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Hasier Etxeberria Canales > Extracts

Narrative (short story and novel)

A Postmodern Story I Wrote for Myself |

I sleep well, but Tuesday night I couldn't sleep a wink. Any other night by that time I would have been long asleep. I was tired and all the daily ceremonies were over. Snug between the sheets, enveloped in silence, nothing in particular to worry me. Under the covers, I closed my eyes and thought, "I'm going to sleep". But no way.

In the middle of the night, the phone rang . And the worst thing was that the call was not for me. A voice in French asked me whether I was Nestor Desjours and as I am obviously not, I said I wasn't. No, I'm not Nestor Desjours. "Pardon, Monsieur," said the voice, and when I was just about to say that I wasn't Monsieur either, I heard a click on the other end.

I got another sizeable blanket from the wardrobe, and put in on the bed. I closed my eyes and settled down to sleep again. I nearly drifted off. I had turned over and was lying on my left. I have no idea why, but there are just some magic positions that take us to our mother's lap. To our mother's womb, straight to heaven.

Suddenly I was in my mother's womb. But how on earth did I manage to breathe those waters of my mother's womb? What did it smell like inside that huge bladder? How did I hear the sounds outside? And when my father brought my mother the red skirt, as the song goes, how did it look from inside there?

With so many questions I began to sweat profusely and when I got up to open the window, I saw a thin slice of moon in the sky, which wasn't taking any notice of anyone.

I lay on my other side. Suddenly I desperately wanted to know what time it was. That was not a good idea. If I switched on the lamp to see the clock, I would wake up more than necessary. I switched on the lamp anyhow, and when the light from the light bulb dazzled me, once more I woke up more than I should have done. It was half past four.

After switching off the light, the glare of the bulb continued to stick under my eyelids like a limpet. If I closed my eyes I saw a yellow circle and inside it another smaller blue circle. "Kandinsky!" I thought, and was amused by this unexpected joke that I alone could understand. Yet, if I opened my eyes, rather than seeing the plaster on the ceiling, I imagined it in the midst of the darkness. The only thing I noticed on the chipped surface were the stains caused by the damp, thanks to the faint moonlight coming in through the window. "Tapies!" I thought, and laughed to myself again.

It was no good like that. If I carried on that way I would never get to sleep. But I had to get to sleep one way or another.

I was going to tell myself a story of the kind that makes you sleep. Moreover, I already had the name of the main character. He was to be called Nestor Desjours, a Belgian by birth and he played violin in the Biarritz orchestra. I thought that a violinist rather than a trumpet player or a drummer would be more appropriate for sleep. Immediately, I decided how he should look: Nestor Desjours was quite small and very thin. Not much of a man.

I realised I was being too cruel. If I carried on that way, instead of going to sleep, I would start to regret treating the main character of my novel so badly, and my discomfort would deny me a sound sleep.

So Nestor Desjours would not be small and of little consequence. And he would not be a violinist, either. He wasn't in Biarritz and he wasn't Belgian. He was an impressive, forty-year-old chef in Lyon. He was preparing quail for a very special customer in a sauce made from truffles from Perigord.

I woke up: a chef could not possibly be preparing quail at that time, in the small hours of the morning! Let alone in Lyon.

So in the end Nestor Desjours became a taxi driver. That was why he was parked in the taxi rank in Bayonne, half asleep and with the radio on. I joined in his sleepiness and without further ado I began to fall asleep listening to the music he had on that was being broadcast by France Inter.

"Taxi?," asked a woman. Nestor jumped from the car and quickly opened the rear door. It was enough for him to realise that the woman was not just anyone. Her perfume alone was enough to drive a man to perdition. The woman asked him to take her to Hendaye.

Nestor didn't know what the best course of action was. Start talking, turn on the radio or put on some music? But how was he to strike up a conversation? And if he were to turn on the radio or play some music, he didn't know what kind of music Miss World might prefer. So he did neither. Nothing. Nestor decided not to put on anything, and remained silent. Then the woman asked whether he was going to put on some music.

"C'est trés jolie," said the woman when Prince's music began to come out of the loudspeakers, "Ça va, merci."

"Bingo!" thought Nestor and a smile brightened his face. Upon hearing those words of complicity, he glanced in the rear-view mirror. The woman gave the impression that she didn't want the night to end, and for that, who better than Nestor himself? He would do whatever the woman wanted, wherever she wanted and however she wanted. He couldn't pass up a chance like that.

I pulled up the sheet and blankets. As I sweated and turned over and over, so much agitation had made them slip down. I envied Nestor all alone with that looker.

The woman asked him to take the coastal road. He was not in any hurry and in moments like that, the longest route was always the most beautiful. "The weather," thought Nestor, "I'll chat about the weather."

The woman looked away from the car window to listen to what he said but after a smile, she reverted without saying anything to the previous situation so that she could stare out at the sea, which was turning silver. Nestor also realised that the woman didn't feel like speaking, let alone listening to the meteorological reflections of a Bayonne taxi driver. She was immersed in other thoughts, and fidgeted on the seat from time to time, as I was doing now and then to find the right position.

The dawn of that Wednesday had begun to illuminate not only the sea, but also the meadows. The sea reflected its blue whiteness like a long rectangle above the regular green patches of grass. "Mondrian!" I thought but I no longer found these new jokes funny, because I was once again drifting away from Nestor's story.

I took the taxi to a spot opposite the beach of Sokoa without making it travel the distance. I could do whatever I wanted since I was making it up anyway. And if I wanted to take the taxi as far as Sokoa, I did it and that was it.

I made the car stop at some traffic lights. That was absurd, absolutely absurd. The red light protecting the zebra crossing did not have to be on in the middle of the night. Besides that no one was walking around Sokoa at that hour. Nestor waited anyhow. "Absurd," he said to himself, over and over again.

"Duchamp!" a new thought escaped from me out loud, but I didn't find that funny either and in despair I turned over under the sheet again. The neighbourhood bell tower had struck six o'clock ages before. I barely had two hours to sleep. The next day I'd be doing fuck all in the office.

Instead of going to sleep I thought I'd finish the story that was keeping me awake once and for all, and so Nestor told the woman that they were approaching Hendaye before asking where she wanted to go.

"Erotacilo number 46," replied the beautiful woman without the slightest trace of doubt.

When I heard that I jumped up all of a sudden, and remained sitting on my bed. I switched on the light and the glare dazzled my eyes again. I nervously lit a cigarette: Erotacilo number 46 was my own address. My house. There was no other.

My heart missed a beat. I imagined the taxi coming down the street and arriving at the door, I imagined the beautiful woman going up the four wooden steps to my house and most likely looking for the doorbell on the left wall.

There was no sound of the doorbell but banging on the door. Nervously, I stubbed out the cigarette in the ashtray very quickly and went to the door wearing an old sweater, which had been close at hand, over my pajamas.

Worried I went down the corridor, "Dada!" I said to myself and that time, despite the nervousness, I smiled from ear to ear as I went to open the door.

(Hasier Etxeberria 1994)
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