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Rosália had been watching the oven for five minutes. She usually put the nail clippers in the oven for ten minutes to sterilise them in the heat. She’d been a manicurist for fifteen years. It was cutting and painting nails that had paid for her unfinished schooling, the abortion of Tonho’s child and the building material for the work on her four-room house. She had painted the inside light yellow and bought new furniture, to be paid for in seventy-two instalments. As she stood there for those five minutes, she thought about how many nail clippers she had gone through in her fifteen years on the job. She couldn’t count very well.[private]
The oven timer sounded as her name was called from the reception. The 4-o’clock customer had arrived. The 4-o’clock customer was a fat, hairy woman. For her toenails she needed to sit back in the chair with her feet on Rosália’s lap. Many feet had lain on Rosália’s lap. But no children. Her one abortion had left her broken. She was as sterile as her nail clippers. By sterilising everything she’d ended up sterilising herself.
She saw the customer and sat down with a sigh, tired. There was some fresh coffee in the thermal flask on the countertop. She reached for a disposable cup and poured the coffee. It came out steaming hot. She drank unhurriedly, leaning against the countertop, and pondered for a while. What Rosália thought and pondered we will never know, since thoughts are silent. Not even an omniscient narrator can know all her characters’ secrets. Deep in their silent thoughts, they can emerge from their distant worlds and surprise even their own narrator.
Rosália took a pair of old, blunt nail clippers from her bag.
Whilst the customer’s feet soaked she started to trim her cuticles. Rosália wanted to see a little blood. She knew that the woman wasn’t going to like it, but all the same she nipped the first cuticle. Blood flowed quickly.
“It’s well dug in, isn’t it?”
The woman trusted Rosália. She knew that her nail clippers were always sterilised. After the first sight of blood she simply kept going. Rosália carefully cut the woman’s fingers.
“Rosália, Dona Esmeralda had to take painkillers. What got into you? The woman was nearly hospitalised.”
Rosália hung her head and kept quiet.
“Have you no explanation for this?” the salon manager insisted.
Rosália shrugged and walked away, chewing her gum.
She was fired and quickly found work in another salon. And whenever she could she cut deeper into the cuticle. It became such a skill that her little attacks were not even felt. She used an anticoagulant and her satisfaction increased.
Then she found out that one of her customers had contracted the HCV virus.
“Hepatitis C, Rosália. That’s what this virus causes.”
Rosália did this customer’s nails twice a week. She always cut her a little then used the same clipper on other women. She didn’t know the illness well, but she did know that it was chronic. The word chronic seemed very serious and important. Shortly afterwards the customer died of liver cancer. Tiredness, nausea and body aches became the routine for her customers. They were all becoming sick, though the cause, Rosália said, was stress.
“It’s stress, Dona Conceição. Everybody’s really stressed these days.”
“They’re saying there’s an outbreak of Hepatitis C going around at the moment. We can only get our nails done by people we trust…like you, Rosália.”
She didn’t answer, instead giving the old woman a little nick, and she quickly withdrew her hand. Rosália apologised.
She resigned some days later and managed to find work in two more salons twenty kilometres away. After gaining a position of trust she began to cut her customers. Tiredness, nausea and body aches. It was time to move on.
Then, just before Christmas, months after passing through all those salons and contaminating all those customers, she received a bouquet of roses full of thorns. Many of them lodged in her hands when she put the roses in a vase. Rosália had never received a bouquet of roses in her life. The roses withered and Rosália’s hands swelled up, then the thorns penetrated deep inside her skin, contaminating it. Her rotten hands were amputated. When spring came, thorns grew from the stumps. She never knew who sent her the roses. She can never again touch anything without wounding or drawing blood.[/private]
Translated by Sarah Jacobs.
Sarah Jacobs is an undergraduate student in Modern Languages at the University of Oxford, currently on a year abroad in Brazil.