The rain in Spain

by | May 25, 2009 | Stories | 0 comments

I remember running from the silence of the village to the silence of the fields; a small child running for help, running away from what he’d seen in the village. I remember stopping in the fields, held back by the smell of death. It’s still there, that smell, etched into my nostrils; and it came with the rain that fell during the night, seeping up from the sodden ground.
“Alfonso, say Hola to the man!”
Mama came out from behind the bar, the evening before, to shake hands with the gaunt young man with wild red hair who’d recently arrived in the village.
“His name’s Jock and he’s from Scotland. He’s come to help us beat the fascists.”
I was used to those rough foreign men who came to Spain to fight for a dream, and left their bodies, broken and bullet-ridden, in her streets. Few spoke my language.
“Hello,” said the Scotsman peering down at me without smiling.
No one smiled in our village then. War does that to a village. Stops the smiles and the laughter. My mama did smile at Jock, though, and her smile was like a bright sun in all that darkness. As a child I never thought of my mama as a beauty, but seeing her now in my mind, I know she was ravishing. My father had been killed early on in the war, fighting with the Republicans. Mama and I lived together in a small room above the bar, and when men came to that room I would have to leave.
“Mama has to make plans with these men,” she’d say.
But I saw the hurt in her eyes. I knew ‘making plans’ was what helped us to survive and I never questioned her further.
Jock was different.
I found out more about Jock from his sister who came to visit our village. Their father worked on an estate in the Scottish Highlands. They weren’t poor, but Jock, a serious lad with a head full of dreams and communist lies, was determined to champion the cause of the ‘people’; Spain gave him that opportunity.
“The girls back home all loved him,” his sister said, fighting back the tears. “I worshipped him, my stupid, pig-headed, big brother!”
Yes, Mama smiled at Jock, and when they shook hands he stared at her face as though he’d just seen the Holy Virgin herself. I sensed the anger amongst our own boys there in the bar, their rough brown hands impotently clasping their glasses of cheap, red wine.
“You any good with a gun, Jock?” grunted Carlos, a heavy brute who often ‘made plans’ with Mama.
Frowning, Mama translated for the Scot. She was the only one in the village who spoke the strange languages of those foreign men. Jock looked embarrassed. His sister told me later he’d never fired a gun in his life.
“Anna-Maria, put a cabbage up there on the bar counter!”
“Carlos, you don’t have to,” Mama said. “He’s only here to help us!”
I still remember her very words.
“A CABBAGE!” insisted Carlos.
Mama couldn’t afford to upset our men. She fetched a cabbage and placed it on the counter.
“Now blind-fold me!” commanded the bully.
With trembling hands, Mama tied a cloth round Carlos’s broad face. We all knew what
was coming, and I covered my ears. I saw the confusion in Jock eyes as he stood there, watching. The cabbage exploded into a million fragments, and Carlos laughed. First laugh I’d heard for a long time in our village.
“Waste of a cabbage,” someone complained as Carlos pulled the cloth from his face.
But Carlos ignored the man. He’d stopped laughing and stared at Jock coldly, his eyes narrowed.
“If you can’t do that you’re a dead man, Scotsman!”
I remember the anger in the eyes of Carlos and his compatriots as Mama talked to Jock later over a glass of wine. They talked in his language, and Mama ignored the others’ taunts for there was something between them, her and Jock. Now I can understand, after what his sister told me about the red-haired Scot. Girls are full of love, even those used and abused like Mama was, and some men seem to draw out that love without even knowing it. Jock was one of those, and I looked on not realising I saw two young people alone in a nightmare: Mama, a young widow caught up in a war she’d never asked for, and Jock, the idealist, with a dream he refused to accept as a nightmare.
It hadn’t rained for months. The land was parched, the crops had failed, and the whole area was sealed off by General Franco’s troops. Jock must have been the last in from the outside world. We were beginning to starve, there was little water left and we all prayed for rain. Prayed that clouds, not armies, would come our way.
That exploding cabbage was indeed a careless loss from a man driven crazy by war and lust. Now I hate Carlos more than ever for destroying it; and my mother’s purity.
Jock must have sensed that purity. I’m sure of it. And his sister told me he always respected those girls who loved him.
That night it rained like I’d never before known rain. It hammered down onto the roof above our heads. There was lightning and thunder, and I clung to Mama … for the last time.
I was awoken by different sort of thunder. This thunder shook the house when it exploded. My mother was already up. She grabbed me and carried me outside where people were running about, screaming. The church was on fire, its roof gone. She ran with me to the edge of town. She splashed and stumbled, still holding me in her arms, through a rain-soaked pig-pen, and pushed me, half-asleep, into the pig-sty.
“The pigs are all dead,” she whispered. “You can hide here till it’s over.”
Then she left, and I crouched there alone with my fear.
I never saw Mama alive again. Nor Jock. The screams died down and were replaced with silence. The sun came up, strong and hot, as always, but the ground was still wet from the rain.
Now I understand why they attacked that night. The rain would bring hope to our soldiers … much-needed drinking water, water for the animals and for the plants in the fields. For the cabbages. Our men would have become stronger, and an enemy must be destroyed before he gets strong. It was that rain that killed them all, those in our village.
I ran from the pig-sty to the bar. Most of the houses had been burst apart by the shells, their inhabitants littering the narrow streets in severed pieces. The bar, alone, stood intact.
“Mama! Mama!” I cried out, rushing into the bar. “Mama!”
She was lying there, on the ground. But she didn’t hear me … her skirt pulled up, her throat cut. A stream of dried blood curled like a red snake from her opened neck. I knew she, too, was dead. I pulled her skirt down before wiping my tears with bloodied hands. I’d never seen that part of her before; now, looking back, I can feel only fury with Franco’s men for leaving her so exposed after raping and killing her. May they all rot in hell!
I ran from her spoilt body. I wanted help for her. Even dead people need help, I thought. I ran through the rain-soaked, death-covered streets, through the puddles, screaming: ..“¡Ayuda! ¡Ayuda!”
Past the smouldering, roofless church, where men and women once prayed for rain, on and out into the wet fields. And there I stopped.
The fields were strewn with the mud-spattered bodies of men. Men I hated, like Carlos, and men I loved and who played with us children, like Xavier and Pedro. And I saw him. Jock, the Scot. Face-down, legs blown off, the red of his hair mixed with the red of his blood. The stench of death hung heavy in the morning air, and flies danced and hummed around the bodies … the only sound in that field of silent corpses.
Ever since, I’ve always hated the rain here in Spain. The rain that killed my Mama and never allowed that young red-haired Scot find out how much Mama could have loved him, or discover how pointless was the war in which he had got mixed-up. Years later I moved back to our rebuilt village. That’s when I met Jock’s sister. And I told her about the rain that fell during the night when a very different village, her brother and my childhood died together. It was so long ago, that night. Now I’m a very old man, all alone with my memories, but I often wonder whether she, too, was unable to ever forget the rain in Spain that so changed both our lives.


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