German, Dutch, Hebrew, English

The Sweetness of Translating A Booklet of Receipts

They start small, usually. 

The first receipt has a low serial number and is for a low sum. The booklet I worked on today had about $12 per receipt for the first few pages, before adding in the occasional $25 or $103. I don't know why they wanted it translated, but in page after page of the booklet I grew to know the practitioner and their clientele: marginalized, but not so marginalized as to avoid all the services. 

I imagine them starting the business, unsure who would want their services. Charging low, going slow. Cautious. Some days have only one appointment, some have none. I translate and imagine the service provided. 

Receipts were repeated on (more or less) a monthly pattern, with an extra one for certain names every few months. Were these special treats? The naming of clients starts to become less formal. First the middle initial is dropped on the Attention: line, then the last name, and you get to know them first by name, then by nickname. 

Did the business expand by word of mouth? It must have, because some names include a note about relationships: someone's sister, someone else's father-in-law. Two younger-sounding names appear together. 

Finally, towards the end of the booklet, the services are named less carefully and the practitioners' signature becomes more stylized. The practitioner is in their element, confidently signing invoices and leaving a copy in a booklet that would be needed some years later, perhaps to prove a point or to obtain credit from a faraway bank. Or maybe an insurance company needs to know what the income stream was like, to replace it? Is this tiny business being sold or bought?

As names repeat, I imagine the people behind them. What would he look like? Did she talk a lot while being served? Did they talk about family and friends, about jobs and husbands, about the goings on in their community? This name appears again every month, so there would be a lot to talk about if so inclined. Was it that kind of a service? Or was it swift and silent, leaving no room for discussions? 

I don't generally find out the answers to any of these questions. The booklet comes to an end mid-tax-year and leaves me wondering. I carefully reproduce the formatting, bolding the bolds and keeping handwritten items italicized; I triple-check receipt numbers and dates, and send it out with a silent wish that the business owners and their clients thrive.