Fri May 12th, 2006 at 03:38:30 PM EST
An anonymous old man, dying, in an ambulance rushing through an anonymous Irish town.
The anonymous death of an old man, alone, soon to be forgotten. Not leaving a ripple in the course of events or in the mind of anyone.
The garish neon street lights paint his face alternatively green, then pink, then green again.
In the ambulance, the medics go through their rituals. They are familiar with death, an old acquaintance, they are on a first name basis. They know they will lose this fight of course, but they do their job, listening to these last few breaths of a life soon to vanish.
When they reach the hospital, he is dead.
The morning after. A girl climbing up decrepit stairs. The grand daughter. She was his only relative. She knows nothing about him.
By the looks of her, she is another of these anonymous English youngsters, too devoid of character and intelligence to have any thought of rebelling against the plastic idols of our times.
A girl who took a train to a town she does not know, to bury someone she did not know.
She has been given the keys to his apartment. She decided to go have a look, the burial will be late in the afternoon.
Where and how did her grand-father live ? Did he live anything ?
Does he leave anything behind ?
What do old men think about ? Were they ever young ?
A girl's thoughts. What do they know about old men ?
The girl climbs the stairs to a small room, last floor. A bed, a table, a chair, an old cardboard suitcase, some books, dried flowers, a map of Europe, a window overlooking the roofs. She sits, a bit desperate now, why did she have to come here, this is all so sad, she should have remained home.
She opens the table drawer, finds those things which seem to inhabit everyone's pockets, stamps, staples, postcards, the flotsam of our existence. She finds a little bottle too, and in it what seems to be a handful of dust.
She looks around, opens the tired suitcase. In it, letters. Many letters, old letters. Old documents, some of them in Spanish, neatly folded, sorted, chronologically. A few torn yellowed black and white photographs. Young men, armed, she couldn't tell where this was. Or when. But she thinks before or during the Second World War. She guesses that much.
Now, she is interested. She empties the suitcase, makes little piles on the bed and on the table, and starts reading.
What she is reading now is the story of a life. The kind of life she had no idea could exist.
Her grand-father, in the thirties, was an idealist, an utopist. He believed in the advent of the Revolution, when at last workers would be freed from their chains. He would go to secret meetings, where the World would be analyzed, and its fate sealed.
The World around them certainly was moving. Hitler's irresistible ascension cast dark shadows all over Europe. In Spain, the Army rebelled against the Republican Government. During one of those meetings, it was decided that those who would volunteer would go to Spain, to fight for the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War.
Of course, her grand-father went. He wanted to fight for the Just against the Brutes, for Freedom against Fascism. He was ready to give his life. He enrolled into the International Brigades. Young men from all over the world, who believed they had to fight for a just cause, Russians, Americans, Irish, French : the International Brigades.
The girl kept reading, for most of the afternoon. She read how he dug into trenches, shells exploding all around, freezing under a merciless winter sky, how he almost died of thirst, how he was bombed by Hitler's Condor Legion, and how he learned this most basic of values, brotherhood.
He fought with the Anarchists. The Communist Party was keeping a close eye on them.
There, he met a young Spanish woman, fighting on their side, and fell madly in love. A once in a lifetime love, the kind of love who opens a door into a better world. Sometimes, fighting would separate them, and an unbearable anguish would paralyze him.
Finally, their fate was decided elsewhere, very far, in Moscow : Stalin decided those Trotsko-anarchists were too difficult to control, and had to be suppressed. The ever obedient Spanish communist party then proceeded to eliminate them, at gun point.
Fighting erupted in the streets of Barcelona. She was among the victims, he was not.
A now broken man, lost, he helped to dig a hole in Spanish soil, where they buried her. Someone did manage to say a poem of Garcia Llorca, and she was gone for ever from the surface of this Earth. His heart went with her. He took a handful of dust, of this soil where she was now resting, poured it in a small bottle, and put the bottle in his pocket.
He was then considered of not much help, his time was over, he went back to Ireland. He had lost his fight, and his heart.
The girl stops reading. She gets up, walks to the window, looks at those roofs, which her grand father had seen so often in his last years.
Later on, at the cemetery, there are half a dozen people, about his grand father age, and a priest. The coffin is lowered into the soil. The girl steps forward, raises her fist, and says this same poem by Garcia Llorca. A poem about Land and Freedom.
She then opens the bottle and pours the dust on her grand father's coffin. Fifty years later, at last, together.