Two short stories
(in Olaziregi, M.J. (comp.) An Anthology of Basque Short Stories, Center for Basque Studies, 2004)
(Translated by Amaia Gabantxo)
Maria and Jose
Maria's first husband broke her heart, the second broke her teeth, and the third broke her new car.
Jose's first wife stole his heart, and the second all the money in his bank account.
When Maria met Jose, everything she had was in pieces.
When Jose met Maria, he had nothing.
When Jose came to Maria and asked, Maria offered him a place to sleep. For one night.
A month later they were sleeping in the same bed.
They didn't boss each other around.
They didn't talk about the future.
They never mentioned love.
Jose started working as a car mechanic. He would arrive at Maria's house with his hands covered in oil. She would wash them very carefully with a special soap. She didn't want him to stain the sheets.
Once they brought a car to the garage that had been almost totally wrecked in a crash.
"If you can fix it it's yours," said Jose's boss.
And he worked for an extra hour every day until he fixed it. Maria didn't ask him any questions. Jose didn't say anything, even if every night when he returned the dinner on the table was cold.
"Look Maria," screamed Jose as he started the car. Maria was frightened. She had never seen Jose happy.
"I'll take you to see the sea if you want!" he shouted from the street.
And Maria answered yes.
On the way to the sea, Maria thought that living with a man who won't break your things comes close to happiness. When they reached the coastline, Jose began to think that finding a woman who won't steal your things is enough to make you happy.
Without leaving the car, without saying a word, they kissed.
For the first time.
The Red Shawl
Because she never found anything other than bills and advertising flyers in her post box that pink envelope surprised her enormously. After looking carefully at the front and the back of the envelope (more than once she had got excited about post and then realized it was for one of her neighbors), she noticed it carried no name. Neither name nor address, and that surprised her even more. But she was dumbstruck when, even before reaching the elevator (she was too curious to wait until she got home), she tore the envelope open and read what was inside.
Three words only. In very neat hand writing, well thought out, exactly in the middle of the page: "I love you". No signature, no stamp, nothing. Those three words, next to one another. She read them half a dozen times and thought, at the same time, how seldom she'd heard them. Following that thought through, she decided someone must have put the letter in the wrong post box and went to bed.
She did remember it the day after, but she mostly thought how lucky the intended recipient of the letter was. Until she found a second one in the same post box – her own.
Another pink envelope. And again with no name or address, but this time there was a slightly longer message inside: "For every passing day I love you more". This second letter wasn't enough. Humans are the only animals that trip over the same stone twice, as the Spanish saying goes, and she went home thinking that the nameless lover had stumbled again. But she didn't stop thinking about it until she fell sleep. 'Why not?' she asked herself. 'Why shouldn't someone fall in love with me?' The thought brought a smile to her face, which intensified the faint lines on it, but she awoke with the first light of day in a very good mood.
Two days later she received the third: 'Don't get nervous. You know who I am. A smile would be enough'. And what if it were true? What if someone, somewhere, was truly taken by her? If he'd at least given her a small clue... She made a mental list of all the men she knew and she couldn't imagine any of them sending anonymous letters. Joakin, the butcher, liked her, he treated her very well every time she went in to buy ribs, but she couldn't for a minute see him using pink envelopes. Don Ramon, well... the thought of it! She'd been his secretary for twenty-two years now and in all that time he had never directed one sweet word to her – to think that he might start with such nonsense at this stage! Surely it couldn't be him! That would be terrible! Now, that was a silly thought...
And who said it ought to be a man? What if it was a woman? That would make sense. Of course, that was why she didn't dare tell her directly! Just thinking of it sent shivers up her spine, so she decided to drop the subject there and then and go to sleep.
The next one arrived before the end of the week, with this peculiar request: "If you want to know who I am, wear a red shawl across your shoulders". A red shawl! Where would she get a red shawl from? Well, I never, what cheek! It seemed like a crazy thing to do, but she decided that just this once – well, the whole thing was so strange – she'd go up and ask Rosa Mari, her new neighbour.
"I'm really sorry, this is very forward of me, but... would you by any chance have a red shawl I could borrow...? There's this meeting I have to go to tomorrow..."
Rosa Mari was delighted to lend her a shawl. Of course she could have it and no, it was no bother at all, and in fact, did she know what? She was giving it to her as a present, what the hell. She was tired of that shawl... "And if you ever need anything else, feel free to ask away - what else are friends for?"
That night she hardly slept. She spent the night lost in a sea of dreams, waking up with a start from most of them. She couldn't really see herself wearing the red shawl, but the truth was, if that's what it took to meet her mysterious anonymous letter-writer, she would just put it on and go out.
And that's what she did. She selected the clothes that would complement the shawl best and out she went, feeling terribly glamorous. She didn't feel so glamorous on her return. All through the day she looked everywhere. She walked slowly and took detours in every direction, more than ever, on her way to work and back, but no one approached her. By that evening the day that had started so promisingly had quite depressed her.
The day after she opened her post box in a flurry of excitement after noticing the pink envelope from the outside, and read: "Why did you lend your wonderful red shawl to that granny? Should I take this as a definite 'no'?"
Š An Anthology of Basque Short Stories: Center for Basque Studies