The Geography

The Geography
Dmitri had a hard week. He invested all his money in a low-risk transaction so he could get back into business, but his partner ran away with the money. Because of that he is experiencing financial problems. He hasn’t paid his rent for two months, and the landlord is threatening to evict him.

He used to sell used books in a bookstall he inherited from his uncle in an alley between the Lapa market and the train station. It was actually the adapted carcass of an old VW van. Six months ago it was completely destroyed by fire, and now he’s unemployed. He lives alone in a small kitchenette in an old building in central São Paulo with his two cats: Boris and Sasha.

Boris is black and fat. Sasha is white and skinny. Dmitri rescued them from the streets 10 years ago. He named them after characters in a story that his uncle Nikolai used to tell, about two Georgian avengers who would torture and kill rich and powerful people that oppressed the poor.

Books are spread all over his flat. In the kitchen, under the sofa, in the bathroom, even on the windowsills. On his kitchen table is a very rare copy of «The Geography», by Claudius Ptolemy, printed in Paris in 1889. He bought it from an argentine priest for 300 dollars and expected to get at least 1000 for it, even though it has some cat paws and blood stains on it.

So yesterday morning he was sitting in a bakery in the eastern side of the city, having some coffee and toast while waiting for the meeting with his partner. On that same morning, Ibrahim, the owner of the flat to whom Dmitri owed two months of rent, was having breakfast nearby. Dmitri had asked him to extend the term for the payment of his debt in order to avoid the termination of the contract. Having finished his breakfast, Ibrahim decided to pay a visit to his tenant.

Dmitri was not there, said the doorman, but he let Ibrahim in. He gave him the key. After all, he was the owner and also owned several other apartments that were for rent in that building. Dmitri lived on the ninth floor. Ibrahim knocked at the door. Twice. Then, with the key, he opened the door and entered without hesitation. The place was quite damp, so he opened the windows, which had protective screens. He looked around. Books everywhere. Finally he turned to the table where two cats slept on a large gilded hardcover book. He approached the book and the cats fled.

Beside an Italian coffeepot on the stove, Ibrahim spotted a jar with coffee powder and decided to make himself some coffee. When it was done he served himself, sat down on the table, and leafed the large book while he drank the coffee. He adored the book and decided that he would borrow it. He left and took the elevator to the top floor where he had a flat that he used for his extramarital encounters. He dropped the book on the sofa and decided to take a nap. A few hours later, he got up, removed a letter from his shirt pocket and wrote something on it. He closed the door, took the elevator, and on the way out of the building, he left the letter with the doorman.

Dmitri returned late in the afternoon, just a few minutes before Ibrahim left the building. He was tired and frustrated because his partner didn’t show up, because he had no more money, and because his lawyer requested an advance in order to take his case. The doorman handed him an envelope which contained the letter he wrote to Ibrahim. He opened it, and read his response where the landlord accepted his terms, with one condition: that the rent should be increased in 35%.

Arriving home, Dmitri opened the door and noticed that the window was open. He didn’t notice the missing book or even the coffee cup on the table, but… where were the cats? “Boris!” “Sasha!” He called. He looked all over the place. They could have opened the window. They did that before, but the screen was intact. They couldn’t have escaped that way. He wondered if he had closed his door before leaving, or if his cats hadn’t left the house when he wasn’t looking. That had never happened before. He phoned the doorman, but he didn’t know anything. No. Nobody had entered his flat when he was out, said the doorman.

It was past midnight. Ibrahim was in his luxurious top floor duplex apartment with two women he had met in a club across the street. They had Bourbon and laughed while they heard the unbelievable stories he told. On the colorful maps of «The Geography», Ibrahim pointed out the Azov Sea and described how he had sailed as a stowaway, from Taganrog to the Bosphorus in a sailboat stolen from Tatar separatists. “Seconds before the boat was intercepted by the Turks, I escaped and swam safely to shore”, he lied, and they laughed, and they drank. It was a warm night. The moon was full. The party continued deep into the night.

Dmitri had a hard time falling sleep. He left the door of his flat open, in case the cats decided to return home. When he finally fell asleep he dreamt of his mother making colourful prianiks, with his uncle Nikolai driving a locomotive in a sea of cats, and with his grandparents in Crimea being saved by Georgian avengers riding their horses on the maps of the Caucasus, on an illustrated copy of Ptolemy’s «Geography». He woke up several times and only fell asleep when it was morning. In his last dream Boris and Sasha returned, and fell asleep on top of him.

It wasn’t a dream. Dmitri opened his eyes and there were the two cats. He got up. The cats were very dirty, as if they were in a fight, and there were cat paw prints everywhere. It looked like blood. He examined the cats and they seemed to be OK. Maybe they were in a fight. When he got up to close the door he had left open he saw a big book on the floor outside. It was his copy of Ptolemy’s «Geography». How the hell did it end up there? The cats certainly couldn’t have done that. Did someone enter his room at night when he left the door open, and tried to steal the book? There were drops of blood on the cover and paw prints. Did the cats attack the invader? How did he not hear anything? It was a mystery! He picked up the book, brought it inside, and closed the door.

Earlier today, when he decided to have breakfast down at the bakery, he read the news and discovered that his ex-partner, who owed him money, was seriously injured in the hospital. A bus ran over him. A tramp, who witnessed the accident, said that he was standing, waiting for the bus stop at Praça da República, when suddenly two cats jumped on his face. He slipped and fell on the road. The bus was unable to stop.

Returning home, he was surprised to see several police cars and an ambulance parked in front of his building. Ibrahim, his landlord, had apparently killed himself, the doorman told him. He was found alone in his flat with a deep cut in his throat. The apartment was locked from inside. Two prostitutes who had been with him earlier were questioned, but they declared to have left the place around 3 a.m. with Ibrahim, who had said he needed to buy cigarettes. The alibi was confirmed by the doorman that works the night shift. He added that Ibrahim had returned home by himself a few minutes later. The crime, it seems, occurred just before sunrise.

The door opens. Dmitri arrives home. Boris and Sasha are peacefully sleeping on top of Ptolemy’s «Geography».


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