I wrote this book during one of trips of mine.
Unexpectedly everything people around me were saying materialized and came before landscapes and buildings I was seeing. First the title was revealed: People talk. People usually talk about simple things, trivial things but burdened with living and universe in general. The first words that came to me were written instantly in a small pub, on a paper for rolling cigarettes bought at the tobacconist’s across the street. Later unable to resist the need to save everything that appeared inside me, which seemingly would vanish immediately, I wrote on wooden chapels’ benches.
I consider the book important for its novelty of form, for its contents. I am so satisfied that it has been written having no desire to say anything else. It is far more complex and far simpler from everything I have written before; it bears no thesis, doesn’t speak of a specific country, it doesn’t stand for any aesthetics.
Belgrade, January, 28th, 1931
– Large or Small Island – asks the man with sooted face, smiling only for a moment.
- Any fishing villages on either of them?
– Oh, the Small is Mr. Marquis’ hunting grounds. The Large has about twenty houses.
– Can I cross the lake during the evening?
– Certainly. Mail boat will be here in an hour. On its way back it stops by the Large Island; you can take it. But there’s no return. You will have to stay the night.
– I figure that. Perhaps I can find dinner and lodging there.
– My advice is to spend the night here. The village is small and poor, but you should like the inn. Of course we have the guesthouse on the island where you can sleep over. However that caza de huespedes covers twenty houses and has no lights, like the entire island.
– It will be even a pleasure for one night. Eventually, I have to cross the lake tomorrow. Then I wouldn’t have seen the island at all.
– Our mail boat will take you then. It stops for a minute or two, just for the mail exchange. What time is it?
– Five o’clock.
– It will be here in an hour.
– I would say I have enough time to climb to the peak of the village. The lake will always remain in front of my eyes so that I could see the boat approaching.
– Oh, you couldn’t miss it.
– Should I follow these narrow streets?
– You better take the wide road. There is a gentle slope between the olive-groves and vineyards, up to the tower. Later you can go down by any street steps.
I choose the narrow alleys though. Stone doorways of houses, almost ancient, run into the very stairs. Women are sitting within them; young ones bent over the embroidery.
– Good evening.
– Good evening.
They stop what they are doing for a moment. Their heads rise. An old man, among several very old women, is watching his hurt toe.
– Good evening.
– Good evening, sir.
– You have a nice village here.
– Yes, nice, but poor. Last winter the lake remained frozen.
– So you couldn’t go fishing?
- No, we couldn’t.
The old woman sitting next to him, without looking at me, says:
– The young from Belmonte crossed it on foot to go to the Large island.
– Oh, I didn’t see it, but it was said a car crossed it too.
– The ice must have been thick.
– Seventy inches.
– Goodbye then.
– Goodbye, young gentleman.
A girl who is embroidering on the tambour is very pretty. The whole family sits at the entrance where two lines of stairs intersect. It must be odd to live above these slant perspectives. Even the green surface of lake doesn’t appear to be horizontal.
– Good evening.
– Good evening.
– It seems a nice piece that you are embroidering.
– I use the pattern the Marquess gave me.
– Do you work for the Marquess whose husband has the hunting grounds on the Small Island?
– Oh, no, it’s her son’s hunting grounds. The old Marquis died before I was born.
– Do they live here all the time?
– In last couple of years they came to the lake during the summer. They have only visited our village.
- They have the motorcycle and then come with guests.
– What is your name?
– That’s not a local name.
– No, it’s not. My father was a sailor and travelled a lot. But a lot of people call me Rolanda.
– Ivona is prettier. Goodbye then.
– Good day, young gentleman.
In the next street, that goes straight between two rows of stone houses, under the ancient fort and above the lake, two or three heads are watching me through the window. At one doorstep there are some people and children.
– Good evening.
– Good evening, sir.
– Are you fishermen?
– Oh, fishermen are rare here. They live down there.
– How many fishermen are there?
– Only eight boats. Other villages on the lake catch more fish.
– Your village is very beautiful. You can see the lake from the doorstep all the time.
– We always see the lake. Sometimes it goes mad.
– Will it be calm this night?
– Not so sure. It seems like tramontana.
– Goodbye, then.
– Goodbye, goodbye.
Although I haven’t noticed anything on the lake yet – two or three boats barely that even do not appear to move at all – I return to the shore. The mail boat must be late. I say so to the man I spoke to a few minutes ago on the shore:
– The mail boat must be late.
– Oh, it left ten minutes ago. They waited for you for five minutes, but we figured you had changed your mind.
– How inconvenient. I watched the lake very carefully and didn’t see it.
– From Belmonte it goes by the very coast. The houses must have covered the view.
– You are right. Is there any other boat to take me to the island?
– I don’t think so. With the lake surging, you wouldn’t be able to return tonight. Anyway, it would be quite expensive.
– How much it would cost me?
– Thirty pesetas perhaps.
– I don’t think that’s too much.
– Go and ask the old man on the bench. He is the only one who could take you. The others are just coming back from fishing.
Together we approach the old man who politely stands up to greet us. His face is red, tanned, wrinkled and he is fat which betrays his friendship with wine, winds, years and food.
– I would like to go to the Large Island. Would you take me?
– You shouldn’t go. The tramontana started.
– But the waves don’t look dangerously.
– Oh, they are quite big already, and will be bigger.
– You couldn’t return tonight?
– No, I couldn’t.
– Would it be dangerous?
– Dangerous and hard. To me and my son it would take double time to row.
– Is it dangerous to cross the lake now?
– We would get soaked by the waves.
– It can be dried up. I think, as it is dangerous to return, you can drink some vine on the island this evening and come back in the morning. Is there good vine there?
– Yes, but we would drink it in the dark. I’ll go check with my son. If he agrees, we will take the boat and go.
I don’t believe the son would agree, it sounds like polite refusal. I wait though, accompanied by the mechanic I have met earlier on the shore. There are several leaking boats stranded at the rushes; they are plane, primitive, resembling large troughs. A man wearing sail’s cloth and all tarnished by lime goes down to the rushes carrying a sack on his back. A young woman, bony and strong, brings another sack. They freely plunge into weeds and mud to reach the boat and unload the sack. Woman’s skirts are wet up to her knees. The mechanic goes to them:
– Are you going back to the village? We have a young gentleman who would like to cross the lake. Could you take him?
– Why not? Tell him to come.
The woman offers her hand to help me jump into the boat. She wipes the bench for me to sit.
- Keep your legs away from the sacs – the man says. – The cement is falling out. If it reaches wet boots, you will hardly remove it.
It starts to rain with large and rare drops. A husband and wife fetch new sacs. At that moment another boat, red in colour, emerges from the lake’s weed. The old man and a young man with open look in his eyes are rowing standing. His son!
– I may be impolite to betray these friends whom I almost compelled to take me across the lake. They may regret losing the money.
– They don’t like to go when the wind blows. Give them peseta for vine.
– You found the boat – the old man says when approached. His son takes the cap off and is looking at me smiling. He actually looks at the lake behind me, i.e. does not look at anything specific as there is nothing there of his interest.
- This boat is going back to the island; I’ll spare you the effort. Please, take this for vine.
A husband and wife are already in the boat and we are leaving.
– Thank you, sir and goodbye.
– Goodbye and thank you.
– Have a nice time.
The sky is entirely covered with clouds. Rare and heavy rain drops fall continuously. The waves strike the boat with ample splashes. The wife is rowing in the middle of the boat; the upper skirt thrown over her shoulder, the remaining ones are wet and stick to her knees. They are both satisfied to have me in the boat.
– Did you buy the cement here in Huenta?
– Oh, no, it was only sent there. A man named Carlos, who should have brought it, couldn’t do it as his wife got sick. She’s been expecting from lately and he doesn’t dare to leave her. It is their first.
– Are you building anything?
– I am a mason.
– Is there work?
– To survive. But I am looking for a job in all the villages along the lake. And during summer, when the Marquis visits the island, there’s always something to repair in the castle.
– Where is his castle?
– On the Large island. It used to be an abandoned monastery. The old Marquis, the senator, bought it for a mere trifle. He spent a few millions to build a castle. The young Marquis…
– He is coming in two or three days – the wife adds.
– The old Marquess is already there.
– She likes women’s work. Your girls must be very good at embroidery.
– Oh, she always tells them she wants to help. They always have a lot of guests and she uses that money to buy us necessities. If it were not for the Marquees and her son we would probably be dying from hunger.
– The lake was frozen this winter?
– Forty two days. The young fellows maintained small passage through water so that boats could go. It was tough job to maintain it day and night. We wouldn’t have bread otherwise. Fish had already gone under the ice.
– It must have been exhausting?
– We really suffered. After ten days nobody had a peseta in his pocket. On top of it, the castle was empty during winter.
– Your wife is great rower.
– She is very strong. Mother of two children. The older one is five years old; you will tell me if you think she’s pretty. She has light hair.
– You love children very much?
– They are joy of life.
– I didn’t hear you.
– I said the children were joy of life. Life would be worthless without them.
– That’s for sure. Are the hunting grounds on this island?
– Yes, there were a lot of pheasants in the woods, but the local rascals ravaged the chicks and the nests. And there are a lot of snipes too.
– They were right when they told me I would be all soaked. Still it feels very good.
– Who are you visiting on the island?
– I don’t know anybody. I would stay the night at the guest-house, if there is one and look for a boat back to Escalona early in the morning.
– I start at seven. If you come at five, I can take you back. So I would be late only half an hour.
- I think it would be fantastic as I could catch the mail boat for Huenta. I’d prefer to leave the lake from Huenta.
– Ok, I’ll pick you up at five then.
– That would be ok. Is that the castle? It looks huge. I can’t see fishing houses.
– The village is on the other side of the island. You can only see the tower of small church on top of the island.
– Whose woods are these?
– Almost the entire island belongs to the Marquis. Only a small number of olive-groves above the village belong to the fishermen.
– Is the water deep here?
– Very deep. It is difficult to tread by the shore as it is all in stones.
– Here’s the village – the wife says.
We meet one, and then another boat with fishermen who cast the nets.
– Good evening.
– Good evening.
– How are you doing?
– We are fine.
We put to small pier of props. The man stays in the boat to unload it while the woman takes me out. I freely tread after her into the ankle deep water.
- The inn is this way.
The village is spread along the lake, the houses look at it from the rear. They are divided from the shore by short, wrecked yards covered with weeds, full of disposed weels, broken bottles, hens and cats. All have only ground-floors, date back to the medieval times, and face houses across the ally from the front and that’s it. We go along the ally for few steps. In front of every house sit old men and women, young women and fishermen. Children are running among them. One of the houses carries the sign: caza de huespedes. It has another floor, bench and some chairs at its front. A few young people are standing and talking.
– This is my little girl – says a woman for the child plunging into her skirts.
– What is your name?
– Are you a good girl, Juana?
– What do you say?
– Yes, sir.
– Wait, Juana.
– What do you say?
– Thank you, sir.
– Mrs. Maria, a gentleman is looking for you. He wants to talk to you.
– He is so tall! – I hear women’s voices from across the ally. – Where does he come from? – they ask the mason’s wife in half tone.
– He is only staying over the night. He is interested in fish. He may have come for casting new twigs into the lake.
– How did you bring him?
– I guess my husband knows him for a long time, from Toledo, maybe.
– Would you like to see the room, sir? It is not ready yet.
– Then there is nothing to see. It is important that I will have the bed for the night. What time do you have dinner?
– Whenever you want. We usually eat at eight. What would you like for dinner?
– The same as you. Fish, if possible. I would like to try it the way you make it here on the island. I don’t mind for the rest.
– That’s fine, sir. Would you like to sit, we could bring the table?
– I would prefer to see the island before dinner.
– Our son can show you the island. There is nothing much to see. The castle has large arms collection.
– Thank you, but I’d like to go alone. Another thing: could you wake me up before five? The man, who brought me here, will take me to Escalona and we should leave at five. And please, charge me the bill tonight.
– We will do so.
I walk till the end of one ally. It becomes a road between the olive-groves and brings me to the castle’s gates soon. The castle can not be seen now, sheltered by non-trimmed park. The gates are open and I proceed through the park without intention to reach the castle. On the left, on a plane, a man is keeping two huge cows.
– Nice cattle.
– Marvelous. Thirty litres a day. Mister Marquis brings them from another estate during the summer.
– You live on the island?
– Yes. But I keep the cows for a young fellow who presently works in Belmonte. I am a hunter actually.
– How many servants are there?
– There are forty of us now. Another twenty will come with mister Marquis in two days. Divers, mechanics, maids and butlers. Would you like to see the castle?
– I don’t think so. I haven’t brought any letter with me and I am leaving early in the morning.
– They are very hospitable and are willing to show the strangers everything. You don’t need the letter. It’s a shame not to see the arms. It is said that it is unique collection; few people in the world have similar.
– I heard it was very large.
– It is all nicely arranged. His Excellence, the late senator, spent several million.
– The village is lucky to have a castle instead of an abandoned monastery. People can earn money besides fishing.
– You are right. The old Marquess knows everybody’s name and takes care of everybody. She has found husbands for a lot of girls. And there are guests to think about too. They come every year. They spend a few days, fish in the lake, cross it by the motor boats, go sightseeing by their cars. Then they leave almost all in the same day but we are very busy from dawn till dark during these days.
– This is a rarely nice view to the lake.
– Do you see the tower on the shore, with carousel? Mrs. Marquess brought water to the castle using electrical motors; the whole castle has lights too. And she promised to provide electricity for the entire village.
– I should go back and see the island before dark.
– It’s a pity not to visit the castle. You should talk to the majordomo.
– I think I would leave it for some other time.
– Goodbye then, sir.
– Goodbye. Thirty litres, you say?
– Oh, often it’s more.
I am passing through the village again. Women and men on both sides are watching me curiously. I greet everyone. They greet me back. Before one door a young man is repairing his shoe. He stops to look at me. When I say “Good evening”, he gets shy and continues his work. Two steps from him, also in front of his door, the other is repairing the boiler narrowed in the middle. Two children are fidgeting around his legs; he is patiently and gently pushing them away, like unfolded girdle that has no time to fold. He also stops his work to look at me.
– Good evening.
– Good evening, sir.
– You are busy.
– A little.
The ally goes almost to the lake itself turning into treaded path through grass along the shore. On one side there is only an unfinished ground-floor building. There are big stones within the grass; almost rocks are emerging covered with moss, which makes it difficult to walk. At the upper part of the island there is a small lively wood bestowed by the birds’ singing. At the very top you can see a part of blackened church bell-tower, and then comes the absolute seclusion. I tread along the island’s edge breathing in the smells of damp, wood and weeds. The evening is unnoticeably enveloping the Small island; the thick wood is right across. Between two islands, quiet close to me, soft and serene brawl is raising, two fishing boats are passing by. People in them are quiet, their moves slow. First come the sounds of veels, cast into water, then the oars, and finally boats and people emerge from the weeds and reeds.
– Is there fish?
– Very little, young gentleman.
– But you will have enough for dinner?
I proceed through weeds near the water line, every now and then failing to miss rocks in the water that can not be seen. The birds, that must have kept silent for the whole day, sing overjoyed: filling the night above me, up of the island, hovering the darkening water, that is bluer right before me. Beyond the tree-crowns I can see the castle towers again, not far from me. I almost made full circle around the whole island. A flat rock crosses my path, shaped as an arm-chair, with another to support your back when you sit. I stay there for more than half an hour, probably forty-five minutes, without a single thought in my head, without a single dream. The joys are purely physical. Eyes enjoy the darkening colour of the wood on the opposite side; chest is filled with fresh air full of smells of plants and water. I would probably prefer birds to be silent, but I am not actually aware of that. I take the same way back, the dark has already fallen. Water is now bright and resonant. By the unfinished building I meet the same fishermen, who’ve embarked near. There is no way to distinguish them. I can only see that one is carrying something big, probably made from cane. I see a piece of sky through it.
– What are you carrying?
– To catch eels.
– Are there eels in the lake?
– Oh, we live from catching them actually.
– But there is no river that goes into or out of the lake.
– No, there isn’t.
– The lake is not connected to the sea under the ground?
– We have never heard of that.
– Where do the eels come from then? I was always said they stay where they can reach the particular seas in order to breed.
– I don’t think these can go anywhere.
– Where do you find cane for veels making?
– Oh, there are canes all over the coast.
– Here’s our house. Good night, young gentleman.
– Good night.
I pass along the blacksmith and shoemaker. Only the figures in front of the house can be seen. They are surrounded by wives and children. The villagers are sitting in front of other houses as well. There is not a single lamp.
– Good evening.
– Good evening, sir.
In front of the pub, in a completely dark ally, people are double in number. The inside is lit by a candle. I sit at the table and try to read “Life”, by Chelini. The lines flicker after the blaze dance. A fat, content old man is approaching me:
– The light is not good, but the Marquess promised us. The rest is well in this caza de huespedes.
– Do you have it for a long time?
– It belongs to my cousin. It’s been eight years. He married a woman from Saragossa and she always wanted to come to his place and start some business. So they opened this caza de huespedes. I think they are satisfied with it.
– It looks like it is run with great love.
- Oh, my sister-in-law is a great woman, real matrona. When she is up to something, she does it well and with love. If you want to read, go upstairs where they are preparing table for dinner. They must have lit big gas lamp.
I climb the narrow wood stairs in darkness. I fail a step and slip slightly. It makes tremendous noise as if I have fallen and stairs broke completely. Rushing steps come from above, the door opens somewhere up the narrow passage and warm, gay light illuminates all around. I finish the climbing and see the girl at the door with a lamp in her both hands. Face and eyes are dimly lit so one can not guess whether she is afraid, smiling hospitably or sneering. I find her pretty.
– Have you hurt yourself? You should have called us to bring the light. I told the boy to take you upstairs as soon as you return from your walk. Come in, please.
– Thank you. Do I interrupt anything? Would you mind if I sit here and read? It wouldn’t disturb you.
– Is it an Italian book?
– Sculptor Chelini’s life. I have decided to read it during trips and I have been reading it for two years now, never finding time to finish it up. I even have to read again as I forget what happened.
– What’s the title?
– Life by Benvenuto Chellini. It describes life in Italy during sixteenth century.
– Should I be embarrassed, I’ve never heard of it?
– Certainly not. I should be embarrassed to make you admit it without telling you about the things I’ve never seen before.
She looks at me and comprehends bad pun immediately.
- What is that you have never seen before? Or, wait a minute, I know. You meant to say “Such a beautiful girl”.
– I think you are right. In any case your island is as beautiful as you are.
– Oh, yes, it is really beautiful. But I am not from the island. My mother lived here and got married in Saragossa. I only spend the summer with my uncle and aunt.
– Your aunt is from Saragossa?
– Yes, she is a special aunt. We were not well after my father died and she adopted my two sisters. As she has no children, she’s raised and loved them as her own.
- Is it so? I really like this room. I prefer home embroidery and photos of residents. Are there any photos of your mother?
– Yes, there are, these are my parents. It’s me, when I was very little. Funny, isn’t it?
– You resemble your father. On the photo, is this your brother beside you or…?
– No, it is my fiancée.
– Is the wedding day near?
– As soon as he gets the job. Probably month or two.
– Is he also from Saragossa?
– Yes, he is. He came last night with a friend and they are staying by tomorrow. You might have seen them in front of the inn.
– Oh, it’s as if I haven’t seen them. It was completely dark.
– It is unpleasant, isn’t it? The old Marquess promised electricity for the village in the next year. They say, this last winter was frosty and it was very sad and hard in the dark.
– You were lucky not to visit us then.
– I felt sorry for the uncle and the aunt. I wanted to come, but dreaded to cross the ice lake. You don’t mind eating with all of us?
– On the contrary, I would enjoy it very much. Don’t misunderstand me, I am very sorry that your fiancée is here. We could have gone for a stroll together. This way it seems embarrassing as if I am bothering you.
– Oh, no, you are not a bother at all. We see each other very often. Besides, we are engaged for a long time, we told each other everything by now.
The garcon serving in the inn enters.
– Miss, the dinner is almost done and little Ferera is missing. Have you seen her?
Mrs. Maria almost got scared.
– No, she must have fallen asleep behind the hen-roost. She has been waiting for the newborns to come. Go and find a lemon.
The occupants of the household start to gather. All of them want to know what I read and whether I came from Logrona or Pankorba, Burgos or Lerida, but they are careful enough not to mention these last two names. Mrs. Maria, large and beautiful woman with big, dark eyes, carries in sleepy Ferera in her hands; Isabella is hanging by her skirts. Her husband, the inn-keeper, is tiny and skinny, red in face and exciting. In his suit, he looks like wearing diving equipment; his pantaloons almost reach his armpits. Two young fellows, with pleasant countenance and carefully dressed, ask me whether I have hunted the birds by the lake, just like them and whether I have seen the chapel where San Diego had embarked when stopping in to the island.
– I took the path on the other side, went to the castle almost but didn’t come across any building.
– You actually were very close but it remained hidden by the leaves. His traces could still be seen on the rocks at the shore. Though one shouldn’t trust such things.
– Why not? I do. I believe in God and all the miracles holly men perform joined by God.
– But, aunt – the young fellow interrupts (so he is the fiancé) - how could he live a trace only where he embarked and not all over the island and on the other side of the coast where he came from?
– God wanted to leave his mark about the holy man’s arrival.
– Why would God deny the laws of physics that he himself proclaimed! They say that a mark can not be left on the stone by human treading on it.
– It is silly and stupid that nowadays the young do not believe in anything.
– We should eat, my dears, we should eat, I am hungry, the gentleman is hungry, you are hungry and that’s why you’re arguing.
– Take this seat, sir.
– If you don’t mind I would stay here, and you take the front position. Otherwise I would feel like a stranger.
The girl and two young men are sitting vis-à-vis me. Little girls are sleeping all over the large woman as if she is some slant bed, without disturbing her movement. Every now and then they open their eyes to eat some food from their plates and fall to sleep again. They even twitch during their dreaming. I can not hear everything people around the table are talking. I am completely absent-minded. It goes through my mind that all these people are absolutely nice and simple and free-spoken. The woman has too much energy, one of the young fellows is conceited, but the girl is quite unique. Everybody is dancing around the fiancée’s friend: he seems to be very useful for the fiancée’s future.
- You were very kind to visit us – the girl says. – Miguel loves you very much.
– It is a special love. Only sincere friend’s advice can be so precious – the inn-keeper says.
– Miguel told us how vigorous and agile you were and about everything you had achieved purely by your effort and brains.
– Oh, I have been incredibly lucky. Probably only by pure chance I saw what would be the best thing to do and what other missed to do. Surely I never ran from hard work.
– I always admire young people who make something of their lives. It is so nice to see. Isabella, please, stay still and don’t kick me at the breasts. It is wonderful to see a man who knows how and where to spend his vigour.
– I am afraid Miguel isn’t the kind of person who could do it. He is a little timid, perhaps a dreamer. I said so a long time ago, is that so, Miguel?
– Oh, you said... Of course, Bernes is more vigorous than me, and everybody is listening when he is talking. I couldn’t persuade you what you should know for common truth.
– You should be more confident, Miguel – the large woman says. – You are a good young man, honest and those are the values for forever. You will make it.
– What was you first success?
– I always believed that our work is important for people and then I saw that the young in Saragossa were not organized at all. Not organized rationally, I mean, to be of use for the common cause. It’s not enough to dress smartly and listen to the music. I first did it alone, without asking for help. When they saw another side of the young in Saragossa, it was understood they asked about me.
– You know N?
– I used to work with him before he was appointed secretary.
– He seems to be very agile and active man. I heard he was a miracle.
– You could say he is more than a man. He is among the rarest people in the world.
– Do you still see him?
– Every time I go to Madrid. He hasn’t forgotten me; sometimes call me to dinner. His wife and sister play four hands. It is nice to spend an evening surrounded by peaceful family atmosphere.
– But I really think it is real luck to find out what to do for common and your own good. There are two years now that I have been a member, but my wife Maria can tell you, that it was my conviction from the day they appeared. From the very first moment, very first moment. I just couldn’t find the way to express my feelings; I didn’t know who preaches the same: there was none to explain it to me. Is that right, Maria?
– Oh, yes, my husband felt something new was coming, but couldn’t express it.
– When they started to act against the country, I used to shout, even here in the inn, there are people who remember it. I cried: You will see that you can’t do so! There will be somebody to forbid you do so! It was not that I was afraid for my inn, that they could shut it down, the village can not survive without it, but I said it as I felt it. When the real thing started, if I had only remembered that was that, if only I had remembered in time… But how could I know being on this island! Who would think of it! Afterwards, when I saw what was happening, I was ashamed to enroll, so that they could accuse me that I was enrolling because they had won. And then, two years ago, Maria said: “It is stupid that it is your conviction but you are not a member.” Then I asked to enroll.
– Oh, the uncle always was for renewal.
– I would like so much that our Miguel were successful. Could you help?
– I will do my best. But I am convinced that a young man of his capabilities can succeed without anyone’s help.
– He needs a lot of advice.
– How do you like fish? – someone addresses me for the first time. – Do you want more?
– No, thank you. It is very delicious. Isabella seems to be hard asleep.
– She won’t go to bed without me. She cries and weeps. She is my star, my dearest. I love them as they are mine. Where do you come from, sir?
– From your homeland.
– It is not that I come from there but I find the women there are the most beautiful in Castile. Last year, when I was visiting with my husband, I myself turned my head after women, they were so pretty. Besides, these were great and beautiful women, matrones, they may cut their hair, put some blush on the cheeks, but they would stay feminine, never resembling a male.
The inn-keeper puts down the napkin he’s had around his neck, wipes his mouth, and ready to talk now, moves away from the table a little.
– Do you believe, sir, that there will be war soon?
– Who do you think we must be at war with?
– Oh, just open the papers. The whole world is writing about it. Do you think it can be avoided?
– I don’t know. Perhaps one day wars will vanish. Strong, primordial forces that create wars will have no effect any more. And all the nations will be right.
– But there are nations who want to enjoy their own culture in peace and others, who have no culture of their own and prefer war to amuse themselves in destruction of what others made.
– During time each nation has gathered some wealth and welfare, even the poorest, and it has become its culture. There is no nation as a whole that would like to risk its own welfare as the war is always a risk. And it is needles to say nobody wants to send sons into death.
– How then the wars happen at all?
– That is what I am saying: war doesn’t come out because one nation loves it and the other doesn’t, because one nation is right and the other isn’t or because one nation has broader culture. It is more like plague and disasters. One day the whole mankind will excitedly take care to avoid such a plague. Each nation will constantly take care to escape such events. As the human being is careful not to catch fever, or better to avoid neurosis which would make him fight his neighbour without any reason.
- But while we wait it to come, a country can not allow to be bullied by another, and it also waits the times of true peace.
– Certainly… Imagine, I am today your guest, visiting your island, unique in its beauty and simplicity. There is nothing that I feel strange or what would make me a stranger. This very night you yourselves could be by some of my river’s shores and feel as close as you are at home. I can’t grasp it then how you can find two men who want to kill each other hating the country, one another and thinking that country wants to hurt him.
– You can’t say there is no person who hates our people and wants them dead.
- Maybe there is. Until a man sees another man, talks to him, is unable to imagine him, especially when he is unable to imagine the other having his trade, children, worries, to understand that happiness and unhappiness is equally divided throughout world failing to follow justice rules, he may be able to hate. But when they share the same table he can not have a wish to kill, nor he can hate. Differences exist in language, customs but they disappear when two people start to talk, even if they can’t understand each other. The difference is important when you say it: they are separated by the language, customs. You could see during wars that it was rare for a soldier not to feel compassion for his prisoner. It is certain that each of us loves his country more than any other in the world. And there is reason for that! But the country doesn’t ask him to kill for her, but to love her.
– Country is great and nice thing.
– It is my opinion that love for the country, as love of anything, is greater and nicer. We can love it together and not be jealous one of another. We can love women born in it, sunrise and sunset, everything.
– You must be journalist or poet, sir.
- I may be, but I don’t speak as a journalist or a poet. The whole world feels this way.
All of a sudden I realize that I really speak too abstractly, probably to literary. War? Who knows, it may be eternal. Perhaps hatred arising among people will never be erased. It is really stupid to talk about that with these good people who are confused as they are expected to have opinion. I want to change the subject.
– I believe that I shall certainly come here again, even once more. It is all so extraordinary and beautiful.
– We hope you will keep your word. We will have the lights then.
– And the chicks Ferara has been expecting will become hens – the girl added joking.
"And you, I think to myself, you will become a mother, your unique freshness of tonight will render as vague memory. What to come for? "
– I will come, I will certainly come. Do you believe the boy will wake me up before five?
– He will. Now he will carry you some fresh water.
– Then I could go for a short walkthrough the night. Goodbye.
– Goodbye. Have a nice walk.
There are no people in front of the inn, the street has been deserted. I go to the small pier built from the stakes and cast rocks in between. I am looking at the absolute darkness of water. This lasts for ten or fifteen minutes and then clear sound of rows hitting the water becomes close; I hear voices, a few male voices, but I can’t recognize the words. Finally a word or two enter my world, as a bright and lonely star:
- No, I say no!
The boat puts in under my feet but I can not see it at all. I only distinguish sounds of putting away the rows, people getting out of the boat etc. One dark man screens a piece of the sky and with his hand over his mouth is shouting:
– Ana-Maria! Ana-Maria!
A window opens at the island:
– Is that you?
– It’s us. Come here.
Three figures approach, two females one of whom is the girl, and a boy with them. They disappear into the darkness bellow my feet where are the people and the boat.
- Was it night when you left?
– No, it was getting dark. I have something in my stomach. It hurts a hell lot.
– What have you had for dinner?
The islanders are struggling to unload the boat. Judging by the sounds, it seems to be some ropes and jugs. I wonder whether they can see me. They leave thus loaded. All of them, one by one. I have already thought nobody’s left but there’s a new sound: someone is standing up, clearing his throat, and relieving a sigh from the removing the burden of boat staff, starts climbing right towards me:
– Good evening, sir.
– Good evening.
I can clearly see his big figure beside a smaller one bellow the less dark sky, but the voice does not reveal his age.
– We come from Belmonte, but we didn’t do everything we should.
– Work remained unfinished?
– Not exactly. There’s been the military ceremony there and we couldn’t manage to buy all staff.
– I’ve never been to Belmonte.
– Oh, it is certainly more interesting than the island. .. Are you a clerk?
– I am a foreigner.
The man obviously wants to talk, but he holds back. I don’t mind talking to him, but it is quite boring to encourage him to start the conversation. I remain silent.
- If the world wouldn’t be divided among so many sects and countries, there would probably be more food to eat.
– Why do you think so?
– I don’t know. I only think if everybody would take care of having enough food to eat, there would be enough food in the world. Now, ones say: we want to eat most! and others say: we can’t allow that you eat what is ours! And so they argue, dinner time is over, and some other group has eaten everything, although they have not been hungry.
– You surely are right, but in order to explain that idea to the world you must find supporters which would actually make another sect. Probably the world will unite by some new idea and all will believe in it… Up to now, apart from religious ideas, only the ideas of Equality and Freedom succeeded in gathering mankind, but they immediately would lose their enthusiasm and nobody actually understood what equality and freedom really were.
It is the second time that night that my conversation becomes abstract and it is boring. The man keeps silent, thinking what else he can say; I also stop talking, but then I ask:
– Do you have matches? I would like to see what time it is.
– No, I am a non-smoker and don’t have them.
– I think it is rather late and I should go to sleep. Goodbye.
– Goodbye, sir. Goodbye.
The conversation of the household’s occupants reaches me through the closed door of the dining room. My room belongs to a family member: it is wide, clean, has a pile of photographs. I am preparing myself for bed and want to wash my face, but I gather there is no water. I open the window. In the small yard, between the rear part of the inn and the lake, the servants are washing dishes in dim light:
– Here I am, sir.
– I don’t have water.
- Oh, sorry, sir, I have forgotten completely. Here I come.
Five minutes later the stairs crack and the whipster is knocking at the door:
– May I come in?
– Come in, Vasquez. Will you wake me up before five, Vasquez?
– I will, sir. Have you seen the castle, sir?
– Not this time.
– In two days I am going there to work as a servant, as I always do.
– You can learn a lot there.
– I certainly can. After I do my colours, I believe I shall be a butler in the town.
– You like that job?
– It is very difficult to be a good butler.
– All right, Vasquez. It must be very difficult.
– You would probably like to read, sir.
– Oh, no, my eyes ache at candle light and I feel sleepy.
– Have a good night, sir, then.
– Good night, Vasquez. Don’t forget the morning; and the shoes.
– Great, sir.
In the morning I am being waken up by tremendous noise made by roosters. I jump from the bed, sneezing, wash my face and get down into the street. The island bathes in the dawn light. All is chaste, pure and bright; sonorous, like the creation of world has just ended. Women walk briskly from one side of the street to the other, getting ready for work. Voices from their throats seem significant.
I find myself in the boat between the island and Escalon. Villages mirror themselves in the lake. On top of a hill far away, still surrounded by fog, the village of Mont Palanquins is shining overwhelmed by the first sun. The name means The Mount of Fleas and the girl who was servant at my friends’ came from that village. We called her the Small Island from the Mount of Fleas.
"What a difference, I think to myself, from Roldana whom we called Small Island and the girl with embroidery who said her name was Roldana.”
I notice that the mason talks to me rowing evenly. It is always the story about the time when the lake has been frozen (“forty or forty two days, I have been told, it comes to me; anyway why should I care how many days it has been frozen”). His eyes fill with tears:
- My daughter was ill for three days and my wife went sick from worry because no doctor could come to the island, we could lose her. The girl was feverish, practically in delirium all the time. It was the third night when my wife started crying: she is dying, she is dying! I jumped from the bed, look at the girl’s clenched teeth, rolled eyes, blue colour; she was going to die. It didn’t matter if she died there or outside, or if we both sank under the broken ice; my wife wouldn’t let me live and I would be in lifetime mourning. Have you seen how beautiful she is? I put my clothes on, wrapped her with scarf and went right into the night. I treaded by this very water. Terrifying darkness was everywhere around; I slipped and stumbled with every step although I had socks over my boots. My wife almost went mad alone in the house. I understood why my friend wouldn’t leave his wife to carry over my cement. The tramontana beat me right into the face, it was cold as never before but I went and went. It took me three hours to reach Belmonte, only three kilometers away. I couldn’t stop thinking: “Is she already dead in my arms?”
- When I arrived, the dawn approached from the east. I woke up some friends and then saw her jaws loosened up; her colour came back a little. Doctor told me that cold air had saved her life; she would die if it weren’t for that. He added that he would save her. When I came back home I said to my wife: “As soon as the winter has gone, we shall be moving from this island. We will go to the village with a doctor and school. We wouldn’t go through this again.”
The mason stopped talking and then said:
- We still live here.
I stroll along the steep plains around Escalon, through the olive-groves. In the first warmth of the day their scent is pure delight, like a garden of carnations or jasmines.
Men are tracking paths with mules loaded by wine. Women are carrying big water jars on their heads. On one plain about ten boys are tumultuous in the game of war. Branches are their guns and sticks their sabres.They are making enormous noise quarrelling who will be the captain, even the corporal but then nobody is a soldier they can order around. Such a scene always excites me sincerely; I used to play war in Palilula for a few years:
– What’s going on, my friends?
– We are preparing for war.
– Will it be a dreadful war?
– Very bad. We are all in organization and not afraid of anybody.
– Who are you fighting against?
– Only against them?
– Oh, they are our mortal enemies.
– But they are in organization too.
– Of course, they say they are organized. But we know what they are like. During the celebration, they went to the vineyards to steal grapes. Later their stomachs ached and their mother beat them. Famous heroes from Belmonte!
– When we announce war, we shall write a letter to the Generalissimo and explain what soldiers they are like there in Belmonte and he will be pleased that we shall show them what a soldier one should be.
– But there’s a whole lake dividing you. Waging war will be very difficult.
– Not at all. For a holiday, we will sneak out in the early morning, take fishermen’s boats and go to the Small Island. We shall wait for them there.
– Magnificent! ("Kanosh Macedonovic”, I think to myself). Only, just for a moment, I can see a lot of thrashing. The peasants from the Big Island are waiting for you to return as you destroyed their pheasants; the fishermen are preparing welcome for returning their boats. And not to mention your parents.
The boys look at me suspiciously. In a second, it cross their minds I want to protect their rivals from Belmonte by some trickery.
– Do you live in Belmonte?
– No, I’ve never been there. But if I ever meet a boy from there I would tell him where the disaster will come from.
Little boys shine with pride:
– You’ll do us pleasure, sir.
– Good luck then! Tell me one thing, why you chose the Small Island?
– It is wonderful there. It doesn’t belong to anyone.
- What do you mean to no one? It is the Marquis’ hunting-grounds.
Twenty steps afar, behind the swirl, beyond the plain rich in grass and blossomed flowers, I come across a row of wooden bee-hives. They fly in vast circles, like enraptured, over the plain. One of them is rather funny, completely red, coloured with God knows what. As she is different it looks multiplied. Wherever I cast my look, I see her. So I look at her. She flies joyously over the flowers; narrows the circles, resembles the red oriole above them. She flies up, hums, broadens the circle. All of a sudden, she plunges into a flower, goes deeply, drilling buoyantly, passionately, almost brutally, finding her place inside. Her whole body is working, hardened, with heavy breath. The flower itself, as a living being, is enduring this magnificent rape, suffering, trembling on a thin stick from persistent work within its petals; the green leaves over the flower tremble too. Then the bee goes out, fervent, mad, attacking another cluster, rushing into new flower. The former one remains in pain, empty, open to skies.
Before they go to their hives, hundreds of bees mix and cross each other’s ways, plunging into flowers. Space over the plants is swept by this motion and stops to be static. Flowers seem to dance under the bees’ flight; as if ones are running into their hugs, while the other flee away in dread and fear. “What arduous work!”, I think to myself. “I would like to create like that, gathering the best from the opulence that surrounds me and then make it homogenous. Bee’s work results in honey that carries the essence of all the flowers, and it isn’t their summary but something entirely new and exquisite. It is not this or that flower, it is honey; its features differ utterly, its most important one is not the smell but flavour. Coming to the lake one day like this one, experience everything, everyone, listen to everything, watch continuously and not describe it but create something with its own colour, flavour, hue, aroma, its fateful sentimentality. No, no, no, I don’t think that, but something that corresponds that idea. In any case, I should write something imitating bees, something overwhelmingly contemporary, but what wouldn’t resemble bees.”
Once more I perceive in myself the fervent desire to create, who would know what and why. Should I be arrogant or ashamed? I lie onto the grass and immediately the entire lake is beneath me; every fishing village I see as a half sunken flower. Between two blades of grass or between my fingers boats float on the water. It seems as if they move away on that surface with my every breath instead of hard effort of tiny rowers. Perhaps I should capture them, like insects, gathering my fingers together on the spur of the moment. I feel huge, being the centre of my observation and my thoughts and everything else remains miniscule and minute around me till infinity. However all is a game and illusion of a personality; perspectives around me get arranged without my being their master. I am not a lord of anything, not even of myself. I draw my fingers close and move them apart and boats resume their sail in an insusceptible azure.
I enter the small town on top of hill; do the sightseeing of its surrounding walls, variegated charts driven by oxen that pass along two only streets and eventually the castle that leads to the fortress over the lake through the arched gallery. In the course of several last centuries Escalon thus fought Saragossa, Mont Palanquin and others. I go down to the lake to take the mail boat for Huenta. At the beach fishermen have gathered among stretched veels and watch at one of their mates who carries dangling salamander at the end of the stick.
– What’s happened?
– He’s found salamander and thinks it’s a snake.
– Of course it’s a snake – the fisherman says.
– Snake with legs! Tomorrow you’ll find a fish with legs.
– I tell you it’s a snake.
– Look how she sticks to the stick. He put it into the snake’s mouth and then she bit and now, being so high, she can’t get loose without hitting the ground.
– What are you going to do?
– What do you do with a snake? I’ll kill it.
– But I am telling you it’s a big lizard and it’s useful. Let it go.
– It almost bit me.
– You are so stupid! A lizard wants to bit you!
The mail boat is departing and I can’t distinguish their words. I can discern someone hitting the stick, the salamander rushing to escape and all running after it. Then only the blue of water has remained, blue sky, hypothetical coast. The man running the boat hasn’t turned yet so that I can, if I please, imagine he has appearance of a monster. Because of these people who never turn round childhood is full of fabulous creatures. I am trying to think. It would satisfy me to think of something pleasant that would give birth to new thoughts, adelante, until my arrival. It is called being prepared to dream. However I am absent-minded, failing to shape a first thought. Simultaneously I feel uncomfortable to arrive so quickly as such a perfect moment for dreaming will escape me till tomorrow, even also tomorrow. And later I will have to work and everything will be only reality.
As we reach the narrow Huenta pier I notice the boat of the old fisherman who was supposed to take me for a sail last night, with his son. It’s only the son in the boat now, erect and leaned by his elbows against the pier.
– Here you come back. Was everything well?
– Very well. As you can see, you could have gone without any fear. The lake went tranquil later.
– I wanted to, but my father was afraid. And later, when the mason returned…
– I am sorry to disturb you for nothing. I promised I should take your boat next time.
– It makes no difference… The mason had to go. Carlos’ wife got sick and he was supposed to transport the cement. Would you like a stroll now? I would enjoy showing you the fishing ponds, if you want.
– Very well. We still have another hour till lunch.
– Wait a second to pull the boat to the pier. Watch out!
– You are not fishing?
– No, I have been waiting for my father and brother. We will spend the night at the lake. It is hard at the beginning as it strands, but we shall go through this swamp right now.
– What is your name?
– And your father’s?
– Your father looks like a great man, cheerful and red-cheeked.
– Oh, yes!
– Are you the oldest?
– Yes, I am twenty eight years old and my brother is two years younger. He likes his craft.
– Don’t you like it?
– It was my father’s wish to stay here. I served in marina. I travelled to China and Sidney and liked it a lot. If I stayed in marina I would be seaman corporal by now, with good wage. It means something to be a corporal; it is a life that means something, it was life for me.
– You couldn’t persuade your father to indulge your wish?
– Oh, it was boring. I even didn’t try to convince him. As soon as I returned, my mother found me a girl, and they announced that I was engaged. They got afraid that nobody would keep the trade. As if it were a trade!
– You didn’t like the girl?
– No, she wasn’t ugly, but I didn’t pay attention to her. When I finally looked at her we had already had two children and she was old.
– Bu you love her now?
– How can I love them when my whole life has been wrecked!
– Why do you think so? You saw the world and now you live in peace in the village that looks fantastic to me; you also have children.
– I can’t leave this village ever again. I am young but my life is over. If I had become a corporal I could have tried so many other things in my life. It doesn’t make a difference now if I live or die.
– But who can forbid you to try another thing in your life and in this world?! Wife and children will wait for you.
– I don’t believe it’s possible. If I hadn’t taken over the craft, it would have been possible. But now, someone has to catch fish for lunch today, dinner tomorrow… And what would be the day to leave without leaving anyone hungry?
– But you live in your country now. Don’t you love your village?
– Oh, I could have come later. This way, I resent it and all of them; I resent my mother who found me a girl, my father, brother, children. I don’t think I love anyone of them. They destroyed me. My father particularly. If he had killed me it would have been the same thing.
It occurs to me:
- But our life doesn’t depend on us and our families. Every day can change it completely. Last night people talked there might be a war. Even children in Escalon… Do you believe in that?
His eyes sparkle:
– If there were war and I would survive it, I would never come back to the lake.
– I find the war an appalling thing. It destroyed the whole generation before us, in the whole world.
– You are right. I don’t want war; but if it occurs, I’ll change my life.
– What would you do then?
- I don’t know. My life is over now.
“It is funny, I think to myself; people believed that another war had not to happen, couldn’t happen as the last one had been so horrifying; at least until all who had lived it through passed away. However war broke habit of quiet living and peaceful natural dying. People began to yearn after war although filled with horror, particularly those who had most loudly cursed the earlier one. Only war and its course would set them free from life limited by tradition, silent progress and morale. It must be a curse and even the greatest disaster that war left behind. Complete disaster!”
I look at my watch. There will be no time to return by boat. This one floats quite slowly.
– I think I’d better take off. I have to hurry and I’ll take the road or I’ll miss lunch and even the train.
– We can leave the boat here and return together.
When we reach the road, he suddenly abandons his passive speech and asks almost exalted:
– Do you think it leads to anything, to live?
– Oh, when you think it, no. I don’t think so. But there is something beautiful in living itself although it doesn’t lead to anything.
– What did you say?
– Life is a marvel at many moments. Even when one lives and dies in Huenta and in any other case.
– It sure is, it sure is. But I have always… Here comes my father.
We wait a few moments for the old man to come nearer.
– Oh, welcome, sir. Did you like the island?
– Very much indeed.
– How come you go this way, father?
– I saw you from afar when you left and hoped to catch you by the ponds.
– You have another son?
– Another one, two years junior. They are my sons, this one will even hear it, but I must tell you one couldn’t want better and more obedient children.
– Have you ever thought they could leave this place and go for work far away from their parents?
– No reason for that. We are fishermen from the old times.
– But if they don’t like the trade?
– I didn’t like it at the beginning too. Now I see it’s the best and safest bread.
– Even with the lake freezing from time to time?
– Even then. A little starving didn’t kill anyone. When it froze this winter, the president sent presents for the village. I got over thirty pesetas. I even had for drinks. Are you an Englishman?
– No, I am not English.
– Six years ago – watch the stone – an Englishman spent a month here. We went fishing together all day long. He lived in Toledo, by the way. Nice young fellow twenty five years old, clean, meek; never did anything without telling me and even told me all about his home and family. They lived in Anglo Terre. How good was that poor fellow! Do you remember him, Pipo?
– I remember him very well, father.
– It is hard to remember his name, but if I tried I probably could. His name wasn’t English but almost Castilian. Would you recognize an acquaintance of yours in him, do you believe?
– I doubt so. I knew a few Englishmen.
– I wanted to say it is better to stick to the old trade. It’s no use to be good when people went rotten after wars. Old people also got rotten. Parents don’t love their children as before and children forget about their parents as soon as they learn to walk.
– But you are content with your sons?
– Oh, I am very pleased. But I have to admit; even it is in front of Pipo, that it is a rare thing today. I am probably the only one satisfied with his sons.
“These are his strongest chains to Huenta, I thought to myself, can he see that too in this moment?”
– Why wasn’t it worthwhile for that English to be good in his life?
- Oh, why? Listen what had happened to him. Someone came and told me – remember, Pipo – that the sister of the landlady who had owned the hotel he had lived in had gone pregnant and that he had got scared and killed himself. But I didn’t believe a word of it. I knew he was good and it was impossible for him to do something like that. I bought a ticket from my own money – everybody in the village will confirm that – I bought a ticket, went to Toledo to see what had happened. I knew all men in the hotel neighbourhood; I talked to everyone and saw that landlady and her sister were bad and liars. The landlady had lived with a young man who had seduced her sister – they both were immoral and bums. Later the girl had gone pregnant, told the fellow and he had said: “There’s that Englishman living at your place, he is rich, doesn’t know the laws. Tell him it is his, that he has to marry you and give you a lot of money. You’ll see how much money he will give just to avoid marriage.” And that young Englishman, in his pure heart, had thought his honour had been corrupted and even hadn’t remembered that none of his Castilian friends or people in Toledo would have believed it. That the law would have been on his side as he hadn’t done anything bad. And he had locked himself into the room and taken poison. When I arrived the whore was at hospital for delivery. I rushed there asking to visit her. The nurse asked: “Are you coming as a friend or to reproach?” “To reproach”, I cried, “to put blame on her! No, to spit in her face! The one who killed such a nice young man.” And they didn’t let me in. And I did all that on my expense and for the friendship we had, and the whole village too. He was so good at fishing! From morning till dark he just went fishing and repaired nets. He wasn’t a man who thought of lust. His heart was pure as this water.
Pipo isn’t listening his father’s story. It may be too familiar or it simply doesn’t reflect reality. When we are to depart, watching carefully how the new machine for making coffee is being mounted in the inn, he asks me:
– Perhaps you will come to Huenta again?
– I hope so. Once, during mid-summer, so that I can bathe in the lake.
He leaves without waiting to hear the end of my answer.
Afterwards in the train, I hear a few simultaneous passengers’ talks. This as well:
- I don’t speak about that first impression, so frequent when two persons meet, that they have already met. It is just an impression and the acquaintance actually still doesn’t exist. But there’s something so beautiful in making a new acquaintance, changing only few words and then knowing, without actual reason, the most important thing about that person. You know him or her even closer than his brother, son or the similar. You can spend the following twenty years in his or her company without finding out anything new.
I turn my head toward the speaker. The man speaks in bad French, but convincingly. He smiles immediately as he’s taken my papers a little bit earlier.
- I believe you are perfectly right. I have seen today a young fisherman on the lake…
All of a sudden it is a bore to resume my thought. I just keep on looking through the window.
Many months later again on the lake. From the station to the beach I haven’t met anyone familiar. I have a cup of coffee in the inn at the quay, there are two of them, then go to the pier on the stakes. It is seven o’clock, but the day hasn’t come to the evening yet; I can see, clearly beneath me, the whole schools of fish swimming in haste. Two young men, not far away, lean against pier’s fence, watch them as well. They spit now and then. Fish gather and follow their way again.
– There’s been a lot of fish this year?
– Yes, but fishing is forbidden here as they are too young.
– You throw them back to lake?
– Yes, we throw ‘em back.
– Could you tell me what happened to the old fisherman, fat and red-cheeked?
– I don’t know who you mean.
– I thought there was only one old fisherman here. I forgot his name.
– It could be your father – one says to the other.
– Sure. He is with guests. But he is not that fat. Did he take you across the lake?
– No, he was supposed to take me to the islands last year. Later I went to the ponds with his son and he joined us. It was not his only son; I believe he had two sons.
– The fellow who took you to the ponds was named Pipo, wasn’t he?
– I believe so.
– Well, the old man is certainly my father.
– He certainly is.
– Oh, it couldn’t be anyone else as he always sticks to the foreigners who visit. We call him the Guide, although there is nothing to see in Huenta. He can drink quite a lot. Did he tell you about the Englishman?
– He told me a story about some Englishman.
– Pay attention when he tells the story again to the way the English killed himself. He can jump from the bell-tower, shoot himself with a gun, or take a poison and even cut his veins. But nobody has ever seen him.
– How is your brother?
– Oh, he had a very rough time. We all thought he wouldn’t survive.
– Was he ill?
– He has taken off the bed today for the first time. He suffered from bad inflammation with very high fever. Doctor was helpless and if mother hadn’t taken some of his blood out, he wouldn’t have lived.
– We just visited him. He is as fragile as a flower. The doctor said he should eat small portions until he got better, but he had already eaten meat. Just like a child.
– Nice young man. Someone should tell him I am very sorry he suffered so much.
– Indeed. I am their best friend and we all say he is best among us. You knew him?
– When I returned from the island, the whole hour left to the train’s departure and we went to the ponds. I was under impression I had known him for a long time.
– I am their best friend.
– Yes, this is our best friend. He’s returned from marina this year and we spend all the time together as if we are brothers. He christened Pipo’s younger daughter.
The young men start to give fast signals to someone coming by the beach. They are happy to confirm their right answer.
– Is that the old man?
– I think so, but he is too far to be sure. Does he still go fishing?
- Rarely. He likes to sit and drink and tells about miracles. The whole village is amused by his stories.
We stop talking for a moment.
- Yes, it’s him. It is odd, he really seemed fatter, and he was so strong and red-faced.
A young guy yells over laughter:
- Dad, come and see a gentleman who remembers you.
The old man recognizes me and starts to greet before coming near. He does it several times without noticing that I’ve seen him and greeted back. It is embarrassing, but I resolutely keep the smile. At last:
– Good day, young sir. It’s been a long time since you visited us.
– Almost a year. Do you remember me?
– I surely do. You spent the night on the island.
– They tell me Pipo was very ill.
– I just saw him. He’s got up today.
– Dad, he even asked to eat meet and Lona gave him some. Why do they do it when doctor allowed only soup?
– He should have eaten a little, he was supposed to eat only a little but what can I do?!
– How did he get ill?
– It was before dawn, the rain was very heavy and we just got back from fishing. He was all soaked. I told him we should find a shelter, but he wanted to prepare the boat and veels and he felt the pain in the armpits and got temperature right away. It lasted for six weeks; mother saved him. But I am still scared as he lost weight.
– He will recover soon. After illness one gets weight quickly.
– Is that so? Thank the Lord. Have you seen this Pablo, sir, with shaved head, just released from marina? He is my third son.
The younger son is determined to tease the father. Still his voice shows affection and respect. He‘s been spoiled son and, as Pipo then said, a man who liked his trade – merry fisherman:
– He doesn’t want to be your son, dad. He says you drink too much and women don’t like you any more.
– I can’t nurse as he can, and women have nothing to steal from me any more. So we are even. When they bring light to the island, I’ll go and live there, just not to look at you any more.
– Is Pipo’s home far from here?
– No, he lives by the beach over there.
– I could probably visit him. Tonight or better tomorrow.
– You must. He’ll be delighted.
– We shall take you when you want to go.
– What are you talking about? – the old man asks, baffled because interrupted.
– The gentleman wants to visit Pipo, dad.
– Pipo? Let’s go then – he is surely still up.
– I am afraid he is exhausted. I could visit him tomorrow.
– No, no, sir, it’s better that we go right away, right now. He will be delighted.
– Let’s go, then.
We are leaving the pier while a new person is approaching.
– Where to, you old guide?
– Ah, Armando, it’s you. The gentleman wants to see my Pipo. It is an old friend. We are taking him, you see.
– Very kind. Say hello to Pipo. My wife went to Lona this morning and brought news about him. He better doesn’t eat that much.
– That’s what I say too. But why are you all telling it to me as if I am feeding him. Good day, Armando.
– Good day, our old man.
– You see this man? He used to be rich. Had three houses in the village and four boats. Now he has only one. Lost two sons. They were huge as trees. Then he lost interest for the property. I think any weaker man would go crazy, but he never shows what he’s been through; he kindly talks to everybody.
– Dad, do you remember how he gave the boat his Campos used for fishing as a gift?
– Oh, people said Campos’s spirit sat in the boat every night. Nobody dared to use it by night. Armando took it very hard as his son’s body remained at the Sierra Nevada.
– It is nice of you to visit Pipo.
– I would regret it to visit Huenta without seeing him. He was honest with me then.
My guides stop for a second. They have remembered something:
- You know, his house isn’t rich and you shouldn’t blame us for that. It is difficult for fishermen to make a fortune.
But they forget all about that when a few young men get out of the house carrying guitars.
– You come from Pipo? – they ask enchanted.
– We went to see him; played him for a while.
– Oh, Pedro!
– What is it?
– How is Ana? I believe she is waiting for you, Pedro?
–And your Sagrera is waiting for you.
– Come on. You’ll marry her and have her son.
– Really? You really know a lot of staff.
– As much as we can. Will you come later?
– Maybe. A friend of ours is going to visit Pipo.
– Hello, my friends.
– Pablo, go and say we are coming. This way, dear sir, through this little corridor.
We enter the very spacious and bright room, almost as a room of the new house. There is a lot of furniture in it and free space is occupied by a large table. What surprises me is the presence of stove for cooking, built within the wall, left from the table; it is made from old bad bricks, glued only by the hearth’s side. The chimney goes out through the upper part of window. On one side, by the table, stands young, tall and thin woman with extraordinary kind and smart look in her eyes, but already withered. On another, on something like sofa or bed for children, sits the sick young man. I have forgotten his countenance, but he is noticeably changed, as he doesn’t resemble at all a young man I have already seen. Big blue eyes of the ill look at me with pain and absence. His brother utters as we enters:
- Look, Pipo, you have a visit.
The young man slowly stands up holding for the table and takes his cap off. He doesn’t seem to be getting better but pacing towards death; his smile is all the pain and the hand he extends is lifeless.
– Hello, dear Pipo, sit down, please, and put the cap on. There.
– Are you Pipo’s wife?
“It’s a woman whom he called old and said he didn’t love her.”
– I am his wife. Have you heard how ill he was?
– His brother told me. You haven’t lost a lot of weight, Pipo, you just look like a girl. You will be strong again in ten days.
– I got up today for the first time, my legs were almost blighted. If mother didn’t come and let out some blood out of me by leeches, God knows what would be out of me!
The old fisherman walks along the room as a nanny. He touches everything and when he comes to the window he opens it. Beautiful fresh air penetrates the room. But the young brother jumps immediately:
– Dad, why are you opening the window, he can catch a cold.
– But he needs some fresh air.
– It’s getting dark. He’ll catch a cold, dad, you better shut it.
– All right, all right, I’ll shut it. But it is wiser to have fresh air and not to eat meat yet.
– The doctor also said the windows should be constantly open. I need fresh air.
- Let father go, he knows best what I need – said Pipo tired, filled with love for his father. He may have started to love him because of that fresh air. He’s suddenly forgiven him everything because of it.
– Dad, you overturned that brick again; you’ll pull down my stove. There will be nothing to cook on.
– It doesn’t matter, Lona, my old lady and I will send you the food.
– What are you pouring in, madam?
– A little bit of red wine. To make a toast.
– For your health, Pipo.
– Thank you, young sir.
– Are you tired, Pipo?
– Pretty much. This is my first day out of bed.
– I shall go now then.
– Stay a little more. The children will come now. I sent them for oil – the woman said while her eyes talked: “I know it is impossible, but if you only could tell my husband that it’s not my fault and that he should love me. Don’t go yet!”
– I won’t go to bed still – Pipo says looking aside. – Thank you very much for coming. The little girls will come any minute.
– You should lie down as soon as we leave. We will look for the girls along the way. Goodbye, Pipo.
– You are really in a rush.
The woman’s eyes are talking: “Why don’t you stay a little longer, why don’t you tell him it’s not my fault; that he should love me?”
- Goodbye, sir.
I am prepared to prevent him from trying to get up; but he remains seated watching carefully the hand he has extended towards me. He almost doesn’t let it reach me, so much is he interested in something about it. He looks at it with his big eyes.
– This way, this way.
I go out.
– Do you find him meagre?
– He’s like transparent. But he’ll recover soon. He must have been through very rough time. Did his wife provide necessary care?
– She lives for him.
– Does Pipo like his home?
– Of course he does.
Just two steps afar we meet the girls. They are watching me with curiosity.
– Say good day to this gentleman. We have waited for you to meet him.
– What is your name, you blonde?
– It is our friend Pablo who gave her the name. Some men who had been in the navy give such names to the girls.
– You see that he wrote her name on his boat. That’s how much Pipo loves his beloved daughter.
– Great girls; black-eyed and fair-haired.
– Perfect girls. They already go to school. Oh, please don’t.
– Why not; for confetti.
– What should you say, Ivona? – the girl is so embarrassed that she almost drops the money from the open hand.
– Don’t torture them.
– Thank you, sir – the girls whisper.
– You go straight home and show the money to your mom.
– Oh, we are already going home to bring this oil – the older one responds offensively.
– You see, the evening has begun to fall already… I think I’ll leave you to go for a walk to the end of the village. I’ll come down to the inn then for dinner.
- You should order a glass or two until I come back. We can have a cup of coffee later.
– Goodbye, sir. We’ll wait for you after dinner.
– Goodbye. I’ll mount to the peak and then return back.
I climb steep streets. One cannot see the faces of women and girls within the gates.
– Good evening. How are embroiding ladies?
– Great. We have embroidered the whole day.
– Can I reach the tower taking this way?
– Turn right and take the first steps.
– Have a good night.
– You, too, young gentleman.
Another gathering within the gate; I hear their conversation.
– A son?
– No, she would prefer daughter. She’s started to fast today.
– Good evening. Tonight the Moon should be visible. But it’s still not emerging.
– It will appear on that side. It just began to show.
– I can hardly see the lake.
– Oh, you can see the lake quite well, sir.
– It is because you are used to it and know precisely where it lies.
– Are you coming from Pancorba?
– No, I am going there. Have a good night.
– Good night, sir.
I come across a group of young people sitting on a wall and singing. In front of a patch of sky I clearly see two or three ravishing girls’ countenances. The others are backgounded with some building and I can’t discern them sharply.
– Good evening. Can I reach the top of the village this way?
– This way. Two or three steps more.
– Are you, girls, alone or there are lads among you?
– My two brothers are with us – one of them answers laughing. She is in complete dark.
I don’t see her.
– Good evening, sir – deep young fellow’s voice says.
– He would offer his hand but you can’t see a thing – the same girl says.
I stumble across a warm female knee, then her shoulder and then I run into an extended hand; one, then another.
– Good evening. As you are not alone, I may stay with you for few minutes.
– Of course you can stay.
– Sagrera, move a little, Jerera, you too; here there’s some space for you to sit. It is not dusty but don’t turn around, it is too high.
– I won’t. Can you see the lake from here?
– There it is. You can see it distinctly.
– Will there be moonlight soon?
– It is already brighter behind the mountain. Are you coming because of fish?
– No. I couldn’t say why I have come here.
– Do you sit firmly?
– I am good.
– Have you visited Pipo? He almost died.
– How do you know I saw him?
– I saw his mother earlier. She is sad that you didn’t look for her as well.
– I didn’t imagine it would please her. Give her my best.
– Ivona, what have you done with your hair? You are going to travel!
– Where to? – asks the girl by my side and raises her arm to put back stranded lock. It is the first time she talks. The movement of her dark round arm passes along the sky dimly lit by moonlight that refuses to emerge.
All of a sudden glittering melted silver sprinkles the water in the distance; far away where it doesn’t seem to be water at all but deep coast. The silver twitters around tiny fishing boat that, almost surprised, looks like trying to escape.
- I believe I spoke with you once. Do you remember me, Ivona?
– I do, it’s been a year or so. You wanted to know why I had been given such a name.
– Do you still embroider those beautiful laces?
– I did a lot this winter. One store in Toledo is buying them from me.
– If your friends haven’t disclosed you, I would ask for you later.
– You would? If I knew, I would disclose myself earlier.
– But if I hadn’t asked you wouldn’t have said you remembered me.
– I wouldn’t, you just passed along. I wonder you remember it.
– What’s the name of the girl who helps you embroidering?
– Sagrera. She sits besides me.
– Sagrera, if you bend a little I can discern you face. That’s good. Thank you. You are a very pretty girl, Sagrera.
– No. I am ugly.
– She is lying.
– Are you engaged, Sagrera?
– Sagrera is engaged to Pablo, the one who accompanied you to the fisherman. He has just arrived; they are engaged for three days only.
– Why Pablo isn’t with you?
– Pablo was always there, but when the engagement was announced and parents haven’t talked it over yet, he shouldn’t come by the custom.
– And when you get married, you won’t come here any more, Sagrera?
– No, she won’t.
– Jerera, Sagrera, run quickly, the aunt is angry – the voice comes out of darkness – Hey, Jerera!
– I’m coming, I’m coming – the girl answers and all remain silent for a few seconds. Then Jerera asks her friends: – Shall we go all? It’s a shame they are so boring.
– It’s so good here, but let’s go down. They say Carlos’s wife began to suffer. Sagrera, are you coming with us? Or will you wait for Pablo?
– I’ll come later after I’ve checked little Pedro; he cries sometimes in fear of darkness and dad gets angry. Ivona, will you wait for me to go together or you are going down right now?
– I’ll wait for you if you want.
– Can I stay a little bit longer or I’d better go?
- Why would you go? You can stay if it’s pleasant for you. Sagrera will be back right away.
The whole group of young people vanishes in an uproar. Steep streets echo their voices and steps. Then if they’ve never been there, absolute silence falls upon.
- If I go up to the top of village into the olive-groves and wait for you for half an hour, will you come?
– Why should I come?
– I believe I have something to tell you, if you come just for a moment.
- You better tell me now.
I speak slowly and softly:
– I can’t tell you now as I have nothing to tell. I’ll just be infinitely happy if you come. I give you my word I won’t be mean, I won’t keep you much or touch you at all.
– I can’t come.
– You have no idea how wonderful you will be if you come. Come just for a moment. I even wont’ talk. Just come and then leave. I give you my word I won’t try anything bad.
– Even if wanted to I couldn’t. If anybody asked where I am going, I couldn’t come. And what for?
– You come if nobody asks anything, if nobody sees you. I’ll wait for the whole hour and then I’ll come down from the other side of the lake. And if you don’t come, I’ll know it’s not your fault. Just promise to come if you can. Do you trust me?
– I surely do.
– So, I can wait for you?
– If I can, I’ll come for a moment and go right away.
– Is it dangerous for you?
– If anybody sees me, it may be very dangerous.
– I hope nobody can see you. If anybody sees me among the groves, I’ll go before you come.
– I don’t know. I can probably say to my friend to wait for me and if I return immediately even she, or anybody else, couldn’t say I was with you.
– You do what is best. Thanks.
– Tell me now why you want me to come.
– For no reason. It seems that my life will change after that, if you appear even for a moment there where I’ll wait. I shall be grateful to you for my whole life. It is silly and unreasonable and I know I will not see you there any better that I see you here and now.
The girl smiles.
– If I were to believe in that, I surely wouldn’t come.
– Of course, that’s why I say there’s no reason…
– Here Sagrera comes. Sagrera, is that you?
– It’s me. Wait!
– Will you come? Should I wait?
– Quiet! Sagrera, is Pedro asleep?
– Oh, I came upon a house filled with screaming. He is asleep now. Do you like this moonlight, sir?
– I like the lake particularly at this time. It is seen better than during the day. I spent the night on the island last year. It rained in the afternoon, but the evening was perfect.
– Shall we go, Sagrera?
– Let’s go. Goodbye young sir.
– Goodbye and thanks you let me stay.
– We hope you’ll come again.
– Thanks, I’d like that myself.
I go slowly up out of town. Fireflies fly among the olive-trees that cast a large shadow. The town bellow is big dark mass, but the lake is much brighter then sky. Moon has a strange shape that bothers me; I look to the other side. I have a lot to go by the track till I reach its end as there is corn among the olive-trees. I sit down under a shadow of an olive-tree.
I have been waiting exactly for an hour. I know the girl won’t come now. I decide to stay for five more minutes. The fishermen on the lake are not waiting for me any longer and I will miss dinner. Only my arm with wrist watch is extended to reach the moonlight.
Five minutes pass too. I should get up. Then suddenly I see the girl approaching. She is looking around; I give her a signal.
– You made it.
– I was terribly scared.
We are sitting under the olive-tree. I hold her hand and she is not hurrying to take it out.
– I thought you had gone.
– It seems I would have waited till morning.
I am terribly hungry.
We are silent. I put mu arm around her shoulders, she startles but keeps calm.
– Don’t be afraid, I’ll just stroke your face. It is so beautiful. You shouldn’t be afraid.
– You promised not to.
– Of course. Are you engaged, Ivona?
– No. I will not get married.
– You mean you shall take holy orders?
– I will not get married. Since childhood I have desired to marry a young guy from here. He was five years older. Although I was a girl, he let me go play with them, with boys, defended me. When he returned from marina, his parents married him with another girl.
– Was it a long ago?
– It’s been six years.
– Did he know you wanted to marry him?
– I don’t know. I have never told anyone. I wouldn’t have told it to you if you’d been from here or if I weren’t sure you wouldn’t tell anyone.
– Why didn’t his parents proposed to you?
– I was much younger. I was seventeen. If his parents had known I would have said yes, they would have certainly proposed to me. I can earn a lot with my embroideries, more then he by fishing.
– I am truly sorry for you. But why shouldn’t you marry at all? I find it difficult in such a small town. It can bring a lot of suffering.
– I will marry later, but not yet.
– Do you think he loved you?
– I don’t know. I don’t know anything. Perfectly nothing. He got married and it was all over.
– I wouldn’t talk about that any more if it is hard for you. On the other hand, you may feel relieved to talk about it.
– I feel relieved.
– And what about you?
– Me? Oh, me! It’s been six years and I might not want to marry him even if I could, even if he were free. But I just can’t marry anybody else.
– You will find a handsome guy who will adore you. You are so pretty.
– When I decide I will be proposed to. I earn money.
– I sincerely wish you all the luck.
– If I lived in some other town where I could meet people, someone would have probably made me forget him. But I saw only him from the very childhood and those others, some got killed in war, some got married, some left. In other towns probably live people who would look even more perfect than him. Now I don’t want anybody else. One day I may marry someone whose kids are orphans.
– It is certainly terrible that such a thing affected your life so badly. But you are so young. You are very smart and able to shake this off of you. It seems that never, with anybody, cards are dealt fairly. In one hand, life is such a misfortune. I am really very sorry about you.
I caress her hair. Her face, all white in moonlight, look motionless, she doesn’t speak. Then she smiles with an unfinished smile, turns her head to the other side.
- You don’t wonder that I actually came?
– I came to tell you this. I wanted to tell you as … I heard that you have been…
– Don’t say it. I know. There’s no need to say it.
– As you don’t live here.
I draw her nearer; I really want to console her. Suddenly absolute magic and happiness of the moment enter me. It seems that a part of that happiness, through night silence, must pass over to her. I love this girl exultantly; the girl, who has suffered a lot, still is in pain and has come to tell me that. I’ve forgotten why I called her to come. That it’s been for my selfish reasons, not for her sake. I am an egoist who wanted her to come and bring a beam of happiness in this night for the sake of my future life; she in fact has done it, but it’s been another happiness, as I now know it is good for her further life. I feel happy as someone who has talked to me, showing her own suffering, doesn’t find me purely selfish. She lets me, hardly and flurried, caress her hair and shoulders. I want more, to put her head in my lap and stay like that till dawn. I have loved her so much for her happiness that my own happiness has benefits from it. She moves to get up.
– Stay a little more. Don’t get up.
– I should go.
– Did I make you angry?
– No. Why?
– Can’t you stay for a few more minutes?
– I really have to go.
We were erect. I feel she is on verge of tears and have to force myself not to reach for her and hug her, kiss her, talk to her. I say:
– Do you think it is dangerous to stay longer?
I let her go down without touching her hand. I watch her going slowly down. I can still run after her. She doesn’t turn back. If she had done so, only once, I would have run, forget everything, her story would be like foreplay. In this way I only think: “As I live, this descent of hers will remain engraved within my mind, with the smallest details of it.”
I also go down towards the lake. It almost feels well to be hungry. I leave it to have dinner in the morning. I pass by Pipo’s house, it is in complete darkness. Three women, sitting in the street under the closed window, are standing up, ready to go inside.
- Good evening, sir.
– Good evening. Is that you, Lona?
- Yes, sir. It took some time to calm the girls and we went out for some fresh air. You were very soft with them. There this is Pipo’s mother.
I shake hands with the old lady.
– I am pleased to see you. Is Pipo asleep? I was told you had saved his life.
– That’s what mothers are for, sir. And it’s not the first time. When I remember their childhood! Ask Lona what she would do for her girls.
– Send my regards to Pipo when he wakes.
– They were worried for you. His father came a little bit ago and said they had waited for you in the pub quite a long time. They thought you may have got lost in the hills.
– I did get lost for a while. I had a wonderful stroll.
– We are keeping you here and you are surely tired.
– Oh, I’ll have my rest. Have a good night.
– Good night, sir.
Women go in and the street becomes deserted. Only by the very end, some old man is greeting from the darkness of his gate:
– Good night, sir.
– Good night. It seems full of sounds in the water.
– Small tramontana is blowing, sir.
– So there will be no fishing?
– Not this night, sir.
– Good night, my friend.
– Oh, good night. Are you staying longer with us, sir?
– I am leaving early in the morning.
– Have a nice trip, sir.
– Thank you my old friend.
And I set off slowly along the coast. I hear the old man shutting the gate. Everything human at the lake surroundings has fallen asleep.
I am in the vicinity of the pier. I turn around slowly. Indeed, all human on the lake is asleep. There is nothing manlike in this scenery. I take the first boat swaying in the water and watch. I don’t untie it. What it matters now that during the day the island is filled with peoples’ turmoil? What does it matter that Roman and Moorish soldiers had camps there, legionaries got killed and San Diego, surrounded by birds and fish, sailed towards it! Moreover, Pipo feels enchained there; the girl who wanted to marry him doesn’t want to marry at all. But she must feel some happiness that he’s given his daughter her name, that boat he sails with carries also the same name. Who knows that it weren’t him who asked his friend to do so! All of that merges into a dream and vanishes completely from this scenery.
All by myself I have nobody to listen to or respond. As if no voice have ever entered them my ears are now filled with dark night air and moist vapours rising from the water surface. My mouth is also full of fresh and bitter moisture. As a semi-amphibian my tongue elatedly breathes in all that freshness.
The lake lit by the moonlight spreads before me, its boundaries outlined by the night’s curtains, not marked by earth. But I don’t see water in front of me gowned in night or lake lamps. I don’t see the lake’s picturesqueness but its perseverance and reality. With all my being I feel: it is not the scenery in front of me but part of nature. Its elements, its organs live combined and jointly. What once meant for me pleasant murmur of short waves about the boat now to my ear and my whole being is water’s reply to air currents between sky and water. It is air that is between them, heavier closer to water, folding its surface. It sucks moist from water, draws moon by moisture to be elongated. Earth is black and stars’ constellations, travel along huge spaces around it without disturbing incomprehensible bonds in timeless perspectives.
It still echoes in me: Is it beautiful? Perhaps. I don’t see liveliness, harmony, lyrical touch. Enormous number of ingredients or enormous numbers of forms of one element live simultaneously in tragic and heroic way around me. They cohabit in mutual struggle and concord around me. In cooperation. I see that, I simply and exclusively and indirectly become cognizant of that. It is even more powerful than perception of beauty, stronger than understanding daily living which is understanding of our personal life. Cognition of life in general. Cognition of higher beauty, cognition of our own demise. Without rebelling, criticizing. As cognition of an ant’s demise. I am in the middle of the nature’s factory. I feel the importance of ant’s destiny growing over importance of my own destiny. Aquatic encounter in the boat at night. Encounter of two destinies.
Everywhere around me, till infinity, only water, earth, air and sky’s flames. Birds and bats fly in between. Fish swim. There are all sorts of minute lake wildlife, i.e. there are elements that are eternal in all universe and whose value during the constant transformation doesn’t erode. And there are elements that present life itself, that are miracles, not only for its existence but relative to the first category. These infiltrate eternal elements with something non-comprehensible and seemingly evanescent.
Then, likewise seemingly ephemeral and unnatural, as birds and bats, throughout world circulate electrical rivers, currents of radiation, waves. Latent explosions and disasters hoist things from my close surroundings to heights that cannot be defined by numbers; disastrous cataclysms bring down the force from above in the form of eternal falls, even to the edge of the boat which makes it vibrate.
This planetary plunge makes water dance; it’s like melted silver. In my nearest vicinity aquatic plants rise from water. They breathe air over water by long leaves and absorb water by their stems. Fish swim through the stems. I listen to the soft murmour of these plants entertwained with loud calls of birds high in the sky. I hear also buzz of air and water while barking reaches me from afar.
Even with all of that noise, I call it, by habit, night’s quiet and silence. Still I discern that nature has never been in more lively and more comprehensive murmur and talk, in turmoil actually. I can hear an animal in the rushes; I can hear branches rustling within trees. The whole world would call it stillness. Because nothing human hasn’t introduced their voices among the rumors of nature during night. It is enough that man is quiet to liberate voices of nature which he would call: silence.
All this nature around shows cooperation in its work. One would say that everything in nature is new and just born. All is taking place with precision and enrapture and life of Earth and sky is horrible and magnificent. Compared to the life of other organisms, as these cannot cause its change.
Yes, that is eternal, that constant freshness of genesis, presence of genesis, and what sees it, feels it, greets it and confirms it, my mind and my whole being, is ephemeral, unceasingly at death bed. There’s no mourning in me about that, but there’s excitement, oh, yes. May I write it once now and never again? As nobody will believe it; even I won’t believe it any more. But now: yes! Believe it or not! I feel sorry for demise of this last plant as much as for my own. Not too much, just the same; or perhaps a little bit more for the plant, but still so little that I can pick it during this contemplation without burdening my conscience with guilt. I am also sorry that the boat’s trembling ended. Or not, it is all a lie as it is a thought. I won’t think. I won’t think, and there I don’t think any more. I don’t feel sorry for anybody. I don’t feel sorry for anything. I live only with my little cells, my little cells. As flora.
Lightning that drily strikes the sky shows all coasts of the lake in the blur of a moment with highest clarity. Boats anchored a few kilometers away along the coast, veels, and willows over them. And it lights the whole line of hills and Mount Palanquins that looks like to hold the sky with its walls. All nature becomes sharp and blue as deadened lip. A star falls as soon as the dark regains. Dazzled, I can’t even see dark trees’ reflections and nearby hill: the world has narrowed to a patch of silver water before me and constellations above me. I cast a look in one direction and see the brightest star diving snidely into a space beyond the Earth. Its image, making the same trip to the opposite direction, sweeps along the lake right at me, till the verge of the boat where it dies suddenly. Eye’s illusion is perfect: I can simultaneously see a star flying over me and another rushing at me. I bend in the boat, as if it would hit me. Nature throws its meteors, lightnings and their images, mutely and murderously as during the first day.
The trees, observed or not during the day when people live around them, now live their full, integral life. Unaware each leaf struggles to separate from the neighbouring ones in order to breathe more deeply. I feel it and unconsciously move my fingers apart to enable air to wrap them more completely. From up to down, from any side to another, there’s no a single thought. Everything human has finally fallen to sleep and deep human breathing is as quiet as a forest’s breathing. My thought has gone to rest as well. Just to conclude that it lives there and it is not the only one. From time to time it endeavors to fly. It hits everything around as a blind bird. Later it is out of breath but quiet.
It is not beauty around me (I have seen so many lakes and this one isn’t funnier than others) but intertwined lives that make nature. It is not the lake where I am but an enormous potpourri of laws and forces; my life is burning within as a small flame. Night is infinite.
“What’s entered my ear, my ear? Ear, fear, deer… leer, beer… mere, ear… gear… ear, near, pear, sir… tear, ear, fear, ear, fear, fear, fear… ear… ear… ear… cear, dear, kear, leer, veer, zear… zear one, zear two, zear three, zear four, zear fifth, zear sixth, zear six thousand, zear million, zear billion. Billion! Billion, billion, zear billion. Zear, zear. A falling star? No. Palanquins? No. Zear billion, zear billion. Zear, zear! What, what’s that? Oh, yes, what’s entered my ear, what’s entered my ear? What’s entered my ear? Perhaps an otter or a marten? Are there martens here? Yes, yes, what’s entered my ear? Night is infinite. It’s been my thought. Night is infinite. When is night infinite? I should probably go to sleep. I am tired. A little bit more. Ear, fear, deer! How stupid is the brain; train, strain, grain, praying, praying, praying, praying, drain, drain, drain! It must be under control, all the time. The brain. All the time? Whose control? The whole body’s control, affection, life probably.”
New lightning flashes not the lake but several hills behind the other coast. Purple, burning from phosphorous as a torch lit, on top of a jagged hill, little town stands, a small village in it. Defined contours of towers, roofs, bell towers. White flames blaze them up. What is that small town? It is very distant, left from Mount Palanquins. As if I haven’t seen it during the day, somewhere in the background behind the hills in the front. Then one of its sides becomes transparent, sharply green, blazing and purple, while the other is bestowed with huge dark shades. What’s the name of this small town? It must be over six hundred meters above the lake! And it all lasts for one second. Then again complete darkness covers that side.
“Zear billion… Why zear billion, why zear, why?”
A minute later, another lightning, in the same direction over the same hills, but lighting other tops. A black bird flies off fluttering into deadly light. It may be a true demon. He flies into the light, with black cape floating around him. I saw the same one once with Budva bellow him while we were talking in the square, in deep night, and the woman screamed from visions. As I talked to him, I saw him, at the same time, flying over us and the town, with its black cape extended. I wasn’t scared; I was content to see him like that. And he knew. He must have known. And he got scared. He said: “Why did you bring me here? Let’s go!” He was mad. He was afraid I thought he was a demon. And I felt great, great joy to see him like that. He’d been a great poet and it explained the whole lot of things. He a demon!
Lightnings continue to flash, stars to fall. Fall and fall. What a night of meteors! Demonic night! Why not demonic? It is one of forms of our knowledge in everything else.
Until the end of this night (infinitely!) humankind does not exist. Its thought does not exist. Only this small surface of Earth, one of bodies of universe in the night, relating to other bodies, other cosmic forces in space. Birds are mute both here and there among leaves. Dawn, when it arrives, will come as if the last one. And us? We are not asking for anything better but to be forgotten. Is that so? Forgotten.
Bump, bump, bump, trump, grump; I should stand up and go to sleep. It is stupid to fall into sleep every now and then and be lucid as if before being shot. I want to go. If I stand up and make a step I shall reach the inn. The door must be open or there is the bell. Stairs are probably lit. Fall asleep, fall into sleep like dying; no, feel well due to ability to sleep.
A sudden scream, weakening and rising as siren sound, traverse the lake. It takes time and its all elements remain hollow in my ears. As in music when all sounds melts into the main crying one. Drowsy, I must be hearing distant and indefinite voices for a rather long time. This scream has instantly formed out of them and stands out. I know it unaware of its existence; when it comes I recognize it as a difficult acquaintance. It is sharp, as of steel, purple and hot, with odour of sulphur. All in it is mechanic, electric, relentless. One would say shrill siren’s whistle. As if declaring fire, catastrophe, crash. It is followed by reticence. Stillness, stillness. There is something extremely painful, human, humane and crying in this scream, electric and mechanic, coming from human throat.
From someone’s death-rattle whose body is atomized, who is losing blood. Someone dying, someone being murdered. This scream exits from blood as a sonar explosion from crash of blood, air and space. The scream that keeps repeating in absolutely identical pattern is utterly the same as this lightning in space. It gives light abruptly, in a spur of the moment, which I’ve failed to notice in daylight, as a great many of objects are mutually lit and sonorous. I know the whole landscape but it is the lightning that shows me another perspective of this little town, behind the lake. I’ve seen so many people in this place but it’s been necessary to experience complete darkness of night, its stillness to enable a scream to reveal one eventual suffering; suffering of a crying man, swept by a crowd now all of a sudden sonorously isolated, the only one, solely one present, isolated in this nature over red blood he is losing, over water, over plants, extinguishing meteors.
It can be a woman as well as a man. Vigorous creature. It must be a man or a woman dying; nobody screams like this, humanly and mechanically, with body and soul, so potently.
I get out of the boat pacing slowly along the coast in that direction. I contemplate: why don’t all run over there? All windows are not shut; people who can hear it must wake up. I see some windows lit. I guess that people inside are sitting in their beds and talk to their wives overhearing the screaming. But why don’t they go to see what is happening? Then I hear human voices somewhere behind the houses, as ferns shrunk and crawling high tree that is torn by elements, making huge, horrifying screeching. One single voice is raising and waving, runs into sky and lake from tiny excited human voices; terribly high and precise.
I can see them in the dark, in front of the house. Several of them. I can’t discern anyone; I see them as a group. Through them, actually. I can’t tell if there are women among them. Windows of neighbouring houses are entirely dark, but people inside must be listening inquisitively; faces of excited girls and women must be by the very windows. The woman, I can clearly recognize a woman’s voice now, is screeching wildly in the house where bright line can be seen among folded shutters. People talk in half voice. I can’t hear, I don’t listen to their words; they don’t notice my arrival; still I completely understand what is going on. I am not even interested what it is there, why I am there. The only thought is: I’ve come and now I am here. It must be terribly late.
Someone is coming behind the house carrying something big and dark that evaporates smell of hot steam.
– You brought it?
– Here you are. But it’s better to knock the door.
– No, just go in – deep male voice says, solemn as having a speech; a shadow passes before stripes of light among shutters, prepared to open them.
– I am not going in. There will be too many people. Knock, Maria-Luisa will come out.
They are knocking. As if the whole lake is coming at us, the sound of knocking is reminding me of sound a fisherman makes when hitting groove into the boat before sailing out. They knock again.
– Oh, it is quite well – says the woman in front of open door and as if hovering within some dark red light from some turned out lights and mixed with shadows. I can see now all gathered faces. They look in front of them very sharply as if being present at the night’s mass. Huge female scream flew at us heavy and as blade. Twice louder, with more steel than earlier, than it dies and retires into darkness.
– Is she heavily hot?
– She must be. – Women exchange words. The other one, retiring, starts closing the door.
– Will it be soon?
– I believe now is the time. – The lock finished her sentence: bump!
Darkness falls again.
– I am thinking about it – a man says – about that nonsense.
– What are you thinking about?
– It is silly that one won’t move if not necessary and then when he is needed he is not there.
– I didn’t understand.
– Carlos stayed here all the time to be with his wife as she was ill and expecting and now he had to go, they didn’t figure the date right.
– It’s like when my mother didn’t want to go anywhere afraid something would happen to her and once wanted to go to a festivity on the island and died in the boat.
– I can’t’ forget that slap; she wore a ring; I didn’t want to go to school later.
– She was stern woman, your mother.
– Stern? Terrifying! When I dream of her, I just jump. I never understood why she was like that. And I felt such a respect for her.
– She might have wanted to have a daughter first.
– Have a daughter? Who would go fishing then? Who would feed them? As soon as she gave me birth, I was a person destined to work so they could live. I don’t know why she was like that.
– As you say. I find it very stupid.
– I find it stupid to live, that. Here, all of you feel sorry for this poor woman who suffers, who is really wretched as she is a woman, but if you ask me, I feel sorry for the one who shall be born. Why should he live, what is there in life for him? To eat his father, then his children would eat him and drop dead eventually.
– There, there – the other said – you are overreacting. As always. Could we live without children? I love mine and I don’t think they eat me. And later, we can’t say it wasn’t good while we were young. It is women who suffer because of us, because of our love. We love to love them, and to love children.
– Why should he live when everything is the same and will always be the same. He will be handsome and young and he will believe he can do whatever he wants but in fact he can do only one thing, only one that everybody else could. Nothing better or more. Later he will be old, old.
– Like you, for instance – said the first one smiling.
– Like me. And when he sees the girl, there will be no strength in him to desire her. Yes, just like me. If I were to be born again, if they would ask me about it, I’d say: No!
– Go and drop dead. Beaten! Liar! If I were to be born again, without my arms, I would say: Yes! Yes! Again young and foolish, even without arms, embarrassed and in shame. Again.
– Yes, again – the man repeats in irony. – Again!
– But it can be a girl too.
– Absolutely, a girl too. It is probable.
– If I were to be born again… I mean, that entire staff… Imagine, the boy who comes, grows, grows, and stays while we are leaving. Soon only those like him will remain at this island. None of us; none of us. Nowhere in the world anyone from these that are today. Then I would like to be born again, not to grow but to be among them, and see it all over again.
– What part of the world would you chose? This one again?
– Yes, right here if necessary.
– And then you would die anyway and wish to be born again to see it once again and all over and over.
– I’d wish it again.
The man who’s talked merrily at the beginning gets clearly sad. His voice becomes hot and unbearable as an alcoholic’s.
– I think it is over now. At least screaming stopped.
– Over? It only starts – the man says laughing. - It only starts. It is another man letting out his first sound.
They are talking for few more minutes. Perfect silence falls on them again. Lit windows darken again. The only light: distant lightning flashes and thin bright stripe among the shutters on windows. Sitting on a low wall from where the olive-groove begins to spread steeply, leaned against the house’s edge, I breathe in the first chill before dawn. My thoughts are slow, thoughts about all that, but they range extremely slowly, incomparably slowly. Sounds, waves of chill, damp, number of human voices pass among these thoughts as real armies. Why are they so slow? Is drowsiness diluting them? Thus, slowly, slowly, the thoughts about it come. What do they want to say? What do they want to mean? I contemplate, I contemplate. I have never felt such a reality of thoughts. It is the first time to feel it materially, spatial. All becomes matter as matter becomes worth above all…
Then the door opens and yellow light is coming at us making night around black like ink. Somebody asks:
– A boy.
“Yes! Yes!”, I say to myself. No, I didn’t think about it, not about it. It is late, it is terribly late.” I get up, returning slowly among houses, without going to their front and lake as it emits cold. I am going to bed: early rise tomorrow. Still I have a few more hours to sleep. Sometimes one gets the whole night’s rest for an hour of sleep. I sleep well in trains. I’ll take a seat by window, lean against it and sleep. I will take care not to lean against the drape as they are always blackened. But I shall sleep, sleep. I probably won’t sleep right now, although I am very tired as sleep has escaped me. It is odd how he shall live. You never know how someone having his first breaths will live his life. I would like to hear his words when he has to speak about life for the very first time. It is silly when people talk about life. Everyone has its own opinion… all roosters should be slaughtered. Even if the day would forget to dawn – what nonsense! They don’t do it to sing but to wake themselves up. Why do I care what they will think about life?! What do I think about life? I talk a lot about it, but do I truly think about it? What will become of this newborn? A fisherman? Something completely different? Maybe he will leave to live at the opposite side of globe. We can never know what can happen with a life of a man. It can be one unique thing: a life that begins. Unique.
Me? No, I wouldn’t like to have a fresh opportunity. It can only be the unique thing… Unique…
Rastko Petrovic Ljudi govore
translated by Ljiljana Kostadinovic
Датум последње измене: 2009-03-02 18:15:54