We expected tomatoes in July. We did not expect the sky to rain upon us with fire. By September the English and American comrades were being called home. There were few tomatoes. Dunixi would always insist that the sopa needed tomatoes, and eggs. He came from a village where his Mother and Aunties put tomatoes into the sopa. It was decided among the remaining few, that we should walk towards the border. The news was not good there but it was worse elsewhere. Everything had been abandoned or burned. The fascists ruled the cemetery that was once Donostia.
A day from the border, we found a choza to sleep in. A shepherd with a weather-battered beret arrived to find us gleaning garlic, and small wrinkled tomatoes from the dying garden. Dunixi smiled at me and said, “Sopa!” Dunixi had been born on a feast day. He lived everyday like it. The shepherd did not object to our presence. He offered his olive oil to eat our bread. I told him that he must save it for another day. The shepherd held up the jug and said, ““I am old. I do not have the time to wait for a better day.”
I felt around my pockets for one of the few remaining cigarettes given to me by the crazy Hungarian with the camera. I offer one to the shepherd. A small payment for the oil. He accepted it. He crouched near the small fire and lit it. He kept his gun and dog close.
Dunixi said, “Miren, where is the paprika? You must make the sopa!”
I reminded him that we were saving it for when we crossed the border. He dismissed me with a wave of his hand. He turned to our comrades, and said, “We can have Miren’s sopa de Ajo! It solves every bit of weariness. Her soup would have brought Christ back in two days instead of three.”
He said to the shepherd, “Lagun (friend) do you have a pot?” The old man pointed to the one near the choza. I poured the oil into the pot and let it warm over the fire. I minced the cloves of garlic, and sliced up the stale bread. I tossed the garlic, and a spoonful of paprika into the pot. It crackled with the same rhythm as a flamenco dancer. The dance settled down, when I placed the slices of bread into the pot. Turning them over to soften in the hot oil. I called to someone to bring me a jug of water. One of the comrades handed me the jug and said, “If Dunixi has some sopa, I hope he will speak of something else. It is all I have heard of from him for days.” The water was poured over the bread. I stirred and waited for things to come to a boil. Then a little salt. As I stirred and broke down the bread, the sopa slowly turned into a savory porridge. I poured in a splash of wine into the pot. It was more like vinegar. It had been carried for weeks in the heat. It would do. Dunixi who was speaking to the other comrades called out, “The sopa is blessed, and so shall all who taste it. Where are the tomatoes Miren?”
“You can have your Auntie’s sopa another day.”
“Miren where are the eggs to stir in at the end? The eggs make it magic.”
“Do you see any hens about? Are you wrong in the head?”
He smiled and poked about in his knapsack. He stood up. He was a magician to conjure two eggs. He held them up and called out, “Eggs for my darling Miren!”
A crack came through the trees. Dunixi stumbled to the ground along with the eggs. The yolks mixed with his blood. He was gone without having tasted his beloved sopa.
I cried out, “Nire Maitasuna!” (my love)
Those were the last words of Basque I ever spoke aloud. That language died with Dunixi. I never made Sopa de Ajo for men either. Only women. For they don’t mind the taste of sorrow within the soup. A flavor they taste every single day of their lives.