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Mariasun Landa Etxebeste > Extracts

Narrative (short story and novel)

2002 | Alberdania

Crocodile under the Bed

The following day J.J. made his way to the health centre in a deep state of anxiety. He had never liked doctors, he had always managed not to have anything to do with them, but in that situation he had no alternative but to reveal his Great Secret to professional ears. He needed someone accustomed to anything, engineers who barked as well as civil servants who lived with crocodiles. He felt embarrassment and fear, in dire need of taking the toughest of measures, but at the same time an irresistible temptation to take to his heels. Considering the mood he was in, he didn't mind being patient number 27 in the queue. 26 health problems ahead of his and the prospect that they could take the whole morning meant he had time to chicken out and come back another day. Doctor Fastlane would very likely be exhausted and give him an appointment for the next day. An old lady with a face as wrinkled as a raisin sat down next to him.

-What number are you? -she asked him, as she showed J.J. her own, which was number 33-. Twenty-seven? Oh, they'll be calling you any minute now! The doctor hasn't got that surname for nothing!

And the little old lady grinned at him like a rabbit showing her whiter than white false teeth.

Right then a slovenly figure crossed the waiting room and began taking off his jacket as soon as he had opened the door to his surgery.

-That's Doctor Fastlane! -the little old lady informed him politely.

By the time the presentation had been made, all the patients had started passing through the doctor's surgery one after the other. They were proceeding extremely quickly and that not only raised J.J.'s suspicions, but caused him sudden paralysis.

-It's your turn! That's your number! -number 33 told him a moment later.

J.J. got to his feet like an automaton. What was he going to tell the doctor? What would the doctor think of him? How was he going to explainą?

-What's the problem?

Doctor Fastlane, clad in a white coat with the buttons undone, stood behind his desk, tense, like a banderillero who is going to thrust the banderillas in the bull's neck. Deep down inside J.J. was grateful for the speed which required that the doctor should be so surly and precise:

-There's a crocodile under my bed.

The doctor neither batted an eyelid, nor moved to make any notes:

-How big is the crocodile?

-The size of a large suitcase.

-What colour?

-Brownish-grey.

-Does it move?

-No, it doesn't. All it does is eat.

- What does it eat?

-Shoes.

-At that moment there was silence for a second time and J.J. breathed, as if he had reached the finishing post after running an exhausting, difficult race.

-Well, take this: CROCODIPHEN tablets, one in the morning and one at night; CROCODITRON suppositories, one a day, and CROCODITAMINE effervescent tablets at mealtimes. For two weeks. Next!

J.J. hurriedly snatched all the prescription forms the nurse was filling out and went outside calmer.

-Can I help you, young man?

The pharmacist peered at him over his spectacles, as if he recognised him but was unable to remember his name. J.J. noticed a genuine interest in that ordinary phrase, because he felt wretched and because of what had been happening to him recentlyą

-I've come to collect these prescriptionsą

J.J. politely remained quiet to conceal his agitation while the pharmacist tried to decipher the handwriting on the prescriptionsą

-Yesą, yesą Crocoditron, Crocodiphen, Crocoditamine!

And after reading out the names the pharmacist looked up from the prescriptions expecting J.J. to applaud himą

-These cases of crocodilitis are really and truly unpleasant! -he said, and went to the back of the pharmacy to fetch the medication.

J.J. felt as if a small window had opened up in his heart. Somehow the pharmacist did not attach any importance to his illness. He spoke about "crocodilitis" almost without paying any special attention to it, as if it were an ordinary case of flu, and he had also said it was "unpleasant"; he seemed to be very familiar with the problem.

-Excuse me! -J.J. said to the pharmacist when he reappeared-. If you'll forgive me for asking, do you know of many cases of crocodilitis?

-Cases of crocodilitis? I certainly do!

The pharmacist took off his glasses and turned as if to address an imaginary audience that might have come to listen to his lectureą

-Crocodilitis is a modern disease. Ever since people left the countryside, and their natural way of life, ever since they cut their links with respect to the eternal strengths of life and death, ever since they crowded into the cities and put the fruits of their work and of the sweat of their brows in other people's handsą

J.J. gave a slight cough and glanced at his watch. He thought the pharmacist should shorten his speech and just stick to his jobą

-And you're asking me whether I know any cases of crocodilitis?ą I'm going to tell you one thing, young man: crocodilitis is not one of the worst things that can happen. Believe me! There are cases of arachniditis, for example, which are much more seriousą You knową: spider, web, fly, feeling rapped, pursuedą

J.J.'s face was turning whiter and whiter like a hospital sheetą

-In fact, when you think about it, young man -the pharmacist went on staring at him straight in the eye-, the crocodile is a beautiful reptile, calm, almost sacred I would say. I remember when I was living in Cuba I saw a crocodile farm. There they call them caimansą Can you tell the difference between a caiman and a crocodile?

J.J. didn't know the difference and had to admit that he knew very little about crocodiles and their relatives until he had got caught up in these unfortunate circumstances.

-Well, caimans are bigger, crocodiles are smaller. In Cuba, as I told you earlier, I saw my first crocodile farm. Some were under water, and all you could see were their eyes. Others dozed as they leant against each other, crowded together in the mudą What a beautiful sight! I'm not afraid of crocodiles. But I am afraid of mosquitoes. They are really nasty! They made my arms and legs swell up! A crocodile is beautiful, especially when it goes under water and opens its huge mouthą What's the matter, young man?

Nothing, he had a growing feeling of suffocation inside him, that was all. A sticky, carnivorous plant was swallowing his stomach and was spreading towards his heart and all over his guts.

-The thing is, as I was saying, the crocodile has practically no enemiesą Don't forget that a rifle bullet very often does not affect it! -the pharmacist smiled at J.J. warmly-. Those silly American films have spoilt its image. You know what I'm trying to say, the crocodile going after Captain Hook and all thatą It's disgraceful! For example, did you know that it was a sacred animal in Lower Egypt and that they used to worship it?

-No, I didn'tą -stammered J.J., remembering his flatmate with a boot between its teethą

-The ignorance surrounding the subject nowadays is incomprehensible! You don't know whether your crocodile is an alligator or a caiman, or a marsh crocodile, the crocodylus palustris, or an Indo-Malayan type, the crocodylus porosusą But what's the matter with you, my friend?

The pharmacist interrupted his spiel, because J.J. has collapsed full-length on the floor.

-Good heavens! It was you who asked me! How sensitive you crocodilitis patients are!

The pharmacist fanned him with the prescription forms and J.J. gradually came toą

-I've only got Crocodiphen in stock at the moment. You can start taking the tablets right away and come back again. I'll be only too happy to see you and by then I'll have all the medicationą Come on! Crocodilitis isn't the worst thing you can get, you know, and besidesą

J.J. didn't wait for him to finish his sentence. He snatched the packet of tablets, paid and stumbled his way towards the door.

-Thank you very much for everything! -he blurted out, with what was left of his good manners.
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