English [The Lost Music]
She was a child of war.
She knew she was a child of war because all the landscapes she carried around in her memory were of ruins and destruction. At night, in the dark, curled up in any corner she could find, she confusedly felt the distress of war churning murkily inside her, clutching at her neck, vainly poking and jabbing to banish the haze that enveloped what her life had been, but this could not be dispersed because she intuited that the shadows that fitfully staggered around in the mists beneath her memories were full of pain.
In order to foil the threat of her earlier memories, she clung to the few she had from the present: shots, explosions, frights, running here and there, cold and hunger. All her life, all her story, now, was nothing other than shots, explosions, frights, running here and there, cold and hunger: she was a child of war. And that, too, was why she fled.
She wasn't fleeing anywhere because wherever she turned she found devastation and death. In an inmost recess of herself, she also bore the images of the devastation and death of her family but she didn't let them rise into conscious memory. She pushed them down, down, to the most recondite crannies of her soul. And when, like an unexpected sob, tatters of unwanted recall rose to her memory, a strange melody came to her aid, from some crevice of her consciousness where it, too, was hidden. The music, like a beneficent and refreshing gust of air in the corrosive heat of searing remembrance, echoed powerfully in the child's head and cast out everything she wanted to forget.
Now-I-fall-now-I'm-on-my-feet-again, she lived like a wild animal. Famished and elusive, she hid from other people, trying wherever she could to gather a few crumbs to eat, settling down to rest in any out-of-the-way and lonely corner when tiredness overcame her.
One night the circus came with its caravans.
A violent storm had agitated the whole evening and she had run in all the downpour and lightning until she found a cave on the outskirts of town and this provided precarious shelter while the rain continued to fall. When, late that night, the weather cleared, she wandered off aimlessly, soaked through, chilled to the bone and ravenous. Through the darkness she glimpsed a few tenuous lights in the distance and set off in their direction. Where there was light there were people and where there were people there was food to steal.
There was no moon and, though the worst of the storm was over, the sky was still dripping. It was all darkness and only the steady trickle of rain broke the silence. When she reached the wretched circus camp everyone was trustingly asleep because this wasn't a night for the planes to be up. Around the remains of a fire, the child of war gleaned only a few odd bits of rind from a watermelon that the circus people had found in a devastated garden and that they must have smashed against the ground so they could share it.
The fragments of watermelon were scraped down to the rind but the girl, scouring a little more, took a few last crumbs while she shuffled around in the ashes trying to find some warmth for her bare, frozen and painful feet.
When she had gnawed all she could from the watermelon leftovers, the child of war suddenly felt very tired. She couldn't lie down by what was left of the fire because they’d see her there. With the biggest piece of watermelon rind that she had just picked clean still in her hands, she went over to one of the trailers and, there in the darkness, divined that on the other side of the bars there was a pile of straw. She groped at the bars until she found the catch and opened it. She climbed on to the tow bar and remained there immobile for a few moments listening attentively. She couldn't hear any suspicious noises and so crept over to the straw where she abandoned herself to sleep.
So exhausted was the child of war that she had no idea that she had gone into the lion's cage. She avidly curled up in the straw. She didn’t even hear the faint click of the catch on the barred door when it closed.
Some hours earlier, when the cage had begun to rock, the lion, whose sleep had become ever-lighter with age, had woken up.
He opened his eyes at the first judder and, in the darkness, sensed that someone had invaded his space and was now occupying some of his bed of straw. It was a female human cub.
The calm breathing and deep sleep of the child, the smell of helplessness given off by her yielding body, gave the animal to understand that he had nothing to fear from this intruder. On the contrary. He moved closer to offer her some of his warmth and, skin to skin, he too closed his eyes and went placidly back to sleep.
Dawn in the forest found the lion and the girl fast asleep, side by side. Heaven knows how long it had been since the child had slept so serenely. She woke up rubbing her dirty cheek against the rough hide of the lion's flank.
At first she took fright. On raising her head and seeing the animal, she leapt away in terror. And in her immense fear she backed away until she hit the bars. She was noiselessly panting. She was all of a tremble. She could almost feel the shock of the enormous body of the lion leaping upon her, its claws tearing her clothes and her skin, opening up her body.
But the peaceful demeanour of the lion that mildly turned to look at her with the same placidity as he looked at the straw around him or the heavy leaden sky beyond the bars, gave no hint of any intention to attack her.
The lion stared lengthily, steadily at her, not moving a muscle. Then he swished his tail from one side of his body to the other as if to scare off some non-existent fly, stuck out a hand's-width of tongue to lick the fleshless surrounds of his mouth, yawned and then, half closing his eyes, lowered his head. It was as if he had said, "I don't mind if you stay here with me".
(Fragment of La música perduda, 2006)
Translated from the Catalan by Julie Wark ©