from the novel Locos
by Felipe Alfau
IN WRITING THIS STORY, I am fulfiling a promise to
my poor friend Fulano.
My friend Fulano was the least important of men and
this was the great tragedy of his life. Fulano had come to this world with the undaunted
purpose of being famous and he had failed completely, developing into the most obscure
person. He had tried all possible plans of acquiring importance, popularity, public
acknowledgment, etc., and the world with a grim determination persistently refused to
acknowledge even his existence.
It seems that about Fulano's personality, if we are to
grant him a personality, hung a cloud of inattention which withstood his almost heroic
assaults to break through it.
Fulano made the utmost efforts to be noticed, and
people constantly missed him.
I have seen Fulano shake hands during an introduction
in a vehement way, stare violently and shake his face close to the other person's,
"Tanto gusto en conocerle."
And the next moment, the other individual was
talking to somebody else, completely oblivious of Fulano.
I have seen Fulano at another introduction remain
seated and extend two fingers in the most supercilious manner. Nothing! All in vain. A
second after the other person had absolutely forgotten his existence and was blankly
looking through him.
On one occasion I introduced Fulano to a friend and
had to repeat three times:
"Please meet my friend Fulano." In a normal
"Please meet my friend Fulano." In a louder
"Please meet my friend Fulano." At the top
of my voice.
The friend looked around several times and at last he
perceived Fulano almost on top of him, shaking him by the shoulders with murder in his
He opened his mouth and uttered in the most
"Oh... how do you do?"
Poor Fulano's unimportance had arrived at the degree
of making him almost invisible and inaudible. His name was unimportant, his face and
figure were unimportant, his attire was unimportant and his whole life was unimportant. In
fact, I don't know how I, myself ever noticed him. True enough that he crushed my hand,
dislocated my arm and kicked me on the shin when I met him.
Fulano had read all the pamphlets entitled:
"Personal Magnetism," "Individuality and Success," etc. He had
exhausted all the man- building literature, and in vain. One day he stood in the middle of
La Puerta del Sol shouting:
But no one seemed to hear him and at last he had to
quit his post because a trolley car nearly ran him down.
Another day he threw a stone at a window of a
well-known jewelry shop. At the noise of the broken glass, the owner came out. He looked
at the window, and disregarding Fulano completely, muttered:
"Well, well, I wonder how that happened,"
and went back inside.
Not even beggars approached Fulano for alms.
All this would have been considered a blessing by a
more practical person, but Fulano had no other purpose in his life except to be important,
to attract attention, and these things made him only the more desperate.
Once I was at the Cafe' de los Locos in Toledo. Bad
writers were in the habit of coming to that café in quest of characters, and I came now
and then among them. At that particular place one could find some very good secondhand
bargains and also some fairly good, cheap, new material. As fashion has a great deal to do
with market value, one could find at that place some characters who in their time had been
glorious and served under famous geniuses, but who for some time had been out of a job,
due to the change of literary trend toward other ideals.
I remember seeing there a poor and shabby lean fellow.
He claimed to have served Cervantes. Well, the poor man could interest no author at the
present moment. In that manner, there was a score of good characters who had been great in
their day, but were now of no earthly use.
On this particular day I had been sitting for some
time at the table chatting with a friend of mine, Dr. José de los Rios, and looking
around at the different faces and types. Suddenly I heard three blows struck upon my table
and a hand pulled me by the collar. At the same time a voice said loudly:
"Here I am."
I turned around and saw Fulano sitting by my side.
"Well, when did you get here?"
"About half an hour ago. I have been sitting
right here and trying to get into your conversation."
I apologized, saying that I had been absorbed in the
contemplation of characters I expected to use in this book. After that, with no little
difficulty and by applying some violent methods, I succeeded in introducing him to Dr. de
los Rios. Then I observed that Fulano looked more dejected than usual.
"What is the matter? You look sad, Fulano."
"What do you expect? I have come to realize that
I shall never be important, no matter how hard I try. It is no use, the world will simply
"It is very disagreeable," I admitted.
"But there are a lot of other people in the same predicament. There are, for
instance, a number of husbands, preachers, dictators and..."
"This is no time for secondhand witty remarks.
What I am telling you is serious. I know that I will never be important as a human being,
I have thought that perhaps I might gain fame and
importance as a character."
"I don't care whether it is you or somebody else.
You are my friend. You know I am willing, and perhaps you can make me a great
I bowed under the weight of the compliment.
"If you cannot use me, then pass me along to some
other writer. If you could smuggle me somewhere in this book you say you are going to
write, my gratitude would know no limits. I don't care what I do, provided I gain
"And... what are your qualifications to be a
"The deuce! My very lack of importance. I shall
be rated as the most unimportant character in fiction. You know that every character has
more or less of a striking personality, that extraordinary things happen to all
characters. Don't tell me that you will be ever able to find a character as flat and
little interesting as myself"
"Well... you can find a lot of that in
present-day literature... I really..."
Dr. José de los Rios, who had remained silent during
this conversation, turned on my friend and spoke:
"Señor Fulano, although I have known you for a
very short time, I can see only one way of hoping to get you out of your present
condition. Señor Fulano, you must commit suicide."
"I don't mean actually kill yourself but commit
an official suicide."
"What do you mean?"
"Just what I said. This evening as soon as it
gets dark, you walk over the bridge of Alcántara and leave your coat on the ground with
all your personal identification, all your credentials, your money, bankbook, etc., and a
note saying that you have thrown yourself to the Tajo. Then you go back to Madrid, having
lost your official identity, and there we will try to make a character out of you.
Fulano looked at me questioningly. I said:
"I think that what Dr. de los Rios proposes is
Dr. de los Rios went on:
"You see? This apparent suicide will also serve
as a little step toward notoriety. It is fortunate that this has taken place in this city.
Toledo, the Tajo, and the bridge of Alcántara have historical background and that will
lend color to your action."
There was gratitude in the eyes of Fulano and he
thanked Dr. de los Rios warmly, and I promised to do everything in my power to help him
after he had complied with his part of the bargain.
By this time it was quite late in the afternoon. Dr.
de los Rios had to go on a professional visit, and he left wishing Fulano a very
successful enterprise. We remained seated at the table, and as Fulano had to wait until
dark and we had nothing to do, I decided to amuse him by pointing out the characters that
were gathered at the cafe'.
"Do you see that fat, bald-headed policeman? He
is Don Benito." The policeman was unsuccessfully endeavoring to light a cigar with
matches that consistently went out. Then he noticed we were speaking of him and assumed a
"Now look at that table by the window. The
waitress who is laughing now is Lunarito. They call her that because of a beauty spot
which cannot be seen from here. The good-looking young man who is smoking a pipe and
pinching her leg is Pepe Bejarano.
"Direct your attention toward that man whose
collar is open. The one standing by the bar drinking... there now... the one that is
pushing that woman away and insulting her.... He is El Cogote."
At this moment two nuns entered the cafe' and went
from table to table seeking alms for their convent. I pointed at one of them:
"Look at that nun. The one that is interfering
now between El Cogote and the woman. She is quite attractive to be a nun. She would have
made a good woman of the world. Do you notice how gaily she smiles and how white her teeth
are? That is Sister Carmela."
The two nuns had now approached a distant table where
two priests sat, and were talking to them.
"Look at that priest, the one with the best
manners who is standing talking to Sister Carmela. That is Padre Inocencio. He is supposed
to do a great deal of good around here."
The two nuns went out followed by Padre Inocencio, who
opened the door for them and remained there a while watching them walk across the plaza.
"Behold the bartender. See his splendid apostolic
beard and the boisterous way in which he is laughing with El Cogote. He is Don Laureano
Baez, an old rogue and very amusing. The old woman behind him with the sad expression who
is wiping the glasses is his wife, Doña Felisa.
"Now notice that man sitting at that table. The
one with the white wig and the poetic expression, who seems so distracted and aloof. His
name is Garcia."
The man was smelling a flower pinned to his lapel.
At that moment a little dog, who was nosing about the
cafe', began to paw the man's leg. Garcia gave the dog a vicious kick, then he tossed a
coin over to the bartender and departed.
"Look at that pale lady dressed in black sitting
at that table with a gentleman. Notice how she is going to sleep. She is Doña Micaela
Her escort got up silently, took his hat and left the
cafe' on tiptoes. Doña Micaela, who was now fast asleep, did not see him go.
For some time I had been noticing a man standing by a
table where four men sat. He was showing them small objects which he took out of his
pocket and which apparently he was trying to sell them. He turned around and then I
recognized him. We greeted each other and he walked toward our table holding a small
object in his hand.
I said to Fulano:
"This is Don Gil, an old dealer in junk, who
peddles his stuff around the cafe's."
Don Gil approached us. He leaned with a hand on the
wall and in the other he showed us a little Chinese figure made of porcelain.
"Here is a real bargain," he said, tossing
the porcelain figure on the palm of his hand. "It is a real old work of art made in
China. What do you say?"
I looked at the figure which was delicately made. It
represented a Herculean warrior with drooping mustache and a ferocious expression.
He had a butterfly on his shoulder. The color of the
face was not yellow but a darker color, more like bronze, and as the attire was not very
representative, I suggested:
"Perhaps it is not Chinese but Indian."
Don Gil, who undoubtedly liked China better than
India, looked slightly annoyed.
"No, it is Chinese," he said.
Then I could not help noticing that the hand that held
the figure was quite dirty and inferred that its sister probably was in the same
"Don Gil, be careful. Don Laureano is going to
scold you for dirtying his walls."
Don Gil withdrew his hand, leaving a dirty mark that
seemed unusually small upon the whitewashed wall, and continued to praise his merchandise:
"Yes, this is a real Chinese mandarin or warrior,
I don't know which, and it is a real bargain. Perhaps your friend might be interested
Fulano gave a jump and let out a yell. It was the
first time that a stranger had noticed him of his own accord.
Poor Don Gil was so frightened that he dropped the
porcelain figure, smashing it in a thousand pieces on the marble top of the table. I
fancied I saw a furious look in the little porcelain head now detached from the body.
Don Gil wiped the pieces to the floor and went away,
trampling over them with a chagrined expression.
"Well," I said when Don Gil had gone,
"I suppose you have had enough characters for a day. It is quite dark now and you had
better get ready for your suicide."
Fulano scribbled a note saying: I have committed
suicide by jumping into the Tajo, and said:
"All my hopes depend on this." He got up and
departed, promising to see me in Madrid.
Now I, as the author of this tale, can see all that
Fulano did after he went away, although I am supposed to remain seated at the café table.
Fulano went to his room. He gathered all his documents
and credentials and started on his fateful journey. As he walked down the stairs to the
street, night had fallen, and each step he took was like dropping a century into the past,
until he emerged in the midst of a hostile city which died in the Renaissance and yet
lived the strangest, posthumous life. Toledo was in silence, but Toledo did not rest. As
Fulano advanced hesitantly, he felt the restless and decrepit lines of buildings suddenly
agitated by a wind of the past, the pavement seemed to rise, fall and revolt in its stony
unevenness, like a stormy sea; he walked through streets so steep that he had to lean
against the wall to keep from falling and he rushed through alleys that ran down from the
top of the city like jumping torrents, to precipitate themselves down into the waters of
Toledo comes to life every night. It is a city of
silence, but not a city of peace; at night it multiplies its interests, it becomes a city
of horror, of fearful dreams of the past, of dreadful historical nightmares. At the turn
of a street, this impression hit Fulano with such force that it nailed him to the spot, as
if turned into one more stony specter. All the shadows of things gone came to meet him
from out dark alleys, from out sad corners, to condense and take shape, to make the night
blacker. He could imagine the figure of Don Pedro el Cruel, his knees rattling, trailing
along the familiar alley to the house of the Jew who lent him money. He could sense the
heavy atmosphere charged with the deadly breath of the Inquisition.
This silence, this feeling of being left alone to
share a city with the dead, suddenly revealed an idea to Fulano. Toledo, as he hoped to be
soon, was a myth, Toledo did not exist. It rose at night upon its historical and aesthetic
signification, forsaken among this loneliness of sterile Castilla. And thus thinking,
Fulano stumbled on like a frightened, forsaken shadow after its own body. The narrow,
crooked, tortuous streets fled from him, denying his path, mocking, snarling, like snakes
in a jungle of bizarre structures; he staggered from one surprise into another, carried by
this immense and irresistibly suggestive strength. He passed houses that were horribly
worn out where they joined the ground, their stones blent together, and doors that were
never opened and through whose ragged bottoms medieval cats sneaked in and out. He heard
the waters of the Tajo calling and all this past splendor fading away in eternal response,
all this past glory slipping down the hill, sinking into the Tajo below.
Fulano knew he had been swallowed by this maelstrom of
the past, that he had sunk back centuries in history, and had already lost his identity of
present existence. He was choking from this overwhelming feeling of condensed time, he was
hopelessly lost in this darkness of thousands of superimposed past nights, in this
labyrinth of streets that tossed him to and fro, threatening to drag him in their ominous
stream and thrust him down into the Tajo, into oblivion.
His sense of direction utterly lost, Fulano let
himself be ejected, cast Out centrifugally, gravitationally by this semiconical city, now
spinning in his dizzy mind, and he crossed one by one all the walls of Toledo, each one
framing a period of history, like conquering phalanxes seen in perspective, each wall
larger and lower, descending the hill, like steps, falling down into the Tajo.
And it was in this manner that the city of Toledo
discarded this insignificant individual upon the bridge of Alcántara.
In the middle of the bridge, Fulano stripped himself
of his coat and placed it on the ground, pinning the note on the outside.
Having done this and ascertained that no one saw him,
he walked in his shirt sleeves toward the station.
Fulano did not see what happened after he left the
bridge but I, of course, saw it, and if a writer had the privilege of interfering or
preventing the incidents which he has the misfortune to witness, I would have prevented
what took place, for the sake of my poor friend, Fulano. However, if a writer could do
that, all stories would end happily and justice would prevail in all literature. As this
would create a great monotony, such power has not been granted. Therefore, I had to stand
by and see the happenings in a state of utter impotence and indignation.
A man of evil appearance walked along the bridge. By
the moonlight he saw the coat on the ground and stooped and picked it up. He fumbled in
the pockets and took out all the papers. He lighted a match and examined them rapidly. He
then saw the note pinned to the coat and a devilish smile played over his face.
With haste he put all the papers back in the pockets,
took off his own coat, pinned the note on it, and donned Fulano's coat.
In the train to Madrid, Fulano did not notice a man
with a cap pulled down over his eyes and a coat that matched Fulano's trousers to
perfection. Fulano sneezed furiously now and then, but his mind and heart were jumping
with anticipation and happiness.
The next day a local paper of Toledo carried the
Yesterday evening So-and-so who had escaped
from prison and whom the authorities were prosecuting, committed suicide by jumping into
the river Tajo from the bridge of Alcántara. This has been deduced from a note pinned to
his coat which was found on the bridge. It seems that after the many crimes he had
committed, remorse seized him at last and he decided to end his sinful existence. R.I.P.
One day, after returning to Madrid, I was walking
through the street of Sevilla when I found myself seized by the shoulders and beheld a
face pale with rage at two inches from my nose.
"Hello, Fulano! But what is the matter with
"What is the matter with me, you ask?"
"Yes. How did the suicide trick work?" (Of
course, I had entirely forgotten what I saw at the bridge.)
"How did it work...? How did it work...?
"What do you mean, infernally? What happened,
Fulano took two steps back and stood there looking at
"Do you see me here?"
"A bit blurred, but I still see you."
"Well, I do not exist."
"I do not exist."
"You do not exist?"
"But how is that possible?"
"Since I have had any use of reason, I have
entertained strong doubts about my existence. No, don't look at me as if I were going to
enter into a metaphysical discussion. I am talking seriously now. Yes, I had always
entertained strong doubts about my own existence, but since your idiotic suggestion about
suicide those doubts have abandoned me completely. Now I am sure that I do not
"But explain yourself." Fulano had already
spent some of his initial steam and could speak more calmly.
"Well, someone is now here in Madrid, enjoying my
personality, my name, my property, my home, my wife... everything that belonged to me. And
he is enormously famous, mind you, one of the best known politicians and businessmen, and
accumulating a tremendous fortune. And I am nothing, I am absolutely lost, looking for
some loose identity in order to find myself But every identity has its owner and I am
nothing, nothing. I do not exist Fulano broke down and put a handkerchief to his eyes.
"But do you mean to say that the people who knew
you cannot tell the difference? Cannot realize that this other Fulano is an
"How can they tell the difference if they never
noticed me before? I was always so unimportant, so absolutely unimportant!"
For the first time I realized in all its magnitude the
tragedy of this unimportant man's life.
Fulano produced a newspaper and pointed silently but
eloquently at the big headlines which said something very flattering about Fulano.
"See what they say about him. What they should be
saying about me. He has taken my name, my identity, and with it all the fame and
Importance that should have been mine."
"No, Fulano, do not deceive yourself It is not
the name that has made him precisely. You would have never attained that success if you
had remained Fulano. The man must possess the personality which you lack and he has made
the name famous. Really, in a way you should be grateful to him."
"Be grateful to him...! That is what you say
after you got me into this mess with your idiotic suggestion!"
It was Dr. de los Rios and not I who made the
"Just the same, you sided with him and you are
just as responsible, and now you advise me to remain nothing, while he enjoys all my
possessions and glory and fame, and all that the world can offer a man. I must sit back
patiently, glad to be no one and thank him to boot! Do you realize the inconvenience of
being alive and not existing?"
I had to admit the inconvenience of such a strange
"Yes, something must be done about it."
"Of course, something must be done about it, and
it is you who must do it, you who got me into ..... . But, my Lord! How did it happen that
this man took my place in the world?"
I felt that I must confess to Fulano, that the
situation compelled me to betray an author's secret. After all, to lose one's identity
must be the weirdest sensation in this world. Therefore, I related all that I had seen at
the bridge and mentioned the account that had been published in the paper the day after
When I finished, Fulano was foaming at the mouth and
ready to spring upon me, but he was firmly seized by a hand. It was Dr. José de los Rios
Fulano struggled to free himself and yelled at me:
"So you mean to say that you stood by and didn't
do anything to prevent it, to save me from this horrible tragedy?"
Dr. de los Rios tried to calm him. I lowered my head.
"Fulano, my friend. If I could have done anything, I would not have hesitated to do
it, but it is not in my power to interfere with the destinies of men."
"And I am supposed to be satisfied with that
answer, to remain an empty body without a place in society, a supernumerary in this
world.... To hell with you writers who can place a fellow in a situation like this and
then cannot get him out of it!"
I lowered my head further.
"Forgive me, Fulano, I will see what I can do for
"Well, go ahead and see. I suppose you cannot make things worse than you have.
Nothing could be worse."
Dr. de los Rios, who had been too busy holding Fulano, spoke now:
"Señor Fulano, I was the one who made the
original suggestion about the suicide and I assume the whole responsibility."
"But I don't care who the devil is responsible. I
am in trouble and want to be helped out of it."
"Very well, Señor Fulano, I admit that you are
right in your demands, but I can only see one way out of it. There are no loose identities
in this world which you can seize in order to regain your footing in life. There is only
one superfluous identity as superfluous as yourself and that identity is under the river
Tajo. Yes, Señor Fulano, officially that identity is under that river and lately you must
have realized the importance of official things. That soul upon the bed of the Tajo is
craving for a body as much as you crave a soul. Go join it and end your mutual absurdity.
After that I am sure that my friend will try to revive you in a story and to make a
character out of you."
Again Fulano turned to me questioningly. I said:
"Yes, Fulano, I promise to do what Dr. de los
Rios says." Fulano gripped our hands firmly. Upon his features there was the
determination born from despair.
That night Fulano was again upon the bridge of
Alcántara. He had come to look for an identity in the same place where he had gone to
lose one. He looked down on the dark waters of the Tajo. Yes, there it was, his only
And once more he saw Toledo covering its hill like a
petrified forest of centuries. It was absurd. With all useful justification of its
existence gone, the city sat there like a dead emperor upon his wrecked throne, yet
greater in his downfall than in his glory. There lay the corpse of a city draped upon a
forgotten hill, history written in every deep furrow of its broken countenance, its limbs
hanging down the banks to be buried under the waters of a relentless river.
Fulano looked down and then knew fate and greatness;
he hesitated no more; with resolution he jumped.
And in order to fulfill my promise to that unfortunate
and most unimportant of all men, I have written this story. Whether I have succeeded in
making a character or even a symbol out of him, or whether he will enjoy this poor
revival, I do not know. I have done my best.