207 - Aurelio the Clean



After the war was over. After all dead men and cripples. Coming out from the hunger and misery, full of hate. The victor’s hatred.
A village lost in the mountains.
Bad communications. From the nearest capital… first by train. The slow and jolting wood train. Then, by the local coach with such a pompous name. The Convenience. Finally, half an hour walking among tracks, shortcuts and paths that crossed forests and clearings.
Few inhabitants left or came into the small village. In order to arrive there, a walking tour through the forest, which refreshing in summer allowed you to hide the hardness of the ascending forest track but it became sad and wet in winter short days.
Before arriving, the train wound the river of the poachers and it returned the water stolen below into steam cotton. Oaks and chestnut-trees were dressed up in autumn covering with their leaves other poachers’ traps. The coach drew wavy lines sewing the mountain, lines as the ones Mrs. Enriqueta ordered to draw on the slate cracked in its corners.
Far away, while rickety boots were protesting by the footpath pebbles, smoke from dry firewood painted clouds in the greenish sky by the sparkle of high meadows. Semi-wild horses trotted emulating those that they would never see in the white sheet with its own light. Stolen kisses and shots in 36 millimetres of celluloid.
Aurelio. Imprecise age. Maybe 58. Maybe 68. Impossible to say.
Paquita the Lame, served the green wine, recently extracted and cloudy. Wine scratched to the hillsides. And a string of chorizos threaded by herself… and a loaf of bread made by her grandmother. Hard crust to sharpen knives and gnaw persistently. The occasional traveller… had tea. In the meantime he listened to what he was told about.
Aurelio lived with a complete family. A married couple and their four children, the grandparents and the disabled brother of Paquita the Lame, that everybody said he was mentally handicapped.
Aurelio and the nine of them didn’t form a ten.
The mountain stretched up from those humble houses. Looking up, towards the vulture kingdom, they knew everything necessary to organize their day.
The first snows of winter demanded the mending of the woodshed (Aurelio misspelled it the few times he talked)
Nobody knows how he came to the village. Not even his adoptive family could remember when he had entered their lives. Neither had he known.
The stable.
The stable was one of the most important places in the house. There, the nine family cows were kept. Amarela, Brown, Cinnamon, Africa, Greyish, Blonde, Aurora, Emerald and finally, Daisy. All of them, the nine, understand by their name and they didn’t need the goad, a spiked stick used for urging them. Urging those pretty cows with such evident names? Africa was named after a grandfather’s niece called America, fruit of the emigration. He was that way, he didn’t say that Daisy was named after an old girlfriend he had when he was serving in the Military Service in Melilla.
The stable was one of the most important places in the house. These nine creatures were kept for the sustenance of other nine godforsaken creatures. There it was milked. There the calves, which would suppose an extraordinary income in such reduced economy, were given birth. There the future chorizos and blood sausages were kept.
The stable was one of the most important places in the house. There, in the back corner, on the right, all the members of the family should leave their tributes. They didn’t know about the cities conveniences but, after all, they didn’t have to go outside under the inclemency of the weather in hard days.
The stable was one of the most important places in the house. Aurelio lived in that stable, at the back on the left; next to the pair of rosy pigs with a fixed deadline. Rosy pigs which didn’t know the purpose of those dry branches from selected bushes that should burn their skin soon.
Aurelio didn’t speak. He went out of the stable in the mornings and he sat down in front of the house on a granite stone bench facing the sun… the days that it wasn’t raining. Soon, the grandmother brought him a chipped bowl with fine slices of leftover bread soaked in full cream milk, without being even strained. He ate it calmly. He rested the bowl and the aluminium spoon on the stone bench and left. If it was raining, he sat down on another granite bench under the east balcony, where the water couldn’t reach.
Ragged boys and patched girls, with clean sun-dried clothes on the grass of the nearby river, were heading for the school. In the first floor, the chestnut wooden floor and big cracks allowed them to sigh the animal heating provided by another stable. They recited the seven times table, the Spanish rivers and the litanies of Our Lady. Aurelio knew it and he glanced shyly. When they went out of the school, they punctually, peeped out the large meadow. From there they could make out an ascending track on the other side of the valley. The coach was going to go past and they would be able to see the dust it rose, to hear a distant purring and if they were lucky, the sound of a loud horn. It was the same ritual every Thursday. Thursday of the Convenience.
The bell tolls. A person’s death toll. Six. A woman. Aurelio is supposed to hear it from some place. No. Aurelio doesn’t go into the church. Nobody remembers to have seen him there. Don Jacinto, so nit-picking, never dared to tell him anything. He, who never let anybody to move a hoe, a toothed shovel, a cart of oxen… in the day of the Lord; even if the harvest got lost by hail, storm or hurricane-force winds. He never told him anything.
It was said that Aurelio got lost in the beech forest, the vast beech wood in the northwest where he talked to strange deities. Nobody found him in the forest. Nor in any other place.
He didn’t appear at the granite bench until after lunchtime. He sat down and waited. There was always somebody who offered him a drag of black tobacco and sometimes a complete cigarette rolled with the remainders of cigarette ends finished off. He never thanked.
At sunset and after eating another bowl of milk with sliced bread that the grandmother offered him, he moved to the back of the stable having previously checked that all the members of the family had passed by the other corner, the one on the right back. Then he lay in his dry grass bed compressed by the pass of his history.
A 25 watts bulb lit his existence when it was switched on. A tiny window announced him of the sunrise.
None of the four children of his adoptive family talked to him. They only smiled at him. None of the village children talked to him. They only smiled at him. None of the children laughed at him, nor threw him a stone as they did with others. None of the village dogs barked at him (the dogs didn’t smell him). Not even the dogs of the hunters, who occasionally stopped in a nearby store-bar, smelled him. The Civil Guard didn’t question about him either. Everybody knew him. Later on, everybody realized they didn’t know him.
One day, when the grandmother took him the bowl of milk Aurelio was not there. She placed the bowl on the granite bench and went away to make some butter with the cream gathered from the cows’ milk, the pregnant cows during the previous days. She beat it and beat it. She washed it. And she wrapped it in a cloth. She would have enough for some days. Not many, since everybody liked it on a slice of bread with some sugar. And she would keep a little to fill some apples she would bake soon.
The milk was cold in the bowl. Some flies went around the rim of the chipped bowl looking at both sides of their precipice. A gang of children came back from school. They had been talked about the Moors and Don Rodrigo. And about Viriato. And about Bellido Dolfos. And about a brave Leader with an ermine cloak and a sword in his hands. And they were also said that Don Jacinto would wait for them in the afternoon to talk about Purgatory and Limbo (he had talked about Heaven and Hell the previous Thursday).
She commented with her daughter something about Aurelio. Both of them thought he would be in the beech wood, with its leaves now yellow reddish contrasting with the intense green of yews and hollies.
They found Aurelio on his straw bed, lain on his back, with his hands on his chest, his fingers intertwined with his thumbs up pointing at his eyes, eyes that gave off a special light. An incipient smile which could advance a great laughter.
There was no great surprise. Many people said he was already very old. Others, mercifully, said that to live the way he was living he had been lucky enough passing away like that, peacefully (or so they thought). Some others started questioning about his origin and his past, questions which remained unanswered.
There was some commotion in the house. After so many years sharing the stable, human and cows’ excretions, flies and smells, two daily bowls of milk… they wondered if Aurelio was a member of the family.
Yes. There was consensus. He was.
The two men of the house took his body to the best room they had and placed him on the bed which they had previously covered with some curtains.
The two women of the house undressed him and started to get him ready and make him look presentable for the neighbours to come and visit him. The surprise was great.
Naked, just as he came to the world, they observed his white skin, so white that it resembled the Guijarrón snows, the peak that presided over the village. And not only that. After so many years living in the stable, his body didn’t smell. It smelled of …nothing! The dogs didn’t smell him. They understood it now. On the other hand, his ragged clothes were absolutely clean. When they tried to comb him, his jet-black straight hair was, clean! There were no nits or lice as the children or they sometimes had. The same happened with his long beard, who cut it? They realized now it always had the same size.
Aurelio, on the bed, was separated by a double door with translucent pieces of glass from the house dining-room, where many neighbours were now having some food and chatting about the dead man. It was a simple conversation since all of them agreed they didn’t know anything about him.
The children from the village had gone up to the boundaries of the Guijarrón, from where the sea could be seen in clear days. And that day was a specially clear one.
Don Jacinto ordered the bells to be tolled with the toll for a man.

click photos
It might happen, and it happens that this story is based on real facts.
The locations could be in any mountain village of Cantabria, Asturias or Galicia.
It’s likely that some characters could be still alive.
///INT 025/081127 - Aurelio the Clean
///foto: 1/ A los pies de Cucayo - 2/ Subida a Tresviso
///foto: 3/4 Ventana y Tejado en Cucayo (Cantabria)
///música: Thomas Newman - Any other name (Cualquier otro nombre)
///Spanish Version -> Cristal Rasgado - Aurelio el limpio

1 comentario:

  1. what a story!! i enjoyed reading it..now i wonder,how many times the bell will ring when a man dies>?