Enrique Climent Ode to a magpie
Enrique Climent was an important artist of the Spanish vanguard. Friend of Ramón Gómez de la Serna, Juan Gil Albert and other personalities of the time, he had to go into exile in Mexico, where he continued his activities and raised his family. Curious and sensitive, he did everything around him, Climent was mainly a painter and cartoonist, but he also left a literary legacy about which little is known. In this occasion, thanks to the generosity of Pilar Climent, one of his three daughters, Límulus presents an unpublished text by Enrique, accompanied by images of a bird series, captured in the family heritage.
Description: Magpie.- Bird with white plumage on its belly and black with metallic reflections on the rest of the body. It is easilly domesticated, it is loud-mouthed and tends to take small objects to its nest.
I was about ten years old when I spent some time in Orrios, in my maternal grandmother’s house. One day, some children showed me a small magpie with a broken leg. They told me they had stoned it down. I asked them to give it to me in exchange for a few pieces of chocolate. They accepted and I became the owner of the poor bird. I put a splint on his leg the best I could and tried to save him.
The first thing I did was to ensure a comfortable lodging, which is why I set up an empty orange cage-box and covered it with sackcloth. I placed a piece of reed from side to side, horizontally, that would aid for support and rest.
I placed this cage-box at a convenient height, away from the reach of the cat, the only potential enemy for now. I began feeding my little magpie with small pieces of cooked chickpea and breadcrumbs soaked in milk. The little animal was so horrified that when I approached my hand to feed him or stroke him, he’d pull back spreading his wings and opening his beak in a gesture of defense.
He began feeling confidence very soon. He had gotten used to my presence and devouring everything I gave him with delight. After some time, I removed the pieces of reed and the twine with which I cured his broken leg. Although he always limped, I’m sure that the animal was happy because it celebrated by batting its wings and cawing in an act of gratitude.
Since the bird enjoyed total freedom because his home had no door, his explorations began. Inside the great living room he perched himself on the window bars; then on the back of the chairs but he preferred to pose on the great wardrobe that contained garlic. Soon, the magpie started revealing his tendencies: he hid small objects on top of the wardrobe, like thimbles, scissors, rings, etc.
I named her Blanca because of the color of her tummy. A few weeks later, due to the good nutrition it received, she had grown considerably.
What was truly fantastic and incredible is that this amazing bird invariably reacted to my call. He’d perch on my index finger if I offered it to her, or on my shoulder or my head. This was something extraordinary. It caused my family but especially my fellow players, great surprise.
I was very fond of fishing in the river that ran through the outskirts of the town. As I prepared to leave with my cane and the little basket to bring the catfish or trout, I’d call out to the magpie: “Let’s go Blanca.” And she’d fly over; she’d rest on the eaves of the gate, watching me walk away. She would then fly from roof to roof as I walked through the town, and then, from tree to tree, until she reached the river where I settled and got ready to fish calmly. That’s where the miracle occurred.
In order for you to understand what I mean, I must describe the place and the circumstances. Overall, the trees that surround the river are black poplar, very tall and slim. Precisely on the top of those trees, magpies make their nests. As the hours passed by and I waited to take little fish out of the water, my bird flew over me among his kind. I can assure you, upon my honor, that if I’d yell “Blanca, here!”, the fantastic bird would not take long to descend and perch on my shoulder or near the place where I was, looking at me while leaning his head. I must confess that those samples of friendship that Blanca offered me were awarded with a magnificent portion of flies that I’d reward her with, previously hunted and kept in a small cardboard box that had contained suppositories. You had to see the excitement with which he devoured them.
I built a support with a broomstick that was cut at the height of the dining table for the bird. As a base, I placed a wooden disk that I fit at the other end of the stick. At the top, I held it horizontally with another piece of wood of about forty centimeters, and, in both ends, I adapted a container for water and another one for food. That way Blanca ate by my side and in the company of my family. When I initially proposed she be accepted as a permanent guest, the idea was not welcomed with much enthusiasm. They agreed when I promised that if Blanca behaved badly, I would withdraw her from our honorable company. My fantastic character showed signs of impeccable behavior. Furthermore, she never put her legs in her plate, as many of my family components often did.
The first thing my dear bird did was to symbolically sharpen its long beak with the horizontal stick that served as support. Then, there was a small beating of the wings to show his enthusiasm for the feast, and he’d begin devouring with absolute delight. You had to see how gracefully he drank water. First, he’d immerse his head in the glass, and then lift it in the direction of the ceiling. He would repeat this movement a few times.
And thus the hours and weeks went by happily, until the day the tragedy occurred. My bird had acquired total confidence in the world that surrounded him. The cat, the only enemy he could have – despite the fact that he would always be well fed – had gotten used to his presence, and absolutely convinced that Blanca was part of the family, never made the least aggressive movement. On a Sunday morning, as I got back from church and entered the yard of the house, I called the little animal, as I always did, to feed him; but he did not respond to my call. I started looking for her in the places she visited: her home, on top of the wardrobe, in every corner, even in the places she’d least visit. I also gave the cat a questioning look… nothing. The cat remained apathetic, free of black feathers and lying blissfully in the sun.
Suddenly, I saw something that made my blood cold. The frame of the house gate was formed with blocks of rock, including the base. At the base, holes were made to give way to the carriages; because there were chickens, these holes were covered with thick stones to prevent them from fleeing. One of those stones had been pushed from the outside. This discovery would clearly not have alarmed me in any other occasion, but my imagination began working at full steam: Maybe the kids from the town, after seeing how sometimes my bird pecked at the wheat that was given to the chickens and, taking advantage of our absence, called out to the animal through the hole, offering her food. It seemed easy to help her out.
This was but a hypothesis. So I started from there to make the following inquiries. First, I feigned to be calm from the inside out. I pretended not to focus on the subject, and I continued going fishing as if nothing had happened. What I had expected, occurred. A few days after the incident, one of the kids that knew what had happened, felt the need to have a conversation with me to find out about my state of mind.
I suddenly felt a presence behind me as I sat by the river. In effect, it was one of the gang members. I greeted him with apparent cordiality. A little later he asked me about the magpie. I answered with great indifference that surely he had escaped, that maybe a cat might have eaten her. My feigned indifference made him more communicative. I felt he was transparent. I encouraged him even more by giving him a trout. After a short silence, he said with a very faint voice: “If you promise not to unveil me, I’ll tell you who did it.” At that moment, I felt my heart in my throat, but I took control of myself. My posture favored my part because my back was almost completely to him.
– Of course I won’t unveil you.
– Well, it was Fulgencio and Juan, the son of the cobbler.
– And, how did they do it?
– Through a hole under the door, they gave it birdseeds… and they took it to aunt Dolores, the witch, who ate it along with some lizards.
There was a short silence, and he then added:
– That aunt eats everything.
I never understood. Even now, sixty years later, I still don’t.