Caños de Mecca.
I wandered aimlessly around the empty and echoing streets of the tiny town. The last human contact I’d had was with the old woman, and I wondered if she had just been part of a dream. The old man, Amador, had disappeared entirely—so completely that it seemed as if, having brought me here, he had deemed his mission complete. Well, in fact, it was over, it had been wonderful of him to bring me so far anyway. But I was so alone that I ached physically inside; I suppose I missed his silent smiling companionship. I saw a strange, unkempt man on a bench and thought of sitting down with him, sharing the bottle he was swigging from, till I realised I could not speak proper Spanish, I was still too rusty. A stray dog sniffed at my foot but snarled viciously when I tried to caress him. I began to despair inside, the awful despair of the lost.
Then I remembered what had happened when I had thought I was lost at sea. How could I forget to believe in such a short time? I was not alone; my loneliness was but an illusion. And as if to illustrate my thoughts, the ground around me began to vibrate as the booming of heavy metal music, or something approached. The bench dweller stood up abruptly, cradling his bottle defensively as he hissed out utterances in the general direction of the growing cacophony.
A big van came slowly around the corner blasting the metal music out of big speakers fixed on its roof. A jumble of surfboards, bicycles, and general paraphernalia was piled on it, and hanging from fixtures on the sides of the vehicle. I peered inquisitively as it very gradually eased to a stop right by me. A door slid open, and two boys and a girl swung out. The interior seemed to be as cluttered with young people as the roof was with surfboards. The smaller one of the boys, a thin, very dark-skinned individual, looked at me questioningly.
‘¿Tío tiene algo?’ (Man, have you got anything?)
I looked at him blankly, and the girl said, ‘Hierba, hierba?’ (Grass, grass?) She spoke loudly like she thought I was deaf.
So I answered, ‘English, please.’
The second boy, larger, plump, and with one of those ever friendly faces, retorted. ‘Ingleesh, please. ¿El hijo puta? ¡Solo Ingleesh, el cabron!’ With that, he started giggling. I realised they were drugged, smoking hashish. In my country, only old men did this. The girl joined in, and some of the people inside the van poked their heads out. The big boy kept making comments, and soon everyone was giggling. Even the tramp off the bench was offering his bottle and making strange choking noises.
‘Come with us, man,’ the first boy said as he indicated with his head that two uniformed men were walking towards us.
‘Police?’ I enquired.
He just shrugged, so we all crammed into the van and sped off out of town.
Through the night, the van motored smoothly on bright new motorways with silky, gentle surfaces whilst its occupants, in the main, had been swept surreptitiously into the arms of Morpheus, or marijuana. They slept, some with the intensity and disregard that only the young and secure possess. Others slept more fitfully, and a good-looking young guy in a corner fondled a girl whilst another boy seemed to be caressing him. Beside me, the lad I had met who had invited me along was slumped, and others were strewn around in a haphazard fashion, legs and arms randomly interlaced or covering a part of their neighbour’s anatomy that did not suffer resultant discomfort. I must have dozed off, as my eyes opened to folks around me starting to wake, yawn, and chatter.
‘My name is Ruben.’ One boy looked at me and held out his hand. ‘Hello, Masuhun. Hey, this is David, and this boy here is not really a boy, she’s a girl, Maria.’
She threw a shoe in reply, which Ruben deftly dodged before going on. ‘This here is Claudio, you met him outside before. This is Maria two, or you can call her Maria la guapa, the pretty one, to distinguish her from Maria one; and then there’s Juan; Lanzarote; and Eduardo in the corner, part of the Juanito, Eduardo, and Toñi trio.’
Some nodded as they heard their names spoken, although it seemed that most had at least a rudimentary command of English, though they pretended not to.
‘¿Que quiere decir con eso de trio?’ (What’s that about a trio meant to mean?) Eduardo asked. He was a big guy, sculpted from time in the gym. But Ruben just ignored him.
Then the girl Toñi joined in. ‘Sí! ¿A que viene el meterte con, Eduardo? ¿Además quien es tu nuevo amiguito? ¿Un mendigo, un sin techo buscavidas? ¿Que es, que, te cuesta encontrar amigos? ¿Además quien le dijo que podía subir al furgón?’ (Yeah, what’s with you digging at Eduardo? So who’s your new friend? A waif, wandering bum? You hard up for friends? Who said he could come on the bus?)
She got wholly carried away. I was getting worried and could see myself getting unceremoniously kicked off. Ruben looked at me with a deadpan face; then he gave me a hidden wink. Claudio piped in, and then the others. It seemed like there was a self-appointed elite faction made up of the trio, with Claudio and Maria two as the hangers-on. Speaking to me in English, Claudio asked me questions but would cut me off as I replied, to comment in Spanish to his clique. They would laugh, and it certainly wasn’t with me. Ruben threw in his bit, now and then, to set them all off squabbling again. Lanzarote, a good-looking, fair-haired giant from Bilbao just sat there grinning.
Ruben told me of Lanzarote’s claim to fame; he had rescued a girl from a beating in Tangiers only to discover she was not a girl, she was a guy. Lanzarote just sat there in a lotus position and laughed at all that was said. He was another freethinker, so free that he had lived with the girl for a few weeks, and then ran off when she tried getting into his bed. Maria one seemed a good-humoured type and just sat quietly looking out of the window into the passing night as the van sped along the highway on the road to surf, high adventure, and Caños de Mecca.
Then we started slowing and Maria one called out, ‘“La pasma.”’ (The old bill.) And then, ‘“Y a la mitad del camino, bajo las ramas de un olmo, Guardia Civil caminera.”’ (And halfway down the track, below the branches of an elm, Guardia Civil suddenly appeared.)
Hey, I thought, I know that we did it at school. Fantastic, a girl who loved poetry. And I completed the words from memory. The words of the incredible Spanish poet Lorca, from Granada. I had learned it in French and the original Spanish. The professor had insisted we memorise it, as he said it was truly beautiful.
‘“Lo llevo codo a codo. Antonio Torres Heredia, hijo y nieto de Camborios. Viene sin vara de mimbre, entre los cinco tricornios.”’ (They arrested him elbow to elbow. Antonio Torres Heredia, son, and grandson of Camborios. You come without your bamboo cane, encircled by five three-cornered hats.)
Maria looked at me, surprised, but with a smile. Looking out the window beside her, I recognised my Guardia Civil from San Lucar. Maria glanced at me, and seeing the sudden apprehension in my eyes, grabbed me and led me to the corner, behind the trio.
‘Hay que esconderlo.’ (He must be hidden.) She threw a blanket over me, and the trio moved backward. The quiet, dreamy girl had surprising authority in the group.
I could hear the civiles conversing with the driver.
‘Un individuo muy peligroso, igual planea algunos ataques terroristas. Pero nada sí no lo habéis visto, seguir. La palabra de un hijo de civiles de casa cuartel nos vale.’ (A very dangerous individual, he may be planning some terrorist attacks. But not to worry if you haven’t seen him, continue. The word of the son of Civil Guards from family barracks is enough for us.)
‘Hombre sí queréis podéis registrar atrás, como les he dicho, son chavales, estudiantes, que van de excursión.’ (Gentlemen, if you wish, you may search in the back, although as I have told you, they are students on an excursion.)
‘Con tu palabra nos vale.’ (Your word is enough for us.)
The van started up again, and Maria came to uncover me. No one said anything, and she just looked at me.
‘“¿Antonio, quien eres tu? Sí te llamaras Camborio, Hubieras hecho una fuente, de sangre con cinco chorros.”’ (Antonio, who are you? If your name were Camborios, you would have created a fountain of blood with five spouts.)
She quoted Lorca with such vehemence and passion that I was swept up by the moment. The danger had passed, averted by her hand, and this incredible girl just sat there calmly quoting Garcia Lorca at me.
She looked into my eyes, and I returned her gaze. We just sat there whilst all around was silent, the echoes of Lorca’s words reverberating in our minds.
‘Is it true what they said? Are you a criminal, a terrorist?’
I answered, ‘No, in no way at all.’
She said, ‘I know you’re not. I just asked you for them,’ she gestured around to include the others.
‘Le tuve que esconder. A Lorca lo mataron porque era hermoso y homosexual, y porque sus palabras les asustaban, y porque tenían el poder. Mataron al Camborio porque era gitano y porque podían. Y yo, no quería que le mataran a el.’ (I had to hide him. They killed Lorca because he was beautiful and a homosexual and because his words frightened them, and because they had the power. They murdered El Camborio because he was a gypsy and because they could. I didn’t want them to kill him.)
Then the tears started to fall from her eyes, and Lanzarote was beside her in an instant, cradling her as he would a baby.
Ruben told me not to worry, that she was just very intense. He asked me why they were looking for me and I told him briefly what had happened at San Lucar. He said it all seemed very strange to him. Then the Toñi brigade started asking questions, and Ruben worked wonders at fobbing them off. I noticed that when the marijuana joint was passed around, Ruben didn’t smoke. And yet it was he who had initially spoken to me about buying some weed. I got the idea that he was an observer; he participated in what he wanted to, and no one was his peer. There was much more to Ruben than met the eye.
It wasn’t long before the van left the main highway, and through the window, we began to get glimpses of the sea. The road wound through copses of fir trees and amongst extensive areas of wild moorland until suddenly we were driving alongside the shoreline and there were breakers, big Atlantic waves, starting maybe 150 metres offshore. Small figures on boards were cresting up their flanks; others rode the waves prostrate on their boards; some were riding standing upright, the more skilful zigzagging as they went or riding into the tube made by the wave as it rolled over onto itself.
The early morning sun was shining from the east, and the sea glittered with millions of darting fragments of brightly illuminated seawater catching its brilliant rays and reflecting them crazily, celebrating the birth of yet another day of marvellous creation. Everyone in the van was busying themselves donning swimsuits and short wetsuits and remarking on the waves.
‘Que olas, tío, que olas.’ (What waves, man, what waves.) Ruben pushed a small board and a wetsuit at me, which I hastily put on. Everyone leapt from the van as it came to a standstill. Boards under our arms, we rushed towards the sea. Plunging into the water, we swam, paddling towards the breakers and cutting through or going around them. The water felt cold, but you hardly noticed it with the exhilaration that had invaded us. We waited in groups, floating in the calmer area where the breakers passed and grew, looking out for our waves to come.
Then a big one built up, too far off for me, but Toñi, Lanzarote, and some others went with it. Someone was riding standing and going into the tunnel—it was big. Whoever it was, it was too far and too bright to know, moved around, finding the best positions in the heart of the wave and stayed with it all the way to the beach.
Ruben shouted, ‘That was Toñi! Man, she can surf!’
Then a big one came right where we were, and I paddled vigorously to stay with it till I got to just beyond the crest so that I was no longer powering, it was the wave that was carrying me forward. I got the feel of it at once; it was all a question of riding in just the exact spot, not too far ahead nor too far back. I could feel the need for maintaining the right balance as the wave was holding me up and driving me forward; adrenaline rushed through me, and I felt incredible.
So with my instant confidence, I tried gingerly getting to my feet, kneeling first, then falteringly standing on wobbling legs. Suddenly, whoomph! The whole thing went, and I was caught up in the wave, my board was wrenched from me. I was tumbling, seawater going up my nostrils; the sea was holding me down. I felt a spasm of panic; I couldn’t get to the surface and breathe, then just as suddenly, my unexpected ride was over. I found my feet, stood, and drank in the delicious fresh air. I looked around for my board and saw a bearded guy smiling my way. A guy with a face like, well, the archangel Gabriel. I mean, he just looked sort of ultra-biblical. He wasn’t that big, but his shoulders were broad and his face sort of radiated goodness, so I smiled back.
‘I’m sorry, do I know you?’
He rumbled back, ‘No,’ and as a sort of afterthought, added, ‘but you have met my family, poet.’
I knew who he was at once, he was our driver and probably Maria’s brother.
‘Maria is your sister? And you are the child from the Guardia Civil barracks?’
He smiled and sat down, shielding his eyes as he looked out to sea.
‘Look, there she is, my little sister, another child of the waves. The only contact I have ever had with the Guardia Civil is being stopped for speeding. But I have the badge and look the part. And anyway, they weren’t for real.
‘My mother said to me, “Look out for her, Mahatma,” so I am a camp follower, a groupie. With them, it’s a sort of religion; they follow waves. I know guys, and girls, but mainly guys who do only that. It’s not as if the waves here are like in Hawaii, but these guys abandon everything, career and even family. It’s true they seem really happy. Perhaps they know best, but when they get ill or old, it’s mother or father or brother who must help. I, myself, am a catamaran type.’
‘So am I. That’s how I got here from Africa.’
‘A big boat?’
‘You’re a crazy kid.’
His name was Mahatma, and he told me that he knew the Guardia were not right as they had an unmarked car, one uniformed agent, one plainclothes, and they were not following procedure. Then he looked at me.
‘You must know what it’s about. These people have the protocols they always follow, yet this time…’
So I told him my story, and as I was finishing, Maria and Ruben came up the sand with Lanzarote. They collapsed, spent, on the sand around us. Mahatma said nothing; I supposed he was just a silent, absorbing type.
We lay in the sun chatting, laughing, and talking surf. Someone brought bottles of water from the van. Once the surfers were rested, they began returning to the waves. I went with Maria and Ruben. We got out to beyond where the waves promised great things; this time, I hoped I could stay on my feet. We waited, just paddling and laughing at Ruben’s antics, waiting for a wave with our names on it. I missed a beauty, fooling about, but Ruben and Maria sailed off. I saw them go, slowly get to their feet, crouching down, and riding the wave to the shore. I saw a really nice one and paddled like mad to get onto it. Just a little further, and I was on its pivotal point, balancing so that the wave would drive me, but not too far forward so as to lose it. Holding the edges, I went up onto my right knee, getting my balance before trying the second foot, and then I was up, keeping my right foot ahead and the other behind and to the left, grimly keeping my balance. The wave went its course, and I reached the beach still standing, only losing momentum, causing the board to sink under my weight. They gave me a thumbs up, and I felt on top of the world. So we surfed and surfed till the waves started to lose their power with the onset of the evening and the influence of Mother Moon.
We all crashed onto the sand, totally exhausted, yet exhilarated and joyously happy. Everyone acknowledged me, and even Toñi gave me a beautiful fleeting smile. I felt so full, so complete, but inside me was a nagging, a voice in my head saying ‘Don’t forget your father, remember who you are.’
As the sun went down, sandwiches were produced, and Mahatma began speaking, in a low voice, but one that could be heard by all. Maria had told me he was an encyclopaedia of useless but wonderful knowledge.
‘¿Caños de Mecca era una pueblo de moda para tomar las aguas, un espa, en tiempos del Caliphato, sabéis?’ (Did you know Caños de Mecca was a spa town noted for its waters in the time of the Caliphate?) He looked around. ‘Los caños son chorros de agua dulce que se proyectan desde los acantilados, y que eran sagrados para los musulmanes.’ (The caños are streams of fresh water which project from the cliff faces and were held sacred by the Muslim people, the people of the caliphates.)
‘And where were the Spanish people at this time?’ Ruben asked him in English, apparently for my benefit.
I spoke out, and they all looked at me. It seemed like a practiced ritual; I was the new boy.
‘The first invading Muslims did not dispossess the Spanish. They, in fact, battled with the Visigoths, who were just 2 percent of the population. The Spanish people were just as happy living under Muslim as Visigoth domination. The first invader was not an Arab; he was a Berber.
‘He came in the name of the Arabs. He was a Berber general, Tariq Ibn Ziyad, leading his own people, just 7,000 troops, but he had sworn loyalty to Al-Walid Caliph of Damascus. He overran the whole peninsula, and the Arab armies that followed him a year later consolidated their rule. These were the Umayyad people.’
‘But your people, Masuhun?’
‘We were the race of Tariq Ibn Ziyad, although many of us were Christians dating back to the Romans, and others became Christian once in Spain.’
‘And now, Masuhun, what are you?’ Maria asked. ‘What is your faith?’ Again the question; again faith, how important it is to believe.
‘I believe in God and in good. I am named for the Messias, Jesus of Nazareth. I believe fervently in a single God who watches over all people, and I accept all faith in a God to be the same, just in a different way. Some people would say that I am a religious eclectic.’
‘What if I choose to worship the devil?’ Eduardo spoke with a cynical leer etched faintly onto his darkening features.
I replied without thinking. ‘Then you have chosen the road of evil, or perhaps it has chosen you, and you are weak. If you jest, then do not, because there are powers of darkness you cannot begin to comprehend.’
He leapt to his feet and pointed fixedly at me, making it apparent that it was not a conversation he wanted. For some reason, he was challenging me and embarrassing most of the group.
To avoid any unpleasantness, I stood, said goodnight, went close to the van where Lanzarote and others were sleeping, and put my head down to sleep.
And again as I slept, regiments of knights wearing white tunics boldly emblazoned with red crosses marched under banners and metal crucifixes that glinted in the gleam of a sun long fading in the west. And advancing towards them, mighty in their numbers, the proud unruly turbaned regiments of the all-powerful eastern prophet. But the clashes, which were innumerable, were of both great brotherhoods fighting vast evil looking serpents that emerged slithering from the ranks of both armies. And then I saw a fighter wielding his sword, slicing at the face of an enraged beast. I saw his face. It was Afra. It was my father. I must have screamed, as when I opened my eyes, Ruben, Maria, and the trio were there. Ruben was holding my arm.
‘Una pesadilla, a nightmare. You screamed. You all right, man?’
I nodded and made my way towards the shore, wanting to be alone. I sat there for a while looking out to sea and at the moon, my agitation dissipating as rapidly as it had come. I wondered at the magnificence of creation and gave thanks. ‘Thank you, my Lord, for every minute.’ Or, as the Muslims say, ‘Alhamdulillah.’ Except that they say it with every second breath. Toñi sat down beside me.
‘Do you remember your dreams? I sometimes do, especially my nightmares.’
I looked at her; she was incredibly sweet, perfect in every way.
‘The word nightmare is thought to come from the incubus or succubus riding on your chest in the form of a mare, as you sleep.’
‘Huh! All satanic and religious stuff just fed to mankind and swallowed by all before the onset of science. But let’s face it, in our new enlightened world, it’s all just gobbledygook. Hey, let’s go up to this café I know and get a snack.’
I protested my lack of funds, but my stomach rumbled loudly just at that moment, and we laughed.
‘Don’t worry, pay me back some other day,’ she said, and I followed.
And the cock crowed again.
Toñi was just fourteen when her uncle raped her for the first time. It was statutorily a rape, although, from a moral standpoint, it was another of those tiny undeclared battles in the war between men and women. It had been Pedro’s undefined task to provide a shoulder for the solitary girl during the turbulent days of the divorce. Pedro could see in the girl a mirror image of her mother, the petulant hated torturer of his beloved brother Adrian.
He would spend many afternoons in the matrimonial home, alone with a child who had been destroyed emotionally by not only the lack of love but the knowledge that her only value to either of her parents was as a bartering point or bone of contention. Pedro, young himself and wifeless, did his best to fill the gap. The beauty of the child and her natural coltish way of cavorting around began to arouse him in a way that was anathema to his Jesuit upbringing. It started one afternoon when she lay by him laughingly looking into his face as he attempted to read.
‘Tienes la piel tan bonita,’ (You have the loveliest skin,) she remarked.
He ignored her.
‘Y los labios mas increíbles.’ (And the most incredible lips.)
She kissed him, and he, lost and overcome by the young, excited breathing of the child, pushed his tongue into her mouth and felt the warmth and taste. She climbed astride him and pushed against his arousal. When she sensed his struggles to fondle and caress her buttocks and breasts, she pulled back saying, ‘Later, perhaps. These things happen of their own accord.’
Admonished and thankful, it struck him just how like her mother she truly was. It was, in fact, her mother, Natasha, Pedro would have loved to have taken viciously and sodomised cruelly once she was spent. In fact, when younger, Natasha had taken an interest in the young man that had never been reciprocated. The girl, in spite of being only fourteen, a young hatchling, knew her power and how to use her claws.
The dilemma persisted in spite of his attempts through his brother to try to reach some accommodation that would find a school or a governess for the child. Toñi, as all children her age in Spain, was equipped with all the technology, and so harassed him continuously, sending him suggestive photographs and promises of love. Finally one weekend, Pedro obligatorily succumbed. He arrived for the evening during the fortnight she spent with Adrian. Pedro had not even been able to protest; his brother had just sent him a phone message telling him to come home and subsequently disconnected his mobile. Pedro had convinced himself that she was a child and if anything, just messed around with boys at school.
After a light supper, as they were watching a movie together, he sneaked off and locked himself into his room. It seemed like not a minute had passed before she knocked on his door.
‘¿Pedro, porque me has dejado sola? No te he hecho nada hoy, seré buena te lo prometo.’ (Pedro why have you left me on my own? I haven’t done anything wrong today; I promise you I’ll be good.)
He steeled himself, even when he heard her crying through the locked door. It was all so confusing; his instincts, his body yearned for her, and in reality, this desire had been created by her, also instinctively. But her age said she was an innocent, and his morality and strict upbringing, as well as fear of the family scandal and legal consequences, stopped him from going anywhere with the girl. On the other hand, he felt sorry for her and her loneliness, as well as responsible, since she was in his care. He sometimes thought that he was babysitting a tiger. He tried to phone his brother but got no answers to his multiple texts and calls. When she knocked again on his door and sobbingly told him that she would throw herself from the landing, he relented and opened the door to a weeping girl who came into his arms seeking comfort. So he rubbed her back and kissed her forehead, and she kissed him. He was lost again as she, having taken possession of his arousal with her searching hands, fumbled, undoing his trousers in spite of his feeble protestations. Then suddenly, the doorbell rang.
A boy from school, she said, she had just forgotten. They opened the door, and a boy of about her age waved off the waiting car. Then he saw Pedro and stutteringly asked, ‘¿Quien es este?’ (Who is this?)
To which she promptly answered, ‘Es mi tío, Pedro.’ (It’s my uncle Pedro.) ‘Olvide decirle que vendría a hacer los deberes conmigo.’ (I forgot to tell him you would come to do your homework with me.) ‘Es Matías.’ (This is Mathias.)
The kid muttered a hello, and she said, ‘Vamos.’ They went to her room, where she turned and smiled at Pedro brightly, then proceeded to close and lock the door. What went on, he really could not say. He should have been delighted, but in fact, he felt viciously jealous. He cursed himself for feeling what should have been the last thing for him to feel in the circumstances. He just kept thinking that she was now doing to the kid what she would have done to him, and then he wondered at this impromptu arrangement with the boy and whether she had engineered it to make him feel jealous. He thought lots of things, and more than once stopped himself going and rapping on the door. Several hours of torture went by until at last, the doorbell went, and the boy’s father carted him off.
Pedro sat in silence in the lounge, and she went to her room. Eventually, she tiptoed in, in her nightgown, turned on the TV, and sat there watching it. He had managed to neutralise his mind and really just didn’t care.
Then she said, ‘Solo es un crio.’ (He’s just a little kid.)
He studiously ignored her and fought vainly to understand the words he was reading,
‘Estoy tan liada, Pedro. Igual me debes castigar, azotarme.’ (I’m just so confused, Pedro. Perhaps you should punish me, spank me.)
‘¿Por que motivo?’ (Whatever for?) he asked her impatiently.
‘Solo porque tu lo deseas, y yo por razones, me lo merezco.’ (Just because you want to, and I, for whatever reason, deserve it.) With that, she shed her nightgown and was over his knee in a flash, her beautiful young naked body draped tantalizingly, tender white buttock cheeks awaiting his sentence. So he beat her, and soundly, and after, she gathered her robe and went to her room sniffling silently.
He managed to stay away for several weeks, giving excuses such as exams, illness, commitments with friends.
Adrian was often onto him, ‘Macho! Macho!’ he would stridently call his brother. ‘¿Que pasa contigo? Sabes que la niña esta loca para verte.’ (What’s the matter with you, you know the girl is crazy to see you.) Thoughts of her tiny breasts, nipples hard with her unsated desire, the musky odour of mad but delicious lust, and her stunning soft warm little round buttocks there over his knees flashed through his mind.
‘Adrian, I am so busy, what with exams.’
Hushing him, Adrian reminded him, with the scantiest delicacy, of things past. Of boarding school days when he would stand up with absolutely no reservation to whomever or whatever may have come along to upset his younger sibling. To taking his brother with him, in spite of his various friend’s many protestations, to every event, in order to avert the child from brooding upon his parents’ constant and overlong absences.
‘I really would be with her all the time, but Natasha is trying to destroy me, and I must fight. It’s as if she were engineering it so that I couldn’t be with Toñi. When I mention to her in the midst of a yelling match that the child finishes up with you so many days and nights, she seems to go all quiet, even smug, as if…’ he trailed off. ‘I don’t know…’
Pedro, desperate to escape returning to the house, faked an accident and finished up with a truly broken ankle. His plan totally backfired. Even in the hospital, with his leg slung up and in plaster, she found her way to be alone by his bedside.
‘Sí, Hermana, lo comprendo, no son horas de visita. Me echare como una ratoncita en el sofá. Claro, sí, os necesitamos, el timbre.’ (Yes, sister I understand, it’s not visiting hours. I’ll just lie down here like a little mouse on the sofa. Yes, of course, if we need you, the bell.) She tells them he’s her favourite uncle. And the family are so influential that in spite of his attempts to protest, they see only her side of it.
‘Hermana, no es para nada necesario que la niña se quede. Yo debo descansar para recuperarme.’ (Sister, it’s not at all necessary that the child stays. I should really rest to recover.)
But his words seem to evaporate; people just didn’t listen.
‘No se preocupe vd Señor Pedro. Es solo una niña y no molesta,’ (Don’t you worry, Señor Pedro. She is only a child and will give no trouble.) Then, looking at Toñi fondly, again, ‘No molesta ella. Es muy guapa.’ (She doesn’t trouble anyone. She’s a very pretty child.)
So Pedro just laid back, stunned and apprehensive. His body, in spite of his ills, was already responding to Toñi’s presence, something he would have believed impossible. Once they were alone, she told him she was sorry, and that the spanking had been good for her, that she had been wrong to him. He asked her how her mother allowed her to come and stay at the hospital.
‘She brought me here,’ she said, looking at him from beneath raised eyebrows as if to see his reaction.
Pedro hid his consternation. It began to dawn on him that perhaps Natasha knew everything, that maybe she was the architect of the whole mess. The girl kissed him, and he tried to wriggle away but was hampered by his suspended leg. He felt her warm hand enter his pyjamas, and the extent of her passion as her lips moved to the most intimate areas of his body. He didn’t protest. He was confused and angry, but whatever he may ever have said, he was guilty from the very first kiss, that day when he was reading. He should have complained, stopped it at the very start. But in feminist Spain, he would have been guilty even if he had never kissed her, just by being in the same house as the child, and they would destroy him. Anyway, most of the judges were female as well.
So he just laid back and let it happen; he allowed her devour him again and again.
The next time, once fully recovered, he went to spend a night at their house, Toñi was in a diffident, strange mood.
The following day, his world crashed around him when the Policia Nacional came to his house in force to arrest him for the indecent assault and rape of a minor. As things unfolded, it transpired that his case was lost, as they had produced semen stained sheets and underclothes off the girl’s bed. To protest that she had deviously collected it when she was assaulting him as he lay inert in the hospital would have convinced nobody. Pedro’s lawyers tried to establish that the girl was no novice to sexual relations, as Spanish law was more concerned with the sexual age of the girl than her physical age. But on the stand, Toñi turned out to be a consummate actress, and his cause was lost.
Pedro often had the idea that the whole thing had been engineered by mother and daughter to get at his brother, Adrian.
‘You would need to be really evil to manipulate your daughter in such a way,’ Adrian opined.
‘It’s not the mother who did the manipulating,’ Pedro replied. ‘I think it was the girl. I think she is especially bad, evil. Think of it Adrian; she is the child of a Spanish man and Russian girl about whom we know very little, only that she has always been as rich as Croesus. Think of all that went on in Russia for all those years, and that it wasn’t the simple God-fearing folk that became rich in the collapse of the Soviet and the rise of the new order. These people are different from us, so different you can’t imagine.’
‘Perhaps I can,’ groaned Adrian. ‘Perhaps I already know it.’
Three years later, Toñi’s mother Natasha died in an accident, and Toñi, just eighteen, inherited a vast fortune. The circumstances of her mother’s demise were unclear, but the family’s pressure ensured that the case was rapidly filed away and forgotten. Toñi moved to an enormous rural family estate in the south of Spain but lived a very normal, even frugal, lifestyle, as if she didn’t want to miss living a real life by surrounding herself with the trappings of wealth. There was a maturity to her thinking that alienated even the most persistent relative in their efforts to guide her. She brought boys home, and girls and some stayed to live. Rumours developed in the village about drugs and drink and orgies, and even a homeless vagabond who was killed in the area. When questioned about things, Toñi would shrug her shoulders and chalk it all up to the envy of the big estate, wealthy heiress, and extravagant friends; all that one would expect. The one aspect of her life that was not frugal was in buying expensive toys for her girlfriends and boyfriends. Rolexes and the latest, best tablets and sports cars, clothes, mobile phones, but never cash. Rapidly, they grew to depend on her whims.
Juan and Eduardo had convinced her to go surfing, so they latched onto some people they knew and set off, the threesome and Maria. Toñi was hit as if by a thunderbolt when Masuhun came into the van. She saw him, with his fresh uprightness, his apparent honesty and decency, and she was amused, but somehow, even in the dark, he made her heart pound. As the day dawned with its inherent enhanced visibility, she realised he was beautiful. His easy smile, locks of thick black, rich hair falling in natural loose ringlets towards his muscular shoulders, lithe, slim, catlike body with a hint of a cheeky upturned behind. But it was not just the beauty that moved her. She was in turmoil; something primeval inside her was telling her to hate him, to obliterate him, like that holy traveller, that filthy tramp they had set on fire. She wanted him, to own him, taste him, punish him, subjugate him, and eventually destroy him. To wipe that smirk of godliness off his face. But in her perversity, she also wanted him to love her, to possess her violently, dominate her. Faith? He was going to need mountains of faith to continue believing once she was done with him.