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Euskal Idazleen Elkartea

Ixiar Rozas Elizalde > Extracts

Narrative (short story and novel)

2002 Sartu, korrontea dabil | Erein


I have often thought that cities without catacombs or metros are unlikely to survive. You see if the city has something, dear reader, it is the fact that it is alive. And it is alive, because it has arteries hidden in the catacombs and metros.

Let no one think that the city consists merely of tower blocks, streets, squares, avenues, traffic lights and zebra crossings; or that it is simply a meeting place for men and women who have become anonymous. A city is that and much more: it penetrates our lives from the centres below, so that its arteries do not become frozen.

The anonymities and loneliness that surround the city cause its arteries to freeze up in fact. And to prevent this happening, it ties us up in an unending connection, which in most cases is impossible to undo later on; it trembles, and the knots tighten; later it releases us and leaves us disorientated and drier than a desert; it gives us the opportunity to tie ourselves to it once again, if we so wish, so that we can give up being anonymous.

Anyhow, its arteries remain frozen for most of the months, weeks and days of the year. From the starting point of loneliness it is difficult to create anything else, to build anything from loose bits of life. Houses will be built above the catacombs, tower blocks, streets, squares and zebra crossings; however, they are nothing more than stopgaps to satisfy urgent needs.

The inhabitants meanwhile continue to look at all the city's changes without uttering a word, as if they have fallen right into the empty sack of the catacombs after slipping into anonymity. And what they express without the slightest movement is that the city and its very loneliness signify nothing for the local inhabitants.

I went down into its bowels, melting the sheet of ice above its arteries and became immersed in what is below; I became one with the city. That is how I managed to deal with the loneliness that lays siege to me in all the cities I have got to know.

You will be wondering who I am; why I am speaking now in this manner: why I go from one city to another with my violin; what takes me from one station to another, from one coach of a train to another, from one square to another, to the riverbanks I seek in all cities; why I become identified with the cracks of the local population, with the sentimental tetraplegia of the local people; why I tear the night with the strings of my violin.

I do not know either.

When I finish a song, the echo escapes from my violin into the city; and when the city swallows it, I know that the time has come for me to move on. If I spend too long in the catacombs, there is always a danger of becoming as frozen as its arteries.

So the time always comes to choose another city. Another city which has catacombs and underground railways that constantly tighten and loosen its knots; to get to know more sentimental tetraplegics, because many of us have a trace of deviation in our feelings.

When we are faced with this, the city offers us protection, and reduces the need to look for someone else in this profound loneliness. It offers us its houses, tower blocks, streets, noise and the refuge of numerous stories; and when we go out, or when we become tied up in those stories, it immerses us in the mirage that we are not alone; in a mirage as sweet as it is evil, and as evil as it is false.

And even though we may know that this is the case, we allow ourselves to fall into deception and make ourselves believe that one day we will find it easier to face up to that tetraplegia.

Those who are satisfied with what they find do not ask for anything else.

Others, despite knowing they have found what they really need, also go on searching and looking.

And others, myself included, do not know what to look for, yet we obstinately carry on. For nothing satisfies us life-devourers, neither mirages, nor deceptions, nor the knots that catch us unawares and then release us. Because we prefer to accept our tetraplegia and go on losing ourselves in the whirlwind of the coincidences we come across through the catacombs.

That is why in the Paris railway station it comes as no surprise to me when I once again come across some of the knots which have tightened. Coincidences provide our lives with a kind of order, the underlying, invisible order which is beyond comprehension; and this order is unstoppable, because one coincidence becomes tied up in another; that way it becomes virtually impossible to know the beginning in the skein of coincidences.

I am not at all surprised when I come across the beggar the moment I reach the station. She is sitting on the pavement waiting for something; yet once again we do not look at each other. He stands up all of a sudden, and slowly makes his way in any old direction, as if he has not seen me. And he only just misses ramming his cart into a blind woman coming into the station carrying a large suitcase.

The woman carrying the suitcase and holding the white stick she needs for walking continues on her way and does not notice anything. She moves forwards in her darkness with the firm intention of taking any of the trains that are waiting, in the way that cockroaches do. She chooses a seat on the platform and waits there as she opens the doors of all her senses and touches her suitcase from time to time.

A couple of metres away from the seat chosen by the blind woman a young lad and a woman pass by: the young lad who wants to understand life through observation, and the woman who tries to keep everything under control. The immigrant who believes he will find his dad, thanks to a photo, and the woman engulfed by cigarette smoke who thinks twice about taking any decision. One follows behind the other, one is very close to the other. Now the two get on the train together.

The woman glances in all directions before boarding the train and does not realise she has been caught once again by the third eye.

They sit next to each other in the same carriage.

The immigrant and the woman were Abdou and Sara on the days I was welcomed by the city. But they could just as easily have been Sa´d and Agatha. Or Bo Bak and Charlotte.

And I do not know whether they really got on the train together, nor what Edmun now plans to do with the photo he has just taken of them; I do not know how long Elsa is going to wait on the seat in the station, or when she will go back home to work with her clay or whether she will go on imagining conversations with Jaime; whether she will have a visit from her son Rikardo, or whether he may prefer white powder after his sessions with the psychoanalyst; or whether, just like Edmun, he will knock on Magda's door; I don't know whether Magda will continue to scribble in exercise books and make love with Niko; whether Alejandra will look at the long years she has ahead of her with neither house nor framework; whether Jaime will have sold all his quills by now.

I do not know what will become of the neighbours in the block that overlooks the yard; whether somebody or other will have thrown more bottles down into it.

And neither do I know whether Abdou and Elsa will get off at my station; whether they will get off at the next one, or the one after that; whether they are arm in arm; whether they love each other or are going to love each other.

You see, I am travelling in a different carriage right now. A black hand on a white one. Lips the size of the night bidding farewell to the city for ever. And I may never get off the train. The carriage could plunge down the edge of the catacombs and freeze right there.

It is raining on the other side of the window; the rain comes in gusts. The door of the carriage has opened but someone has closed it, so that the draughts do not distract the looks which are being exchanged.

All at once, without realising it my seat becomes empty. And a draught comes to take my place.
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