“There were two suicide notes,” Edward explained. “One for you, and one for you.”
The death had shaken Berkeley, reverberating throughout the United States and elsewhere. But the devil, as I’ve heard them say there, is in the details. In this case, the theatricality of our prof Emanuel’s act. All this contrasted starkly with the tranquillity of The Musical Offering café (the best strawberry agua fresca in the Americas), the meeting place arranged, via e-mail, by the detective in charge of the case. I’d imagined Edward very differently. I was picturing a Charles Bronson, a Clint Eastwood, or Elliott Gould’s Marlowe. As I found out when I arrived – a little late – he was black, and a dead ringer for Danny Glover. My two friends, Saul and Hilary, were already with him at the table.
In a month’s time I’d be returning to Brazil for good.
“I didn’t just ask you here to honour the final wishes of the deceased. I’d like you to answer a few questions,” said Edward.
“Is the professor’s death under investigation?” I asked.
“No. You could say I’ve taken a personal interest in the case. I’ve been conducting some interviews …”
From his leather briefcase, Edward pulled out not a revolver but a Moleskine. Inside the briefcase I could see photographs of the suicide scene – a glimpse of his head on the ground.
I found myself remembering the other photo – Emanuel in his early twenties, long-haired and proudly sporting a moustache – shown to me months before at our first meeting in his office. In the picture he was wearing a colourful shirt, and there were two younger men standing beside him.
Emanuel taught in the Comparative Literature and English departments. I’d never asked him where in Europe he was born. His English was just a semitone out, but I couldn’t quite identify which language was nudging his adopted one out of its comfort zone. During my Masters I had read one of his books, the only one translated in Brazil. Emanuel was an old breed of scholar. Still respected, but somewhat out of place within current American theory. His book deftly analysed my particular field of interest through “Key Moments in Western Literature”, which always means France, Germany, England and the twentieth-century US, with the obligatory nod to Cervantes (in the preface).
When I met with Emanuel, I knew nothing of his wife’s health. He had requested that we arrange a meeting in his office before I could take his classes. I was welcomed by a white man in his late fifties, with a broad forehead and a shock of long, unkempt, totally white hair. He had little eyes. The way Emanuel smiled reminded me of the faces drawn by Saul Steinberg.
“So, you’re Brazilian, no?” the professor asked me, starting the conversation.
We talked for a few minutes about my academic background, my research interests, and why I’d decided to spend a couple of semesters at Berkeley. At that point he showed me the photo from his younger days. He said he’d had a great time in Brazil, living in an alternative community in a remote part of Bahia, some time in the 70s. He told me, with a half-concealed smile, the story behind his name: for many years his family had employed a Brazilian maid and the professor’s “latino” name (he drew the quotation-marks in the air with his fingers, and looked at me warily as he said “latino”) was in honour of her.
“I spent almost two years there. It was another life – better and worse.”
Then he told me he had two students he liked very much – a Brazilian called Saul, and Hilary, an American girl – and I should get in touch with them. Emanuel was right on target: we did indeed become friends. Saul, from Pernambuco, whose grandparents were Japanese, had been a Comparative Literature grad student at Berkeley for several years. Our friendship worked on a strictly intellectual level. The first time we met, Saul offered to show me around campus, as did Hilary, the Californian. Though the route taken by each of them was the same, they showed me two entirely different campuses. My movements around the campus with Saul were an intricate game of chess – with him there’s no small talk – during which we discussed classes and authors. The campus revealed by Hilary, on the other hand, had rites of initiation, dinosaur bones on display in the Natural History Museum, a ghost, they say, that haunts Bancroft Library, and the rivalry between the Stanford and Berkeley squirrels.
Consensus translation at the 2013 BCLT Summer School of an extract from the short story ‘Emanuel’ by Ada Gokay, Andrew McDougall, Charlotte Matthews, Frances Rubin, Jamille Pinheiro, Oscar O’Sullivan, Patricia Verity, Robin Patterson and Zoe Perry, with workshop leader Daniel Hahn, and in the presence of the author, Cristhiano Aguiar. You can read about Cristhiano’s experience of being translated here.