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Kátia Borges





EVER SINCE WE STARTED COUNTING THE DEAD


Translated by Gabriella Turner




In these socially distanced times, I’ve been noticing the lack of birds. I step out onto the balcony of my apartment and not a single one flies over to greet me. Pre-pandemic, they would land in flocks on the windowsill, as if they wanted to strike up a conversation. It was as though one of those impatient bananaquits were singing out “come over here and I'll tell you all about it”. No sooner did I bring my ear closer than it plunged into free-fall.


Ornithologists pontificate that the chitter-chatter of birds is nothing more than a song. They might be teasing me, chorusing: "I flew over the ocean this morning”. My balcony has been the extent of my contact with nature in these socially-distanced times. I could debate with them about the plasticity of aerodynamics, if only they let me get a word in. But birds have better things to do.


For example, for a long time now the rufous-bellied thrushes have been unable to sleep. Since 2013, they’ve been trading day for night. In big cities, they’ve decided to start singing at the crack of dawn. I join them in silence, after the daily nightmare on the news. Ever since we started counting the dead, there’s been no such thing as a full night’s sleep. No longer do the gossip-loving birds carry out their morning ritual. And they choose to do it now, producing this emptiness within a concrete jungle.


I think there must be a reason for the disappearance of the birds. I'm becoming obsessed with trying to make sense of things. I always come up with an improbable logic behind events. And it’s not impossible that I’ll be the one to find the cure, since I’ve been waiting for it for so long. In the distance I spot a sayaca tanager giving me a wide berth. I look at it and wave. I sense its wariness. Who am I to question fear? I who cannot begin to understand emotion.


I channel the weightlessness of the wait into caring for my plants. From their pots, they watch over the apartment’s every move. They’ve never been so supportive. I’ve lost count of the number of times they’ve seen me cry. I bring them fresh water, we have a little party and occasionally laugh together. It really is the pits, me blabbering on, and so annoying the way I see poetry everywhere. Stone is stone is stone is stone is stone.


It’s impossible to fathom now whether or not there is any future plotting the dawn. Any verse breathing beneath the rubble. Yet another morning with eyes open, ears pricked, a bird's insomnia. Someone clears their throat loudly in the other apartment. I remember my father arriving home from work, late at night. An arrival announced by the sound of coughing. And then, out of the blue, I hear a noise on the balcony: the fluttering of wings.


 

Katia is from Bahia, Salvador. She has a PhD in Literature and Culture, she's a journalist, poet and chronicler. She wrote the books De volta à caixa de abelhas (As letras da Bahia, 2002), Uma balada para Janis (P55, 2009), Ticket Zen (Escrituras, 2010), Escorpião Amarelo (P55, 2012), São Selvagem (P55, 2014) and O exercício da distração (Penalux, 2017). She's a columnist for the newspaper Correio since 2018. A teoria da felicidade (Patuá, 2020) is her seventh book.


Both Gabriella’s parents are keen linguists and inspired in her a love for languages, paving the way for her studying Spanish and Portuguese at the University of Oxford. She lived in Brazil on her year abroad where she worked as a translator and English teacher, before undertaking further translation work at a cultural hub in Spain. In the new year, she plans to split her time between Brazil and Mexico working as a TEFL teacher before launching an Arts and Music festival in the UK which aims to channel the ethos of carnival and incorporate as much Brazilian music and culture as possible.



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