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Euskal Idazleen Elkartea

Juan Luis Goikoetxea Arrieta > Extracts

Narrative (short story and novel)

The dove |

Interrupting its cooing, the white dove takes the skilful hunter by surprise as it makes its escape from the hillside oak grove. The man silently draws breath as it quickly hits the thick leaves. It gradually opens up the smooth air of the blue sky with its eager flight. Like a jet plane taking off. High up in the sky it gently circles searching the copse intently.

Where are you off to, hunter?
Only four
ailing birds
and nothing else
in the sky.

Crouching down among the sturdy branches the hunter surveys it. He moves with measured steps across the spongy moss. He clutches his gun firmly this time. “Not all birds will be as lucky as that noisy thing. One in freedom…, a hundred on my belt. If only I could find the same bird twice!”

Through a square gap afforded by the clouds, the sun shines warmly on the verdant fields. The dove soars higher and higher. How effortlessly the white dove flies towards the light! Fluffy clouds prevent the white dove seeing where it goes. They did so yesterday, too. Today, at the top of a huge oak, it has raised its head from under its wing. Our dove does not know it is in lands that human beings have civilised.

Bending low the hunter creeps from one shady spot to another. He finds cover on the edge of the wood. He hides under the pine trees. The distance has made the white bird relax. Birds rest flying, and horses standing. It knows where the rifleman has hidden.

“I’m not afraid of him now. If he could for an instant see what I can see high up in the sky, he would not try to kill me. I shall flee in order to forget this land.”

Flying harder, it soars even higher. It takes advantage of the wind.

The approaching winter is driving it southwards. Its intelligent instinct tells it where to go. It is ready. Its muscles are warmed up. It flies in a tight flying formation. Off it goes. But it is not to be. Once again it circles. It cannot go on. Or turn back. The clear sky has misted over. It has closed the window on the sun. The dove’s misty eyes are gloomy. The green copse is grey. The different colours have paled. The dove is almost cloud, a scrap of cloud, but it is flying in circles.

People yearn for greater happiness
from one year to the next,
there is always something else
above the clouds.

Large clouds come in groups. As they spread, they thicken. The trees grow higher. The drops hanging over the bird’s head weigh heavily. So it has to come lower. One cloud after another at ground level washes over it. It flies in a worried fashion.

The hunter’s facial expression softens. From time to time a grin spreads across his hard mouth. Do you think he can see the dove?

“You can’t see him when it’s like this. You don’t know whether he can pick you out. He’ll be hidden from you in a protected place under the pines or the bushes. Has he caught sight of me? One is desperately worried, the one who belongs to darkness worries the one who belongs to light.”

“They’re on their way! A flock of doves. Now, it isn’t just one. I’ll load my shotgun with special cartridges. Five in all. I’ve released the safety catch. My beloved daughter will certainly be very happy with all these birds!”

They come to us every year
on their honeymoon
to remake last year’s nest
by weaving it with their beaks.
Hen and cock together
are grateful for our affection,
or perhaps for our children’s joy,
for their colour and cheeping.

They look like this year’s chicks. They are heading straight for the pine forest abattoir. The sound of flapping reaches you all the way there. Artze(1) with his “txalaparta”. Laboa(2) in the bombing of Gernika.

They approach him in long lines of six. They believe that the law of wild animals is the one that counts in nature. And that coppices provide life, nesting and breath.

All the hunter needs to do is be on the lookout. He wants them as close to him as possible. “They will soon appear in the pupils of my eyes!”

The white dove has also noticed the cooing of its happy family members.

“The little groups, two, six, ten, good heavens! What a beautiful flock! Here come our young ones! Flapping their wings, daring, hot-blooded, always moving ahead. Changing place, the one in front ahead, and the one below, fooling around in the group. Collaborating with and helping each other on the long flights. It is sweet to remember one’s youth!”

No leaves fall
in spring,
nor stars
in broad daylight.

There is no day without night
on earth,
nor day without accident
along the way.

Gold does not lose
its shine,
nor mothers
their children.

No water remains where it is
in the river,
nor tears stay where they are
in eyes.

No dove is lost
along the way,
yet maybe
one is.

But at this point the wet drops of the stubborn drizzle wake it up. Look! It is making a sharp turn to escape. The young ones are following about a hundred metres away. The white dove swiftly heads for the pine forest, where the hunter is hiding. It has positioned itself at the very top of the tree in front of the hunter. It is cooing with deep apprehension; the hunter is staring at it. The man is staring at it through the black barrel of the gun in front of him.

”After taking numerous shortcuts I have come
to the point where something and nothing meet,
to incorporate death into interrupted life
at the starting point which is the finishing line.”

“How long it takes to shoot! Is that machine perhaps so difficult? The hunter is probably after the youngsters in the flock”.

“It’s you, the same one as before! I shall not miss you, you guardian angel of birds. I shall kill you all! Starting with you!”

He empties the automatic “murderer” (3). Two shots aimed at the treetop. Three have broken the shoots and destroyed the leaves. The rain of wet feathers falls on him. Oh!

A smile breaks across his face. Over an area of three metres appears feathered down. The hunter goes off singing, his shotgun over his shoulder. The young flock flies away frightened, learning. This robin redbreast is dumbstruck. The blackbird is the witness.

The dove would like to know
why he and not the eagle
has been made
the symbol of peace.

(1) Joxean Artze revived the Basque “Txalaparta” (consisting of wooden planks struck by short wooden sticks) as a percussion instrument around the 1960s.
(2) The Basque folk singer/songwriter wrote an orchestral piece entitled “Gernika”, which calls to mind the bombing of the town during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939).
(3) In English in the original.

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