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Where to look for courage?

Djaimilia Pereira de Almeida


Where to look for courage? I wonder, without assuming I'd be able to recognise the answer. Where to look for it, without supposing I'd be capable of discerning what had run into me? Like a face I can't remember where I know it from, as I try to pluck up the courage—and perhaps it even speaks to me, and says good morning, but I can't remember which life, job, hospital, incarnation we met in. It's more like a new and old face and less like a force that it comes across to me: more face less force. In which incarnation might we have crossed paths? In which future? Likewise, the answers to these questions are faces I don't recognise: more face less force. Like when you don't know where you've woken up after you doze off, if it's been half an hour, if it's night already; like when you miss the train of courage, as you ask where you can find it.

     Not all days are propitious to collage. I use it as a correction for those I risk to lose. Writing is something different: the day itself, whether won or lost.

     Once in a while, I wonder why I've cut it like this, glued it here, truncated it there. Hearts, just like people, barely ever have an explanation.

Collage inhibits questions, revealing me to be a monster, should I venture to make use of it. I take shelter then (I was going to write: I succumb) in the ultimate enjoyment of asking nothing and staring at the cut like the accident it is not.

Isn't it often like that? Pretending that paradise is when there's no need to answer to nobody, no need to ever sit before no judge? Or perhaps collage offers the possibility to face the cowardice of the archive, of the long trail of waste required to make anything at all; and these notes, courage itself, one of those reheated meals, when you eat leftovers from the day before: fag ends of strangers picked up from the sidewalk and smoked once more. But isn't a person, any one, that too?

The gentleman with the bag wanders through the park at weekends. He always carries a shopping bag along, he's about 80 years old, he walks a lot, very slowly. He doesn't walk on the sidewalk. He cuts across the grove and stops in front of each tree as a sign of respect. Sometimes, he freezes. Maybe he's paying tribute. He touches the pine tree’s trunk, or some flower's petals, which he never picks off. Sometimes, he disappears into a shrub, like a cat would.

    What is he looking for, hidden among the boughs, as he stares at the ground? The coolness about the plants' roots? A hiding spot? We wait for him to reappear, and after a while he does reappear.

   We wonder what has brought him here. If he's a widower, if his wife's bedridden, if he's never married, or if he lives with an old cousin of his whom he takes care of. This one time, the gardeners pruned the shrubs. The gentleman with the bag stopped in front of them, with a sad air about him. They'd shaved his friends—the bastards, who told them to?

Some days, he goes by without stopping. Others, halfway through his walk, he talks to the poplar, and puts his hand on the bark. 

We see him from the window and try to take a photograph of him. We feel like asking him where he's coming from and where he's going; the shopping bag he carries along looks like it's empty. He walks so slowly, and we never get him in time.

Because of all the walking along the very same paths, he has drawn his footsteps upon the grass. He walks while staring at the ground, the little stones, the dry logs, coins, plastic bottles. When the grass dries out, his routes are revealed: arcs of trodden soil, concentric tracks, increasingly closer to the plants, away from the houses.

I glue pieces of paper together; I try to rebuild who I was. Where might I have started? When might I have been 17? Little by little, my past life returns like humidity at dawn, descending upon things, the road, the plants, the street. A lunch, in a kitchen. A cigarette being smoked at the window, the view of a lemon tree, the smell of cherry jam, scratches from a morning in traffic, a vanilla pod. In the background, a church tower under repair, a child eating an orange, black raspberry yogurt, a crowded Rua Nova do Almada, on a rainy day. Still in the background, farther back, a woman's hands: I'm doing them on a table with a nail clipper. Pieces of a puzzle I can't seem to put together, having lost all contact points. The pieces have remained, but the player, she who experienced them, has been lost.

     It would only be some years later, as I walked in the shadows of Tomar, that I'd find the right image for such erasure. Numb with the slow pace of a few passers-by crossing a square I ended up in like a confused mailman, I may be in need of repair, to let (I wondered, then), among tourists, elders in the shade, and the occasional pram being pushed around by one of the few young couples in town. What had started as a bank later became a pawnshop: we buy gold, read the shop window, lined with bright orange wallpaper upon which rings and necklaces shone.

     I've just set off to figure out the woman that has occupied me. She has taken over me, exhausting my faith in the hope of trying to understand her. 

     Maybe I've never even existed and there's nothing else to know. An almost complete life with her, whom I'm only newly acquainted with, awaits me. I resist the assumption that someday she will be clear to me, and I regard the attempt to capture her as the ultimate stroke of hubris, while she's still alien to me. I am in front of her, I look at her from here, like a child who's just been born. I am forever young, I dare in the present, I extract from dare a sweetness which has seldom come around ever since she summoned me.

     Where is it that I have gone? Is it still the place where things left undone on this side are, where it will eventually end without a single piece of me rotting within? Has it really died? Or has it acquired new life: nourishing the land, increasing a river's flow, if by a single drop of water? Has it kept a falling nature—perennially a tree's inclination? Or will it persist as movement, speed, action?



Djaimilia Pereira de Almeida is a writer. Among others, she has written Luanda, Lisboa, Paraíso e A visão das plantas, which have been awarded the Oceanos Prize. She writes about photography and literature for Quatro Cinco Um.

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