Local characters are ten a penny. Unique personalities are priceless, someone to be treasured.
Carlos is such a persona. Typically Asturian, he is short and stocky with a Bulldog neck. He struts around the village on elephantine legs and laughs in tones that Joe Pasquale would be proud. He is known as the Cow Patrol. He is often seen just standing, gazing at the local Frisians. He has a kinship with them. He knows when they are ill or pregnant before the vet makes his diagnosis. His stockiness gives him the strength of a champion wrestler. His simplicity gives him the meekness of a lamb. Local gossip says his mother left him when he was two years old. In the bars you’ll hear she went to be a prostitute in Leon. She never came back. His father died awhile later in a car accident. His grandparents took him in. The grandmother died of an illness born of poor diet and lack of medical attention. He still lives with a grandfather whose mind is lost in the past at the bottom of a whiskey bottle. Incest is whispered. In the mountains rumours and fact go hand in hand. Who knows the truth? Not Carlos.
. Late one afternoon Carlos calls. He is selling raffle tickets for the local fiesta, just two euros. Paul buys one. Carlos leans over the balcony, chatting in his thick Asturian accent. Paul does his best to converse but understanding Carlos is difficult at the best of times. Fifteen minutes pass; it seems an eternity. We wonder if Carlos will ever go. Finally, Carlos says he needs to go to Faedo, a pueblo in the mountains beyond Biescas where, according to the locals, the world ends. He says he has to go at half past seven. Paul apologises but he can’t take him. He is thankful he had that large glass of wine with his lunch. Carlos laughs almost hysterically. The Guardia might stop me, Paul says. Carlos laughs shrilly. I’m worried he’ll break the mirror.
“La mujer?” Carlos asks.
“Rose,” Paul bleats, “we’ve got a problem.”
I go to the door.
“I think Carlos wants to go to Faedo,” Paul explains. “He is quite insistent.”
“What? Now?” I snap.
‘Hee, hee, hee. hee’ is Carlos’ shrieking reply, his heading nodding like a garden gnome. He decides maybe now is as good a time as any. I resent not succumbing to that caloric filled glass of wine.
“Vamos,” I say firmly, snatching the car keys off the hook.
Turning right at the Biescas sign, the road begins to narrow, climbing as it does. Potholes cover most of the road and it’s difficult to find a route where the car doesn’t bounce. Carlos screeches with mirth. I fear my right ear might be perforated by the time we get there. The wine has done Paul a double favour. He hasn’t had to negotiate this road nor does he have to sit beside Carlos.
The road climbs higher as it narrows even more. I pray we don’t meet anything coming the other way. But then no one else would be foolish enough to drive along this road; would they?
I open the window. Carlos has obviously doused himself with the full range of Cow Pat Cosmetics which is so popular in these parts.
We reach Biescas and turn left to Faedo. The road here makes the one we just journeyed along seem state of the ark.
“Where are we going?” I mutter, sarcastically.
“God knows. I just hope Carlos does,” Paul replies.
“Todo recto,” Carlos says, excitedly, pointing along what passes for a road.
So, we’re going straight on, beyond this mysterious Faedo that looks as if died with Franco. Up, up and up. I feel that at anytime soon I’ll be soaring with the ubiquitous buzzards. Casting an eye to my right I see we’re level with the surrounding mountains. I dread to think how high we are. I understand how Hillary must have felt when he was on top of the world.
Carlos continues to prattle and shriek like a child on its birthday, whilst. I wonder how many more I’ll live to see.
“Arriba, arriba,” Carlos’ finger waggles in the air, and we know we have further to go.
Civilisation ended just before Faedo. Unforgiving thoughts creep through my head. We’ve always bought his darned raffle tickets so he couldn’t have brought us high into this foliage filled no man’s land with ulterior motives. Could he?
‘Hee, hee, joyful hee’ continues Carlos as he utters a forceful ‘stop’. We stop. We’re outside a large house. Carlos gets out the car and asks us to wait. We nod, unsure of what else to do.
“It’s a bar,” Paul says and points.
Along the side of the house there’s a sign that confirms his statement. There is a public telephone too. Who goes to a bar up here? We shake our heads in disbelief. A horse trots onto the forecourt. Un-tethered, he enters into a game of footie with a Scottie dog. An aproned housewife bustles from ‘somewhere’ out back into the front door and waves. We shyly wave back. I start humming ‘The Witch Queen of New Orleans’ and Paul shudders.
The minutes pass. Our eyes wander. I spot a doorless shed. Through the opening I spy a large freezer, half hidden by a pile of old tyres. I shudder too. The breeze had stilled awhile back but the leaves still twitched in the silent stillness that shrieked all around us.
Half an hour is almost a decade. Carlos appears still grinning with a cardboard box tied up with string which he outs in the boot. He gets back in the car, clutching a plastic bag full of something upon which we dared not ponder.
We breathe a sigh of relief as the engine purrs into life. I keep my eyes on the road ahead not wanting to look in the mirror less the mysteries of the freezer be revealed.
“Queries cafe?” Carlos says, jovially. We nod, hesitantly. We know we’re sharing the same thoughts. Is he inviting us for coffee? Do we really want to go for a coffee with him? And in a place like this? He hands Paul the plastic bag. He peers inside, tentatively. There are half a dozen sponge cakes. A torrent of words in the local Bable dialect tumble from his mouth. He repeats them. Our expressions have told him we don’t understand. Seemingly it’s a present for waiting. Sponge cakes to go with coffee or hot chocolate for breakfast; a local delicacy.
“Gracias,” we say in unison and the thanks are genuinely heartfelt. Our faith in human nature has been restored.
We descend the mountain, glad to be heading home. Somewhere in the village, Carlos asks to be dropped off. He disappears into the twilight with his box. I’ve heard it said good deeds are rewarded in Heaven. Our reward was coffee in a local bar. On our own......!