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Euskal Idazleen Elkartea

Mikel Taberna Irazoki > Extracts

Narrative (short story and novel)

Susa Txokolatezko dinamita | Txokolatezko dinamita

Chocolate Dynamite

On the way home, a car appeared on the road from Irun. With the window wound down some youths began shouting "Viva la República"1", and waving a red flag. We stood staring at them in wonder. They switched the car engine off on the square by the bar entrance. There were four of them and they did not care for priests. Father Fermin gathered up his cassock and flew down the stairs of his house gasping when one of them fired into the air with his pistol. "Clear off, you filthy old crow!" he told the priest, and those who came out of the bar with glasses in their hands were splitting their sides with laughter. The youths carried on shouting, "Hells bells! We have to defend the Republic! Mueran los fascistas!"2 We kids went up to the car. They started handing out papers and giving us Elgorriaga chocolate. At home I had been told never to accept anything from strangers. I bumped into some overalls and inside them was Balentin from Borda House. He called me over saying, "Come here, Marikarmen! It won't do you any harm." He worked in a large factory and would bring a copy of La Voz de Guipuzcoa under his arm to our house every night when he came for a glass of anisette and brandy, while everyone else played cards. Calvo Sotelo"3 had been assassinated and Balentin was bragging about it. What sort of baldy "4 was that Sotelo guy? "Have some chocolate!" I was told, "Good chocolate!" said the man from Irun, "Red chocolate brought from Irun!" And I took some of what was left and ate it, too.

Bloody chocolate! Tossing and turning, I had a terrible night! It was hot, boiling hot. Enough to melt the snails, said my granddad, when he got back from his daily walk. He had been standing at the wall of the house belonging to the Indiano"5 listening to the news on the radio, the morning bulletin, until they closed the window. "Africa is sizzling!" he said. "Perhaps the fire won't get as far as here!" "Where's Africa?" I asked him. He did not answer and went in search of shade, to spend the morning alone, wondering what the colours of that hell on earth were like. But my mother put my stomach pains down to laziness. She had enough on her hands seeing to all the farm animals, the ones in the stables as well as the ones in the house. She filled three bottles with hot milk from the bucket and packed them into the basket. "Off you go! Move those legs of yours! Fart three times and by the time you get back, all your pains will have disappeared"!

As I went over the bridge I stood looking at the Urrabia. The river was very low but I could see a few trout hoping to catch some sleepy little fly. A flash of blue lightning crossed from one side of the river to the other. That good-looking Martin was also working early enough. Or shitting himself; maybe he was he trying to hide.

My legs had begun to shake when I reached the main road. The long slope by the Tower was full of men, from one end to the other. A thousand men! They were all strangers. Identical in their dark uniforms and red berets. They each had a rifle. There was no one else in the street, but I imagined the eyes of everyone behind all the closed windows in the town. How on earth was I supposed to get past them? They laughed when they saw me. A thousand men laughing at me. And then whistling. I wanted to try and hide the embarrassment all over my body with sweat. My stomach felt as if it were full of pebbles. I put the basket down and ran to my Aunt Mines' house.

I caught her and Sadaba embracing each other. They separated as I went in and, like a burglar, the man left through the door that led out onto the vegetable patch. My aunt wiped her eyes with a handkerchief, most likely to dry her tears. "Well, well... what's the matter girl? Stomach pains? Everyone's down with stomach pains here when you see what's going on out there! Go home right away and tell your mum the war's started! The war has started!"

They sent Julian to pick up the basket I had left and deliver the milk, because he was the eldest brother. He put on his espadrilles and proudly went off to the town, just like on a feast day. He did not reappear until lunchtime. Showing off even more with a packet of cigarettes in his shirt pocket, he said the war against the communists and the people who burnt down the churches had begun. He said the people from Borda House and others who had been making a racket a few days previously were missing from the town. He said they had had to escape via the Ibardin mountain pass. If they were that brave, he wondered why they had disappeared so quickly. He said Pedro Lizaso had asked him whether he would help them, because the soldiers who had come in from Iruñea (Pamplona) needed local people, people who knew the mountain tracks well. Granddad got up from the table without uttering a word.

"Those stomach pains of yours mean something else!" Granny told me. She was lying down on her bed and I would visit her after lunch. She had a bottle of liquor and without letting anyone see, would have a mouthful of it every day when I took it to her. As I kept her secrets, I told her about the chocolate the day before. "The chocolate didn't do you any harm, girl! Even if a man gave it to you! Those stomach pains mean you are becoming a woman!"

Teofilo the musician often played to the old oaks of Zelai, in exchange for the shade they afforded him. Wearing the smart boots he had purchased in Paris, he would quietly play his accordion while the people in the house took their afternoon naps. He had come for the San Fermin feasts in Lesaka, as he did every year, because he had been asked to go and play. Having finished his work there, he came and spent a few days with us. He had left his suitcase there, because the train to Irun had not turned up. He could not go home to Ziburu (Ciboure) until the "goings on" were over, which meant he would have to stay for quite a long time. With a bit of luck he would spend Santiago's Day (July 25) with us. That way we would have music to dance to on the day of our local neighbourhood feasts. I sat down beside him. I have to play a tune to send you to sleep. One I composed. I've called it Mundua arraso erotu zaigu (The world has gone completely mad). And I fell asleep, my head on his shoulder, gazing at those long boots of his.

A fearsome bolt of lightning made a defiant gesture in the sky and as the storm was about to break, the living shadows of the fugitives suddenly stopped in the middle of the beech grove on the border. On the road to Ibardin Don Pio turned round and comprehended the future which was being portrayed by the smoke of the burning books at the socialists' headquarters in Altzate. "We'll have to make a move, Marikarmen, otherwise we'll get soaked!" the lover in my dreams whispered into my ear. The thousand men under Colonel Beorlegi on the slope by the Tower all fired their rifles in unison, the signal to start subduing Gipuzkoa. Inside me the chocolate from the night before exploded like dynamite and the fire of Africa started to emerge from the butterfly under my navel as it made formed two narrow streams underneath my thighs. "Mum, blood!" I started shouting. The rain began to pour down heavily and Teofilo carried me home in his arms.

1 In Spanish in the original: "Long live the Republic" (the Second Spanish Republic 1931-1939).
2 In Spanish in the original: "Death to the Fascists!"
3 Calvo Sotelo, Jose (1893-1936). Right-wing politician murdered on the eve of the Spanish Civil War.
4 Apart from being a surname the Spanish word "calvo" also means "bald".
5A Basque who returns to the Basque Country having made his fortune in South America.

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