Autors i Autores

Pere Calders

2. Anglès


Once I went to Burma to supervise a sales expedition of plaster of Paris.

The trip went quite well, and when I arrived in Yakri, a local kinglet offered me his trusty hospitality. Since there were few European there, that gentleman felt an interest in showing off the brilliance of his court and detained me, making my sojourn longer than I had planned.

So that my Western appearance would not dull the palace etiquette, the monarch gave me a mantle all embroidered with pearls and precious stones, with the condition that I only remove it go to sleep.

The royal apartments in those countries are a kind of park, where animals and people live in common, keeping certain distances. There is a great quantity of birds, garden elephants, felines, sacred and profane tortoises, seasonal insects, and others animals, so rare that they inspire respect.

My stay there was a continous party. We sang, we danced, and we ate from morning to night, and each craving had is satisfaction. But as I was a person under orders and have necer neglected my duties, the day came for me to take my leave, and the kinglet, to regale me, organized a great folklore exhibition.

The sovereing, dressed for a gala, had me sit at his side. He had a panther to his feet and a magnisficient parrot on his right shoulder. He clapped and the program began.

After I heard the songs of people from all of his provinces, two hundred dancers started to dance in a monorhythmic manner. The dance lasted long hours, always the same, always to the same cadence. When boredom got the better of me, to let off steam I said out loud, in Catalan:

”For the money, I prefer the dances from Castellterçol”.

The parrot let out a guttural cry and, addressing me, said:

“Be careful. If the Great Interpreter hears you, you’re a dead man.”

He spoke in such correct Catalan that it, at first, eft me breathless. Man of the world that I was, I kept my cool before the king, but at night, when everyone was asleep, I looked fot the parrot, who told me his story. He was a Catalan parrot from Cadaqués, and fortune had brought him there.

In spite of all those things that separated us, there was the language uniting us, and we shared some memories.

We spoke of the Mediterranean and of our hopes to see it again, and the next morning, when I left Yakri, my heart was much softer than on my arrival.

(From Els catalans pel món (Catalans about the world), Catalan Review, 10, 1-2, 1996, p. 95-96)

* * *


I had been chosen to assassinate a cabinet member and, much as this went against my grain, I had to come through. We’ll all go soft in this world, doing only what comes easy. Besides, it is my firm opinion that, when a man is a militant, he must be disciplined and obedient.

The official received me at once because I was bearing a superbly counterfeited letter from a woman friend of his. I was supposedly delivering a confidential package and, as I sat down before him, across from his large ministerial desk, I opened my briefcase and produced my gun, ready with silencer and all. The bureaucrat turned pale and seemed genuinely puzzled. He could not figure out, he told me, how I had managed to pass all the controls undetected. I explained to him that we had bribed them, and he pharisaically denounced the widespread corruption.

I felt pity for him. It may have been my limited experience, or it was due perhaps to the abyss between speech and action. The fact is that I couldn’t quite get myself to shoot. I wasn’t feeling sufficiently at ease. To say nothing of my scruples, which also weighed on my conscience.

“What’s the matter?” The personage asked me.

“It’s that you ought to help”, I answered. “If I shoot in a hurry and hit you wrong, you’ll suffer and then I’ll suffer. On the other hand, if both of us program this, we can have a sure shot at first attempt, a fatal shot that will spare us the agony of a prolonged death.”

He snerred at me as if telling me to go to hell and got up from his chair as one who needs to stretch his legs. “Hold it!” I shouted. he did not stop, he didn’t even turn his head. He paced up and down his office, paying no heed to me. I must say that my fearsomeness was much diminished by the fact that I had already made clear my intention of killing him; what could possibly make me more menacing now?

“Consider that if I shoot in bad faith and hit your nerve the result could be brutal,” I said in a hoarse voice. “There are some twinges worse than death itself.”

He stopped to face me with a questioning look.

“How versed are you in topographic anatomy?” he asked. “Are you sure you know where to aim, not so as to torture me (as you hinted), but to dispose of me, which is the point of this meeting?”

“No”, I replied. “Beyond the simple knowledge of the human figure, I am not familiar with any kind of anatomy. My plan is to shoot for the heart and let nature run its course.”

“And where will you find my heart, if I may ask?”

“On your left side. Everybody’s got it there.”
“Wrong. Like everybody else, my heart sits between my lungs, exactly over the diaphragm. You are lacking in basic information.”

I had made up my mind to be patient because, after all, poor guy, he was undergoing tribulation enough. Such were my starting thougths at any rate, since I knew nothing of my victim’s temperament. And, incidentally, let me add a consideration that may be useful to many: if you are to kill someone, before you commit yourself, you really should become familiar with their temperament and quirks. I should have followed my own advice!

“OK,” I proceeded calmly, “let’s not get all bent out of shape. It’s fine with me to shoot wherever you indicate. After all, yo are the interested party here.”

“Each person has the perfect point,” he said. “The nape. A shot to the back of the neck, point blank, will make second tries unnecessay.”

He seemed heartless to me now. You have to have an evil soul to speak with such cold assurance about a hit that will irrevocably do you in. But I was not in the mood to argue.

“As you wish,” I said.

“I cannot trust your aim,” he replied. “Stay there and I’ll show you the exact point.”

I remained seated. He came around behind me and with his left hand made me lower my head, the way barbers bend their customers’ heads. For an instant I even felt a sweet slumber, the kind of drowsiness that makes getting a haircut less of a burdensome chore. Sleepily, I waited for my antagonist to place the tip of his index finger on the precise fatal point. But instead of doing that, he grabbed the heavy silver pen-and-ink stand that was on his desk and hit me with it on the back of my head. Only days later I learn of such treachery; at the time I just lost my awareness and my senses.

The prison doctor thinks I came out all right, that Iwas enormously lucky. It’s all a matter of opinion! I used to be a bit deaf and now, after the blow, I can hear better. But to call this luck... The lawyer assigned to me thinks I’m in for years, that they’ll throw the book at me, mainly because of one detail: I was carrying a concealed weapon in an official building. You tell me what would have happened if I had asked for a permit! They’re all a bunch of hypocrites.

The firmness of my spirit leads me to rest and reflection within these four walls. I reconstruct the past, ponder things over. I recall with nostalgia the day of the secret meeting during which I was nicknamed “the Hyena.” Getting that name wasn’t easy because two comrades were aspiring to the same alias, listing past accomplishments as their credentials. I wrested the title from them by making an appeal to the importance of future accomplishments, and by insisting on my implacableness. My closest rival had to make do with the alias “the Mongoose”, and the other one with “the Viper.” After my presentation, they were lucky to get even those!

I am “The Hyena.” My alias is far too suggestive to be locked inside stone walls. I am not selfish. If I could, I would donate it to the group, as a kind of payback. But the group has benn dismantled. By dint of questioning me day and night with criminal insistence, all my comrades have been caught.

And now, in full possession of my senses, coerced by on one, freely, I want to leave my nickname to someone who can use it, because it would be a shame for it to wither with me in here. For quite some time I’ll be unable to make any use of it and, out there, it could be of service. I know little about charitable institutions, my friends are few and relatives even fewer. In principle I cede it to an orphanage with the hope that, to a greater or lesser extent, they’ll be able to appreciate that this is all I have. I hope someone will be hurt enough by the institution to come out of the orphanage with the necessary spite, whith the pique to utilize it with vindictive pugnacity. Then I will have been exonerated.

(From El testament de "La hiena" (Last will and testament of "The Hyena"), Catalan Review, 10, 1-2, 1996, p. 99-101)

Translated from the Catalan by Josep Miquel Sobrer ©