Occupation (excerpt) — Julián Fuks (Daniel Hahn translator)

Every man is the ruin of a man, I might have thought. This man who appeared before my eyes was an incar- nation of that maxim, a creature in precarious condition, a body submerged within its own debris.This impression didn’t come from his thin neck, his wretched torso, his twisted legs on the wheelchair, but from a lesser, circum- stantial feature: the man at that moment was the ruin of a man because he was completely intoxicated. I could tell by the words he repeated, by the truncated sentences, by the voice which was itself the ruin of a voice. I didn’t look at his eyes, I didn’t get the chance to look into his eyes to see my own image.

I might have thought it, but I didn’t think it because we were walking together, she and I side by side, we were walking towards the centre across that city we believed belonged to us.The man placed that wreck of a wheel- chair in our way and asked, unexpectedly polite, if we might push him to the next corner. I didn’t even need to check with her this time. I took hold of the two handles behind the man and pointed him in the right direction, struggling with the wheels against the precariousness of the pavement.

When we reached halfway, the man stopped us with a broad wave of his arm. He could get to the corner later, what he wanted now was to have a shot of cachaça at this bar just here. He asked us to buy him that cachaça. At this point it’s possible that we, she and I, exchanged glances.The man was too drunk, a cachaça might cloud what little consciousness still remained in him, a cachaça would surely flood the wreckage of him. And yet it was obvious this man must live a life of unimaginable pain, personal or familial pain, physical or spiritual pain, pain that deserved to be diluted in as much alcohol as possible.

The two of us left the man on the pavement and disappeared into the darkness of that ruin of a bar. I already had the cachaça in my left hand, my only ten-real note in my right, when I heard somebody addressing her, somebody else had something they wanted to ask us for. It was a boy who was too young to be the ruin of a boy, too young to be his own ruin. He was thirsty, that’s what he said in his high-pitched voice, he was just asking us to buy him some juice or other.The request was fair and precise, but I couldn’t help feeling there was something improper in the obvious swap, something immoral about breaking the promise we had made to the man, allowing the boy’s need to assert itself over the man’s desire.

The dilemma was a small one, I knew that, our city’s perverseness manifest in insignificance, a squalor repli- cated daily all around the world, on an infinite number of street corners. But all the same I found myself paralysed. In the darkness, I couldn’t make out her expression, and for a moment I felt, though I said nothing, that the word I spoke would be my ruin.

Iwasn’t thinking about whether the man was the ruin of a man when I arrived to see my father. I wasn’t thinking about anything. I saw his body being transported on a stretcher, I heard the wheels squeaking against the floor of the corridor, I noticed the serious expressions on the faces of the nurses who were pushing him. In the shadows cast against the hospital walls, his silhouette seemed to take on extraordinary dimensions. My father had grown, as if the illness that afflicted him were expanding his outlines, as if the misfortune were increasing the space he occupied in the world. Only later did the doctor explain, squeezing that enormous arm with her hard fingers: the punctured lung allowed the air he inhaled to escape, so it spread beneath his skin, producing a general swelling.

I felt no such swelling in my mother’s back. As I hugged her, my palms flat against her shoulder blades, I felt exactly the opposite, as if her bones were lacking in flesh, as if I were hugging nothing. My mother at that moment was a more haggard woman, a body too slender to accept my embrace. Our bodies parted as though nothing were parting, and I wanted to tell her something that in the end I could not.There was a kind of hardness in her features, a kind of harshness in her voice, and I knew her well enough to decipher these scarce signs. In my mother, the impatience that was so uncommon in her concealed an uncertainty, a bad mood served to hide her fragility.

I spent the night alone in the hospital, though alone is not quite the right word. Somebody once defined solitude as a sweet absence of looks, but not that night. That night, the squares of glass in the door of the room were two eyes peering at me, stealing my privacy while at the same time providing me with no company; sometimes a sleeping man can be the deepest absence of all. My solitude that night was a fear of solitude, a fear of seeing that greater space he occupied now, in the world, in the room, in me, transformed into emptiness.

Julián Fuks was born in São Paulo in 1981 and is the son of Argentinian parents. As an author whose work has garnered several top international literary prizes, Julián Fuks has gained recognition as one of Brazil’s most outstanding young writers. He has worked as a reporter for the newspaper Folha de S. Paulo and as a reviewer for the magazine Cult. Fuks is the author of Histórias de literatura e cegueira (2007) and Procura do romance (2011), both shortlisted for the Oceanos Award as well as for the Jabuti Award. Occupation is a kind of sequel to Resistance and is thus his second book to appear in English.

Daniel Hahn is a writer, editor and translator with some fifty books to his name. His translations (from Portuguese, Spanish and French) include fiction from Europe, Africa and the Americas and non-fiction by writers ranging from Portuguese Nobel laureate José Saramago to Brazilian footballer Pelé. His work has won him the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, the Blue Peter Book Award and the International Dublin Literary Award, among others.

Bios courtesy of Charco Press.