Roxana-Mălina Chirilă

The Translator [short story]

Author’s notes: I wrote this a while ago for a friend. It turns out that this blog has any number of spiritual people visiting, so as I was going through stories and trying to pick one to post here, I decided that this one would be perfect for all audiences.

I broke a few polite rules in writing this one. One such unspoken rule is that a character’s name shouldn’t resemble that of the author. Another says that characters aren’t supposed to look like self-inserts unless they are self-inserts. Those things make it so much easier for people to interpret and criticize, but I like having fun and seeing what happens if I do one thing or another.

Here you go, peeps. I won’t bore you with other comments, although there’s much I could say.

Happy holidays and all that!


The Translator

Malena was born on the third of April, a heady Aries and a talented translator. She only waited for so long before she put her foot down and took charge of her destiny, riding it like a child of the sea would a dolphin.

She began her job with diligent care from the moment she first awakened from the drowsiness of the very young and into the slow comprehension of children. She first translated her own simple thoughts to the world in an agonized cry – ‘I’m hungry! I’m hungry!’ – first in the Spanish words of her parents and then repeated in the strange, native Tupi dialect of her Mestizo nanny. The dark-skinned woman had gasped in fear and tried to cover the child’s mouth before any of those of the house heard and fired her for teaching Malena to speak the wrong language. But before she could even reach out towards the tiny mouth, the great wooden doors of the child’s room burst open to admit Malena’s fiery, proud mother. ‘She speaks! Oh, she speaks!’ the Spanish lady cried, waving a white shirt about like a flag. ‘I’m hungry! I’m hungry!’ the child repeated again and again, first in Spanish, then in Tupi, making herself heard so loud that many years after men would claim to have heard her from across the town letting the world know that the devourer of knowledge had come to Earth.

After the joy of hearing their only daughter speak lifted and she was fed, Malena continued learning new words, translating her thoughts into both Spanish and Tupi until she finally drove all those around her to desperation and a visiting aunt dared to do what the others out of superstition would not even attempt: she pulled Malena aside and explained that one could not always speak in all tongues one knew. Just one outcome was needed. The child understood immediately.

Without her parents knowing how she did it, Malena also came to speak the Portuguese of her grandmother and the Tupi dialects of her nanny’s friends. By the time she went to school, she had learned English and German from a tall man with round eyeglasses who had asked for a translator into the native dialects and had been brought to see the miracle child. Malena had led him around, laughing at his difficulty with any language, and ended up mimicking his way of speaking to perfection – coming to know words, he felt, which he had never spoken before her.

In school she learned French from her teachers before the others could even count properly to a hundred, then spent the rest of her classes yawning demonstratively until a miserable Hungarian boy started teaching her his language secretly while they waited for the lectures to be over. Malena found out that Attila had never wanted to leave his country, but his parents had dragged him across the Atlantic in the search of a better life.

„You shan’t find it here!” Malena had laughed, then danced circles around him in all her languages before she settled down to really look at him and study his plight. Reaching out, she translated him into something new, better suited for this new continent. She made his shyness into mystery, his strange accent into charm, his longing for home into a hint of an exotic land within his eyes. „You’ll always have Hungary in your heart,” she said, touching his chest. „And it will be there more than it will ever be on a map.”

After she translated Attila she noticed that translating from language to language became as easy as shaking one’s whiskers is for a cat. She only had to glance at a language to fill her huge bags of words, even if those languages were Chinese, Bengali, or the obscure Arawakan, or even the Latin caught in church. After some time she came to understand languages she had never heard before just reading them through those who spoke. But as time went, languages concerned her less and less.

She started translating cultures and people, touching them and seeing them melt under her fingers to become something of the same essence and of a different shape. Curious to see how far she could go, she experimented on her own person, translating herself into a common Tupi woman, into a Spanish noble girl, into an English princess and amused herself by going deeper and deeper every time until one day she found that she could translate her black hair to blond, her white skin to black, her round eyes to slants. Malena became a mistress of disguise, always the same deep inside, but ever more changing on the surface, today Japanese, tomorrow Hindu, the day after that Mestizo, always keeping it her secret. One day at school she became frustrated with a proud, stuck-up girl that boys all seemed to dream of and decided to translate herself into a tanned, manly Antonio just so she could scoff at the Consuela’s pride. That way, Malena accidentally found out about the difference between men and women, though at first she was confused by what she considered to be an accidental extra appendage. But as soon as she discovered that she had followed nature, she realized that her gift was more marvelous than she had expected. Consuela and her pride remained forgotten.

When Malena’s father decided that he had had enough of his ever prettier daughter running around acting disgracefully and making friends with the oddest of characters, he tried to stop her from going out and turn her into a proper young lady. In a fit of rage, Malena ran through the entire town, uncatchable until the very center of the town when her father’s fingers finally encircled her arm, only to have her translate her body into that of a sparrow that flew away, followed by the frightened cries of men and women who thought they’d seen the devil kidnap a child, or the fairies spirit her away.

Not daring to look back, Malena went on for days and nights as a bird or as a goat or a bear, dodging humans. When a hunter caught her fox’s trail, she learned how to translate into plants and started through being an oak. Later, sad and away from home, she turned into clouds and moonlight, then figured out how to turn rain into drought and poor men into rich. And all the time she felt that her true self, the one deep down inside was becoming smaller, smaller, smaller, a single point around which the world could be made to turn, whatever touched her becoming something else. The tinier she became, the more she could shift herself and the things around her. When she had been as large as a watermelon, she could transform into humans, when as large as an orange, into animals, when as a grape seed into plants. Now as the tiniest fleck of dust from the head of a pin, she flew over the ocean as breeze, dived between the water drops as a fish and turned dark, murderous oil spilled from boats into sea monsters. She translated herself into a cloud that kept a handsome sailor cool, then floated above the land again and translated a battlefield under her into a peaceful gathering. One day she translated herself into an atom, another into a solar system far away, exploring herself in all forms she could imagine.

Finally, when she felt that she could translate herself so well that she could be anything, anywhere, know anything, do anything, she discovered that the tiny spot she had become could hike upon atoms that seemed much larger than the Earth and see each fleck of light separate from the others. And there was something much, much smaller yet than her, something she could finally sense in the background, something she could not entirely understand nor translate yet either. As if the entire world was built within a vast, vast sea of this and never knew it. Wondering what more she could do if she could be as small as that, Malena dived.

She made herself smaller and smaller, holding her breath to get as tiny as the things around her, trying to translate them. She shed her name, her concepts of herself that were somewhere within, pushed them outside for later use, let them drag behind her. She became so small physicists would never guess her presence. She shed the idea of appearance, shed her personality and became smaller than can be conceived. She shed everything else she had, looking deep, deep inside for the thing she had in common with this strange mass of the tiniest particles. She became tiny, tiny, tiny beyond belief, beyond understanding, beyond what can be explained and in the end she also dropped her efforts at being smaller and gazed on, almost as tiny as these things.

What she saw she could almost touch, but not yet understand. She could smell that whatever it was molded itself into matter, she could taste how gravity worked, she could hear energy transformed and touch Life being alive. Almost there, she thought, almost there. Why, if she watched carefully, maybe she could find out. So she stood still without even realizing she was still, stopped thinking without realizing she was not thinking, watched without realizing she watched. She just was.

What there is left to say there are no words to translate.

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