Already seated, they could appreciate the effort of the cook. Worthy of Epicurus, the table displayed a true banquet: on one large plate settled a steaming and well-seasoned almonjava⁽¹⁾; on a tray with bananas as a side dish were several grilled slices of black swordfish from the deep waters away from the island — Gui had put out to sea in the pilot boat, and the result was there, divinely seasoned with parsley, garlic and a drizzle of olive oil from the olive trees from the Warm Lands of the interior. Next to a tray with little golden oven-roasted potatoes, and another one replete with various vegetables stir-fried in olive oil, garlic and bay leaves, in a clay container, a tender and succulent piece of meat steamed, exhaling aromas of bay leaves, rosemary, tomato, olive oil, garlic and lemon, basted with a glass of aged red wine, the same one they used to toast the double birthday; and, to wind up, a delicious cake with soft-egg sweet filling, covered with whipped cream and strawberries. The table was covered with a fine lace cloth, where the white and red petals set the tone, and for Vésper they spoke to the senses: in his life, his father and his mother were like cardinal points temporarily sleeping, yet always present, and on that night he felt them so close he could almost hear them. Immersed in these thoughts, he did not realise that Gui and Sara were speaking to him.
‘So?’, asked the young woman. ‘Where were you?’ And she laughed. Vésper apologised, and once again delighted in the delicacies, not sparing praise for the master cook. He tried to pay attention to the conversations of his friends, but there was an image glued to his mind that persisted in not leaving him: the giant of the sea that had entered the village that night. For some reason, it disturbed him, leaving him uneasy. He was pulled from his digression by the pounding on the front door; they became silent. Gui stood up, asked who was there, and someone answered in a deep tone: ‘Delivery!’
The three found it strange, given the lateness of the hour, but indeed in that village services were provided according to the needs of the moment, so that Gui opened the door and they saw Mentesúfis, flushed and out of breath, he brought a package tucked under his arm. Sara exclaimed:
‘Daddy!? I’m glad you have come!’ Gui hurried, inviting him in, saying:
‘Master Mentesúfis, what a nice surprise! Come in, come in, please!’
The man, tired but in good spirits, sat down gladly at the place at the table that was offered to him; however, the dinner was turned down, explaining:
‘I am sorry, but I must decline such a delicious meal, I’m sure. But, you see, after Sara left I went to have supper, and was almost finished when I noticed this package on top of the trunk. My daughter, who flies instead of walking, had forgotten Vésper’s gift. So, I decided in that very same instant that I would be its bearer.’ And he extended the package to the youth, who thanked them both.
Mentesúfis was a cultured man, simultaneously sensitive and generous, and very well preserved for his age. Sara was a very beloved and late baby; her mother, who was not very young, did not survive childbirth. Mentesúfis was never again interested in another woman, at least not in the same way, as for his Sal; and from then on the memory of his loved one, his daughter and his books became a part of his treasure…
‘And today, on this doubly auspicious date, I have a confession to make: for some time now, I have been richer than one would have thought, since part of my treasure are two of the best young men I have ever met: Gui and Vésper! I drink to your lives and respective longevity…’ The four of them raised their glasses solemnly, the two young men felt honoured, they embraced Mentesúfis, grateful for his friendship and trust. Back at the table and the sweets, it was time for the presents; enthusiastically, Vésper opened his with the help of Sara who had tied the ribbons too well; upon seeing the book, the young man felt an enormous satisfaction, while at the same time telling the Master that it was too precious, accepting it would be like dismembering his collection, and, as such, its place should continue to be alongside the other great works… At the same time these words were uttered from his mouth, his eyes drank in those of the book, that his fingers went through delicately, like the first time. The older man took Vésper’s hand that held the book and took it from him gently, saying:
‘No book should have to remain on a dusty shelf at the mercy of time and forgetfulness. Their place is in the hands of someone who can love them again, and thus bring them to life. And this was your first, the first of a long path…’ He returned it to him, saying: ‘… Don’t thank me, I know how well you care about them, that is everything to me.’
Vésper for a few moments did not know whether he was referring to books or people; be that as it may, it was well known that Mentesúfis treated the works of his library with the same consideration, as though they were the authors themselves in person, even going so far as to start various philosophical essays with his peers who were mute, ‘but not deaf, like some of the living!’, he used to say.
He looked at young Guilherme, who laughed enthusiastically while he listened to the two friends who now read with amusement some passages from the book, alternating with laughable voices. Mentesúfis knew at that moment that those three youths were united by innocence: his daughter Sara would never be alone in the future. He brought his hand to his pocket, from there he removed a small silver box, which he extended to Gui, saying to him:
‘About a year ago, your father, my old and much-missed friend, sought me out, entrusted me with this small treasure, and asked me to deliver it to you on the day on which you once again celebrated your life…’
Gui held the object as though it were breakable, his countenance became nostalgic and distant: the singularly crafted lid represented a guilherme⁽²⁾; on one end a small red enamelled Sun, on the other a nacreous full Moon, and between the two a wooden vessel, minutely sculpted in bas-relief. They were their weapons, since the first of their family, and that was the symbol made baton and passed down from generation to generation. He kept staring at the design while the Master explained it to him; however Gui seemed not to listen:
‘I do not understand… Why did he not give it to me while he was alive? So that I could thank him and tell him…’ Mentesúfis, in a fatherly tone, suggested that he open it. So he did. At this point, Sara and Vésper had already stopped for a while, and in silence they waited. Gui removed from inside the box a silver nail, a seed, a piece of unbleached cotton yellowed by time with the initial embroidered, and a curled paper. Confused, he looked at his friends; Vésper, who had already started the night in strange spirits, now saw this feeling deepening in his chest. Sara arose in the direction of Gui and, seating at his feet, said to him affectionately, passing her hand on his face:
‘Perhaps you should read that alone…’ The boy smiled and, returning the caress, agreed.
⁽¹⁾ Minced mutton delicacy with bacon and other seasoning.
⁽²⁾ A grooving plane.
Spirits get agitated and bonds between friends get strengthened on a festive night.