By Julio Figueredo; Translated from the Spanish by Simon Bruni.
‘The rain’s coming,’ announced my father, squinting up at the sky. I was around seven years of age, and that day I had accompanied him while my mother visited Grandma in hospital. ‘There’s a smell of damp earth; it’s already raining in the south,’ he continued, clasping my hand and picking up the pace.
I had to trot along beside him to keep up. We were both laughing. Behind us, the wind was roaring, growing louder and louder. As we turned the corner we saw the lights from El Quijote, not far off now. We arrived just as a bolt of lightning struck and the first drops of rain began to fall.
My father, usually a man of few words, revealed secrets that night that transported me beyond the boundaries of my little world. He was on his fifth or sixth caña when the stranger arrived. He wore a sombrero and a white poncho, and it was difficult to tell where his thick mass of dark hair ended and his long beard began. He stood in the doorway for a few seconds and scanned the place with an inquisitive look. A few people turned to observe him in silence. When he saw my father and me, he walked decisively towards us, nimbly avoiding the other tables until he reached ours. He slowly removed his hat by way of a greeting and murmured a few words I did not understand.
With a quick gesture, my father invited him to sit down and drink at our table. The stranger let his body slump into the chair and after a long sigh ordered a beer. The waiter brought it promptly and the man drank it down in one, clicked his tongue, then dried his mouth with the back of his hand. ‘Bring him another, nice and cold,’ ordered my father, nodding to the waiter.
The man savoured the second beer calmly while studying his surroundings. El Quijote had already resumed its jamboree. I watched him with fascination. He looked at me curiously, smiled, then placed a dark bag on the table, from which he removed a compass and a worn album of yellowing photographs. He made a brief comment, incomprehensible to me, as he passed each photo to my father, then carefully retrieved them and placed them in an envelope.
Finally, putting everything back in his bag, the stranger finished his beer, rose from his seat, and announced in a low voice: ‘I’m heading to Patagonia. Which way to the port?’
‘Keep going south and you’ll find it,’ said my father.
The man thanked us and winked at me.
I eagerly wiped the bar’s misted-up window so I could see him walk down the street. Then something very odd happened: crossing the road, the stranger leapt forward and while in mid-air performed a flying backward kick! As he wandered away under a sky bristling with lightning flashes, his white poncho flickered a few times, like a firefly. Then the night swallowed him up.
‘Who was that? Who was that?’ I asked my father fervently.
‘Calm down. Just a wanderer,’ he told me.
‘And what’s that?’ I persisted.
My father thought about it for a good while, another glass of caña in his hand. ‘A free spirit … like the grey brocket, that deer I showed you on the sierra a while ago, the one that’s so difficult to hunt.’
Years later, I crossed a blue avenue, much wider than the one down which the wanderer had walked. The same rights and wrongs thathad taken me far away had now brought me back to Santa Bárbara de la Frontera.
One Sunday I awoke very early, keen to go to the market.
And there he was. Taller than everyone else, with the sun beating down on his back. He was dressed all in white and under a wide-brimmed hat his greying hair hung over his shoulders. A frayed bag was slung over his torso. He recognised me, too. He elbowed his way through the crowd and came towards me. When we were face to face, I once again found myself gazing into those blue eyes that I had first encountered as a young boy.
After a long silence, like someone condemned to repeat the same words over and over again, he asked in a low voice: ‘Which way is it to Brazil?’
‘Keep going north, to the bridge, cross it, and after about five hundred metres you’ll reach the border,’ I answered quickly, as though I had never left that place.
He hesitated for a moment, then slapped me nervously on the shoulder and winked at me. He set off at a determined pace. At the end of the road, he suddenly made a great leap forward and, while almost floating in the air, kicked backwards.
I wanted to shout to him to stop. But in a confusion of memories I was paralysed as I watched the grey brocket disappear again from my life. At that moment, someone called to me from behind, pulling me out of my reverie. When I turned I found the preacher blessing me with the sign of the cross. He proffered his old Bible and said in a husky voice: ‘To cure the souls … of free spirits.’
“The Last Grey Brocket” is part of Julio Figueredo’s book At the Even Hour: Confessions and Regressions.
[toggle_box title=”About the Writer” width=”Width of toggle box”]
Julio Figueredo was born in Montevideo, Uruguay, in 1944. He was a window dresser at the Angenscheidt department store, a basketball player for Club Goes, a lover of the arts and a supporter of the Lista 99. In 1967, he emigrated to Europe and became a citizen of the world. He has lived in many countries, working in all manner of trades. He was a model and acted in film and television. In London he married Karen Doherty, with whom he founded the now legendary restaurant, The Camden Brasserie. He currently lives in Punta Ballena, Uruguay, and Camden Town. He has always written. “At the Even Hour” is his first book.
Translator’s Bio: Born in Exeter, UK, to an English mother and Italian father, Simon Bruni first fell in love with Spain and its language as a teenager. After graduating in Spanish and Linguistics he established himself as a freelance translator in Spain, where his interest turned to literary translation. Awarded a distinction in his Masters in Literary Translation, he won a John Dryden Prize for his dissertation piece, a translation of the novel “Celda 211” by Francisco Pérez Gandul. Julio Figueredo’s part-real, part-imagined collection of short stories, “At the Even Hour”, is his first published literary translation. He has two more books on the way.[/toggle_box]
Featured work: “Sphinx”, by Negative Feedback