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Euskal Idazleen Elkartea

Imanol Elias Odriozola > Extracts

Narrative (short story and novel)

| 2000


THE SMELL OF FRESH BREAD

I must have been a very young child and it seems to me that I must at least have had bread to eat, but most likely not in abundance. They were very difficult times, the claws of the civil war extended to most of the families, while their sons went to the front of one side or the other to defend their ideas. As we eventually became aware of the consequences on all levels, it was very difficult for those on the losing side in particular to overcome them.

Each day at more or less the same time the distinctive smell of bread that had just come out of the oven would seep through the cracks round the balcony windows and fill the house. It used to whet my appetite. If I am not mistaken, it came from the green van that the baker and seller from the Landeta neighbourhood used for delivering his bread all over town.

That smell for me was as if someone had switched on an engine and it would entice me down to Elizkale street or to the balcony overlooking Santiago street to see the van stopping in one street and then in the other. It was enough to open the window for the smell to fill the whole house. It was a source of great enjoyment for me until it disappeared completely. Even the bread from the day before, which I breakfasted on again and again, seemed to be tastier. All that was needed was a little bit of imagination and the smell was a great help.

When that van arrived, some women would go out into the street, walk up to it and with one or more loaves in their hands would return to their houses with the delicious food.

My mother, very likely aware of the longing inside me at that moment, would also go down to the street occasionally, saying she would be back directly. She would appear at the door smiling with a small loaf of bread with the selfsame smell. Very often the bread that she brought home had not had time to cool down completely, and it made a crisp sound when you picked it up.

That special smell wafted up to our house every day as if extending an invitation, but my mother would only go down to the street occasionally, because she could not afford to bring newly-baked bread home every day. Instead, she would kiss me on my cheeks and forehead, somehow making me understand what was going on.

Later on a carter would pass through the streets. He had a green cart pulled by a stallion or mare and it would collect all the rubbish that had accumulated at the entrances to the houses. The rubbish was in bags or boxes and if one of them broke, pieces of bread would fall out. They must have been the leftovers from the previous day, and had made up the loaves that wafted that special smell of newly-baked bread into the air.

Some had more than they needed while others did not have enoughà

BAD NEWS

In the lives of each and every one of us unforgettable events take place. Moreover, if they are connected with the life that goes on afterwards, they become grafted onto one's memory for ever.

I had been living on the Telleria farm for about eight years in harmony with nature from which I was learning a lot. I had formed my own world and my imagination was certainly making a lot of progress. But one evening I heard some news that was to make me tremble from head to toe.

I was sitting beside the kitchen cupboard as I often used to do, gazing out of the window in the direction of the Shrine of St. Ignatius Loyola.

At that time, just like now, I used to be deeply moved by the setting of the sun, as the clouds took on different colours and the sky repeated unique changes in tone. The strong sun was saying goodnight after spreading its warmth on that 12th November 1944 and I began to notice a kind of coolness coming in, as it daringly and boldly came in through the cracks in the old window frame. I was tired from having spent the day trying to follow my Uncle Jose, who seemed to be more serious than on other days. Grandma was serious too, and it goes without saying that Aunt Pantxike was too, as she very quickly got ready and left halfway through the afternoon to go into town.

That morning I wondered whether the increased seriousness and silence compared with other days might be due to some mischief I had committed the day before, but when I stopped to think over what I had done, I realised that nothing of the kind had happened. But I was aware that something was going on, because even Grandma, who used to have plenty to say to me every day, also seemed to have lost her power of speech. Respecting their silence, I remained silent as well, as I gazed at the wonderful sight I could see from the window, as the darkness took over the mountains when the sun gradually hid itself far away behind them.

All of a sudden my Aunt Pantxike appeared at the door of the kitchen. She was out of breathà I thought it was surprising that I did not hear the dog barking beforehand, as he was an excellent guard dog and used to announce any news. My grandma, who was getting dinner ready, turned to look at the person who had just come home, and wanted to take a step forward in order to move closer. I did not notice whether they said anything to each other, but it was clear to me from their faces that something important was going on. Everything became clear when Uncle Jose, who was doing his jobs in the cowshed, appeared at the kitchen door...

- And? -he asked, as he went up to his sister.

-She's dead... -replied Pantxike as her voice broke for an instant.

All at once I realised what was going on and my Grandma's face mirrored the bad news. My mother was dead...

I immediately felt that some heartless one was trying to take away something that belonged to me. The beautiful sky I could see outside the window seemed to me to have turned to nothingness and darkened, like the night time bogeyman who was taking possession of all the mountains, the enemy, who was stealing life's freshness from the people it met on its way. I suddenly remembered that not even the dog barked, most likely because he did not want to be a party to the bad news.

Uncle Jose went up to the long kitchen table and sat down on a chair as Aunt Pantxike emerged out of the room with her head bowed. My Grandma, on the other hand, made a half turn in the kitchen and stood with her back to me. One could say that silence reigned in that large kitchen for a momentà In the meantime, my imagination took off and I flew to that house in Elizkale street where my mother might be. I wanted to see her, hug her and tell her how much I loved her...

But I was brought back to the truth by the cows in the stable, by the sound their horns made when they knocked against their mangers. I was far away from her and I embraced the silence as I gazed at the enormous sky that was inevitably darkening from one moment to the next.

I felt soft, wrinkled hands on my cheeks as I turned from that window to see my grandma kneeling before me who, despite saying nothing to me, conveyed with her eyes the news I had already understood perfectly well. When the silence that had been overpowering us broke, she started weeping...

-She's gone to heaven. To heaven... -repeated my Grandma a couple of times before standing up.

She then hugged me and I realised she was cryingà My mother would not be visiting me any more on Sundays.
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