A Bouquet of Tongues
Translated from the Portuguese by Clifford E. Landers
The explosion shook our world on the D line. The crowded subway train braked suddenly, squealing. The violent shock tossed us in all directions; shouts, cries, shoves, chaos. Stopped between two stations in the dark tunnel, its doors locked, the machine puffed like an angry dragon, discharging smoke from eyes it didn't possess. Trapped in the car, we became accidental prisoners of technology, politics, fate. A second explosion burst closer than the firs; were we under attack from terrorists? In New York? Are you crazy? We're not in Iran, exclaimed a nervous old man with a bluish goatee, gold-rimmed glasses, in a gray suit, looking at me disdainfully. My dark skin, straight black hair, large round eyes, sensual mouth, dangling earrings, and long red cotton skirt must make him think I come from that country. Before I can say I'm from South America, someone comes to my rescue. And where were you when they bombed the World Trade Center? Yes, that's right. A chorus of voices comes to the support of the author of the challenge. The old man shuts his mouth. The lights come on: the man who questioned him shows his face. By Allah! He is the personification of Iran, with fierce eyes, moving to demand satisfaction from the American.
A woman sitting on the floor begins to sob convulsively, interrupting the scene.
Everyone turns; she pounds her chest, weeps, becomes hysterical, screams. We're being taken to the concentration camp like cattle. Soon the doors will open and the Gestapo will show up. We're trapped. It happens in Germany every day. then she stopped speaking English, gesturing and screaming in German; no one could calm her. A frail-looking boy came from the back of the car, took the woman's hand, said something in German. She looked at him, got up from the floor, apparently embarrassed, straightened her clothes and purse, composed herself. An awkward silence, broken by the metallic voice of the loudspeaker asking us to remain calm, there was an accident on the Manhattan Bridge, we'd be out of there soon; firemen, police, EMS are waiting outside the station. Stay calm. Everything is under control. What control? shouted the Iranian. We're buried alive in this tunnel, I want out, get me out of here, it's not my fault, I did not betray anybody, I never plotted against the Ayatollah, I always obeyed the laws of the Koran, I never wrote any Satanic verses, why did they convict me? I know they will kill me with their horrible torture, my family does not know where I am, I will be hanged and cursed, my memory will cover my ancestors and my descendants in sham. All in the name of a crime I did not commit. What am I accused of? I am innocent! Let me out of here! Trembling, his eyes and mouth open wide, drenched in sweat, the man was terror incarnate, tormented by some dark nightmare so real that it was impossible for us, who knew nothing of his history, to calm him. We had no means, no chance of reaching him. How to assuage buried anguish when you don't know its origin or its nature? Nor our own.
A new silence, More than awkward: somber. T-r-i-c-k-l-i-n-g among us.
English-language translation copyright ©2009 by Clifford E. Landers.