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Ana Pessoa

Translated by Sue Williams


Wednesday, March 11th 2020

Wash your hands, my love

May you never be short of breath or feverish my love. They say that those are the symptoms of the illness. Don’t laugh. Many people have died already. I know very well that passion also kills, but this virus is not from the family of affections. Don’t go on public transport. Don’t go to the market. Don’t go anywhere. The virus is carried by people and is also in buildings and on people’s belongings: on bags, on coats, on hats, on tables, on chairs, on door handles. It only takes one droplet, my love. Yes, a microscopic droplet, we don’t even see it. It is like a secret, like a feeling: it is inside people and no one knows. So, wash your hands, my love. Wash your hands before you eat and after you sneeze. Wash your hands if you start feeling sad or bereft. Wash your hands whenever you have an idea or are following a train of thought. Your hands are so beautiful, so white and clean. Stay at home, my love. Make the most of the silence. Read a book. There is a certain comfort in seclusion, you will see. There is no point going outside, my love. The museums have been closed. The theatres have been closed. The libraries have been closed. It seems now that culture is crowded out, you see. Previously it was the beaches and the shopping centres, but not now. Nobody cares about the sea or wants to buy things anymore. Yet you can no longer be in the libraries; with more people than books, everyone closely lined up in the reading rooms, it’s quite a picture, they look like books on shelves, one in front of the other. Libraries were not made for so many people. Better stay at home, my love. You have plenty of books to read here. Then there are the bedroom curtains; how many months have you been wanting to fix that hem? Don’t get distracted, my love. Please don’t touch your mouth. Don’t touch your nose. Don’t touch your eyes. If you are in pain, ring the health centre. Any little pain at all: a burning sensation in your chest, a tightness in your throat, nausea, a fright, a gasp, distress.

But, watch out! Don’t confuse the illness with infection. Don’t confuse the virus with flu. Don’t confuse a burning sensation with desire. Don’t confuse that discomfort with an emotion.

Thursday, May 28th 2020

Climbing up the slide the wrong way

I slept for 3 hours and, afterwards, another 3; not too bad.

At about 7 o’clock I am with my three in the dining room. The oldest is on my lap drinking from the bottle. The youngest is in the baby bouncer and is playing with my right foot, and, every now and then, chews my toes - ow! The middle one is clapping his hands in the high chair.

I make coffee. I hear the oldest telling the green robot: “I want to be big and tiny”.

I’m going to have my hair cut at 12.30 p.m. Everybody has been agonising so much about their hair that I made an appointment as well; but, to be truthful, I feel fine as I am. Tousled. Outspoken.


The truth is that I hardly ever go to the hairdresser.

On one occasion, when I got my wild locks cut, a friend showed his disapproval. He looked at me, trying to explain: “Your hair is part of your personality”.

I go into the hairdresser, sanitise my hands and put on the paisley pattern mask.

I am now in front of the mirror and think that my ordinary little face also forms part of my personality. Every time I put on the paisley mask I think about my personality and feel that it does me no harm at all to lose some element of character.

Having less is never too much.

The trainee washes my hair. As the girl runs her fingers through my hair she scratches my head and my ego. She massages my temples and the back of my neck. It has been a long while since anyone touched my head. Right now I am no one’s mother. I am big and tiny.

The hairdresser is pregnant. The baby is due in 6 weeks, poor thing. It’s a boy. That’s great, congratulations. She explains to me that she is very lucky because her husband can be present at the birth. “Before, he couldn’t have.” Gosh! Now he can be there but afterwards he can’t leave. What do you mean he can’t leave?

He goes in with his wife and goes out with his wife and child. He can’t leave in the middle of it all, not even to go home. The hairdresser explains further: he can leave if he wants to, but if he does they will not let him return.

I start to wonder if almost everything in life is like this. You can leave but you can’t go back.

The hairdresser asks me “You have loads of children, don’t you?” I say: “Three boys”. The usual question: “Aren’t you going to try for a girl?”

When I announced that my twins were boys, a friend said to me: “You are bolstering patriarchal society”.

I laughed a lot.

I go into the park. It’s virtually empty. A child is trying to climb up the slide the wrong way. She runs up the slide. She never reaches the top, but she doesn’t give up. She slides to the ground, takes a few steps backwards to give herself a run up, throws herself onto the slide, climbs up and up and up, but, nearly at the top she starts to slip, falls forwards and slides, sprawled out, all the way down. She climbs up again. She is eight or nine years old. I don’t see any adult with her. I look at the child climbing up the slide the wrong way and I think about this pandemic, I think about the patriarchal society, I think about Sisyphus and his boulder rolling down the mountain, I think about things related to eternity and the absurd and I accept the punishment.

I start work tomorrow. I am so fat, so fed up, so confused.

The twins are nine months old today. People congratulate me. I think about that morning in August.The doctor came into the room at the scheduled time. He said: “Good morning” and cut open my abdomen. So it really wasn’t a great achievement.

I am a real fraud: writing, translating, loving, living, even giving birth. I just muddle through.

Fortunately, I have had a few centimetres trimmed off my personality. I am a little lighter. I exist less. I sleep less. I live less. But onwards I go, still climbing up the slide.

I am going to finish off this text with a saying from my dear father-in-law: “We have come this far”.

Sunday, October 25th 2020

What? What? What?

My hands are always so dry. Every day seems the same.

A single day repeated with slight differences. One day it rains, the next it doesn’t. One day it’s my throat that hurts, the next it’s sadness. However, the days are essentially the same as those that went before and the same as those that will follow.

I hope that this is not my punishment. A never-ending cycle of days which are always the same. I hypothesise: perhaps I have been falling into a time loop; perhaps the gods are teaching me a lesson; perhaps I have to learn something fundamental about life before I am able to move forward in time.

I imagine them on Olympus, sitting in an orderly way like teachers in the staff room, disappointed with all of this and, in particular, with my existence.

I dress my children, feed them and push the buggy out of the house. I pay attention.

Winter is coming. There are leaves on the ground and clouds in the sky.

The feeling that I have failed at everything; that I am always going to be a failure; that I still have not learned some fundamental thing. But what?

I imagine my thoughts echoing on Mount Olympus.

What? What? What?

It is a long time since I saw anything at a distance. There is always a building in the way, a car, a crane. It is difficult to think without seeing.

It is also difficult to think without breathing. I am fed up of these masks.

I imagine Guincho beach. I imagine the wind. I imagine going into the water and being there, floating. Floating. Floating.

I miss the seagulls. I miss the sea. I imagine the echo of all of this on Mount Olympus.

Sea, sea, sea. Guincho, Guincho, Guincho.

I don’t know how to talk to the gods. I’m no good at faith. I’m no good at prayer.

I started listening to podcasts again. I miss the others a lot.

I still want to learn something fundamental.

What? What? What?

In the name of Zeus, what?

Contagion, illustration by Sara Bandarra


Ana Pessoa writes books for children and young people, all of them published by Planeta Tangerina. Her books are also published in Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Servia, Chile and Netherlands, and have been distinguished by institutions like FNLIJ (Brazil), Banco del Libro (Venezuela), Munich International Library (Germany), including others. In 2020, together with Bernardo P. Carvalho, she published her debut graphic novel Desvio.

Sara Bandarra was born in Aveiro, Portugal, and is a designer (ESAD), teacher and illustrator. She has contributed to a number of collective and solo exhibitions and has organised illustration workshops. Her work has been awarded at events such as Encontro Internacional de Ilustração de S. João da Madeira, BIG - Bienal de Ilustração de Guimarães, and Piip - Prémio Internacional de Ilustração em Porcelana 2019 (Vista Alegre/Tcharan Editora). She has published a number of illustration projects. In 2018, in a co-authorship with Ana Pessoa, she launched the accordion-book As Casas Abandonadas. A second book from this partnership is coming out soon: O retrato inacabado de mulher dentro de casa.

Sue Williams is a retired pathologist. After her retirement, in 2012, she studied Italian and completed a degree (2019) and a Master’s (2021) in Translation Studies at the University of Cardiff. She currently attends a Portuguese Language Course at the Languages Centre in Oxford.

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