Author: Luiz A G Cancello
Translation: Mike Welch
In my house we use the traditional system of two towels, one bath towel and one face towel. There are two hangers on the wall of the small bathroom, for my wife and for me. Twice a week the cleaning woman has the errand of replacing them with other, clean, soft ones. I always had few luxuries, and even some of these have been left behind, as a result of sloppiness and times when money was scarce, but I still make a point of making the moments when I dry my body pleasant. I separate an amount each month to buy the best of fabric softeners.
The cramped bathroom has its advantages. One is that you can take a towel by simply extending your arm, being enough to open the door just by a crack. On cold days it is essential.
But something happened one summer day. When I finished rinsing the creamy soap from my skin (oh yes, I also still maintain that luxury), I realized that the bath towel was not in its place, only the face towel being there. Anyone who has ever tried to dry themself with such a miniscule piece of cloth will know what I am talking about. The dilema presents itself: if you dry your head thoroughly, the towel would be too wet to dry satisfactorily the rest of the body. If the hair is left damp, even in the heat, there would be the possibility to start sneezing, my scalp is very sensitive, triggering rhinitis from hell. Furthermore, it would be necessary to reserve a dry area to pass between the toes, as chilblains often asserts itself there, in the beach season. Well, it’s more aseptic do this using pieces of toilet paper. But at least two corners of the towel must be preserved, one for each ear cavity. Beyond the possiblity that exists of creating a broth culture conducive to certain bacteria, water in the ear is a detestable thing.
The post-bath routine is an art. You must wipe the skin with exact pressure. If the friction is too strong it irritates, if very weak it leaves a thin layer of water, where various harmful microorganisms can arise. With this tiny piece of fabric it is impossible to see to the task with due care and attention. Tasks poorly done upset me.
I try to shout for Luiza to bring me a towel fit for the task. I then remember that she went to the supermarket. I am alone, maybe I could wipe the minimum necessary not to wet the floor of the bedroom, and go to the wardrobe.
Oh, the hair dryer! It deals with a good deal of the problems. It leaves the area between the toes completely dry, I have previously used this feature on medical advice when I had resilient micosis. The head, well, the device was made for this. With care, and at mild temperatures, keeping the machine at a suitable distance, the groin and the surrounding area can also be rid of moisture. A good idea to remember, if it were not for the electricity bill. This suffers a significant increase when we use household items that transform electrical energy into heat – the shower, the iron, the hairdryer. In physics classes it was called the Joule effect, I can still remember. Between wetting the bedroom and wasting electricity, the first alternative is cheaper and more politically correct. I decide upon this course of action, after some reflection.
The truth is that I loved the fact that the towel was not where it should be. These small incidents fascinate me, they bring to me considerations on the order of things. When everything is in its right place, no philosophy is possible. But in this house everything works so well, I am so meticulous and my wife so orderly, that instances of disorganisation like these are rare. To intentionally provoke these moments would take away all their charm, it is necessary that they just happen. For this reason I live in the moment and intensely appreciate every one.
I’ve tried a few times, to forge contexts for reflection. When monotony spans over for long periods, it is necessary to contrive nontrivial events. For example, let the cap of the toothpaste fall onto the porcelain of the sink. It then presents one of the most charming ways to think about existence. The only rational course of action, in this time, is to put your hand down the plughole and wait for all movement of the object to cease. Meanwhile, time is suspended. There is no sense of time passing in those seconds, thought also stops, reaching the goal sought by many schools of meditation. The multiple possibilities of this practice delight me, the metaphors she poses delight me. A true life lesson flows out from the spiral traced by the plastic, skating down the porcelain.
A well-used razor blade can also offer up teachings. In order to not graze the skin, a very special procedure is necessary. First, wet the brush with very hot water, for which a shower hose attachment is very useful. When purchasing such an attachment, you should choose one long enough to pass over the top of the cubicle and reach to the sink. After the cream has been passed on the face, a delay is necessary. In chronological terms, no more than three or four minutes; it is the time for the beard to soften. Then shave each section of the face very slowly, warming the blade in the water at regular intervals. The great lesson of this procedure occurs when you are in a hurry, when you have something urgent to do in the external world. Under these conditions it is necessary to disrobe yourself of all haste, become the embodiment of a yogi meditating in the middle of the avenue, during rush hour. A wonderful peace falls over the man who can accomplish all these steps, with his spirit focused on the task.
Using a face towel, I wipe away as much water as is possible. I walk out of the bathroom unclothed, seeking to step on tiptoes only on the lighter wooden panels, which are less prone to staining from moisture. Our apartment is old, the floor is original, a mosaic made by the kind of specialists who no longer exist. I avoid defiling this art, today superceded by imitation wooden panels. I cross the room and I’m almost to the wardrobe, when I hear a noise, Luiza arrived home from the supermarket much sooner than would be expected, and now appears in the doorway. I have an immense sense of disappointment. Of course I like my wife, we have been married for a short time, but her presence now, precisely now, disrupts the fleshing out of a worldview. Yet another, among many unfinished works. On the verge of finally biting into its own tail, the mythical snake has a toothache. This was the last reasonable thing about which I could think.
– Toninho, what are you doing there, naked, walking around that weird way? You seem crazy!
– I was just coming to get a towel.
– The cleaning woman didn’t put the towel in the bathroom?
– It doesn’t matter. Please, don’t interrupt me.
– Interrupt what, baby? Let me get that for you.
– No, please, don’t. Go and wait for me in the room.
Luiza was a sweet person. She understood that something important was happening. She returned from the supermarket, having forgotten the shopping list, but stayed waiting for me to leave the room. We had been living together for just three months, I had not yet told her everything. During our short courtship, which lasted one semester, she noticed my unusual attention to detail, the importance I gave to things which most people would see as trivial. She always thought this was a personality quirk, a curiosity, nothing too important. I knew that during the marriage, sharing day-to-day life, my way of facing the world (or as some philosopher friends would say, being in the world) would have to be clarified. To be honest, I married her as part of the game, if I may put it that way. To bring her into my universe would also be my life’s work, full of transcendental occasions for learning. Not that love was absent, it was precisely to love her that I made this choice. It is an ambiguous task, however; at the same time as I rejoiced with the possibility of being able to share with someone the extraordinary richness of small things, I felt a certain jealousy at sharing such things, as if I was losing something. Insecurity was drawing near, every time an opening arose to approach the subject; something like a sense of fading, of dissolving. Now that she is nearby, a wall’s thickness and a tortuous distance away, I am hoping perhaps that I can clarify my strange attitudes. If only I could encapsulate it all in one philosophical problem! But words escape me, I’m paralyzed.
I need to transport myself to the dimension where the key issues are rooted, and from there find a good starting position for the dialogue that awaits me. The diagonals running from corner to corner of the room pass over the mosaic of wooden with a certain logical design. I would like to direct her to this, and for that simple gesture to be enough: amid geometric complexity, the imaginary straight line determining a merciless, radical course, even able to cross the skirting board and establish itself in the adjoining room, in the building, in the city, in the universe. Each of the four diagonals have this power, making the room the center of the world or stretching out to infinity. My wish is for this simple observation to be blazingly obvious to Luiza, and then for her to understand everything.
But this hypothesis is unlikely. Many questions will arise, and I will not be able to answer all of them with the linearity that the woman requires. I need to think impersonally, taking Luiza out of my mind for a few moments. Let’s see. Someone, somewhere, is waiting for an explanation. I will clarify the question, or rather, the context of the question. As a Zen master tells a koan, a story that, in saying nothing, says everything. Something that speaks of the conditions in which things happen and happened, of the state in which the universe shows itself in that instant, at that very moment the question arises – because you never know if what comes first is the fact or the question. It is expected that from therein illumination arises. But Luiza has another kind of light, it doesn’t shine in the ether, but is earthly, guiding along practical paths. Since she took control of my budget, I no longer had any debts. The bills are paid, we were even able to buy a new refrigerator. We have a hair dryer thanks to a special offer that she saw in the supermarket. She even waxed the floor. It would be easy to live with such a person, provided that we did not have to talk about such difficult subjects. Maybe we can remain together with a certain mutual weirdness, meeting each other at the tangential points of two universes, where the magic of suspending time is also possible, though by other means. Who knows? Maybe it could be lovely.
I go to the room naked.