“Your résumé looks impressive. Why do you need this job?”
Brodie hesitated, just for a moment. “I am thinking of staying on another term to study medieval Swiss and French monastic philosophy. As my scholarship has ended, I need to find a way to supplement my teaching income.”
The woman conducting the interview nodded, knowingly. Her face said that she’d met with many lifelong students afraid to meet the womb. He wanted to explain, but knew enough of the real world to hold himself back. “I believe that reading to this old man will also help me practice all the languages I’ve learned.”
“He will be extremely demanding.”
“All the better.”
“He’s already chased off every companion they’ve sent him. He was the one who suggested that we hire a linguistics expert, and the fact that you’ve also been studying — and publishing — in both the areas of medieval literature and comparative philosophy are very good signs. What is your main interest, anyway?”
“I…” he shrugged and chuckled, knowing that he might as well admit it. “I want to know everything. That’s why I read all that comes my way, from Homer to Joyce.”
“If that is true, and you can read half the languages you claim fluency in, you will be the perfect companion for the Old Man.” Something about the way she said it made Brodie feel that the phrase was not a description, but a name… and he mentally inserted the capital letters.
“It would be a simple matter for you to call Geneva and check my credentials. The University can satisfy you.”
The Old Man was precisely as described. Brodie shook his hand, avoiding the blank stare of the blind eyes, focusing instead on the few remaining strands of grey hair, almost invisible, combed straight back over the spotted skull.
“This is why I love Switzerland,” the man said without preamble and without pausing to introduce himself. “Everyone is born knowing at least three languages. And, except for the ones who speak Italian, they are three of the ones I need to hear.”
Brodie mumbled his name, caught in more conventional forms. The Old man repeated it and smiled as if party to a secret. And then he dismissed it.
“There is a book on the table to your right. I assume you are competent to handle medieval manuscripts? The gloves should be sitting on top of the book.”
Brodie donned them and glanced at the manuscript. Then he stopped and had a closer look. The white leather binding had the stamp of Saint Gall on the spine. Brodie had never been allowed access to any of the Monastery’s volumes unless he was accompanied by old Professor Schumacher, and yet here was this one, lying carelessly on a table.
It made him wonder who, exactly, the blind old man might be; probably some banker from Zurich, who could buy entire cantons at whim. It made him angry that such a man could gain access to cultural treasures that were forbidden to most researchers, and furious that the world worked that way.
But Brodie’s anger was short-lived. As he began to read the Latin text, it absorbed him. It was, like many of the other volumes preserved in St. Gall, a treatise on heresy, stopping in places to develop different ideas deviating from orthodox Catholicism and examining them in detail. The scribe’s hand was better than most, but by no means the best Brodie had seen, and the ink had faded slightly.
“Are you certain?” The old man’s voice broke through his concentration. “Are you certain that the word was…” And so began another stage in the reading: the discussion of the text, the dissection of the ideas — and even arguments about the Latin. The blind old banker, it seemed, was a bit of an expert in medieval Latin. And Brodie loved the written word enough that he was swept away by the discussion.
And the afternoon passed gloriously, all traces of anger forgotten until the secretary entered with Brodie’s payment. The old man stood with an effort, one hand on a dark cane, and the other extended. “Thank you. You read very well. Will you be coming back?”
They shook hands.
“I…” and the anger returned, albeit tinged with doubt. “I’m not certain. Would we continue to read this same book?”
“I think not. While it is an important book, I find nothing fresh in the ideas it holds. It merely rehashes the arguments used in the heretics’ trial. I will ask the Monastery curator for something a little more original — after all, ideas are all I have now.”
There it was again. That casual dismissal, the ease with which this old man could get whatever he wanted, just because he was rich, galled him. Brodie was one of the most distinguished students of language in Switzerland, but the curator of the Saint Gall collection wouldn’t lift a finger for him. He wondered what sins hid behind the old man’s blank eyes.
Brodie collected his hat and coat from the secretary. “I will call you to confirm,” he said, and turned to leave. But, with his hand on the door, he turned back. “I didn’t catch your name,” he said.
“To my friends — and I count everyone who loves books a friend — I am known as Jorge Luis.”
“Thank you,” Brodie replied, and walked out onto the cool Geneva streets.
Behind him, the man the rest of the world — those who were not his friends — called Borges, smiled sadly, wondering at the strangeness of modern youth.
Gustavo Bondoni writes way too many stories, but he enjoys it, so that’s okay. His work wanders all over the genres, and occasionally into mainstream. Some of it even gets published.