PUBLISHERS OF LITERARY FICTION SINCE 1983
No News from Gurb
0.01 (local time) Landing executed without difficulty. Conventional propulsion (augmented). Speed of landing: 6.30 on the conventional scale (restricted). Speed on touchdown: 4 on the Minus-UI scale, or 9 on the Molina-Clavo scale. Cubic capacity: AZ-0.3.
Landing-place: 63W (IIb) 28476394783639473937492749.
Local name for landing-place: Sardanyola, Catalonia, Spain.
07.00 In response to orders (mine) Gurb preparing to initiate contact with local life-forms (real and potential). As we are travelling in acorporeal mode (pure intelligence - analytical factor 4800) arrange for him to adopt a form analogous to that of the inhabitants of the area. Objective: to avoid attracting the attention of native fauna (real and potential). Having consulted the Astral Catalogue of Assimilable Forms (Earth) ACAF(E), select for Gurb the form of the human being designated Marta Sánchez.
07.15 Gurb exits space-ship via hatchway 4. Weather fine, light southern wind; temperature, 15 degrees centigrade; comparative humidity, 56 per cent; sea, calm.
07.21 First contact with an inhabitant of the area. Information received from Gurb: height of individual, 170 centimetres; cranial circumference, 57 centimetres; number of eyes: two; length of tail, 0.00 centimetres (no tail). It communicates by means of a language of tremendous structural simplicity, but immensely complex utterance, since enunciation involves the use of internal organs. Level of conceptualisation minimal. Designation of individual, Lluc Puig i Roig (reception probably defective or incomplete). Biological function of individual: professor (fully-tenured) at the Autonomous University in Bellaterra. Level of docility: low. Uses a vehicle of tremendous structural simplicity, but poor manoeuvrability, known as a Ford Fiesta.
07.23 Gurb invited by the individual to climb into his vehicle. Requests instructions. Order him to accept the invitation. Principal objective: avoid attracting attention of local fauna (real and potential).
07.30 No news from Gurb.
0.800 No news from Gurb.
09.00 No news from Gurb.
12.30 No news from Gurb.
20.30 No news from Gurb.
07.00 Decide to go out in search of Gurb.
Before leaving, disguise spaceship to prevent reconnoitring and inspection by local fauna. Having consulted the Catalogue, decide to turn spaceship into attr. semi-det. res. 3 bdrms, 2 bthrms, balcony, comml. sw.pool., 2 prkg spces, mrtge avail.
07.30 Decide to adopt appearance of individualised human being. Having consulted the Catalogue, opt for the Count-Duke of Olivares.
07.30 Rather than leave the ship by the hatch (now turned into a panelled wood door of tremendous structural simplicity but poor manoeuvrability), decide to beam down in a spot where the concentration of human beings is densest, in order to avoid attracting attention.
08.00 Beam down at a spot known as corner of Diagonal and Paseo de Gracia. Knocked down by no. 17 bus, Barceloneta to Vall d'Hebron. Obliged to retrieve head, which fell off as a result of accident. Operation difficult due to large number of vehicles.
08.01 Knocked down by an Opel Corsa.
08.02 Knocked down by a delivery truck.
08.03 Knocked down by a taxi.
08.04 Manage to recover head and wash it in a fountain situated close to the scene of the accident. Take advantage of the opportunity to analyse the composition of the local water: hydrogen, oxygen and faeces.
08.15 In view of large number of individuals, it may prove difficult to locate Gurb by sight, but wish to avoid sensorial location, as am unsure of effect it could have on ecological balance of area and, by extension, on inhabitants. Human beings are creatures of variable height. The smallest among them are so tiny that if they were not conveyed by taller ones in carriages they would soon be trampled underfoot (with possible loss of head) by tall ones. The tallest rarely exceed 200 centimetres. A curious detail is that when they lie flat they remain exactly the same length. Some have a moustache; others, beard and moustache. Almost all have two eyes, which may be situated at the front or the back of the head, depending on how they are facing. When walking they move in a forward direction, and are thus forced to counteract the movement of the legs by means of vigorous arm swinging. Those in the greatest hurry reinforce this arm movement by means of briefcases made of plastic or leather or a material called Samsonite, which comes from another planet. The traction principle used in their cars (four aligned wheels filled with evil-smelling air) is more rational, and permits the attainment of higher speeds. Must remember not to fly or walk on my head if wish to avoid being taken for an eccentric. NB Must remember always to keep one foot touching the ground - immaterial which one - or if not, the external organ known as the bottom.
11.00 Have been waiting for three hours to spot Gurb. A waste of time. Flow of persons past this point in this city shows no decrease. Rather the reverse. Calculate that the odds against Gurb passing without me seeing him are of the order of seventy-three to one. However, to this calculation, one would have to append two variables:
a) Gurb doesn't pass this spot
b) Gurb passes this spot, but having modified his external appearance. In latter case odds against my spotting him go up to nine trillion to one.
12.00 The hour of the Angelus. Meditate for an instant in silent prayer, trusting that Gurb is not going to choose that exact moment to pass in front of me.
13.00 The erect position in which I have held my body for the last five hours is beginning to tire me. Apart from the stiffness in the muscles, I must make a continuous effort to inhale and exhale air. Once when I forgot to do it for five minutes, my face went purple and my eyes popped out of my head, and I had to go and retrieve them from amongst the cars. If this goes on, I'll end up drawing attention to myself. It seems that human beings inhale and exhale air in an automatic fashion, which they call breathing. This automatic functioning, which is repugnant to any civilised being, and which I note here for purely scientific motives, characterises not only breathing but many corporeal functions, such as the circulation of the blood, digestion, blinking - which unlike the two previously mentioned actions can be consciously controlled, in which case it is known as winking - the growth of the nails and so on. So subject are humans to the automatic functioning of their organs (and organisms) that they would soil themselves, if they were not trained as children to subordinate nature to decorum.
14.00 Have reached the limit of my physical resistance. Rest by getting down on the ground, stretching my left leg out behind me and my right leg in front. Seeing me in this posture, a woman gives me a 25-peseta coin, which I immediately swallow in order not to appear impolite. Temperature, 20 degrees centigrade; comparative humidity, 64 per cent; light southerly winds; sea, calm.
14.30 Density of traffic, both vehicular and pedestrian, diminishing slightly. Still no news from Gurb. Even at the risk of disturbing the precarious ecological balance of the planet, decide to establish sensorial contact. Taking advantage of the fact that there is no bus passing, make my mind a blank and emit waves on frequency H76420ba, rising gradually to H76420ba400010.
At the second attempt receive a response signal which is weak at first but gradually clears. Decode the signal, which appears to be coming from two different points, though close together in terms of the earth's axis. Text of the signal (decoded):
Where are you calling from, Señora. Cargols?
From Sant Joan Despí.
Can you give me that again?
From Sant Joan Despí. Sant Joan Despí. Hello? Can you hear me?
We seem to be having some technical problems here in the studio, Señora Cargols. Can you hear us?
What did you say?
I asked if you're hearing us. Señora Cargols?
Yes, carry on. I'm hearing you clearly.
Señora Cargols, can you hear us?
Yes, very well. I can hear you.
And where are you calling from, Señora Cargols?
From Sant Joan Despí.
From Sant Joan Despí. And can you hear us clearly in Sant Joan Despí, Señora. Cargols?
Yes, I can hear you fine. What about you? Can you hear me?
Yes, very well. Now, where are you calling from?
I sense it is going to be harder than I thought to locate Gurb.
15.00 Decide to search the city systematically, rather than remaining in one spot. By doing so, I reduce the odds against finding Gurb by one trillion, but even so, success remains uncertain. Set off, following the automatic self-correcting heliographic map which I incorporated into my internal circuits on leaving the spaceship. Fall into a hole in the road left by the Catalan Gas Company.
15.02 Fall into a hole in the road left by the Barcelona Water company.
15.03 Fall into a hole in the road left by National Telecommunications.
15.03 Fall into a hole in the road left by the Residents' Association on Calle Córcega.
15.06 Decide to proceed without the automatic self-correcting heliographic map and instead look where I'm going.
19.00 Have been walking for four hours. No idea where I am, and my legs can hardly carry me. The city is huge: the crowds, constant; the noise, incredible. Surprised not to find the usual monuments, such as a Cenotaph to Blessed Mother Pilar, which would aid orientation. I stopped a pedestrian and asked him how I could set about finding somebody who was lost. He asked me how old the person was. When I said six thousand, five hundred and thirty years, he said try the Corte Inglés department store. The worst thing is having to breathe this air, which is thick with succulent particles. It is a well-known fact that in some parts of the city the density of the air is such that the residents have forced it into skins and exported it as black pudding. My eyes are smarting, my nose is blocked, my mouth is dry. The quality of life is so much better in Sardanyola!
20.30 After sunset the atmospheric conditions would have improved greatly if the human beings had not had the bright idea of switching on the street lighting. It seems they require it when they're out of doors, because although the majority of them have unattractive, or even frankly ugly features, they feel the need to see one another.
Even the cars switch on their lights and attack each other with them. Temperature, 17 degrees centigrade; humidity, 62 per cent; light south-easterly winds; sea, choppy.
21.30 Have had enough! Cannot take another step. Have suffered considerable physical deterioration. Have lost an arm, a leg, and both ears, and my tongue is hanging out so far that I've had to tie it to my belt, after I had picked up four dog turds and I don't know how many cigarette ends. Given the conditions, it would be better to postpone my search until tomorrow. Hide under a lorry, disintegrate and beam down inside the spaceship.
21.45 Energy recharge.
21.50 Put on my pyjamas. Gurb's absence weighs on my spirits. As we have spent all our evenings together for the last eight hundred years, am at a loss as to how to kill the time between now and sleep. I could watch local television, or read the latest comic strip adventure of Lolita Galaxia, but neither appeals. Cannot understand Gurb's absence, and even less his silence. Have never been an unreasonable superior. Have always allowed the crew, i.e. Gurb, complete freedom to come and go as he pleases (in his time off), but if he knows he won't be back, or he's going to be late, surely the least he could do is let me know?
08.00 Still no news from Gurb. Try again to establish sensorial contact. Get an angry voice demanding in the name of decent people everywhere, whom it claims to represent, a full and detailed inquiry into allegations of sleaze against a certain Señor Guerra. Decide to abandon sensorial contact.
08.30 Leave the spaceship and in the form of a grebe take a look at the area from the air.
09.30 Having completed the operation, return to the spaceship. If the cities are tortuous and irrational in their design, the countryside around them is worse. Nothing is flat or regular, on the contrary it seems to have been deliberately planned so as to be inconvenient. As for the coastline, it looks like the work of a madman.
09.45 After a detailed study of a map of the city (the double elliptical-axis cartographic version), decide to continue my search for Gurb in a zone on the periphery inhabited by a species of human being known as poor people. As the Catalogue assigns them a level of docility somewhat lower than that of the variety known as rich people, and considerably lower than the variety known as the middle classes, opt for the appearance of the individual designated Gary Cooper.
10.00 Beam down in an apparently deserted street in the San Cosme district. Doubt if Gurb would come to live here of his own accord, though he is not what you would call the sharpest arrow in the quiver.
10.01 A group of youths with knives take my wallet.
10.02 A group of youths with knives take my gun and my sheriff's badge.
10.03 A group of youths with knives take my waistcoat, shirt and trousers.
10.04 A group of youths with knives take my boots, spurs and the harmonica.
10.10 A patrol car draws up beside me. A policeman gets out, informs me of my rights under the Constitution, handcuffs me and shoves me in the car. Temperature, 21 degrees centigrade; humidity, 75 per cent; winds gusting from the south; heavy seas.
10.30 Put into a cell at the police station. In the same cell there is an individual of shabby appearance, to whom I introduce myself and give an account of the vicissitudes that have brought me to this unhappy pass.
10.45 Once he has overcome the initial distrust that human beings invariably feel towards other member of their species, the individual whom fate has placed in my path decides to initiate a conversation with me. He gives me his card which reads as follows:
I read tarot, I play the violin, I inspire pity
Service in your own home if required
10.50 My new friend explains that he has been banged up in error, because he never broke into a car to steal nothing, he earns an honest living begging, and the substance they found on him wasn't what they said it was, but the ashes of his late father, God rest his soul, which he was taking that very day to scatter them over the city from a well-known beauty spot. He then adds that everything he's just told me is a lie, but, in any case, it won't do him any good, because there's no such thing as justice in this country, and even though they've got no proof and no witnesses, they'll probably take us and lock us up in the slammer just because of the way we look and when we get out we'll have fleas and AIDS. I tell him I don't understand, and he replies that there's nothing to understand, calls me mate, adds that such is life and remarks that the crux of the matter is the unequal distribution of wealth in this country. By way of an example, he cites the case of an individual whose name I forget, who has built himself a house with twenty-two toilets, adding that he hopes he gets diarrhoea sometime when they're all occupied. He then climbs onto his bed and announces that when the glorious day dawns (what glorious day does he have in mind?) he'll force the individual in question to do his business out in the yard with the chickens and will distribute the twenty-two toilets to a similar number of families on income support. That way, he says, they'll have something to occupy their time with till they're given a job, as promised. At this point he falls off the bed and bangs his head.
11.30 A different policeman from the one previously mentioned opens the cell door and orders us to follow him, apparently with the aim of charging us. Fearful after my new friend's warnings, decide to adopt a more respectable appearance, so turn into Don José Ortega y Gasset and as a gesture of solidarity turn my friend into Don Miguel de Unamuno.
11.35 Taken to the sergeant, who looks us over, scratches his head, says why go looking for problems and tells us we're free to go.
11.40 Say goodbye to my new friend outside the police station. Before we go our separate ways, friend asks me to restore him to his old appearance, because the way he looks now, nobody's going to give him a penny, even if he sticks on some artificial ulcers that make him look absolutely stomach-churning. Do as he asks and he leaves.
11.45 Renew my search.
14.30 Still no news from Gurb. Following the example of everyone around me, decide to eat. As all the shops are closed, except ones called restaurants, deduce that food served in these. Sniff the rubbish outside several restaurants till I find one that appeals.
14.45 Go into the restaurant and a gentleman dressed in black asks me in a disdainful tone whether I have a reservation. Tell him I haven't, but add that I am having a house built with twenty-two toilets. Ushered immediately to a table decorated with a bunch of flowers, which I promptly eat, in order not to appear impolite. They give me the menu (uncoded), I read it and order melon, melon with ham, and ham. They ask me what I want to drink. To avoid attracting attention, I order the liquid most commonly found among humans: urine.
16.15 Have coffee. Am offered a glass of pear liqueur on the house. They then bring me the bill, which comes to six thousand eight hundred and thirty-four pesetas. I have no money of any kind.
16.35 Smoke a Montecristo Number Two (2) while trying to think how to get out of embarrassing situation. I could disintegrate, but reject this idea because a) it might attract the attention of waiters and other customers and b) it would be unfair if the consequences of my lack of forethought were to fall on these amiable people, who have offered me a glass of pear liqueur on the house.
16.40 On pretext of having left something in my car, leave restaurant, go to news kiosk and buy tickets and cards for the various lotteries on offer.
16.45 Manipulating the numbers by means of elementary formulae, win 122 million pesetas. Go back to restaurant, pay bill and leave one hundred thousand peseta tip.
16.55 Resume search for Gurb by only means known to me: walking the streets.
20.00 Have walked so much there is smoke rising from the soles of my shoes. The heel has fallen off one shoe, forcing me to hobble along in a ridiculous and tiring fashion. Throw the shoes away, go into a shop and with the money left over from the restaurant buy a new pair of shoes, less comfortable than the other ones, but made of very strong material. Wearing these new shoes, known as skis, begin to search the Pedralbes district of the city.
21.00 Complete the search of Pedralbes without finding Gurb, but very pleasantly impressed by the elegant houses, the secluded streets, the smooth lawns, the deep swimming pools. Cannot understand why some people prefer to live in deplorable districts like San Cosme, when they could live in places like Pedralbes. Possibly not a question of preference so much as money.
It would appear that human beings are divided into various categories, one of which is rich and poor. This is a division which they consider very important, for reasons that are unclear. The fundamental difference between the two seems to be this: wherever they go, the rich don't pay, however much they acquire or consume. The poor, on the other hand, practically have to pay for the privilege of breathing. This exemption enjoyed by the rich may be something that goes back a long way, or it may be a recent thing, it may be temporary, it may even be a pretence; it doesn't matter. From a statistical viewpoint, it seems clear that the rich live longer and better than the poor, they are taller, healthier and better-looking, they have a more exciting time, they get to travel to more exotic places, receive a better education, work shorter hours, live in greater comfort, have more clothes, in particular more spring outfits, are offered better health care and more elaborate funerals and are remembered for longer. They are also more likely to have their photograph appear in newspapers and magazines and on calendars.
21.30 Decide to go back to the space ship. Disintegrate in front of the entrance to the Monastery of Pedralbes, to the astonishment of the nun who at that precise moment is putting out the rubbish.
22.00 Energy recharge. Get ready to spend another evening alone. Read a comic strip about Lolita Galaxia, but usually do this with Gurb, to whom I have to explain the more risqué jokes, because he's not what you'd call quick on the uptake, so instead of cheering me up, it just makes me feel sad.
22.30 Tired of walking up and down inside the space-ship, decide to turn in for the night. It's been a long day. Put on pyjamas, say prayers and get into bed.
© Eduardo Mendoza
Translated by Annella McDermott
Eduardo Mendoza (Barcelona, 1943) is a key writer in the genre of new detective fiction which has emerged in Spain since the 1970s, author of La verdad sobre el caso Savolta (1975; The Truth about the Savolta Case, tr. Alfred Macadam, Harvill, 1993), El misterio de la cripta embrujada (1979), El laberinto de las aceitunas (1982) abd Una comedia ligera (1996). La ciudad de los prodigios (1986; City of Marvels, tr. Bernard Molloy, Harvill, 1988) is a period novel, set in Barcelona in the 1920s. La isla inaudita (1989), unusually for Mendoza, is set in Venice. El año del deluvio (1992; The Year of the Flood, tr. N. Caistor, Harvill, 1995) tells the story of a relationship between a nun and a rich landowner in rural Catalonia. Mendoza is also the author of a play, Restauració (1990) and of an engaging tale of aliens landing in Barcelona, Sin noticias de Gurb (1991), from which this extract is taken.