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Wednesday
Feb252009

Cuento sin moraleja

A parable ("Tale without a moral") by this Argentine.  You can read the original here.

There once was a man who sold words and screams.  Business was going quite well despite the numerous people he encountered who would dispute his prices in search of discounts.  The man almost always consented; and in this way he was able to sell plenty of street vendor screams, a few sighs bought off him by some pensioner women, and words for slogans, letterhead, and false witticisms.

Finally the man knew that the hour had come and he asked for an audience with the country's petty tyrant.  The tyrant, who looked just like all his colleagues, received him surrounded by generals, ministers and cups of coffee.

"I have come to sell you your last words," the man said.  "These are very important because they will never come to you at the right time; rather, you will find it convenient to utter them in some deep trance and thereby easily settle your historical fate in retrospect."

"Translate what he says," the tyrant commanded his interpreter.

"He's speaking Argentine, your Excellency."

"Argentine?  Then why don't I understand him?"

"You understood me perfectly well," said the man.  "I repeat: I have come to sell you your last words."

The petty tyrant rose to his feet as was customary in such circumstances and, suppressing a shudder, ordered that the man be arrested and placed in one of those special dungeons that these types of governments always seem to have at their disposal.

"What a shame," said the man as they took him away.  "I know you'll want to say them when the moment comes, and you will need to say them to settle your historical fate in retrospect.  What I was going to sell you is what you will want to say, and there is no getting around it.  But seeing that you won't accept this offer, you will never learn the words in advance.  And, of course, when the moment comes in which they'll want to gush forth for the first time, you won't be able to say them."

"And why won't I, if they're what I'll need to say?" asked the tyrant with the steam from another cup of coffee wafting before him.

"Because fear will not permit it," the man said sadly.  "You'll have a rope around your neck and nothing but a shirt on; fear and cold will be rattling your every bone.  Your teeth will be clattering and you won't be able to articulate a single word.  The hangman and his assistants – among whom you will find several of these gentlemen here – will wait a few minutes in all likelihood for the sake of decorum.  But when nothing more than a stifled moan emerges from your lips for hiccoughs and supplications (these, as it were, you will spout effortlessly), they will lose all patience and give you to the noose."

Wild with indignation, the ministers and especially the generals surrounded the petty tyrant to request that the man be shot immediately.  Yet the tyrant, "who was as pale as death itself," shoved his way past them and shut himself off in a room with the man to buy his last words from him.

In the meantime the generals and ministers, humiliated by such treatment, began to organize a coup and the next morning seized the tyrant as he was eating grapes in his favorite arbor.  So that he could not utter his last words, they put a bullet through his head and killed him on the spot.  Afterwards they went to look for the man who had disappeared from the governmental palace.  They found him soon enough: he was loafing about a marketplace selling public cries to acrobats.  Placing him in a stagecoach, they took him to the fortress and tortured him so that he would reveal what the tyrant's last words might have been.  Since they could not wrest a confession out of him, they kicked and beat him to death.

The vendors who had bought screams off him continued to scream on the street corners, and one of these screams soon became the watchword of the counterrevolution which did away with the generals and the ministers.  Before dying, some of them were confused by thoughts that all this had been nothing more than a clumsy chain of misunderstandings, and that the screams and the words were things which, strictly speaking, could be sold but which could not be bought, although this seemed absurd.

And they all rotted – the petty tyrant, the man, the generals, the ministers – but the screams resonated from time to time on the street corners.

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