Diego Florín Valencia lived at the top, or rather the attic, of Pozo Arriba. A little whitewashed castle, little more than a stone's throw from the town. In the lower part, there was a well of fresh water, a veritable factory of damp and moss. The dwelling was a cubicle of no more than six square metres, space for a small metal bed, a small portable petrol stove, two garden chairs and a little table of Flanders pine. On the flaking whitewashed walls on one side of the room, a black and white print of the Virgen de los Santos, and on the other the exhuberant presence of a young girl sensuously wrapped in gauze, a present from the Sanatorio store.
Diego Florín Valencia, small-framed, very weak, with thick spiky well-kept hair that rode gracefully in the crowd. “Man should be honest and upright [like a beech – tr]” - a cryptic phrase he used to use to refer to the mop-haired people that he hated in body and soul.
Diego Florín Valencia, misogynist, a born bachelor, though more for economic reasons that any other: “I'm not governed or managed by any woman” he used to say, pride filling his little grey-brown eyes. And they didn't manage him, no. Although, as is well-known, the man was a mass of contradiction, which is why he told me that when he was young, in his adolescence, he had a very striking girlfriend, but that didn't last long. She became ill with a chest problem and the poor thing was left with a permanent wheeze.
So that was how it was in those days; the man, living alone in a well, already in the Autumn of his life, with Franco breathing his last, was sat on a bench in Cádiz and he had a fling. He met an old lady, single like him, still attractive, and they decided to live together in Pozo de Arriba. But when he went to pick her up, the little bench was empty. And that's when something bad got into the heart of Diego Florín Valencia. That was how that straight and honest little man remained alone all of his life – with an obsessive frustration burning in his chest. He had never flown in an aeroplane.
Sometimes it was because of the weather and, more often, it was a question of money. But whatever the rights and wrongs of it, he had never been given the chance to go up into the air. There never was a time when, on hearing the unmistakable sound of a plane crossing the sky from whatever direction, that he wouldn't cast his gaze up to the sky.
Once – this is in the voice of Diego Florín Valencia - I was saving, at harvest time (when I did everything to do with managing the water), to see if I could go by plane on a return trip to Madrid, but always, at the last minute, something cropped up to spoil it. But now, you see, I have a little money saved though I don't know if I'd like to go on a flight. If I haven't flown already, why would I fly now? Just as old people say a storm turns the milk, time spoils a person in exactly the same way. And it's a pest, because one has always sung like a chicken instead of a cock! You understand?
And look how I sleep with my head facing North, but it seems as though, like the cats, bad luck has covered one's paws with butter so they won't ever leave there. And I say: wouldn't it have had bad luck on the roof to become so fixed on such a childish thing, to end up rocking an empty cradle? In life, it seems like the dog has always been howling.
And you see that I have a wrinkled body. That's a good sign – because through my door has always been flowing that wrinkled man, that man of fortune. All my life I was ready to go without sitting in the shade of the fig tree because the old people said that it was in that tree, that Judas hanged himself. Nor did I ever walk on coal because it's bad luck, nor drop bread, nor scatter oil, nor salt, nor did I allow turtle doves in the house. But what do I know?
Diego Florín Valencia stirs the brazier with the small shovel. It's Winter, the North wind is pressing strongly and he continues his monologue: Look, I enjoy the planes. What a waste though! I've even read books about flying. In a small book called “50th Anniversary of Flight”, that I found on the tip, it said that the first people to fly in a machine were two brothers, that it was abroad, in 1903. And from then on, that's when planes started to fly. They say that in those times, the seats were made of wickerwork and that if they were going to Valencia from Algeciras, one could open the window to see the countryside. What incredible guys they were, the pilots that flew planes. What an achievement!
Diego Florín Valencia, all his life waiting for a flight, but the little troubles of life time and again frustrated his yearning to fly through the air. He was never scared of flying. Under the tight rein of night, with candlelights on the horizon, a sign of rain at dawn, he would console himself – and what a remedy – by remembering that as a child, his school teacher Don Santos referred to the myth of a man called Icarus who flew in the skies, equipped with wings made of pure wax. But the sun melted them and he suffered a heavy fall.
Life's suffering came to the man who lived alone in the Pozo de Arriba, and it was disappointment that melted the wax wings here below, on the ground, where the vegetable garden is sown, without him ever fulfilling his dream of going up in the air, of going any farther than the tops of the dwarf oaks from the Lario.
The bird flies, fish fly, the squirrel flies. Earth, sea, and air. But Diego Florín Valencia never flew; when he could, it was too late: he had broken his wings. No-one ever helped him from the labyrinth of his existence, no goddess freed him, nor did anyone put on his shoulders as a child, wings of wax and feathers. Diego Florín Valencia would never have broken his wings. He would never have gone too close to the sun. He was rather too conformist: he would have realised his dream with a ticket from Iberia. In the end, he realised how ugly an old man with wings would look, even if they were cardboard.
Have you ever seen a print of an old angel? Diego Florín Valencia was an old angel. A frail old person with wings. A miserable sod of an angel, full of wrinkles, a crunched up face. Eyes of “paladú” and vinegar [paladú – a liquorice-brown sweet]. He was an old and distrustful angel that sneaks into circuses amongst the children. A lazy and prematurely old little angel, that every afternoon, would squirt a cascade of water onto the basil from the window. And from time to time, the joy of seeing in the blue sky, a long piece of chalk left by the passing of a supersonic jet.
That angel, as old as Methuselah, one morning felt a harsh stabbing pain in his chest, noisy and asphyxiating. In the first spit, he saw coming to him the cemetery, the bad air, the black flight. Already the big bell was ringing in the Plaza Alta. Between two lights, Diego Florín Valencia had time to dream his last tale: “Peter Pan (voice off screen) was a little boy who didn't believe, and who didn't need wings to fly. He lived in a country called Never Never and he had for a friend, a tiny fairy called Tinkerbell [tr – Campanilla], able to make anyone fly who was sprinkled with magic dust from her little wings. And it happened that...” Diego Florín Valencia, smiled with his eyes, as his mouth no longer could, then closed them. In that same instant, the air hostess had announced “Fasten your seatbelts. The aircraft is about to take off.”
No-one took a photograph of the first – and last – plane that took Diego Florín Valencia, on a quiet day, in which the neighbour's cock crowed in the middle of the night, at an unearthly hour, and silenced time.
Jesús Cuesta Arana
[Traducido por Bob Lloyd]