Castor and Pollux
Permit me to introduce myself. Or rather: introduce my body, violently separated (you know this already) from my head. I speak of my body because I’ve lost it and will not have another opportunity to introduce it to all of you, gentle readers, or to myself. In this way I can indicate, once and for all, that the following narration has been dictated by my head and only my head, since my detached body is nothing more than a memory: one that can be transmitted and left in the hands of the forewarned reader.
Forewarned indeed: The body is at least half of what we are. Still, we keep it hidden in a verbal closet. For the sake of modesty, we do not refer to its invaluable and indispensable functions. Forgive me: I will speak in detail about my body. Because if I don’t, very soon my body will be nothing but an unburied corpse, a slaughtered fowl, an anonymous loin. And if you, being very well bred, don’t want to know about my bodily intimacies, skip this chapter and begin your reading with the next one.
I am a twenty-seven-year-old man, one meter seventy-eight centimeters tall. Every morning I look at myself naked in my bathroom mirror and caress my cheeks in anticipation of the daily ceremony: Shave my beard and upper lip, provoke a strong response with Jean-Marie Farina cologne on my face, resign myself to combing black, thick, untamable hair. Close my eyes. Deny to my face and head the central role my death will be certain to give them. Concentrate instead on my body. The trunk that is going to be separated from my head. The body that occupies me from my neck to my extremities, covered in skin the color of pale cinnamon and tipped with nails that will continue to grow for hours and days after death, as if they wanted to scratch at the lid of the coffin and shout I’m here, I’m still alive, you made a mistake when you buried me.
This is a purely metaphysical consideration, as is terror in its passing and permanent forms. I ought to concentrate here and now on my skin: I ought to rescue my physical being in all its completeness before it’s too late. This is the organ of touch that covers my whole body and extends inside it with acts of anal mischief both modest and permissible if I compare them to the female gender’s major jokes, the incessant entering and leaving of foreign bodies (notoriously the male’s penis and sacredly the body of a child, while from my masculine wrappings only semen and urine come out in front and in back, just like chez la femme, shit and in cases of constipation, the deep communion of the suppository). Now I hum: “The bullock shits, so does the bird, and the best-looking babe will drop her turd.” Broad, generous entrances and exits in the woman. Narrow, mean ones in the man: the urethra, the anus, urine, shit. The names are clear and brutal, the nicknames obscure and laughable: Bellini’s duct, Henle’s loop, Bowman’s capsule, Malpighi’s glomerulus. Dangers: anuria and uremia. No urine. Urine in the blood. I avoided them. In the end, everything in life is avoidable except death.
I used to sweat. In life my entire body would sweat except for my eyelids and the edge of my lips. My sweat was clean, salty, with no bad odor, though sweating and urinating were human products distinguishable by the different quality of their smell. I never needed deodorants. I had noble, clean armpits. My urine did smell bad, of abandoned hovels and lightless caves. My shit varied according to circumstances, depending especially on diet. Mexican food brings us dangerously close to diarrhea, North American to stomach cramps, British to constipation. Only Mediterranean cuisine assures us of a healthy balance between what comes in at the mouth and what goes out through the asshole, as if olive oil and vinegar from Modena, the produce of the gardens of Southern Europe, peaches and figs, melons and peppers, knew beforehand that the pleasure of eating should be balanced by the pleasure of shitting, very much in accordance with Quevedo’s lines: “I love you more than a strong desire to take a shit.”
In any case—in my case—shit is almost always firm and brown, sometimes artfully coiled like the clay turds sold in the markets, sometimes diluted and tortured by our hot national spices: O shit of mine. And rarely (above all when I travel) reticent and ugly-?looking.
I know that with these diversions, my dear survivors, I am putting off what is most important. Getting to my head. Telling you what my face was like after making it clear that the buttocks, as everyone knows, are man’s second face. Or are they the first?
I’ve already indicated, when combing my hair, that I have a good Indian thatch of dark hair, more deeply rooted than a maguey. I have to say that my eyes are dark and set deep in the sockets of a bony facial structure that would be almost transparent if not for the dark mask of my skin. (Dark skin hides feelings better than white. That’s why when they are revealed, they are more brutal though less hypocritical.) In short, I have invisible eyebrows, a pleasant, slender mouth, almost always smiling for no reason other than courtesy. Ears neither large nor small, barely adequate to my extremely thin face, skin adhering to bone, the roots of my hair springing up like nocturnal thickets that grow without light.
And I have a nose. It isn’t just any nose but a large proboscis, slender, fortunately, but long and thin, like a periscope of the soul that precedes the eyes to explore the landscape and find out if it’s worth disembarking or if it’s better to remain withdrawn deep in the sea of existence.
The wide Sargasso of anticipated death.
The sea that ascends in small waves, obliging me to swallow it before it reaches the orifices of my large nose, jutting out between the beach and the dawn tide.
I am a body. I will be a soul.
big beak. monster schnoz. Elephant honker. Anteater snout. Pinocchio. Tapir. Dumbo (despite normal ears). The uproar in the schoolyard showed no preference among the epithets hurled at me by the mob of identical snot-noses in their uniforms of white shirt and blue tie, always badly knotted, as if not using the top button at the collar were a universal sign of rebellion controlled in the long run by the double discipline of teacher and religion. Blue sweater, gray trousers. Only at the extremities did this gang of schoolboys display their indolence and brutality. Leather shoes scuffed by the habit of kicking, kicking balls in the schoolyard, kicking desks in the classroom, kicking trees on the street, using kicks to demonstrate that though it might be without words they were protesting, they were born to protest, they were not conformists. Should I have been grateful to be the only thing they attacked with words and not blows?
I don’t know. The jeering ferocity of their faces was such that, in spite of my esthetic intention to single out from the ugliest not the best-looking—there were none of those—but the least “ferocious,” when they attacked I saw a single beast, a single face with bared teeth and eyes with metallic lids, as if they were protecting a strongbox of unspeakable emotions behind prison bars, for I never lost sight of the fact that these same assholes who were assaulting me on account of my big nose would be praying later with heads bowed and singing the national anthem, chins trembling with pride.
At the Jalisco school, so named since revolutionary liberalism prohibited the teaching of religion and revolutionary conservatism turned a blind eye and permitted it, but only if the schools proclaimed not their faith but their historical or geographical patriotism: Columbus, Bolívar, Homeland, Mexico were transformed into pseudonyms for schools run by Jesuits, Marists, Christian Brothers, and, in the case of the academy I was sent to, Catholic Presbyters, and therefore, among ourselves, the school was known as the Presbytery and not as Jalisco. It was a way of mocking the shared hypocrisy of the government and the clergy. Jalisco on the outside. Presbytery on the inside.
Big Beak, Pinocchio, Monster Schnoz, the insults rained down on me, obliging me to retreat as they moved forward like a column of troops led by a horrible kid with a shaved head, piggy eyes, a beet-red mouth, ears stuck to his skull, and the attitude of a great highwayman, a forward-thrusting stance, a posture of defiance not only toward me but toward the world: He was the most nonconformist of nonconformists; his tie was knotted on his chest and wrapped around his neck, accentuating his air of a bandit. It was strange. This being the apparent head of the mob of schoolboys, a feeling whose origin I could not determine told me the guerrilla leader was waging war not against me and my nose but against something else, something closer to him that made my presence disappear as soon as the bell rang and recess was over—or as soon as one of the teachers intervened who, until that moment, had not even noticed what was happening to me, as if assaulting a student, even verbally, were not very different from playing basketball, telling jokes, or eating a piece of cake.
I gave instructions to my spirit. “Hold on, Josué. Don’t give in. Don’t return their insults. Arm yourself with patience. Defeat them with your self-control. Don’t even think about hitting anybody. Whoever gets angry loses. Stay serious and calm. They’ll end up respecting you, you’ll see.”
Until the day my good advice was betrayed by my evil impulses and I hauled off and socked the baldest of the bald. The conflict of San Quintín broke out (students of history: In this battle, Philip II defeated France and was covered in glory) in the midst of a colossal confusion that eventually turned into defeat, and also recalled Rosario de Amozoc, when a free-for-all dissolved all doubts in a brawl worthy of saloon fights in westerns. Or a donnybrook, the British version of a brawl, fracas, mêlée, brouhaha, uproar, tumult, hullabaloo, pandemonium, charivari, turmoil, logomachy, and, in general, chaos pure and simple. That is, the bald kid fell back against his comrades, who threw him back at me, though the guerrilla fighter had slipped and hit his face on the paving tiles in the yard, which provoked an argument between two, then four, then seven comrades about who had made the champion fall, and then another boy boldly stood at my side, faced the crowd of schoolboys, and shouted that the next blow would be struck not at me but at him.
The self-assurance of my defender was transformed into authority over a herd that counted its own strength in numbers and not in courage. The professorial whistle for order finally sounded that afternoon, which otherwise was stormy because the morning sun was leaving to bathe in cataracts of punctual twilight rain.
“It’s the rainy season,” said my smiling defender, resting his hand on my shoulder.
I thanked him. He said he could not stand cowards who fight only in a gang. He became distracted and offered his hand to the bald kid to help him up.
“Don’t be late for class, asshole,” he said.
The bald kid wiped the blood from his nose, turned his back on us, and ran away.
Together my new friend and I walked the length of the large yard, a space surrounded by two floors of classrooms and auditoriums, with a frontón court at the end.
“If they were a little more educated, they’d have called you Cyrano.”
“They’re sons of bitches. Don’t give them any ideas. They’d call me Sir Anus.”
“And if you were lame, Nureyev.”
My savior stopped and looked at me astutely.
“You don’t have a big nose. It’s only a long nose. Don’t let that bunch of bums get to you. What’s your name?”
I was going to add the standard “at your service” that dates from colonial Mexican courtesy, when my protector threw back his head and began to laugh.
That’s how I always want to remember him, the way he was at that moment. My height, but the reverse side of my coin. A face tending to plumpness, with the cheeks of an infant not yet weaned. Yes, the mouth of a nursing baby, and eyes so tender and bright they almost demanded a pacifier. His body, on the other hand, was vigorous, his walk decisive, perhaps too sure of his strong step and firm forward motion, while my movements tended to slip away from me, subtle and even a little hesitant, as if they weren’t sure if at my feet they would find earth or the void, solid ground or swamp, light or mud . . .
Excerpted from Destiny and Desire by Carlos Fuentes. Copyright © 2011 by Carlos Fuentes. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.