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Early that morning, the sound of a radio came from the house next door, signalling that Senhor Sousa was now sat on his moth-eaten leather armchair in the living room still dressed in his striped pyjamas, his beard unkempt. As usual his eyes were fixed on an invisible object located slightly above people’s heads. The radio would stay on all day, letting her know that he was there, stationary, unmoved by the blue sky and the bougainvillea that had yielded an abundance of red flowers at the entrance.
From time to time, her mum would send her over to her neighbour’s house. She enjoyed these visits, despite being filled with cold fear on each occasion. Dona Jorgina would always offer her a piece of cake but her main thought was to see Senhor Sousa.
“Marisa’s daughter is here,” Dona Jorgina informed her husband.
He was locked away in his world of darkness, indifferent to her and everything that wasn’t the radio. His wife pressed further.[private]
“Sousa, the girl brought some pumpkin cake for you.”
The old man grunted a ‘thank your mother’ but nothing more. Before following Dona Jorgina to the kitchen for a piece of cake, she paused briefly, waiting for something else to happen, a gesture, a word, but he had already become oblivious to what was happening in the room and had returned to listening to the radio and his own thoughts.
When she got home she played at being blind. But even when she shut her eyes as tightly as she could, light would still seep through her eyelids. She couldn’t yet comprehend the darkness that he must experience. So she waited for night to come. As she lay in bed and her mother turned out the light, then yes, she almost had it. But then she would suddenly be overwhelmed with a fear of never seeing again and open her eyes. Light filtered through the door frame and Senhor Sousa’s world would disappear.
One day came when she arrived at her neighbour’s house and Dona Jorgina wasn’t there. In the living room the radio was advertising eco-friendly soap, before introducing the show ‘The Dragon of the Wide Road’. She walked down the corridor on tiptoe to the living-room door, careful not to let the floorboards creak. There he was. His gaunt face, his sparse beard, his mouth chewing invisible morsels of food. His hands, which mostly rested on the arms of the chair, would clench occasionally as he gripped the worn-out leather with his bird-like claws. His legs were tucked under the chair, half revealing his battered sandals. His cloudy eyes blinked slowly.
She stood there for a while, observing each of his movements and expressions, allowing the strange sensation that she had become invisible to grow inside her. She gradually began to feel as though no one would know of her existence again. “UUH!” She suddenly burst out, without any warning or reason. The vowel hung in the air, heavy and lingering, interrupting the sounds coming from the radio.
Senhor Sousa jumped, his arms instinctively reaching out in an attempt at self-defence. In a choked voice he asked: ‘Who’s there?’ Mortified, she edged towards the door. ‘Who’s there?’ Senhor Sousa asked more loudly. She could see fear and anger written on his face. Helpless in the face of danger, he cursed the person who threatened him. Fear burned in her stomach. She turned and ran to the safety of the door, her legs trembling.
It soon became apparent that he was very ill. One week and three days later, Senhor Sousa stopped listening to the radio. He stayed in bed and refused to eat. He was in a bad state. Poor Dona Jorgina had to go and tell her mother that he wasn’t well and that there wasn’t much they could do. The doctor said the situation was hopeless because he no longer wanted to live.
She walked around her room deep in thought, and played at being blind more than ever before. She kept her eyes shut tightly for a long time, an infinite amount of time, until she could stand it no more and had to release her eyelids. She tried again: eyes closed, she plunged herself deeper into darkness. There in the viscous blackness appeared that confused face, those arms that rose in self-defence, that trembling voice asking who was there. Senhor Sousa’s illness, as only she knew, was fear of the phantom of darkness that had come to take him away.
When he died she grew quiet. She lost her appetite and was so disengaged that her mother became concerned. For a long time the blind man’s fright churned inside her. Christmas came and went and the January rains flooded houses. She moved to a different part of town where, distractedly, she buried her guilt in the abyss of shadows.[/private]
Translated by Gitanjali Patel.
Gitanjali Patel has a degree in Spanish and Portuguese from Oxford University. She has lived in Rio de Janeiro, where she worked for UNICEF and translated for authors such as the novela writer Gisele Joras. She is currently in London, working as a researcher on Latin America.