I want you to know, books tell the future
I was not even a teenager. Infatuation meant nothing to me, I did not know that such a word existed. The other word, the most subversive four-letter word in the revolutionary dictionary we build up as we live, was an intermittent appearance. ‘LOVE’ would come from my mother’s mouth when I was good. Hence the infrequency.
Things were very clear and my universe was compact and impenetrable.
Little did my parents know that letting an only child loose on all the books that keep accumulating in the house was really, really dangerous.
Nobody cared if I picked up a novel and started reading it, right under their nose. The cookie jar was under constant and strict surveillance, the book shelves were not.
One day I picked a very slim tome, out of curiosity I presume. It looked odd and it did not quite fit in, as it was wider and shorter than all the other books.
It stood out, in the proper sense of the word. I had to have a look. Then the title awakened in me the irrepressible demon of childhood curiosity.
It was ‘Les Lettres Portugaises’ (The Portuguese Letters).
I started reading. I could not understand a thing. There was this woman, a Portuguese nun, from eons ago, talking in phrases that scared me. The nun, Mariana Alcoforado, was suffering because she was in love, but that was not the love I knew about.
I closed the book and hid it under my bed, the place where my cassette-recorder was living as well. The cassette recorder was in the same category as the cookie jar, because there was always homework to do. So music, headphones on, was a night secret pastime, but books were not, for some strange reason.
I felt nevertheless that these Portuguese Letters were somehow something I should not read, so I was even more determined to do it, away from prying eyes.
I started reading in small doses. The lament, the deep cut, the burning despair. Words that came to me much later, when I wanted to reconstruct the emotions that had been licking my innocent heart. I finally understood that she was in love with a French officer and being a nun, there was no way of her ever being with him.
I was revolted. I wanted to rip the book apart, but I did not know why. I did not dare to ask anyone about the story, because I feared all my reading privileges would be taken away. So I dropped the idea of finding out exactly why she was in such emotional agony.
I moved on to other books. I became a teenager. I fell in love. It hurt. I fell in love again. It was OK. Mariana Alcoforado became a distant memory.
Then one day. much later, I started a desperate search for the book. I needed to read the words that would express exactly how I felt, in my ‘Portuguese’ moment. I was actually lazy, trying to feel by proxy.
I should have started writing there and then, with all the rawness and brutality of impossible love leaking out of every word.
I let myself down. Don’t do the same. Just write. Mariana Alcoforado, imaginary nun or not, deserves her posterity and spiritual children.
P.S. I have just edited out a word that must have typed itself while phone was in handbag — underununderstand — but maybe I should have left it in. Who knows ?
Quite a fitting proofreading lapse.