Ghosts

Mister Walser is published in India by Transbooks in the series "The Neighbourhood". Gonçalo M. Tavares' latest novel, Jerusalem, is published by Dalkey Archive Press.

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Built in firmest hope

Mister Walser was overjoyed! In the midst of bushes, wild plants and other manifestations of nature, in the course of a full and unpredictable life, this was what he had managed to build – using all the specialized technical skills that only a great civilization is capable of providing – a simple house, nothing luxurious or ostentatious, a modest home in which to live, the house of Mister Walser, a man who, for the time being, was alone in the world, but someone who viewed this house that had finally been finished – how many years had it taken to build? so many! – as an opportunity to, frankly speaking, find company at last.

If until then the absence of a closed, comfortable space, exclusively his, had been an insurmountable hurdle for the practical implementation of some invitations that had been firmly fixed in his head for several years, as though already written or verbalized, now, surrounded by that all-pervading smell of newness that emanated from the wood, the paint on the walls, even the sound of the machines that were necessary for his domestic life as a single man living on his own, but who nonetheless, of course, still ate and used things, well, now, with the new house, everything seemed possible. For Mister Walser, his house was not merely a place that humanity had conquered from the surrounding forest, from the space that non-human things seemed to have claimed as their own – it was also an ideal landscape to begin to talk with other men – and he really felt the need to do just that. They could – the house already had sofas! – sit and talk about everything that was happening in the world.

Walser promised himself that he would always have the day's newspaper that he would bring home every morning from down below with the avidness of someone bringing home water from the well in a bucket. He was well aware that the geographical isolation of his house in terms of a certain centre where the frequency of events seemed to obey other rules and gave the newspaper's flimsy pages another meaning, meant, essentially, keeping the physical presence, and in a certain way also the spiritual presence, of human events alive. And this was an indispensable task, all the more so because Walser had refused from the very outset any possibility of installing any technical device that allowed access to images. Only the newspaper. Nothing more than that.

It is said that this expectation of creating a personal space where it was possible to simply talk with other men, argue, discuss large or small ideas, matters that are of interest to countries or continents and matters that are only of interest to the neighbouring community, this underlying anxiety behind a rational climate of sociability, should not be confused with a stupid and unconscious surrender to the shapeless noise of a city. On the contrary, the site where he had decided to build his new house had not been chosen randomly. Situated a fair distance away from the closest neighbourhood, the structure was surrounded, as has already been mentioned, by a concentration of nature that was not at all receptive to solitary walks, such was the impenetrable tangle of branches that sometimes seemed absolutely uncontrollable - almost as though they were demented. The possibility of larger objects passing through was even more remote. A mere shopping trolley, for example, could only use a single possible trajectory to reach Walser's house. And that single path, which was, at any given moment, not broader than two metres – had to be defended – as though it were a damsel, not every day, of course, but definitely (at least) every month, from the silent but exceedingly effective advances of the forest.

From a certain moment onwards, when the road only led to his house, once he had passed all the crossroads, Walser was keenly aware that he could count on nobody but himself to defend the small patch of organized earth that the fine materials of civilization had built. Even though legislation clearly stated that this was not his personal responsibility, but rather the responsibility of the community, Walser was sufficiently (albeit not deeply) acquainted with the ways of men to not nurture exaggerated illusions. He had therefore already bought a fairly large axe, which was safely ensconced (almost hidden) in one of the hardest rooms to access in his house. For Walser, this object was an almost inexcusable infiltration of aggressiveness in a space – his space – that had been built precisely to attract the opposite: cordiality, a handshake between two men who reach an understanding after a long argumentative chat, an emotional hug of farewell and, possibly, who knows – Walser still nurtured this hope – a passionate kiss, an encounter with his definitive soulmate.

Walser was overjoyed! As soon as he opened the door to his house, he felt as though he was entering another world. As though it was not just a physical movement in space – a mere two steps – but was also a far more intense movement in time. From the rear foot that still bore the scent of the earth and the feeling, completely irrational but one that nonetheless exists, that one is surrounded by living things that we do not entirely understand and which do not understand us – elements of the forest – the distance between that rear foot and the foot that is in front, which already stepped over the threshold of the door, should never be measured in centimetres, but in centuries, perhaps millennia. When he closed the door behind him, Walser felt he was turning his back on an inhuman bestiality (from which, it is true, billions of years ago, a creature endowed with an uncommon intelligence had emerged – that solitary builder known as Man) and was plunging head-on into the effects that this schism between humanity and the rest of nature had caused; a house in the middle of the forest, this was an absolutely rational conquest.

Continues in the print edition. Order now.

Translated by Roopanjali Roy.

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