The first pages of a 2008 novel by César Aira, Las aventuras de Barbaverde or The Adventures of Greenbeard. Translated by Daniel Abbe. Buy the book here: Argentina, México. See a picture of the book in real life here or here.
The Giant Salmon
The reception of the old hotel Savoy de Rosario, a hurried weekday morning (time: close to the present). A young man had drawn close to the counter and was waiting for the moment to be able to interject a question, with a mixture of impatience and uncertainty. The employee of the hotel, an older man, was speaking with a pair of travelers with bags, who could have been coming or going, one just as easily as the other. A younger woman, who must have been the receptionist, was speaking in the corner with a man in a blue suit. The young man wondered whether he should interrupt. He would have done it in other situations, but this time he feared that he might come to require the good will of the hotel staff, and he didn’t want to set himself against them. It bothered him that there were more people behind him, other travelers probably, chatting and perhaps waiting their turn as well. The situation became more complex when a pair of men with briefcases entered and marched up to the counter; they turned to the woman with confidence, like old friends, and began to speak with her. He began to doubt whether he’d be able to ask his question, which in any case was nothing special; he only wanted to know whether the famous Greenbeard [Barbaverde], who he’d been sent to interview, was staying at the hotel. Obviously if the response was yes, he’d have to ask to be announced, and explain his task further. It wasn’t so simple, and he didn’t really know how to do it. He was improvising, or better waiting to begin to improvise.
Aldo Flavor [Sabor] was very young, although not as young as he looked. Skinny, slow and nervous, timid, with an inexpressive and almost absent face (he had more than a drop of Eastern blood), he could have been taken for a child, or an adolescent in the process of growing. He’d thought that this aspect could be useful in his new job, if he could take advantage of it; but knowing how slow he was, he suspected that in the time it would take him to learn how to do this, he’d already have been transformed into an adult who looked like an adult. Although no one can calculate the effects of time beforehand.
For the moment, his experience had taught him to not feel like an adolescent. Since graduating a few years ago from the Faculty of Humanities he’d been teaching classes in high schools, and the daily and fastidious contact with kids who were in reality what he only looked like had showed him, gradually, how much of a difference there was between him and them. Actually, it was this perception of these differences – each day more intolerable – that had, on the whole, brought him this morning to the lobby of the Savoy.
Tired of giving classes on language and literature to students whose obstinance he understood and nearly let contaminate him, Flavor had been aware of any possibility of employment that presented itself. When it finally did, he didn’t wait to jump on it, above all because it wasn’t just any old opportunity, but because it was one that filled him with expectations. A space opened up on the staff of reporters for the local paper, and the recommendation of a friend did the rest. It wasn’t a coveted job, except by him. He felt that soon, magically, he’d be moving on to the world of reality, and he left the classrooms like someone exiting a bad dream.
Obviously in his state of journalistic initiation, he couldn’t hope for really exciting assignments. But he wasn’t making distinctions in this way. To go out in search of information, and later put it down in writing, seemed to him a rich activity in itself, a mixture of the craft of observation and the magic of happenstance. The first morning, as he was eating breakfast, his mother warned him that it was most likely that they’d send him to take note of the protest of sewers in some neighborhood, or to cover the inauguration of a hospital room. It could have been that way, and surely it would be that way at some point, and he would have done it with the same curiosity and sunny disposition of the guileless novice. But his first mission, by unusual luck, led him to adventure, happiness and love.