The Red Butterfly, Part Six – Love in the Time of War
We walked through the dark streets of Lavapiés, past shuttered Indian, Chinese, and Arabic shops selling trinkets and mysterious packaged goods. The streets were empty except for young North African men who prowled like wolves in small packs and eyed us suspiciously. Anna walked silently beside me. Ahead of us, with Carlos at the lead, the entourage of dancers, singers, musicians and assorted hanger-ons, like a flock of squawking peacocks, made an extravagantly loud and flamboyant pack. Pablo was slightly behind them, herding them, presumably, to the place called Candela.
“My mother is from here,” I said to Anna
“Cómo? I thought you were American,” she said, clearly surprised.
“I am, I was born in the U.S., raised there, but my mother is from here.”
I looked around at the old medieval part of the city; spooky and ancient and covered in centuries of blood from the pogroms to the inquisition to the urban warfare that took place here during the civil war.
“Sí,” I said, “En Calle Ave Maria. She grew up here and used to play in the streets. When it was winter and very cold and my mother was a child, she and her friends took sheets of wood or anything flat, greased the bottoms and slid down the hill to Plaza de Lavapiés. And if it was really icy, they could get all the way to Ronda de Valenciana.”
Anna laughed at this. “Yes, it’s true, calle Ave Maria is very steep, but also filled with paving stones. It would have been very bumpy,” she said, ”is this a story your mother told you?”
“Yes, of course, my mother told me. She told me many stories of growing up here.”
“And how did it come that you were born in the United States?” Said Anna.
“When the war started, my mother had already left the city and joined a brigade of irregulars. In the mountains near Segovia.”
“Ah yes, los guerillas. Did she fight?”
“No, but she helped in the ways that she could. She was good with horses so she helped with that. They had to move a lot.”
“Many women were with the republic. That is true, some even fought, in the beginning. And of course the men. Many, many men were lost.”
“That’s true,” I said. “My father was a dynamiter with the Lincoln Brigade and was sent on a mission- I don’t know what for specifically- but he was to work with the guerrilla unit in which my mother was a member.”
“And that is how they met?” She said.
“Love in the time of war.”
“Yes, y tú? I heard that you danced for El Caudillo, is it true?”
“Yes, it is true,” said Anna.
“I heard that you struck a bargain.”
“Yes, it’s true. That is true also.” She seemed to stiffen, suddenly tense.
We rounded the corner from Calle de Atocha to Calle de Cañizares and bumped into a group of American soldiers in camouflage uniforms. “Hey, hey, here are some real Spanish,” said one of them loudly to his companions. “Oyei, oyei, donday say pueday bay-bair aye-key?” said a redheaded soldier, poking a finger into Carlos’ chest. Carlos stopped and looked at the soldier with disgust and didn’t reply. The Americans, red faced and watery eyed smelled of sweat and stale alcohol. “Oyei, too no hablemoes ingleis?”
“Mira gillipollas, vete para el carajo! Go to hell” Said a young man in our group.
“What did he call me?” Said the soldier.
“Oye Juan, cállate la boca, shut your mouth!” Said Carlos to the man who had insulted the soldier. “We want no trouble here,” he said to the soldier, in perfect English.
“Oh, thank god almighty! Someone who speaks English in this god forsaken country! Hey, where can we get a drink around here?” Bellowed the soldier, his buddies nodding behind him.
“Aquí no, not here,” said Carlos.
The Soldier stared at Carlos uncomprehending. Carlos stared back, his hand inched into his pocket.
“You have to go back towards Plaza Mayor,” I said, stepping forward. “Go back to Plaza Mayor. The center of town. There are places near there.”
“Oh, hey, an American! Okay, how do we get there from here? It’s dead here man, it’s killing my buzz and we’ve been lost for hours.”
“Go this way,” said Carlos, interrupting me, now smiling at the soldiers and pointing south down Calle de Cañizares. “Keep going this way, the way you have been, entiendes? You will see a small plaza, that is where you will find places de copas, valé?”
“Okay, great man, thanks.”
“De nada,” said Carlos, as a mischievous grin spread across his face.
“Oh-lay!” said the soldier.
“Olé,” said Carlos evenly, quietly.
The soldiers turned down the street. One of the soldiers put his hands to either side of his head, with index fingers pointied straight up, like bullhorns, and charged at another soldier who had taken off his army jacket and was waving it like a cape. The soldier pretending to be a bull got himself tangled up in the coat and the two men fell to the ground laughing. “Oh-lay!” Yelled the men as they walked away from us. “Oh-lay!”
next chapter: The Red Butterfly, Part Seven – I Hope It Hurts
previous chapter: The Red Butterfly, Part Five – Vamos A Candela
all chapters: The Red Butterfly
more by SERGIO REMON ALVAREZ