“Papa, here comes Camachito with the paper and the letters.” Every day, around three in the afternoon, Camacho arrived with our newspaper and mail. My brother Pepe and I fought to pick up the letters and the copy of El Diario. “Camachito” had become like one of the family. His perennial smile, his affectionate gestures and his harmless jokes captivated us. He always had a surprise for us - a sweet, a marble, or a stamp, because he knew we collected them.
Antonio Camacho Mejías, “Camachito”, was the doorman at the Town Hall. As such he had the confidence of my father, then secretary of the Town Council – his right-hand man. He always wore his uniform, with the same suit and peaked cap. His good nature and his discretion won the hearts of everyone. He was the “buffer” for people who had to get something done at the Town Hall and arrived with a loaded shotgun.
Those decades, the '30s and '40s, were bad times. They brought with them mistrust, betrayal and hunger. People were afraid of going to the windows in public institutions, because they were often treated badly. Meeting Camachito at the entrance to the Town Hall was invaluable. He had a way of smoothing the path and helping everybody. He was a good man, in the best sense of the word.
Once he brought us a goldfinch in a little cage. Cristóbal, my elder brother, was very fond of songbirds and had a shed in the yard where he bred canaries, greenfinches and goldfinches. The canary taught the other birds to sing. This hobby lasted all his life. He knew that the canary was the most tuneful, and could produce more than fifty cross-breeds which varied in size and colour. He was such an expert in canary-breeding that he wrote in specialist magazines and judged canary singing contests.
In those days, Alcalá was like one big aviary for songbirds. Flocks of goldfinches, greenfinches, chaffinches, linnets, nightingales, warblers, robins and many others crossed the skies of Alcalá from the Prado to the Lario and the Alcornocales. It was rare to find a house that didn't have songbirds in cages. For the children it was a habitual pastime, since the whole area was a natural environment which attracted birds. In the patios of the houses every morning there was a veritable din.
But in our case, I think it was Camachito who started off the cultivation of songbirds. When he brought the newspaper and the mail, we showed him the goldfinch he had given us. He laughed with happiness, because it was his way to cheer up everyone he ran into.
In the 1960s I returned to Alcalá and saw him again. It was the same image that I had carried in my mind throughout those ten years. He still wore that same peaked cap, with the shield of the Ayuntamiento de Alcalá. His smiling eyes had not lost that certain melancholy that they had always had. I believe that there was a streak of loyalty which never left him, whatever the colour of the the government in power, with his impeccable white shirt, official black tie and dark grey doorman's suit, discreet and formal. He looked as though time had stood still for him. We scarcely spoke, but he didn't stop smiling throughout our encounter, as he had done all his life. A true Alcalaíno.
One day you should go to the Alcalá cemetery, look for niche 162 in block 8, on the first level, and see the stone with the inscription “Antonio Camacho Mejías: died the 31st day of August 1971. Your family will never forget you.” And neither will those who were lucky enough to have crossed your path.
Translated by Claire Lloyd
Crónicas del ambiente alcalaíno (III)
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