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Marin Malaicu-Hondrari


Excerpt from

Novel, Ego. Prose series, Polirom, 2013, 248 pages

Copyright: Polirom

Translation rights sold to: All rights available

Excerpt from

 3.
A short time previously, Constantin had held in his hand the photograph of a man whose face looked vaguely familiar. But this did not intrigue him so much as the fact that he could not understand why he had to kill him. Even if he had read the information about the young man in the photograph over and over again, he still could not grasp what was rotten behind it all.

 

Carlos Murillo Ponti. Twenty seven years old. Two years ago he had published a novel that went on to be translated all over the world. A global bestseller. Constantin knew all too well that a young man of twenty five might write all sorts of things, but from there to sentencing him to death seemed to be taking it a bit far. He thought of Salman Rushdie and The Satanic Verses. It was a book he had bought repeatedly, but each time he had given it to somebody as a present before he got a chance to read it. Then it struck him that if he killed Carlos Murillo Ponti, he would induct him into that gallery of famous artists who all died at the age of twenty seven. Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse came to mind. He put the photograph back in the folder and decided to make his way back to the hotel on foot. It wasn’t the mild weather that made Constantin inclined to take a stroll, but rather the need to come to a decision in regard to the young man. He wanted to be calm when he got to the hotel, so that he could fall asleep as quickly as possible.

 

He slung his rucksack over his shoulder, headed out of the park and began to climb the street uphill, remembering another street that led to another hotel, in Toledo, where he had once stayed on a whim. He had booked a room and for four days he had done nothing except sleep. Constantin is a man who does not dream, or rarely dreams, but in that hotel room he dreamed constantly. Whenever he felt the slightest twinge of boredom, he would hurry back to his hotel room, lock the door, throw himself on the bed, fall asleep as soon as he closed his eyes, and begin to dream. He dreamed vastly; he sated himself with dreams. He would wake up groggy from so many dreams, but at the same time rested and content. It had been exactly what he needed.
Now, in another hotel, in another city, in another country, he sleeps a dreamless sleep once more, or else he does not remember his dreams. He invests his time in an insipid sleep whose only purpose is to switch off his brain and restore his physical strength.

 

Climbing the stairs to his room without haste, Constantin realised why the face of the writer he had to kill looked vaguely familiar. Carlos Murillo Ponti was none other than Carlitos, the young boy who had latched onto him during a mission in Camarillas. He remembered noticing him one evening, near the English people’s camp, just before he commenced his real mission, which is to say, before spending a number of days in a hiding place. He was to eliminate a general, a “potential dictator,” they had informed him, but he had told them not to bother with explanations, because many years ago he had come to the realisation that his only incentives were risk taking and padding his bank accounts.

Carlitos sneaked into the hiding place, and Constantin caught him by the arms, he elbowed him in the mouth, he forced the child to unclench his teeth and thrust his elbow in his mouth, like a gag, thinking that maybe the boy was booby trapped, something he knew to have happened countless times, which is to say, a child comes up to you, hugs you and then the bomb goes off. But the child he had immobilised was shaking like a leaf and had burst into tears, whether tears of fear or tears of pain, or both the one and the other, and so he took pity on him. He made him sit down on his rucksack and asked him in Spanish what his name was. “Carlos,” said the child. Then he asked him what he wanted from him, and the kid said that he wanted to talk to him, because he had heard he was Romanian. “You’re Romanian, aren’t you?” Carlos asked and Constantin said that yes, he was, but that there were also other Romanians there, that there were plenty of Romanian soldiers, and the child said that he knew, but that he didn’t trust them, that he had tried to talk to them, but they hadn’t taken him seriously, and then Constantin asked him why he thought he would take him seriously, and the child answered: “Because you’re different. You’re the mercenary. Everybody around here knows you,” and when he said “everybody” he made a sweeping gesture with his hand, and Constantin peered down the street, the same as he had done dozens of times in the last few days, and all of a sudden he realised that that town was becoming increasingly deserted, it looked less and less like a capital city, he looked at the sun scorched trees, the cracked asphalt, the garages with dented metal doors, the disintegrating balconies that were nothing but chunks of cement clinging to strands of iron, a bicycle with a contorted frame, the cardboard boxes inside which a little girl had played with a cat the previous day, and which overnight the wind had blown under a burnt out truck, these were the kind of things he had been seeing year after year in all the places he went to, everything was falling apart, crumbling, this was what the other people could see too, but nobody did anything about it, maybe only the ones who ended up with a bullet in the back of the neck, a bullet fired by people like him, or the ones who took photographs, who made films and then moved on, the same as he moved on after he had eliminated his target, today a potential dictator, tomorrow a senile general, the day after a rival sniper, a spy, a volatile politician, and so he moved on, more and more confident in himself, more and more trusted by governments and private individuals, and more and more of a hero to kids like Carlitos.



The kid said his mother was in Romania, he explained it to him, but Constantin was not paying much attention, he looked at him as he took out an envelope and from the envelope a photograph, and from that no longer glossy rectangle of paper smiled Cristina, a vague smile, as vague as their life together had been, but still a smile, one that he had been missing.
Seated in the armchair in front of the blank television screen, watching as the light faded from the surface of every object, Constantin remembered the revulsion he had suddenly felt towards the young Carlos, there in his hiding place, and he felt ashamed once more. So, that young Creole boy had come to ask him to take a parcel to Cristina, without knowing that he knew Cristina and that in his eyes Carlos was nothing more than further proof of his betrayal by the woman he had loved. Carlos embodied the decline and promiscuity of Cristina’s life after she left him, but nonetheless he promised that the envelope the boy gave him, a different one, not the one with the photograph, would reach his mother and he was determined to keep his promise, even if only to humiliate Cristina and her bastard child.

 

A week after he completed his mission, he had caught an aeroplane and gone to visit her.
This was what he also had a mind to do now, but in completely different circumstances, although it was still the same Carlos. Constantin turned on the television and for a good few minutes hopped around the channels. Finding nothing to hold his interest for more than twenty seconds, he went to the fridge and got himself a beer. He went back to the armchair and turned off the television. He quickly drank half the can of beer and then pressed with his foot the lamp switch on the carpet. He watched as the objects again filled with light. He finished his beer, took the photograph album out of his rucksack, got up and closed the window. He sat back down in the armchair and started leafing through the album.

During his first mission in Pakistan, Constantin had started to play a game called “photographs I wish I had”, and since then he had been playing it constantly. He would choose a moment in his more distant or more recent past, or an object that had subsequently proved very important to him, or a house, or a friend, and he would try to capture them photographically, arrange the memories in a well defined frame, release the shutter and then painstakingly go over all the details of the photograph in his mind. After his last mission in Mexico, he had improved the game. He bought a photograph album and gradually filled it with imaginary photographs. He cut out squares of paper and placed them in the album like photographs. On the cover of the album he inscribed the words: “Photographs I wish I had,” and beneath each square of paper he wrote a title. “The villa with the monkeys,” for example, or “Father brings home half a sheep in a raffia bag,” or “Cristina,” or “Aris collecting cigarette ends for me.”

 

5.
The Constantin Notebook
Nothing survives the lethal corrosions of my sadness. I wander around the house. I create shadow and ash. Dressed any old how, in down at the heel slippers, I pour myself drinks in glasses I then mislay, and then when I find them I couldn’t be more surprised. I’m growing more and more like Firmin, the British consul and alcoholic, whom you may recall. If I’m not too depressed and if I experience an unexpected burst of energy, then I write in this notebook, which I have decided to call the Constantin Notebook. I say it deserves to be called this, even if it’s nothing more than a kind of diary, written by a kind of woman, but all the same, I can’t write an ordinary diary, because I can’t stand not making things up when I write. I decided that the solution would be to address somebody, and whom to address if not you, Constantin? And so I called it the Constantin Notebook. Reading it doesn’t require any degree of solemnity, because I write completely bereft of hope, and therefore finality. That doesn’t mean I don’t secretly want it to fall into your hands some day.

I get the impression that everything I do is one step away from death. Do you remember Sonora? The best place to die we ever found. You ought to remember, although it is true that it was a long time ago, we called it the desert of assassins and suicides, the ideal projection of our murderous and self destructive instincts. Joking slightly or attempting a separation of powers, I would say that you have tried to perfect your killer instincts, whereas I have limited myself to the self destructive ones. I sense that the battle is not yet lost. My only current need, apart from my perverse need for alcohol, is to smash “the clay idols of appearances, as Humbold von Fleisher puts it, or maybe Citrine, or certainly Saul Bellow. “The clay idols of appearances.” But do memories elude appearance? Are they not themselves clay idols? With their innocuous, gentle, benevolent look, are they not ultimately like beastly little old men that you keep bumping into? If you’re not careful, don’t they spread like ivy, swiftly, suffocatingly burgeoning over the expanse of our minds? The clay idols of appearances, and let me leave it at that. I know that rather than such flights of fancy you would prefer that I once more fed your humours for the furious chronicle of an unforeseen separation. Forgive me. I’ve noticed that gin and tonic on an empty stomach makes me sarcastic. And so as not to have an empty stomach, I smoke another cigarette.


Oh, Constantin, clay idol, amputated limb that I can still feel and which sometimes, in dreams, I still use, like the oneiric adulteress I am.
I have tidings from Carlos, but that’s not what I wanted to tell you.
I haven’t washed for about three days. Poor Jim is revolted. Maybe soon he will start spending less time at home. But that’s not what I wanted to tell you.
Yesterday I dreamed of my brain spread out on a flat surface and it was moving forward like a snake across sand. But that’s not what I wanted to tell you.
I want to say that sometimes a light intervenes, like now, as if nothing were happening, a cold sleet and a dense fog, but despite them it seems that everything is stagnating, that I will remain standing by the window forever, looking at something with my mouth closed.

 

Translated by Alistair Ian Blyth

 



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