Mariano Nava Contreras (Maracaibo, 1967) is both an acclaimed short story writer and a classical Greek scholar. A Professor of Greek Language and Literature at Universidad de Los Andes, Mérida, he has published three non-fiction books – Envuelto en el Manto de Iris. Tradición clásica y literatura de la Emancipación venezolana (Mérida, 1996), Novus Iason. La tradición grecolatina y la Relación del Tercer Viaje de Cristóbal Colón (Mérida, 2006) and Dos ensayos sobre humanismo clásico y pensamiento de la emancipación en Venezuela (Mérida, 2010) – as well as four collections of short stories – El blues de la cabra mocha (Mérida, 1995), Cuentos de los cuentos que nos contaron (El Tigre, 1996), Vidas, hechos y palabras de ilustres filósofos difuntos (Maracay, 1996) y Culo’e hierro y otros relatos (Mérida, 2004).
In ‘Heráclito Puertero’ (The Heraclitus of Los Puertos), taken from Vidas, hechos y palabras de ilustres filósofos difuntos, these two interests come together to tell the story of a Venezuelan man who lives by Heraclitian philosophy.
Read the original version of the story, Heráclito Puertero, on Ficción Breve here.
The Heraclitus of Los Puertos by Mariano Nava
And it is the same thing in us that is quick and dead,
awake and asleep,
young and old;
the former are shifted and become the latter,
and the latter in turn are shifted and become the former.
Heraclitus, fragment 88.
1. Noel Federico Olivero Olivares, my great-grandfather, didn’t bat an eyelid, he folded the telegram and put it under the small plate of peas that he was eating, and calmly continued his lunch. He laughed to himself – they didn’t tell me that, but I know he did – and thought: “You can’t step into the same river twice either”.
“What is it, Noel, what happened?” Mamita asked him.
But he acted as if it were nothing, because he also knew how Mamita was, that she lived to fight with him and that what you like, Noel, is booze, not even ipecacuanha does you any damage any more, and one day I’m going to fuck off with the kids (and she did because one St Anthony’s Day she went from Los Puertos to the El Consejo de Ziruma, alone and on foot, like St Ignatius). That’s why Papá Noel didn’t want to tell her anything, because she was very industrious and everything had been lost: the fique to make sandals from, the cheese and the bijao leaves, and even two macaques he had caught in Encontrados for the boys. But Mamita had had enough and grabbed the paper and read it.
“And you’re going to stay so calm, Noel! Jeez, you’ve got some nerve! The canoe sinks on us and you’re so calm! Now what are you going to put in the shop?”
And Papá Noel, who not for nothing was called “The Philosopher” in Los Puertos, said unfazed:
“Aha and what do you want, Eleuteria! I’m not going to get in the water to look for the bits and pieces. What’s lost is lost… ”.
2. Papá Noel’s grocery shop was once set on fire and the neighbours went running to throw water on it first and to warn him about it after. Some arrived at the house almost out of breath: Noel, your shop is burning down, run, my son, run. Then the Prefect arrived in “Little Red” (which was both the only ambulance and the only car in Los Puertos) and started to deal blows to the rubberneckers who weren’t helping to put out the fire. Papá Noel, who watched fascinated as the flames ran about the shack, was one of the first to feel a slug in the ribs.
“Don’t hit that man, sir. He’s the owner, see”.
“Really, you’re the owner of the shop and you’re standing there watching so calmly?”
And Papá Noel, who knew very well that all that exists is fire and that the real nature of things is that which is hidden, replied to him shrugging his shoulders, his small blue eyes red from the smoke, and with an enigmatic smile:
“Aha, and what can I do. Everything is burnt”.
3. Papá Noel also knew that the way up and the way down are one and the same. He had an interesting syllogism. He would say: if things have a solution, why worry about them? And if things don’t have a solution, why worry about them? For that reason, he died aged 95, and that was because he wanted to, because one day he lay down in his hammock and said: Well…I won’t stop here any longer.