The Good Optimist / Fernando Dámaso

“Ole,” they said in my childhood, is a word that has no explanation. With NO, it is the same. You go walking through the streets of God in this atheist city, at least officially, thirst grabs you and tightens your throat, and all you find, written with various materials in different ways, an infinity of little notices: There is no water. Then you wonder: Is it that it hasn’t rained all year? Have all the rivers dried up? Are the aqueducts extinct and the did the pipes explode? No one gives you a logical explanation. You only hear about rescuing the culinary honor, etc. etc. etc.

You are optimistic. You keep walking. And continue to find little signs: Keep Out. No Visits Allowed. No Unauthorized Entry. Don’t Touch. Do Not Disturb. Don’t Talk. And much more. You, continuing to be optimistic, sit on a bench (after looking everywhere to see if there is a No Sitting sign) and ponder longingly some little signs that for many many years made you happy. No Illiteracy. No Bureaucracy. No Slums. And then you wonder: What became of them? Where are they? And you get up and keep walking (I already said it, you are a magnificent optimist!).

You come to your workplace (because you’re going to work, you just have to walk there because there’s not enough transport!), greet everyone you meet (some respond, most don’t), go into your office and sit at your desk. Your secretary, helpful as always, comes and says, “We haven’t received authorization to do what you want to do, there is no possibility you can resolve it.” With a slight headache you ask her to please leave you alone for a moment and then she continues her report. The secretary, half puzzled half hurt, leaves, looking at you with incredulous eyes. “Today the boss is a jerk!’ she thinks.

You — of course! — remain optimistic. You decide to draft a waiting document and ask, through the intercom, for some bond paper. You receive the following response, “There is no bond paper, only bad newsprint.” You accept it. Sit down to write. Finish. Ask for an envelope. There aren’t any, she answers. You, who continues being optimistic, decide to take a break and leave to walk walk walk, to clear your head.

You visit a few local currency stores, which is what you receive your salary in: There is no deodorant, no razor blades, no toilet paper, no soap, etc. etc. etc. You go to the milk store: There is no milk. You go to the bakery: There is no bread until further notice. You think: man does not live by bread alone. You go to the market where you are supposed to buy the things on your ration card. There is no detergent. There is no chicken and no fish for those on a medical diet (mackerel — the only fish in the entire sea — or at least the only one that allows itself to be caught).

You remain optimistic, a great optimist, the greatest of all optimists. You think all these things are trifles, articles of consumer society, simple, shoddy, material. You think of spiritual values: There is no begging (in the newspaper); There is no prostitution (in the newspaper); There is no gambling (officially); There are no drugs (or are there?). You keep thinking. You start to get annoyed by some fastidious gremlins whispering in your ear, so no one else can hear it: it’s not good to say these things, it is not a principled position to do it, it’s not good for you, who is an Optimist, the scare of a slap.

You get home. You climb the seven flights of stairs since the elevator doesn’t work because it broke yesterday morning. Finally you put the key in the lock and turn it. You’re covered in sweat. You crave a cool bath and sleep. There’s no water, your neighbor tells you from the hallway. The motor couldn’t pump it because there’s no electricity. Then you start to scream and run headlong into the walls. The neighbor calls the other neighbors. José has gone crazy, she says. The neighbors gather and grab you. Try to hold you. You keep screaming and wanting to get away from them. You do. You run down the stairs. You go out. The neighbors are behind you. Other passersby join them. Some people scream, not knowing what’s going on.

“Stop the thief!” A cop crosses your path and stops you with a karate chop. Then comes then ambulance (with the letters in reverse) and they take you away. You go to the hospital. They inject you and when you are sedated a doctor comes and asks you strange questions. You realize he is a psychiatrist. They think I’m crazy, you think. You answer some and others not. He writes and writes and writes. In the end he says, “You have nothing, you may go. It’s all been a nervous shock. Your nerves betrayed you, friend!”

You leave the hospital and look for a taxi. There are none. You try to catch the bus. It’s late. You decide to walk, and certainly walking is healthy. Don’t step on the grass — Decree 80. You pass a collective dumpster. Close me, I am your friend — you read. You’re not sure whether to shake its hand or hug it. You control yourself.

You just got out of the hospital. You have absolutely nothing. You keep walking. Return to your normal life. Try not to read the little signs, to forget the No’s. You, in spite of everything, continue being an optimistic man. You manage in the daytime but at night the dreams come. It’s as if you continually read a grammar book with only two little letters on each of its pages: no no no no no no no. Tenaciously. You can’t. And then you decide to go to the psychiatric hospital and ask for admission. How? Why can’t you let me come in? Because I didn’t come through the established channels?

September 22, 2010