Night of the Stone-Curlews
by Gabriel García Márquez
by Gabriel García Márquez
LA NOCHE DE LOS ALCARAVANES (A short story in Spanish)
The three of us were sitting around a table when someone slid a coin into the jukebox, and the Wurlitzer replayed the record all night long. The rest of us did not have time to think about it. It happened before we were able to remember where we were; before we could regain our bearings. One of us put a hand on top of the counter to search for the others (We couldn’t see the hand. We heard it.). It bumped into a glass and remained still afterwards. Now two hands rested on the hard surface. Then the three of us searched for each other in the darkness and met there, on the tabletop, in a pile of thirty fingers. One said:
And so we stood up as if nothing had happened. We had not had a chance to feel confused.
As we passed through the corridor we heard nearby music weaving around us. We could smell the sorrowful women, sitting and waiting. We sensed the long emptiness of the corridor in front of us as we walked towards the door. We would soon be met by the bitter smell of the woman who sat just outside. We said:
“Let’s get out of here.”
The woman did not respond in the least. We heard the creaking of a rocker, easing upwards, relieved of her weight when she stood up. We sensed her footsteps on the loose wood. She returned to her chair after we heard hinges creak, and the door closed shut at our backs.
We turned. Right there, behind us, was the harsh, biting air of the invisible dawn and a voice that said:
“Get away from there, I’m trying to get past with this.”
We threw ourselves backward. And the voice came back to say:
“You’re still against the door.”
And only then, when we had moved everywhere possible and we could not escape the voice, we said, “We can’t get out of here. The stone-curlews took our eyes.”
Then we heard many doors opening. One of us got loose from the others’ hands and we heard him drag himself in the darkness, staggering, crashing into the objects that surrounded us. He spoke from somewhere in the darkness:
“Now we must be close,” he said. “It smells like there are piles of trunks around here.” Once again we felt the touch of his hands. We leaned against the wall and another voice passed, but in the opposite direction.
“They could be coffins,” one of us said.
The one who had dragged himself into the corner spoke again at our side:
“They’re trunks. When I was young I learned to recognize the smell of stored clothes.”
And so we moved in that direction. The ground was soft and flat, like trampled earth. Someone held out their hand. We made contact with the full, lively skin, but now we did not feel the wall behind us.
“This is a woman,” we said.
The other, the one that had known about the trunks, said:
“I think she’s sleeping.”
The body shook under our touch. It trembled. We felt it slip away, but not as if it had gone beyond our reach. Instead it was as if it had ceased to exist. Nonetheless, after an instant in which we remained still and drew closer together, shoulder to shoulder, we heard her voice.
“Who goes there?” she asked.
“It is us,” we responded without moving.
You could hear creaking in the bed and the shuffling of feet looking for slippers in the darkness. Then we imagined the woman sitting, watching us, not yet fully awake.
“What are you doing here?” she asked.
And we answered:
“We don’t know. The stone-curlews took our eyes.”
The voice said that she had heard something about this. The newspapers had said that three men were drinking beer on a patio where there were five or six stone-curlews. Seven stone-curlews. One of the men began to sing like a stone-curlew, imitating them.
“Unfortunately it was at a backward hour,” she said. “And so the birds jumped onto the table and took out their eyes.”
That was what the newspapers said, she explained, but no one had believed them. We said:
“If people went there, they would have seen the stone-curlews.”
And the woman said: “They went. The patio was full of people the next day, but the woman had already taken the stone-curlews somewhere else.”
When we turned, the woman stopped speaking. There, once again, was the wall. Simply by turning we would always find the wall. A wall was always around us, enclosing us. The same man once again freed himself from our hands. We heard him trace the ground again, sniffing, saying:
“Now I don’t know where the trunks are. I think we’re somewhere else.”
And we said:
“Come here. Someone is here, next to us.”
We heard him come closer. We felt him raise himself to our side and again his warm breath grazed our cheeks.
“Reach your hands over here,” we told him. “There’s someone who’s heard of us.”
He must have put out his hand. He must have moved where we told him to, because an instant later he returned to tell us:
“I think it’s a boy.”
And we told him:
“Okay, ask him if he knows who we are.”
He asked. We heard the uninterested, simple voice of the boy who said:
“Yes, I’ve heard of you. You’re the three men whose eyes were taken out by the stone-curlews.”
Then an adult voice spoke. It was a woman’s voice that seemed to be behind a closed door, saying:
“Now you’re talking to yourself.”
The child’s voice carelessly replied:
“No. It’s the men whose eyes were taken out by the stone-curlews.”
Then there was the noise of hinges creaking, followed by the adult voice, closer than the first time.
“Bring them home,” she said.
And the boy replied:
“I don’t know where they live.”
The adult voice answered:
“Don’t be so disagreeable. Everyone has known where they live since the night the stone-curlews took their eyes.”
Then she went on, speaking in another tone, as if she were talking to us:
“What happened is that no one wanted to believe it. They said that it was a bogus story, made up by the newspapers to increase sales. No one has seen the stone-curlews.”
So we said:
“But no one would believe us if we took them through the streets.”
We didn’t move. We were motionless, leaning against the wall, listening to her. The woman said:
“If he wants to take you it’s different. After all, no one gives a damn what a boy says.”
The childish voice interceded:
“If I go out there with them and I say that they’re the men whose eyes were taken by the stone-curlews, the other kids will throw stones at me. Everyone says that it’s impossible.”
There was a moment of silence. Then the door closed. The boy began to speak once more:
“Anyways, I’m reading Terry and the Pirates.”
Someone whispered in our ear:
“I’ll convince him.”
He inched towards the voice.
“I like that one,” he said. “At least tell us what’s happening to Terry this week.”
He’s trying to gain his trust, we thought. But the boy said:
“I don’t care about that. I only like the colored comic strips.”
“Terry is in a labyrinth,” we said.
“That was Friday. Today is Sunday and I like the colored ones.” He said with a cold, detached, indifferent voice.
When the other man returned to us, we said:
“We’ve been lost for almost three days and we haven’t rested once.”
And one replied: “Okay. We’ll rest for a while, but without letting go of our hands.”
We sat. An invisible warm sun began to heat our shoulders. But not even the presence of the sun interested us. We felt it there, wherever we were, having lost our sense of time, space, and direction. Many voices passed us.
“The stone-curlews took our eyes,” we said.
And one of the voices said:
“These guys are taking the newspapers seriously.”
The voices disappeared. And so we stayed sitting like that, shoulder to shoulder. We waited for a familiar scent or voice to pass in that river of voices and images. The sun continued to warm our heads. Then someone said:
“Let’s go towards the wall again.”
And the others, motionless, with heads raised towards the invisible light, said:
“Not yet. Let’s at least wait until the sun begins to burn our faces.”