Copyright ©2010 P.J. Brooke. All rights reserved
The prison gate closed behind him. Nobody was waiting for him. No friend, no enemy. Nobody. So, with his guitar in his left hand, and a cheap plastic holdall in the other, Paco Maya walked the two hundred metres to the bus stop alone. There was a bus to the city centre in ten minutes. He lifted his face to the sun, and breathed deeply. They would come for him eventually. But he was free now. He was going home.
Paco got off the bus at the Cathedral and walked towards the stop for Sacromonte. But there was María, still working the tourists outside the Royal Chapel. She hadn’t changed. The same old gypsy scam. María glanced at him, then glanced again.
‘Coño Paco,’ she exclaimed. ‘You’re out. You hijo de puta…!’
She came over, and hugged him tight. Paco kissed her on both cheeks, drinking in her smell of patchouili, garlic and olive oil.
‘Sí. I’m out at last.’
‘I’ll buy you a coffee, carrajillo,’ she said, winking.
‘Por favor, but just the one…for old times sake.’
‘We’ll go to the Café Colón.’
They walked along the busy main road to the Café Vía Colón. The black-aproned waiter eyed them up suspiciously, hesitated, and then came to take their order.
‘This hasn’t changed,’ said Paco, admiring the gilt angels and mirrors. ‘But I don’t remember ever seeing so many tourists.’
‘Sí, we’ve got an international airport now. So there’s even more daft buggers around. Suckers for the old patter. Good for my business.’
Paco sipped his carrajillo coffee slowly, savouring with every sip the shot of local cognac. ‘Gracias María. I’ve been waiting years for this. Have you seen Angelita?’
‘She’s fine, Paco. She looks more like her mother every day.’
Paco rubbed the back of his hand across his mouth.
‘You know, the old cow wants me to sell my bit of land?
‘Well, you’d get a good price these days.’
Paco frowned. ‘But I can’t. I just can’t. So I told the old bitch to go to hell, and I haven’t seen my daughter since.’
‘Another one, Paco?’
‘No. I’m off the booze. And I’m clean, María. I didn’t mean to kill her, you know, I didn’t mean to kill her.’
María glanced at his scarred wrists. ‘I know, Paco, I know. So what are you going to do now?’
‘Go home. Make a bit of money. See my angel.’
‘You’ll get the bookings soon enough. I heard your song on the radio. It’s good. Really good.’
Paco shrugged. ‘I just want my daughter back.’ And his voice broke.
‘Hombre, take it easy.
Paco wiped his eyes with María’s gaudy handkerchief.
‘Abbot Jorge heard my Confession in prison, and he knows my heart.’
‘Perhaps Abbot Jorge can help you again?’
‘I hope so, María. Look. I’ll get this.’
‘No. This one’s on me, Paco. Just got ten euros off a real daft guiri. An Englishman, I think. Read his palm, and told him he was coming into money.’ And she flashed a gold tooth.
Paco stood up and kissed María goodbye. He shouldered his bag, picked up the guitar and walked back to the bus stop. The Sacromonte bus arrived shortly after eleven. He could have walked on a couple of stops, and picked it up when it returned from its loop around the Alhambra and Barranco de los Abogados, but he wanted to see the green woods and the palaces again.
The buildings on Cuesta de Gomérez, the steep narrow road to the Alhambra, had improved. But the old guitar shops were still there. And Narcisco might need a hand in his workshop.
The bus trundled through the old Puerta de los Granados, the Pomegranate Gate, into the lush Alhambra woods, fresh with the bright leaves of spring. It stopped a couple of times, then turned towards to the old gypsy village of Barranco de los Abogados. ¡Ay Dios Santo! It had changed. The gitanos were selling up, and moving. But not Paco. He would never sell. Not now.
‘I’ll see my days out in that house, just like my old man and mí abuelo did.’
In the distance Paco could see the peaks of Sierra Nevada, where the snow still lingered on the high tops. The bus turned and came back down to Plaza Nueva, then squeezed past the tourists on Paseo de los Tristes. The little river Darro still gurgled in its chanel between the road and cliffs below the Alhambra, but two of the old mansions on the left had become hotels. At the end of the Paseo de los Tristes, the bus turned left up the Cuesta del Chapíz, then right at the square of Peso de la Harina with its statue of Chorrohumo, the Gypsy King and then into the valley of Sacromonte. Paco looked back across to the Alhambra, and then down the valley with the steep wooded cliffs below the palaces, and the dry cactus covered hills on the other side.
The bus passed his favourite bar, El Pibe. He would go there with his guitar. Get a few gigs, and start earning again.
‘Will Angelita dance like Lucía did? I’ll get her the best teachers, so I will.’
The bus passed the old city wall, and then the ancient cave houses of Barranco de Los Negros, where the freed slaves lived after the Christians threw the Moors out. The road snaked along the side of the Darro valley. Orchards and market gardens filled the valley basin. The bus finally stopped at the hamlet of Puente Maríano, sitting modestly below the great Abbey of Sacromonte, la Abadía.
‘Maybe Abbot Jorge will let me walk as a penitente in the el Paso de los Gitanos, the Easter Procession of the Gypsies. I’ll ask him.’
Paco got out of the bus and went into the tiny bar, which doubled as a shop.
Doña Constancia was still alive, brown and shrivelled as a raisin now, but still running the place. Constancia peered at him.
‘Madre mía,’ she exclaimed. ‘Is that you, Paco?’
‘Sí. It’s me, Constancia. I’m back for good now.’
‘María Santísima del Sacromonte must have held you in her bosom. I always lit a candle for you.’
‘I’m sure you did, Constancia. You’re a good woman. I need some eggs, sugar, coffee, bread, cheese, sausages, and a bit of your nice ham if you have any in today. And olive oil.’
‘Sí, Paco, my son. Una cervecita while you wait?’
‘No thanks. I’m on the waggon.’
‘My, you have changed.’
Laden with food, Paco set off to walk to the end of the Sacromonte valley. He noticed some bus stops, but no sign of any buses. The road turned into a track that led to the ruined Monastery of Jesús del Valle. His feet crunched on the baked earth and the dry olive leaves, still littering the track. He hoped he wouldn’t see his neighbours. He didn’t want to talk any more. He just wanted to be home. He was lucky: very few people were about. He stopped and paused when he came to the last house before his own.
‘Is my dog still alive? Conchi would have said if he’d died.’
As he stood there looking at the old farm building, a small black dog ran up to him, barking. ‘Negrito.’
The dog jumped up at him. Conchi opened the bleached wooden door of her house.
‘Por el amor de Dios. It’s Paco. Paco’s back. Ay. Mi Paquito. Come on in. Come on in. Don’t just stand there like a payo. Cerveza? Café?’
‘Coffee would be fine, Conchi.’
Negrito followed him inside, snapping at his heels.
‘Look,’ said Conchi. ‘He remembers.’
Paco ruffled Negrito’s ears, and the dog yelped with pleasure.
‘I won’t stay long. I need to get back to my place.’
‘Nonsense, man. You look as if you haven’t had a good meal in years.’
‘That does smell good.’
‘There, I knew you’d want something. I’ve got a good stew on the stove. But, I’ll get the coffee, and then we’ll eat. Manuel’s in town. Some business deal.’
‘How is he, Conchi?’
‘Hombre, we’re all getting older, and you know he’s not a well man. It’s liver problems now. But how are you? I heard you had a heart attack.’
‘Sí. Have to take it easy.’
‘That’s right, amigo. You don’t want to go as young as your father.’
She smiled at him affectionately.
‘Guapo. You’ve still got your mother’s good looks, but Dios mío, you need to put on some weight.’
‘I’m sure I will now I’m out. And you are looking good, Conchi.’
‘I’m still dancing, you know. It keeps me slim.’
Conchi straightened her shoulders, and clapped her hands in a flamenco rhythm.
‘So how are the kids?’
‘All grown up and gone.’
‘Married a lad in Alfacár, and two babies already.’
‘Gone to Barcelona. Hardly see the little bugger these days. And Nacho’s got a flat in Granada – wants to be a chef.’
‘So it’s all change?’
‘You’ve been away a long time.’
‘Sí. But I’m here to stay now. Angelita’s grandmother wants me to sell. She came round to the prison twice to get me to sign a bit of paper. But I won’t sell.’
‘Paco. You should think about it. We’re selling up and moving into town ourselves. We’re too old to manage all this land ourselves.’
‘¡Ay! You’ve been a good neighbour, Conchi. I’ll be really sorry to see you go.’
‘Gracias, Paco. You’ve helped us as well. Don’t worry. We’ll still be around.’
‘That’s good. So how’s myAngelita?’
‘I heard she’s fine. But we’re not speaking to the grandmother, la abuela these days, so I don’t really know. But hombre, just don’t expect miracles. Take it real slow with Angelita. She’s been taught to hate you.’
Paco bit his lip, and then wiped his eye with a worn cuff.
‘And be careful. The uncles won’t be pleased when they find you’re out. As far as they’re concerned, hanging’s too good for you.’
‘Gregorio and Mauricio. Those bastards. I’ll watch my back.’
‘My, here am I talking, letting you starve. Come on through to the kitchen – it’s easier to eat there.’
Paco followed her through to the kitchen. The food did smell good, and he had forgotten how hungry he was.
‘Is that a bus stop I saw at the end of the road?’ he asked, wiping his mouth with a paper serviette.
‘Sí, sí, That’s new. The only problem is you have to phone if you want the bus to come out beyond the Abadía.’
‘It won’t do me much good then. I don’t have a phone.’
Paco pushed his chair back. ‘Ay. Gracias for the meal, Conchi. I haven’t eaten so well for years.’
‘Come back when Manuel is here. He’d like to hear your stories. We’re away for a few days. Off to see my sister in Jaén.’
‘I’ll be round.’
Paco looked at Negrito, and fondled his ears. ‘You coming with me, boy?’
Negrito thumped his tail on the floor.
Conchi got up, and fetched a broom, a mop and bucket. ‘Your place’ll be full of dust and cobwebs. Let me give you a hand.’
‘Conchi. I can manage!’
‘Paquito, hijo. Don’t be so proud. You need a hand.’
‘Un momento, I’ll get your document box. You need to take your Deeds back with you.’
She fetched an old wooden box, and dusted it thoroughly. They set off together, Negrito excitedly running ahead, then running back and jumping on Paco.
‘Negrito, Negrito. Down, dog. Down. I know. It’s good to see you as well.’
They walked along the dusty track, between olives and the hills covered with prickly pear cactus, and then turned up a steep rutted path to Paco’s home, an old cave house hacked out of the side of the hill. Paco rubbed his hand across his mouth then gazed back down the bare hillside to his old plot. Neat rows of beans and young potatoes stretched all the way down to the river on the other side of the track.
‘Manuel’s looked after my land really well.’
‘Not a problem. He enjoys it. And you’ve got a well so water wasn’t a problem.’
‘The thought of my land kept me going all those years inside, you know.’
‘Sí, good flat land with water is worth its weight in gold’ said Conchi. ‘The radio said that there was only five months water left in the reservoir, and the Council needs to sink more boreholes. And my Manuel says those fools in the Council are still handing out permits for new building all over the place, and golf courses too, when there isn’t enough water for us anyway. Someone’s making big money somewhere. But it’s not the likes of us.’
‘Así es la vida. That’s life for you.’
They turned the final corner.
The first thing Paco saw was “ASESINO.” Smeared in red, across the outside wall of his home.
‘The bastards. The bastards. That’s the last thing I need. If I get my hands on…’
‘Ay, Dios mío. I’m sorry, Paco. It wasn’t there last week. It’ll be those devils Gregorio and Mauricio.’
Conchi put her arm round his shoulders. ‘Don’t let it get to you, hombre. You’re worth a thousand times more than they are.’
Paco released the padlock on the cave door, and then flung the single window wide to let in air and light. His few sticks of furniture were still there, and the picture of the Virgin of Sacromonte hadn’t been touched, except by spiders.
‘Nothing missing, I hope, Paco?’
‘There’s not much to go missing.’
Paco went to his chest of drawers, and put the wooden box in the second drawer.
Conchi looked around, sizing up the work that needed to be done. ‘Ay, Paco. This is no place to live on your own. You should find a wife and move into town.’
‘I know, but this is where I want to be, and this is where I am staying.’
‘Hombre, you really should think of moving.’
‘I’ll think about it,’ he said. But he knew he wouldn’t move. Not unless Angelita asked him to, and wanted to live with him.
‘Come on, let’s get this place sorted,’ said Conchi. ‘Paco, have you got any cal? We’d better get rid of that scrawl right now.’
‘I’ll check my cupboard. Yes. There’s a dry packet here.’
Conchi set to work straight away, while Paco mixed up the whitewash. She swept the floor, washed the single window , shook the sheets and blankets vigorously then laid them out in the sun. Paco plastered whitewash over the scrawled “ASESINO.” Negrito ran around, barking furiously, rolling in the dust, and sticking his nose into the cobwebs.
‘There’s still gas in the bottle. Can I make you a coffee?’
‘Thanks, but I’ve to leave you now, Paco. I need to collect Manuel down town, and then we’re off to Ana’s.’
‘Thanks for all your help. I don’t know what I would have done without you.’
‘What are neighbours for? Just take it easy. Tranquillo, Paco. We’ll see you when we get back.’
She looked at the freshly whitewashed wall. ‘You can still make out that damn “ASESINO”. If I were you, I’d give it at least one more coat.’
‘I’ll do that later. See you when you get back. Hasta la vista. Ciao’
Now, he was alone at last, in his own house. At last he was able to relax. He was home. Angelita’s mother, Lucía would never stay here. But for Paco it had always been a bit of Paradise. And here, with just the sound of the doves in the rock face, sometimes his demons would leave him.
Dusk was falling. He took a chair outside, fetched his guitar, and started to sing quietly. His own song. The one that had won the prize in prison. For the first time in years he felt at ease. Now there was something to hope for. Something to do, something to work towards.
From his chair he could see the track which led towards Granada. He heard the sound of a car in the distance. The engine noise grew louder, and then stopped. Paco carefully placed his guitar against the chair, stood up, and walked to the edge of the dirt track. Two men were walking up the steep slope. His first instinct was to go inside for a knife. But no. It was a knife that caused the trouble last time. He stood still, silently waiting. The men approached slowly.