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Euskal Idazleen Elkartea

Inazio Mujika Iraola > Extracts

Narrative (short story and novel)

1999 | Alberdania

Gerezi denbora. 14. Chapter

The master of the house was waiting for us at the entrance. He opened the door and on seeing the bishop enter, took his hand and kissed his ring in the doorway. Inside were two in berets beside the door holding their weapons. The master of the house led us further inside, and when we reached the cowshed he pointed to the stairs leading up to the hayloft. He said it certainly was not a fitting place for an archbishop, but his Lordship would be safe there until the next day, and even if he had to spend a few more days there, he could make himself at home.

We went up to the hayloft and were astounded to find that it was full of people. Most of them sat against the wall; you could see from their faces that they had recently been frightened, but there was an expression of relief that they were out of danger, at least for the time being. All of a sudden, however, their relaxed faces filled with fear once again when Roman said "Good Evening". I realised at once that their surprise had to do with the way we were dressed, so I took my black and red beret off and made Roman take off his, too. Roman smiled nervously and briefly explained our situation.

We prepared a place on a pile of hay for the bishop to sleep on, and sat down not far away from him. We saw another four in berets standing in the four corners and noticed there were a couple more in the attic lying down guarding the top of the stairs with their rifles.

A man, who had been sitting, stood up and started to pace rapidly up and down. He was young, podgy and his faced was flushed. Nervously going to and fro, he seemed to be immersed in his thoughts. I riveted my eyes on him. All at once he started talking to himself. That is how it seemed to me at first, but a while later, after I had begun to listen more intently, it became clear he was reciting a list of names. Yet from time to time he would pause in his demented walk, and it seemed as if he had got stuck on one of the names; he would repeat the same name about three times and then continue his pacing up and down as he started reciting the list again. At the time he seemed to me to be deranged. After pacing to and fro several times, he reached one of the walls of the hayloft, turned his back to it and sat right up against it. He had a blank look on his face but his eyes were fixed on the stairs that led up to the attic above.

Then the master of the house emerged at the top of the stairs. He was carrying a large bowl of food and a young girl appeared behind him with a tray on which there were four large cups. She came straight to us. There were pieces of chicken in the bowl and hot coffee in the cups. The bishop politely said thank you but refused the chicken. He did, however, gulp down a whole cup of coffee. Karmen, on the other hand, was not in a position to eat anything, as she was fast asleep on a pile of hay. Roman and I happily tucked into the chicken.

When we had finished, the master of the house sat down opposite us, while the young girl carried the empty bowl and cups downstairs on the tray. The bishop asked the master of the house if he could smoke. The latter said he could and did not need to ask, but would he please make sure to extinguish the ash properly; it only took a cigarette end that had not been put out properly to set fire to the hay and straw and to the whole house. Roman pointed out to the bishop that it was not good for his heart. "We'll have to look after it now," relented the bishop, putting the cigarette back in its case.

Thereupon the young man I had seen before stood up and starting pacing up and down in front of us.

-Poor old Artola! -said the master of the house pointing to the man walking up and down reciting the list of names.

-Off his head.? -asked Roman.


Artola had apparently been working in the Provincial Government in the offices of the Protection Committee. He was a member of the ANV and at midday after the bombing by the ship Cervera, he saw a group of about a dozen CNT members noisily enter the Provincial Government. They appeared to be carrying a piece of paper, which they did not want anyone to see, as they laughed and shouted their way right inside the building. He apparently managed to get hold of the paper they were carrying by taking advantage of a moment when their backs were turned. It was a list of names and he tried to commit them to memory just in case. He had five minutes to do so. When he left, he ran to find Irujo .

At some point he found Irujo and told him what he had chanced to see. Irujo pushed him up against the wall and said: "Give me the names!" while his secretary wrote them down. He recited ten of the names right away, straight off. They were all well-known figures of the right and among the town's bigwigs. How many were there? Twenty, he was sure about that. "Give me the names!" ordered Irujo. And shortly afterwards he remembered another five of them. "Come on, there are only five left!" Irujo implored him. But the previous names came back to him. "You've said that one! Give me another one!" But he could not remember any new names. He tried to concentrate and started the list over again, but got stuck when he reached the fifteenth.

In any case, he apparently remembered another two. Seventeen in all. Three names were missing. And the time ticked by. Irujo summoned a group of Basque soldiers to escort Artola to Ondarreta prison. To see if on the way he could remember the last three names. And he remembered another two names on the way. Still one missing.

In Ondarreta the nineteen names were given, and not without considerable trouble were the nineteen people handed over.

-The men you have here are the ones.

-What about the twentieth?

By then it would have been too late for him. But Artola did not give up and there he was trying to remember the last name.

At that moment Irujo himself appeared coming up the stairs. Artola went straight up to him.

-Olagibel -said Irujo staring at the ground.

-Olagibel-Urdaneta. -burst out Artola, as all the muscles in his body relaxed.

He grabbed Irujo by his lapels; it seemed as if his eyes were going to pop out. He did not utter a word, but those eyes were asking Irujo a question. Irujo shook his head. Artola stood with his back to a wooden post behind him and slowly sank to the ground. Then he covered his face with his hands.

-Don't worry, Artola, you did everything you could.

Artola burst into tears and between sobs repeated "Olagibel" over and over again. "Olagibel-Urdaneta, Jose Luis."

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