Tatiana Salem Levy – Desert

The water has been lapping his feet for a while, since he arrived at the beach and installed himself there, on the shore. Every day he performs the same ritual: he wakes up at half-past five, has a cup of black coffee and goes down to the beach. He walks from the entrance of his building, located in the inner part of Copacabana, to the sand. Then he doesn’t walk anymore. They’ve already told him that he should walk, that it’s good for the heart, especially at his age. But his heart prefers to admire  the sea, which isn’t very rough today, but does have waves, the kind which break little by little, they reach the shore without rushing, caressing the sand.

[private]He does everything as he does every day. Soon, very soon, in his thoughts, which follow the movement of the waves, a memory will appear which has been with him for a long time. Thirty or forty years, he can’t remember exactly anymore. It’s always like this, the memory comes gently, without warning. It comes, and he allows it to spread, like a watercolour painting, the shapes revealing themselves behind the stains. It could have been triggered by some external event, a bigger wave which covered his body, a cloud which blocked out the sun. But no, it never comes from outside: it’s as if it was there, keeping watch.

He looks at the sea, his eyes wide open, and sees everything: he sees himself drinking a beer at a bar, a lot younger, but not really young, and her coming closer, her long nose, dark skin, black hair and hips ideal for belly dancing. When she gets to the bar, smiling, and holds out her arms, too hairy for a woman from the tropics, he steps back, his eyes misting, his dreams shattered. She doesn’t understand. Neither does he, but he leaves anyway.

Immediately afterwards, another image comes, one from a little before that one. He is sitting at the same bar, and sees a woman, who seems Arab, for the first time. They don’t even know each other, but she smiles as if she had known him since time began. She doesn’t need to say anything, it is written on her lips that they have always been together, and this is how they will stay until the last day, and even after that, if there is an after. He is troubled by this smile, and knows that his trembling hands say the same thing he does, communing in a single silence.

Finally, he sees the image of the images which passed through him in the short space of time which preceded her arrival at the bar. He sees the first moments of passion, the nights they would spend together, he sees the party which would put them in the same house, the children they would have together, the affection growing through the years, he sees himself older, next to her, on the sand of Copacabana, the water lapping their feet. Every morning they would have coffee together and, together, they would go down to admire the sea. She would be his desert rose, and he didn’t need to do anything, except calmly open his arms to greet her at the bar.

Now he looks at the sea and sees the sea. He no longer sees a long nose, dark skin. It has been so long since that happened, sometimes he doesn’t even know why the memory appears like that, so often, before the waters which he sees every day. He looks at the sea and understands that since he left, leaving the bar with dusty eyes, silence between his teeth, she, the woman with hairy arms, an eastern air, became the sea, the sand, the ladybird tickling his leg. Ever since he left, she is the whole world.[/private]

Written by Tatiana Salem Levy and translated by Jaciara Topley Lira.
Tatiana Salem Levy was born in 1979. She has published two novels, A Chave de casa (The Key of Smyrna) and Dois Rios (Two Rivers). The Key of Smyrna won the 2008 São Paulo Literature Prize for the best Brazilian debut novel. It has been published in Brazil, Portugal, Spain, Italy, France, Turkey and Romania.
Jaciara Topley Lira is British Brazilian. She has long had a passion for languages, studying Spanish and Portuguese, and interpreting at university. She now works as a translator and interpreter in Rio de Janeiro.

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