Tales From The Ridge

Monday, February 27, 2006

ETA Nother Fine Mess

"Take offs are always the worst, eh?" said the fat man in the seat next to him, "Take offs and landings. Once you're up it's OK."

"Yeah," said Gaizka. But he knew different; that's why he had begun to sweat. He bit at his fingernail and squeezed the mobile phone in his pocket with a clammy hand.

The mobile phone was his link. His comforter. He kept it in his hand at all times, alternately stroking and squeezing it as one might the hand of a lover, and in return it gave him a security and a fluttering rush in his stomach not unlike that a woman might have given him. It had been x-rayed and scanned and probed by electronic eyes that had seen further into its heart than he ever would, yet it still rested snugly against his thigh in his trouser pocket. Of course it did; it was just a phone.

Unlike his suitcase. Well, the suitcase itself was of the same shade as any other, but its contents were quite different to its brothers, sisters and cousins. Had he packed it himself, he'd been asked. Yes. Had it left his sight at any point, he'd been asked. No. He hadn't had to lie.

The links between Gaizka Sagastui and the rest of ETA had never been transparent - the neurons and synapses that link terrorist groups rarely are - but they had been smudged by a series of sometimes violent doctrinal arguments with the head of his talde. The rest of his group had shunned him as a result; he had become ostracised, frozen out. Yet his marginalisation did little to dent his enthusiasm; indeed, his identity as a minority within a minority served only to feed the persecutional embers that glowed in the pit of his gut. He remained within earshot of ETA via sympathetic friends, and the osmosis of nationalism continued to seep into him until, one day, his ragged mind hit upon the idea that would write him indelibly - he thought - into the pages of Basque nationalist folklore, and prove to the rest of ETA that he had been right.

Hence he found himself sat rigid in seat 12B on flight IB 3172 from Madrid, clutching his mobile phone as the bird lifted ponderously, goose-like, from the asphalt and into the air. The wheels folded up into the wings with a grinding clunk, and the fat man let out a sigh.

"Worst part over," he said, "Now it's easy. Until we get to Paris, of course. Say, are you all right?"

Gaizka ignored him. Out of the window, past the fat man's greying moustache, he saw the fields recede, the fields of olives trees reduced to green pointillism on a canvas of a thousand shades of brown. He checked his watch; ten minutes should do it.

"You look pale," said the fat man, "You should get the stewardess to bring you some water. I'll call her if you like."

"Really, I'm OK," said Gaizka.

Ten minutes trickled by. Gaizka hunched forwards, his foot tapping an urgent tattoo on the dirty footplate. The hand not holding the mobile phone distractedly wound the hem of his t-shirt into a stiff point. The fat man eyed him with suspicion.

He glanced at his watch. Ten minutes. Gaizka pulled the mobile phone out of his pocket, flipped it open and began to select the autodial.

"Hey," said the fat man, tapping his arm, "You're supposed to have turned that off. Hey!"

Gaizka twisted away and stood up proudly in his seat. Other passengers glanced sideways at him, unsure. He puffed his chest out and raised his arm aloft like a king leading a charge, the medieval glint of sun on sword updated to the cheerful millennial glow of a mobile phone display that winked at his confused co-passengers.

"Gora Euskadi Askatasuna!" he screamed in his ancient language, and thumbed the green "call" button.


At least, nothing that he had been expecting. The plane exploded, but only into a thousand fragments of noise. Men bellowed animal sounds, women wailed and clutched infants to their stomachs, and two men, sat at different ends of the plane, leaped to their feet and barrelled towards him. He squeezed the button again - still nothing. Was it working? He checked: yes. How could it have betrayed him? No; it wasn't the phone, he decided, not his phone. It must have been Mitxel's design. Yes, it was the suitcase that had been faulty.

The first barrelling man reached him, batted the phone from his hand with one balled fist and hammered the other square into Gaizka's face. The other barrelling man forced a gun hard into Gaizka's now fractured cheek. Gaizka deflated onto his seat.

Gaizka would lament again and again, as the cuffs bit into his wrists, as the sentence was passed, as he was beaten by Castellanos in the exercise yard as the guards looked away, the design for the bomb that Mitxel had settled upon. Had he access to the newspapers, however, he would have read of the explosion on the tarmac, he would have read of the destruction of a single, solitary baggage truck, he would have read of the spiderweb distribution across two runways of hundreds of flaming jumpers and t-shirts and pairs of trousers, and he would have read of how one Castellano baggage-handler was being congratulated daily by a stream of tearful passengers for having saved their lives with his laziness.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Buenos Dias!

And Ecks is returned...minus his suitcase, which is believed to be loitering in a holding pattern somewhere over Madrid...having been sent back and forth (ida y vuelta, si quieres) four times between Terminal 4 and Terminal 4 Satellite (a trip of some 25 minutes) yo-yoing between various Iberia desks staffed by an exquisite mixture of the ignorant and the apathetic in a sanity-fracturing Herculean labour of trying to get iberoaerobureaucraticos to arrange for him a transfer onto a different flight...ending in a final exasperated exchange:

"Solo quiero ir a Londres, y que mi maleta va a Londres también."
"Vale. Este vuelo - S49, 14:45."
"Ahora, qué hora es?"

...having to sprint for the flight that had boarded 15 minutes previously...having initially been subjected to a two hour delay on the flight from Granada to Madrid...due to snow.

The moral of the story: the snow in Spain falls mainly on the plane. Oh, and don't fly Iberia.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Hasta luego

No posts for a couple of weeks, as Ecks is off to Granada in Spain to relax and get on with some serious writing for his second novel.

Until then...

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Logical thinking, 2006-style

What are you doing?
I am protesting.
What are you protesting against?
A man.
What did he do?
He drew a picture.
What was it a picture of?
A prophet.
Is that bad?
It encourages idolatry.
What is idolatry?
The worshipping of false idols.
Is that bad?
My religion forbids it.
Does this man follow your religion?
Did you yourself worship this drawing?
Then why are you upset?
Er...death to the infidels!