Today, The Common is featuring two translated short stories from the book Nella Citta Nuda by Antonio Monda. The Common in the (Eternal) City on May 21 features Monda in conversation with Larissa MacFarquhar.
Odette and Claudine
My name is Odette and I’m the one who talks. Claudine has always been the beautiful one, always smiling and hardly talking. They said that she was stupid, but it wasn’t true.
Certainly she was the easier one to conquer.
I wasn’t. I was tough and whoever wanted to go out with me had to conquer my brain—dinner invitations and flowers weren’t enough. And besides, I like to talk and I like to watch how they listen to me. Once at school the principal summoned me to his office to tell me that it was a shame that I wasn’t studying. That I had talent and could go the distance. What he didn’t say was that my sister didn’t have this talent. He didn’t give her the same speech. But it was clear what his intention was; they have always wanted to separate us, but no one will ever succeed.
We tied in an election for the most beautiful girl at high school and in Mott Haven our French names were envied by all to the point that they would mangle them to Odine and Claudette.
We didn’t care much since the winners always attract envy, and one day we would see Paris, and live in a castle on a French river like our mother dreamt of. So we thought then. I want to think it still.
At the Copacabana they would let us in even when we weren’t old enough. The bouncers gave us priority because if we went to a place it would immediately become the place to go. And no one danced like us. The music followed us and not vice versa.
For prom night we had a list of invites longer than those of all our companions put together. Claudine had two invitations more than me but I didn’t take on. She used such facile weapons, so out of spite that night I chose Nelson, who she had always liked. And it was the most beautiful night of my life.
I started to gain weight later on maybe it was the alcohol or the boredom at parties that never seemed to end. At first Claudine used to tease me. I believed it was because of Nelson. She couldn’t swallow it. But then I understood that she was saying it for me.
“Like this you won’t have nobody, Odette. You need to be careful.”
I replied that men looked for much more from me and she said that I was delusional.
For some time we didn’t speak to each other, but then, a couple of months later, she started to gain weight too and within a year neither of us got any more invites, not even to the movies.
One night, years later, she called me and said that she loved me and missed me. And that was what I felt too, so we’ve begun to see each other.
No one can separate us.
Now we always go out in pairs, but we don’t go to Copacabana anymore, nor to the places where we used to be envied and celebrated.
Last night we met Nelson, but he pretended not to recognize us.
He was with a skinny blonde, all made up. When we passed each other, she put on a funny smile, but maybe I only imagined it.
Later on, at home, Claudine said that the blonde wasn’t so skinny. I didn’t answer, and she added that we needed to find a job, because she wanted to go to France. But it’s better if I do it. I’ve always been the smarter of the two of us.
Moose, The Boxer
I see them fall before me like dead bodies. Open their eyes wide with bewilderment from taking such a strong punch and for the shame of falling to the ground. Their gaze without any light; losing is like dying.
I see the flashing lights that explode in thousands at the stadium and I see myself with my arms raised in triumph while the crowd shouts my name.
I am Raymond Moose and I lost sixteen matches in a row, twelve by KO. However, winning is my destiny. I’m sure because victory is for the tenacious.
Whoever says I am a mattress boxer has no clue of what they’re talking about. The ring is life, and only by risking can you understand it and understand what death is.
In the punches of every fighter there are the blows of those who have fought in an arena of the past. Of those who have fought before kings and emperors.
Of those who have challenged stronger men for the love of a woman.
Of those who have demolished their adversaries with their bare hands and felt their knuckles fill with blood from hitting them so hard.
In the punches of every fighter there are the blows of Luis Firpo who knocked Jack Dempsey out of the ring, and those that Dempsey gave back to Firpo when he re-entered and humiliated the arrogant Argentinian who had dared such an offence.
And those of Sugar Ray Robinson beating La Motta, who’d never withdraw, even when his eyes were so swollen that he could barely see. No one has been as great as Sugar Ray.
Muhammed Ali’s punches against Cleveland Williams in the most perfect match that has ever been fought. A dance, not a match.
And those that Ali gave to George Foreman at the Kinshasa Stadium where sixty thousand people were on his side shouting: “Boma Ye, Boma Ye.”
Since this is what the audience wants. What we want.
In my fists there are all of those punches, and all of those fighters that only the weak has managed to forget. Oscar Bonavena, who answered every punch of Ali’s and Frazier’s and then died from gunshots because of a woman.
They called him Ringo because he was afraid of nothing in the ring.
And Sonny Liston, who was found dead and no one ever knew or wanted to explain what had happened.
Don Cockell, Paulino Uzducum, Buster Mathis, Ferdinand Esau, Biff Bennett: I love your names and I fight for you too.
You know I will never back down because it is the life we’ve chosen.
And you know that I fight for Benny Kid Paret, who died at Madison Square Garden at the hands of of Emile Griffith, who punched him twenty nine times in fourteen seconds and would have never stopped if the referee hadn’t halted the match. Kid called him maricon, fag, which was true, but in the ring even the insults are part of the game. Griffith cried after he had killed him, but he knew it was the death every fighter wanted.
For a full book presentation by Monda, view this video.