From The Collector of Leftover Souls, a collection of non-fiction published this month by Graywolf Press. This story, first published in the Brazilian magazine Época, is based on a week the author spent living in a nursing home in Rio de Janeiro. Translated from the Portuguese by Diane Grosklaus Whitty.
Suddenly they’ve arrived here, in front of the iron gate at the old people’s home, their whole lives squeezed into a carry-on. They’ve left behind so many delicate things—their family, their furniture, their neighborhood, the cracks in the wall, a glass by the sink, the outline of their body on the mattress. They too thought old age would be someone else’s fate, never suspecting they would stand before this threshold, left here because other people decided their time was up. The São Luiz Old Age Home is better than most in Brazil, clean and decent, with lots of warm touches. But like all other homes for the elderly, it will be its residents’ last address. The home has spent 111 years in the neighborhood of Caju, the site of Rio de Janeiro’s largest cemetery—and the final destination for everyone here.