After Clarice Lispector
In the snowy mountains of Asia, the Brazilian explorer Enrique Soto, respected intellectual and renaissance man, came across a community of hardened farmers where the men had backs like black bears and even the women boasted full beards. He was gleefully surprised to learn that a still hairier people existed, beyond mountains and miles. And so he climbed.
In caves tucked deep into mountains, Enrique really did find the hairiest people in the world. And– like a set of nesting dolls– because nature breeds competition– amongst the hairiest people in the world, he found the hairiest of the hairiest people in the world.
Among limestone and carvings, among flowstone and the sunlight overflowing, Enrique Soto found himself facing a little girl. This little girl had not only a beard of which grown men would be envious, but also a luscious mane across her face, obscuring her eyes from the explorer. “Furry like a monkey or a wolf,” he informed the press. In the cozy cave amidst the cave art, where the little girl’s bearded parents lived beside cave dwellings of other fuzzy families, the little girl was happy.
So there she stood, the hairiest girl in the world. For an instant, in the clear dry heat, it seemed as if the explorer had unexpectedly completed his quest. Out of a lack of understanding of the little girl’s language and a necessity for order, he called her Little Wolf. And in order to solidify her place among recognizable realities, he began to gather information about Little Wolf’s existence.
Little Wolf’s people will soon be no longer. Few examples are left of this species, which, if it were not for the modern progress against the indigenous, might have multiplied. Besides the factory-goods which are now a necessity to any man belonging in the twentieth century, which cannot be attained from a cave, the greatest threats to the hairy people are the sly dangers of Asia. The Malayan tiger will gladly eat a hairy person’s young. Being a hilltopman is not easy: the hairy mountain people have been retreating further into Asia, but now they’ve near reached the Gulf of The Whale and there is no more Asia for them to retreat into.
That was the way, then, that the explorer discovered, standing at his very feet, the hairiest existing human thing. His heart soared, because no diamond in the world is so rare. The teachings of the wise men of India are not so rare. The richest man in the world cannot buy something so rare. Right there was a child that the greed for uniqueness could never have foreseen. It was then that the explorer said timidly, and with a delicacy of feeling of which his wife would have thought him incapable: “You are Little Wolf.”
At that moment, Little Wolf said something to the explorer in a tongue he could not begin to understand.
A photograph of Little Wolf was published in the colored supplement of the Sunday paper. She wore a little, hand-stitched dress the color of her fur and peered past the fluff with piercing eyes. She looked like a cat.
On that Sunday, in an apartment, a woman seeing the picture of Little Wolf turned over her paper. She didn’t want to see Little Wolf because “Me da escalofríos.”
In another apartment, a lady felt an inexplicable connection to the hirsute child such that Little Wolf must never be left alone to the tender love of that lady. Who can know to what extremes of love tenderness can lead? The lady’s mood was dampened for the rest of the day, almost as if she had lost something. Besides, it was spring and there was a dangerous leniency in the air.
In another house, a little girl of seven, seeing the picture and hearing the comments, was surprised and unsettled. In a house full of adults, this little girl had silken bunnies and bears as her only friends. Discovering the existence of Little Wolf, a living, breathing, human kind of teddy bear, made the little girl feel– with a deep uneasiness that only years later, in a different situation, would morph into thought– made her feel, in her first hint of wisdom, that “Tristeza no tiene fin.”
In another house, in the first breaths of spring, a girl on the day of her wedding felt a thrill of pity: “Mama, look at her little picture, poor little thing! Pensemos en lo triste debe ser!”
In another house, a clever little boy had a clever little idea. “Mami, if I could put this little girl from Asia in little Paulo’s bed when he’s asleep? When he woke up wouldn’t he be frightened? Wouldn’t he cry? When he saw her sitting by his head? And we would play with her! She would be our favorite toy!”
His mother was stirring gazpacho in front of the iron stove at the moment, and she recalled what a cook had told her about life in an orphanage. The children had no toys, and, with terrible maternity already pounding in their chests, the little girls had captured a little squirrel from the streets outside their shoddy little home. They kept the squirrel in a coffee can, playing with it and feeding it bits of lettuce when the nuns went away, until the squirrel languished from eating only lettuce and died. Then they kept the body in the can in a cabinet and played with him still, brushing his tail and feeding him lettuce, punishing him for slight indiscretions so that they could kiss it better. In the kitchen, the mother recalled this, and let fall her thoughtful hands from the ladle. She pondered the cruel necessity of loving, the danger of our desire for happiness, how ferociously we need to play. She thought how, even as children, we are willing to commit atrocities in the name of love. Then she looked at her clever little child like she was looking at a serpentine stranger, an emerging threat. And she had a chill to her toes that her soul and her body had engendered that being, adept at life and happiness.
She looked at her child earnestly and with uncomfortable pride, that child with little teeth and big ideas, teeth falling out to make room for the newer, the better, the stronger. “I’m going to buy him a new suit,” she decided, looking at him, absorbed. Stubbornly, she adored her little son with fine raiment; stubbornly, she wanted him severely clean, as if his cleanliness could perfect the polite side of life. Stubbornly drawing away from, and drawing her son away from, something that could be described as “like a monkey or a wolf.” Then, looking at her reflection in a mirror across the hall, the mother formed a calculated smile, solidly positioning the distance of millenniums between the smooth, sharp lines of her features and the crude furry face of Little Wolf. But, with years of practice, she knew that this was going to be a Sunday on which she would have to hide from herself anxiety, dreams, and lost millenniums.
In another house, two women, one with the hardened muscles of a man and a little bit of stubble emerging beneath her blush, discussed Little Wolf over dinner. The woman with the slighter body called upon her mother’s spirit the way her father would have done in order to question Little Wolf’s existence. And, really, it was a delightful surprise: the woman’s mother confirmed that the furry little girl truly did live in the wilderness of Asia, all those worlds way. In the heart of each woman of the house was born the desire to have that soft little creature for themselves, to protect her from harmful gazes, that permanent outlet for love. Each woman, particularly the one who had to shave with every sun, wanted to devote herself. And, in all honesty, who hasn’t wished to own a human being just for themselves? Which, it is true, would be rather convenient; if one could predict that Little Wolf’s feelings.
In another house, a tax collector attempted to calculate the worth of something so rare.
And the rare thing itself?
In the meanwhile, in Asia, the rare thing herself, in her heart—and who knows if the heart was hairy, too, since once nature has faulted she can no longer be trusted—the rare thing herself had something even rarer in her heart, like the secret of her own secret: love. It was at this moment that the explorer Enrique, for the first time since he had discovered her, instead of feeling curiosity, or exaltation, or victory, or the scientific spirit, felt sick.
The hairiest girl in the world was laughing.
She was laughing, warm, warm—Little Wolf was enjoying life. The rare thing herself was experiencing the ineffable sensation of being alive. Being alive was reason enough to laugh and dance and sing. So she was laughing. It was a laugh such as only one who does not speak civilized Spanish may laugh. It was a laugh that the explorer, in his scientific mind, could not classify. And she kept on enjoying her own soft laugh, she who was in Asia and was hairy and was alive. Not to be dead is the most beautiful feeling. Her living laughter was as silver as joy is silver. The explorer was befuddled.
As the child, as the rare thing was laughing, the love moved within her.
The hairy little girl added to her list of love as she realized that the warmth in her chest was love for that curious explorer. If he could have understood her voice, she might have told him that she loved him, and he would have told that to the world with an accelerated ego. That ego might have deflated if she added that she also loved the explorer’s rosary, and the explorer’s worn boots. And when that deflation ensued, Little Wolf would not have known why. Because her love for that explorer– one might even say “amor profundo,” since, besides her tribe, he was the only other being she knew to love at all– her profound love for that explorer was not lessened in the least by her love for his rosary as well. There has always been such confusion about the word love. But in the caves, this cruel confusion does not exist, and love is to be alive, love is to find a boot beautiful, love is to like the strange voice of a man who isn’t Asian, is to laugh for love of a beaded rosary. Little Wolf blinked with love, and she laughed again.
The explorer smiled back despite not knowing for what reason Little Wolf was pleased, and then he was embarrassed as only a very manly man can be embarrassed. He pretended to readjust his rosary in his pocket and turned to the color of Little Wolf’s favorite flower.
After adjusting his rosary, the explorer regained enough control of himself to go on writing his notes. He stumbled over a simple sentence, asking Little Wolf if she was happy.
Little Wolf answered “Chı̀ — sí — yes.” That she was happy. Because– she didn’t say this with her mouth, but with her eyes– it is good to be different, good to be special, good to be hairy. The explorer blinked back at her.
Enrique Soto had some difficult moments with himself. But at least he kept busy taking notes. Those who didn’t write had to manage the best they could.
“Pues,” suddenly stated one old lady, folding up the newspaper with certainty, “Bueno, como siempre digo: Dios sabe lo que está haciendo.”
In this short story modeled after Clarice Lispector’s “The Smallest Woman in the World,” I attempt to combine magical realism with real-world characters, thereby paying homage to Isabel Allende in addition to Lispector. Many of the responses to the news report on “Little Wolf” come from characters inspired by the complexities shown in Allende’s novel Eva Luna. More closely, though, I tried to follow Lispector’s formatting, developing a central theme of dehumanization and ownership while presenting a wide variety of anecdotes of very different people.
Like Allende, I do not name any specific countries. In honor of she and Lispector, who wrote this story in Spanish, I used some Spanish– the reason this post took so very long is that I had used an online English-to-Spanish translator, and I had to check with a friend that the Spanish was not gibberish. Thanks Dennys G. and Jill N. for confirming accuracy! (Those of us who do not speak Spanish have the incredible Elizabeth Bishop to thank for Lispector’s original translation.)
Before beginning my writing, I spent a great deal of time at http://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/ researching extraordinary people. I finally found the 2011 record holder Supatra Sasuphan, after whom I styled the child referred to by the fictional explorer as “Little Wolf.” For more on Supatra, check out her world record or this Huffington Post profile.
This short story was a lot of fun to write. I hope you enjoy!