...a short-short story I wrote a long time ago. I translated it into english, with the precious edditing of Resa Alboher and Dean Thomas Ellis.
A short short story by Jaime Braz
On Friday I met Arsuaga at the café Ordorika, across the street from the the old Teatro Ricardo Cortazar. He arrived five minutes after the appointed time. He hung his umbrella on the coatrack by the door, talked to the waiter and came to my table. We shook hands and he sat down.
-Sorry I’ve kept you waiting. Last Wednesday I wasn’t able to give you more details. I know that your organization also cares for the Basque country and I´m sure you will not refuse my request. It requires little from you but it will certainly yeld many benefits and save many lives in the years to come. Please don´t look at my lips. I don´t suffer from any muscle paralysis, thank God. It´s just a precaution in case we are being watched by someone who can read lips, and probably we are, but regardless he won’t even know I´m speaking Spanish to you. You can answer me in Spanish. What I want to ask you is very simple: it´s absolutely necessary for the police to strenghten their patrols in the Eguzki gorge, along the rural road between Olabe and Lizarrusti, on the last weekend of this month . The deterrent effect of a police presence in that zone, at that time, will be vital. I´m certain it will be easy for you to abide by my request. Your organization has access to high-resolution satellite photographs that can spot very small objects on the ground. All this technical prowess is very useful, no doubt, but it is of no use if the resolute power of our minds cannot divine the moral consequences of even our smallest diurnal actions within the diffuse moral spectrum that governs our actions.
The waiter delivered a cup of cafe au lait. Arsuaga paid his bill and mine. He poured some sugar in the coffee, stirred it with the spoon, took a sip and continued:
- So, what I´m asking you to do is very simple and I´m sure you can do it with little difficulty: strenghten the police patrol in the Eguzki gorge, this month on the 25th and 26th. That´s all.
I took out a small notebook from my coat pocket to jot down a note. Then I noticed that Arsuaga had gotten the dates wrong and I told him:
- I just noticed the last weekend of this month, Saturday and Sunday, falls on the 28th and 29th. Did you get the dates right?
A few seconds later Arsuaga answered me with a question that left me astonished:
- But isn´t this 1956?
My agenda was open to the pages of Saturday 28th and Sunday 29th. I turned it for him to see. On top of both pages it was written 1998. He looked at the pages for a long time, then he took another sip of coffee and fixed his gaze towards Portugalete and the greyish green hills with the top covered by a blanket of clouds that was hanging over Bilbao. I saw his face in profile. He must have been sixty-something. His grey hair was the colour of his raincoat. There was a sad and stubborn resignation in his eyes. Finally he stood up and excused himself while he shook my hand:
- I´m sorry I’ve wasted your time. Now there´s nothing we can do. It was all my fault. At any rate, allow me to thank you for your time. Good night.
I saw him snatch his umbrella at the door and leave the café. On the sidewalk he turned right and I never saw him again.
The officer who had introduced us told me Arsuaga was an excellent professional with an enviable track record, and that he would retire in three months. In spite of that I remember him as a loser, bent under the weight of the failure of what might have been his last assignment , in which I should have played an important role.
The next day I spent all morning and afternoon at the Bilbao Municipal Library, going through the press from the autumn of 1956. I browsed all the magazines and newspapers I could find, both local and national. From such an arduous task I gathered little relevant information and nothing conclusive. I found no news about any incident at the Eguzki gorge. On the 27th of September there was a general strike in the Bilbao shipyards that ended with a bloody repression by the police. On the 7th of October a train derailed in Arzak, quite far from Eguzki. I decided not to return to the library because I realised that the task before me, besides being huge, was in vain. It´s impossible to know when occurred, or what exactly were the consequences of the actions committed in the Eguzki gorge, in that weekend in the autumn of 1956, that Arsuaga so desperately wanted to prevent. Maybe the bloody consequences that he feared hadn’t even happened yet.
On the following Sunday I took the plane back to Buenos Aires.
(the plot of this story was dreamed up on the night of the 6th to the 7th February 1998)