The double, p.1
The Double, page 1
Table of Contents
Table of Contents
About the Author
© José Saramago e Editorial Caminho, SA 2002
English translation copyright © Margaret Jull Costa, 2004
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
For information about permission to reproduce selections from this book, write to Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 215 Park Avenue South, New York, New York 10003.
This is a translation of O Homem Duplicado.
The Library of Congress has cataloged the print edition as follows:
[Homem duplicado. English]
The double/José Saramago; translated from the Portuguese
by Margaret Jull Costa.—1st U.S. ed.
I. Costa, Margaret Jull. II. Title.
ISBN-13: 978-0151-01040-0 ISBN-10: 0-15-101040-4
ISBN-13: 978-0156-03258-2 (pbk.) ISBN-10: 0-15-603258-9 (pbk.)
For Pilar, until the last moment
For Ray-Güde Mertin
For Pepa Sánchez-Manjavacas
Chaos is merely order waiting to be deciphered.
—The Book of Contraries
I believe in my conscience I intercept many a thought
which heaven intended for another man.
The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy
THE MAN WHO HAS JUST COME INTO THE SHOP TO RENT A video bears on his identity card a most unusual name, a name with a classical flavor that time has staled, neither more nor less than Tertuliano Máximo Afonso. The Máximo and the Afonso, which are in more common usage, he can just about tolerate, depending, of course, on the mood he's in, but the Tertuliano weighs on him like a gravestone and has done ever since he first realized that the wretched name lent itself to being spoken in an ironic, potentially offensive tone. He is a history teacher at a secondary school, and a colleague had suggested the video to him with the warning, It's not exactly a masterpiece of cinema, but it might keep you amused for an hour and a half. Tertuliano Máximo Afonso is greatly in need of stimuli to distract him, he lives alone and gets bored, or, to speak with the clinical exactitude that the present day requires, he has succumbed to the temporary weakness of spirit ordinarily known as depression. To get a clear idea of his situation, suffice it to say that he was married but can no longer remember what led him into matrimony, that he is divorced and cannot now bring himself to ponder the reasons for the separation. On the other hand, while the ill-fated union produced no children who are now demanding to be handed, gratis, the world on a silver platter, he has, for some time, viewed sweet History, the serious, educational subject which he had felt called upon to teach and which could have been a soothing refuge for him, as a chore without meaning and a beginning without an end. For those of a nostalgic temperament, who tend to be fragile and somewhat inflexible, living alone is the harshest of punishments, but, it must be said, such a situation, however painful, only rarely develops into a cataclysmic drama of the kind to make the skin prick and the hair stand on end. What one mostly sees, indeed it hardly comes as a surprise anymore, are people patiently submitting to solitude's meticulous scrutiny, recent public examples, though not particularly well known and two of whom even met with a happy ending, being the portrait painter whom we only ever knew by his first initial, the GP who returned from exile to die in the arms of the beloved fatherland, the proofreader who drove out a truth in order to plant a lie in its place, the lowly clerk in the Central Registry Office who made off with certain death certificates, all of these, either by chance or coincidence, were members of the male sex, but none of them had the misfortune to be called Tertuliano, and this was doubtless an inestimable advantage to them in their relations with other people. The shop assistant, who had already taken down from the shelf the video requested, entered in the log book the title of the film and the day's date, then indicated to the customer the place where he should sign. Written after a moment's hesitation, the signature revealed only the last two names, Máximo Afonso, without the Tertuliano, but like someone determined to clarify in advance something that might become a cause of controversy, the customer murmured as he signed his name, It's quicker like that. This precautionary explanation proved of little use, for the assistant, as he transferred the information from the customer's ID onto an index card, pronounced the unfortunate, antiquated name out loud, in a tone that even an innocent child would have recognized as deliberate. No one, we believe, however free of obstacles his or her life may have been, would dare to claim that they had never suffered some similar humiliation. Although, sooner or later, we will all, inevitably, be confronted by one of those hearty types to whom human frailty, especially in its most refined and delicate forms, is the cause of mocking laughter, the truth is that the inarticulate sounds which, quite against our wishes, occasionally emerge from our own mouth, are merely the irrepressible moans from some ancient pain or sorrow, like a scar suddenly making its forgotten presence felt again. As he puts the video away in his battered, teacher's briefcase, Tertuliano Máximo Afonso, with admirable brio, struggles not to reveal the displeasure provoked by the shop assistant's gratuitous sneer, but he cannot help thinking, all the while scolding himself for the vile injustice of the thought, that the fault lay with his colleague and with the mania certain people have for handing out unasked-for advice. Such is our need to shower blame on some distant entity when it is we who lack the courage to face up to what is there before us. Tertuliano Máximo Afonso does not know, cannot imagine or even guess that the assistant already regrets his gross impertinence, indeed, another ear, more finely tuned than his and capable of dissecting the subtle vocal gradations in the assistant's At your service, sir, offered in response to the brusque Good afternoon thrown back at him, would have told him that a great desire for peace had installed itself behind the counter. After all, it is a benevolent commercial principle, laid down in antiquity and tried and tested over the centuries, that the customer is always right, even in the unlikely, but quite possible, eventuality that the customer's name should be Tertuliano.
Sitting now on the bus that will drop him near the building where he has lived for the last six or so years, that is, ever since his divorce, Máximo Afonso, and we use the shortened version of his name here, having been, in our view, authorized to do so by its sole lord and master, but mainly because the word Tertuliano, having appeared so recently, only six lines previously, could do a grave disservice to the fluency of the narrative, anyway, as we were saying, Máximo Afonso found himself wondering, suddenly intrigued, suddenly perplexed, what strange motives, what particular reasons had led his colleague from the Mathematics Department, we forgot to mention that his colleague teaches mathematics, to urge him so insistently to see the film he has just rented, when, up until then, the so-called seventh art had never been a topic of conversation between them. One could understand such a recommendation had it been an indisputably fine film, in which case the pleasure, satisfaction, and enthusiasm of discovering a work of high aesthetic quality might have obliged his colleague, over lunch in the canteen or during a break between classes, to tug anxiously at his sleeve and say, I don't believe we've ev
Tertuliano Máximo Afonso is at home, he has a hesitant look on his face, not that this means very much, it isn't the first time it's happened, as he watches his will swing between spending time preparing something to eat, which generally means nothing more strenuous than opening a can and heating up the contents, or, alternatively, going out to eat in a nearby restaurant where he is known for his lack of interest in the menu, not because he is a proud, dissatisfied customer, he is merely indifferent, inattentive, reluctant to take the trouble to choose a dish from among those set out in the brief and all-too-familiar list. He is confirmed in his belief that it would be easier to eat in by the fact that he has homework to mark, his students' latest efforts, which he must read carefully and correct whenever they offend too extravagantly against the truths they have been taught or are overly free in their interpretations. The History that it is Tertuliano Máximo Afonso's mission to teach is like a bonsai tree the roots of which have to be trimmed now and then to stop it growing, a childish miniature of the gigantic tree of places and time and of all that happens there, we look, we notice the disparity in size and go no further, ignoring other equally obvious differences, the fact, for example, that no bird, no winged creature, not even the tiny hummingbird, could make its nest in the branches of a bonsai, and that if a lizard could find shelter in the tiny shadow the bonsai casts, always supposing its leaves were sufficiently luxuriant, there is every likelihood that the tip of the creature's tail would continue to protrude. The History that Tertuliano Máximo Afonso teaches, as he himself recognizes and will happily admit if asked, has a vast number of tails protruding, some still twitching, others nothing but wrinkled skin with a little row of loose vertebrae inside. Remembering the conversation with his colleague, he thought, Mathematics comes from another cerebral planet, in mathematics, those lizard tails would be mere abstractions. He took the homework out of his briefcase and placed it on the desk, he also took out the video of The Race Is to the Swift, these were the two tasks to which he could devote the evening, marking homework or watching a film, although he suspected that there wouldn't be time for both, especially since he neither liked nor was in the habit of working late into the night. Marking his students' homework was hardly a matter of life and death, and watching the film even less so. It would be best to settle down with the book he was reading, he thought. After a visit to the bathroom, he went into the bedroom to change his clothes, he donned different shoes and trousers, pulled a sweater on over his shirt, but left his tie, because he didn't like to leave his throat exposed, then went into the kitchen. He took three different cans out of the cupboard and, not knowing how else to choose, decided to leave the matter to chance, and resorted to a nonsensical, almost forgotten rhyme from
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