domingo, 29 de septiembre de 2013

The letter

Benito was thoughtful as he took the envelope. It was a cold morning in early March. He could see the side of the Cogolla from the window of his office, covered in white. It had snowed heavily the previous evening. The Orbayo only had melted the snow from the streets.

"Manuel Fernandez Riesgo Family (Trascastro). Comercios del Médico. Cangas del Narcea." The envelope was stamped letterhead Oviedo Military Command.

It was common for people in the villages to direct mail to Cangas stores. The service could not reach each of the houses scattered around those steep hills, connected by dirt roads transitable only on foot or horseback. On Saturday, market day, down the people in the villages. The church square is carpeted with potatoes, beans, cabbage, fabas, cottage cheese, eggs, tomatoes, peppers... cages with rabbits and chickens that rattled more than the voices of the market women. The "countrywomen" bustled with roman scales, sitting on stools behind bags and blankets that transform the floor in makeshift stalls counters. The people, who lived deep in the quiet week routine, dressed in bustle. "Countrymen" down the cattle market in La Vega: a meadow at the edge of the river, two hundred yards from the church down the street. If they could sell the calf or gocho, they rose to High Street to spend the profit on snuff, tillage tools, fixtures for home, oil for lamps... There were main shops of Cangas. Among them, Comercios del Médico (the Physician's Store). The business name came from its founder: a physician also called Benito, who started it along with Manuela, his wife. The peasants draw on the visit to collect mail and upload it to the dorps.


Manolin was a robust man, sly gesture and face bread. As his soul. Noble character. Temperamental sometimes. He rested his arms behind the desk of bar he owned, watching with hawk eyes the tables full of kids, laughing and shouting carefree sometimes, drinking tankards, portions of sausage, pieces of meat pie. Business was going not bad though, suspicious because of the life and approaching retirement, he did not hide the displeasure that this clientele gave him. Nearby University Campus, surrounded by student dormitories, the place had become a meeting point to start the night out drinking on a full stomach. Much had struggled since, as almost a child, he left a remote village high in the mountains of Asturias, in the municipality of Cangas del Narcea, called Trascastro .

When that whippersnapper smugly nerd glasses talked to him, tired of the noise of the kids, he felt annoyed.

- Are you from Asturias?

The student did assume the fatherland of the owner because of the name of the bar and the menu supply. Madrid was plagued with Asturias gastronomic embassies.

- No.  I'm galician.

- Galician? Where from?

- From Lugo .

Boy's insistence was getting him cranky, but he continued ignoring the sullen pose.

- What part of Lugo?

- Do you know Galicia?

- A little. But you have no galician accent . If you are from there, it must be about Ibias or thereabouts.

The big man could not suppress a wry twisted smile.

- I am from Cangas. - He said at last.

- I thought. - Smiled the student. - Just Cangas village?

- From a dorp.

- My mother is from Cangas. She is the daughter of Benito "the doctor ". The "phisisian's trade", you know.

Manuel opened his eyes. He turned pale. His lip trembled. Upon hearing Benito's name, he began to mourn .

The Northern Army was going to Teruel. On Christmas Eve 1937, the Republican troops had entered into the city and, after several days fighting house to house, they rendered it. This forced to change the plans of "The Nationals" and deviate from the initial target: Guadalajara. Franco could not afford the propaganda effect of losing a capital of a province.

Manuel was traveling with eleven soldiers crammed into a truck, trying to ease unsuccessfully the unbearable cold. The war surprised him newcomer to military service. No, he belonged to the Army Corp "Galicia". A muddy road was heading to Teruel. Vehicles moved slowly at night. They were scared. They did not speak. Some were able to sleep despite the constant chatter and noise of the engines. Manuel looked down. His mind was far away. In the green Naviego's valley. In the eyes of his mother in front of the door, when he letf home a lifetime ago. The shy kiss that Mary gave him the evening before. In the rustling of the leaves of the chestnut trees caressed by the wind. He was seventeen. The most far away he had been from home was to accompany his father to the cattle market. They left at night to arrive early to Cangas after walking seven hours, taking turns in grabbing the halter tied to the head of a calf. His father told him stories of trasgus, xanas and vaqueiros, to help him forget the fatigue. Now his father was not with him, and chest twinge not relived with homesickness that prevaded his memories.

The roar of the explosion stunned him. He felt lifted the truck. The clay shrapnel caused him a terrible pain in the face. The shell had exploded next to the last truck in the convoy, making a hole and throwing it into the ravine. His body rolled out of the vehicle slamming into the rocky ground. He heard his father 's voice trying to reassure him. And nothing more. Everything went off.

After hesitating for a minute, Benito opened the envelope. It was an official letter. The content could be important. The snow had become impassable the pathways and, in winter, the most remote houses were supplied to survive isolation. It could pass weeks until a neighbor of the doprs near Trascastro walked down to Cangas. He knew almost every family in the council where he was born. Many had sons mobilized in the fight. Others cast the mountain with the Maquis. Some, also in the mountains, hidden from stale petty quarrels that had wanted coward revenge charged with delation. He knew Fernandez Riesgo family. They had the only son mobilized. It was a very humble family, like all. The loss of a child entailed a loss in life resources, added to the tragedy of grief. He feared the worst.

He left on the desk the typewritten sheet, ended with the sign of the Military Governor, and lit a cigar. Squinting in the smoke. He finished his coffee slowly. He went to the rack, took his hat and umbrella, climbed down the stairs putting on his coat, got outside and walked home of Tomás.

- Good morning, Tomás.

- Good morning, Don Benito .

- Bring the car, please. We're going to Oviedo. I'll wait in the cafe of El Paseo .

- Right now.

Tomás turned to get the coat and they walked along a stretch dodging puddles.

- Rain has stopped. Hopefully, the road will be practicable. - Benito said.

Yesterday, the bus came without problem. The snow did not cacht on too much on asphalt and has been finished to melt in the rain.

- Hope we were lucky. See you later.

They separated to reach the Paseo and Benito took refuge from the cold behind the cafe's door, waiting for Tomás. A few minutes later, the car crossed, Bridge of Hell on te Oviedo's way. They would spent in the trip more than three hours by that bad bumpy road in 1938.

They arrived past two in the afternoon, without other mishap that routine checkpoints. They surrounded the Campo de San Francisco, and fell to Pelayo barracks, where the Military Command was located. Benito was identified by the soldier guarding the barrier. Once in the building, he asked to see the Military Governor. Another soldier walked into a room on the first floor and asked him to wait. Sitting in a chair, he missed time staring absently his fingers that held the letter he had opened in the morning.

- Don Benito Alvarez?

- Yes.

Follow me, please. Aranda Colonel will see you now.


The student watched in silence Manolín excited face. Uncomfortable and embarrassed, he waited for the man to calm down. The man pressed his face with his hands and wiped her eyes. Containing the feeling, he exclaimed:

-So you're the grandson of Don Benito!

-Yes-, he answer, not hiding his surprise for that reaction.

- Due to your grandfather, I'm here. In this world.

The boy did not quite understand. His grandfather had run a small family banking. He knew some business, owned to people of Cangas in Madrid, that had been able to start due to his grandfather credits granted without no more guarantee that the word and the confidence in the honesty, tenacity and sacrifice of male villagers whom he knew personally, that wanted to get ahead and make a living in the city. Loans that other banks had denied before for lack of guarantees. Manuel interrupted his thoughts:

- Your grandfather saved my father's life. He saved my life before I was born. Before he married my mother. When he was seventeen or eighteen.

The student listened dumbfounded.

- During the civil war, my father was sent to the front of Teruel. The truck they were overturned by a bomb. Only he survived. He was unconscious on the floor. When he woke up, walked home in the opposite direction. He was arrested near Zaragoza and charged with desertion. He was moved to Oviedo and they subjected him to a military court. He was sentenced to death. He wolud be shoot.

The tears stopped. The boy did not know what to say.

- Your grandfather went to Oviedo and brought him back to home. I do not know how he did it. But I came into this world, because of him.

Silence. Manuel gulped.

- I still have the letter notifying the death sentence.

The boy looked at him in silence with a lump in his throat. A chill ran down his face.

- What's your name?

- Daniel, I said. -My grandfather Benito was a great person.

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