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Xabier Etxeberria Garro > Extracts

Narrative (short story and novel)

Fancy a coffee tonight? |

He starts having lunch just after three. His shift ends at two thirty, in theory, but the afternoon shift always arrives late. The excuse given is work. As if he didn't have things to do, too. But he never dares to say anything and is always stuck there in that hole until about a quarter to. He gets home famished. Just as well his mother has his lunch ready for him by that time. Just needs heating up. The advantages of living with one's parents.

Today he gets home particularly ravenous and gobbles up rather than eats what has been prepared for him. Nothing special today, despite the fact that it is his birthday.
Purée of vegetables followed by steak and chips. A banana for dessert. They will celebrate it properly on Saturday with a big lunch.

His mother is in the kitchen loading the washing machine and when she sees him devouring what's on his plate, asks why don't you take a proper elevenses rather than come home starving. Tasio tells her that the chocolate pastry he has around eleven usually keeps him going, but today has been a bad day, as they've had to spend the whole time going up and down the stairs. Really? Says his mother, but, even though she is full of curiosity, she does not press the point. Tasio keeps a record of every trip he makes in the ambulance, but even so, he doesn't like talking about what has happened afterwards.

Today they had to go to a grandmother with breathing problems. When they arrived she was half suffocated. In the nick of time. It was no joke. We took Felixa to Donostia, says Tasio. Felixa. Felixa who? The one in the shop? asks his mother. There is no doubt she is as much surprised at the fact that a seventy-six year-old widow in the next street is ill, as she is that her son should talk about it.

He goes on to tell her that by the time they arrived she was in a very bad way and that they had to bring her down in a hurry and get going quickly. She was given oxygen. She was apparently very nervous in the ambulance and Tasio tried to calm her down by talking to her about silly things, like the weather and goings on in the neighbourhood. She looked like a tadpole out of a pond, he says, helplessly opening and opening her mouth the whole time.

But he regrets it the moment he has said it. Do you find it funny? He reproaches himself angrily. No, it's no laughing matter. No, it's not that, he says. The thing is he is getting used to seeing suffering. Getting used to it. But that has saddened him more than anything else. Because it's really sad. Soon I won't care a damn, he is shocked. And he spends the last few minutes eating his lunch in silence, caught up in dark thoughts. How wretched we are!

By four o'clock he has to snap out of it. The school kids who come for mathematics coaching knock on the door at that time. Three come until five o'clock and another three come from five to six. A girl studying in the sixth form comes at seven, but only on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

It's not much, but it does at least provide a bit of extra cash. Enough to have a night or two out at the weekend without having to ask his parents for pocket money.

Asking for pocket money would be simply too much for him. And his morale is pretty low anyway. He finished his degree in Business Studies two years ago and has been looking for a job since. He has sent CVs all over the place. He's pretty despondent already. Everywhere they demand a level that he does not have. At least a year's experience. English. French. German (will be an asset). Nevertheless, he goes on looking at the job offers in the paper every Sunday. Even though he would prefer to look at the death announcements.

But that is the situation for everyone. It's difficult. That is what his mother keeps saying. When she sees her son putting his hands in his pockets, she grumbles saying things are difficult, Tasio, it'll be difficult to find a job until you've done your wretched military service.

That is why he is giving private classes in the meantime. He has never been that keen on maths, but he has to do something. At his age and unemployed he can't afford to mess around.

Besides, the work isn't that bad. They are nice kids apart from the occasional bastard from time to time. Some are bit thick. For most of them their only problem is that they are too lazy even to pick up a pencil. Spoilt. Even though they try to hide their idleness behind pseudo-philosophical arguments. And what use maths is going to be in my life.

With one thing and another he is quite tired by the time six comes around. What a struggle trying to get them to do a simple equation properly. By this time he always ends up converted into one of Herod's most devoted worshippers. He is absolutely convinced that a good thrashing would be extremely beneficial for educating certain kids.

He does not, however, have long to wind down. At six-thirty he goes to English. On Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Today is Wednesday. So, until seven-thirty he is occupied learning `to be or not to be' and similar irregular-existential verbs. Carefully repeating the exercises, which are always similar. If I had one thousand pounds ez nengoke hemen, the phone started ringing when dutxan kantari nintzenean eta horrelakoak. Very interesting. 1

He does not feel like doing a thing by the time he gets home. But he has arranged to play rackets with a guy in his circle of friends. Shit. Bloody rackets! He's angry, right now he'd rather start moving the bandstand in the square that go and play rackets.

Anyhow he is in luck. Because that friend, Anartz, phones to say he won't be going. They've had a hard day at the factory, he's put his back out polishing metal crates the whole afternoon and anyhow when he looked out of the window just now, it looked as if it had begun to drizzle. Thank you, Our Lady of Arantzazu.

-Hey, fancy going out for a coffee tonight?

-Uffà tonight? I don't know, Anartz.

-You don't know = You don't want to.

-I've got to be up early tomorrow.

-So have I!



-Bloody hell, Tasio, it's your birthday!

-That's why.

And he won't budge. Because he doesn't feel like going out tonight. What for? They'll have to start telling each other about their woes. It'll be so depressing. Anartz will remind him pessimistically about still not having a girlfriend at 27. Because his friend has a knack of seeing everything black. He has had a negative outlook all his life. But even more so recently. Tasio thinks it's because of his job, because they make them put in too much overtime at the factory, and he comes out knackered, feeling he's fallen into a trap for the rest of his life. And Tasio doesn't want to get mixed up in all that, even though he can identify more and more closely with the words of his friend when he says it's all shit. And to crown it all, look at my receding hair, Tasio, I'm going bald.

No, no, better stay at home. He will go out on Friday and treat his friends to some drinks. So that they can drink to him, get sloshed, and go back home happy thinking they've had a great time. Tonight, it's better to take refuge in the routine and have a quiet evening at home. That's it. Just like any other day. Do the English homework, have an early dinner, watch a bit of telly. And all at once he turns serious as if trying to remember. Isn't it tonight the ETB is transmitting the Athletic Bilbao football match?

1 In english in original.
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