In life we must all be exploited

Today, in one of the pointless and worthless daydreams that constitute a large part of my inner life, I imagined being forever free from the Rua dos Douradores, from Vasques my boss, from Moreira the head bookkeeper, from all the employees, from the delivery boy, the office boy and the cat. In my dream I experienced freedom, as if the South Seas had offered me marvellous islands to be discovered. It would all be repose, artistic achievement, the intellectual fulfilment of my being.

But even as I was imagining this, during my miniature midday holiday in a café, an unpleasant thought assaulted my dream: I realized I would feel regret. Yes, I say it as if confronted by the actual circumstance: I would feel regret. Vasques my boss, Moreira the head bookkeeper, Borges the cashier, all the young men, the cheerful boy who takes letters to the post office, the boy who makes deliveries, the gentle cat – all this has become part of my life. And I wouldn’t be able to leave it without crying, without feeling that – like it or not – it was a part of me which would remain with all of them, and that to separate myself from them would be a partial death.

Besides, if tomorrow I were to bid them all farewell and take off my Rua dos Douradores suit, what other activity would I end up doing (for I would have to do something), or what other suit would I end up wearing (for I would have to wear some other suit)?

We all have a Vasques who’s the boss – visible for some of us, invisible for others. My Vasques goes by that very name, and he’s a hale and pleasant man, occasionally short-tempered but never two-faced, self-interested but basically fair, with a sense of justice that’s lacking in many great geniuses and human marvels of civilization, right and left. Other people answer to vanity, or to the lure of wealth, glory, immortality. For my boss I prefer the man named Vasques, who in difficult moments is easier to deal with than all the abstract bosses in the world.

Deeming that I earn too little, a friend of mine who’s a partner in a successful firm that does a lot of business with the government said the other day: ‘You’re being exploited, Soares.’ And I remembered that indeed I am. But since in life we must all be exploited, I wonder if it’s any worse to be exploited by Vasques and his fabrics than by vanity, by glory, by resentment, by envy or by the impossible.

Some are exploited by God himself, and they are prophets and saints in this vacuous world.

And in the same way that others return to their homes, I retreat to my non-home: the large office on the Rua dos Douradores. I arrive at my desk as at a bulwark against life. I have a tender spot – tender to the point of tears – for my ledgers in which I keep other people’s accounts, for the old inkstand I use, for the hunched back of Sérgio, who draws up invoices a little beyond where I sit. I love all this, perhaps because I have nothing else to love, and perhaps also because nothing is worth a human soul’s love, and so it’s all the same – should we feel the urge to give it – whether the recipient be the diminutive form of my inkstand or the vast indifference of the stars.  

Fernando Pessoa,
Bernardo Soares, ''The Book of Disquiet'' 
(Text 7)  

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