They came in shorts and strapless dresses, despite the prolonged mild winter they had to be cold. Strangers, tourists who never found their way here before, some in evening dress, chic and tinsel and bronzed, but pale under the holiday tan and shivering in the cold. A small group of twelve people.
We were shocked, had there been an accident, a collision in the mountains? They appeared at the top of the old oak tree, where the past people used to give advice, and carefully shoved one behind the other up the mountain slope. Early in the morning with the first birdcalls, they came, suddenly there, as if released from a dream into our reality. And all the noises, the coffee machine at Manolo, the cawing of the jackdaws, were silenced, only the sparrows swarmed noisily, chirping and scolding, in loops and graceful descents for a while, until they also settled down in the crown of the oak and became silent.
La próxima vez cae una bomba! The next time a bomb will fly, it was written on a poster what they had put on a man who probably didn’t have the guts to get rid of it. We’ve seen a lot up here, but this was really a rude joke! The news went like an uproar through the village, and little by little everyone came out of the houses and stared at the group. They looked like the survivors of a catastrophe. We were shocked, and when a breeze hit the plastic tarp of the loquat plants, puffed it up and tore it down again, we were startled.
Shortly afterward we learned what had happened: they had been kidnapped in a bus and abandoned in the mountains. Mercedes, who sat in front of the television day and night, had heard it on the morning news. A group of disguised people had invaded a lonely restaurant – a popular excursion destination – at Cap de la Nau during the night. They were armed and had asked the tourists as well as the employees in English with a thick Spanish accent to hand in their mobile phones. The telephone cables from the landline were cut. The Spanish staff had to lie down on the floor and were instructed not to get up for another ten minutes. Five very old and frail northerners also left these people behind and were placed under the responsibility of the restaurant management.
And now they had found us! We huddled around them, a German couple spoke some Spanish, deliberately and slowly they spoke, without the usual little volts and jumps, so that the impatience went into one’s toes, and always someone finished their sentences. They had traveled from Berlin, desperately needed rest and now this! Finally, an Englishman took the turn and our children translated: they had been forced to get on the bus waiting in the parking lot, and while the vehicle was winding its way up the serpentines, everyone was asked about their nationality, they were Germans and English and two Swedish couples. As well as two Madrileños who had been released at the beginning of the forest.
Thirty minutes walk to the next town, far and wide no phone booth, no traffic, commented Manolo.
After a two-hour drive, the bus suddenly stopped, and they were told to get off. Contrary to expectations, the driver turned around and drove back. Dark and damp, the forest closed around them, an owl called and flapped its wings. Frightened and excited as they were, it took them a while to realize they had gotten away. Some cried, others trembled in their legs and thoughts, sat down by the wayside, felt the coolness of the ground slowly creeping into their clothes. They would have loved to lie down and rest, but they had to keep warm, keep moving. And so the small group set out on their wanderings. And now, after many hours of silent exhaustion, at last, a mountain village at dawn.
There had been kidnappings of this kind up into the mountains before. Performed by young people, activists, whose fathers and grandfathers sold the Costa del Sol in the last fifty years until the previous Spaniards were pushed into the second row. They called themselves: Coast Guard İCuidado! Argonauts of the coast resisted the sale and demanded their share of the land back. And except for one infarct, which could be treated in time with medical help, everything had been peaceful so far.
We supplied the arrivals with food and drinks, and of course, we called the police. Even the Moroccan farm workers, who lived in a two-story old cabin up by the plantations, who usually separated in groups, or individually, like shadows hurried through the village, had come down and helped. After a brief consultation, we prepared the old community hall for our guests so that they could sleep there, offered them our showers, hot water, which they needed now. We were attentive and friendly hosts, approaching them with due respect – imagine what they had just been through! – But slowly our horror turned into joy. With a smile on our faces, we passed on the story of their kidnapping to those who could no longer leave their homes. And when it had reached the last of them, it was already told with a loud laugh, we were all so happy about the unexpected visit. In our mountain villages everything has been going its way for centuries, never much happens; in former times there were weddings, birthdays and baptisms, today our everyday life is almost only interrupted by funerals. We are a dying village: fifty-nine resilient old people, seven seriously ill, thirty of the middle generation and seven! Children. Only two-thirds of our houses are still inhabited. The others are dilapidated or temporarily rented to the farm workers. Life has been avoiding our village for years. But now finally the story came to us! We felt the power of our bonded community, lively and exuberant again, once again liberated from diseases and dark thoughts. And the joy spread to all of us. Singing and laughing, calling here and there, we moved mattresses and blankets into the hall. The few children got a day off from school, and the old Antonia took the key for the church gate from the hook in her kitchen. No priest lives with us anymore. One is responsible for ten villages, only every six weeks the church service takes place with us. Antonia opened the door and showed the strangers, whether they wanted to or not, the beautiful statue of our miraculous, benevolent Mary, so that they could thank her, as three of the women did after we had provided them with blankets, they knelt on the pew and some women of the village, the confused Carmen-Rosario, the ninety-four-year-old Juana, and the gout-stricken Isabella joined them and prayed with them. This was the first time in the history of our village that the Hail Mary sounded in four languages – Spanish, German, English and Swedish, even a Moroccan woman stood with her palms open and prayed. The rest of us who carried food and drink to the plaza tried to be quiet near the church, and the multilingual prayer seemed like a step into a new era. We fetched tables and benches, a barbecue was set up, and coal was lit. Glasses, dishes were quickly organized. The women brought bowls with marinated meat and salads, trays with fruit, sweets. The best that everyone had in the kitchen was carried out, and we drank our wine with it. Even Juan got his guitar out and accompanied our songs and his own singing Trigo verde, verde, como tus ojos verde …, green wheat, like your green eyes … Which he hadn’t done in two years. In former times he had always played for us, and when the guardia civil appeared after an hour, we were in the most delightful fiesta mood. Some of the hostages even danced with our women and children, perhaps out of relief, perhaps to get rid of their tension, but certainly because a door to another reality had opened in front of them. Said, these are the Spaniards, always find a reason to celebrate. The German couple, seriously interested in us and our customs, wanted to lodge, in their ponderous Spanish without any melody they asked for a pension. Most of the others, however, hid scared and tired in the community hall. They distrusted us and our obvious joy. We tried to reassure them with silliness and exuberance. But they recoiled. It had been Spaniards who had kidnapped them, too. So how could they trust our carefree mood? It was understandable! We didn’t even know what we were so happy about, we explained to the guardia civil a short time later. Probably because it went on like in prime times! Of course we had sympathy, precisely because they had, like us, survived. Had received a warning and for a few hours our village, the hills and forests and plantations around had become a kind of paradise for them. Far away from hotels, stalls, beach and sea. But they were welcomed by real people, Spaniards, hospitable, even cordial. Instead of fake folklore and invoiced services: Chorizo with pickled beans and olives. Laughing and clapping shoulders. Vegetable stew and goat meat. Almonds and honey and helping, supporting hands where necessary. Not a bad swap, as we found. On the contrary, it could have been worse.
The emergency call was received as late as two hours after the robbery, the men from the guardia explained. It had taken that long until two young people had arrived on foot in the next village and had made their emergency call via the next available telephone. Although it turned out later that the cook had hidden another functioning mobile in his overall pocket but had not used it. Forgotten, he said. Totally confused.
The bus? As if by magic disappeared. Shouts and questions from victims and villagers and explanations from the guardia, which sounded absurd and fed further speculation. Again the children had to translate, because the policemen could not speak English and were too impatient to listen to the grammatically correct but slow explanations of the German couple.
Several television crews arrived and made a huge fuss, they positioned themselves in front of the congregation hall, the church and our house entrances, cables and cameras everywhere, so that one stumbled over them. Everywhere they appeared with the microphone, with a pom-pom, huge, like the butt of a well fed domestic cat. And while a team with the abductees was reenacting the events in the forest and their arrival in the village, we old people in the village were interviewed.
This article was translated by the Courtesy of PonderingTime Fan Heidrun Klemmer: https://www.facebook.com/El-ARCA-MINCA-184444268593414/ The Editors Staff is thanking you Heidrun!
Antonia: At some point you wake up and the silence in the house, where the kids were noisy not long ago and the silence on the street in front of your window overwhelms you. You wake up and think you’re a survivor up here on the slope. No more baker, no more cobbler, no more tienda. You remember, three houses down the road, old Anna is lying in her bedroom waiting for the nursing service, waiting for death, which will be her last visitor.
Ramon: Survivors, what a big word. We are all that is left. When you get old you fall out of time, you fall out and the village falls with us. Below, at the entrance to the village, next to the cathedral, which is always empty, whose doors are covered with verdigris, there is a roundabout with a flower bed, that was already dried up three years ago, when I was still coming down. The windows of the only bar are nailed up with planks and the workshop that I ran with my brother until we retired is a ruin with broken windows and the sign with the inscription Hermanos Verera, beats in the wind. We were so proud of it. What a mistake!
Teresa: If Matilda, the granddaughter of Juana, wouldn’t come once a week to do my shopping, I would be lost. Sometimes the Maghrebian cleaning lady comes, too. I can’t remember her name. She’s diligent and does everything very well, but we can’t talk to each other. But deep down, at the bottom of her dark eyes, I see her astonishment, her question why I am so lonely. She points to the photos with my children. – Donde? Where? she asks. -My daughter is in Madrid. (My finger taps on her paper cheek) – My granddaughter Lourdes in Berlin. -Berlin, asks the Moroccan and I nod. When I think of how many people have lived in this house. Could the house be telling, it would take weeks …
Juan: Haha, a series you, the television, could make out of it. The ghosts of the dead villages! For our children there is no more work, the only plantation – gigantic, monstrous -, monoculture, that means, has switched to machines. The rest is done by the Moros. They work for two euros a day and steal the rest together. Since Magdalena died, it has become quiet. The things in the house breathe loneliness. Loneliness all the way to the cold crypt and the knowledge we cannot escape. Vicente, my son, lives with his wife in Venezuela, three grandchildren whom I only know from the photos they send me in increasingly rare letters. At first everything went well, but for the last two years he has been making ends meet with small jobs. Sometimes I make a money order, but it’s never much, my pension is just enough to get around. My daughter Alicia speaks three languages, she studied. But nobody understands her here, so she works at Alicante airport. Every Sunday morning after the Catholic mass on television she calls me. She is a good girl.
We celebrated, we ate and drank while the strangers had already extinguished the lights in the hall. The children kept buzzing around and playing, like children have to do, their laughter resounded over the plaza like we haven’t heard for a long time. We also invited the policemen and the television crew to eat and drink with us. And we? Cheered to us, glad that our monotonous, lonely life had gotten some glamour again. Once again life in all its fullness. Happiness and misfortune close together, and never know where the wind is blowing from! Muchacho, there was something going on at our place, and only late at night the last ones staggered home.
The next morning old Antonia said: – I was beginning to think we had been forgotten. And closed the church door again.
The event would keep us busy for weeks, finally a story that we can tell our grandchildren during their summer holiday visit. In the next days the news only reported about the victims and the police action. In an endless loop we saw the group dragging themselves through the forest, escaping the catastrophe, the Germans, the Swedes, the English, and how they collapsed in the hall where they had set up their camps. A drama that Hollywood couldn’t have staged better. But the fiesta in the village – Juan’s music, the goat meat, Antonia with the church key, our dancing women and the children swinging down from the old oak – was not shown. And we old people who spoke in the pom-pom, big as a cat’s butt, who looked for answers and told the stories of our abandoned houses, we were not to be seen, they had actually cut us out.
And you know what? It didn’t even bother us, on the contrary, after the first irritation we had to laugh. Lies and ignorance, how familiar that was to us. And what had Ramon said? The elders fall out of time. How right he was. We were no longer there. We were … – outlawed, croaked Carmen-Rosario and on the same day some men went down to the workshop, freed the old bus from the tarpaulin and made it ready to go.