Sergio ChejfecArgentinaWriting2009
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'Boca de Lobo,' novel, Alfaguara, Buenos Aires, 2000


Excerpt translated by Heather Cleary.


I didn’t like that Delia was a factory worker, but it was a shapeless sort of dislike. Contrary to what one might think, it was not a sentimental qualm, nor did it have anything to do with any sense of injustice, at least, not in that respect. I didn’t like that Delia worked for the most obvious of reasons: the very circumstance that brought her to it, by which she was converted into something else, something outside herself, her feet treading yet another frontier. Delia was no less innocent, if one can speak of innocence, than is normal for someone like her, but she had different habits, a different routine; at any rate, she “knew” more, and different, things than other girls her age. And what she knew is that unwanted knowledge that comes to us, anyway. Nevertheless, later, when we would spend nights walking along deserted streets, I felt a certain pride knowing that the hands that sometimes touched me were the same ones that, hours before, had been operating machinery, handling tools, or transporting future merchandise. These activities, designed primarily to make use of her physical energy – and, in the end, to sap it entirely – at the same time granted her an immense vigor, in the form of an enthusiasm or plenitude that tended to overshadow setbacks and moments of misfortune. Every now and then I would think about how Delia seemed to inscribe a circle: from the innocence I attributed to her at the beginning, to the strength of character one associates with a factory worker, returning to the simplicity of one who considers her work as something essentially individual, so subjective as to be invisible even to her. That was Delia. As a matter of fact, this latter conviction could have been backed by profound wisdom, but it was manifested in such a straightforward and unchanging way that it served as the perfect closure to the circle, unifying the moments and byways of her spirit. The discovery that she worked in a factory, although it surprised me, was, doubtless, what made me fall in love with her. I can say, without exaggeration, that it was the mark that distinguished her from the rest of the human race, and the condition that made her stand out from all other women. “Her, and a worker, at that...” I would think, assigning her a double symbolic density. As a thought, it was useless, almost vacuous, but it made up for its shortcomings with the eloquence of the word and status: “worker.” A kind of a silver-plated disc seemed to highlight her condition, emphasizing it among the designations and activities of the population. And so, each of her movements, even the way she would lower her right foot onto the corner of los Huérfanos, took on another meaning. Although I didn’t know her – the truth is that she and I had never exchanged words, nor had I ever had the chance to observe her carefully, up close – Delia already embodied my ideal woman: desirable and spent. In this fragmentary, even casual, way all my senses were focused on her; at first seeking to orient themselves as they received, daily, traces of her movements, and when they finally achieved this sense of orientation, evidently, it was forever.


During our walks, Delia would ask me how I really felt about her. Accustomed to the world of the factory, where truth is measured, counted, and classified, she was confused by the thought of becoming the object of something both certain and intangible, as emotions tend to be. To confuse her further still, and to show her the absurdity of her discomfort, I told her that my words might be untrue, but that our experiences together were real; or, reversed, that truthful words were driving us toward false actions. Truth and falsity were not words that pertained to us, I tried to tell her. What was the difference between Delia's way of thinking, which looked to accumulation and modification as proofs of change, and, for example, that of a businessman, whose work is defined by the notion of difference? As a factory worker, Delia had direct contact with the results of her labor: something was altered, a piece of merchandise was completed, a product was moved one step closer to its completion. The businessman's way of thinking was of a different nature, being based in a change of appearance rather than a change in condition. On the other hand, Delia did not own the things that passed through her hands, so her ideas about measurability and the concrete had to be disregarded. As a factory worker, her role was at once subaltern and essential to the objects that passed before her. The merchandise determined her identity, it defined her as a worker; at the same time, it took her over, setting her apart by immeasurable distances, as though she were from another world. The same thing happens to geography, a static environment, although this may seem contradictory: this is because its importance does not reside in change or circulation, in the idea of progress or an ultimate objective, but in that movement that confers identity; hours or, more appropriately, those industrial spindles whose entire function is to go back and forth. Delia's hands were the medium through which a product attained its status as merchandise. I've read many novels in which the protagonists aren't able to tell the difference between truth and falsity – there is a true and a false side to all things: people have true and false profiles, someone chooses the right side of a room as false and the left as true, etcetera. I've even read an untrue book, or rather, a book falsified by circumstance, which made reference to events that could have been real but that eventually showed themselves not to be. Both black and white at the same time, they were neither; they were either absurdly false or absurdly true. But with Delia, this confusion was nonexistent. Although she sometimes found herself at a loss for words she always managed to express herself with precision, and no sign of ambiguity clouded the meaning of her behavior. Coming from her, silence was something living, eloquent - it seemed crafted with the same patience as a stone, able to express the obvious without naming it.