martes, 25 de septiembre de 2012

Short Exchange with A. at the Harbor

The man referred to as A. in the notebooks is now thirty-one years old. I couldn't find much from investigating him. He went to the same primary and secondary school as my brother, but was expelled in 1997 and graduated in 1999 from a different institution. He passed the entrance exam for a local university and studied Industrial Engineering. Apparently he won three Regional Vale Tudo Championships in a row, on 1998, 1999 and 2000. Currently he works as a supervisor in the cargo company owned by his father. He has not married.

It wasn't hard to find A. at the harbor in the summer morning. He looks very much like he did as a teenager, but his hair is much shorter, and he has that tiredness that comes with adulthood. A black mark that appears to be part of a large tattoo peeks out from under the collar of his shirt.

I introduced myself as B.'s younger brother and he almost immediately recognized me after that. There was some effusive hugging and exclamations and asking me about my family and my studies. Then there was a lull as A. recalled my brother and momentarily stared off into the sea, from where a heavy mist was rolling in. I said that I wanted to ask him some questions for a family project that I was putting together for Art class. It seemed like a flimsy excuse as I said it but A. seemed to buy it.

We sat down at one of the many tiny seaside cafés; A. loosened his tie and crossed his arms, leaning back against the chair. A strident group of seagulls were feasting on a discarded fish only  a few feet from us. I remembered that he had been a man of few words in his teens, but the years seemed to have mellowed him out.

The interview was very informative right up until the end.

You knew my brother for most of his life, right?

Yes... we became friends in the first or second grade, and we remained friends through high school and university. We couldn't see each other as often after graduation, but sometimes we managed.

I know this is kind of awkward, but, what do you think made you and my brother so close?

We... We had the same sense of humor, I guess... We were part of a bigger group, which was better.

What bigger group?

Well, you probably remember us visiting your brother as a big group when you were a boy. We were always hanging out with T., F., E...

I remember all of those people.

T. and F. also went to university with us. The four of us would get together sometimes after graduating. We all studied different things, of course, so we graduated at different times.

Do you know anything about T. and F. as of late?

I know that T. is in New York City. After she dropped out of Law, her parents sent her to a design institution abroad, and I think she was immediately hired by a New York design firm after graduation.

I don't know much about F... In 2006 he headed off to Honduras to live there and do social work for a while. I would get monthly letters from him, real letters, in the mail. Then he went to Africa to take some photographs for a magazine, or so I heard from his father. I actually had a business meeting with his father a week ago. He owns half the place, after all.

What about E.?

E. actually moved to Europe on the last year of secondary school... Nobody heard much from her again. I think T. got a couple emails from her and that was it.

E. was the girl that F. had a crush on for a while, right?

[Laughter] Yes... I can't believe you remember that.

I'm trying to remember another person who used to hang out with you... I think his name started with an N?

Oh... Yes, that was N. He was sort of friends with us over the last two years of secondary school, but I didn't see much of him because by then I'd been expelled.

Uh... Why did you get expelled again?

[Laughter] Fighting.

So... What's N. doing these days? Do you know?

[Clears throat] He died, in 2006. In the Nantes marketplace fire.

I see... Was there anyone else in your group?

That was most of it... D. was around sometimes, you probably remember her, with the red hair. I don't think you got to meet K...

I think I did.

Really? K. was a very odd person... She didn't go out that much. I think that was the whole group...

Wait, was K. the girl who almost blew up the school's boiler room? They still talked about that when I was in secondary.

[Laughter] Yes, that was her. I'm pretty sure it was a miscalculation on her part.

What are they doing?

Nothing much... D. went back to live with her family in the U.K. after she finished school, and K. sort of dropped off the radar... I think she might still live here, though.

I also remember another guy, though... He was kind of... Crazy-looking, I guess. I can't remember his name...

Who? [Long pause] What are you really here for?

I wanted to confirm memories I have of my brother and his friends... I've been having some dreams about it lately, sort of half-remembered childhood moments.

[Pause] I think your brother was friends with a guy from school who got into trouble many times... I think he passed away at some point.

Do you remember his name?

Not really.

So... what did you do, as a group, usually?

Well, the usual teenage things...

Any record stores?

[Pause] Not record stores, I don't think so. Why do you ask?

No reason. Well, I guess that's all... [click]

[end of interview]

I don't have very much to say. A. became visibly defensive and clammed up towards the end of the interview. I wonder if he knew that I had found the notebooks.

Maybe the whole thing really was fiction, and A. was simply embarrassed that I'd found their collaborative creative writing project or something...

Or otherwise he didn't want to reveal the identity of X to me, for some reason.

Other than possibly K., it seems that A. is the only member of the group who is still alive and living in this city. Contacting anyone else will be more difficult.

December 15, 2011

domingo, 23 de septiembre de 2012

Excerpt from Notebook 4: "Faith Healing, Part Three"

I think that I've been dealing with depression for a long time now.

Have you ever taken a long bus ride without a destination? Any city with a public transport system is perfect for that. Empty bus seats at night are the most heartbreaking thing. It had become a bit of a hobby for me to simply sit there and watch neighborhood blocks, projects, skyscrapers go by.

It's becoming progressively easier for me to enter a state of complete disconnect from the world and its troubles. I have a perfect understanding of my pressing responsibilities, upcoming assignments, family expectations and so on. But I survey them with a grey clot in my mind. It's like I'm in a fog. Lately this winter I've been waking up early in the morning to sit on the wet grass outside my room and watch the still world.

I went to F.'s house in this state of mind.

The house is beautiful in its decay. It's so out of the beaten path, along a deserted street with abandoned lots, running down the steepest hill of District 5. The black iron gate at the entrance has ivy wrapped around it, it looks like a European haunted manor. The guard acknowledged my presence quietly and I pushed the gate open.

I had missed class again. Earlier that week I had already informed my boss that I would be quitting at the end of the month. I was just an intern, anyway. I would eventually be able to find work somewhere. He looked at me sternly and said he was disappointed. I don't think I was very good at my job.

As I walked along the winding garden path of F.'s front door I felt a tingling in my legs and an odd sweetness in the back of my mouth. It was a kind of anxiety.

He opened the door just as I was about to knock. He looked like he hadn't slept.

We talked about inconsequential things for a little while and he played with his hair. But the moment we sat in the old living room, with the dusty record player and the spider-covered bookshelves, he broke down. Just sobbing. I had never seen him like that. I actually didn't know to react for the first few minutes. I just sat across from him and quietly sipped the coffee he had brought me. I looked around nervously to see if his father would show up, or maybe X, but the house seemed to be empty except for us. Eventually I asked him to calm down, but it came out muffled.

He stopped crying eventually and explained to me what had happened earlier that morning. He had woken up to find that X had disappeared. Most of his things were gone with him, but some clothes remained scattered on the floor of the guest room. The bed where he slept had been somehow flipped over and was now leaning against the wall, as if thrown by a powerful wind. F. said that he hadn't heard any strange noises the night before.

Then he lead me to patio in the back. I trailed a few steps behind, trying to process everything. As he swung the kitchen door open a powerful odor hit me. It was decomposition.

In the middle of the patio was Drogo, F.'s dog. A pigeon was trying to pluck out its left eye.

I instinctively stepped out and scared the bird away. I had gotten used to the smell remarkably quickly. Drogo hadn't been dead for a very long time. I surveyed the slender, grey body. There were no visible wounds. I turned back to F., who looked mortified.

He said he had discovered the body earlier this morning. He hadn't the heart to move it. I asked him if anything else was missing. He replied that the egg was gone.

I just stared in disbelief at what he was suggesting.

After the initial shock, we took a walk around the yard and surveyed the gate, the walls, the backdoor. No locks had been broken and there were no signs of forced entry. F.'s father has a guard standing outside his house at all times of night and early morning. It doesn't seem possible that someone would be able to sneak in without anyone noticing.

We wandered for about an hour, looking for an explanation. He mentioned that he hadn't told anyone other than me. He knew he would eventually have to tell the rest of the group, but right now he wanted help with something else. He wanted me to help him cremate Drogo.

The proposal seemed a little morbid, and I shuddered at the thought of touching the body. But F. seemed so distraught that I couldn't possibly say no. I knew that I wouldn't go to my next class; I was already failing half my courses, anyway. So I agreed.

We did our best to do everything respectfully. The body was extremely heavy, so we had to use the rusted wheelbarrow left in a corner of the yard. Eventually we managed to stuff the body in the furnace. F. shut the door with resolve and started the fire.

Had F. lived anywhere closer to urbanization than he did, I'm sure we would have gotten a dozen complaints from the smell and the smoke. It was thick and black, impenetrable; I shielded by eyes and covered my nose but still stared up in the sky, a dull grey color, at the smoke column. F. was silent next to me. It burned and burned for an hour. We didn't say much of anything.

After it was over, F. thanked me and asked if I wanted to stay. I was feeling strange about the whole thing, though. I said I had to go to class and showed myself out. He stood on the patio, where Drogo's body had been, and stared. I shut the gate behind me.

My clothes stunk of smoke. Then it suddenly hit me, that X was missing, that someone had almost certainly broken into F.'s house last night, that F. was probably in danger. I considered calling X's parents until I realized that I didn't have their number and I didn't know where he lived. I considered calling F. and telling him to go to a hotel for at least a week. But the moment I got to my house I felt an overwhelming malaise and collapsed in my bed.

I don't recall any dreams.

I woke up at midnight, having slept twelve hours. The only light in my room came from my celphone. I had about twenty missed messages, from B., F., E., A., and N.

They were all recounting the same thing, of course. X's body had washed up on the shore.