Jean Paul Sartre (1905 - 1980)
Wait a minute, there's a snag somewhere; something disagreeable.
Why, now, should it be disagreeable?...Ah,I see; it's
life without a break. (Jean Paul Sartre - huis clos)
They pushed us into a big white
room and I began to blink because the light hurt my eyes.
Then I saw a table and four men behind the table, civilians,
looking over the papers. They had bunched another group of
prisoners in the back and we had to cross the whole room to
join them. There were several I knew and some others who must
have been foreigners. The two in front of me were blond with
round skulls: they looked alike. I supposed they were French.
The smaller one kept hitching up his pants: nerves.
It lasted about three hours: I was dizzy and
my head was empty; but the room was well heated and I found that pleasant enough:
for the past 24 hours we hadn't stopped shivering. The guards brought the prisoners
up to the table, one after the other. The four men asked each one his name and
occupation. Most of the time they didn't go any further--or they would simply
ask a question here and there: "Did you have anything to do with the sabotage
of munitions?" Or "Where were you the morning of the 9th and what
were you doing?" They didn't listen to the answers or at least didn't seem
to. They were quiet for a moment and then looking straight in front of them
began to write. They asked Tom if it were true he was in the International Brigade:
Tom couldn't tell them otherwise because of the papers they found in his coat.
They didn't ask Juan anything but they wrote for a long time after he told them
"My brother Jose is the anarchist,"
Juan said "You know he isn't here any more. I don't belong to any party.
I never had anything to do with politics."
They didn't answer. Juan went on, "I haven't
done anything. I don't want to pay for somebody else."
His lips trembled. A guard shut him up and took
him away. It was my turn.
"Your name is Pablo Ibbieta?"
The man looked at the papers and asked me "Where's
"I don't know."
"You hid him in your house from the 6th
to the 19th."
They wrote for a minute and then the guards took
me out. In the corridor Tom and Juan were waiting between two guards. We started
walking. Tom asked one of the guards, "So?"
"So what?" the guard said.
"Was that the cross-examination or the sentence?"
"Sentence" the guard said.
"What are they going to do with us?"
The guard answered dryly, "Sentence will
be read in your cell."
As a matter of fact, our cell was one of the
hospital cellars. It was terrifically cold there because of the drafts. We shivered
all night and it wasn't much better during the day. I had spent the previous
five days in a cell in a monastery, a sort of hole in the wall that must have
dated from the middle ages: since there were a lot of prisoners and not much
room, they locked us up anywhere. I didn't miss my cell; I hadn't suffered too
much from the cold but I was alone; after a long time it gets irritating. In
the cellar I had company. Juan hardly ever spoke: he was afraid and he was too
young to have anything to say. But Tom was a good talker and he knew Spanish
There was a bench in the cellar and four mats.
When they took us back we sat and waited in silence. After a long moment, Tom
said, "We're screwed."
"l think so too," I said, "but
I don't think they'll do any thing to the kid.".
"They don't have a thing against him,"
said Tom. "He's the brother of a militiaman and that's all."
I looked at Juan: he didn't seem to hear. Tom
went on, "You know what they do in Saragossa? They lay the men down on
the road and run over them with trucks. A Moroccan deserter told us that. They
said it was to save ammunition."
"It doesn't save gas." I said.
I was annoyed at Tom: he shouldn't have said
"Then there's officers walking along the
road," he went on, "supervising it all. They stick their hands in
their pockets and smoke cigarettes. You think they finish off the guys? Hell
no. They let them scream. Sometimes for an hour. The Moroccan said he damned
near puked the first time."
"I don't believe they'll do that here,"
I said. "Unless they're really short on ammunition."
Day was coming in through four air holes and
a round opening they had made in the ceiling on the left, and you could see
the sky through it. Through this hole, usually closed by a trap, they unloaded
coal into the cellar. Just below the hole there was a big pile of coal dust:
it had been used to heat the hospital, but since the beginning of the war the
patients were evacuated and the coal stayed there, unused; sometimes it even
got rained on because they had forgotten to close the trap.
Tom began to shiver. "Good Jesus Christ,
I'm cold," he said. "Here it goes again."
He got up and began to do exercises. At each
movement his shirt opened on his chest, white and hairy. He lay on his back,
raised his legs in the air and bicycled. I saw his great rump trembling. Tom
was husky but he had too much fat. I thought how riffle bullets or the sharp
points of bayonets would soon be sunk into this mass of tender flesh as in a
lump of butter. It wouldn't have made me feel like that if he'd been thin.
I wasn't exactly cold, but I couldn't feel my
arms and shoulders any more. Sometimes I had the impression I was missing something
and began to look around for my coat and then suddenly remembered they hadn't
given me a coat. It was rather uncomfortable. They took our clothes and gave
them to their soldiers leaving us only our shirts--and those canvas pants that
hospital patients wear in the middle of summer. After a while Tom got up and
sat next to me, breathing heavily.
"Good Christ, no. But I'm out of wind."
Around eight o'clock in the evening a major came
in with two falangistas. He had a sheet of paper in his hand. He asked
the guard, "What are the names of those three?"
"Steinbock, Ibbieta and Mirbal," the
The major put on his eyeglasses and scanned the
list: "Steinbock...Steinbock...Oh yes...You are sentenced to death. You
will be shot tomorrow morning." He went on looking. "The other two
"That's not possible," Juan said. "Not
me." The major looked at him amazed. "What's your name?"
"Juan Mirbal" he said.
"Well your name is there," said the
major. "You're sentenced."
"I didn't do anything," Juan said.
The major shrugged his shoulders and turned to
Tom and me.
"Nobody is Basque."
He looked annoyed. "They told me there were
three Basques. I'm not going to waste my time running after them. Then naturally
you don't want a priest?"
We didn't even answer.
He said, "A Belgian doctor is coming shortly.
He is authorized to spend the night with you." He made a military salute
"What did I tell you," Tom said. "We
"Yes, I said, "it's a rotten deal for
I said that to be decent but I didn't like the
kid. His face was too thin and fear and suffering had disfigured it, twisting
all his features. Three days before he was a smart sort of kid, not too bad;
but now he looked like an old fairy and I thought how he'd never be young again,
even if they were to let him go. It wouldn't have been too hard to have a little
pity for him but pity disgusts me, or rather it horrifies me. He hadn't said
anything more but he had turned grey; his face and hands were both grey. He
sat down again and looked at the ground with round eyes. Tom was good hearted,
he wanted to take his arm, but the kid tore himself away violently and made
"Let him alone," I said in a low voice,
"you can see he's going to blubber."
Tom obeyed regretfully: he would have liked to
comfort the kid, it would have passed his time and he wouldn't have been tempted
to think about himself. But it annoyed me: I'd never thought about death because
I never had any reason to, but now the reason was here and there was nothing
to do but think about it.
Tom began to talk. "So you think you've
knocked guys off, do you?" he asked me. I didn't answer. He began explaining
to me that he had knocked off six since the beginning of August; he didn't realize
the situation and I could tell he didn't want to realize it. I hadn't
quite realized it myself, I wondered if it hurt much, I thought of bullets,
I imagined their burning hail through my body. All that was beside the real
question; but I was calm: we had all night to understand. After a while Tom
stopped talking and I watched him out of the corner of my eye; I saw he too
had turned grey and he looked rotten; I told myself "Now it starts."
It was almost dark, a dim glow filtered through the air holes and the pile of
coal and made a big stain beneath the spot of sky; I could already see a star
through the hole in the ceiling: the night would be pure and icy.
The door opened and two guards came in, followed
by a blonde man in a tan uniform. He saluted us. "I am the doctor,"
he said. "I have authorization to help you in these trying hours."
He had an agreeable and distinguished voice.
I said, "What do you want here?"
"I am at your disposal. I shall do all I
can to make your last moments less difficult."
"What did you come here for? There are others,
the hospital's full of them."
"I was sent here," he answered with
a vague look. "Ah! Would you like to smoke?" he added hurriedly, "I
have cigarettes and even cigars."
He offered us English cigarettes and puros,
but we refused. I looked him in the eyes and he seemed irritated. I said to
him, "You aren't here on an errand of mercy. Besides, I know you. I saw
you with the fascists in the barracks yard the day I was arrested."
I was going to continue, but something surprising
suddenly happened to me; the presence of this doctor no longer interested me.
Generally when I'm on somebody I don't let go. But the desire to talk left me
completely; I shrugged and turned my eyes away. A little later I raised my head;
he was watching me curiously. The guards were sitting on a mat. Pedro, the tall
thin one, was twiddling his thumbs, the other shook his head from time to time
to keep from falling asleep.
"Do you want a light?" Pedro suddenly
asked the doctor. The other nodded "Yes": I think he was about as
smart as a log, but he surely wasn't bad. Looking in his cold blue eyes it seemed
to me that his only sin was lack of imagination. Pedro went out and came back
with an oil lamp which he set on the corner of the bench. It gave a bad light
but it was better than nothing: they had left us in the dark the night before.
For a long time I watched the circle of light the lamp made on the ceiling.
I was fascinated. Then suddenly I woke up, the circle of light disappeared and
I felt myself crushed under an enormous weight. It was not the thought of death,
or fear; it was nameless. My cheeks burned and my head ached.
I shook myself and looked at my two friends.
Tom had hidden his face in his hands. I could only see the fat white nape of
his neck. Little Juan was the worst, his mouth was open and his nostrils trembled.
The doctor went to him and put his hand on his shoulder to comfort him: but
his eyes stayed cold. Then I saw the Belgian's hand drop stealthily along Juan's
arm, down to the wrist. Juan paid no attention. The Belgian took his wrist between
three fingers, distractedly, the same time drawing back a little and turning
his back to me. But I leaned backward and saw him take a watch from his pocket
and look at it for a moment, never letting go of the wrist. After a minute he
let the hand fall inert and went and leaned his back against the wall, then,
as if he suddenly remembered something very important which had to be jotted
down on the spot, he took a notebook from his pocket and wrote a few lines.
"Bastard," I thought angrily, "let him come and take my pulse.
I'll shove my fist in his rotten face."
He didn't come but I felt him watching me. I
raised my head and returned his look. Impersonally, he said to me "Doesn't
it seem cold to you here?" He looked cold, he was blue.
I'm not cold," I told him.
He never took his hard eyes off me. Suddenly
I understood and my hands went to my face: I was drenched in sweat. In this
cellar, in the midst of winter, in the midst of drafts, I was sweating. I ran
my hands through my hair, gummed together with perspiration: at the same time
I saw my shirt was damp and sticking to my skin: I had been dripping for an
hour and hadn't felt it. But that swine of a Belgian hadn't missed a thing;
he had seen the drops rolling down my cheeks and thought: this is the manifestation
of an almost pathological state of terror; and he had felt normal and proud
of being alive because he was cold. I wanted to stand up and smash his face
but no sooner had I made the slightest gesture than my rage and shame were wiped
out; I fell back on the bench with indifference.
I satisfied myself by rubbing my neck with my
handkerchief because now I felt the sweat dropping from my hair onto my neck
and it was unpleasant. I soon gave up rubbing, it was useless; my handkerchief
was already soaked and I was still sweating. My buttocks were sweating too and
my damp trousers were glued to the bench.
Suddenly Juan spoke. "You're a doctor?"
"Yes," the Belgian said.
"Does it hurt... very long?"
"Huh? When... ? Oh, no" the Belgian
said paternally "Not at all. It's over quickly." He acted as though
he were calming a cash customer.
"But I... they told me... sometimes they
have to fire twice."
"Sometimes," the Belgian said, nodding.
"It may happen that the first volley reaches no vital organs."
"Then they have to reload their rifles and
aim all over again?" He thought for a moment and then added hoarsely, "That
He had a terrible fear of suffering, it was all
he thought about: it was his age. I never thought much about it and it wasn't
fear of suffering that made me sweat.
I got up and walked to the pile of coal dust.
Tom jumped up and threw me a hateful look: I had annoyed him because my shoes
squeaked. I wondered if my face looked as frightened as his: I saw he was sweating
too. The sky was superb, no light filtered into the dark corner and I had only
to raise my head to see the Big Dipper. But it wasn't like it had been: the
night before I could see a great piece of sky from my monastery cell and each
hour of the day brought me a different memory. Morning, when the sky was a hard,
light blue, I thought of beaches on the Atlantic: at noon I saw the sun and
I remembered a bar in Seville where I drank manzanilla and ate olives
and anchovies: afternoons I was in the shade and I thought of the deep shadow
which spreads over half a bull-ring leaving the other half shimmering in sunlight:
it was really hard to see the whole world reflected in the sky like that. But
now I could watch the sky as much as I pleased, it no longer evoked anything
tn me. I liked that better. I came back and sat near Tom. A long moment passed.
Tom began speaking in a low voice. He had to
talk, without that he wouldn't have been able no recognize himself in his own
mind. I thought he was talking to me but he wasn't looking at me. He was undoubtedly
afraid to see me as I was, grey and sweating: we were alike and worse than mirrors
of each other. He watched the Belgian, the living.
"Do you understand?" he said. "I
I began to speak in a low voice too. I watched
the Belgian. "Why? What's the matter?"
"Something is going to happen to us than
I can't understand."
There was a strange smell about Tom. It seemed
to me I was more sensitive than usual to odors. I grinned. "You'll understand
in a while."
"It isn't clear," he said obstinately.
"I want to be brave but first I have to know. . . .Listen, they're going
to take us into the courtyard. Good. They're going to stand up in front of us.
"l don't know. Five or eight. Not more."
"All right. There'll be eight. Someone'll
holler 'aim!' and I'll see eight rifles looking at me. I'll think how I'd like
to get inside the wall, I'll push against it with my back. . . . with every
ounce of strength I have, but the wall will stay, like in a nightmare. I can
imagine all that. If you only knew how well I can imagine it."
"All right, all right!" I said. "I
can imagine it too."
"lt must hurt like hell. You know they aim
at the eyes and the mouth to disfigure you," he added mechanically. "I
can feel the wounds already. I've had pains in my head and in my neck for the
past hour. Not real pains. Worse. This is what I'm going to feel tomorrow morning.
And then what?"
I well understood what he meant but I didn't
want to act as if I did. I had pains too, pains in my body like a crowd of tiny
scars. I couldn't get used to it. But I was like him. I attached no importance
to it. "After," I said. "you'll be pushing up daisies."
He began to talk to himself: he never stopped
watching the Belgian. The Belgian didn't seem to be listening. I knew what he
had come to do; he wasn't interested in what we thought; he came to watch our
bodies, bodies dying in agony while yet alive.
"It's like a nightmare," Tom was saying.
"You want to think something, you always have the impression that it's
all right, that you're going to understand and then it slips, it escapes you
and fades away. I tell myself there will be nothing afterwards. But I don't
understand what it means. Sometimes I almost can.... and then it fades away
and I start thinking about the pains again, bullets, explosions. I'm a materialist,
I swear it to you; I'm not going crazy. But something's the matter. I see my
corpse; that's not hard but I'm the one who sees it, with my
eyes. I've got to think... think that I won't see anything anymore and the world
will go on for the others. We aren't made to think that, Pablo. Believe me:
I've already stayed up a whole night waiting for something. But this isn't the
same: this will creep up behind us, Pablo, and we won't be able to prepare for
"Shut up," I said, "Do you want
me to call a priest?"
He didn't answer. I had already noticed he had
the tendency to act like a prophet and call me Pablo, speaking in a toneless
voice. I didn't like that: but it seems all the Irish are that way. I had the
vague impression he smelled of urine. Fundamentally, I hadn't much sympathy
for Tom and I didn't see why, under the pretext of dying together, I should
have any more. It would have been different with some others. With Ramon Gris,
for example. But I felt alone between Tom and Juan. I liked that better, anyhow:
with Ramon I might have been more deeply moved. But I was terribly hard just
then and I wanted to stay hard.
He kept on chewing his words, with something
like distraction. He certainly talked to keep himself from thinking. He smelled
of urine like an old prostate case. Naturally, I agreed with him. I could have
said everything he said: it isn't natural to die. And since I was going
to die, nothing seemed natural to me, not this pile of coal dust, or the bench,
or Pedro's ugly face. Only it didn't please me to think the same things as Tom.
And I knew that, all through the night, every five minutes, we would keep on
thinking things at the same time. I looked at him sideways and for the first
time he seemed strange to me: he wore death on his face. My pride was wounded:
for the past 24 hours I had lived next to Tom, I had listened to him. I had
spoken to him and I knew we had nothing in common. And now we looked as much
alike as twin brothers, simply because we were going to die together. Tom took
my hand without looking at me.
"Pablo. I wonder... I wonder if it's really
true that everything ends."
I took my hand away and said, "Look between
your feet, you pig."
There was a big puddle between his feet and drops
fell from his pants-leg.
"What is it," he asked, frightened.
"You're pissing in your pants," I told
"lt isn't true," he said furiously.
"I'm not pissing. I
don't feel anything."
The Belgian approached us. He asked with false
solicitude. "Do you feel ill?"
Tom did not answer. The Belgian looked at the
puddle and said nothing.
"I don't know what it is," Tom said
ferociously. "But I'm not afraid. I swear I'm not afraid."
The Belgian did not answer. Tom got up and went
to piss in a corner. He came back buttoning his fly, and sat down without a
word. The Belgian was taking notes.
All three of us watched him because he was alive.
He had the motions of a living human being, the cares of a living human being;
he shivered in the cellar the way the living are supposed to shiver; he had
an obedient, well-fed body. The rest of us hardly felt ours--not in the same
way anyhow. I wanted to feel my pants between my legs but I didn't dare; I watched
the Belgian, balancing on his legs, master of his muscles, someone who could
think about tomorrow. There we were, three bloodless shadows; we watched him
and we sucked his life like vampires.
Finally he went over to little Juan. Did he want
to feel his neck for some professional motive or was he obeying an impulse of
charity? If he was acting by charity it was the only time during the whole night.
He caressed Juan's head and neck. The kid let
himself be handled, his eyes never leaving him, then suddenly he seized the
hand and looked at it strangely. He held the Belgian's hand between his own
two hands and there was nothing pleasant about them, two grey pincers gripping
this fat and reddish hand. I suspected what was going to happen and Tom must
have suspected it too: but the Belgian didn't see a thing, he smiled paternally.
After a moment the kid brought the fat red hand to his mouth and tried to bite
it. The Belgian pulled away quickly and stumbled back against the wall. For
a second he looked at us with horror, he must have suddenly understood that
we were not men like him. I began to laugh and one of the guards jumped up.
The other was asleep, his wide open eyes were blank.
I felt relaxed and over-excited at the same time.
I didn't want to think any more about what would happen at dawn, at death. It
made no sense. I only found words or emptiness. But as soon as I tried to think
of anything else I saw rifle barrels pointing at me. Perhaps I lived through
my execution twenty times; once I even thought it was for good: I must have
slept a minute. They were dragging me to the wall and I was struggling; I was
asking for mercy. I woke up with a start and looked at the Belgian: I was afraid
I might have cried out in my sleep. But he was stroking his moustache, he hadn't
noticed anything. If I had wanted to, I think I could have slept a while; I
had been awake for 48 hours. I was at the end of my rope. But I didn't want
to lose two hours of life; they would come to wake me up at dawn. I would follow
them, stupefied with sleep and I would have croaked without so much as an "Oof!";
I didn't want that. I didn't want to die like an animal, I wanted to understand.
Then I was afraid of having nightmares. I got up, walked back and forth, and,
to change my ideas, I began to think about my past life. A crowd of memories
came back to me pell-mell. There were good and bad ones--or at least I called
them that before. There were faces and incidents. I saw the face of
a little novillero who was gored tn Valencia during the Feria,
the face of one of my uncles, the face of Ramon Gris. I remembered my whole
life: how I was out of work for three months in 1926, how I almost starved to
death. I remembered a night I spent on a bench in Granada: I hadn't eaten for
three days. I was angry, I didn't want to die. That made me smile. How madly
I ran after happiness, after women, after liberty. Why? I wanted to free Spain,
I admired Pi y Margall, I joined the anarchist movement, I spoke in public meetings:
I took everything as seriously as if I were immortal.
At that moment I felt that I had my whole life
in front of me and I thought, "It's a damned lie." It was worth nothing
because it was finished. I wondered how I'd been able to walk, to laugh with
the girls: I wouldn't have moved so much as my little finger if I had only imagined
I would die like this. My life was in front of me, shut, closed, like a bag
and yet everything inside of it was unfinished. For an instant I tried to judge
it. I wanted to tell myself, this is a beautiful life. But I couldn't pass judgment
on it; it was only a sketch; I had spent my time counterfeiting eternity, I
had understood nothing. I missed nothing: there were so many things I could
have missed, the taste of manzanilla or the baths I took in summer
in a little creek near Cadiz; but death had disenchanted everything.
The Belgian suddenly had a bright idea. "My
friends," he told us, "I will undertake--if the military administration
will allow it--to send a message for you, a souvenir to those who love you.
. . ."
Tom mumbled, "I don't have anybody."
I said nothing. Tom waited an instant then looked
at me with curiosity. "You don't have anything to say to Concha?"
I hated this tender complicity: it was my own
fault, I had talked about Concha the night before. I should have controlled
myself. I was with her for a year. Last night I would have given an arm to see
her again for five minutes. That was why I talked about her, it was stronger
than I was. Now I had no more desire to see her, I had nothing more to say to
her. I would not even have wanted to hold her in my arms: my body filled me
with horror because it was grey and sweating--and I wasn't sure that her body
didn't fill me with horror. Concha would cry when she found out I was dead,
she would have no taste for life for months afterward. But I was still the one
who was going to die. I thought of her soft, beautiful eyes. When she looked
at me something passed from her to me. But I knew it was over: if she looked
at me now the look would stay in her eyes, it wouldn't reach me. I
Tom was alone too but not in the same way. Sitting
cross-legged, he had begun to stare at the bench with a sort of smile, he looked
amazed. He put out his hand and touched the wood cautiously as if he were afraid
of breaking something, then drew back his hand quickly and shuddered. If I had
been Tom I wouldn't have amused myself by touching the bench; this was some
more Irish nonsense, but I too found that objects had a funny look: they were
more obliterated, less dense than usual. It was enough for me to look at the
bench, the lamp, the pile of coal dust, to feel that I was going to die. Naturally
I couldn't think clearly about my death but I saw it everywhere, on things,
in the way things fell back and kept their distance, discreetly, as people who
speak quietly at the bedside of a dying man. It was his death which
Tom had just touched on the bench.
In the state I was in, if someone had come and
told me I could go home quietly, that they would leave me my life whole, it
would have left me cold: several hours or several years of waiting is all the
same when you have lost the illusion of being eternal. I clung to nothing, in
a way I was calm. But it was a horrible calm--because of my body; my body, I
saw with its eyes, I heard with its ears, but it was no longer me; it sweated
and trembled by itself and I didn't recognize it any more. I had to touch it
and look at it to find out what was happening, as if it were the body of someone
else. At times I could still feel it, I felt sinkings, and fallings, as when
you're in a plane taking a nose dive, or I felt my heart beating. But that didn't
reassure me. Everything that came from my body was all cockeyed. Most of the
time it was quiet and I felt no more than a sort of weight, a filthy presence
against me; I had the impression of being tied to an enormous vermin. Once I
felt my pants and I felt they were damp; I didn't know whether it was sweat
or urine, but I went to piss on the coal pile as a precaution.
The Belgian took out his watch, looked at it.
He said, "It is three-thirty."
Bastard! He must have done it on purpose. Tom
jumped; we hadn't noticed time was running out; night surrounded us like a shapeless,
somber mass. I couldn't even remember that it had begun.
Little Juan began to cry. He wrung his hands,
pleaded, "I don't want to die. I don't want to die."
He ran across the whole cellar waving his arms
in the air then fell sobbing on one of the mats. Tom watched him with mournful
eyes, without the slightest desire to console him. Because it wasn't worth the
trouble: the kid made more noise than we did, but he was less touched: he was
like a sick man who defends himself against his illness by fever. It's much
more serious when there isn't any fever.
He wept: I could clearly see he was pitying himself;
he wasn't thinking about death. For one second, one single second, I wanted
to weep myself, to weep with pity for myself. But the opposite happened: I glanced
at the kid, I saw his thin sobbing shoulders and I felt inhuman: I could pity
neither the others nor myself. I said to myself, "I want to die cleanly."
Tom had gotten up, he placed himself just under
the round opening and began to watch for daylight. I was determined to die cleanly
and I only thought of that. But ever since the doctor told us the time, I felt
time flying, flowing away drop by drop.
It was still dark when I heard Tom's voice: "Do
you hear them?"
Men were marching in the courtyard.
"What the hell are they doing? They can't
shoot in the dark."
After a while we heard no more. I said to Tom,
Pedro got up, yawning, and came to blow out the
lamp. He said to his buddy, "Cold as hell."
The cellar was all grey. We heard shots in the
"It's starting," I told Tom. "They
must do it in the court in the rear."
Tom asked the doctor for a cigarette. I didn't
want one; I didn't want cigarettes or alcohol. From that moment on they didn't
"Do you realize what's happening,"
He wanted to add something but kept quiet, watching
the door. The door opened and a lieutenant came in with four soldiers. Tom dropped
Tom didn't answer. Pedro pointed him out.
"On the mat."
"Get up," the lieutenant said.
Juan did not move. Two soldiers took him under
the arms and set him on his feet. But he fell as soon as they released him.
The soldiers hesitated.
"He's not the first sick one," said
the lieutenant. "You two carry him: they'll fix it up down there."
He turned to Tom. "Let's go."
Tom went out between two soldiers. Two others
followed, carrying the kid by the armpits. He hadn't fainted; his eyes were
wide open and tears ran down his cheeks. When I wanted to go out the lieutenant
"You wait here: they'll come for you later."
They left. The Belgian and the two jailers left
too, I was alone. I did not understand what was happening to me but I would
have liked it better if they had gotten it over with right away. I heard shots
at almost regular intervals; I shook with each one of them. I wanted to scream
and tear out my hair. But I gritted my teeth and pushed my hands in my pockets
because I wanted to stay clean.
After an hour they came to get me and led me
to the first floor, to a small room that smelt of cigars and where the heat
was stifling. There were two officers sitting smoking in the armchairs, papers
on their knees.
"Where is Ramon Gris?"
"l don't know."
The one questioning me was short and fat. His
eyes were hard behind his glasses. He said to me, "Come here."
I went to him. He got up and took my arms, staring
at me with a look that should have pushed me into the earth. At the same time
he pinched my biceps with all his might. It wasn't to hurt me, it was only a
game: he wanted to dominate me. He also thought he had to blow his stinking
breath square in my face. We stayed for a moment like that, and I almost felt
like laughing. It takes a lot to intimidate a man who is going to die; it didn't
work. He pushed me back violently and sat down again. He said, "It's his
life against yours. You can have yours if you tell us where he is."
These men dolled up with their riding crops and
boots were still going to die. A little later than I, but not too much. They
busied themselves looking for names in their crumpled papers, they ran after
other men to imprison or suppress them: they had opinions on the future of Spain
and on other subjects. Their little activities seemed shocking and burlesqued
to me; I couldn't put myself in their place. I thought they were insane. The
little man was still looking at me, whipping his boots with the riding crop.
All his gestures were calculated to give him the look of a live and ferocious
"So? You understand?"
I don't know where Gris is," I answered.
"I thought he was in Madrid."
The other officer raised his pale hand indolently.
This indolence was also calculated. I saw through all their little schemes and
I was stupefied to find there were men who amused themselves that way.
"You have a quarter of an hour to think
it over," he said slowly. "Take him to the laundry, bring him back
in fifteen minutes. If he still refuses he will he executed on the spot."
They knew what they were doing: I had passed
the night in waiting; then they had made me wait an hour in the cellar while
they shot Tom and Juan and now they were locking me up in the laundry; they
must have prepared their game the night before. They told themselves that nerves
eventually wear out and they hoped to get me that way.
They were badly mistaken. In the laundry I sat
on a stool because I felt very weak and I began to think. But not about their
proposition. Of course I knew where Gris was; he was hiding with his cousins,
four kilometers from the city. I also knew that I would not reveal his hiding
place unless they tortured me (but they didn't seem to be thinking about that).
All that was perfectly regulated, definite and in no way interested me. Only
I would have liked to understand the reasons for my conduct. I would rather
die than give up Gris. Why? I didn't like Ramon Gris any more. My friendship
for him had died a little while before dawn at the same time as my love for
Concha, at the same time as my desire to live. Undoubtedly I thought highly
of him: he was tough. But it was not for this reason that I consented to die
in his place; his life had no more value than mine; no life had value. They
were going to slap a man up against a wall and shoot at him till he died, whether
it was I or Gris or somebody else made no difference. I knew he was more useful
than I to the cause of Spain but I thought to hell with Spain and anarchy; nothing
was important. Yet I was there, I could save my skin and give up Gris and I
refused to do it. I found that somehow comic; it was obstinacy. I thought, "I
must be stubborn!" And a droll sort of gaiety spread over me.
They came for me and brought me back to the two
officers. A rat ran out from under my feet and that amused me. I turned to one
of the falangistas and said, "Did you see the rat?"
He didn't answer. He was very sober, he took
himself seriously. I wanted to laugh but I held myself back because I was afraid
that once I got started I wouldn't be able to stop. The falangista had
a moustache. I said to him again, "You ought to shave off your moustache,
idiot." I thought it funny that he would let the hairs of his living being
invade his face. He kicked me without great conviction and I kept quiet.
"Well," said the fat officer, "have
you thought about it?"
I looked at them with curiosity, as insects of
a very rare species. I told them, "I know where he is. He is hidden in
the cemetery. In a vault or in the gravediggers' shack."
It was a farce. I wanted to see them stand up,
buckle their belts and give orders busily.
They jumped to their feet. "Let's go. Molés,
go get fifteen men from Lieutenant Lopez. You," the fat man said, "I'll
let you off if you're telling the truth, but it'll cost you plenty if you're
making monkeys out of us."
"They left in a great clatter and I waited
peacefully under the guard of falangistas. From time to time I smiled,
thinking about the spectacle they would make. I felt stunned and malicious.
I imagined them lifting up tombstones, opening the doors of the vaults one by
one. I represented this situation to myself as if I had been someone else: this
prisoner obstinately playing the hero, these grim falangistas with
their moustaches and their men in uniform running among the graves; it was irresistibly
funny. After half an hour the little fat man came back alone. I thought he had
come to give the orders to execute me. The others must have stayed in the cemetery.
The officer looked at me. He didn't look at all
sheepish. "Take him into the big courtyard with the others," he said.
"After the military operations a regular court will decide what happens
"Then they're not... not going to shoot
"Not now, anyway. What happens afterwards
is none of my business."
I still didn't understand. I asked, "But
He shrugged his shoulders without answering and
the soldiers took me away. In the big courtyard there were about a hundred prisoners,
women, children and a few old men. I began walking around the central grass
plot, I was stupefied. At noon they let us eat in the mess hall. Two or three
people questioned me. I must have known them, but I didn't answer: I didn't
even know where I was.
Around evening they pushed about ten new prisoners
into the court. I recognized Garcia, the baker. He said, "What damned luck
you have! I didn't think I'd see you alive."
"They sentenced me to death," I said,
"and then they changed their minds. I don't know why."
"They arrested me at two o'clock,"
"Why?" Garcia had nothing to do with
"I don't know," he said. "They
arrest everybody who doesn't think the way they do." He lowered his voice.
"They got Gris."
I began to tremble. "When?"
"This morning. He messed it up. He left
his cousin's on Tuesday because they had an argument. There were plenty of people
to hide him but he didn't want to owe anything to anybody. He said, ' I'd go
and hide in Ibbieta's place, but they got him, so I'll go hide in the cemetery.'"
"In the cemetery?"
"Yes. What a fool. Of course they went by
there this morning, that was sure to happen. They found him in the gravediggers'
shack. He shot at them and they got him."
"In the cemetery!"
Everything began to spin and I found myself sitting
on the ground: I laughed so hard I cried.
qu'on fait n'est jamais compris mais seulement loué ou blâmé.
Nietzsche, Gay Science