by Jenny Twist
When Angela turns up in a remote Spanish mountain village, she is so tall and so thin and so pale that everyone thinks she is a ghost or a fairy or the dreadful mantequero that comes in the night and sucks the fat from your bones.
But Domingo knows better. "Soy Angela," she said to him when they met – "I am an angel." Only later did he realize that she was telling him her name and by then it was too late and everyone knew her as Domingo's Angel.
This is the story of their love affair. But it is also the story of the people of the tiny mountain village – the indomitable Rosalba - shopkeeper, doctor, midwife and wise woman, who makes it her business to know everything that goes on in the village; Guillermo, the mayor, whose delusions of grandeur are rooted in his impoverished childhood; and Salva the Baker, who risked his life and liberty to give bread to the starving children.
The events in this story are based on the real experiences of the people of the White Villages in Southern Spain and their struggle to keep their communities alive through the years of war and the oppression of Franco's rule.
When Domingo walked into the square, all the world was there. All the tables and chairs from the Plaza Bar were occupied and the people living round about had brought their own tables and chairs outside. Even so, there were people sitting on the church steps and on the rim of the troughs for the wash-house.
“What is happening?” asked Domingo, but nobody took any notice.
He walked into the bar.
“What is happening?” he asked.
Limping Pepe looked up and grinned with delight at Domingo. Abandoning the customers at the other end of the bar, he came over and said, “The strange woman came into the village today. The foreigner who has bought the smallest casita of Guillermo, the mayor, for two hundred thousand pesetas. She is as tall as a house and her skin is so white she looks like a dead person, and her hair is the colour of oranges, AND…” Here he paused for effect, happily ignoring the customers at the other end of the bar, who were becoming a little restless, “she cannot speak like a proper human being, but barks like a dog!”
Domingo blinked, but did not comment.
“She went into the shop of Rosalba and began to bark at her. Rosalba did not know what to do.”
Briefly, Domingo struggled with the concept of Rosalba not knowing what to do, then dismissed the thought for later consideration.
“And then, you cannot guess what she did next.” Giving Domingo no opportunity to guess, he went on. “She got out a book of spells and began to enchant Rosalba, and Rosalba threw her apron over her head and ran out into the street!”
He stood back and folded his arms with a self-satisfied smirk. “What do you think of that?”
Doming did not know what to think. “I will have a vino del terreno,” he said.
Outside in the square Rosalba was clearly telling her story for the umpteenth time, miming throwing her apron over her head and assuming an expression of absolute terror. She was surrounded by admiring villagers wearing satisfyingly horrified expressions. At the next table were Pepe the water, Salva the baker and Rafa the fish.
“I tell you she has to be a dead person,” said Rafa. “No living person could have skin so white. She is either a ghost, or a corpse, or a mantequero who will come in the night and suck all the fat from our bodies.”
“Perhaps she is a fairy, “remarked Salva. “They cannot speak the language of mortal men. If she is a dead person why can’t she speak like a Christian?”
Rafa gave him a withering look. “I don’t know where you get all this rubbish from. Whoever said fairies can’t speak?”