BLOOD HARVEST

The news had come through very early that morning as Raul was standing by the fuente, where five pipes spouted water continually into a trough, letting his two mules drink before going out into the campo. It had been barely light and there was only one other man there. He was standing beside him, and he was also watering his own mule. It was even too early for any of the village women to be in the nearby washhouse where two more faucets fed the cleaning sinks. Raul brought his mules here at first light to drink before going out into the campo to work, and returned in the evening on his way home. His mules were then taken back to their stable below his home where they were given a handful of barley and one of algarrobos, carobs, and a section of barley straw each. During the day, when not ploughing the land or carrying loads to and fro, they were tethered on his land and grazed. Unless it was high summer and the days were hot and long, they needed no more water or food. In the spring and early summer they fed on the grass which was still green and succulent. Then later in the summer they ate the brown dry pasta, as the locals called the grass when it had become standing uncut hay.

As the two men had stood there that morning, unspeaking and hardly awake, Paco, a goatherd who had his sheds above the fuente, had left his milking and rushed into the street, shouting excitedly. “He’s dead! El Caudillo has finally gone. Franco, it’s Franco, he died in the night!”

The news had come when Paco had been listening to his small transistor radio as he milked his goats. The goatherd ran past them up the calle shouting out, waking all those still asleep and rousing the whole village. Raul and the other man looked at each other, not sure whether to believe it or not. It had been a long time since the end of the Guerra Civil, over thirty years. Years of hardship, hunger and repression, and it was almost too much to believe that the tyrant was at last dead. Raul smiled at his neighbour and spat on the ground. “Well, dead or not, I’ve still work to do,” he said, and he picked up the rope attached to the lead mule and led them up the road on the way to his plot of land where the almond trees were. He’d just finished the pruning and had branches to saw into logs ready for the approaching winter.

It was a Thursday in late November, the weather was clear with blue skies but a chilly northerly breeze was blowing and Raul chopped and sawed all day at the branches he’d taken off the trees the week before. He returned to the village twice with the aparejos, panniers, on the two mules full of logs. Each time he arrived back at the pueblo, he found the calles full of excited people still talking about the news of the death. At his casa when he started unloading, his brother’s son, Carlos, came out to help him.

At the start of the civil war, Raul Gómez Castro had been the eldest of four brothers living in the pueblo. He had been thirty at the time and married to Camila Cabello Sánchez with one son, who was of course also called Raul after his father and grandfather. His three younger brothers were Manolo, who was twenty six, Carlos and Rubén, who were twenty three and twenty respectively.

When the war broke out, Manolo had gone to Málaga to join the militia and had been killed during the siege of the city on February 8th when it was overrun. His wife and two children who had gone to Málaga with him had died on the ‘road of death’ somewhere between Málaga and Nerja. Carlos and his wife Ani, who were fervent supporters of the republic, had escaped from Spain and gone to live in Mexico. They had left the village just before it was captured by the Nationalist army. His youngest brother, Rubén, had died defending the pueblo when it had been attacked.

Raul himself was not a violent man and had little or no political leanings. He was a farmer like his father, and when the village was overrun by the Italian and Moroccan troops he had been out in the campo with his two mules in one of the family’s vineyards. As the eldest son, he’d taken over the running of the several plots of land the family owned when his father had died a few years before the troubles had begun. All the other brothers had helped of course, but none of them had been interested in staying in the pueblo to be farmers. They all had their own dreams of leaving and going to work in a city and earning a good wage, once the rebel army had been defeated. All this came to nothing of course and Raul was left supporting his mother, wife and young son and tending all the land on his own, which he’d done ever since.

He was a short, thin wiry man and had a calm peaceful nature, and the new regime left him alone to carry on his life as normal. It was a hard life, as Franco punished the area for having supported the Republican cause. Food and money became scarce and Raul had little time for anything but work to keep his family alive and his land tended. He couldn’t even go to work in Germany or Switzerland to work and send money back to his family, as many others did, as the land took up all his time. He grew olives, almonds and grapes, and had a few chickens and two pigs in the stables under his house. As well as these he grew some vegetables, as well as barley for fodder for his mules.

This was his life and one he was fairly content with. He had two more children, both girls, and except for the incident with Josefina nothing much more of import happened in over thirty years, from the end of the guerra civil until the death of Franco on that November morning in 1975. His mother had died and then his son Raul, in 1954 when he was twenty, had left the pueblo to go to work in Málaga in a bar. He was a bright boy and Raul didn’t want him to have to toil on the land. He worked hard and as tourism began to develop on the coast he went to work in one of the new hotels. He was now a manager in one of the hotels in Estepona and came to visit his father from time to time, bringing presents and tales of visitors from all over the world. In a village in the hills of the Axarquía, where radios were frowned on by the police, his stories of television and cinema seemed to be about another world. Raul, who had only been out of the village about five times in his life, listened with little comprehension.

The first change in his life came when Carlos, the son of his brother Carlos, had come to visit from Mexico two weeks ago. He brought his wife Conchita and their two children, Maximilian and Verónica, who they hadn’t named after themselves in the traditional way.

Now, as he stood watering his mules on the evening of Franco’s death, with Carlos and his children next to him, his mind drifted back to another November evening nearly twenty years earlier when he’d been standing in almost the same spot, doing the same thing. He looked at the rendered wall through which the five pipes protruded, spilling water into the stone trough below. They were just as they’d been then, except of course now the wall had been patched and was whitewashed every year. Then it had still been pocked with bullet holes and hadn’t been given a coat of cal since the guerra civil. Looking at the wall now, you wouldn’t know a battle had taken place in this plaza. He realised that the bullets were probably still there somewhere in the stonework behind the render. He smiled to himself, thinking they would probably still be in there as long as the wall remained standing. That evening so long ago, of course, he’d been worried and frightened. If Josefina said anything of the incident to anyone, then both he and she were as good as dead. But she hadn’t of course, and was now a grown woman with children of her own. Despite the experience she’d gone through, today she was just like any of the other village women. As if to reinforce his thoughts, she came up to him at that moment, plump now with two children trailing behind her. She smiled at him and he introduced her to Carlos and they all stood talking as the four children played together. Josefina gave him a nod. “It’s all over now, Raul,” she said. “At last we’re safe.”

“Safe? From what?” Carlos asked, puzzled.

“Oh, nothing. Just something I owe to your uncle,” she said. “But we can’t talk of it.”

Later that night Raul lay in bed and couldn’t sleep, as the long buried memory came back to him in vivid detail. The war had been over for several years, he couldn’t remember the exact year it had happened. All the years of his life merged into one in his mind, as they followed each other in an almost identical way.

The winter was the time of the olive harvest and also that of his few orange and lemon trees. Then the olives had to be taken to the mill and turned into oil. In the spring there were vegetables to plant and harvest, habas, broad beans, onions and potatoes and also barley to sow. Then came the almond and carob harvest, followed by the grapes. The grapes had to be picked and dried and then either snipped from their stalks to sell as pasas, raisins, or squashed and made into the rough local terreno wine. In November all the harvests were over, and many routine tasks could be undertaken. That year, he remembered, he was clearing a large area of land on one of his plots and turning the soil over by plough using his two mules. He wanted to plant about a dozen new olive trees to replace some almonds that he’d had to let go a bit over the years. He really had too much land to work on his own, but thought that he could handle some new small olive trees more easily than the old straggly almonds.

It was about three in the afternoon and he’d been dozing in the warm November sun, with his mules placidly grazing nearby, when he’d heard the cries coming from his neighbour’s plot of land. Instinctively he’d picked up the chapelina, hoe that was at his side and run through the trees to see what the noise was all about. In a clearing amongst his neighbour’s olive trees he saw a girl lying on the ground with a man on top of her. He was a large heavy built man and he was clearly in the process of raping Josefina, his neighbour’s daughter. Without stopping to think, Raul raised his chapelina above his head and brought it down with all his might on the back of the neck of the attacker. Although he was not in uniform, Raul had recognised the man as teniente Felipe Aznar, the officer in charge of the local Guardia Civil barracks. Raul was not a violent or vindictive man, but over the past few years he’d lost most of his family to the struggle between the Republican and Nationalist forces and seen his own livelihood and that of his pueblo almost ruined. The Nationalist government of Franco had also repressed the village and this man raping Josefina before his very eyes had been the last straw, and he’d lost control of himself and responded without thought.

Raul stirred uncomfortably in his bed, recalling the affair. He and Josefina had looked on, almost in disbelief, at the dead man lying on the ground. She was still crying and her clothes were dishevelled and her blouse was torn. Felipe had obviously been off duty and out for a ride, as he was informally dressed and his horse was standing nearby, peacefully grazing.

“Hush, child,” Raul said, at last regaining his composure. “Wipe your face and put your clothes in order.”

“What are we going to do, Raul?” she’d asked him. “They’ll shoot us both for this.”

Raul, who unlike his brothers had never been a man of action, found that when it came to a crisis he could think and act fast. “I’ll put him on his horse and take him to my plot. I’ve a large area of cleared land there and there are several patches of loose ground where I’ve removed some old trees. I’ll dig one of those out again and bury him in the hole.” Josefina nodded at this and he went on. “Then you must ride his horse as far as you can. You must go well away from here and from the pueblo, using the less well used tracks so as not to be spotted. When you’re far enough away, leave the horse to wander off on its own. Then go back to the pueblo and to your home. Do you think you can do that?”

“Yes, I’m sure I can. But I was sent out to bring back a sack of carobs. That one over there,” she said, pointing.

“Tell your father I said I’d bring it on my mule, as I thought it too heavy for you to carry,” Raul answered. “And Josefina, you must tell no one about the events of today. Not anyone, not even your parents. Do you understand? No one, for if any of this gets out... well, as you said yourself, we’ll both be shot.”

Raul ran these memories over and over in his mind before thinking, ‘And we didn’t either of us say a word to anyone’. The horse had been found in the morning by a search party sent out to look for the teniente, but no sign of Felipe had ever been found. And now, years later, the dictator was dead and things were about to change in Spain. His nephew Carlos and his son Raul had both told him that most of Spain was now developing and that soon areas that had been held back, like the Axarquía, would follow. His last thought as he dropped off to sleep again, as dawn was breaking, was that he hoped that both of them were correct.

 It was not until the next day, when he was once more watching his mules at the trough before taking them out to the campo, that he thought of the strange thing that had happened just two days after the death of Felipe. To be fair to Raul, so much had happened recently that he’d not had too much time for reflection. There had been not only the death of Franco and Carlos’ arrival in the pueblo with his family, but also the announcement Carlos had made when he’d been there for a few days. He wanted, he’d told Raul and Camila, to stay in the village and help his uncle on the land. He didn’t like Mexico, he’d told them, and wanted to come back to where his father had been born. Not only that, he wanted to be a farmer. So, Raul had taken him to see a house that had once been lived in by his uncle, who had also been killed in the war. There were many empty houses in the pueblo, testimony to how many people had either been killed in the war or who had left the village and never returned. Now Carlos was busy cleaning out the house and repairing it, ready to be able to move in. Raul was pleased by his nephew wanting to come back and help on the land. He was 69 now and had known for some time that he wouldn’t be able to go on for much longer without help, and his son didn’t want to take over from him.

As he was leading his mules to one of his plots of land, he went over once more the day that the Guardia teniente had died. By chance it was the same plot he’d been working on that day. The day he’d killed the Guardia and buried him where now a large olive tree was standing. He’d put twelve trees in that area of land in total, and two of them had grown more than the others and gave bigger crops of olives. One of them was the one with the Guardia officer buried beneath it. He put its size and prolific fruiting down to the fact that the tree had fed on the slowly decaying body. The other tree, he had decided, must have been pure chance, or perhaps the soil had just been of better quality at that point.

November was probably the slackest time of year, all the pruning was done and the land cleared. The last two harvests, those of the almonds and grapes, were now well past and the next one, the olives, a few weeks away. But he still needed to let his mules graze for a few hours, to save having to give them too much food that evening. So he walked round the trees on the land and ended up at the twelve trees he’d planted in that fateful year. As usual the two large trees had a bigger crop than the others and the berries were much fatter. From the next plot of land, the one on which Josefina had been attacked, came the sounds of someone sawing. It must be Antonio, Josefina’s husband, he thought. She had inherited the land from her father and now Antonio worked it. He had been Josefina’s novio, boyfriend, at the time of the attempted rape and they’d married soon after. Raul sighed, thinking back to what might have happened if he’d not been there that day and intervened. It was then that the second incident of that week came back to him. The whole village had been in turmoil. There were troops and Guardia everywhere looking for Felipe Aznar, the missing Guardia teniente. He’d never been found of course, and in the end it had been blamed on the renegades who lived in the sierras. The men who’d carried on fighting long after the war had finished. The men who the regime called bandits and outlaws, and who the people called Maquis and freedom fighters. There were some out there still, but perhaps soon they would be able to return, Raul thought. Now that Franco was dead. But it had been that uproar that had meant that the second incident had hardly been noticed.

Two days after the death of Felipe a second man had gone missing, never to be seen again. But as it was only a villager, and one not liked by many of the others in the pueblo, there hadn’t really been a fuss or even a serious attempt to find him. Now, however, with so much going on to jog his memory, it all came back to Raul. The man, Pedro Martín, had been about forty at the time and was considered by all the other neighbours of the pueblo to be lazy and sly, and always poking his nose into everyone else’s business. He had left his house that he shared with his unmarried sister that morning in high spirits. And never returned. She’d said he’d told her that he was going out to get some money, and that in future they would want for nothing. She hadn’t believed him of course, he was always boasting about something or other. But whatever he’d been up to, he’d not come back with any money. In fact, he hadn’t come back at all.

Raul smiled at the memory. One man dead and certainly not lamented by anyone in the village. And then another one gone away somewhere. And his disappearance also not lamented by anyone at all, villagers or the Guardia.

Raul fell asleep, propped up against a tree, and was only woken when Antonio came across to see him. “I thought I heard you, Raul,” he said. “So I decided I’d come to see how things were with you.”

“I’m fine, Antonio,” Raul replied. “How’s Josefina keeping? I’m very fond of her, you know.”

“I know you are, amigo,” Antonio said. “Ever since what you did for her. She’s never stopped being grateful, you know.”

Raul took some time to realise what the young man was telling him. He must have known all about what had happened to Felipe. Just when had she told him? he pondered. Well, in any case, Antonio had said nothing of it, as nobody else in the pueblo was aware of what had happened.

Antonio smiled at Raul. “She told me the following day, but I’ve spoken to no one else about it ever.” As Raul nodded slowly, he went on. “She had to, you see, as a man saw her riding the teniente’s horse and demanded money to keep quiet.” The two men were silent for quite a time, before Antonio went on. “It was that sly, lazy coño, Pedro Martín. I had to stop him from talking, you see.” Well, that solves the mystery of Pedro, Raul thought. Antonio was looking at the trees now and he said, “You’ve got a good crop of olives this year, Raul.” He pointed to the tree that was growing over the grave of Felipe. “Josefina told me that that’s where you put the teniente’s body.” Raul just nodded and grunted. “It’s always a good crop on that tree,” Antonio continued. “That one,” and he pointed at the other large tree, “That one is where I buried Pedro. Now we must both keep silent to protect each other.”

Raul, looking at the two large fruitful trees, thought that the bitterness of strife had brought a good harvest.