The main character of this singular story wants to sensitise himself in order to discover the essence of silence and compose a musical piece in homage to John Cage’s soundless and canonical composition 4′33″. The problem is that the world around us is a bit noisy and very unjust
Muertos, ¿qué muertos?
As the train crossed the border they understood they would not be returning.
Mariela slept between them.
They knew that Pedro was waiting for them at the station and would put them up in his home.
— Best not to think—Juan Diego Albarracin said to himself. He was on holiday and would use the time to compose music.
He packed his bags, folding T-shirts several times over to make them smaller and doing the same with his pants and shorts. He put his sandals into a plastic bag. He checked he had everything he needed, found another case for the computer, iPod and all the other electronic bits.
He opened the boot of the car, fitting the cases inside, then went to rest before his departure. He would leave at dawn to avoid traffic.
The journey was a few hours’ pleasure. He went into the house, wandered through the kitchen, the bedrooms and went to sleep.
On waking, the August sunlight invaded the rooms, filtering through gaps in the doors and windows. Heat made the stone walls and patio tiles burn. His knees were wet and his hands sweated.
Every summer this happened, (and it happened every summer), he became restless. “Creative anxiety”, Pepita had told him once. He called it meteorological suffocation. He envied the sleeping cats lying in corners hiding out of the sun.
He was sitting in the dark patio where the smell of damp penetrated slowly, first through the nose and then surreptitiously into the bones. He wanted to compose a homage to John Cage, to the 4’33» concert of total silence. He smiled with exaggerated self-satisfaction. He counted the seconds in silence, closing his eyes so as not to be distracted. 1,2,3… until he reached sixty seconds. He repeated the 1,2,3… when he got to one hundred and twenty he didn’t stop but went on until one hundred and eighty then decided to divide them by sixty and it gave him exactly three minutes but on stopping he lost the rhythm and had to start again. This time he was annoyed as he stopped longer than necessary between the eighteenth and nineteenth second.
He tapped the table with his closed fist. He needed someone to control his silence in silence. He needed silence to be able to discover its significance and turn it into sound.
Who could help him? He went through the possibilities coming down to three: Juan, Francisca or Pepita. Juan was all nerves. Francisca would laugh, thinking it ridiculous. That left Pepita who had been the girlfriend of his adolescent summers. Pepita the ugly.
Juan Diego liked her eyes moist with laughter, the disproportionate size of her nose and her lips as moist as her eyes. Pepita boasted arrogantly that in France you gave two kisses, one on each cheek, when you met.
—French hello—she said with pleasure. She was the perfect person to sit at his side in silence for four minutes, thirty-three seconds.
He rang her and invited her to lunch on Sunday.
Pepita came in a Sunday dress. A masculine blue suit and a very wide-brimmed straw hat to protect her from the summer storm that had been forecast. The restaurant La Farsa was under the arches of the main street and they went in and sat down next to the window looking onto the street. They didn’t talk about the transformation of the village, she was happy, he was indifferent.
—Pepita—Juan Diego said suddenly.
She was surprised to hear her name,
—I need to ask you a favour.
—Money or sex? –she asked sarcastically. I haven’t got the first and I’d have to think about the second, although I still like you. Even then I think I’d say no.
—I want you to sit next to me with a chronometer. I’ll be silent for four minutes and thirty- three seconds. You’ll keep time marking each second.
—I want to sensitise myself in order to discover the essence of silence and compose a musical piece in homage to John Cage. I need to meditate without interruption for four minutes and thirty-three seconds.
—How many times?
—I don’t know. Let’s put it this way. Imagine an alchemist repeating the same actions over again until the material he is handling turns to gold.
Little hiccup movements crept over Pepita’s lips until she could contain her laughter no longer and said:
—The meaning of silence is subordinate to the circumstances in which it is produced. It’s the absence of noise. It can express different experiences. If they claim a minute’s silence from you for the death of someone, it’s in order to interrupt the dynamic of life and enter a place of pain. On the other hand, you can get inside the pleasure of silence after making love.
Juan Diego felt misunderstood.
—Will you do it or not?
—It would be useless.
They left the restaurant separated by silence taking refuge under umbrellas to avoid the summer storm.
A young African woman came after them, her face swollen from crying and a baby in her arms. She walked beside them while urgently trying to communicate something to them in a faltering voice which they couldn’t decipher.
Disconcerted, they looked at the sleeping baby and stood one on either side of her to protect her.
—What’s the matter?
They went through all the possibilities.
She had got here after an endless journey that took her through several continents; she’s in this country illegally; if immigration discovers her they’ll put her on a plane and take her back to her country. Which country?
Maybe she had fallen into the hands of a group of human traffickers who had pushed her into prostitution or had exploited her in sweatshops; maybe she had been used as a mule by drug smugglers and had escaped and was now abandoned to fate. Maybe she was innocent and afraid of the future.
—Help me—she said with certain clarity. –They are after me.
—Who? –asked Pepita.
As they rounded the corner…
—There they are—she shouted, giving the baby to Pepita and starting to run under the rain.
Before they could react she was lost behind a curtain of water. In the distance they could make out the silhouettes of two men who forced her into a car. They heard shouts and the roar of the engine before the car disappeared.
—We’ve got to give the baby back.
—Who to? It’s mine now! –said Pepita.
—What are you saying?
—That it’s mine or rather ours.
—Not mine. Let’s leave it in the hospital.
—How are we going to explain? A woman followed us and left her baby in my arms and ran off; we saw her put forcibly inside an unidentified car and disappear. Nobody’s going to believe us.
—I don’t know.
—Are you frightened the baby will interrupt your silence?
She held the baby tightly as they looked around for a witness to come to their aid but the streets were deserted.
—We could go to the police.
—Don’t you understand? They’ll ask us the names of our grandparents, they won’t believe a word. Police are extremely good at stirring shit. They’ll interrogate us to find out what we’ve done to the mother of the baby. Where is she? We can’t tell them she disappeared into a car. They’ll want to know the car’s colour, the make, the number plate, how many men forced her into the car, what they were wearing, if they were in uniform or civilian clothes. Our descriptions are bound to be contradictory and we’ll get into a real mess. Who will believe us? As I said, we’ve got to find a witness if you want to get rid of the baby, someone who saw it all and will give us an alibi.
—Look, there isn’t anybody around. Let’s leave it and get out of here.
—Enough of your silences, leave me alone, I’ll sort this out myself.
—Don’t be an idiot, we’re in this together whether we like it or not.
The baby was crying.
They found an on duty chemist.
The employee didn’t trust them. What were they doing with a black baby?
—What’s the baby’s name? –asked the chemist.
—Pedro—said Pepita unaware of the pink blanket covering the baby.
—Oh. I thought it was a girl –said the chemist.
Back at Pepita’s house they christened her Mariela.
The chemist telephoned the police to let them know that a young couple were acting suspiciously. They had bought basic baby care items. The policeman on duty listened and wrote in his note book with the neutrality of someone who has lost the ability to be astonished.
—And what do you suspect them of doing?
—I don’t know.
—Thank you—said the policeman, ending the conversation.
The inspector was furious. He’d lost the daughter of the arrested immigrant. The orders to act with discretion were now in jeopardy. It was important to avoid any negative publicity and to expel them discreetly.
“The chemist has given us a lead, they sold things to a couple with a baby of African origin. Could it be our baby?” the inspector asked himself.
From offices inside the police station one could hear the African woman murmuring in French while she hit herself against the walls and wept with her entire body. When she had calmed down they made her share a cell with two men who had just been arrested.
The inspector was organising a group of plain-clothes police to look for the baby when they heard shouts and punches coming from the cell and saw the two young men attacking her ferociously. She was lying on the floor, covering her face with her arms, they were kicking her indiscriminately all over her body. On hearing the guards’ footsteps they went back to a corner of the cell.
—What have you done?
—We’ve killed her.
—What? You’re mad! Why did you do that?
—They come here to rob us, prostitute themselves. We thought we’d teach her a lesson—said one of them. We don’t want this type of person in our country.
—You are a pair of assassins.
—People like her don’t deserve to live.
In desperation, the inspector sent them to another police station while he decided how to get rid of the victim’s body.
How was he going to explain the death in his custody without raising suspicions of police brutality? Without being accused by the opposition press of using violent methods to control immigration?
—Shit, this had to happen to me!
Juan Diego and Pepita fed Mariela and discussed how to get her off their hands and resolve the mystery of the abducted woman. They decided he would go to the police station to declare the disappearance of the woman and then she would take the baby to the hospital.
Juan Diego went to the police station.
—Juan Diego Albarracin.
—How can I help you?
Surprised, the policeman on duty soon realised that hiding the crime was going to be more complicated than he’d hoped. They hadn’t thought anyone had seen them kidnap her. They were mistaken because there on the other side of the counter was a man reporting the kidnap.
—Sorry. Are you accusing the police of kidnapping a woman?
—No, I’m not sure who did it, I just saw two men snatch her off the street and disappear before I could react.
The officer left him without answering. He pretended to busy himself with other things, going in and out of the office several times, ignoring him.
Between comings and goings, Juan glimpsed the woman’s body on the floor of the corridor.
—That’s her! –he said.
—Her, the woman over there lying on the floor.
The policeman misunderstood and went out again. A bit later he came back.
—Now where were we?
—With the body in the passage.
—I don’t understand. There’s nothing in the passage.
—But I saw her.
—Look, you’re sure you saw her being kidnapped and yet you can’t describe anything, you don’t know the make or even the colour of the car and now you say she’s in the passage. Come and check, there is nothing there. I think you’re having hallucinations… –he smiled as he opened the door.
He looked out and the corridor was empty. He discovered a scrap of material from the dress she’d been wearing and hid it in his pocket.
—The baby had… —he tried to say.
—I think you are exhausted –he said contemptuously—as you have just confirmed we don’t have anyone here. Now please go, you’re wasting my time.
Juan Diego squeezed the piece of material he’d picked up and left the police station.
“Shit silence”, he thought on his way back to Pepita’s house.
—I saw her lying on the floor; then they made her disappear but not altogether, they forgot to hide a piece of material from her dress which I’ve got here—he said opening his hand and showing it to Pepita who listened terrified.
—They killed her?
—They’ve got all your details.
Mariela slept. Exhausted, they sat on the sofa in front of the television. A newsreader read a mixture of information and daily disasters without interruption.
-Latest news: “This morning the bodies of two young drug addicts were found shot, possibly by drug dealers. The body of an illegal immigrant was also found at the house. It is suspected the young men assassinated the woman after a fight. The nature of the confrontation cannot be determined until further investigations.”
Mario Flecha’s new collection of Short stories, Anastasia’s Toes has just been published by El Ojo de la Cultura.