absent gods you worship," he answered in an abstract way, where the people couldn't find much to understand right away. But then the voice of a young man broke the silence, a euphoric voice, vaguely feminine in its suggestiveness, and it said in the rear, hidden in the crowd:
"Why, of course, we have to revolt against the priest and against the mayor!"
Challenged rebelliously in his wisdom, Joăo-Lázaro visited Cadete the healer in his consulting room one day and began to listen to him go on about his proven art of curing illnesses. Cadete showed him the fabulous perpetual ball invented by a Tibetan monk, where he scientifically read cosmic signs, announcements of the future and of death. He performed small, quick demonstrations with his alembic for distilling aromatic herbs, gave him some of the miraculous essences of his invention to smell and made him test cures and harmless substances, from the pill made of garlic and unha-do-diabo for uric acid and roasted snake basil for internal hemorrhoids to lixivium unguents and the foul-tasting elixir of the twelve vegetable potions whose minor effect was replacing the process of decline in any spermatically aged or fatigued animal with new sinful joy. It had the vague smell of roasted almonds, and Joăo-Lázaro remained pensive and silent with the sorrow that such primitive things like that brought on in him.
A short while after he spoke to Cadete about the scientific methods of cures through medicine, through endless complexes and sensitive auscultation devices, X-rays, surgical operations on the lowermost nerve of the spinal system. He dismissed, without any cruelty, a few strange and fatal illnesses like tuberculosis, malignant volvulus, and primary leukemia, ailments overcome by science a long time ago, he said. He gave the healer such copious information concerning the new products of chemotherapy that Cadete was slowly losing his color and enthusiasm and was soon run through with terror. His spirit was taken over completely by a feeling of being crushed physically. And when Joăo-Lázaro assured him that all his methods and ways of thinking were obsolete since the illnesses to which they were applied no longer existed anywhere in the world, the healer, who up until then had had the power to cure everything and expel the Devil from the angels' place in the body of any ordinary possessed person, realized that he was an ignoramus. He grew sad in such a visible way Joăo-Lázaro began to feel upset and thought:
"He's got tears in his mouth and his voice is already weeping."
Then he took a complete turn about the office and began to read the framed writings placed along the walls. Even over his head there was a slate hanging from a string, and Joăo-Lázaro pondered for a moment the stern inscription it bore:
He began, thereupon, to be filled with vague pity for that man who was fatally mistaken about the meaning of life, and he continued to read around him: IS NOT WHITE THE MOST ANCIENT COLOR IN THE WORLD? -- Bárbaro said so and it's been proven! There were other sayings still, along with Cadete's fabulous maritime discovery, framed in three versions of increasing size, as if each one were successively more profound than the previous one:
the sea is white
The Sea Is White
THE SEA IS WHITE
"Illnesses like that," Joăo-Lázaro stated suddenly, pointing at the hanging inscriptions, "are the product of polluted imaginations."
Since the man's sobbing was blubbering now with renewed intensity, Joăo-Lázaro was filled with new affliction because he had before him not a man caught in a flagrant crime against civilization, but that soft and equivocal species of a delicate animal with no barbs. He began his therapeutic explanations again:
"There's no such thing as a person possessed by the Devil for the simple reason that there's no such thing as the Devil. They're people who've lost control of their nerves through the work of the religion of priests and overcome with hysterical crises, the ones you mentioned. Hysteria is an indescribable state; it can be suppressed by psychic treatment. Psychic treatment studies the mind in its hidden part through the ogiva process and through the logical reactions to shock treatment."
The healer then stopped listening to him and made a broad, desolate gesture all around, a gesture that meant the destruction of everything, sweeping the objects to the floor in an imaginary way. He threw a glance of merciful pity at the perpetual ball, the test tubes and retorts, the small boxes of herbs, and the alembic, after which he dropped onto the nearest stool and thought:
"It's now that I'm going to die."
In fact, he'd already decided to renounce existence once and for all. If he disappeared forever he would at least remain in the memory of his patients over the length of so many years of curing. They, yes, would make him eternally loved. They might even go so far as to erect a statue of him, as he'd been reminded by the poet and dentist Francisco Heitor on the day he publicly recognized his creative genius. If not death, what other thing made sense in life anymore?
It wasn't true that he'd absorbed the science and the magical breath of the wise Apanaguiăo, the Tibetan monk and inventor of the perpetual ball according to what Bárbaro the pilgrim had guaranteed. Nor was it clearly true that people could be cured from a distance by the simple act of invoking his name when some ailment struck them down. But how was it possible, then, for all those things to have happened? Had someone invented that fable? Maybe it had only been the exclusive product of his mad imagination. Nevertheless, as he'd been guaranteed by Joăo-Lázaro, a man of the future coming directly from death, there'd been born into the world a new genius of wisdom to defeat him in the most perfect way. Against such a power, then, what could his herbs and essences, his incenses and beverages, and the proven faculty of the perpetual ball do? What could his old despair of so many years do against Joăo-Lázaro's new euphoria of the world? Nothing, nothing. Ten times nothing.
He would die, however, with the world, whose end was also quite close. In fact, humanity had already gone through all the cycles of its existence on Earth. It was going to devour itself. It was going to initiate the process of its long, slow, inevitable extinction. He knew that it, and nothing else, was the destiny of the world, of man -- and of them both.
This translation and the original story were both nominated for a Pushcart Prize
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