Memory

Mario Sabino is editor-in-chief of Brazil's weekly news magazine Veja, and author of the novel The Day I Killed My Father and the story collection The Anti-Narcissus.

Translated by Alison Entrekin.

Suzana

Two emeralds swimming in milk; the metaphor was from a story, but in Prague there were more aquamarines than emeralds. What colour were her eyes? Green, blue, brown, black? Black never, brown unlikely, green perhaps, blue probably, two aquamarines swimming in milk – Suzana, a blonde memory from thirty-four years earlier, when he was only nine and she was too (perhaps). His first blonde, his first love, "Rock 'n' Roll Lullaby", "out of blondes and brunettes, I like blondes better", his head on his grandma's lap as she laughed proudly at her little stud.

Suzana was a memory without a face, a face he now sought, or whatever had become of it. Why Suzana, and not Lilian, Cláudia, or Viviane, other loves that had been born and died in his childhood? Above the clouds, on his way to Prague, it occurred to him that Suzana had once been himself, the green and blue reflection of a boy shipwrecked in grey.

They were now both in Prague. He in a hotel, she in a house on a street with an unpronounceable name. One week earlier, by phone, they had arranged to meet at a coffee shop near where Suzana lived.

"I'd like to speak to Suzana."

"Who is it?"

"Suzana?"

"Yes."

"This is Marcelo. We haven't seen each other for more than thirty years. I used to live in a red brick building in front of the bus stop where your school bus used to let off two of your classmates. Do you remember?"

"A red brick building... Yes, I remember, certainly. Did you catch the same bus?"

"No, I didn't catch the bus. I used to wait outside for the bus, to see you."

"..."

"I had a crush on you."

"..."

"Look, I know this sounds weird, but don't think I'm crazy, I'm just trying..."

"How did you find me?"

"I went through the records of foreigners who came to live in my country. You were the only Czech girl named Suzana. I looked up your last name in the phone book and found your brother, who told me you'd gone back to Czechoslovakia... the Czech Republic. Your brother didn't really want to talk. I had to look you up in the phone book again, the Prague one."

"Marcelo, is that it?"

"Marcelo. I'm coming to Prague in a few days' time and I'd like to see you again. Is that possible?"

"..."

"I promise I'm not crazy, or obsessive, or anything like that. I'd just like to see the girl I had a crush on again."

"Girl?"

"Woman, sorry."

"You're certainly crazy... OK. We can get together. At a coffee shop here near my place. Call me when you get to Prague."

He arrived at the coffee shop 15 minutes early. The place was squalid and stank of mould, and the owner was a toothless gypsy. The three or four patrons' expressions remained stony even when she greeted them like old acquaintances before coming over to his table.

"You must be Marcelo."

"Suzana..."

Eyes drowning in hepatic yellow, gaunt, hair an uneven tone of blonde, tied back in a ponytail, blackened teeth, a cheap, tatty dress, peeling black clogs: Suzana.

"..."

"..."

"You were expecting to find a girl, and you are disappointed."

"No, certainly not. When did you come back to Prague?"

"After the fall of the Berlin Wall, but I've been back in Europe for twenty years. I lived in West Berlin at first. Can I get a drink?"

"Of course, forgive me. What would you like?"

"István, a beer please!"

"Two."

"..."

"So, you had a crush on me."

"Yes, I did."

"..."

The words he had intended now seemed preposterous, but he ploughed ahead, cutting out details and enthusiasm to get it over and done with as quickly as possible.

"I had a crush on you, even though you don't remember me. I saw you for the first time when the school bus that dropped off my neighbours stopped in front of our building at the beginning of the school year. You smiled and waved at them through the window. From that day on I went outside every day at 5.30, when the bus was due, just to get a glimpse of you. I only got close to you once, at one of my classmates' birthday parties. It was a dance, the song "Rock 'n' Roll Lullaby" was playing, and we were doing the broom dance. If a boy wanted to dance with a girl who was dancing with another boy, he had to give that boy a broom handle and then he could take his place. I gave the broom handle to the boy who was with you and I managed to stay until the end of the song. I even remember what you were wearing: a black turtleneck and a kilt."

"I had those clothes, certainly."

"After the party, back at home, I laid my head in my grandma's lap and said that out of blondes and brunettes, I liked blondes better."

"..."

"Anyway, I had the idea to see you again after looking at an old photo album."

"Do you have a photo of me?"

"No, it's just that in this album there were some photos of when I was nine, which is when I had a crush on you."

"..."

"..."

"What do you do?"

"I'm a doctor. What about you?"

"I'm a prostitute."

"..."

"Why do you look so shocked?"

"No reason, it's just that your brother didn't say anything..."

"Do you think he'd tell you his sister's a prostitute?"

"No, of course not."

"You are shocked. In your country no woman would ever say she's a prostitute. You use other expressions..."

"Euphemisms."

"Euphemisms, certainly. Not here. A prostitute's a prostitute. I'm a prostitute – and my brother's a prick."

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