Traducción: Marie Claire Brillembourg
Anyone who listened closely by the door of the room where Dagoberto Lee spent his days, would have listened to the tireless rustle of his fountain pen steadily scraping the paper. He only wrote with that antique fountain pen, sole inheritance from his Chinese father who sold vegetables at the main city market. The use of this pen was the only contract term asked of clients who came in at any hour, even waking him up at midnight, to ask copies of contracts, write letters, give a touch of authenticity to certain passport, or to give overtones of plausibility to papers that were, in its majority, deceptive but very well done documents specially made to force reality. His immense talent as a forger could only be displayed with that exquisite instrument. He could render any written feature up to a point that once replicated by him, no one could distinguish his own writing from the one concocted by the brilliant calligrapher.
Dagoberto Lee lived in Maracaibo at the old lakeside house where he had always lived. His mother and grandmother were born there. They were the ones who taught him how to recognize the estuary moods by watching the water and sky color changes, even by the movements of flying birds over the lake. They had promised that their souls would always be with him as long as he lived nearby. They promised they would always speak to him through the muttering lake water. Dagoberto Lee was now alone. Lonelier than anyone because he was completely Chinese and completely Maracaibbean. These facts made him completely different from everybody else. He had the Chinese face and the Maracaibo accent. But, he was tightlipped and as sensitive as a Chinese woman captive in some paper prison. And, he spent his days there, studying the foreign handwriting and identically reproducing it in masterly works for which he charged almost nothing. When he heard the roar of the oil cargo ships entering the estuary, he barely lifted his head from the writing desk. He could distinguish the voice of a Swedish vessel husky wailing his aches and pains enlarged by the long ocean journey. The voice of a steel Dutch whale arriving and happily whistling its joy. He then placed the fountain pen on the small porcelain dish that his father used to cool tea, and slowly walked to the window in order to accompany the entering ships with his louver-window gaze. He had never been curious about the far away places where these snorting creatures came from. His father’s tales were enough to teach him that the whole world was the same… but, a lake like that, where pouters launched plummeting to pick up their meandering silver catch. A lake where days gave into darkness after exploding in colors that only those skies knew. A lake like that lake, was to be found nowhere.
When the heavy ship parade ended, Dagoberto Lee returned to his swivel chair and back to scraping with firm strokes the smooth skin of paper leaves he kept in neat packages on the right drawer of his desk.
A week before, Alvaro The Colombian had arrived to take him to Maicao. Important affairs required Dagoberto Lee’s expert hand but he had firmly refused to work anywhere else. The Colombian then pulled out a gun, which he openly carried on his belt and threatened the copyist with all kinds of gunshots if the refusal persisted.
-Tell your boss to come and see me- Dagoberto Lee answered as he sat back again in his swivel chair.
The boss himself arrived two days later. The room where Dagoberto Lee worked soon filled with heavy breathing paid assasins pointing at the ceiling with their machine guns and pistols. The numerous bodyguards left a corridor for El Guanche Fernández, fat and dark skinned, who walked through it with his shirt opened to mid chest, his arms and neck completely jeweled and a gold ring that would have been enough to annihilate the copyist if embedded on his forehead with half the strength of those hairless arms that now crossed over the visitor’s belly.
-And you didn’t want to come to Maicao- El Guanche Fernández said, with a callow singing voice that disagreed with the sheer volume of his façade.
-You know I only work here- Dagoberto Lee replied with the same eyelet as his speaker and pointing vaguely to the window. The copyist did not raise his eyes from the floor.
-What is it you want- said El Guanche Fernández.
-I will tell you when these men leave the room- Dagoberto Lee said in an outburst of audacity that others had paid by lying in a road with a hand outside the dirt.
El Guanche’s gunmen left towards the kitchen. Not to touch anything were their precise instructions. Ten minutes later, El Guanche Fernández left the copyist room and went through the front door without even looking at his men who immediately rose to follow him. None of them ever came back. From that day on, El Guanche’s messages were transported by a middle aged native “goajira” who had her own apartment key and would bring the papers hidden under her wide dress. No one would ever disturb Dagoberto Lee again nor interrupt his listening to squeaking pouters while he dragged his fountain pen over the paper skin.
Two years went by. Maritza the “goajira” brought larger rolls each time. She carried birth certificates, property deeds, tax forms and court judgments. The woman placed everything in the dining room table and silently went to the kitchen sink where she left: skinned sheep, plantains, fresh cheese in a barrel and pewter trays topped with “friche“ (fried lamb bowels) which El Guanche sent to his loyal server who very soon redistributed the goods to his neighbor’s doors.
Since Dagoberto Lee did not read newspapers and had no TV at home, he never knew about the police raid that put El Guanche in preventive prison and held a fierce persecution to his followers. Maritza the “goajira”, came one dawn, threw him out of bed, shoveled him in a luxurious van and drove him to a private airport where he was pushed into an airplane that took him away from the lake forever. From the plane window, Dagoberto Lee beheld the beach from the heights for his first time until tears drew them away from his sight. When he finished crying the plane landed in a country with an unknown language and whose sun seemed to have permanent sunglasses because the trail of radiance of how thing glow in Maracaibo, could be found nowhere.
El Guanche Fernández was soon out of jail, this time escorted by suit and tie dressed lawyers (who also carried guns but hidden on their backs and covered with the jackets). They recommended that it was best to forget about Dagoberto Lee and find another clean forger. It was then that Dagoberto Lee was left abandoned in an unknown city, without money, no friends and no lake to feel. He tilted his head over the paper where he wrote letters to relatives of some Venezuelans who occupied their time in searching for life without finding the moment to write some lines to the mother, to the wife, to the fiancée who embroidered her trousseau awaiting for her beloved fugitive.
Clients called the copyist once a week and gave him instructions on how to answer the letters arriving from Venezuela directly to the scribe’s address. He then made a summary and wrote down the transient answers that afterwards embellished with phrases of his own. Information was passed from one client to the other and very soon, and with great relief to his dismayed heart, Dagoberto Lee had occupied all his day.
Richard de Los Ríos, a youth from Caracas, was one of his clients. He got used to coming directly to the copyist small room instead of dictating his desires over the phone. He came, placed his feet on top of the desk and started talking while constantly removing hair from his face. In earlier days, Dagoberto Lee would have sharply prevented such manners but, given the present circumstances, his strength had diminished in all senses because of the terrifying winter that never ended. He restricted himself to keeping lowered shoulders while bearing the visitor’s chatter. He took brief notes and painfully narrowed his eyes in the face of a de Los Ríos laughter outbreak.
Richard de Los Ríos was a rascal with phenomenal looks. Tall, broad shoulders, tennis and horse riding shaped muscles, a beautiful smile, great dancer of Caribbean rhythms and a voice that made marriageable maids faint. But Dagoberto Lee wasn’t impressed; he resignedly tolerated the achievement stories paying submissive attention to the visitor. For this reason, de Los Ríos opted to present himself at the copyist house whenever he was free which was quite frequently. The assigned mission was to keep Fat Lucía, daughter of an Italian millionaire, on her toes. She and de Los Ríos got engaged right before this small farewell to bachelorhood trip. His future father in law financed the voyage and assigned errands between de Los Ríos and several ceramic tile distributors. The commissioner had not fulfilled his duties, of course. The small bachelor farewell business trip was already on its sixth month, three times longer than planned. In the meantime, Fat Lucía steadily wrote loving and descriptive notes sent to the copyist address who calmly read her mail with a fascination for the detailed description the sender gave from her house, her gardens, the plentiful family dinners, the books she read, the concerts she went, her illusions towards her future married life and how much she missed that scoundrel that sat, shaken with laughter, banging both his knees while recounting his last jamboree to Dagoberto Lee.
It is safe to say that Richard the beautiful, never paid any attention to those letters whose details were his employee’s only flights of fancy. With the tiny string of voice left, Dagoberto Lee made several attempts to read him the more beautiful paragraphs from Fat Lucía’s letters, but the boy’s pitiless contempt discouraged the enterprise. Dagoberto Lee decided to keep only for himself that voice who returned at least although indirectly, a small glimpse of the lake. Fat Lucía wrote in a heavy fine wood desk just like him in his previous life. She sat, also just like him, in a swivel chair that she kept motionless so nothing would alter the rhythm of writing. From that stranded boat, Fat Lucía cruised through the seas of imagination. She made in depth stories about her Nona’s birthday, about the dress she had worn and how awful it looked on her (Fat Lucía wouldn’t boast on anything but the intense passion she kept in the waiting of her loved one), about the visits with friends to a pastry shop at La Castellana, about the rain falling over the Avila, about the Romanian who had read her cards forecasting the death of a man who lived abroad because of his love for her… Don’t die my love, don’t die please… wrote Fat Lucía at midnight while Richard the Beautiful spent her father’s money sipping Champaign from the neckline of an also exiled Andean girl.
Dagoberto Lee wrote answers swelled with love and admiration for Fat Lucía’s accomplishments. With such a sponsor she redoubled her efforts as an epistolary author. Her letters came back filled with thorough details of her daily affairs, more depth in the issuance of her emotions, her deepest fears, the flame of her desires. She had had to let go Richard the Beautiful to understand the refinement of his feelings, the enormous size of his love for her, the sweetness he could place on his words. But although, I want to have you by my side, even if your attentions are lost with your presence and you become, as you are always when you are here, remote and forgetful.
Dagoberto Lee imagined Fat Lucía as a pink skinned lake populated by exquisite fishes made of words and images. Sometimes he imagined her as a soft Sicilian boat that wandered around his house’s cupboards casting pleasure roars at the discovery of a small cake, a puff pastry, a chocolate cake.
He understood the watery galleries of her daydreaming, the depth of her mind and the curved surface of her chest as described by herself with resigned mockery.
Some day towards the end of winter – as said by Richard the knowledgeable- a thick envelope arrived with the precious Fat Lucía’s calligraphy on it. The copyist opened it trembling -more than usual which is a lot to be said- and some photographs fell on his lap. The most beautiful creature he had ever seen was there: a round face framed by plenty hazel hair, so round it seemed traced by a compass. On it, two enormous and brilliant eyes, a refined nose and a very small mouth like a stitch provided just to eat peas or table grapes at the most. Her cheeks seemed to struggle in order to get out of the frame and her chin, covered within layers of soft fat, seemed like a rose placed there by a distracted jeweler. But, the best of all was the astounding ensemble.
The throng of her dreams, the impatience of the engaged bride whose wedding had been postponed several times, the innocence of the child who only danced with cousins, the enthusiasm of the writer who ignores her predestination, the hope of the correspondent that only lives to wait for the mailman to arrive, all of these expressions were summoned by Fat Lucía in the face of the photographer.
Richard the conceited unexpectedly arrived that afternoon and sat by the copyist bed. The copyist laid there with a cup of green tea on the night table, a bunch of photographs under the pillow and no energy to chat. Richard the obnoxious, placed his enormous feet on the bunk where Dagoberto Lee agonized and started a rigorous review of his nocturnal activities.
Dagoberto Lee turned his face towards the wall and slipped his arm under the pillow to touch Fat Lucía’s face, that pink silk moon that morosely blinked at him. With a signal he dismissed Richard the criminal, and with his last breath he dragged himself to the writing table (a vile piece of furniture that a probable shipwreck had shoved into that rented room). When Fat Lucía held the envelope written with the rude, clumsy and pointy writing of Richard the beloved, she expected some hours of delightful reading and re-reading of that heavenly tablet. She actually received a long autographic chronicle of a treacherous adventurer. The unshameful exposure of a lengthy razzle. The clean criminal record of the feminine legs that had gripped his own night after night like a shameless and faceless centipede with nylon stockings. The sarcasm of a fortune hunter laughing: at her devotion, at her waiting for him, at her plumpness. In summary, the confession of a fiancé that ceased to be, ceased to deceive, ceased to write, from this moment on. A postscript at the letter’s end with an unknown hand writing to Fat Lucía simply said: The Rumanian was right.