One of my greatest passions is good literature, and literary translation goes hand in hand with that passion. Some time ago, I read El largo funeral del señor White (The Long Funeral of Mr. White) by Eugenio Prados, a tale of an elderly gentleman obsessed with recording his last words and his relationship with his secretary, Jonas Plim. I enjoyed the story so much that I contacted Mr. Prados and offered my services. Below is a sample of my work:
On the night of his seventieth birthday, Mr. White knew that his death was nigh. He sensed it as neither an objective nor a scientific fact — rather as a hunch, like a whisper from the afterworld telling him that his journey on earth had come to an end. He did not fear what had come over him, nor was his face cloaked in pallor. Rather, the thought urged him to act, and after placing a few shreds of tobacco in his pipe, he decided to put his nose to the grindstone and prepare for his imminent funeral.
As the cautious man he was, Mr. White had envisioned that moment for some time now. He opened a desk drawer and took out a sheet on which he had written a list with the items that were to be ready upon his departure. For Mr. White, death was not so much knowing that one was going to die or what one was going to die of, but how. There was nothing that worried him more than losing his composure upon expiring, with dreadful jerks and desperate cries. Those ways of dying did not congeal with his personality. He wanted a clean and calm farewell, leaving behind everything in order (to the fullest extent) on earth to embrace Heaven unfettered.
Many of the items on that list were already in place. The casket, for instance, had been resting for two years in the crypt that he had ordered built in his magnificent home. He picked out the most luxurious one: the imperial model built of cedar, with golden handles and the family crest engraved on the lid.
He had also chosen the music that would be played when his body was carried to the crypt. After months of deliberation, he had decided that the piece would be the German Requiem by Johannes Brahms. It transported him to a world of peace and piety as few others did. It was solemn— but not creepy. The ideal piece so that the guests would attend his funeral, shed a few tears when it started, and end up smiling when it was over, when the voices of the chorus rise above the music so angelically that they manage to move even the hardest of hearts.
The clothes he would wear, though, would be of the plainest. Although his lineage warranted a different kind of attire, he did not want to weigh himself down, on his final journey, with either expensive suits or old medals. A white shirt and black pants would suffice. He had chosen them precisely for the effect it would elicit in his guests. That humble garb, in contrast to the exuberance of the music and casket would lead everyone to feel sorrier for him than if they saw him stuffed into another kind of suit that exuded lavishness. He did not want to be remembered as the rest of his ancestors, as an old, stuffy noble. Besides, he hated when people addressed him with some of his titles of nobility. He wanted to be remembered as the elderly and venerable Mr. White. Nothing else.
He blushed while checking the list, sporting a wide grin in light of the perfect plan he would fulfill, twisted when he read the last item.
“Good God!” he exclaimed. “The most important thing is missing!”
At the bottom of the page, after everything else, was written one last item, a fundamental part of the ceremony:
- THE READING OF THE LAST WORDS
A cold breeze blew into the room and set each of Mr. White’s white hairs on end. A window was open, and the night chill had crept into the room. He got up, and after closing the window, approached the hearth.
“What will be my last words?” he asked himself while he stirred the fire with the poker. “How might they come to hear them?”
The pang that bore the news that the end was near penetrated his body again, searing him like one of the coals in the fireplace.
“I’ll find someone who will listen to them,” he said resolutely.
And with that desire surrounded by the silence that enveloped his house day and night, he began his quest.
The next day’s newspaper, in the classified section, between half-price condos and scarce job offers displayed a two-page text printed in huge letters that said:
“SECRETARY NEEDED. RESPONSIBLE. WITH A GOOD EAR. NO PRIOR EXPERIENCE NEEDED. WILL BE HIRED IMMEDIATELY. CONSIDERABLE COMPENSATION. URGENT. MR W.”
The message, simple at first glance, grabbed the attention of everyone who read it. Who was this Mr. W.? What did the job exactly entail? Why were applicants required to have a good ear? People, with what some were able to affirm, and what others surmised, pieced together different information bit by bit until they figured it out. That Mr. W. could only be Mr. White, the old count, duke or marquis—no one knew for sure—who lived in that enormous house on the edge of the city.
“The old man’s dying! He’s dying!”
“He’s gonna kick the bucket! Croak!”
“Well, it was about time.”
“So what he’s seeking isn’t a secretary... It’s an heir!”
“Well, I’m going over there!”
“Out of the way you dummies! I’m gettin’ there first!”
After those phrases, which were swiftly repeated far and wide all over the country, the following image was that of hundreds of people traveling in droves to the old man’s house. Men, women, the elderly, and children of all walks of life, rapped on the doors of the house in a brutal struggle to be the first to be interviewed. Fights were violent and continuous, and in the melee, pistols were unholstered and knives were brandished. More than one person came away with a bullet in the leg or a slashed ear.
Unaware of the events on the outside, Mr. White gazed at the throng through the window of his study and was overjoyed that so many of his neighbors had remembered him during his last days. He gazed bewilderedly at the list with the names of candidates and counted a total of more than nine hundred. It would be impossible to interview all of them, he thought; although the truth was that any of them could be fit for the job: their duty would only consist of keeping him company and living with him until his death — which could occur at any time, and record, as would a notary, his last words."
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