NANG 3: Fiction — online exclusive: The Hundred Other Emotions Mr. Sognatore Never Knew He Had* by Jay Gallera Malaga

NANG 3: Fiction — online exclusive: The Hundred Other Emotions Mr. Sognatore Never Knew He Had* by Jay Gallera Malaga
Kurosawa Akira’s Dreams is a very important film for me. It came to me when I was starting as a poet and artist. It gave me the courage to embrace how I see things and express them through my art. The Dream sequences are reflected in my story as it is also intended to happen within a dream. But who does really know how dreams work? Are there parameters you can confine/define dreams with? What if we are just somebody else’s dream?
Illustration by  Ardneks  (© the artist)

Illustration by Ardneks (© the artist)

The Hundred Other Emotions Mr. Sognatore Never Knew He Had*


Look, bored was not the word because, God knows, the hundred things he still had to do, but Mr. Sognatore did wake up feeling meh. Perhaps, it was due to the fact that for the first time, for as long as his memory could afford, he could not recall last night’s dream. Normally, he would remember every detail, many times catching himself sleepwalking in a dwam, waking himself up even off-script.

But the thing was, there seemed to be no thing for him that day. He felt at a loss for words; worse, a void and yet like vomiting a verb at the same time. Usually, a great movie or a stupid one could do the trick, and in absence of compelling literature or redeeming music, he would resort to writing his own.

However, none of them proved to be interesting enough, at all.

So, he checked that day’s news: “Trump appeal against travel ban ruling”; “Birds of prey perched in plane seats”; “New star of French politics urges unity”; “Textbook says ‘ugliness’ causes dowry.” Scrolling, scrolling, down, down, down: “Ten books you should read in February.” Quite interesting, maybe later, skipped, skipped. “The hidden Psychology of Peter Pan.” Very, very interesting, too interesting Mr. Sognatore was afraid it would all be about him.

Nothing. End of page. Default tab: Travel. Been there. Read that. Seen scene. Done. Around the BBC. Hmm. Future. Hmm. “19 emotions you never knew you had.”

Was he feeling the irresistible urge to shuck off his clothes while he danced? Mr. Sognatore tried pronouncing the Bantu word: “Mbuki-mvuki, mbuki-mvuki,” and he found himself moving to the beat.

Or was he having that jittery fluttering feeling as he talked to someone he fancied? “Kilig” sounded familiar, but he linked it with that mix of excitement and discomfort that one feels when he or she is about to pee after holding it for a very, very long time.

And Mr. Sognatore thought of all those moments when he had to control №1 during travel or a performance, or basically just for lack of walls or trees. One time he had to do it in a water bottle, and had to keep the bottle beside him until the end of the trip. Those, and that there should be a word for the kind of satisfaction that comes after.

By the way, the article was about Tim Lomas and his Positive Lexicography project that aims to capture the many flavors of good feelings hoping they offer us a richer and a more nuanced understanding of ourselves a different way of seeing the world … as Lomas himself got inspired by the Finnish word “sisu”: extraordinary determination in the face of adversity. Sisu, I might need that, Mr. Sognatore noted as he was still struggling to verbalize his current situation. No one could really tell if the struggle was due to his unbelievable vocabulary, or did his unbelievable vocabulary really fail him this time?

Definitely, it was not the feeling of “desbundar” or shedding one’s inhibitions in having fun like that one time he went skinny-dipping where the Mediterranean meets the Atlantic. Neither close to being in “tarab,” the musically induced state of ecstasy or enchantment, while listening to the sound of worshippers coming out of the mosque in Tangiers during Ramadan and flooding the markets for their “ftoor”, a meal at the end of a full day’s fasting. Oh, the Vivaldis and the Coldplays riddling his empty stomach with harmonies as if the latter were loudspeakers.

Was he then in “wabi-sabi,” a dark, desolate sublimity centered on transience and imperfection in beauty as he checked himself in the mirror, and yet found nothing, not even a shadow of himself? Or was it “shinrin-yoku” that he was looking for as he entered the communal bath house expecting a sort of relaxation gained from bathing in the forest? What do you call that strange excitement of running in hotel corridors only in kimono? Or that indescribable sensation when wasabi hits the interiors between your nose and brain?

Maybe Mr. Sognatore was just going through his go-to settings at times like this, which involved “saudade,” already a kindred fixture in his library of longing, nostalgia for Brasil, which he had yet to visit, but which he already missed, and maybe other things or happenings, people that may not have even existed. He tried mouthing the t’s and d’s and eus but he couldn’t seem to hear his own voice. There was so much silence, but he couldn’t shout; no sound was coming out. He could hear his thoughts though.


If you let an imaginary moment run

circles around your brain long enough,

soon it would form part of your long-term

memory and later you’d no longer be able

to say whether it really happened or not.


Mine is going out of the São Paulo

airport and hearing Bossa Nova

being played in the air on cue.

And with my humble hips, I’d try

to walk like that girl from Ipanema

in my havaianas and beach shorts.

I wonder how old she would be by now.


I’ve never been to Brasil,

but you could never imagine

how I’ve missed it already.

Their kind of Português,

especially that of certain areas.


I miss how my t’s and d’s and eus

echo the sound of waves kissing

the tips of toes, how the ãos and ems

mimic the rhythm of lovemaking

and the noise of a grumpy motorcycle

not wanting to kickstart, again

the t’s and d’s and eus that call

to mind the subtle sizzle of meat

slapped against the grill, the swish

of leftover caipirinha surfing

inside a glass wanting for more.


While I love rolling my r’s,

I don’t mind giving them up

for a guttural gush of air:

uma espécie de ressurreição.


And then, there’s samba, yes.

That wonderful soundtrack

that accompanies a dance move

that requires one to step on

a cockroach and to smash it.

Step, smash, step, smash.


But nothing is as vivid,

as palpable, as one’s yearning

to possess and tame the idea

of saudade: a mild and wild

concoction of longing, agony,

melancholy and heartache.

One is bound to ask how

a word can be so greedy

and grieving, generous

and gentle at the same time.


Oh, Brasil! If you were wine

I’d swim in your eyes of many shades,

tread on your multicolored skin.

I’ll get drunk in your essence

if only to, time and again, indulge

in this nostalgic hangover

of beaches, blues and bliss.


Most likely, by then, the idea of “desenrasanço” was somehow consoling to him: to artfully disentangle oneself from a troublesome situation. Already his system was about to run on restart mode; a fast-forwarded presentation came flashing before the eyes of his brain. However, instead of movies and songs and books, a sort of tribute video to his sleeping skills and the many other talents he had while unawake was playing.

Did he experience “sehnsucht,” desire for alternative states or realizations of life? But which state? Was it “yuan bei,” a sense of complete and perfect accomplishment, or “sukha,” genuine lasting happiness independent of circumstances? He was never a fan of the idea of perfection or utopia, although he manifested some hints of some symptoms that may closely resemble that of having a slight tendency to suffer vaguely from obsessive-compulsive disorder or something like that.

However, Mr. Sognatore couldn’t seem to even take a step. All he did was run and run in his place without moving the kilometers on his exercise app. Was he down with “fernweh,” homesick for a place he had yet to see, or “iktsuarpok,” anticipation as he checked the window every once in a while, waiting for someone to arrive?

And then, a sort of the opposite — but really, not quite the contrary — of a travel ad cum travel journal entry offered an unexpected intermission in this series of episodes bombarding Mr. Sognatore’s consciousness:

By the balcony of the Miramare Castle, the mirage-like Hapsburg structure crowning the Grignano foreland by the coast of Trieste in Italy, one is indeed summoned to look at, to look to, the sea. Engulfed by the bleached-bone whiteness of the castle and the Adriatic’s greenish blue, there’s this gentle-but-firm invitation to linger, chin resting on one hand supported by a balustrade of millennial musings and expectations older than age. When you reach a certain stage of your life, when you have been to particular parts of the world, and have met quite a smorgasbord of strangers, you also realize it’s not always just that day to seize, or that nanosecond to dive headlong into a decision, and sometimes, you just have to sit it right out, wait for the next train, for the next day’s bus schedule, another flight perhaps a week after.

This is something that no travel guide would teach you: the Art of Waiting. Sometimes, you just have to wait. And waiting could be torture, especially when you have no idea of when it would arrive, nor exactly what you have been waiting for: a sign, another awakening, the end of the world? But then, of course, waiting could sometimes also be pure bliss. And as we stood here before the Adriatic, on our very first day in Trieste in an August overcast, we just couldn’t help but wait: for another mermaid’s tale narrated by the wind, a bird carrying a message from the other side, a ration of our daily fish, a wonderful summer.

And yet another one:

We were caught red-footed for the first time on a drizzly late April morning walking through the length of the Place Masséna in Nice under the weight of the seven statues composing Jaume Plensa’s Conversation á Nice. The statues represent the seven continents in dialogue, particularly at nighttime when they are lit in various, ever-changing colors. That day, though, back in their original white, the statues were in deep contemplative mode, muted by the morning mist and the dark-gray overcast. On one foot, we thought that, with technology, this conversation among the continents is very much possible, facilitated particularly by the internet and telecommunications, and the growth and spread of social networks. On the other foot, traveling and migration has also played a great part in weaving dialogues among peoples and cultures, creating a web of concrete relationships and deeper connections one step, one stranger, one city at a time.

As it continued raining, we took hurried strides and refuge by the building behind the Fontaine du Soleil, where a statue of Apollo, god of all the arts and patron of poetry, is surrounded by allegorical sculptures of the planets Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars and Saturn. Apollo, principally symbolized by the sun according to mythology, must have heard our unspoken plight as the skies started to clear up while we made our way through the souvenir shops, the open market riddled with stalls of flowers and plants, and through the fish market, a few steps away from the sea. And according to some law that perhaps only Thales could understand and fully explain, as soon as we reached the pebbled beach, the foot took off to meet the water, and left me to rest a few feet away from the waltzing waves. The sea must have been cold and the sun yet to wake up as the foot came back and sat beside me and started to narrate a summary of our very first night in Nice:

That night, after a rainy morning of traveling from Milan to Ventimiglia to Nice, and looking for the hotel, and an afternoon of scouring for lunch that led to an evening of scouring for dinner, the foot rested its tired sole by the window of the hotel, looking over the blinking lights of the restaurants, the sporadic reunions of compatriots, the rains that have washed the city clean, all vacuumed into bins of garbage collected by the city truck. The foot watched this scene, as if already a ritual, a tradition, some sort of gathering. Everything was almost silenced though by the glass that divided the room and the street. It had been a long three to four months of organizing the foot’s eclectic thoughts into a master’s thesis. The foot had somehow missed the chaos of the city, the spontaneity. And it was for the first time, that the foot took me out of the plastic bag still smelling of the Florence central market, and lined me by the ledge for airing out. And as he looked at the cars lined up along the avenue like arrows all leading toward the sea, he thought of the coming summer.

We left the beach just as Apollo started to spread its arms over the city; there was a train to catch, unfortunately. Passing by the cities along the northern Côte D’Azur stretch, by then all awash in sunlight, the foot had to take me off as it started to get uncomfortable. Finger slid in between the toes, as if to brush off sand, as if to send the continents, the universe, some sort of communication, pulling all the remaining days of spring and re-arranging Apollo’s schedule, an invitation for a midsummer walk and some good old conversation. The foot just couldn’t wait to paint the northern coasts of the other side of the Mediterranean red.

Then the classical music accompanying the piece was brutally interrupted by the sound of someone knocking at the door. When he opened it halfway, Mr. Sognatore smelled a whiff of flowers burning wafting through the gap. But the person on the other side of the door seemed to have come in a hurry, as if carrying a bladder bursting at the seams. The door was slammed open against Mr. Sognatore’s face, hitting his nose first obviously. So this is another description of that instant the wasabi hits the fan, he noted, as he started to lip-sync in Portuguese. But Mr. Sognatore could not really distinguish between stars and tears when he found a version of himself in front of him. For a second, it made him want to pee.

And then, all of a sudden, bladder blunder aside, one of the two Mr. Sognatores ruptured into a thousand “déjà vu.” The hundred things to be done that day also seemed to have been lost in the moment and/or in translation.


*Based on the January 26, 2017 BBC article entitled “The ‘untranslatable’ emotions you never knew you had” by David Robson.

Jay Gallera Malaga, 36, is a peace scholar and conflict worker from La Castellana, Negros Occidental, Philippines. He is the author of Duha Ka Tingog, a collection of poetry in Hiligaynon, published in the Philippines in 2010 through the Ateneo Institute of Literary Arts and Practice with the grant given by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts and the National Committee on Literary Arts. He was a fellow to the University of the Philippines’ and the Iligan National Writers’ Workshops, among others. He is currently volunteering for an NGO based in Bangalore, India as a youth counselor as well as part of the poetry circle Write Out Loud at Lahe Lahe.