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
"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.
When the sick person became
used to this 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 Indian
Ursula, just to be safe, took the
precaution of isolating
After several weeks, when Visitacion's terror seemed to have
died down, Jose Arcadio Buendia found himself rolling over in bed, unable to
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.
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 they realized that they had
gone more than fifty hours without sleep.
"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 of
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
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 alarmed
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 enough time.
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
chronic fatigue but
because of the nostalgia for dreams, tried all kinds of methods of exhausting
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.
It 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.
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
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.
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
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 traders 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 the village.
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 consume 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 several months.
discovered it by chance.
An expert insomniac, having been one of the
first, he had learned the art of
silver work to perfection.
One day he was looking for the small
anvil that he used for laminating metals and he could not remember its
His father told him: "Stake."
the name on a piece of paper that he pasted to the base of the small anvil:
In that way he was sure of not forgetting it in the
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 remember.
A few days later he
discovered that he had trouble remembering almost every object in the
Then he marked them with their respective names so that all
he had to do was read the inscription in order to identify them.
his father told him about his alarm 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 village.
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
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 letters.
the beginning of the road into the
swamp they put up a sign that said MACONDO
and another larger one on the main street 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 but more comforting.
Pilar Ternera was the one
who contributed most to popularize that
mystification when she conceived
of the trick of reading the past in cards as she had read the future
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
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.
He was a decrepit man.
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.
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.
The old man greeted him with a broad show of affection,
afraid that he had known him at
another time and that he did not remember him now.
But the visitor was
aware of his falseness.
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
Gabriel Garcia Marquez, from one hundred years
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