"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
"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
"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.