Tomorrow the waters will come
Rui Zink Portuguese writer Rui Zink was born on June 16, 1961. "Writes books, gives lectures, imagines things." - Rui Zink in his own description. He continues to write one story after another, novels, plays, graphic novel and much more. His language has become beyond its own boundaries. The structure of his written text also goes beyond conventional grammar. A different world came to life in subjective language. 'Torkito Tarjoni' has been published on the occasion of his upcoming 60th birthday on June 16. Presently a lecturer by profession. His first novel was ‘Hotel Lusitano’(1986). Zink is the author of ‘A Arte Superma’(2007), the first Portuguese Graphic Novel. Also his ‘Os Surfistas’ was the first interactive e-novel of Portugal. He is the author of more than 45 published books all over. Zink achieved prestigious ‘Pen Club’ award on 2005 for his novel ‘Dádiva Divina’. His several books has been translated in Bengali like ‘O Livro Sargrado da Factologia’(‘ঘটনাতত্ত্বের পবিত্র গ্রন্থ, 2017), ‘A Instalação do Medo’(‘ভয়, 2012), ‘O Destino Turístico’(‘বেড়াতে যাওয়ার ঠিকানা', 2008), 'Oso'('নয়ন') etc.
TOMORROW THE WATERS WILL COME
Author : Rui Zink Translation from the Portuguese : Patrica Odber De Baubeta
Tomorrow the waters will come. Our town will disappear. It won’t be the first. But it is ours. It will disappear. Swallowed up by the waters. And us with it.
If it were a dam, a huge hydro-electric project for the benefit of the farmers, making the most of natural energy resources. But it isn’t. We’re being sacrificed for nothing. It’s just one more of many strategic withdrawals, in which, without obtaining anything in exchange, Europe yields yet another parcel of land – and people – to the ocean.
I know I shouldn’t say this. I know there are reasons, good reasons for this to happen. If not religious, at least economic ones – also sacred, in their own way. This has been a bad year and the Community has to tighten its belt. The younger ones think that the budget covers everything. It doesn’t. It’s like a cake on a plate – there’s a critical moment when there are no more slices, or when it isn’t possible to divide the cake any further, no matter how thinly you cut the slices.
We already knew that, if support didn’t come from New Brussels, it was us who would be at the top of the list – an honour we could well do without. The townspeople deserved another fate, but we aren’t the first – nor, certainly, the last – to be swallowed up by the waters.
I know, we really can’t complain too much. The psychologists, the European experts who paid us seasonal visits, did tell us: a person has to adapt, – even to loss, even to the end. They were getting us ready, they already knew what was coming even if some of us didn’t. But anyone who wanted to see straight would long have since understood that all we were managing to do was put off the inevitable – until we stopped managing to put off the inevitable. Until we ourselves ran out of time, like a product left too long on the convenience store shelf.
We had been spared for years, in part thanks to the good offices of his lordship the mayor. Good connections he had kept up from his time in New Brussels. But no one lasts forever, and our patron died after a prolonged illness, thus placing the town within reach of the tentacles, always inescapable, of those favoured by power. I should really be ashamed to admit it. The lists came out, and we held our breath until the day when, with undisguised relief, we saw that others in another town, another city had been ‘chosen’ to be abandoned to the insatiable fury of the sea.
That’s it, now our turn has arrived. Tomorrow, already, soon after the first rays of sun, the floodgates will be opened and the wall of concrete, steel and titanium, thirty-five metres high, will cease to protect us from the advance of the waters, inexorable ever since I can recall, and I’m already twenty-five years old. There’s nothing to be done, most of us are resigned now. One or other of them may attempt to flee inland, just as, according to legend, our ancestors fled two centuries before, to France, when the Community was still divided into different territories called ‘France’, ‘Italy’, ‘Germany’, ‘Spain’, ‘Portugal’. What was once Portugal, namely, no longer exists, or practically doesn’t exist. A fringe of land, from north to south, a few dozen kilometres wide. For years those of us here at Covilhã were the western-most point of the Community.
Between us and the Americas just water, water, an enormous blue blanket. The islands that may have existed, of which we have some echo in the books, Cape Verde, Madeira, the Azores, they have long since become as wondrous as the notion that, back in the mists of time, the Sahara was itself a fertile sea inhabited by fish, corals, conch shells in which, when pressed against the ear, you can hear the galloping of the sea.
The ‘flight’. Trying to sneak into one of the cities set back inland, closer to New Brussels, on dry land, far from the water. Then find work, a place to live, a place in the sun.
Where do I stand in all of this? I don’t know. Good luck to anyone who tries ‘to flee’. In a certain way I admire their courage. As for me, I prefer to accept, or I pretend to accept, the government’s offer and undergo the notorious operation which they talk about so much, singing its praises so vociferously.
The problem with the two choices is that they’re both a leap in the dark. ‘Fleeing’ implies facing the guards on the next wall, born killers. I am referring – a nod’s as good as a wink – to the wall that was built furthest from the coast, known as ‘the Estrela mountain range reef’. Not the best idea, calling a ‘reef’ the successive layers of what we know, probably, sooner or later, will be beaten down by the most powerful enemy who ever touched the surface (or the depths) of the increasingly blue globe which only with profound irony may still be called ‘Earth’. Oceania, perhaps. Oh, but isn’t there already a continent called Oceania? No matter, because there isn’t any longer – there was. The waters are also advancing on the East, just like Attila, with the patience of someone who has all the time in the world. And, just as with Attila, the grass never grows back where the waters have reached. Seaweed, perhaps; grass, no.
The guards have explicit orders to shoot at any desperate incomer, whether man, woman or child. The government goes to great lengths to explain that this is not cruelty – it’s the rules of the game, whenever a town is abandoned, because it has become inordinately costly to preserve its wall. Feeding more mouths (the evacuee’s mouths) would mean running the risk, and that would be cruel, of not feeding any mouths at all. For my part, I accept the argument. I’m not saying I really accept it, but is there any point in not accepting it?
Of course we could say that with the waters coming further inland, more fish would come as well. But the Community does not allow us the opportunity to argue a case. It’s a fait accompli. The experts in New Brussels have made up their minds, and they know what’s best for us. They seldom make mistakes and they never have doubts.
The old ones remember that our town, no matter how hard it is for us to believe, was once ‘inland’ in times gone by. Unbelievable, isn’t it? Covilhã, not all that long ago, was far, far from any beach. At least that’s what Old Uncle Chico used to say. ‘I remember, with these eyes, when the water didn’t even come up as far as Coimbra!’ ‘Come on, Chico, are you sure?’ we would laugh. ‘Honest to God, young’un! …. With these very eyes. I was no higher than a table and…’
‘No kidding, Chico?’
‘And my father’s father, he even saw the real coast of old Portugal…’
‘Just the way it was. From north to south. Faro, Milfontes, Lisbon, Figueira, Espinho, Póvoa de Varzim…’
Tomorrow the waters will come. ‘Come on, Chico, that was last century!’
‘Yes it was! How old do you think my father’s father would be if he was alive? How old d’youse think I am?’ It’s true. Uncle Chico is older than we might suppose at first sight, looking at his body, tough and … dry. Perhaps that why he didn’t want the gills. He prefers the injection, and that’s what he wrote down – with an X – in the respective box. He’s too old to be recycled as a fish.
A lot of the old ones go for the injection. It may seem macabre, but the Community felt obliged, out of pragmatism, and also out of respect for individual choice, to implement this way, the least painful possible, for the people from the towns that were going to be submerged, to lose their human lives, not just their humanity, even if only in part. What can I say? They’re choices. After all, being able to choose between the operation and the injection is still one of the proofs that the Community is a free society. ‘And what would I do underneath the water?’ grumbles Uncle Chico. ‘I’d just paddle about’ – adding, ‘At least this way I know what’s happening to me.’
Maybe he’s right. Even so, I don’t know if he’s so very right when he says: ‘And that business of the gills doesn’t sound right to me. Gills? Stories to lull the foolish to sleep, that’s what they are. Youse lot are a bunch of clowns. You don’t believe me when I tell you that before the government, Portugal existed, it was a country. And the waters…’ Yes, yes, we already knew Old Chico’s tales off by heart. The waters lapped against a coast with magical names, exotic names like Pólvoa de Varzim, Olhanão, Costa da Camparica… ‘But in this fairy tale they’re all dying to… Ha! Ha! Dead and gone, that’s what I say. Dead and gone.’
Dead and gone? Uncle Chico’s dire words made my blood run cold. Perhaps it was hearing him talk like that, or perhaps my poetic side, that made me take note of this – my last days as a human man, with my feet firmly planted on the earth. I bought a contraband Portuguese Mindpod TSW and hid it inside my ear, so it looks like an earring to anyone who doesn’t know what they’re looking for. I “think” / “I speak” / “I write” (TSW) in Portuguese, not only because it’s easier for me, but also because I know that the men in New Brussels don’t understand our dialect. Uncle Chico says that way back it was even one of the official languages of the Community, but no matter how much I like him, there are limits to how much of his stories I can believe.
They arrived yesterday. Doctors, technicians, scientists, nurses, soldiers. I can’t tell one from the other, they’re all the same, with their masks, breathing apparatus, white coats, white overalls, white gloves.
In the space of two days the town was jammed to bursting point with lorries, tents, trailers, census tables, just in case any one should escape at the last minute – intentionally or not – from the firm aid that the authorities saw fit to bring us in our adapting to the new reality.
Every lorry, twice the size of a TIR, is an authentic mobile hospital. It’s quite upsetting when you see doctors walking from one side to another, not seeing us and not talking to us, except to give us instructions, like which queue we should stand in, and things like that. But it’s also true that they didn’t come here to make friends, and this must be as hard for them as it is for us. Well, almost as hard, let’s not go overboard. But it’s the thought that counts. Sometimes, being cold and technical is the most human behaviour.
Me? I’m going to have the operation. I’m still young, I have my life (what’s left of it) ahead of me. According to the leaflet they gave us, the operation is actually quite simple. Four incisions, two on each side of the neck, lanced with sufficient care not to tear the trachea. Then they inject some product or other, a mixture of a powerful cicatrizing agent and a coagulant, which takes effect straight away, with anabolic hormones extracted from salmon eggs, and there you go, we have gills, especially designed to allow us an OUR (Optimized Underwater Respiration). The operation is simple and has already been successfully tested, so they say, on many, many people before us – all the inhabitants of the villages, towns, cities swallowed up before our village. And it’s perfectly safe, so they say. As for the OUR, it’s lifelong, and can be passed on naturally to your children, if later on (after being ‘drained’) we decide to have any. And I believe it. I think I’ve already said as much, who am I not to believe?
The problem is, there are sceptics, like Uncle Chico, to unsettle us. Dead and gone, he says? I know full well what he’s on about. The operation doesn’t exist, it’s just a lie to make us disappear without – I swear I’m not trying to be funny – making waves. The government can’t feed more mouths, nor do they need our labour, because everything is automated. So, it solves our problem in a clean, efficient and not very costly manner. Less costly, at least, than if we decided to resist, to rebel, or refuse to accept our fate as it has been dictated by those two inexorable forces, the sea and New Brussels. I keep mulling over Old Chico’s words, I’m no more and no less courageous than the others.
‘Hello’, a beautiful mermaid says to me. She must be twenty years old at most. On her body, just a baggy shirt which clings to her breasts, obviously wet (we’re underwater). ‘Welcome to the other side of the world.’
‘I’m just like you. My parents used to live in Coimbra. Did you ever go to Coimbra?’
No, that was before my time…’
‘What a shame. Sometimes they would tell me about the university…’
‘Were… were you born here? In the water?’
‘I was. I’ve never seen the world on the surface. Will you tell me what it’s like? Is it as pretty as they say?’
‘It’s… It’s different.’
‘What’s your name?’
‘I’m Miana. My parents called me Maria Ana, but everyone calls me Miana. And I prefer it. Artur? I like that.’
She’s adorable, my mermaid called Miana. Two legs, pretty, slim. She’s a mermaid without a tail. She doesn’t have any scales, just hair that waves gently, like anemones, in the drifting currents. Described like that, my mermaid seems real – and perhaps she is, it’s just that I haven’t seen her yet. But, if she exists, perhaps she’ll be like that, the way I imagine her. An underwater woman waiting for me on the other side of the water, who will be my guide in this new world where I’ll have to live and … I was going to say capsize, but that was Old Uncle Chico intruding his bad omens into my daydream. I believe, I want to believe, that the operation works. The Community can’t shelter me in its arms but, generous to a fault, it makes it possible for me to shelter in someone else’s.
‘The old man could be wrong,’ I murmur to myself, but the damage is done. That wretched hico has infected me with the virus of doubt. ‘Why on earth would they add yet another soldier to an army of non-humans? Have you thought about that? The Community rejects you when you still belong to it, do you think it’s going to let you feed an army of the disaffected with impunity?’
Yes, but the Community is not inhumane (I argued, against Uncle Chico and against myself). It doesn’t kill its citizens, it just offers them an alternative. And it’s certainly not the ones who have been expelled who make the waters rise. ‘That kind of paranoia is going too far, Uncle Chico.’
‘Pearnoia, pearnoia, there you go, with fancy words that don’t mean a thing, Artur.’
And he shuffles off, downcast, shaking his head.
Well now, everything’s been decided. The floodgates will be opened within a few hours and the town will cease to exist – to exist outside the submerged world, at least. I don’t say that tomorrow I may not, once again, be going (“swimming?”) into Aurora’s bakery, Bento’s cafe, the Terra Nova grocery store. But…
I did my time, diligently, without protesting too much (I had a book to keep me busy) in the queue they put me in. At last, the moment of truth approaches. Or ‘draws nigh’, as old Uncle Chico would say.
They sit me down in the operating chair, tighten leather straps around my arms, prepare me for the general anaesthetic, which also happens to be an injection – just that it’s different from the one intended for Uncle Chico and those who, like him, chose the certainty of … of … Anyway.’
I’m already falling asleep, it takes no time at all. I know that at least, I’m going to be unconscious, at the mercy of my benefactors – without knowing when (or whether) I’ll wake up. I believe in it, what choice have I but to believe, I’m not one of those people who think the ‘gills’ are no more than a badly told lie. Or a lie told all too well, which amounts to the same thing. A white lie, to euthanise us before the waters come bursting into the town.
I believe in the gills, in breathing underwater. I believe in a new life along with all the others who were also submerged, down the years. Throughout this new era in which the sea, slow and imperturbable, patient as a world, has been devouring the land.
Yes, I believe, I want to believe, I believe in everything, and I’m even curious to see what they’re like, those men, those mutants who stopped being like me up to this moment when I am going to become like them, my ex-fellow beings and future brothers, who have grown up (and some, perhaps, were born!) in the dark and voluminous waters. Will they be friendly? How will they communicate, in an ocean of muffled sounds? With gestures, perhaps? I’ll have to learn sign language. And what signs? Will they wear clothes? More scarey yet: will I recognise anyone? Miana, if she exists, will she be the way I imagine her? And will she like me as much as I already like her?
Questions, questions, questions. The anaesthetic is beginning to take effect. My eyes are closing. My eyes are closing. My eyes are closing but I have hope. Tomorrow, when I wake up, the Government lorries will have left and the town will be flooded, it will have succumbed to the waves. I have faith, of course, but … I don’t know. ‘What’s your name?’ ‘Miana.’ ‘And do you come from Coimbra?’ ‘My parents did. I was born here, in the ocean.’ ‘And what do people do in the ocean? What do you do after the waters have come?’ ‘Oh, so many things. Come on, Artur, come with me.’ ‘The only thing we can’t do is eat fried fish, can we?’
‘Sorry, you were saying?’ ‘Nothing. It was a joke. A feeble attempt at a joke.’ ‘Come on, let’s go.’
Swim… The only question, darling Miana, is whether it’s go swimming or go swimmingly. But I mustn’t inflict my doubts on you, it’s not your fault. Even if I don’t believe in the ‘gills’, I believe in you. I believe in you.
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