From Stubborn Archivist

Read Litro’s review of Stubborn Archivist, and Cindy Withjack’s conversation with Yara Rodrigues Fowler.


The IBS got her in the morning. She was stuck on the toilet like she often was before work. She brushed her teeth sitting down. It was probably the caffeine, or the dairy. Maybe it wasn’t even IBS. She’d heard a radio programme about bowel cancer the other day, but you had to have blood in your shit for that and she didn’t have blood in her shit. Just water.

She stood up. Her parents had already left the house
for work. She touched her belly over
her blouse and felt
its bubbling. She put on the blazer
with the wide
sleeves. She went down the stairs
and put her shoes on to leave. The thing about dressing like this
and having a face like
this is that
no one thinks you are
the source of the gas on the tube.

Twenty-five minutes later, at the end of the West End street
she walked through big glass doors
and swiped her swipe
card. Standing in the lift she would remember
to feel grateful.

It was unusual
to get a good job like this straight out of uni.

In the lift, she
thought to herself
– It is unusual, and I am very lucky.

Or, as her dad had insisted – But they are very lucky to
have a young kid like you with your languages and your cultural know-how.

Sometimes she got gas in work meetings but so far it had been manageable. She was a researcher for a new documentary about plastic surgery in Brazil. All the women in Rio were getting plastic surgery – in their butts and tits and noses and out of their stomachs.
Her job was to find
potential participants, to make
sure they were the best
ones and then get them to agree to appear on the show. They had given her her own thick plastic landline telephone with the curly wire that called Rio directly and a desk and an email address
and a chair she could swing
her feet under. We want ordinary women, the producer
Fiona had said in the kick-off
meeting. Women who have been saving for months and months,
who are going into debt, you know?


Her first task had been to use online directories to make a spreadsheet
of all the beauty
salons and surgeons
and pageants and modelling
agencies in Rio. Today she would
begin calling the salons.
She scrolled up and down the spreadsheet. She dialled the number of the first
salon. Typed it in, typed it wrong,
typed it in again. Beep

She waited. She heard a click and an older woman’s
olá bom dia voice on the other end. She took a breath –

Bom dia. Eu sou uma jornalista
inglesa –

She looked around the office. Her feet under the chair. She could
have been saying anything.

Bom dia. Eu sou uma jornalista
inglesa –

The woman on the other end was the owner of the beauty salon. She did not hang up the phone.

So, that afternoon, having spent twenty years spelling
out her foreign name to
English people, she spelt out her foreign name over the phone to the woman
in the beauty salon.

She said – I’m sorry it’s quite long and it’s got an English bit in
it. Sorry –

Her email address was a nightmare. She braced
herself before announcing its
interminable phonemes, steeling herself for the relief of the @.

She was always careful to reassure the participants that they would come off well.

That morning she had come in late (there’s no point you being
in before people are up in Brazil, the producer had said) and so that evening she left the office
late when it was fully dark.

On these
days, when she came home late after calling
Brazil on the plastic landline
telephone, she always got a seat on the tube. She played
tetris. Sometimes she played candy
crush. She had one audiobook
on her phone which she listened to on repeat.

Elephant and
This station is Oval (no it’s not)


At home at the house,
she found the
bowl of spaghetti with
toma- toes and cheese covered in clingfilm that her parents had left out on the stove
for her. She unwrapped it and touched it with
her finger. She held
it under her nose. It smelt
wholesome with the taste of bay leaves from the garden.

She put the bowl of spaghetti in the microwave. Her
parents had not heard her arrive.
They were still watching
the news on the sofa. She leant on the kitchen
counter with her eyes closed. She heard the ping. She went up the stairs

In her room, she took off her skirt and her tights. She ate the warmed up dinner under the covers in her childhood bed. She opened her laptop and turned on a TV series that she had seen before. She closed the curtains. When she finished eating, she left the bowl on her bedside table and opened tetris on a second window on her computer. She closed the curtains. When she couldn’t focus her eyes anymore she turned the volume  low so that the TV voices became speaking sounds with no words or phrases.

And in the night images of the pink and yellow shapes slotted and reslotted in her mind and when she went to sleep they covered the faces of all the people in her dreams.


The above is an extract from Stubborn Archivist by Yara Rodrigues Fowler, which was nominated for the 2019 Sunday Times/University of Warwick Young Writer of the Year Award.

For more on Stubborn Archivist, visit Little, Brown.

Read Litro’s review of Stubborn Archivist, and Cindy Withjack’s conversation with Yara Rodrigues Fowler.