It was the insomnia
Cataure, the Indian, was gone from the house by
stayed because her fatalistic heart told her that the lethal
sickness would follow her, no matter what, to the farthest edge of the Earth.
No one understood Visitacion's alarm.
"If we don't ever sleep again, so much the better,"Jose Arcadio Buendia
said in good humor.
"This way we can get more out of life."
But the Indian
woman explained that the most fearsome part of the sickness of insomnia was not
the impossibility of sleeping, for the body did not feel any fatigue at all,
but its inexorable evolution
toward a more critical manifestation: a loss of memory.
She meant that when the sick person became used to his
state of vigil, the recollection of his childhood
began to be erased from his memory, then the name and notion of things, and
finally the identity of people and even the awareness of his own being, until
he sank into a kind of idiocy that had no past.
Jose Arcadio Buendia, dying with
laughter, thought that it was just a question of one of the many illnesses
invented by the Indians'
But Ursula, just to be safe, took the
precaution of isolating
Rebeca from the other children.
After several weeks, when Visitacion's
terror seemed to have died down, Jose Arcadio Buendia found himself rolling
over in bed, unable to fall asleep. Ursula, who had also awakened, asked him
what was wrong, and he answered: "I'm thinking about Prudencio Aguilar again."
They did not sleep a minute, but the following day they felt so rested
that they forgot about the bad night.
Aureliano commented with surprise
at lunchtime that he felt very well in spite of the fact that he had spent the
whole night in the laboratory
gilding a brooch that he planned to give to Ursula for her birthday.
They did not become alarmed until the third day, when no one felt
sleepy at bedtime and they realized that they had gone more than fifty hours
"The children are
awake too," the Indian said
with her fatalistic conviction. "Once it gets into a house no one can escape
They had indeed contracted the illness of
Ursula, who had learned from her
mother the medicinal value of
plants, prepared and made them all drink a brew of monkshood, but they could
not get to sleep and spent the whole day
dreaming on their
In that state of
hallucinated lucidity, not
only did they see the images of their own
dreams, but some saw the images
dreamed by others.
It was as if the house were full
Sitting in her rocker in a
corner of the kitchen, Rebeca
dreamed that a man who looked
very much like her, dressed in white linen and with his shirt collar closed by
a gold button, was bringing her a bouquet of roses. He was accompanied by a
woman with delicate hands who took out one rose and put it in the child's hair.
Ursula understood that the man and woman were Rebeca's parents, but
even though she made a great effort to recognize them, she confirmed her
certainty that she had never seen them.
In the meantime, through an
oversight that Jose Arcadio Buendia never forgave himself for, the candy
animals made in the house were still being sold in the village.
Children and adults sucked with
delight on the
delicious little green roosters of insomnia, the exquisite pink fish of
insomnia, and the tender yellow ponies of insomnia, so that dawn on Monday
found the whole village awake.
No one was at
On the contrary, they were
happy at not sleeping
because there was so much to do in Macondo in those days that there was barely
They worked so hard that soon they had nothing else to do
and they could be found at three o'clock in the
morning with their arms
crossed, counting the notes in the waltz of the clock.
Those who wanted
to sleep, not from fatigue but because of the nostalgia for
dreams, tried all kinds of
methods of exhausting themselves.
They would gather together to
converse endlessly, to tell over and over for hours on end the same jokes, to
complicate to the limits of exasperation the
story about the capon, which was an
endless game in which the narrator asked if they wanted him to tell them the
story about the capon, and when they
answered yes, the narrator would say that he had not asked them to say yes, but
whether they wanted him to tell them the story about the capon, and when they
answered no, the narrator told them that he had not asked them to say no, but
whether they wanted him to tell them the story about the capon, and when they
remained silent the narrator told them that he had not asked them to remain
silent but whether they wanted him to tell them the
story about the capon, and no one
could leave because the narrator would say that he had not asked them to leave
but whether they wanted him to tell them the
story about the capon, and so on and
on in a vicious circle that lasted entire nights.
When Jose Arcadio
Buendia realized that the plague had invaded the village, he gathered together
the heads of families to explain to them what he knew about the sickness of
insomnia, and they agreed on methods to prevent the scourge from spreading to
other towns in the swamp. That was why they took the bells off the goats, bells
that the Arabs had swapped them for macaws, and put
them at the entrance to the village at the disposal of those who would not
listen to the advice and entreaties of the sentinels and insisted on visiting
All strangers who passed, through the streets of Macondo
at that time had to ring their bells so that the sick people would know that
they were healthy. They were not allowed to
eat or drink anything during
their stay, for there was no doubt but that the illness was transmitted by
mouth, and all food and drink had been
contaminated by insomnia.
In that way they kept the plague
restricted to the perimeter of the village.
So effective was the
quarantine that the day came when the emergency situation was accepted as a
natural thing and life was organized in such a way that
work picked up its rhythm again and no one
worried any more about the useless habit of sleeping.
It was Aureliano
who conceived the formula that was to protect them against loss of memory for
He discovered it by chance.
insomniac, having been one of the first, he had learned the
art of silver
One day he was
looking for the small anvil that he used for laminating metals and he could not
His father told him: "Stake."
the name on a piece of paper that he pasted to the base of the small anvil:
stake. In that way he was sure of not forgetting it in the future. It
did not occur to him that this was the first manifestation of a loss of memory,
because the object had a difficult name to
A few days later he discovered
that he had trouble remembering almost every
object in the laboratory.
Then he marked them with their respective
names so that all he had to do was read the inscription in order to identify
When his father told him about his at having
forgotten even the most
impressive happenings of his childhood, Aureliano explained his method to him,
and Jose Arcadio Buendia put it into practice all through the house and later
on imposed it on the whole
With an inked brush he marked everything with its name: table,
chair; clock, door; wall, bed, pan.
He went to the
corral and marked the animals and
plants: cow, goat,
pig, hen, cassava, caladium, banana.
Little by little, studying the
infinite possibilities of a
loss of memory, he realized that the day might come when things would be
recognized by their inscriptions but that no one would
remember their use.
Then he was more explicit.
The sign that he
hung on the neck of the cow was an exemplary proof of the way in which the
inhabitants of Macondo were prepared to fight against loss of memory: This
is the cow. She must be milked every
morning so that she will
produce milk, and the milk must be boiled in order to be mixed with coffee to
make coffee and
Thus they went on living in a reality that was slipping away,
momentarily captured by words, but which would escape irremediably when they
forgot the values of the written
At the beginning of the road
into the swamp they put up a sign that said MACONDO and
another larger one on the main street that said
In all the houses keys to
memorizing objects and
feelings had been written.
But the system demanded so much vigilance
and moral strength that many succumbed to the spell of an
imaginary reality, one
invented by themselves, which was less practical for them but more comforting.
Pilar Ternera was the one who contributed most to popularize that
mystification when she conceived
the trick of reading the past in cards as she had read the future before.
By means of that recourse the insomniacs began to live in a reality
built on the uncertain
alternatives of the cards, where a father was
remembered faintly as
the dark man who had arrived
at the beginning of April and a
mother was remembered only as the dark woman who wore a gold ring on her
left hand, and where a birth date was reduced to the last Tuesday on which a
lark sang in the laurel tree.
Defeated by those practices of
consolation, Jose Arcadio Buendia then decided
to build the memory
machine that he had desired once in order to remember the marvelous inventions
of the gypsies.
The artifact was based on the possibility of
reviewing every morning, from
beginning to end,
the totality of knowledge acquired during
He conceived of it as
a spinning dictionary that a person
placed on the axis could operate by means of a lever, so that
in very few hours there
would pass before his eyes the notions most necessary for life.
had succeeded in writing almost fourteen thousand entries when along the road
from the swamp a strange looking old man with the sad sleepers' bell appeared,
carrying a bulging suitcase tied with a rope and pulling a cart covered with
The old man went straight to the house of Jose Arcadio
Visitacion did not recognize him when she opened the door and
she thought he had come with the idea of selling something, unaware that
nothing could be sold in a village
that was sinking irrevocably into the quicksand of forgetfulness.
was a decrepit man.
Although his voice was
also broken by uncertainty and
his hands seemed to doubt the
existence of things, it was evident
that he came from the world
where men could still sleep and remember.
Jose Arcadio Buendia was
found sitting in the living room fanning himself with a patched black hat as he
read with passionate attention the signals pasted to the walls.
man greeted him with a broad show of
afraid that he had known him at
another time and that he did not
But the visitor was aware of his
The old man felt
himself forgotten, not with
the irremediable forgetfulness of the
heart, but with a different
kind of forgetfulness, which was more cruel and irrevocable and which he knew
very well because it was the forgetfulness of approaching death.
Garcia Marquez, from one hundred years of
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