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Aingeru Epaltza Ruiz de Alda > Extracts

Narrative (short story and novel)

2000 | EEF-Elkar

Extract from the novel Rock'n'roll

Unless I have read or heard it elsewhere, the following reflection has been thought up by me: a group of mates needs as many positive and negative qualities as members, in order to escape the monotony of a single colour. For the purposes of comparison, in our group we had a trouble-maker, a bed-breaker, and a butt or sad guy. That is not bad going, but that alone would make us a poor rainbow, had we not had a fourth personality: the guy who saved the group from mediocrity and stupidity. In our group this role suited Angel Urtxipi, aka "Ttipi" (the little one), down to the ground.

He had earned his nickname just as much due to his surname as to his size, but there was also a hint of poorly disguised revenge: in his smallness Angel appeared large to us more often than we cared to admit. I will always remember him with those big, pebble glasses disguising his face and with a book ?always a different one- under his arm. He awakened our passion for Rock at a time when it was still something eccentric in our provincial, priest-ridden capital. He was also the one who gave us our first "serious" theoretical lessons on sex. It was he who explained to us for the first time that there were two classes in the world, the oppressed and the oppressors, and that we were lucky to be in the most favoured one. He had to know about everything, Geography, Philosophy, Literature or Economy, and he had to have the last word in everything. It goes without saying that when Ttipi finished his studies at the priests' school, he was able to present a brilliant academic record that infuriated all those around him. We bet on which course he would choose when he went on to higher education, whether it would be Sociology or Law, Economics of Philosophy. We were very surprised when he enrolled for Engineering.

I would like to produce a family tree of the twelve or fourteen families represented on the different company boards of directors who in this province dictate what we are to read, wear, think, how we are to enjoy ourselves and what we are to spend our few cents on. You need to be an engineer at least to do this.

We shrugged our shoulders. We could not imagine him building roads, canals, bridges or things like that. In that respect, at least, we were not mistaken.

Ttipi's unquenchable thirst for knowledge was not restricted to the sciences written in capital letters. He adored the extensive fields of science or thought that require the help of heavy machinery just as much as the humble fields ploughed with small letters, to which he was devoted with an overwhelming passion. Ttipi had to know everything about everybody. He dedicated the free time he had left after his studies, friends and extensive reading to this passion. Some people collect stamps, coins, fossils or butterflies. He, in contrast, accumulated details about those who lived around him with the same passion as the rest of us in the group devoted to girls, but with even greater success.

At the beginning, we ourselves facilitated his task without realising it. At that time we did not listen to what the others said, but rushed to tell him about ourselves; Ttipi's phlegmatic, calm nature, his honeyed manners, always so far removed from our uncouthness, opened the door wide for us to tell him our secrets. The nuggets of information -whatever they might have been- that came up in conversation were recorded in our friend's fantastic memory. Even when people found out about his hobby, he was never short of voluntary informants who went up to him with gossip about the others: "Hey, Ttipi, did you know that?" If the answer was no, for us it was like having a medal pinned to our chests.

On the other hand, as he did not regard the information obtained by word of mouth as sufficient, he was not at all afraid to resort to devious means. I have paled at the sight of my friend going into the teachers' room when it was empty to copy down the marks of his classmates out of pure curiosity. We thought he was mad and a hero sometimes. We also asked him what the point was of so much effort:

-Don't worry your heads about it. I enjoy it - he would tell us.

Yet as far as matters concerning himself were concerned, his insatiable curiosity about everyone else was in stark contrast to his stubborn secrecy. We only got to know a side of Txipi that was shrouded in shadows and echoes.
As time went by the amount of information he had collected with the patience of an entomologist ended up being too much even for a mind like his. Then he converted it into forms so that there was no risk of it being forgotten. In the last year at the priests' school he showed me his files when I went to his house one day: about twenty folders full to bursting arranged alphabetically on a long shelf. He opened one of them in front of me.

Recognise that? -he asked, unable to conceal his pride.

It concerned some of our classmates. Each one's date of birth, address, parents' names, their jobs, siblings, academic record, comments about interests and personalities, friendships, frustrated as well as successful love affairs, where the holidays were spent. In the final analysis all the details summarised in pompous, minute handwriting embellished with the corresponding photo -another of Ttipi's passions-. A shiver went all the way down my back. I glanced at the long shelf, and a folder marked with a large curled "S" on its cover caught my eye. Somewhere inside it on a sheet similar to the one I had in my hands would be one bearing the words SARAGUETA ALDAZ, EDUARDO JESUS, and me below, my whole being, summarised in a few lines, and the photo Ttipi himself had taken. I did not ask him to show it to me, even though he was dying for me to do so. Muttering an excuse I left. I avoided him for a few days.

I could not say exactly when he started to put his passion to good use. During the same final year at the priests' school he sold advance information about marks in exchange for cigarettes. From the girls in love at other schools he accepted gifts -books and things like that, no more- when they wanted to know whether this or that classmate of ours fancied any of them, and when they approached him asking for photos. At university he established a price list for the work. Apparently it was a piece of envious advice given by Charly. So much for information on one of the students; double that if the information was about a lecturer and five times that much if a full, detailed report was requested. Apparently there had been no small demand, because he had money by the time he had gained his degree in Engineering.

On returning home the setting up of an "Agency" was simply the natural consequence of all that.

-People want to know about their neighbours, about husbands, wives, enemies and friends and there are some who are prepared to pay for it. I'm just providing a service - he said, justifying himself when we questioned him about the doubtful ethics of his chosen profession-. Look at Edu -he said, turning towards me, his eyes magnified by his glasses-. We both work in information. The only difference is in the spreading of information. His work is brought to light. Mine remains in the dark most of the time.

Maybe he was right, but I found it very difficult even to imagine that we were colleagues by profession.

-We do nothing but chat in this gossipy town -he went on-. My work consists of being all ears and separating the wheat from the chaff. If you follow the rumours, you can even find out the colour of president's underpants. Nothing remains a secret for very long here.

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