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                                          ANGELITA LA TONTA
        Angeles was barely fifteen years old when her father exchanged her for a house.   The fact that she was still a minor did not worry Paco Hernández.   Apart from living up to his nickname of El Tonto, the simpleton, he could neither read nor write and completely ignored the existence of such strange documents as his children's birth certificates or his libro de familia.   Paco El Tonto had married his first cousin Mercedes, fondly known by all as Mercedicas La Tonta, and they had many children, all of whom had inherited their parents' looks and lack of intelligence.   Except Angeles who was really very pretty with wide-set grey eyes, red-gold hair and a generous mouth.   She was not as feeble-minded as her  parents and siblings and had even learned to read and write a little.  She could sign her name in full:  María de los Angeles Hernández Hernández.   Her parents being first cousins was the cause of her two surnames being the same, but however much Angeles signed her name, she was always known in the village as 'Angelita La Tonta'.
     Paco Hernández and his numerous family lived in a small Andalusian village some twenty kilometres inland from the south east Spanish coast.   The little pueblo had it been just a bit nearer the sea, would surely have developed as a tourist resort because of the beauty of its narrow cobbled streets with their
whitewashed houses and black wrought-iron balconies overflowing with brightly-hued geraniums.   But as things were, the village had not much benefitted from the tourist boom until recent years, when the holiday makers began to tire of the crowded beaches and explore the hinterland, seeking the 'real' Andalusia.
     Paco El Tonto, now about forty-six years old, despite his poor wits was a strong, ape-like man who could lift sack after sack of cement onto his broad shoulders and load a lorry without flinching.   His straw-coloured hair stuck out at all angles under his blue cotton cap, permanently matted with sweat and dust, and when he wasn't loading lorries, he would help out in the cemetery, building niches for the village dead.   Two of his elder sons, also straw-haired and simian with low foreheads and flat wide noses, had reached working age, thus providing cheap labour for those who needed it.   Mercedicas La Tonta kept house for her family in a vague and messy manner, but at least she ensured that the future work force would soon be increased.   She brought a new son into the world almost yearly, whereas she only had three daughters of whom Angeles was the eldest.
     "I don't know what happened to our Angelita," her mother would mumble to Paco. "She's not like us at all.  Holy Virgin, she's an odd one!   Always washing her hair and painting her face.   Last week I caught her reading one of those magazines they sell in Antonio's  store.  She's just not one of us."
     Granny Mercedes, la abuelita was Mercedicas's elderly mother, a slim, fine-boned  woman with large grey eyes.   She wore her sparse white hair combed back into a tight bun, accentuating her high forehead and straight narrow nose.   Although she could not read or write, la abuelita had native cunning and an almost aristocratic bearing which made her the undisputed head of the clan.   Although well over eighty, she would insist on a weekly family reunion every Saturday evening in Carmen's bar.   Granny Mercedes liked her drink and would spend at least two hours sitting at the head of one of the long formica-topped tables, making sure that her glass was never empty.
     The bar was large and noisy.   The bare white cement walls caused the customers' loud voices and laughter to be echoed throughout the sparsely furnished premises.   No thought had been given to comfort or décor.   Only bare, white-topped tubular- framed tables and ill-assorted wooden chairs filled the large space between the long bar and the glass-paned aluminium door which led to the main street.   Carmen, sleeves rolled up and her swarthy face shining with tiny pearls of sweat, kept a beady eye on all her customers.   She was particularly wary of the Tontos, waiting for the moment when la abuelita would attempt to rise from her chair and spew out the  contents of her stomach over the mottled-green tiled floor.   This was the inevitable finale of Granny Mercedes's Saturday outing.     Angeles was always present with the rest of her large family at the Saturday reunions, but she tried to sit somewhat apart from her grubby brothers and sisters.
  Whenever possible she would go and stand by the noisy fruit machine, watching the brightly coloured symbols spinning round and round, and waiting eagerly for the occasional clatter of coins.   One evening she stood fascinated beside a middle-aged man who pushed twenty-five peseta pieces into the slot time after time.   He seemed to have and endless supply of coins.   The man was a stranger to Angeles who knew just about every villager at least by sight.   He was not exactly handsome, but rather coarse-featured and thick-lipped,  his lank greying hair had been combed back and plastered down to hide a tonsure-like bald patch.  But he cut an imposing figure in his well-pressed grey trousers and light blue open-necked shirt.   Angeles had not really paid much attention to the stranger.  Her eyes were glued to the fruit machine and at last there was the long-awaited clattering sound, this time at its loudest.
  The man had won the five thousand peseta jackpot and Angeles could not hide her joy.   The stranger quickly gathered all the coins into his hands and smiled at the girl.
     "Well, you look pleased," he said.  "You must have brought me luck.   Come, girl, let me buy you a drink with my winnings."
     Angeles was tingling with pride when the stranger
accompanied her to the crowded bar.   He called Carmen, not in the familiar way of the locals, but with a polite "Señorita, por favor."   Then Carmen changed the heap of coins for thousand-peseta notes,  enquiring:      "Are you from Catalunya, señor?"
     The stranger nodded and ordered two carajillos, strong black coffee with a good measure of brandy incorporated.   He studied Angeles with attention while she tried to sip her alcoholic coffee without flinching.  The girl was not used to brandy.   He noticed that she  was really very pretty, stong and healthy-looking too.  He thought her to be seventeen or eighteen years old, for Andalusian girls mature rapidly, but like the desert cactus flower, their blooming is of short duration.
     "Yes, señorita, I am from Barcelona, but I am not really a Catalan.   My father was from the Basque Country, and my mother, may she rest in peace, came from Velez, right near this village.   She was called Rosario Gil."
     The name meant little to Angeles.   Rosario Gil had left the region many decades ago.
     "What is your name, my girl?" asked the Catalan.
  "María de los Angeles Hernándes Hernández, señor."   Angeles was proud of the way in which she recited her full name.
     "That's a bit of a mouthful.   I shall just call you Angelita."
     "Yes, señor.   Everybody here calls me that."  She sipped from her cup again and over the rim she could just see Granny Mercedes trying to rise from her chair.  She quickly turned her head away and said to her companion, "Perdóname señor, but I must leave now.  It's quite late and my family will be waiting for me." As she rushed out into the street, she saw Carmen crossing the floor armed with a damp mop and bucket.
     Carlos Ortiz Gil, the Catalan, had come to the village on hearing of the death of his elderly aunt María, his mother's sister.   María Gil had spent the last twenty years living there alone.   She had never married and Carlos Ortiz was her only surviving nephew, who had now inherited the property.  It was here that his mother, Rosario Gil, had been born some seventy years ago.   From this house she had left for Catalunya with Juan Ortiz El Vasco, and never returned.
     Carlos Ortiz Gil drove slowly up the narrow track known as the Camino de Velez.   His almost new Renault was covered with red dust and the sharp stones jumped up from the dry earth surface of the camino, pitting the metallic blue paint.   Carlos swore under his breath.      "¡Madre de Dios, que camino!"   He turned sharply left and pulled in at the entrance to his aunt's house.  Taking a large rusty key from his pocket, he crossed the dusty yard towards the worm-eaten door.   It swung open on creaking hinges before he turned the key in the lock, and Carlos tried to accustom his eyes to the gloom inside.   The two small windows had their shutters closed, but they were ill-fitting and let the rays of sunlight seep through the cracks, illuminating the cobwebs which clung to their warped wooden frames. Carlos fumbled for the light switch before realizing that his aunt had never benefitted from such modern commodities.   He flung open the shutters and stared around him.   Apart from an old kitchen dresser and a broken chair, the room was empty.   It smelt of cats, he noticed.   The dust lay thick on the dresser top and there was a patch of damp on the earthen floor.   Carlos looked up at the ceiling.   It was made of closely packed cañas; locally grown canes bundled tightly together between the wooden beams and then covered with earth, cement and uncountable coats of whitewash.   But some of the canes were sagging; damp earth had fallen through and the previous week's thunderstorm had not helped matters.
     "¡Maldito sea!  Damn it!" thought Carlos.   The whole roof is going to fall in and a new one will cost me more than this place is worth."   He wandered through four other dark dingy rooms and a dirty kitchen which stank of rotten fish.   Here there was a gaping hole in the roof, and a tabby cat with three scrawny kittens stared warily at him from beside the kitchen range.  The stench was unbearable and Carlos Ortiz rapidly retraced his steps to the room he had first entered.  It was then that he saw Angelita.   The  girl was standing in front of the dresser and combing her long reddish hair.   She seemed to be quite at home.
     "Buenos días, señor Carlos."   She greeted him with a wide smile showing her small even teeth.   "I saw you leave in the car and followed you up here.  Is this your house?"
     "Well, I suppose it is, but I certainly don't wish to live here.   I shall have to try and sell the place."
     "Sell it?   Why do that?   It's such a lovely big house.   All my family could live here and there would still be room to spare."
     Angelita shared her bedroom with her two sisters and her youngest brother, a two-year-old toddler.
 Don't be silly!      Just look at the place.   The roof is falling in and the floors aren't even cemented.   There is no bathroom, no running water...."
     "There's a nice balsa behind the house," said Angelita,  "with fresh spring water from Velez.   Who needs a bathroom?" and she added, "That balsa is full of frogs."
     The Catalan tried to hide his disgust.   In Barcelona he lived in a spacious modern apartment block.
     "How nice,." he said sarcastically. "Shall we go and have a swim?"
     His sarcasm was lost on Angelita.   She smiled up
at him eagerly, her eyes shining with childish delight.     "Oh yes, señor Carlos!   Do let's go.   I can't swim very well, but with you there I wouldn't drown, would I?"
     "How old are you, my girl?" he asked.  Perhaps she was younger than she appeared.
     "Eighteen, no..." Angelita hesitated, she wasn't really sure of her age.   "Seventeen.  I'll be eighteen when the feria starts."   The local feria, or fair, took place in late September.   "Are you going to come to the balsa with me now, señor Carlos?"
     He followed her out of the gloomy house and she lifted her tight blue denim skirt as she ran towards the sunken reservoir at the rear of the building.   She sat on the edge, dangling her long brown legs in the greenish water.   Then she stood up again and slid down the zip of her skirt, easing the heavy cotton sheath down over her hips until it fell at her feet.   Now she held up her arms and discarded the white tee-shirt she had been wearing, displaying firm young breasts encased in a simple flesh-coloured brassière.  Her nylon panties were white and devoid of lacy trimmings, but they contrasted well with her suntanned thighs.   She seemed to have forgotten the Catalan's presence;  unhooking the strap of her brassière, she threw it to the ground and jumped into the murky waters of the pool.
     Carlos Ortiz was no longer impassive to her charms.   Desire rose in him as he watched the girl's  lithe young body splashing about amid the frogs.   She turned over and floated happily on her back, agitating arms and legs until it seemed that her rounded rump was pulling her down, and her nose filled with muddy  water so that she gasped for breath.
     "Angelita!" called Carlos, "Come out now, girl!
You are going to drown in that pond and I'm not jumping in to save you.   Come and dry yourself here in the sun."
     Obediently, she paddled towards the edge of the  balsa and he held out his hand to pull her back to dry land.   She had no towel of course, but sat down on her denim skirt and wiped her hair and shoulders with the tee-shirt.   Then she extracted a small comb from her skirt pocket and started to untangle her soaking wet hair.
     Carlos put his broad hand on her smooth back with surprising gentleness, "Still wet here."   Picking up the cotton shirt, he started to rub her down.   When he reached below her waistline, he dropped the tee-shirt and fumbled with her nylon panties until they too lay in a crumpled heap.   Angelita made no effort to stop his advances, but giggled like a small contented child.
     "Goddamn the wench!   How can she be so innocent?" swore Carlos to himself.   In his anger he found himself aroused.   He took hold of the girl's sturdy shoulders and pushed her roughly to the ground so that she was lying on the damp denim skirt, her head resting on the panties.   He pulled them away from under her straggling hair and rapidly replaced them with his own discarded shirt.   All the while Angelita continued giggling happily, her legs parted and her knees raised.  It seemed that she was offering herself unashamedly to him, and who was he to refuse this supple young body?   For one painful moment he  thought she might be a virgin, but no, another thrust and he slid into her and her clear grey eyes opened wide with unsuspected pleasure.  From time to time she let out a little squeal of sheer delight, and then he felt her enshroud him so tightly that all became warm and moist automatic suction until their most intimate parts throbbed and vibrated in united release.   All the tension was gone from Carlos, his grey head falling exhausted upon Angelita's breast.
     Carlos Ortiz was not an educated man.   He had been born and raised in the suburbs of Barcelona where his Basque father had settled with his Andalusian wife. After only elementary schooling during the bad post Civil War years, he had eventually made his way in life, first as a hired driver and now as the owner of his own Pegaso lorry, in which he transported building materials all over Catalunya.   He had never married and lived a fairly comfortable bachelor life in his modern apartment in Barcelona's Garden City suburb.   Occasionally he enjoyed a passing affair which never lasted more than a few weeks, before returning to his celibate life.   Now he found himself in this primitive southern village, locked in the passionate embrace of Angelita Hernández, and he wondered how he had got himself into such a His preference had always been for mature women in their middle thirties, and he had never thought of himself as a Lolita-obsessed Humbert Humbert, in fact his knowledge of Nabokov and most other authors was inexistent.   His reading matter, like that of many Spaniards, was limited to the occasional 'comic for adults' with brightly-coloured illustrations of sex and violence.
     He looked down at Angelita who now had her eyes half-closed while she grinned up at him with a contented expression on her pretty face.   He suddenly felt ridiculous lying there naked with the village girl.
     He stood up and fumbled for his clothes.  His shirt still lay damp and crumpled beneath her head.  He gave it an angry tug.     "Time to get up, girl.   Get yourself dressed. You don't want to be caught like this."
     She stared at him with wide-eyed innocence.     "Are you cross with me, señor Carlos?   Have I done anything wrong?"
     Carlos could not help laughing at her expression of dismay.   "Wrong?   No, Angelita, I really enjoyed it, but you must pull yourself together now.   I'll drive you back to the village.   And you needn't call me señor Carlos.   Carlos will do just fine."
     The girl jumped up and dressed herself rapidly, sliding into the denim skirt and smoothing out the wrinkles with her hand.   She pulled the wet tee-shirt over her head and it moulded her rounded breasts with its damp tightness.   She started to comb her hair again, tugging the plastic teeth through her matted main until the little knots of prickly grass were all removed.   Then she threw her arms round Carlos's shoulders and kissed him on the cheek with childlike affection.      "I liked what we did, señor Carlos.   Can we do  it again soon, please?"
     "¡Dios mío!" thought the Catalan, "How can the girl
be so simple?"  but he could not help smiling in assent.      "Yes, Angelita.   Of course we'll do it again.  I enjoyed it too, you know."
     Carlos Ortiz had intended to spend only three or four days in the village.   Just enough time to inspect the house he had inherited and put it on the market.  However, after his visit to the dilapidated building, he realized that its sale would be no easy matter.   On the other hand his relationship with Angelita had developed unexpectedly into more than just a pastime.   He found himself truly fascinated by this childlike girl, and could not resist the touch of her golden-brown body with its womanly contours.  He had even cleaned out childlike girl, and could not resist the touch of her golden brown body with its womanly contours.   He had even cleaned out one of the better rooms in the old house, and spread a striped cotton jarapa over the grimy wool-stuffed mattress of what had been María Gil's virginal bed.   There Angelita would lie waiting for him every afternoon at five, her hair sweet-scented and her body free from dirt.   Sometimes she would be sucking a sticky sweet chupa-chups when he arrived.   She loved those Spanish lollipops just like a small child, thought Carlos.   But in bed she was no child and Carlos Ortiz realized that he was becoming obsessed with the girl, and that he could not bring himself to return to Barcelona before the flame of lust had been abated.
     Carlos and Angelita were lying peacefully on the brightly striped jarapa about ten days after their first encounter.   Angelita sucked a strawberry-flavoured  chupa-chups somewhat noisily as the Catalan stroked her silky thighs and flat belly.   The sun was still high in the sky and outside the heat was near unbearable.  Carlos stopped his rhythmic stroking and closed his eyes.   Soon his mouth slackened and he fell into peaceful slumber to the accompaniment  of whistling snores.   Angelita still sucked her lollipop, but she too, was half asleep.
     Up the stony Camino de Velez, braving the heat of  the Andalusian sun, came a strange procession.   It was led by Paco El Tonto and his wife Mercedicas, who limped a little.   Her left foot was caked with streaks of dry blood and she wore no shoes.   The couple was followed by a tall arrogant gypsy, El Nono, who held the reins of a diminutive white donkey.   Mounted sidesaddle on the beast, her feet almost touching the ground, sat Granny Mercedes, black-veiled and looking almost regal despite her ridiculous palfrey.   The rearguard was formed by Paco El Tonto's two oldest sons, each carrying a long bone-handled faca, a dagger-like knife whose curved blade glistened wickedly in the afternoon sunlight.
     Suddenly El Nono stopped in his tracks and raised his hand with authority.
     "¡Alto!" he shouted in a loud hoarse voice, "Halt!  There is María Gil's house on the left."    It had been the tall gypsy who had first noticed Angelita's daily escapade.   He had been picking a few barbary figs from a field which lay to the side of the Camino de Velez.   His white donkey had been hobbled to an almond tree while he loaded her colourfully embroidered alforjas with the prickly yellow-green fruit.  He had watched the girl enter the unlocked door of María Gil's house, and ten minutes later the Catalan had followed her in.   Intrigued, El Nono had left his donkey with its loaded saddlebags, and stalked round the walls of the old house, peering into each window as he passed.   At the third window he let out a little gasp.   The shutters were only semi-closed, and through the crack he could make out the old wooden bed with its gaily-coloured woven jarapa.   And lying on it flat on her back with her bare brown legs clasped  round the Catalan's thickening waist, was Angelita La Tonta, her hair dishevelled and her eyes half closed.  She was wriggling and squealing with delight, and El Nono watched as Carlos Ortiz gasped and pumped with unexpected energy, his pale buttocks rising and falling rhythmically as he puffed and grunted until at last Angelita let out a sharp cry of ecstasy and the Catalan rolled over on to his side, exhausted.    Angelita opened her eyes and fumbled under the jarapa.   She took out a red chupa-chups and stripped it of its cellophane wrapping before stuffing it into her mouth.   Carlos Ortiz stirred a little and started to stroke the girl's belly, but soon his eyes closed and her started to snore contentedly.
     El Nono, already tired of the scene, left his position by the window and loped off to where the donkey grazed in the shade of the almond tree.   He sat down a while on the dry grass and took out a cigarette from the crumpled pack of black 'Celtas' which he kept in his back pocket.   With typical gypsy cunning, he mused how he could gain some profit from this curious affair.   First he thought of approaching the Catalan, but decided against it.   He was not one for getting involved in blackmail, even though Carlos Ortiz looked prosperous enough.  No, he would go and see old Granny Mercedes.
     "So," said the old woman, shaking her silver head. "My grand-daughter is at it again.  In fact I think she never stopped.  Last month my Mercedicas told me she had been with Ginés, the baker's lad, and before that..."
     "Yes, Abuela," interrupted El Nono, "but this time it's different.   The Catalan, he is a forastero, a stranger from far away.  He has money!   He has taken your grand-daughter's honour.   And now he must pay for it.   He must marry her!"
     Granny Mercedes stared at the gypsy with disbelief.
     "Marry our Angelita?   Who would want to do that?"
     El Nono scratched his thick black hair.  "Well, I don't really know, Abuelita, but she's a pretty girl, not at all like her mother.   She takes after you, Abuelita.   A fine young woman she is for a paya."   The gypsies rarely married payas - native Spanish girls.   "We could force the forastero to marry her," he said, and broke into a burst of laughter, showing gold amidst his white teeth.
     "But how?" asked Granny Mercedes, still doubtful.
     "I'll help you, Abuelita.  I have a plan."
     And so it came to pass that three days later the motley procession came to a halt outside María Gil's
front door.   El Nono helped Granny Mercedes descend from her mount and followed closely by Paco, Mercedicas and the two boys, they entered the old house, heading straight for the room where the lovers lay together.
     Angelita was the first to realize that she and Carlos were no longer alone.   She opened her eyes and  the chupa-chups fell out of her mouth as she stared into the face of her grandmother Mercedes.   Then Paco El Tonto, pushed from behind by El Nono, marched over to the bed.  He too now held a shining faca.   Carlos Ortiz sat up abruptly and tried to hide his nakedness with the striped jarapa.   Angelita let out a squeal and retrieved her lollipop.  Paco placed the dagger's point against the Catalan's throat, at the same time turning towards Granny Mercedes.
     "What do I do now?"
     Granny Mercedes scratched her head through the black shawl and appeared lost in thought.   Then she turned towards El Nono, who still stood near the door with Paco's wife and two armed sons.
     "What should Paco do now?" she asked.
     El Nono shook his head and walked majestically towards the bed.
     "Carlos Ortiz, if you move one muscle you are a dead man!  Don Francisco Hernández, here present, demands that you marry his daughter, María de los Angeles, also present."
     "You have robbed her of her most treasured possession, her honour," broke in Granny Mercedes, suddenly remembering her lines.
     Carlos Ortiz moved slightly forward, almost spearing himself on the blade of the faca.
     "She's no virgin!" he burst out. "You can't trap me like that!"
     "Who said anything about virginity, by our blessed Virgin Mary?   I was talking about her honour, the good name of the whole Hernández family.   You must marry our Angelita!" insisted the old woman.
     The Catalan took his last stand.
     "I'm already married."  It was a lie, but it would take some time to prove.
     Paco again looked at El Nono, begging for assistance.   The gypsy grinned from ear to ear and a gold ring flashed in his left lobe.
     "If you are married, you cannot marry Angelita," he conceded, "but you can take her to Barcelona as your housekeeper and pay her a good wage."
     Suddenly Mercedicas La Tonta came to life and shouted excitedly, "No, no!  Not a wage, not money.  He can give us this house!"
     Paco El Tonto looked at his wife in admiration.  How had she thought of such a thing?   This spacious dwelling place would be a palace to them.  "You'll give us this house," repeated Paco, "and you'll take our Angelita to Barcelona.   You cannot marry her, but she can be your housekeeper."
     "Yes," groaned Carlos Ortiz, giving in at last, and Paco withdrew the faca.   Angelita had finished her lollipop.   She spat out the plastic stick and threw her arms round her lover's neck.
     "Oh, señor Carlos, when shall we leave for Barcelona?"
     For one moment Carlos Ortiz wondered whether the girl had anything to do with her family's present demands, and anger welled up in him.   Then he removed himself, exasperated, from her grip.   No, he thought, she had nothing to do with it.   She was far too childish to have thought up such a scheme.
     "Señor Carlos, don't you want to take me to Barcelona?" she pleaded, looking at him with wide moist eyes.
     "Yes, Angelita, of course I do.   Just don't worry about it any more.   We shall leave for Catalunya together as soon as possible."
     "But not before we have the escritura for the house - the writing from the legal man," broke in Granny Mercedes.   Even she knew that in order to own a house, one also needed to have the deeds.
     An idea came to Carlos Ortiz.   Paco Hernández, his wife and his mother-in-law, could not read or write.  It would not be difficult for him to produce a legal-looking document with an impressive signature.  But El Nono said hoarsely, as though reading the Catalan's thoughts.
     "A private document is no good.  You must go to the notary and sign a real escritura before you leave.  If not..." and grinning once more he drew one hairy-backed finger across his throat.
     "Perhaps our Angelita doesn't need to go with him to Barcelona," said Mercedicas, looking at her daughter.  With this big house, I shall need her to help with everything.   Why can't she just stay here?"
     El Nono put his muscular brown arm around Mercedicas's shoulders.
     "But her honour, Mercedicas!   What about your daughter's honour?  Por la Virgen del Carmen, this payo has stolen her most treasured possession.  He must take her away and tell everyone that she is his wife."
     The notary, Don Antonio Alías Bajo, arrived at his office in the village a little after ten in the morning.   He was not a local man, and travelled daily by car from the capital of the province.   He mounted the three flights of stairs briskly and crossed through the waiting room into his office, where his assistant awaited him with the day's business.   He noticed the Tonto family, father, mother and grandmother sitting together on the brown plastic-upholstered sofa.   On the opposite side of the room sat a middle-aged stranger accompanied by a swarthy gypsy.   For once there were no other clients.
     An easy day, thought Don Antonio, but what on earth did these people want?   Even the notary knew the Hernández family and their reputation.
     "Juan," he asked his young assistant, a village lad.  "What do the Tontos want?"
     "They want an escritura," replied Juan.  "For María Gil's old house.   The stranger is María Gil's nephew and only heir.   Now he wants to sell the place to Paco El Tonto."
     "Paco Hernández?   He doesn't have twenty thousand pesetas, let alone enough to buy a house!"
     "Well, the house is a ruin and the Catalan swears he has been paid in full.   One hundred and thirty thousand pesetas, he says.   Could be that the Tontos have that much hidden away."
     Don Antonio nodded, "Yes, it could be so.   And what business of ours is it if both parties have agreed to the sale?   Have you prepared the escritura for signature, Juan?"
     "Yes, Don Antonio.  It's all typed out.   Shall I call them in?"
     Two days later, María de los Angeles Hernández Hernández and Carlos Ortiz Gil left the village in the shiny metallic blue Renault.   In the boot was Angelita's little sewn-up cotton bundle containing all her worldly goods;  a few cheap second-hand clothes, three old magazines, half a bar of coarse kitchen soap, and a kilo of almonds tied up in an old tea-towel.
     Angelita sat proudly beside Carlos Ortiz on the front seat, her red-gold hair freshly washed and shining in the morning sunlight.   She waved happily at her family through the open window.
     "¡Adios, Mamá!  ¡Adios Papá!   Me voy a Catalunya.  I'm going to Catalunya, to the great city of Barcelona.   ¡Adios, Adios!"
     Carlos could see the family in his car mirror.   They were gathered round El Nono who was loading an old bed and its woollen mattress on his donkey-drawn cart.   The Tontos were already on the move.  The Catalan eased his foot down on the accelerator and the Renault increased speed as it disappeared down the narrow main street of the village towards the open road  to the north.
     El Nono returned from his last voyage up the Camino de Velez.   He walked into the empty kitchen of the house where Paco and Mercedicas had lived all their married life.   It was a small house, but in reasonable repair and well-situated near the centre of the village.   There was an adjoining stable, although the Tontos owned no mule or donkey.
     "Well, Paco," El Nono flashed his gold teeth.  "How about our part of the agreement?"
     "You mean the donkey?   I must pay for the donkey's trips?"
     "No, Paco, not the donkey.   You promised me this house.   I have the paper here."
     "What paper?"  Paco stared at the gypsy.  "I only put my mark on one escritura, the one the notary read to us.   What other paper is there?"
     "This one."   El Nono produced a dirty scrap of paper from his pocket.
     "But that's what I signed to say that I promised to pay you for the donkey's trips.   Angelita wrote it.   That's not an escritura, Nono.   I will pay you for the donkey."
     "No!  You can't pay me for the donkey.   Shall I tell you what it says here, on this piece of paper?"
     Paco stared aghast at the gypsy.   El Nono screwed up his eyes and held the paper at arm's length.  It was covered with an untidy scrawl in a large childish  hand.   The bill for the donkey's labour had indeed been written by young Angelita, dictated to her by El Nono.
     "Hire of one donkey for twenty-nine trips to the village of Velez with a heavy load: 29.000 pesetas.  Loading and unloading donkey cart: 6.000 pesetas.  Total owed by Francisco Hernández to Antonio Torres: 35.000 pesetas.   If this debt is not paid before 17th August, l98-, Francisco Hernández agrees to let Antonio Torres live in his house rent-free for the period of three years."   Antonio Torres, El Nono, finished his feigned reading.  Paco El Tonto looked at him doubtfully.
     "You know that I don't have 35.000 pesetas, Nono, and that today is the 17th August, but I never said anything about the house.   Granny Mercedes and my Mercedicas are my witnesses."
     "And this is mine," said the gypsy, pulling a long-bladed faca from his black leather boot.  "Are you going to honour your word, Paco Hernández, or must this convince you?"   He waved the faca so that the blade flashed its bright reflection on the wall opposite.  El Nono carefully focussed the burning spot of light on Paco's face.   The man covered his eyes from the glare with his two hands.
     "Yes, Nono, you are right.   You may take the house."  Paco El Tonto burst into sobs and Granny Mercedes took him by the arm, patting him gently.
     "Don't lament, my son.   We still have María Gil's house, thanks to El Nono, and it cost us nothing!"   The old woman scratched her head, "Paco," she mused, "El  Nono only made nine journeys to María Gil's house and he never went as far as the village of Velez.   I wonder  why our Angelita wrote that when it wasn't true."
     El Nono laughed to himself as he untethered his little donkey from the pepper tree outside Paco's house.  Those Tontos were even more simple than he had believed.   Angelita had written out the bill in her round childish hand, but he had altered the figures himself after Paco had put his mark to the document.    He had added a 'two' in front of the nine trips to Velez, and an extra zero to the original 2.900 pesetas.   Another zero was added to the loading charge of 600 pesetas, and it had been easy to amend the total of 3.500 pesetas to 35.00.   In any case, Paco El Tonto had barely glanced at the bill and unlike El Nono, he could not even read figures.
     The following afternoon, Carlos Ortiz and Angelita arrived in Barcelona.   They had spent the night in Valencia, where Carlos had bought his new housekeeper a pretty cotton dress and some white leather sandals.   She had pinned up her hair in a loose chignon and now looked quite a señorita.   Carlos examined her carefully and thought that it had not been such a bad exchange; the girl for María Gil's house.   That old place was really ruinous, a  liability he couldn't afford.   Angelita was perhaps an expensive luxury, but she could always work for her keep.   She would look good behind a bar, he thought, and wondered whether his friend Xavier Rivas would employ the girl.
     Carlos parked his car carefully in the reserved lot corresponding to his apartment block.
     "Out you get, girl.   We're home!"  He opened the  boot and threw the sewn-up cotton bundle into her arms.   Really, he thought, the girl possessed absolutely nothing.  He would have to buy her some more clothes.  He pushed her gently towards the swing door of the building and led her to the lift.   Angelita  looked scared as he ushered her into the cabin and shut the door behind them, so that she felt totally enclosed by blank walls.
     "What's this?" she cried out. "Let me out, please let me out!"
     Carlos laughed and pushed the button marked 'six'.  The cabin began to ascend the shaft with a smooth swishing noise.   Angelita's fear changed to amazement.
     "We're moving!" she exclaimed, "We're going up!"
     "Good God, girl!   Haven't you ever been in a lift?  Look, now it will stop and I shall open the door on to the sixth floor.   This is where I live and you are going to live here too.   You will have to take the lift every day unless you wish to climb up six flights of stairs, so you had better get used to it.   And now I will show you your new home."
     It was dawn.   Angelita could see the pale light filtering through the venetian blinds of the bedroom window.   She moved a little and felt Carlos's hard back against her own.   He was snoring gently.   Angelita rolled over towards him and put her arm around his waist.  He did not stir.   She moved her hand down and started to stroke him rhymically until she felt him grow hard under her agile fingers.   He opened his eyes and looked at her with a sudden surge of desire.
     "Angelita, do you want to...?"
     "Señor Carlos, please, do you have a chupa-chups?"

     "No, Carlos, lo siento mucho, I'm very sorry but I can't employ the girl.   For one thing she has no papers, no identity card.   I don't even know how old she is."   Xavier Rivas poured his friend another drink.
     "Oh, don't worry about her age, Xavier, she's already eighteen.   As for her papers, well, she must have left them with her father in the village.   But, my friend, just look at the girl!   The way she smiles and wriggles her arse!   Won't she just draw them in?"
     Angelita could not hear the conversation between the two men.   She was captivated by the fruit machine,  and this time she herself was inserting five-duro pieces one after the other.  Her face was flushed and her eyes  shone with expectation.
     "Yes," agreed Xavier Rivas, "but I can't legally employ her.  No papers, no social security.   Too much  of a risk.  But she could just work freelance.  I'd take a small commission.   Plenty of likely clients use this bar, you know.   The girl could earn good money here. And from what you have told me, she will certainly enjoy her work!"   He chuckled lecherously. "Maybe I'll be her first client."
     Every evening at six o' clock, Carlos Ortiz said goodbye to Angelita and sent her off to work with a kiss.   She only had to walk a few blocks before leaving the wide streets of the residential garden city, and reaching an older, shabbier part of Barcelona where Xavier had his bar.   Her work was easy, and most enjoyable too, thought Angelita.   First she would ask for a drink at the bar, anything she fancied.   Then she would sit down at a table for two near the fruit machine.   In no time she would find herself accompanied.   Someone would buy her more drinks, but these would taste of sweetened water.   They would slip coins into the fruit machine and sometimes win a few duros.   Then Angelita would take her new friend upstairs to the little room over the bar.  It was a bare place, just a bed and a chair and a coloured print of the Virgin of Montserrat on the wall.    But there Angelita would strip off her new cotton dress, and then her little nylon panties would somehow fall to the floor, and she would find herself frolicking on the creaking bed with her new companion.   To make things even better, at the end of it all, she would receive money, sometimes as much as a hundred-peseta note.   What she did not know was that Carlos Ortiz and Xavier Rivas were splitting 3.000 pesetas between them for each of Angelita's frolics.
     It was already after eleven, and Angelita was sitting at her usual table with her third prospective client of the evening.   He was still a youthful-looking man, clean-shaven and handsome despite the thick, horn-rimmed glasses which made his eyes apear smaller and sharper than they really were.
     "So, my dear, you work here in this bar?   What would you like to drink?"
     "A cuba-libre," said Angelita, wondering why only her first drink of the evening would ever taste of rum.  The second and third would barely retain even the flavour of Coke.   "No, señor.   I don't work here.  I just like to watch the machine and talk to people.  They  are nice to me.  Like you, señor," she smiled innocently.
     "Would you like me to be nice to you?"
     "Oh, señor, of course you may.   Shall we go up now?"
     "Go up where?   Do you have a special room here  on the premises, my dear?"
     "Oh yes, señor!   Uncle Xavier has let me have a lovely room.   There is a picture of Our Lady on the wall.   She is so pretty and wears such a fine robe and crown.   Uncle Xavier says she is Our Lady of Montserrat."
     "But what is your name, my dear?   And who is this uncle of yours?"
     "María de los Angeles Hernández Hernández," replied Angelita automatically.   It had been a long time since she had been asked her name.   Uncle Xavier and Carlos Ortiz had told her not to mention it in full.   She corrected herself.  "I mean Angelita.  My name is Angelita.  Uncle Xavier owns this bar, but I don't live here.  I live in an apartment on the sixth floor of a tall building with my husband.   It's such a high building that we go up in a rising cabin called a lift.  I was frightened when I first went up, but now I like it."
 "Did you say you were married, Angelita?   You are very young to have found a husband."
 "Oh, señor  Carlos  is not really my husband.  He's  just like Uncle Xavier.  But he brought me to Barcelona from my village and I'm his..."   Angelita seemed to be searching  for the right word, "his housekeeper.  Would you like to come to my room  now, señor?   It's getting late and soon I shall be going  back to the apartment."
    "Angelita Hernández, don't you know who I am?   Don't you recognize me?   I'm from your village.  I've  known you all your life.  How old do you think you are, Angelita?   Seventeen?   Nineteen?"
     "I'm eighteen."   She became wary of the stranger, "I was eighteen last feria.   I can do as I please."
     "No, Angelita, you are not eighteen.   I wrote down the date of your birth in the book.   I inscribed your birth.   That is my job in the Civil Registry Office in the village.   Don't you remember my face?   I know all your family.   Paco El Tonto's eldest girl, that's who you are!   And you are not yet sixteen!"
     Angelita's face fell.   She really did look like a child now.  "Does that mean I can't stay here in Barcelona with señor Carlos and meet all Uncle Xavier's friends?   Does that mean I have to go back to the village?"
     "I'm afraid so.   You see, what you are doing isn't right for any girl, but you are still a child so it makes it even worse.   Don't worry, Angelita.   I'll take care of you.   I'll help you to go home."
     Angelita stood up.   Her eyes shone and her lips parted, showing her small even teeth.
     "No, no, no!   I'm not going anywhere with you!"   She kicked over her chair so that it lay between her and the stranger.   Then she rushed out of the door of the bar and disappeared into the night, clutching two crumpled hundred-peseta notes in her hand.
     Angelita ran and ran, she knew not where, except that she was going downhill all the time, and she could smell the sea.
     At last she came to a halt.   She felt the sand beneath her feet,t and propped herself up against the stone column of a bridge.   The night air was chilly for autumn had set in.   Luckily she wore the new corduroy jacket which señor Carlos had bought for her two weeks ago.   It had not been over warm in Uncle Xavier's bar, which was why she had not taken it off.
     Angelita wondered whether señor Carlos would be  missing her.   Perhaps she should go home now, she thought, but something checked her.   What about the stranger in the bar?   Would he talk to Uncle Xavier or visit señor Carlos?   Would he try to take her back to the village?   Angelita shuddered at the thought.   She had no desire to be back with Paco El Tonto, Mercedicas and the swarm of straw-haired dirty children.   If she could just look after herself for a few days, she could return to the apartment.   The man from the Civil Registry Office wouldn't search for her much longer.   He would have to return to the village.
     Something stirred near the spot where Angelita stood.   Then there was a slight cough.   The girl tried to accustom her eyes to the darkness beneath the bridge, but could see nothing.   She was not frightened, she told herself.   It was only a dog.   A dog with a cough.   But did dogs cough in such a human way?   She called out softly:
     "¡Holá!   Is there anybody there?"
     There was another harsh dry cough and then a voice replied,
     "Yes, I'm sorry if I frightened you.   My name is Baldomero and I am right next to you.   It's so cold under this bridge, señorita.   Why don't you move a little to your right so that we can keep each other warm?"
     The stranger's voice was fresh and young.  He's just a boy, thought Angelita, and she moved to her right until she could see him sitting beside her.   She pressed her body against him so that he could feel her warmth through the corduroy jacket.
     "Baldomero," she said, "Baldo, I'm Angelita and I'm going to sleep here tonight because I don't want to go home."
     "I have no home."  Baldomero coughed again. "I left my family in Huelva when my father died, and  I came here to Barcelona to look for work.   But now I have lost the job I had at the docks because they say I'm not strong enough to load the crates, and my money is coming to an end."
     "I still have two hundred pesetas," said Angelita. "And I know how to get more.  It's easy.   Is that a blanket you have there, Baldo?   If we share it we'll both be warm, and when it gets light again we can go and have some breakfast."
     They lay down under the threadbare blanket and cuddled up to one another like two small children.
     "You are so thin, Baldo," murmured Angelita sleepily.   "I can feel all your ribs."
     Baldo awoke at dawn.   Despite Angelita's warm body and the blanket, the boy was shivering.  He propped himself up on one elbow and examined his companion;  he realized that she was young and very pretty.   Baldo himself was only nineteen, and had only ever had one girlfriend whom he had known since childhood in the province of Huelva.   In fact he supposed that María Lourdes would still be waiting for him to return with enough money for them to be married.   The boy shivered again and returned to his position under the blanket.   Angelita opened her grey eyes.
      "Hello, Baldo, did you sleep well?"
     "Yes, not too badly," lied Baldomero and wondered how his new friend could manage to look so rested and healthy after spending the night under the bridge.
     "Let's go and have some breakfast," said Angelita, searching for the screwed-up notes in her pocket.
     They had hot coffee and stale madeleines in a cheap dockside café.   Angelita paid and immediately walked over to the fruit machine with the change from her two hundred pesetas.   The two twenty-five peseta coins were rapidly swallowed by the one-armed bandit, and there was no winning clatter in return.   Angelita sighed,
     "All gone.   What shall we do now, Baldo?   Don't you have any money?"
     Baldo shook his head, "No, I spent my last hundred pesetas yesterday on a plate of egg and chips.  Well, I do have one duro left."
     "Never mind, Baldo.   You can buy me a chupa-chups with the duro.   Just wait until this evening when  people start coming into this place.   Then you'll see how soon I get some money."
     "What do you mean, Angelita?   Why should they give you money?"
     "Why not, Baldo?   They like me, they are my friends.   I don't do anything wrong.  If you want, we'll go back to the bridge and I'll show you what I do even though you have no money."
     They spent another night under the bridge.  Baldo was still coughing, but both had eaten well, and Angelita now had nearly two thousand pesetas in her pocket.   It had been so easy.   She had been surprised herself when her first new friend had asked her "¿Cuánto cobras?  How much do you charge?" and she had dared to ask for twice the amount she usually received:  "Dos billetes - two notes."  The notes had turned out to be crisp, large green thousand-peseta  ones.   Of course she missed the comfort of the little room over Uncle Xavier's bar, but her new friend had led her to the back seat of his comfortable car, and Baldo had waited for her under the bridge.   Baldo was not pleased;  he looked at her sadly, and said in a low voice,
     "Angelita, I know how you got that money.   Please, don't do it any more.   It's just not right, you know it isn't."
     "But Baldo, what's wrong?    I enjoy it and they pay me.   We can eat.   We'll soon be able to sleep in a proper place.   Why should we stay here under the bridge and starve?   You see, I don't think I can go back to Uncle Xavier or even señor Carlos.   I think people are looking for me, the authorities I mean.  It's something to do with my age."
     "How old are you, Angelita?"
     "I'm not sure.   No one ever told me until last night.  I thought I was seventeen.   Then this man from the village, the one who writes in the book of births, he told me that I am only fifteen."
     "Angelita, you should go home!   You have a house, a family.   Why do you want to stay her in Barcelona?"   Baldomero put his arm round the girl's shoulders and drew her towards him, "I like you, Angelita, I really do, and you are so pretty.   And I like what we did a little while ago, but you shouldn't do that with people from the bar.   It doesn't matter how much they pay you."
     "But if I don't, there will be no money for food.   Not even for a chupa-chups!"
     "You could go home, back to your village."
     "All right, Baldo.   I'll go home, but only if you come too."
     Baldo coughed harshly, a dry rasping cough.   He was shivering despite the old blanket and Angelita's proximity.   Why not, he thought, why not go to Andalusia with Angelita?   At least it would be warm there even if he did have to continue sleeping under a bridge.
     The following day was warm and sunny.   Angelita and Baldomero left the docklands and walked up to the city centre.   Hand in hand they strolled along the Ramblas.  Angelita had never seen so many flower-stalls or caged birds.   She wanted to stop at almost every stand and touch the gaily-coloured parakeets and try to make the red-tailed grey African parrots respond to her happy cry of "¡Holá lorito!"  Then they came to a bookstall and Baldo started to thumb through one of the second-hand paperbacks displayed for sale.
     "Do you know how to read?" asked Angelita. "I do.   I used to read the magazines in Antonio's store in the village, and I can write a bit too.   I'm the only one in the family who can."
     "Yes, of course I can read.   I went to school in Huelva until I was fourteen.   If I had some money, I would buy books and read a lot.   Then I would learn many things and be able to find a job.   Here, Angelita, let's see if you can really read.   See this page?   Read it out loud to me."
     Angelita took the book from his hand and read slowly from the top of the page:
     "El tren iba... lan lan-zando y arro..." she hesitated again, "arro-jaba a uno y otro..." she gave up.   "The words are difficult and too small.   There are no pictures, but you see Baldo, I really can read, can't I?"
     "Well, I supose so, but I think I could teach you to do it a lot better."
     They bought the book.   It was only forty pesetas.  "I'll read it tonight while I wait for you in the bar," said Baldo.   They had agreed that Angelita would spend just two more evenings with 'friends' so that they would have enough money to take the road south
to Andalusia.
     "Shall we go by train?" asked Angelita, her eyes alight with anticipation.
     "No, silly.   You'd never be able to get enough money for two tickets, however many friends you saw.   We'll hitchhike some of the way, perhaps to Valencia, and then we can take the bus.   Angelita, what do you think your family will say when they see me?"
     "My family?   They won't mind.  Mama wanted me to stay at home and look after the children.  I have a new brother nearly every year."
     "Angelita..." Baldo didn't know quite how to start.  "Don't you think... I mean, might you not... All those friends you play around with?"
     "What do you mean, Baldo?"  Angelita looked puzzled, her grey eyes were wide open.
     "Oh, forget it.  It doesn't really matter," said Baldo.   "Maybe we'll be lucky and find a lorry to take  us right down to Almería."


     They stood together by the roadside, thumbing down each passing lorry.   Their few possessions were wrapped in Baldo's blanket, and even now he owned more than Angelita, who had left all her belongings in Carlos Ortiz Gil's apartment.   The southbound traffic was heavy, but as vehicle after vehicle passed them by, Baldo grew more despondent.
     "I think perhaps we should walk on a kilometre or so and try to catch a bus," he said.   There is too much traffic.   That's why no-one wants to stop."   He lifted the grey bundle from the kerb and slung it over his thin shoulder, coughing with the effort.  "Come on, Angelita, let's start walking!"
     They were only a couple of hundred metres from the bus-stop when a lorry drew to a halt.
     "Want a ride?" asked the driver, shouting from high up in his cabin over the noise of the diesel engine.  The lorry was a medium-sized Ebro which had seen better days.   The driver was bored with the thought of  the long journey down to the south east coast with his load of red clay from La Bisbal in the province of Girona.   He had noticed Angelita from quite a distance, a pretty girl, he thought, and so he had stopped to pick them up.
     "We're going to Almería province, but if only we could reach Valencia before nightfall, it would be a great help," said Baldo.
     "You're in luck, my friends.  I'm going to Almería.   I have to deliver this load of clay to a couple  of potters there.  Jump in, both of you.  You can put that bundle in the back."
     "Thank you," said Baldo as he shut the cabin door.   Angelita was sitting between him and the driver, who introduced himself as Ricardo.   He lived and worked in La Bisbal, but was not a Catalan.
     "I was born in a village near Sevilla," he explained.  "But my family came to Catalunya when I was only two years old."  He glanced at Angelita, "You're very silent.   Don't let your friend do all the talking."
     "I'm tired," yawned the girl.  "We've been waiting for a lift for hours and I wish I had a chupa-chups to suck.   Then I could go to sleep."
      Ricardo looked at Angelita more closely.  Yes, she was pretty with that bright red-gold hair.   Quite striking really.  He wondered how old she was.   Something in her manner made him think that she was younger than she appeared at first sight.  Her expression was so very childish as she stared back at him with candid grey eyes.
     "Why are you looking at me so much, Ricardo?    Do you think I'm pretty? Why don't we stop the lorry for a while and get out?"   She felt a sharp kick on her right shin.  "What's the matter, Baldo?   Why did you kick me?   Did I say anything wrong?"
     "Look here," broke in Ricardo.   "We'll stop at the next pull-in café and have some coffee.   On me, okay?"
      "Oh yes, Ricardo, I'd like that, and you can buy me a chupa-chups."   Angelita closed her eyes and rested her head against Baldo's shoulder.  When they reached the café she was fast asleep.
     It was four in the morning when Ricardo dropped Baldo and Angelita on the main road just four kilometres from the village.   An odd pair of kids, he thought.   He had not really derived much pleasure from their company;  the boy was obviously sick, and though not stupid, had not been prepared to carry on a conversation for more than the first half-hour of the journey, and the girl, although she seemed quite happy and giggled a lot, had not much to say either.   He came to the conclusion that she was younger than she appeared, and a little simple.   Slightly puzzled still, he helped her down from the high cabin, and was surprised when she flung her arms round his neck and kissed him on the mouth.
     "Goodbye Ricardo.   Thanks for the ride.  Thanks for the chupa-chups."
     There was a slight mist lying over the countryside and the early morning air, though warmer than in Barcelona, seemed fresh after the close atmosphere of the lorry's cramped cabin.   Baldo started to cough again as they walked along the deserted road.   Eventually they stopped at an abandoned cortijo and climbed in through an open window into a room full of empty beer and wine bottles which had obviously been used at illicit parties.   An old mattress lay in one corner and Baldo and Angelita soon fell asleep there, curled up under the old blanket.   Four hours later they awoke, for the sun was streaming in through the open window.   Baldo hurriedly wrapped his belongings in the blanket once more, and the couple set out for the Camino de Velez.   Baldo was beginning to feel apprehensive about his meeting with Angelita's family.
     "Oh Baldo, what's the matter?   Don't look like that!   Everything will be all right.   There's plenty of room in María Gil's house.   You can stay with us for as long as you wish."
     "But why should they let me stay?  I mean, what am I to your parents?   They have no need of one like me.   Perhaps I should try and get to Huelva now that you are safely home, Angelita."
     "No Baldo.  Please don't go away and leave me now.   We have fun together, don't we?"   Angelita thought hard, her brow furrowing with the effort.   Images of El Nono, Granny Mercedes and Carlos Ortiz  filled her mind.   Suddenly she burst out,
      "Baldo!    Now I know what we can do so that you will have to stay with me!   I can say that I have lost my honour again, and then you'll have to marry me!   Isn't that a good idea?"
     "No Angelita," Baldo couldn't help laughing, "you can't lose your 'honour' more than once, not the way they mean it.  You'd have to be pregnant or something for that scheme to work."
     "Pregnant?   Could I be pregnant?  By you?"
     "Well, I don't know whose it might be, but it is possible that you're expecting a baby.   I mean someone's baby.   You did play around with an awful lot of 'friends' back in Barcelona."
     "I suppose so," said Angelita, still not very convinced.   "So you think they'd make us get married  if I tell them that I'm pregnant?   Well, let's do that.  Then you can stay here for ever and ever, Baldo, and  I'd like that so much.   You are really far nicer than señor Carlos, and they wanted me to marry him, but  he said he was already married."
            "Well, I'm definitely not married," said Baldo, vaguely thinking of his fiancée in Huelva.   He had almost forgotten how María Lourdes looked, but he knew that she was not pretty like Angelita, even though she was a little brighter and could read and write almost as well as he.   He would teach Angelita, he thought.  Perhaps she was not really so simple, and it was just lack of practice.   She was still so very young and would surely mature with his help and support.
     Angelita's older brother, Paquito, was the first to see them arrive.   First he stared at his sister, open-mouthed, and then at her companion.   Then, forgetting the bucket of water he had been out to fetch, he rushed into the house.
     "Mama, Mama, Angelita has come home!   Angelita is back and she has someone with her!"
     Mercedicas hurried towards the door and collided with her daughter who was trying to persuade Baldo to follow her in.
     "Hello Mama," said Angelita.  "I've come home and this is my friend Baldomero.   I met him in Barcelona and now I'm..."  she searched for the right words, "now I'm going to have a baby."
     "Oh."   That was all Mercedicas could find to say.  She would have to consult her mother, she thought.
      "Come on in Baldo," called Angelita, for Baldo was still on the other side of the open door.   "I've told Mama I'm pregnant, so now you can come in and live here with us."
     That same evening, Paco El Tonto and his wife consulted Granny Mercedes in Carmen's bar.   The three of them sat down at a table near the fruit machine with a bottle of anis.
     "Well, Abuelita, what do you advise this time?" Paco asked his mother-in-law.   "Do you think we should call El Nono?"
     "No," said Granny Mercedes firmly.   "We don't need El Nono again.   We cannot give him another house.   So, Angelita has lost her honour again?"
     "Her honour?   I don't know about that, but she says she's pregnant, and that she wants that boy she brought back from Barcelona to live with us."
     Granny Mercedes thought lengthily as she emptied another glass of anis.   Carmen watched her from behind the bar and wondered whether she should prepare her mop.
     "I have the solution!   Angelita and the boy must get married.   They must have the Church's blessing and thus Angelita will retain her honour.   You must go and see Don Alejandro at once, and arrange for the ceremony."
     Granny Mercedes downed yet another glass of anis and tried to stand up.   Her legs gave way under her and Carmen was just in time to catch her before she crashed to the floor.
     Three weeks later, Baldo and Angelita La Tonta were joined in holy matrimony by Don Alejandro, the village priest.   The Church of the Assumption was well-filled, and Angelita looked clean and pretty in a white wedding dress, donated for the occasion by one of the wealthy ladies of the village.   After the ceremony, Paco El Tonto looked at the young couple and said to his daughter:
     "Well, Angelita, now that you are married, your husband will have to find work.   He can help Paquito and Juanillo on their jobs, I suppose, but he doesn't seem to have much strength.   He's always coughing and seems to get thinner every day.   And he reads too much.  He has real books and reads them all day long!  You must put a stop to that, Angelita.   People who look at books grow weak and never work.   They starve."
     Paco El Tonto was right.  Baldo read books and no strength left for work.  He ate less and less and became thinner and thinner, and all the time his sharp  dry cough worsened.   Angelita became worried.
     "What's the matter with you, Baldo?   Can't you go and help Paquito mix cement in the cemetery?   Or whitewash Don Eulogio's house?   He's looking for someone to do it cheaply, and Juanillo is too busy."
      "To think you had to go all the way to Barcelona to find yourself a lazy, good-for-nothing husband!" said Mercedes to her daughter.    "Why didn't you stay with señor Carlos?   He was a real man.   I'm sure he wasn't one to lounge in bed reading books all day."
     But Angelita felt sorry for Baldo, and spent many hours sitting by his bedside while he tried to teach her to read and write fluently.   At first he read to her from the little pile of tattered books he had managed to accumulate since his arrival in the village, but then he was so overcome with coughing that he could no longer get out more than a few words at a time.   Soon Angelita found that she was reading to him, and Baldo looked at her with new-found respect.
     "You're really doing quite well, Angelita.   Soon you'll be able to read like most people, and you write better too.   You're becoming quite educated.   It's hard to believe that you're Paco's daughter!"
     Mercedicas watched the gradual change in Angelita's ways, and began to get worried.
     "What's the matter with our girl?   She's taken to  reading out loud to that scrawny husband of hers, and I've seen her writing too.   She learned nothing really useful in Barcelona.   Soon she'll be saying we're not good enough for her!"
     Granny Mercedes listened to her daughter sympathetically, and scratched her head until the white flakes of dandruff speckled her black shawl.
     "Perhaps she's nearing her time," she ventured, "and that's what gives her these odd ideas."
     Mercedicas, it seemed, had forgotten all about her daughter's pregnancy.   Now it was her turn to scratch her dark head and furrow her brow.   Angelita and her husband had been living with them since autumn, and now it was past New Year.   Yet she was still the slim, flat-bellied girl she had been when she had left for Catalunya so many months ago.   At last Mercedicas realized the full significance of this fact.
     "Mama!" she shouted at the old woman, "Angelita isn't pregnant!" she patted her own rounded belly.  "If  she were, she'd look like me, and she's as flat as a plank!"


     Baldomero tossed and turned on his lumpy woollen mattress while Angelita held his hand.   He was  feverish and the cough had worsened.   There was a reddish stain on the grimy pillow, and Angelita was worried.
     "Baldo, don't you think you should see the doctor?   You never seem to get any better.   Not since we've been here.  Perhaps you'd better go to the health centre and see Don Joaquín.  He'll give you some syrup for your cough so that you'll get strong and work with Paquito and Juanillo instead of lying here in bed all day."
     Baldomero sighed.  He knew he was ill, but what could he do about it?   He had never held a job long enough to be entitled to social security benefits.   He was not even entitled to medical care, or so he believed.   All he could do was lie in bed and hope that one day he would get better, but now he seemed to be worse than ever before and had started spitting blood.   He knew what that meant.
     Angelita appeared to read his thoughts.   She was really becoming quite bright.
     "Baldo, you can see the doctor.  My brother Paquito is your age, I think, and Don Joaquín has never seen him.  Paquito and Juanillo are never sick, but they have their cartillas, their social insurance cards.  I will tell Don Joaquín that you are my brother, and then he will make you well so that you can work again and have a cartilla of your own.
     The following morning Angelita helped Baldomero walk unsteadily down the Camino de Velez to the large new health centre, where they waited to see the doctor after presenting Paquito's cartilla to the receptionist.   She barely glanced at it, adding it to the growing pile on her desk.   "Number forty-three," she said, and handed them a green cardboard number ticket.
     Two hours later, Don Joaquín put away his stethoscope and shook his head at Angelita.
     "Your brother is very sick and will have to go to hospital.  I cannot treat him here."   He examined Paquito's cartilla attentively and filled in the details for hospital admission on a printed form.
     "The ambulance will be leaving in forty minutes or so.   Your mother should accompany the lad," said the doctor to Angelita, who shook her head.
     "No, our mother can't leave home.  I'll go with my brother," she replied.   She felt proud of herself, for up till now she had not made one single slip.  Baldo had rehearsed her well and he was not tonto at all.
     No, Baldomero was not in the least bit stupid, but he was very ill.   Tuberculosis had ravaged his lungs to such an extent that the specialist at the hospital saw no cure.   Two weeks later the boy died, and Angelita found herself a widow.   Or did she?   Baldo's body was returned to the village for burial after his death certificate had been issued at the hospital in the name of Francisco Hernández Hernández.   Angelita attended the simple funeral service at the Church of the Assumption.   Beside her stood Paquito, now her legal husband despite himself, for if Paquito Hernández were dead, surely Baldomero Fuentes now lived in his place.
     It took months for the authorities to realize that something was amiss.  Paquito continued doing odd jobs and paying his monthly social security stamps in his rightful name.   Angelita settled back into her old way of life, looking after her younger brothers and sisters and enjoying herself out in the fields with a 'friend' from time to time.   Soon everyone had forgotten that she had ever been to Catalunya or married Baldomero Fuentes.   Until one day the sergeant of the local Guardia Civil called at María Gil's house in search of information.
     Sergeant Alberto Garrido was quite new to the village.   He was middle-aged with greying hair and a rather pronounced paunch, and he did not manage to look smart in his green uniform and three-cornered hat.   He knocked loudly on the old door, using a stone.
     "¿Quién vive?  Anybody there?"
     Angelita opened the door and smiled pertly at the sergeant.
     "Good day, señorita," he said, "I am looking for  Francisco Hernández Hernández."
      "Well, you've come too early.   He's out working in the cemetery, mixing cement for the new niches."
     "Señorita, you must be mistaken.   Francisco Hernández died last winter."
     "Oh," said Angelita.   "Then why are you looking for him if you know he's dead?   You see, I told you the truth.  He's in the cemetery."
     "Well, if he's really dead, then someone has taken his place and is using his name.   And who are you, señorita?   Any relation to the deceased?"
      "Yes, of course.  I am his sister, and my Paquito is not deceased.  He's working."   Angelita's hand rose to her mouth and she looked down at her shoes.                   Her whole attitude had changed.   Then she raised her head and looked at the sergeant defiantly.       "No.  I mean Paquito is dead.   He was my brother.   But he's not working in the cemetery.   What I meant to say is that he is now in a niche at the cemetery.   Is is my husband, Baldo, who is mixing the cement."
     "Come on now, girl!  What are you saying?    First you tell me your brother is alive and working.   Now you say he is not your brother, but your husband.   What do you expect me to believe?   You had better accompany me to the cemetery, and I shall find out who the deceased really is.   I shall ask him myself."
     The sergeant was beginning to get as confused as Angelita.   He pushed her into his little green and white official car and drove her down the bumpy Camino into the village.   Soon they were at the cemetery.   They were met at the wrought-iron gates by the sexton.
     "Can I be of service to you, sergeant?" he asked politely, for he like to keep on good terms with the law.
     "Yes, indeed," said Sergeant Garrido.   Please inform me of the names of those now working on the new niches."
     The sexton hesitated and decided to tell the truth;  he wanted no trouble with the Guardia Civil.
     "Paco Hernández s two sons, Paquito and Juanillo Hernández Hernández."
     Angelita followed the sergeant and the sexton to where her two brothers were working.   The sexton put his hand on Paquito's shoulder.
     "This is the one you're looking for," he said, "I must be going now," and he turned away, walking rapidly towards the gates.
     "Well, young man," the sergeant asked sternly. "Who are you?"
     "Francisco Hernández Hernández," replied Paco automatically.
     Angelita came to life.       "No, no!   You are not Paquito!   You are Baldomero Fuentes, my husband.   Don't you remember, Paquito?  You are Baldo now."
     "Enough of this nonsense!" interrupted Sergeant Garrido.   "Young man, whoever you are, you must show me your papers.   Your identity card."
     Paquito fished a worn wallet from his pocket, and presented a grubby D.N.I. to the sergeant.   Paquito, not being able to read at all, had no idea what name figured on the card, and the photograph was almost obliterated by a coat of dirt.
     The sergeant searched unsuccessfully for his reading glasses, and finally held the document at arm's length, screwing up his eyes as he read:
     "'Baldomero Fuentes González, son of Baldomero and Josefina', so you seem my young friend, you are not the deceased.   You are, according to your sister, I  mean this young lady her beside me, you are her husband."
     "No I'm not.   She's my sister, Angelita.  Baldo is dead.   He was never much alive in any case.   Always lying around in bed coughing and reading books.  He's in there now."   Paquito pointed to one of the niches.
     "Well in that case," said Sergeant Garrido, drawing himself to his full height and sticking out his paunch, "I'm going to take both of you back to the 'Cuartel' of the Guardia Civil.   There we shall soon find out just who is your husband, young lady, if indeed you ever had a husband, which is beginning to seem somewhat doubtful."
     Juanillo Hernández, silent up to this moment, suddenly decided to defend his sister's honour;  he knew all about that from Granny Mercedes and El Nono, and he knew that she must not now be shamed.
     "Of course our Angelita is married!   It was a really fine ceremony.   Don Alejandro gave the blessing, and Doña Remedios gave Angelita her long white dress.   Then we went and drank anis in Carmen's bar.   And champagne.   But now our Angelita is a widow."
     Sergeant Garrido had heard enough.
     "Very well, young man, you'd better get into my car, too, since you know so much.   Hurry up, all of you!   I don't have all day to waste on the likes of you."
     Once at the cuartel or barrackroom, which was really the lower floor of the sergeant's house, an important-looking file was produced.   Angelita could read the cover:  'Francisco Hernández Hernández, (Seguridad Social)'.
     Sergeant Garrido sat down behind a large manual typewriter.   He inserted a sheet of foolscap and held his two index fingers poised above the keyboard.
     "Baldomero Fuentes González," he began, "I am ready to take your statement.   What is your full name?"
     "Francisco Hernández Hernández," replied Paquito.  "Son of Francisco and Mercedes."
     "Francisco Hernández is dead.  You are Baldomero  Fuentes González, son of Baldomero and Josefina, born in Huelva."
     "Baldo died," said Paquito stubbornly.   "He was Angelita's husband.  I am Paquito, her brother."
     "He's lying!" broke in Angelita, "Don't you see he's not telling the truth?   Just look at him!  Does he look anything like me?   He couldn't possibly be my brother!"
     "True," said the sergeant, "he doesn't look at all like you, but who did you say this other boy was?" He pointed to Juanillo.
     "Oh, he's my brother all right.  My Juanillo."
     "Well, señora mía, I must say the likeness between your brother and your husband is simply incredible.   They could almost be twins.   However, I could be mistaken, so I think I shall have to call for a second opinion."   The sergeant picked up the 'phone and dialled quickly.
     "Hello, Civil Registry Office?   Garrido here.  Look, Andrés, could you come to the cuartel for a moment?   We have a slight problem of identification here, and I believe that you know everyone in this village.   Yes, in ten minutes.   That'll be fine.   Thanks, Andrés."
     Garrido put down the receiver and looked at Angelita and her brothers.
     "We ll soon kbow the truth, my friends, so you had all better spend the next ten minutes thinking what you are going to say to Don Andrés, secretary of the Civil Registry Office."
     When Andrés walked through the door into the cuartel, Angelita recognized him immediately, and remembered how she had escaped him in Barcelona, and thus met Baldomero under the bridge.   Don Andrés peered through his glasses and recognized her too.
     "Mari-Angeles Hernández.  You again!   What s the trouble now, Alberto?"
     "Do you affirm that you know this girl and the two other persons present?"
     "Yes, most certainly.  I inscribed all three of them in the Civil Registry s book of births.   I also inscribed the young lady s recent marriage."
     'Is either one of thes lads the husband of María de los Angeles Hernández?"
     "No sir!  Of course not!   These are her two brothers, Francisco and Juan Hernández, sons of Francisco and Mercedes."   Suddenly his face fell, "But, but..."
     "But what, Andrés?"  Sergeant Garrido was becoming impatient.
     "Listen, Alberto.  I inscribed Francisco Hernández about five months ago in the book of deaths.   I remember it very well now.   The doctor's certificate said:  'cause of decease - heart failure following advanced tuberculosis'."
     "Then this boy cannot be Francisco Hernández,"  said the sergeant.  "He must be Baldomero Fuentes, the girl's husband."
     "No, Alberto, he is not!  This is Paquito Hernández.   I saw Baldo Fuentes after his wedding.   A thin sickly lad he was.   Nothing like Paquito here."
     Don Andrés removed his horn-rimmed glasses and rubbed the lenses on a piece of Kleenex, before replacing them carefully on his nose.   He had been thinking hard.   He had reached a very logical conclusion.
     "Baldomero Fuentes is the one who died.   We must ask for an exhumation.   He has most certainly  been buried under the name of Francisco Hernández!"
     "He's not buried under any name," broke in  Angelita.   "We never had the money for a marble plaque."
     Sergeant Garrido ignored the remark and scratched his ear with his ball-pen.
     "So if Baldomero Fuentes is dead, then Francisco Hernández is an impostor, posing as his sister's husband, and guilty of incest.   Francisco Hernández, do you have anything more to say?"
     Paquito stared first at the sergeant, then at Don Andrés.   His ape-like features were crumpling up, and his deep-set eyes welled with teares.
     "I never said I was Baldomero," he sobbed, "I m Paquito Hernández.  It s all my sister s fault.   It's all those things she reads in Baldo s books.   She never told me anything."
     "If you knew nothing, how come that you have Baldomero s identity card?"
     "I thought it was mine.   In any case I never looked at it.   I'm not clever like Angelita and Baldo.  I  can't read or sign my name, so how could I know it had been changed over?"
     "I think you'll have to believe the lad," interrupted Don Andrés.   "He's telling the truth.   No one in their family can read or write, except perhaps Mari-Angeles here.   You know what they call them in the village?   'Los Tontos', the simpletons.   But I wonder why they made Paquito change identity with his brother-in-law?"
     "Let's ask his widow," suggested Sergeant Garrido.   "María de los Angeles Hernández, why did your husband Baldomero enter the hospital using your brother's papers?"
     "It was my idea," admitted Angelita.   "You see,  I'm not as tonta as people think.   Baldo said I was really quite bright.   He was unemployed and had no social security, and my brother Paquito did.   Baldo was so very ill and needed to go to hospital.   So I took Paquito's papers and gave them to the doctor.   Then I put Baldo's D.N.I. in Paquito's wallet.   I knew he wouldn't notice anything odd because he can't read, and would never bother to look at the photograph.   But I don't think I did anything wrong, did I?   I mean Baldo was sick, and needed treatment.  I couldn't just let him die there in María Gil's house.  Baldo was my friend and I had to help him.   But I didn't think he was going to die."
     "But die he did, and now you are guilty of fraud.  I shall proceed with your arrest, young woman.   You two lads may leave."
     Paquito and Juanillo rushed out of the cuartel without saying a word to anyone.   They ran all the way up the Camino de Vélez, and into the dark kitchen where Mercedicas was preparing a cauldron of chick peas and chicken bones.
     "Mama!  Angelita, our Angelita, she's going to gaol!   The sergeant arrested her for, for ..." Paquito could not remember the word.
     "For fraud," said Juanillo.  "That's what the sergeant said.   And he nearly arrested Paquito too!"
     "Well," said Mercedicas, "I suppose we must do  something.   We can't have our Angelita in gaol.   Someone must look after the little ones.   We must find your father and go and see the Abuelita.   She will know what to do."
     But this time Granny Mercedes was at a loss for  ideas.  "Perhaps we could talk to Don Alejandro the priest," was her only suggestion.
     They locked up Angelita in the village gaol which was just a small semi-basement room beneath the Town Hall.   The adjoining room was used as a dog pound where strays were put after capture by the municipal police.   There they would await execution by the veterinarian.   However, this room was now empty, and Angelita, on the other side of the wall, had only the company of the fleas which had been left behind.   She lay on the narrow bunk bed andwondered how she had managed to get into such a fix.   She was beginning to get hungry when the key turned in the lock, and a young man came into the gaol room, holding a tray.    Angelita sat up and looked at him.   He was tall and slim, and the navy blue uniform of the  local police force flattered him.   He looked rather like Baldo, thought Angelita, but he was strong and healthy.   She gave him a wide smile.
     "Who are you?   Have you come to bring me some food?   What is your name?  I'm María de los  Angeles Hernández Hernández, but everybody calls me Angelita."
     The young policeman was new and inexperienced.  He came from a large family which lived in one of the neighbouring villages, and he had worked in the fields up till now.   He looked at the girl on the bed.   Her short skirt had ridden up well above her knees, and her legs were brown and slim.   Her red-gold hair came down past her shoulders and  shone in the sunlight, which flooded through the still-open door.  The young man remembered that this was the  shone in the sunlight which flooded through the still-open door.   The young man remembered that this was the gaol, and that the girl was a prisoner, his first prisoner apart from the occasional dog.   He pulled the heavy door shut and locked it behind him.   Angelita was still smiling at him, her lips parted and her wide grey eyes full of laughter.   He melted.
     "Oh, Angelita!   What are you doing here?   Why have they locked you up?   You are far too pretty to have done anything wrong!"
     "Tell me your name first.   Then come and sit down beside me while I eat, and I shall tell you why I'm in this place."
     "Bartolomeo," murmured the young man as Angelita dug into the bowl of lentils with her spoon.   She was really hungry.  "Bartolomeo Durán."   He was ashamed of the name which had been his grandfather's before him.   There was a silly little ditty about Bartolo and his flute, and at school he had been teased by his classmates, who were always singing the catchy tune.
     "I shall call you Bartolo," said Angelita, humming gently.   "Do you play the flute?"   She smoothed out the cotton blanket which covered the bed.   It was grey and reminded her of Baldo's blanket.  "Come, Bartolo.  Come and sit beside me while I tell you my story.   You can have some of my soup."
     Dusk was falling when the door to the municipal gaol opened silently, and the two figures slipped out into the street.  They rapidly descended the cobbled pavement, and then paused for one instant beneath a wrought-iron street-lamp.   Bartolomeo took a bunch of keys from his pocket and slipped them easily through the broken grating of a drainage vent.   Then the couple linked arms and disappeared down the deserted street into the oncoming night.

                        THE END
copyright F. Melville 1994