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Euskal Idazleen Elkartea

Jon Alonso Fourcade > Extracts

Narrative (short story and novel)

2001 | Susa



We found out on a dark, cloudy Monday during the Basque Language Activity Annual General Meeting, but we couldn't believe it, or rather we didn't want to believe it: Kolko Mitxoleta had decided to retire and retreat to some out-of-the-way place. Kolko Mitxoleta was the best among us, our guiding light, our star of Bethlehem, our patriarch, the inexhaustible source of wisdom, the mirror that had to be looked into, the supreme model, the godfather. The fact that he had gone to some remote corner of the Amazon for ever was a pretty severe blow, but this was overshadowed by the fact that he had lost his head completely. It wasn't just a severe blow, it seemed like a disaster to us after what had happened with B-12, a calamity from which there was neither return nor retreat.

The news that came out of the Amazon revealed that Mitxoleta had apparently gone completely round the bend, there was a vacant look on his face, which generally happens to people who've had an overdose of thorn-apple or datura stramonium: he was said to dribble and to have lost control over his sphincters; apparently, he could hardly speak at all and this was so strange in someone who had spoken so much and so eloquently, that some people feared that he might be about to lose his power of speech, or that he might even have lost it completely. That did not appear to be the case, however; since he had fallen ill an elite group of lady teachers from Basque schools looked after him, and although the circumstances of Mitxoleta's mental health were virtually taboo, and a kind of secretiveness surrounding Mitxoleta's state had spread, we found out from the lady teachers that he did at least utter some words from time to time. What we found even more difficult to understand was that he always seemed to repeat the same words, and we were even more amazed when we found out what those words were in the end: "A show. cunt. a show.". After that it seems that he was quiet and an hour, a day or a few weeks later he would start doing it again: "Cunt. a show. cunt". A hidden, cabalistic, magic, perhaps tantric meaning was attributed to these words (the truth is I don't know why they attributed any meaning at all to the words uttered by someone who had lost his head, but I thought it was logical as it has always been customary among us, that the words of nutcases are thought to have some deep meaning, as if they had been pronounced by the oracle); no one grasped the meaning, but it led to many long sessions of hermeneutics, even though it was impossible to draw any conclusions. According to an unofficial widespread, pessimistic view, Kolko Mitxoleta's words were of resignation, provoked by the most illustrious elements of the repugnant "Elemenia Nebrijana" group. Kolko Mitxoleta was basically through his attitude de facto proving and supporting the theory, the very one promoted by Luis Ferdinando Gorrigualdo, that says that everything was a show, and so the words were proof of confirmation of the theory. This worried us especially, disgusted us and made us despair, so much so that most of us, whenever this subject came up, sang the Song of Bereterretxe or other songs of our ancestors, or engaged in a long succession of sneezing, or put plugs in our ears.

But the truth is that more than anything I have just said, B-12's appearance was what really turned our heads towards Kolko Mitxoleta, who had made us understand that we were orphans. In other words, we would even have forgotten that Mitxoleta was in the Amazon, had B-12 not appeared. And B-12's appearance, for its part, was a thousand times simpler that anyone could have imagined. To tell you the truth, it was as if we had always been waiting for him, and that was the case to some extent at least, in other words, we had been waiting for him for all time, at least since the time when they said that Basque was the language of Paradise, at least, and who knows whether we had been waiting since before then. So, although that event, viewed as an isolated occurrence, was highly surprising, it was very appropriate and very natural for us. So natural and appropriate that something like mild irritation was noticeable in the attitudes of some, as if they had been told off, as if they had wanted to say "about time too, or we've been waiting too long, or how many things would have been solved, if you had come a thousand years earlier, goodness knows what you've been up to until now". Then it has to be admitted that B-12, for his part, also contributed something so that we would accept his appearance perfectly naturally: he landed in Arantzazu the year the Franciscans celebrated their 500 years there. Arantzazu. the source of so many streams that come to water the plot of Basque land generously, and, let it be said, by the way, with a little bit of pride concealed in modesty, the place of my birth. Apart from that, B-12 was bright green, as we had always been told, and as if that was not enough, as if wanting to help us a little bit more, he was the spitting image of E.T., so much so that he looked like his twin.

It the end what had been suspected countless times was in one way or another confirmed: if not of Paradise, Basque was, at least, the language of Mars. Proof of that lay in B-12's tremendous linguistic competence. His huge green head held Basque of all times, places and registers: he could speak as easily as the books of Axular or as the toothless grandfather on the remotest farm of Biscay would have spoken to you two centuries ago, not to mention of course the more ordinary and standard Basque. It was amazing; he was an extraordinary, first-class, appropriate, prudent, unsurpassable speaker who, at one moment or another, we have all dreamt of being. We were quite clear about that from the very beginning.

The fact that he had a remedy for getting rid of hangovers -after effects, the morning after.- completely, did not get through to us, at least during those initial conversations. There were contradictory views with respect to it, like when you hear something but you don't get the complete sense of what is said. Some say they did understand him perfectly well, that he had said he knew of a medicine or a remedy that would get rid of a hangover completely, and that he was prepared to show it to us; others say he had not said anything of the kind, that it was a very broad, optimistic interpretation of B-12's words; what B-12 had actually said was that at times, in other words, when specific conditions prevailed and only then, he could cure a hangover, and within those conditions, moreover, there was something relating to the will of the person who wanted to get rid of the hangover, in other words, each one had to contribute something. So, there wasn't complete agreement, and the conclusion many drew was that B-12 was purposely being ambiguous on this point. However, there was no ambiguity with respect to the fact that he could cure his own hangover, radically, totally, completely and absolutely. B-12 spoke very clearly on that point. And, naturally, it became absolutely clear, too, that he would help us solve the issue of the Basque language; but he did warn us, however, that he would tell us what steps we had to take, but that he would not be doing any work, and that we would have to do the work, that was the price we would have to pay.

We said yes, there was no problem, that we were prepared to work and that we were eager to start. OK, he said, then to start with the first thing you need is a literary canon. No, no, no -he cut in, when he thought some of us wanted to say something-, I'm only talking about linguistics or grammar on a second, third or even fourth level. A very literary canon. Works. Books. And then just when B-12 said that we needed a canon, we began to recall Kolko Mitxoleta, because he was the man among us who knew all about sociolinguistics, philately, mathematics, sumo, construction, philology, apiculture, psychology, cinema, Latin, enology, science, literature, numismatics etc., in other words, the one who knew everything including, for example, what a canon was. Oh, dear!, we said, Kolko Mitxoleta will know what a canon is and what it is for, but he is lost in the Amazon, being looked after by some elite lady teachers and all he says is "cunt, a show, cunt". Oh, dear! But B-12 did not take pity on us at all; we were to start by looking for the canon and then we would talk, those were his exact words.

On the other hand, it is easy to understand the tremendous joy and hope that B-12's appearance and revelations aroused; and, understanding that, it is even easier to understand -B-12, included- why we went to the cider press for dinner and after that had a night out. And we had a tremendous time, like never before, and postponed the commencement of the search for a canon until the next day, certainly until later; and we drank for hours on end as well, especially as we thought we were going to try B-12's medicine and that we would not have a hangover (because, let it be said between us that the hangover is the worst consequence of drinking). And that way, the following morning, when we were in a dreadful state, we met together and went in search of B-12 believing that he would at that moment explain the mystery of the medicine to take away hangovers. Our need was great and to say that we were desperate would be an understatement.

But when we least expected it B-12 began with ifs and buts and excuses. Maybe we wouldn't like the medicine, it could have side effects, it demanded rather tough preparations from each one of us. We didn't understand anything and but we could see that B-12 was as fresh as a spring daisy. Well B, said some of us -because, after the night out, and because we had begun to regard B-12 as a new member, some decided to call him "B" for short and to achieve a kind of familiarity, and to live up to our worldwide fame for giving people nicknames (you understand, we called him "B" instead of B-12)- and this is how they addressed him: "B, you haven't got a hangover, so you've taken the potion, haven't you?" (We said "potion", because, for some reason or another, we all thought it was a potion). B-12 hesitantly said he had., he said at first, whereas later, that he hadn't. and then he had, but he hadn't.because., maybe you won't like it., it's very personal. But our dry mouths, our livers which weren't capable of processing even water, our thick heads, our swollen bladders, were in no position to put up with B-12's vacillations, his doubts and his timid refusals, and then we began to shout at him for the potion by mustering all the remaining strength, which wasn't much, of our damaged, punctured neurones.

Then having appeared to take a decision and having changed his attitude B-12 silenced us and spoke to us clearly. All right, he said, if that's what you want. But it must be made absolutely clear that you have asked me. The potion is inside me, he said. I am the potion. You have to get it out of here, and as he spoke he pointed to a lump between the two legs of his green body, which we had not noticed until that moment.

On hearing that you could've heard a pin drop, so complete was the silence amongst us.

In other words you've got to suck if from me, he said loudly and clearly.

Not one of us uttered a single word.

You have to suck, lick, gulp, sip, lap, swig, swill, wash down, knock back, imbibe, quaff, drain it B-12 went on, so that it became obvious to us that he wanted us all to understand properly.

But the silence among us broken by no one demonstrated to us that the problem had nothing to do with the diatopic or diachronic variants of Basque, nor with an unfortunate isogloss erasing due to the pressure exerted by a foreign language, nor with the loss of the Basque vowel system, nor with a manifestation of self-hate, nor with the so many times debated and almost metaphysical dilemma of the subject.

× Jon Alonso

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