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Story by Iacyr Anderson Freitas.

Translated by Désirée Jung

And here is that day when the calendar showed a date with unknown characters.

An illegible and wonderful date.

Mário Quintana

Two days of wait and there I was again at the hospital’s entrance. A bitter taste in the throat. They showed me the door: at the very end of the hallway. In front was a narrow humid room, people squeezing in benches. Barely I got in and felt the so-pale curiosity stares, matching the place’s desolation.

At first, I was embarrassed, ending up leaned against the door’s ledge. Until I realized, only then, the service counter was at the end of the room. I just had a small mission: collect my exam results. I had no strength for that extreme trial; cross that ocean of benches and people, in search of what terrified me. With my eyes closed, I envisioned the promised land, but everything inside me was pure silence.

Slowly I began to realize that if I didn’t rush towards the counter, it would be impossible to cross the room. No exit, then. Unarmed, I confronted each of those gazes, like endless successive bells, or unread messages. Possessing a painful force, I walked across the people; a walk of many years, starting before birth perhaps and carry on without any hesitation. 

When I got to the counter, I was speechless. With my hands, I tried to push each stare away. Beyond the plexiglass, the woman measured the afternoon heat. “I came to pick up the exam results.” The woman didn’t seem to get me. I took the requisition slip from my pocket. “For a friend,” I added, almost as a confession. Even today I don’t know why I said that. Why lie? Wouldn’t it be simpler not to be silent?   

The woman seemed to understand my overwhelm. Each intimate fraction of my forceful, extreme, and vigorous agitation. Something that reminded me, almost before every situation, the impossibility of a man to act in his own name. “There was a small problem: the results will be ready tomorrow. After 5 pm.” I kept the slip and left the place.

The sun was hard. It was difficult to cross the square and go home. When I finally got there, I took off my clothes and jumped in a shower fast. The cold water was like a baptism, freedom from the fire burning from the four corners of that afternoon. What day was then? No clue. Alone in my little apartment, I had no means to send news or money to my parents. They also didn’t know I was without a job for the last six months or dare to dream of my exam situation. Worse still, my father was sick and maybe undergoing a delicate surgery. He could be sent to the hospital at any minute. Due his age, his chances were little.

I was thinking exactly about that when the bell rang. Taken by a strange presentiment, I went to the door. The postman shook a telegram in his hands. For sure something bad had happened my father, I thought. I sat on the floor, terrified, and stared at the envelope. I lacked the courage to open it. I waited a few more minutes, the paper tight against my stomach: the impossibility to hide my hurt. 

I let go of the clip that held the envelope. The heat appeared to take charge of the living room and the world. However, how to describe, how to reclaim the surprise I felt when reading that telegram? My awe before the old saying, the cliché, common sense feeling that hit me when reading the vows: “happy birthday, felicitations!” Deep into the afternoon, I joined the dots, the small details. My birthday, of course. How could I forget? An even greater emptiness took charge of me, stepping over all my bones. To my relief, the worst was yet to come, I heard myself say in a low voice. And yet I was free, now, to truly hold on to that day.

Published in the literary magazine Fatal Flaw.