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Simon felt not only surprised by this woman’s situation and behaviour but more than a little perturbed. He wondered if some ailment, physical or mental, was preventing her from moving from the position she had held so long. Try as he might he found he could no longer concentrate all his attention upon Guernica. The woman, static as she was, had become a major distraction, causing him to regularly turn his head to look for any indications of movement or change. None came, and eventually he was no longer able to contain his curiosity, which was now surpassed by concern for the welfare of this stranger. Turning from the canvas Simon looked across the room and noticed, seated discreetly on a chair in one corner, a uniformed member of the security staff. Perhaps this man would take some responsibility for easing his own discomfort and possibly that of the woman in black. He approached this man and expressed his concerns.
“I am sorry to disturb you,” he began, hoping his voice was low enough not to be overheard, “but I have noticed that the lady with the walking stick and dressed all in black has been standing in the same position in front of Guernica for at least an hour and a half. Normally I would not comment, but I have also noted that she appears quite distressed.” Nodding toward the lady in black, he continued, “Whilst I too find myself moved by the picture and the story it represents, I feel some concern that this lady may be in some way suffering.”
“It is good that you should be so caring,” replied the security officer in a hushed voice, “but you really should not be worried. That lady is Señorita Catalin Muñoz from Ajánguiz. I too noted that she was here today, from which I deduced that this is the first Thursday in the month, because that is the time when she always comes.”
“You know this woman?” asked Simon, taken by surprise. “Does she always appear so distressed?”
“Yes, that is how it is,” came the reply with a seemingly indifferent shrug of the shoulders. “She comes on the first Thursday of every month and remains for about three hours. She visits no other parts of the gallery and has no interest in any of the other pictures. After she has seen Guernica she always leaves. It is possible to set your watch by her visit.”
“How peculiar,” remarked Simon, turning once more to view the woman but still unsure that he understood.
The officer shook his head and smiled. “Some of my colleagues,” he said, “well, let’s say that some of them believe that she is mad. Others just think she is a sad old woman.”
“What about you?” asked Simon. “What do you think about her?”
“Well sir, I am not originally from Madrid. Like the old woman who weeps, I am Basque. I was born in Barakaldo, and when I see this woman standing before Picasso’s tribute to the people of Guernica, what I see is not a mad woman but a proud Basque. Some may have forgotten, and others, perhaps the younger ones, they cannot know. Today there are many who do not wish to know, or maybe don’t care. They say this is just history and the painting is just like any other of Picasso’s works. But she knows, she remembers, and still she cannot understand. After all sir, who can truly understand?”
The question hung in the air.
The gallery official resumed, his voice maintaining a low but firm tone. “No sir, she may be sad, but she is not mad, she is a true daughter of the Basque country.”