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And on his part, Bob— and this was his fatal mistake — cannot picture himself on the other side: he speaks and behaves like an eternal teenager. But time, as we mentioned before, takes its toll on every human being, and there is no turning it back. One thing is certain: that every day he will be older, further away from the time when he used to be called Bob, with his fair hair hanging over one of his temples, his smile and his sparkling eyes, further away from the time when he used to come silently into the room, murmuring a greeting or waving his hand slightly at the level of his ear; then he would go and sit down under the lamp near the piano with a book, or merely stay silent and apart, lost in his own thoughts, watching us for an hour at a time without moving a muscle of his face, only altering the position of his fingers from time to time in order to cope with his cigarette and brush the ash off the lapels of his light suit.
He is just as far away — now that he is called Robert and gets drunk on any old thing, covering his mouth with his dirty hand when he coughs — from the Bob who only used to drink beer, and then no more than two glasses during the longest of evenings, and who would have a pile of ten-cent pieces on his table in the bar of the club to put in the juke-box.
Almost always alone, listening to jazz, his face sleepy, happy and pale, hardly moving his head to greet me as I passed, following me with his eyes all the time I stayed, as long as I could stand the gaze of his blue eyes fixed tirelessly on me, keeping up effortlessly a look of intense contempt and gentlest mockery.
He used also to be with some other young fellow, on Saturdays, someone as rabidly young as he was, with whom he talked, just the two of them, very animatedly about the vast city which Bob would build on the coast when he became an architect. He used to interrupt the conversation on seeing me pass by to give me a brief greeting. Thereafter he would never take his eyes off my face as he shot smiles and muttered comments out of the corner of his mouth to his companion, who always finished up staring at me too and silently echoing the contempt and mockery.
At times I felt strong and tried to look back at him: I used to rest my cheek on my hand and sit smoking over my drink, looking at him unwinkingly, without ever relaxing attention from my face, which was intended to maintain a cold, slightly melancholy look.
Or else I developed to excess a cynical theory about something or other, so that they would laugh and Bob would hear it. I only remember this incident as a proof of the fact that he took notice of my playacting in the bar. He was wearing a raincoat buttoned up to the neck and had his hands in his pockets. He greeted me with a nod of his head, then looked around and came on into the room as if he had annihilated me completely with that rapid nod; I could see him walking up and down near the table, on the carpet, tramping over it with his yellow rubber shoes.
He touched a flower with his finger, sat down on the edge of the table and started smoking, looking at the flower-vase. His serene profile was turned towards me, his head slightly bowed, his face slack and pensive. Unwisely —I was standing leaning on the piano — I pushed down with my left hand one of the low keys and was then obliged to repeat the sound every three seconds, watching him.
I felt for him no more than hatred and shamefaced respect, and I went on banging down the key, hammering it with a cowardly ferocity in the silence of the house until suddenly I found myself outside it all, observing the scene as if I were standing at the top of the staircase or in the doorway, seeing him and sensing him, Bob, silent and absent beside the thin wisp of smoke of his cigarette which rose trembling upwards.
I felt tall and stiff, rather pathetic, rather ridiculous in the half-light, every three seconds exactly striking the low key with my forefinger. Then the thought struck me that I was not making this noise on the piano out of incomprehensible bravado, but that I was calling him; that the deep note which my finger kept on obstinately sounding at the very end of each final vibration was, now that I had finally found it, the only word of supplication with which one could ask for tolerance and comprehension from his implacable youthfulness.
Milk or whisky? Do you feel the urge for salvation or do you want a leap into the unknown? I stopped striking the key and drew my hand slowly away from the piano. The duel lasted three or four months.
My passionate need had suppressed both the past and any link with the present. Afterwards I saw that he was waiting for the evening. But I had only just realized this when that evening Bob arrived and came to sit at the table where I was alone, dismissing the waiter with a gesture. I waited a moment, looking at him. I looked at him, smiled and looked away. Now it makes no difference, one way or the other. But I can hear you out. His face was pale, with a forced tense smile of lips and teeth.
But it can all be said in a few words. My head was resting against the wall and I went on waiting. No, we were at the same table and I was as clean and young as he was. I went to the juke-box, pressed one of the buttons and put in a coin. I came slowly back to my seat and listened. The music was not very loud: someone was singing softly in the midst of long pauses. Poor kid, I thought with wonder.
He was saying that, in what he called old age, the most repugnant thing, the determining factor in decomposition, or perhaps the symbol of decomposition, was to think in preconceived ideas, combining all women in the word woman, cramming them all in carelessly to make them conform to a preconceived idea based on very scanty experience. But, he went on, not even the word experience was the right one.
By then, there were no experiences left, nothing except habits and repetitions, worn-out names to apply to things and so in a sense create them. This was more or less what he was saying.
He walked out at his usual pace which was assured, and neither fast nor slow. How was I to recognize her or even evoke her, looking at this woman with her long body rigid in the arm-chair in her house and on the bench in the square and who kept the same resolute and determined rigidity on the two different occasions and in the two different places; this woman with her neck held stiffly erect, her eyes looking straight in front of her, her mouth dead, her hands stuck there in her lap.
I never got to know which particular anecdote Bob had chosen to get this result. I learned later that she got married and now does not live in Buenos Aires any more. Far away and lost forever she could go on being alive and untouched, utterly unmistakable, identical with her own essential self.
On the afternoon of our first meeting I waited for hours for him to be left alone or for him to step outside, so as to speak to him and knock him down. I picked out the place on his body to hit with my first blow. But at dusk he went away with his three friends and I decided to wait, just as he had waited years before, for a more suitable evening, one when he would be by himself.
When I saw him again, when we began this second friendship which I now hope will never come to an end, I gave up thinking about any sort of attack. My hatred will go on keeping itself warm and new as long as I can go on seeing and listening to Robert.
No one knows anything about my vengeance, but I live it, joyful and furious as it is, day after day. I talk to him, smile, smoke, drink coffee.
All the time thinking of Bob, of his purity, of his faith, the audacity of his past dreams. Thinking of the Bob who loved music, of the Bob who planned to ennoble the lives of men by building a city of blinding beauty, for five million inhabitants, along the bank of the river; of the Bob who could never lie, the Bob who proclaimed the struggle of the young against the old, the Bob who was lord of all the future and of all the world.
No one was ever so enraptured with love as I am at the spectacle of his short-lived attempts to rouse himself, the plans with no conviction behind them which a destroyed and far-distant Bob dictates to him from time to time and which only serve to make him measure exactly the extent to which he has forever defiled himself.
He is still a newcomer and periodically suffers from fits of nostalgia. I have seen him tearful and drunk, insulting himself and promising his imminent return to the days of Bob.
At bottom I know that he will never go back, because he has no place to go to; but I make myself be considerate and patient and try to make him submit. Like those bits of native soil, or those photographs of streets and monuments or the songs which immigrants like to bring with them, so I keep on making different plans, beliefs and futures all of which have the light and savour of the country of youth from which he came not very long ago.
And he accepts. He always protests a bit so that I have to redouble my promises, but in the end he always says yes, he finally manages a smile, believing that some day he is destined to go back to the world and the hours of Bob. And so he remains at peace in his mid-thirties, moving without disgust or clumsiness among the powerful corpses of his old ambitions, and the repulsive shapes of the dreams which gradually were worn down by the constant unconscious pressure of so many thousands of inevitable feet.
We ask them to write to us here. Though short, Welcome, Bob is a true masterpiece. It takes a special kind of artistic sensitivity to write such a piece of literature and concentrate almost all issues of human life in it. Thank you for posting it and for uploading the audio version. Login Sign Up Write Stories. Read more. Vote Up 0 0 Vote Down Reply. Other readers liked If you enjoyed this story, here are few more we think are an excellent pairing.
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