Cláudio e Constantino (a novel in paradoxes)
After a little while the boys saw a light swinging in the dark. A light, even the faintest of lights, is better than no light at all. It looked like it came from an oil lamp on the ground. When they got closer to it, they realized that the lamp was in the foreman´s hand and the foreman himself was attached to it, kneeling on all fours at his door, staring at the path.
- Are you looking for something, Mirandolino? – Constantino asked.The man took his time. He was breathing hard. Then he answered:
- I lost my tooth.The boys knelt down and searched.
- Was it a very valuable tooth? – Claudio asked.
-It was a front tooth, I´ll need it tomorrow morning to bite my bread.
- But is it an in-and-out kind of tooth?
- For the moment it is out – his brother said - Give me light, Mirandolino, it is pitch dark over here.
There was no trace of a tooth. There were lumps of dirt, stones and pebbles and weed thriving everywhere. By Mirandolino´s house door there was a small iron dog that was used to scrape the mud off of boots. Constantino sat on his heels and started to think. You could see it distinctively, that he was thinking. He had such an intelligent face, Claudio thought. He half closed his eyes and turned up his nose, as if thoughts had smells and he was sniffing them. Before he spoke, Constantino pulled some air into his lungs, kept it in there for a moment and then let it out with a question in its wing.
- You actually did not lose a tooth, now did you?
- It certainly isn´t here! - the foreman says, pointing at his open mouth. He wanted to show the black hole where the tooth should have been, but all was black, so there was no difference.
- You know it isn´t there, but you know that it will be around here somewhere, though you don´t know exactly where. It is not lost. We lose a tooth when the dentist takes it from us, gives it to the Falupas Courier, who runs with it to the innermost depths of Africa, delivers it to the Falupas Courier on the ground, who sells it to someone, and that someone makes a beautiful necklace and offers it to his youngest son who is preparing for his first luau. That is losing a tooth.
- Yes, then you know exactly where it is, but it is lost to you– Claudio said.
- Exactly, while it does not turn to dust. To be lost is to suffer an irreversible process. From the Falupa boy´s necklace it will never return to Mirandolino´s jaw. That is for sure.
- Nobody can tear it from that Falupa boy´s neck.
- But then again, if it fell into the well, or into the river…with the flowing waters… - Constantino´s reticence meant a gray area in the problem of loss.The foreman mumbled a few words, then shook his head and breathed hard. He changed the lamp into his other hand, then put it down on the ground and leaned over it. Mirandolino´s face was not a pretty sight. It had too much nose. Chicks were much more beautiful, or strawberries, Claudio thought, though his brother had already warned him about comparing things that were not comparable. A chick is a chick and a face is a face and that´s the end of that. But if you could not compare different things, what then was the use of comparison? Mirandolino´s face, lit from the ground, was even more terrifying. But Claudio had already noticed that people´s faces change a lot. Mother´s face changed with time. As the day went by and Claudio didn´t get a chance to see her in the flesh, his mother´s face became clearer and her smile grew wider, as a flower which would bloom and bloom instead of fading. His father´s face changed with space. Because he was always away, either sailing the sea, or at war, or at home in his office and the Servant Girl said that he was not to be disturbed.
The foreman slowly stroked the weed on the path and Claudio asked:
-Where did you lose your tooth? Was it here, near your door?
-I don´t know where I lost it.
-So why are you looking for it here, if you don´t know where you lost it? – Constantino asked.
-I think I lost it by the well – the foreman said, to make it easier on the search.
-Why are you looking for it here, then, if you think you lost it over there?
-That´s a good one! – Mirandolino laughed. – That´s a fine one! As you very well know one can´t find anything by the well! It´s all covered in bushes and thorns and tall grass, I could end up scratched and hurt or even worse, I could stick my hand in one of my own traps! No, it´s best I look for it here. – And he shook his head at the nonsense he had just heard from the boy.
-You are right – Constantino said – one can only look for things where it is possible to look for them. But I still think that if you can´t find it, it is because you haven´t lost it.
- You must be mad.
- Let´s think for a bit – Constantino said, preparing for one of his dialogues. - You do agree with me when I say that everything that you can lose, exists.
- Sure it exists – Mirandolino mumbled – I just don´t know where.
- So your tooth existed before you lost it and after you lose it, it still exists. Or do you assume that it dissolves the moment it falls from your mouth?
- There´s an idea!
- So it must be here somewhere, by the well, or somewhere, since it must still be in existence. Do you agree?
- Do I have a choice?
- Now, if it exists, you would end up finding it, if you´d put your mind to it. You did not find it simply because you have not really looked for it in the place where you lost it.
- Amen to that.
- So we´re allowed to conclude that one can find everything that one is searching for.
- Well, I don´t know about that…
- If you can´t find what you have lost, the only plausible reason is that you have not lost it.
- It is completely dark! – Mirandolino said, in despair. All this reasoning was driving him to distraction. He got up and started to the door. He hesitated, took two steps toward the well, then he took the way home.
- Let me ask you just one more question – Constantino said. – Did you, by any chance, lose your horns?
- My horns?
- Well, if you haven´t lost them, then you still have them.
Had he been sober, Mirandolino would have taken offence. Claudio himself thought that his brother had gone too far. But the foreman was just hurt, and he tried to explain himself, which was not easy, since his front tooth was missing:
-I was coming from the big house humming along, night had fallen, and I started to sing a song where there is a part where I need the tooth because it goes like this: Throttle and thread the path to there. Thrust in first full speed ahead. And when I wanted to strike my tongue against my front tooth, it was not there, but I didn´t notice it at the time; it is only now that I realize that I didn´t have it then. I sang the refrain when I was passing by the well, and it already sounded funny. But when I came to my door and I needed the tooth to straighten my key, only then did I realize it was missing!
- So you straighten your key with your teeth, do you? – asked Claudio – No wonder it keeps falling from your mouth!
Mirandolino didn´t hear him. He had said good night and gone into the house taking his lamp. Constantino looked around him. There was no moon. Night was black as the bottom of a well and the boys had to find their way home.