Yesterday, while searching to buy a book by Mario Luzi, I came across only one: "Vida fiel a la vida," priced at ten thousand four hundred pesos. So, I thought that a book of poetry should not be worth money, something so numerical, or it should have a symbolic value. Can the seller be so foolish as to publish the book at that price? Perhaps, because there are fools (among whom I count myself) who will pay for it. I commented on my confusion in a discussion forum. In a few minutes, the seller responded, listing reasons: the edition, the scarcity of the book, taxes, the author. The author! I wondered what Mario Luzi gained from those ten thousand pesos and his justifications. Then, Google reminded me that Mario Luzi died in 2004. But, of course, neither death stops commerce nor does it govern numbers, nor will it govern the desires of the living. The buyer thinks he shall not die, and the seller, well, they deal with their own sin. With the promise to read the author, I remembered a trip I took to Nairobi a few years ago when I worked as a journalist for the international newspaper Ágrafa. Luke, the guy who had taken me from the airport to the hotel, a huge and very kind black man with a mustache, gave me the tip about a book presentation. We drove in his taxi to a neighborhood where a presentation was taking place, inside a public school with the audience crowded in, for a book called "Promise" by someone named Dylan Kalamma. This Kalamma was a short, bald guy with reading glasses, sitting on a stool with a microphone. The attention was such that you could only hear his voice, the buzzing of little flies, and the breath of the people. Many glanced at me sideways; there were only three other white guys besides me, who seemed to be event coordinators. After a while, I realized that the writer was presenting a book he hadn't even written yet. He was discussing the possibilities of writing this sentence or that one, adding a paragraph, touching on one topic or another based on a general argument that, as I was told later, was open to discussion with the audience. Indeed, shortly afterward, the audience started discussing loudly, the shouting grew, and I had to leave. During the taxi ride back to the hotel, Luke explained that it was a tradition in Kenya to present books that had not been written yet. The taxi honked its way through the chaotic traffic, avoiding an infernal number of motorcycles carrying two, three, and even four passengers without helmets. I closed my eyes at each intersection and opened them to look at the concrete buildings with colorful laundry hanging from the balconies, gleaming in the late afternoon sun. Contrary to popular belief, Nairobi is a city of buildings, except in the distant slums that display rows and rows of tin roofs. But writers, continued Luke, present the promise of a book. The promise is judged by the public; then, like at an auction, a specific value is assigned to the promise of that book. Afterward, the writer may or may not write it. If they do, readers compare the promise to the actual reading experience; if they feel the promise was fulfilled, they pay the agreed-upon price. In other words, they only buy a book if their promise of what the book will be like is met or exceeded by the subsequent reading. Luke told me they had been doing it this way for decades, and these presentations were very famous, with perhaps more than five of them happening in any neighborhood of the city every day. I recalled that Dylan Kalamma had talked about this during the presentation of "Promise": he was trying to create a dream within a dream. His book was a promise that narrated the vicissitudes of other promises in the capital. Luke, at the wheel, dodging motorcycles, seemed to read my mind because he said exactly this:
“A dream within a dream, huh? Kalamma's a good reader. A thousand and one nights, Don Quixote, huh?”
Luke and the audience knew so much that this procedure was already in both classics, and Kalamma was not innovating; hence the heated discussion. The promise had been frustrated due to plagiarism in its form because the writer had taken the audience for fools.
The next morning, I found a crowd of black people waiting for me at the hotel entrance. Luke had revealed my identity to them, and they wanted to hear the promise of a book. He was among them, smiling. I thought, my capacity for invention is so poor. I usually invent alone, mechanically, in my room; they, in crowds, out loud, and on the spot. I felt stuck in the revolving door. Luke approached and said, "Here's Ulai, a black man whose wings were torn off and burned for heresy." Ulai took a step forward, lifted his shirt, and showed two long scars running from his armpit to his hip. I remembered that it was a common practice by black priests in poor countries. The religious movement in Kenya had been decisive. What could I - promise to tell - to these guys who heard millions of incredible stories every day?
So, I improvised: a novel that began by describing shades of the color blue; textures of that blue; the way the wind moved that blue texture; then a hand caressing the texture passionately, "like the wings of a peacock surrendered to a woman's hands," I said nervously. Afterward, the inner monologue of a boy walking the streets of Nairobi, listening to book presentations and playing, who dreams of the blue texture during the siestas. The reader understands that the first part is the dreams of the promising boy, and in the second, many things are suggested or not. In the third and final part, an old man who was a friend of the boy speaks, and the narration is abruptly cut when it's about to reveal the key to understanding the story. I felt like I was telling them something convoluted just to impress. I added: in one chapter, the old man uses the word "fire" as a substitute for another word and splendidly describes the burning process by the black priests, the blue of the wings, and the fire merging into invincible heat. The reader has to reread the chapter to discover that substitution. Luke's friends listened to me attentively and patiently. They pondered for a moment. Then one of them said that the story was beautiful but not worth writing because the reading would never surpass the promise. Sometimes, another added, the promise must be weak or simple so that the reading can match or exceed it.
Here are some promises I noted from presentations Luke took me to on that last day:
In Japan, a man is hired to impersonate the missing father of an imaginary girl.
The Miskito resistance against the Sandinistas: a 6-year-old soldier decides to go to the front lines with slingshots.
 young girl named Kasspara Hauser suddenly appears in Nuremberg in 1828, hardly able to speak or walk, carrying a strange note.
-A Quixotic man is determined to build an opera house in the middle of the Sahara Desert.
-A nihilistic penguin suddenly escapes from its colony in Antarctica, and while all the penguins head toward the sea, it ventures into the mountains toward certain death.
-In Nairobi, an alcoholic recently released from prison decides to join an old friend and a prostitute to fulfill his promise to leave Africa and seek a better life in Argentina.
-An elderly man discovers that he is still a son and was never a father. He entrusts a criminal with the task of searching for his own identity.
I suppose that each of these simple loglines promise a complex and enriching reading experience. The same goes for Mario Luzi's books, which I haven't read. The promise of his poetry is so vast that it can never be fulfilled or disappointed. And certainly not for ten thousand pesos. What do ten thousand pesos promise? Perhaps, in the end, the price is the least significant factor. In this case, it allows me to continue with a promise that would otherwise have already been broken. A promise that grew larger just a few minutes ago with the reading of a single poem: "Closer to Byzantium."
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