The Illcome Visit




This story is true. It happened to me this very week. [Note from the author: This happened several years before I translated the account into English.] I'm writing it now while it’s still so fresh in my mind. I've made a few changes, e.g. the name of the visitor. [Excuse me, everybody named Stefan, for using your name for this character, but on the other hand – to any other reader: if you ever come across someone called Stefan, you can be sure that he’s not the person in this story. (You can’t be entirely sure about anybody else...)] I don’t want to relate my earlier experiences with “Stefan” because there were also other witnesses present who could identify him, and I don’t want to run the risk of a lawsuit for libel. For the same reason, I don’t specify which country he comes from, but I find it pertinent to state that it’s a country to the north, so that the reader can be clear that this slug should be perfectly acquainted with the following concepts and fully appreciate their significance: winter, snow, food for getting through the winter, firewood.


So, "Stefan”, if you're reading these lines, I want you to know that I've covered your traces well enough. Nobody saw you arrive at my house, nobody saw you leave. Nobody saw us together at any time. So if you decide to sue me for defamation of character, you will only be identifying yourself. [And if this story makes me famous and successful as a writer (hee hee hee) and you want to claim part of the royalties - or proclaim that I'm only a success thanks to you (which is more your style) - you’ll also be identifying yourself.]


Friends of mine who have read this story – and know where and how I live – have suggested that I ought to make clear to the rest of you that my house is inaccessible by car, and a two hour walk from the nearest village. [You can get a four-wheeled-drive to within a 20 minute walk, but since I have neither car nor driving license, that doesn’t do me a lot of good.] This means that provisions are brought 8km uphill in a rucksack.


I would like to add that the final conversation between “Stefan” and myself, in the computer room in the village was not as extensive as I relate it in this story. I was nervous, I didn’t remember everything that I'd prepared in my head to say to him. And maybe I've added a few details that occurred to me afterwards. But the essence of it I did tell him, may Someone forgive me...



Last Monday I spent all day in the village. I'd left my house at half past seven in order to arrive at the village at nine, when they open the village hall, from where I get the key to the computer room. [For simplicity, we simply call this room: "the internet".] Getting there so early is important because the machines [computers and modems] react so slowly - and I'm so slow at typing – that I need all the time available in order to get a few things done. It wouldn’t be worth the 8km walk down the mountain to the village and the 8 back (uphill) for only two hours of internet. Since I have no television or radio at home, this is my connection to the outside world. And despite my decision to live in the mountains, "isolating myself from the world", I do care about what’s happening elsewhere, especially to the people I love.


Well, as on many other occasions, on Monday I hadn’t finished what I wanted to do when 2 pm arrived and I had to return the key to the council secretary. I usually take advantage of the two hours until they reopen the council offices to go to the Post Office, do some shopping, make a phone call or two, eat some raw vegetables and fruit for lunch, and have a walk.


The three hours of "the afternoon session" passed by, 7pm arrived, and I still had several more e-mails to write. I was thinking of the possibility, while walking back home, of going back down in two days. In fact, these days it’s so cold that I can’t get on with any work at home, so what would I lose spending another day in the village? The pleasure of sitting almost the whole day in front of the stove, using up firewood, eating as a distraction? A few strolls through the snow? I do take advantage of the time at home in reading: I've recently finished two books that I had half-read some months - or years - ago, and I'm making progress on a third also started years ago. [I read a lot: it’s just that these three books are heavy going and I'd put them aside in favour of something lighter...] I'd get my strolls through the snow anyway - and quite long ones - if I returned to the village. The truth is that several months ago, I changed the way I thought about the 8km walk and ceased to see it as just a necessary task to reach the village, the bus for the city, internet... and now really enjoy it.


On the way home, I made visits to two neighbours - in one case, to deliver a litre of wine and a few kilos of fruit that he’d asked me to buy for him in the village. I forgot the endive, sorry... So it was past 10pm when I got home. And I found myself faced with a broken front door. Not a lot of damage: someone had ripped out the eye-screw on one side of the padlock, causing a break / crack a few centimetres long in a corner of the door. But I am a great admirer of wood: wood, in fact, is almost sacred to me; I consider (for example) it almost a blasphemy to cover its marvellous, miraculous grain with paint... And I'd brought this door all the way from the city, had removed a coat of very ugly paint from one of its sides and a layer of whitewash (!) from the other, had treated it with linseed oil and turpentine, had cut and installed four sheets of glass, and had fit it as the main door of my house.


Also, of course, the fact of the broken door meant that someone had entered my house without permission... I'd had dealings with thieves twice last year. And if there were still someone inside the house? If I was about to catch them red-handed, what would they be willing to do to me in order to make their escape?


I opened the door cautiously. I thought I heard a noise upstairs. I didn’t think of arming myself with a piece of firewood. Like a fool, with only an electric torch in my hand and (also) with my rucksack on my back as a possible encumbrance to my movements, I climbed the stairs as quietly as possible and – this time quicker - opened the curtain at the entrance to the living room. A smell of feet-which-have-gone-several-days-without-taking-off-their-shoes greeted me (in a very loud voice). Also the view of someone inside a sleeping bag on the floor beside the entrance. A face I didn’t recognize turned towards me.


"Who are you?" I asked in Castilian. [In my corner of Spain, you are rather wasting your time if you start off in Catalan.]




"Who are you?"


"I’m a friend of Jimmy’s." [The 'Jimmy' pronounced with the Spanish j (sounding like the ch in ‘loch’): ‘Himmy’. None of my friends pronounce my name like this. The Castilian speakers pronounce it 'Yimmi. But anyone who had read my name somewhere and wanted to pretend to be my friend...]


"What friend of 'Himmy's’?" [Pronounced his way.]


"Esteve." [Esteve?! In Catalan now? Well, the only Esteve (in Catalan) that I would consider a friend who occurred to me at that moment is a 21-year-old whom I haven’t seen since he was 8. And he wouldn’t know how to get to my place...]


"Esteve? Esteve?" I had come all the way into the room now. Unless he had a gun, he could hardly attack me from inside a sleeping bag. Looking at him more attentively (but what the hell is going on here?!) with the imprecise light of the torch, it dawned on me:




"Yes, yes, Stefan... Is that you, Jimmy? I can’t see you behind that light." [At this point, we’d stopped speaking in Spanish.] "Hey, it’s great that you’ve arrived! I was starting to believe that I'd have to spend my time here all alone...”


Since I was hungry, I asked: "Have you had supper?"


"Yes, yes, I lit the woodstove and cooked. If you want supper there’s some left on the stove. Hey, that’s great, that’s great! I saw tracks in the snow around the door, so I knew someone had been here recently... Listen, if you plan to stay awake for a while, I think I'll get up again.”


[It’s quite possible that this story will appear too long and boring to you. I'm very talkative and have a similar style of writing. I'm afraid that I bore my friends more than I want to with my chat. But this Stefan out-talks me by a long chalk, so now, not wanting to bore you monumentally, I'm going to omit the massive majority of our conversations from the story... You’re welcome...]


While I was reviving the fire in the stove [and noticing how my reserves of wood had diminished, after thinking that I wouldn’t be burning any that day]; lighting a gaslight ["That’s great! I've brought two tea lights (those short candles encased in aluminium) but didn’t want to use them up yet..." So he’d lit my last candle stub, which I was saving for emergencies (the gas running out, to have light in those parts of the house where I don’t have gaslights)! Thank you, "Friend”!]; removing some pieces of his aromatic clothing [distributed throughout the room] from a couple of chairs; putting the cats out ["When I saw them outside I thought perhaps they should stay there... But see: they came with in with me!"]; and recovering from the shock [besides the damage to the door, I have to admit that I hadn’t wanted to see this guy again: he had done me a favour or two in the past – in fact his attitude was that without his help, my existence here in the mountains would have been im-poss-ible - but I think that I'd paid dearly enough: enduring his sexist comments, his boasting, his arrogance... And I had also done him favours, without giving him to understand that without my help, his life out there would have been im-poss-ible...]; he was proudly relating his adventures in getting to my house [with all the details].


I had noticed that on the table was a glass jar (which he’d removed from my pantry) with diced dried papaya. I buy a kilo of this papaya at a wholesalers’, sometimes when I pass through Barcelona (500km from home) – a visit I don’t make very often - as a special luxury, and use it when I bake cakes.


Here I should explain that my finances are so precarious that I always have a debate with myself about whether or not to buy the papaya. But I need some luxury... I explain this so you’ll understand that finding that an uninvited guest had treated himself freely (and generously) to this papaya was [for me] as it might be [for you] if someone had entered your house and opened a bottle of your best champagne without your permission.


While moving things from one place to another, to make some space, I asked if he had brought any food that might interest a mouse – as I have some in my house and have to keep edibles safe. It transpired that he had arrived with two whole-wheat rolls and a sausage. I'm a vegetarian (as he well knew). [He’d made supper out of things that he found in the house.]


[With the risk of boring you further, I wish to make one thing clear... underlined and in colour: If a friend were to arrive at my house without notice and without bringing a contribution to the stocks of food, I'd be very pleased with the visit, and wouldn’t pay attention to expenses or luxuries. (But then most of my friends would hardly consider presenting themselves at the door with nothing to eat.) But if the individual is a person whom I don’t actually consider a friend, that’s a different matter...]


When the stove had heated the room enough, and the dinner pot started singing, he came out of his sleeping bag [another wave of stink] and began to get dressed. All the time singing the glories of his genius and his great feat of reaching my house. I realized that he had been lying on a half-mattress. [I have a few half-mattresses - approximately 110cm long - which serve as cushions for the sofas. When I have guests, I put two together to serve as a long but narrow mattress for one person or three together in another configuration to serve as a double mattress.] I said to him: "Hey, that can’t be very comfortable. Why didn’t you use two for a better fit?"


"Because you have stuff on the sofa, and I didn’t feel like moving it." [I admit that I am very, very messy, and have the sofas - when I haven’t got visitors – covered with book, bags full of stuff, clothes, anything.]


"Well, now I'll move all this and give you another mattress."


"No, Man, not necessary. I'm so tired that I'll sleep like a log. I can sleep as long as I want tomorrow; I haven’t slept as well in days... Now that I see you eating, I think I'll have seconds..."


While we were eating and I was asking myself just how I felt about this intruder, he told me that he’d spent two nights in a coach coming from his country in the north to a certain city in Spain, where he had been provisionally offered a job. He had to call back to find out for sure in 11 days, and - finding that the next coach back northwards wasn’t until the next day - had decided to pay me a visit. [This comes after years without hearing anything from each other and without his knowing for sure that I still lived here - so that he’d broken in without knowing that the house was still mine.] It seems that he hadn’t yet decided whether to stay at my place for a couple of days before travelling north or to stay with me the whole 11 days. At no time did it occur to him to ask me what I thought about that...


After dinner, he started looking through all his pockets, getting up, sitting down, getting up again. I supposed that he was looking for tobacco but didn’t say anything until he found it and started rolling a cigarette.


"You’ll remember that to smoke you’ve got to go outside, that this is a smoke-free house?"


"Man, with the weather this cold? Can’t you have some mercy?"


"Smoke affects me very badly. If I go to a smoker friend's house I put up with it, but here in my house I've decided that there’s not to be any smoke whatsoever indoors."


"Have you noticed that I had a smoke before you got home?" [This in a tone of voice: "See how clever I am, to pull a fast one on you?" And now that I think of it (writing this down), while cleaning house after another visit of his - and having told him not to smoke indoors – I'd found a couple of butts next to the mattress where he’d slept.]


"Well, it’ll be the last time. From now on you’ll smoke outside..."


He went out. On his return, coming in, he let a cat in. I caught it and put it out. I explained: "The cats were born when I was away. And the people who were taking care of the house for me didn’t housetrain them. When I returned they were already too old to learn. In fact, sometimes, if I've got the door open, they’ve come in from outside with the single purpose of shitting, and having done so, gone back out. So they’ve got to stay outside."


And so we continued talking. I'm only going to include one more detail of that evening’s conversation:


"Do you know the band Båmmel*?"


"Never heard of them."


"They’re fantastic. I've brought 4 or 5 of their CDs with me.”


"What kind of music is it?"


"It's a kind of Viking-Celtic music. Fantastic. I have a couple of CDs of them playing live and you notice how the public really gets into it..." [I imagined a dark music pub, full - mostly of young males with long greasy hair, wearing black leather or those sheepskin jackets with the wool on the outside, and those ever-popular leather-and-aluminium-spikes bracelets, making pseudo-sexual movements with their fists toward the ceiling while chanting: "Ungh! Ungh! Ungh! Ungh!" Almost certainly someone in the audience - and perhaps also among the musicians - would have the ingenious idea of wearing a helmet with horns on his head...]


"I also brought a few CDs by Los Reyes Del Bimbo*. Perhaps you know them?”


*I've also changed the names of the groups.


"The name rings a bell, but I don’t know their music. What’s it like?”


"The group leader is brilliant. He plays a very strong guitar and also has a very strong voice." [To my mind came those heavy metal singers who have a normal voice when speaking, but feel the absolute artistic necessity - when singing - of putting on a voice like those of the REALLY nasty aliens in cheap science fiction series or those possessed by the Devil Himself in terror / suspense movies. I've never seen the attraction in it... I didn’t think about the "strong guitar" at that time but, having been introduced to Stefan’s musical tastes on a previous visit, it now occurs to me that this means that volume predominates over skill.] "I've also got more into playing music myself, you know, since we last saw each other. In fact, I had a group... But we bust up... I saw them in concert once after I wasn’t in the group, but I didn’t think they were much good." [So that "we bust up" means that the group decided to dispense with his input.]


After insisting on his rejection of my offer of another half-mattress, he returned to his sleeping bag, and I went to bed.


The next morning, after spending a night of waking up every so often due to his coughing, I stayed in bed thinking about it all. On the one hand, I should be more flexible, more understanding, this guy had done me several favours. If we didn’t meet up with any women, he could be bearable. And in fact, I always felt a little guilty for never having explained to him why I'd stopped writing him. On the other hand, if he were to bother me too much, I could make it clear to him that eleven days: he shouldn’t even think about it!... We’ll see...


When I couldn’t stay in bed any longer [I had stayed there a long while, to let him sleep more] I got up, got dressed, and began the day: cleaning ash out of the stove, lighting it, putting water on to heat, heating up a yogi-tea made earlier... When the living room was warmer, Stefan began to come to life, one of the first signs being to start talking again. And when he got up at last, he announced that he would go out to smoke the first of the day.


I went on doing things. Having a wash, preparing a breakfast, looking for things... Once when I went to look for something on the other side of the curtain, I noticed the smell of tobacco smoke. I went down the stairs and saw Stefan – on the ground floor certainly but inside the house - smoking calmly. "Stefan!" I said, "I told you to smoke outdoors! You have no idea how much smoking bothers me. Let's say that it’s a pathological aversion. Because of a current of air I noticed the smoke upstairs. For me, 'outside' means 'outside'.”


"Oh yeah, sure..." said The Slug, but without any movement – neither to go out, nor to put out the cigarette. I guess he thought - as he’d nearly smoked it all – that it wouldn’t be worth changing the venue. I left him to it and I went back upstairs.


Confrontations make me nervous and it took a while for me to tackle the issue:


"We’ve got to talk. To begin with, let me say that I'm glad you came..." [I wasn’t lying now. That morning in bed, I'd decided that yes, I was glad, that at least it would give me the opportunity to apologize for having abruptly cut off the correspondence between us, without telling him why.] "You’re a generous and good humoured guy, I'm grateful to you for [here comes a censored bit: the favours that he’d done, but followed by a list of attitudes of his and details of the last visit that had bothered me.] "... And that's why I stopped writing you. I didn’t like that treatment of me at all.”


"I called that friend of yours once, what was her name?... and she said that you were in Ireland..." [I wondered if he was listening to what I said at all.]


"Another thing: maybe you said something and I didn’t hear you, but it seems to me that so far you haven’t bothered to apologize for the damage you did to the door, nor offer to repair it.”


"The door? That doesn’t matter, Man: almost no damage at all...”


"Well, to me it seems more than 'almost no damage at all'. And you yourself said that you weren’t sure if I'd be coming home. Have you considered that maybe I was travelling and might have been away a couple of weeks? You would have left here, leaving an obviously broken door, so anyone passing by could see it? It could have given some people ideas, don’t you think?”


"But I've got a tube of 'Super Glue'. I would have put the hook back in the hole again and glued the crack. Just like new.”


"I don’t think so, but let’s drop it... But let me say this: sometimes it’s worth saying 'sorry'.”


"Man, for such a little thing?"


"To you it would seem such a little thing if someone broke your door and entered your home?"


"The truth is that I was robbed twice last year..."


"And you didn’t matter to you at all, right?"


"Yes, Man: but here nobody’s stolen anything."


"Well let’s drop it. Let’s start over. Tabula rasa. But you’ve got to have some understanding of my life and my situation here. Don’t come here again without letting me know first - and my agreeing. No more smoking indoors. And don’t treat me as you did in the past, as if you know everything better and I don’t have a clue. It’s my life and my decisions. And if they aren’t decisions that you’d make, that’s my business. OK?... And let’s see if we can be friends...


"Now, since most of the house is a building site, and since I retreat in winter into this little space, I suggest we spend the days here but at night you could sleep next-door, seeing as the neighbour’s in Ibiza and has given me permission to use his place for cases like this.”


"Yes, but just let me say something. You shouldn’t have chosen such a big house: it’s too much work for one person. You’ll never finish doing it up. You would have done better with a small house...”


After breakfast I said "I'm going to clear up a little in here: it’s too small a space for two people with all my stuff everywhere. And I'll wash the dishes... If you fancy, you could take a walk. And if you see a dead tree or a big broken branch, take note of where it is, tell me, and then we’ll take a saw and go together to cut it up for firewood. We’ll need some. I've seen on internet that another polar cold front is on its way. And a neighbour heard on the radio that there’ll be maybe half a metre of snow and all... Yesterday I bought enough vegetables for myself, but if you’re staying we’ll need to buy more. If you give me some money I'll go down tomorrow to the village. I don’t mind: that way I'll take advantage of the trip and get onto internet.


"There’s no need to do any shopping. I've had a look at your larder: there are lentils, rice, homemade stuff...”


"I'd prefer to have fresh vegetables."


"Well I'll go to the village with you."


"No, listen, you walked a long way yesterday. Rest up here, I'll go.”


"I already have rested. I slept really well last night.”


"As you wish. But I'll want to leave here at 7 in the morning... Well, don’t forget to remember where the dead trees are. We can go out for firewood after lunch.”


"That won’t be necessary: I'll take the saw now and cut down a whole tree for you."


"Okay, but don’t saw any live trees: only dead ones."


I was preparing lunch when Stefan returned. I had to go downstairs when he arrived to put out the cat that he had let in, and saw that he had brought a load of green pine branches - with very green leaves. Seeing this, I said:


"Leave all this outside: it’ll dry in a few months and then I'll be able to use it."


"Eh, it doesn’t matter that it’s green. It will perfectly burn well, you’ll see.”


"I don’t want to burn green pine in my stove: it would block the tube with soot and tar."


"That’s no problem..."


"Listen. I DON’T WANT green wood in MY stove! Leave it out here.”


"No, no! At the least I'll cut it up for you into small pieces...”


So I left him to it and went back upstairs, to continue preparing lunch, interrupted every so often to put the cat out. It turned out that Stefan was entering the wood two branches at a time and cutting it up indoors. This didn’t bother me, but each time he let the cat in...


After a while, Stefan came upstairs and right in front of my nose filled the stove with green twigs... all the time telling me that burning green wood is no problem, the winters aren’t long in Spain, I won’t have any problem in clearing the stovepipe (I'll do it when he’s long gone...) I was too shocked to utter a single word.


After lunch, I started washing dishes and meanwhile heated up more yogi-tea. When I passed him his glass, I said:


"When I've finished with the dishes and we’ve drunk our tea, we can go look for firewood, there’s not much left. I know a place a bit further downhill where there are two dead trees. It’s actually a good thing that you're here because they’re on a slope above a bramble patch. If they fell into that, it’d be a bother to get them back out. But if we tie a rope around each and you pull while I saw, we can make them fall uphill.”


"But Man, let me cut one of those trees further up the mountain. That way you’ll have enough firewood for two months. And it’ll be easier bringing them downhill than carrying wood uphill...”


"I've already told you that green wood does me no good now. And now is when it’s going to be cold. In addition, these dead trees are closer than the forest uphill and – since they’re dead - weigh less.”


"Yes, but we’ll have to carry them back. And we could drag a tree from uphill down here with a rope.”


"Yes, and damage all the terracing walls on the way as well. If we did look for a tree uphill, we’d have to carry it back as well. And I'm telling you that the dead ones downhill aren’t that far away.”


"OK, OK..."


When I'd finished washing the dishes and was drinking my tea, he let loose:


"If we’re going to go look for firewood, let’s go now: it’ll be dark in a little while and I don’t want to walk these paths in the dark. You know them, but I don’t want to trip over stones...”


"Let me finish this tea. Don’t worry: if we don’t manage to saw the two trees before dark, we’ll come back. Even if we only get one of them we’ll have made a start.”


"Well, come on then!"


"I said let me finish the tea in peace. We’ll have time... Well: are you ready?" I put my boots on, went outside, and waited for him while stroking the cat. And there I waited. And waited. I opened the door and shouted: "Stefan? Aren’t you coming down?”


"I'm rolling myself a cigarette..."


I looked at the cat. "The shitbag! And why didn’t he roll it while telling me to hurry up with my yogi-tea?!”


After a while, Stefan appeared, I passed him the rope and, taking the saw, I started walking. He walked so very slowly, that soon I’d left him well behind. "At this rate," I thought, "it will be night. Should I wait for him or what? Nah! Let him follow my tracks in the snow. I'll start sawing; we won’t need to tie the rope just at the beginning.”


So I got to the slope over the dead trees. I left the path, went down the slope to reach them, and started sawing one. When he arrived up the slope, with a dismal look on his face, he asked: "What do I do? Saw this other tree up here?" [And how does he propose to do that if he hasn’t got a saw?!]


"No: throw me the rope, I'll tie it here, pass the other end back to you, and you pull from up there so that the tree falls uphill." [Didn’t I explain all this already before leaving the house?]


"It’s just that it will soon be night, and I..."


I consider myself a patient man. [In fact, on one occasion, my girlfriend (of that time) blew up at me, well pissed off: "How can you be so bloody patient?!" And I was being patient with her...] But at this point my patience decided to go on holiday.


"LISTEN!" I shouted. "At home, while I was drinking, you were putting pressure on me to come on NOW. Then while I was waiting for you out in the cold, you were rolling yourself a cigarette! And now you come up with this about its being so late. This morning I told you that if you want to find dry wood, I'll go with you to fetch it. And you go and return with a few green branches that I won’t be able to use for weeks. Have you noticed that there’s hardly any wood in the house?! I’ve had it with you! Throw me the rope and go back home already. Leave me alone, I'll do it on my own. But I’m telling you now that s tomorrow you’re clearing off. I'm well sick of you!”


The Slug stayed there, watching me, without speaking, without moving.


"Throw me the rope right now! and go back to the house to have a rest! You've had a tough afternoon, chattering while I did all the housework.”


"But... I can stay here tonight?”


"I already told you that you’re leaving tomorrow! And now: throw me the rope already and get out of here!”


I was able to saw one of the trees (which fell into the brambles, but - tied to the rope - it wasn’t too difficult to get it back out) and returned home, loaded with the main trunk, two branches (already sawed off) [I did say that these trees were very dry and light] and the saw, before it was too dark to see the path. While I was getting the three pieces through the door, Stefan showed up from somewhere outside [I guess he’d been smoking] and waited without saying a word until I had finished getting them in. While he went upstairs, I fed the cats. I stayed there with them for a while to calm myself down.


Once I’d achieved this feat, I went upstairs and found myself faced with a Stefan starting to tell me more of his nonsense, as if nothing were wrong. I guess that he was trying to repair the situation, but my patience hadn’t yet returned from its holidays.


"Listen, Stefan, my advice – since you’re going to be sleeping next-door anyway - is to get your stuff together and go there already. That way you’ll be spared my bad mood. If you take the firewood you collected this morning, you can light a fire in the fireplace and make yourself more comfortable.”


"OK..." and he began to pack his rucksack.


"If you want me to accompany you to the village, I’ll want to leave at 7. Or if you prefer, you can wait till midday. But in that case I won’t go with you. It’s up to you.”


"I don’t know if I can find my way with all this snow. I'll go down with you.”


"Well, then, we leave at 7. Will you be ready?”


"If you wake me up in time."


"OK." And I waited while he went looking for his things throughout the entire room.


"Listen, we don’t really need all this bother. If it’s only for one more night, I can sleep here on the floor...”


"But I don’t want to have you underfoot.”


"OK, OK..."


I went next-door with him to open the valve on the butane bottle, show him where the light switches were [the neighbour has a solar panel] and carry the firewood. But while I was gathering it in the entrance of my house, he said:


"Leave it, Man, it’s green and won’t light easily without dry wood."


"Whatever you say..." and we went next-door. But once there, noting how cold it was, I felt a little pity, and I went back to my place to take him a couple of loads of his branches, as well as some of my stock of dry wood so that he could get the fire going more easily.


That evening, it started to snow again... a heavy, fast snowfall. Please: don’t let it snow so much that we can’t leave tomorrow!...


The next day I moved half of his stuff into my rucksack to share the weight, and we left a little after 7, on our way to the village. I went ahead and he behind. He walked so slowly that, after a quarter of an hour, I said:


"Listen, if I continue at this pace, my toes will freeze - and my fingers as well. Can you follow my tracks in the snow?”


"Yeah, sure."


"Well, we’ll up meet in the village." And I explained how I find ‘the internet’. "Let’s see if walking more quickly warms me up."


"I haven’t got that problem..."


I really enjoyed the walk to the village. A few centimetres of snow had fallen and everything was so beautiful!... In my head I was preparing the approaching leave-taking. Once on internet I set myself to reading my e-mails and started to write one. Stefan appeared at 9:30 - in fact quite a bit earlier than I had expected. I'd already removed his things from my rucksack, they were lying on a table, and he started to put them in his rucksack.


"It says here that tomorrow there will be another cold front, that temperatures will drop quite a bit."


"You talking to me?" [Yes, you. Who else? If there’s nobody else here...]


When he had the rucksack done and was ready to leave, I looked at him and said:


"Stefan, as a last gift for you, I offer an opinion and a piece of advice." [He wasn’t looking at me, he made a face of "nothing to do with me".] "Want to hear them?"


"Yes, go ahead..."


"According to what you’ve told me, you’ve got three women pregnant. Two of these have had daughters of yours." [The other had two miscarriages.] "Between becoming pregnant and giving birth, both of these two have shown you the door. They don’t want to have anything more to do with you and don’t want you to have anything to do with the children...”




"But according to the laws of your country, you have to pay maintenance for the girls. Well my opinion is that once you had got these women pregnant, you started to tell them how to raise a child. And, in your usual way - always knowing everything better than anyone and anyone who has an opinion or idea different from yours is simply wrong – I'm sure that these women realized that it would be impossible to share the raising of a child with you. So it was ‘Goodbye, Stefan!’ and you’re still paying the price. Here’s my advice... No, wait, another opinion. In my opinion, you’d be a terrible father. You are stubborn, you know EVERYTHING better than anyone else, you pay absolutely no attention at all to the opinions or wishes of anybody else... I had a father just like that (and I'm afraid that I've inherited these traits to some extent). So I know what I'm talking about. I know what it means to suffer with a father like that.”


At last he looked at me. A look of defiance, of I-know-better-than-you. "So you think would be a bad father?"


"One of the worst that I can imagine. Listen, Stefan, you aren’t a bad person. We’ve had our differences, but I have to admit that you're a good-hearted and generous person. I'm telling you this for your own good." [But - I thought to myself - I'm telling him this also (and especially) for the sake of a child who shouldn’t have him as a father. The possibility of a future child suffering like this gave me courage to continue.] "Listen, I have a couple friends, men who are very, very nice, generous to their friends, and happy. But with their children they turn into furies, they’re monsters: they’ve got the children terrified by means of shouting and threats. They shouldn’t have had children. I'm not saying that you’d yell or threaten yours, I just don’t know. But knowing you as I do, I'm sure that you’d give them to understand that their views, their ideas, their wishes, don’t count for anything.


"So here comes my advice: get yourself sterilised... That way you’ll spare yourself another woman’s showing you the door but demanding maintenance payments...”


Without saying a word, Stefan turned around and headed toward the door.


"Take good care of yourself, Stefan."


"Take even better care, Jimmy."


Returning home, I remembered that look of defiance in his eyes and I regretted having said all that to him. Leave it to him to have another child just to prove that I was wrong. Because - of course - he knows it all better.


So it was that, walking my magic valley, I called out, a call for help of all the magical powers of that place. And thirteen times I called in a loud voice:


"May his loins be sterile!... May his loins be sterile!..."






To "Stefan": Thanks for having inspired this story. It’s been some time since I've written with such passion.


Dear reader: If you think my reaction has been exaggerated, if you think that I've been too hard on Stefan [and I think that maybe I have], either in person or in writing this story, I ask a small thing of you. Send me your address. I'll send it to Stefan. And let him pay a visit to your house...


March, 2005