Posts Tagged ‘the children’

The Children

July 6, 2017

Laura lives in fear. She regularly gives money to the woman outside the supermarket to watch her car. (“But Laura was not sure whether the woman really did watch the cars. She knew that when she had finished her shopping, she gave her some coins as if to pay her, and that her car had never gone missing.”) When strangers ask the name of her dog, she always gives a different answer. (“By doing this she thought she was protecting him: that it was less likely someone would snatch him from outside the supermarket entrance or anywhere else.”) When the supermarket woman is replaced by someone younger, and she cannot think of a false name for her dog, she simply doesn’t enter the supermarket:

“For the next two days, she did not buy any food, and she did not eat.”

That her life changes with the arrival of the child is not immediately obvious, but then little is in Columbian author Carolina Sanin’s The Children (translated by Nick Caistor).

Laura first meets the child, six and a half year old Fidel, one night when she hears him crying and finds him outside her window looking up:

“The boy had a shaven head and big eyes. There was so much black emptiness in his gaze that it seemed as through his face had interrupted the night and the night had begun again in his look.”

She takes him up to her apartment and, of course, attempts to inform the appropriate authorities, openly to be told she must contact the National Family Welfare Institute which will not open until Monday (it’s Saturday night) as “it’s closed at the weekend for stock-taking”. (We see here an early use of italics to highlight the jarring jargon of bureaucracy). She takes Fidel to the Institute as instructed, but when she later enquires as to his welfare she can find no trace of him. Only months later does she relocate him and begin to invite him into her life.

This uneventful summary, however, hides many levels of disconcerting strangeness. Partly this is down to the reshaping of narratives which takes place within the novel. Laura herself is guilty of this, telling the Institute that she found Fidel outside the supermarket. His name, too, is her creation – adapted from Elvis Fider Loreto Membrives; later she will create a birthday for him. She thinks, “she could pretend that others have asked her to take care of the boy.” (She aklso rearranges other stories, for example, one night she tells him a version of Great Expectations set in Bogota). This is already part of her character before Fidel’s appearance: she works as cleaner though she has no need of the money, taking the bus to work rather than driving so her employers believe she is poor. While cleaning, she builds a house in her mind:

“Between the dining room and the bedrooms she planted a garden with a curving stream that carried along with it ordinary stones and precious stones.”

When she hires someone to discover where Fidel is, this creates another version of the story:

“Apparently Elvis, a child like so many others, presumably in a state of great distress, wrote to Laura searching for protection, aid and warmth because he recalled having seen her take part in the children’s television show ‘Treasure Haunt and concluded she felt empathy towards little ones.”

(Or perhaps versions of the story, the italics suggesting that this has already been patched together from two voices). When Fidel is with her he, too, exists between two narratives – at night dreaming of a beauty parlour:

“On the fourth night, Fidel said he was in the beauty parlour, but they were still calling him to go there. He said that the parlour – although he did not say the parlour but Parlour like a proper noun – that in Parlour there was a place further inside…”

He asks Laura “if this was a dream or reality.”

Laura is certainly searching for something with Fidel – frequent references to Moby Dick tell us so – but she is also reluctant to commit to this quest, as her difficulty reading the novel attests to. She appears slightly detached from reality, and talks of having created an island:

“In it, neither dead nor alive, just about to say farewell, were all those who had loved her and were no longer with her, those who had departed, those she herself had loved and left behind.”

This makes commitment to Fidel difficult:

“What would happen if after two days she did not know what to do with the child? And if she wanted to keep him after three months had passed and she was not permitted to? Anyway, death would arrive soon enough to separate them forever.”

The novel speaks of a gap in understanding between adult and child. The novel’s own strangeness perhaps reflects the strangeness of childhood through adult eyes. Certainly, expect nothing to be resolved, either for Laura or the reader. The acceptance of that, though, is not unlike the acceptance of a child into your life.

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