a writer! a writer!
With the newspaper in one hand and a Diet Guaraná in the other, I was roaming the streets of Kiev, dodging roadblocks and Molotov cocktails, when the voice on the PA system brought me back to seat 11c: "Attention, passengers, if there's a doctor on board, please alert a flight attendant."
There was that discreet commotion: everyone whispering, peering around, looking for whoever was sick and hoping for a doctor, until, from the back of the aircraft, our hero emerged. He came walking up with a surefooted stride—salt-and-pepper hair, as you'd expect—his vanity cloaked in slight reluctance, like some Clark Kent who, at that moment, was less interested in showing off his superpowers than eating his peanuts.
A flight attendant met him in the middle of the aisle and hurried him over to a plump older woman who was clutching her head and hyperventilating in the first row. The doctor crouched, took her pulse, listened to her chest and back, talked with her in hushed tones, then spoke to the stewardess. They brought over a metal box; he gave the woman a pill and less than ten minutes later went back to his peanuts, under the admiring gaze of everyone on board. Well, almost: my admiration, I must admit, was quickly gnawed away by envy.
Look, by the time the practice of medicine was born with Hippocrates, the tale of Gilgamesh had already been circulating the world for over two millennia. Since time immemorial, while the body was left to its own devices, the soul has been examined by myths, verses, fables—and nevertheless …Nevertheless, dear readers, who's ever heard a stewardess ask anxiously, "Attention, passengers, if there's a writer on board, please alert a flight attendant"?
I wouldn't be fazed. I'd shut my newspaper calmly, slip a pen and napkin into my pocket, go over to the plump woman, and crouch by her side. We'd talk in hushed tones. She'd confess to me—who knows?—that she was about to reunite with her son after not speaking for ten years; she wanted to tell him something that sounded nice, but wasn't good with words. I'd establish a quick medical history, asking what had led to the fight, her son's name, whether he was more of the MFA or MMA type. Then I'd throw in a few pleasant memories of their relationship, lift a line or two of poetry from Drummond de Andrade—or the [End Page 154] Ramones, depending on her taste—and, prior to landing, I'd hand the woman three paragraphs that could make even a rock burst into tears.
On the way back to my seat, passengers would say hello or share similar stories. A young mother would tell me about her cousin the poet who, upon hearing the cries of a waiter while at a restaurant—"A writer, for God's sake, a writer!"—was brought over to a lovesick young man and managed to write his marriage proposal on a card in a bouquet of flowers before his future fiancée came back from the ladies' room. A gentleman would remark upon the well-known case of the novelist who was on a cruise and, at the pleading of three thousand tourists, had managed to convince two hundred crew members to stop calling them "you guys." I'd smile, ever so slightly, and say, "It's true: if you choose this profession, you've got to be prepared for emergencies." Then I'd politely decline the pack of peanuts offered by my seatmate and return to the bombs of Crimea, with my cup of Guaraná.
genesis, revised and expanded
And the Lord God said unto Adam: "Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return."
And, the Lord God, seeing that Adam was pretending not to understand, said: "Wait, there's more; not only shall thy bread cost the sweat of thy face, but I will increase the circumference of thy gut, and the circumference of thy gut shall displease Eve, and Eve shall give thee Brussels sprouts, and okra, and flaxseed, and kale, and other green herbs that bear seed and vegetables that breed disgust, and thou shalt make use of them as nourishment in thy days of tribulation."
And the Lord God also said: "Because thou hast eaten of the tree, I will send pestilent insects in pursuit of thee, and they shall be mosquitoes in the city, and black flies on the beach; and I will command that they bite thee in the tender skin between thy toes, and that they whine in thine ears, and on endless nights thou shalt remember thy creator."
Not satisfied with these punishments, the Lord God continued: "Let mucus drip through these vents through which I have breathed life, and let it be cold and sticky like the serpent's scales, and abundant like the waters of Jordan, and let it spring forth whilst thou are at the movies, or at the Teatro Municipal, during the first hour of La traviata, and let thee have only one Kleenex at hand, and let thee wipe and blow thy nose with it, until the last cellulose fiber disintegrates, marking thy face with innumerable white specks, as I will mark the sinful cheek of Cain."
And in this way thou shalt wander the Earth, the Lord God said, for great is thy sin. And He said further: Once thou hast wearied of walking the Earth, [End Page 155] thou shalt invent the automobile, but the automobile shall only multiply thy weariness; and thou shalt waste half thy days on Avenida Rebouças, and others shall steal thy spare tire, and thou shalt forget about alternate-day driving restrictions, and the points on thy permit shall exceed the maximum allowed by the Department of Transportation by one, and thou shalt take cabs and hear praise for vigilante justice in the favelas and diatribes against Haitian immigrants, and thou shalt feel in thy flesh the misery of thine ancestors.
In vain shalt thou seek refreshment whilst traveling, but when thou art at the airport and arriveth at Gate 4, the loudspeakers shall send thee to 78; and when thou hast come to 78, thou shalt be sent back to Gate 4, and famished, thou shalt agree to pay $10 for a pastry and a Coke, and they shall have only Pepsi, and the pastry shall be shriveled and cold."
Then, seeing that he was nearing the cool of the seventh day, the Lord God sped things up, and said: Let thy salt dampen, let thy cake dry out, let thy sock beget a hole, let thy toilet clog, let money grow scarce, let termites abound, let thy nail become ingrown, let the Wi-Fi signal fail, let thy team lose, let thy child wail, let thy brother-in-law's barbecue outdo yours, and let all agree that it is better, including Eve, and let thee—when left alone in a corner of the deck, holding thy lukewarm can of Bud Light—remember that I am the Almighty God, El Shaddai, and that I am above all things, including thy baldness, which shall not fear Propecia, shall neither respond to Rogaine nor react to the prayers that thou shalt send me in vain.
And, having said all this, the Lord God sent forth Adam from the Garden of Eden, and He sent forth Eve from the Garden of Eden, male and female, He sent them forth.
As on countless other nights in the wee hours, I wake up to tiny sobs coming from the baby monitor. It's Olivia, my older daughter, two and a half years old. Most of the time, she turns over and goes back to sleep on her own. Some nights, however—and that's the case tonight—she sits up in her crib and starts to scream, "Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!" or "Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!" until one of us shows up to listen to her demands.
There are two children and two baby monitors whose signals cross, so that I can't quite make out whether it's "Daddy!"—then it's me who's supposed to stumble out into the cold night—or "Mommy!"—then it's up to Julia to explain that it's not time to nurse, or go to school, or play with Mr. Potato Head, or listen to the Galinha Pintadinha, the Spotted Chicken, but rather that it's time to go to sleep.
"Is it Daddy or Mommy?" I mumble, eyes closed, to which my wife, with-out an ounce of compassion, without even taking my hand or caressing me in preparation, shoots back, "It's 'Arthur.'" A samurai sword slashes across my chest. [End Page 156]
Of course I knew this day would arrive: the day on which that beautiful little baby I wrapped in my arms in the maternity ward, that helpless little being that I drove home at ten miles per hour with the hazards on, that chubby little bottom that I wiped so many times, those big bright eyes in front of which I explained "that's a lion," "that's the moon," "that's basil," "that's the rain" would replace me with another man. But I thought this day would come, say, two decades from now, in my most pessimistic estimate. Thinking back on it, there wasn't even any pessimism in that estimate. I imagined, whether from the height of my narcissism or the depths of my naïveté, that I would face that day with satisfaction. After all, I'd have raised my daughter to be in the world. The fact that she'd venture out, falling in love and dating, would be a sign that she was healthy and that we'd done things right.
A jealous father? That would be so 1950s. And still, my friends, when I find out that it's not me she asks for to save her from the dark and from solitude, but Arthur, her schoolmate—an older boy, you could put it, already pushing three—a huge lump forms in my throat. Sprawled on the bed, trembling, I realize that, for the past few weeks, she's been showing signs of that passion, and even worse, I've been reacting to them with distinct irritation. When I'd pick up the children's book Marcelo, Marmelo, Martelo, Olivia would stick her finger on the cover and say, "Arthur!" "No, Olivia, that's not Arthur; it's Marcelo!" Peppa the Pig's brother would appear on TV, and she'd run up to the screen, smiling and saying, "Arthur!" "No, Olivia, that's not Arthur; it's Peppa's brother, George!" The three little pigs? "Arthur! Arthur! Arthur!" "No, Olivia, it's Prático, Cicero, and Heitor!" "Arthur?!" "Heitor."
"If you're not going, then I'll go!" my wife mutters, getting out of bed, shockingly insensitive to my emotional calamity. Only, seeing Olivia on the baby monitor's little screen, I understand that it's not jealousy I feel, but solitude, an unprecedented and brutal solitude: that tiny little girl sitting up in her crib has already started to leave home, she's taking off, minute by minute, ever since the day I swaddled her in my lap for the first time, in the maternity ward. Soon enough, she'll leave, arm in arm with some Arthur, and after that I'll grow old, then die, and so it'll come to an end, what was sweet, or bittersweet, going so fast, what a crazy thing it all is. [End Page 157]
Antonio Prata was born in São Paulo in 1977 and is the author of a dozen books, including Meio intelectual, meio de esquerda [A little intellectual, a little to the left] (2010), which won the Brasilia Literature Award. His children's books include Felizes quase sempre [Almost always happy] (2013), which was a finalist for the Jabuti Award in the children's literature category; Trinta e poucos [Thirty-something] (2016); Jacare, ndo! [Alligator, não!] (2016), and Nu, de botas [Nude, in boots] (2013).