The moon has become tangled in the branches of the poplar trees, and its faraway glow barely manages to light up the slow spiralling of the dancers or the couples stealing away in search of somewhere more private.
Close by to me, at the side of the road, a swarm of boisterous children mill around the large leather trunk which Braulio, the hawker from Tejeda, uses to display his magic world of sweets and sherbet. Further on, small groups of older men and women, dressed up in their Sunday best, watch the younger ones dance with an undefined mixture of nostalgia and envy.
It’s been so long since I’ve been able to do this, just mingle with other people like an ordinary man, with nothing to mark me out as a creature apart. Here in the shadows of the poplar trees, there’s nothing to give away my true identity, and a sweet sensation gradually intoxicates my senses until I can even forget for a moment the silence of the cave and the deep despair of all the nights I have wandered aimlessly across the hillside. As if it wasn’t me who’d come down to the fiesta at La Llera, attracted like a small child by the sound of the accordion biting the wind. As if it wasn’t me who’d come here, driven by memories and loneliness.
It’s a sweet sensation, which envelops me like a fog and which also blurs and dissipates at the point of contact between my hand and the gun. The feel of that cold grey metal in my pocket, which serves to remind me again of what I really am, here and now: a wolf among sheep, a strange and unfamiliar presence.
Those are not her eyes looking at me, they are two black embers.
The moon is high in the sky, and weariness is setting in as people start dispersing, heading back home, and Martina’s eyes have reached through the shadows of the night in order to find their way eventually to mine.
I’d already spotted her some time ago, swirling in a cloud of blurred faces, indistinct faces twisted by the artificial light, in which it was still not difficult for me to discover some distinct memory of former pupils and neighbours. All of them now marked by the passage of years and oblivion. All inaccessible to me, on the other side of destiny. All completely alien to my presence amongst them, incapable of even imagining (like the guardias standing next to the musicians, watching the dance with boredom written across their faces) that I could dare to come here today.
Only Martina has recognised me. Only she has been able to discover, in among the shadows of the poplar trees, the man who danced with her, ten years ago now, in this very field with his arm tightly around her waist. The man who had arrived in the village as a schoolmaster, who spoke to her of love and raising a family. The man whom the dark whirlwind of war took away from her life for ever.
She stops for a moment, watching me, motionless, her eyes burning into mine. Then (nobody has noticed) she carries on dancing, clinging tightly to her husband.
The accordion’s music has followed me even as far as the springs of the Peña Negra. Even as far as the springs of the Peña Negra, Martina’s eyes have carried on burning into mine.
Julio Llamazares (b. 1955) is a Spanish author poet, novelist, essayist and journalist. His work often deals with the collective memory of Spanish society and, in particular, the progressive decline of rural cultural heritage. He has published six novels together with several books of poems, essays and travel writing.
Spanish original copyright © 1985 by Julio Llamazares
English translation copyright © 2017 by Simon Deefholts & Kathryn Phillips-Miles
Peter Owen Publishers ISBN 978-07-2061-945-4
All rights asserted.