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Literatura en México

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Cinco Décadas de Cuento Mexicano. Antología. Perea, Pitman, Taylor, Tedeschi, Valenzuela

The Keeper of the Shadows (english version)

Guillermo Samperio



It was nine o'clock at night and darkness was descending upon the buildings of the capital. A good share of the businesses had already turned out their lights and were now immersed in shadows, while others were beginning to close. The office buildings were also silent, without the shuffling of papers and notes, without the sound of typewriters or the ringing of telephones. Muted loneliness covered shabby desks and shelves; coffee cups scattered throughout the large typewriters or the ringing of telephones. Muted loneliness covered shabby desks and shelves; coffee cups scattered throughout the large work areas, as if their owners had suddenly abandoned them in an inexplicable emergency, as if life had refused to prolong itself in those places. But not all of them were empty, since there were some people, perhaps strange people, maybe a little crazy, perhaps very responsible--who knows?--who linger in the offices, without the courage to abandon them totally. Inevitably, they are in the habit of living many long hours behind their desks. And it would seem as though the world had assigned them to preventing a sense of melancholy in the file cabinets, drawers, swivel chairs and rugs.

Rows of office furniture extend into the distance, each holding up its own mountains of paper. In its nocturnal permanence, the office space opens up as if to infinity, where time stands still in the expanse of a time less night. But in acertain corner of this labyrinth of partitions is found the Keeper of the Shadows, still fresh in appearance, wearing a diagonally striped tie with an impeccably white shirt, and a suit of requisite conservative tones. A man who commonly is of a darker complexion, thin, a little homely due to his offset nose or because of puckered lips that disfigure his face. He looks intensely at the expanse of his desk top, simulating one of those far too realistic modern sculptures .

At a certain moment that evening, while his employees and fellow workers were leaving, and the secretaries were giving the final touches to their cheeks before clicking shut their compacts, he, the Keeper Of the Shadows, picked up the telephone receiver, called home, and explained to his wife that he would be home later, not to hold dinner for him, to call him at the office if there was any emergency. But his wife, of course, would never call him; she was well aware that her husband was always there, on the other side of the capital city, in that immense office. During the first years of marriage she would call him, first because of inexplicable jealousy, then from the childless boredom that encompassed her and, finally, when the children were born, out of curiosity. Then one day she stopped calling at all. She would wait for his daily phone call so she could go on with her housework, putting the children to bed, rewarding the leftovers, removing the makeup that her husband never saw, waiting for the sound of the key in the door, watching television, and pleasantly greeting the Keeper of the Shadows. Of course, in the final analysis, he was a good man. On weekends they would go out to the country they even had two cars sometimes he'd take her to the movies, to the latest show. At office parties, he would proudly introduce her to his office mates. And on these occasions, she would admire him, since her husband always had a clever anecdote to tell or some expert comment on just about anything; he was knowledgeable due to his constant reading of the Compendium of the Year's Important Happenings. Furthermore, he, The Keeper of the Shadows, has always prominently displayed photographs of his wife and three children on his desk. Which is to say, he accepts the idea of being a married man.

After that dusk darkness phone call, The Keeper of the Shadows walked around saying good bye to his employees, whom he calls ''my people," and the other office mates, until finding himself alone amidst the deepening shadows, since the Janitors begin to slowly shut down the unoccupied and empty sections of the building until they finally reach our man's area, and he begins to occupy that infinite space of the immense, timeless night. As ten o'clock approaches, from outside the office, he studies a document that he almost knows by heart which he calls "my project." Then, on cards and little pieces of paper he sketches the outline of women like those found in women's magazines, outlines that he learned to draw from a manual that might be entitled The Feminine Face in Ten Easy Lessons or else he recreates the characters from the comic strips of his youth to give them to his youngest child, or he practices his penmanship, or he writes interminable lines of numbers. But what pleases him most is to simply extend his arm, holding the yellow pencil, in a writing position, his eyes glued to the desk top, or looking at the large windows as if they held in their panes a grandiose, miniature world that can be understood only at night. And he doesn't get impatient: "stay calm" is another of his fundamental principles.

In his not too distant youth, he was already a refined and formal gentleman, distinguished, elegant, genteel. The bosses under whom he worked, on many occasions, suffered personal embarrassment when they were mistaken for his subordinates. That was when he acquired his nocturnal habits, since they represented "a point in his favor," as he would say in an attempt to convince "his people." in reference to the work systems espoused by his bosses. Of course. in time, this attitude served him very well . He came to be the Department Chief, then Vice Director, until, years later, he was promoted to Director upon the unexpected resignation of his predecessor. The Keeper of the Shadows lasted six months in the job-probably the most glorious period of his life-until, unfortunately, there was a change in administration . With a single blow he returned to his former position as Department Chief, the same hierarchical position that he now holds. Since that time, his wife admires him even more, although with a certain secret sadness, when she sees her man's efforts and patience.

In spite of that abrupt demotion, he continued dressing with the greatest degree of neatness, his manners were gentlemanly and he never complained about anything; his conversations continued along the lines of the wisdom of the compendium, with which he had become enamored because of some blabber mouthed uncle or a decadent grandfather who had been a public or private administrator. The habit of "earning points in his favor" continued until ten o'clock t night every working day. He knows for certain that his bosses will return to the office after working hours to attend to any problem that tech many responsibilities have not allowed them to resolve previously Or that the sliver of light under the door of his immediate boss or his boss's boss suddenly becomes a large rectangle of light and smoke, while he hears voices that laugh and converse congenially and .are transformed into three or four men carrying briefcases as they leave, while one of them breaks away from the group and approaches the partitions that surround the sculpture that represents our man, who hears his boss say:

"What are you doing here at this hour, Rodríguez?" while he pats the shoulder of the Keeper of the Shadows, saying good bye so he can catch up with his colleagues.

"I was just leaving, "he says to no one, since his boss or his boss's boos is no longer listening. 

The Keeper of the Shadows turns his gaze back toward the windows, still thinking that the boss may return at any moment. His arm will remain extended as if he were writing. With the dark sky over the capital city the ten o'clock hour arrives; Rodríguez will get up from his swivel chair, he will button the second button of his grey coat and with distinguished, secure footing, he will head toward the wife Who awaits him.*

Translated by Russell M. Cluff & L. Howard Quackenbush

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MULTIMEDIA:

BOOKS BY GUILLERMO SAMPERIO (CNL-INBA)

Interview (You Tube)

Cuando el tacto toma la palabra, videoclip by Andrea di Castro (YouTube)

Humo en sus ojos, short stories book (Google Books)

* * *
 
Fuente: *From the book Gente de la ciudad. México, FCE, 1986. Letras Mexicanas. Beatle Dreams and Other Stories. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Latin American Literary Review Press, 1994. Series: Discoveries.

 

 

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