The Stories of Don Luis
Stuart G Yates
Not so very far from the coast of southern Spain, in a little inland village, I first heard the stories of Don Luis.
Riodelgado is a typical Andalucían village, like hundreds of others dotted amongst the soaring mountains. Whitewashed houses huddle together amongst the steep, silent streets, sweltering in the summer, freezing in the brief winter. The people are cheery and live uncomplicated lives. Here the tradition of storytelling still thrives; vivid, colourful tales full of daring-do, enchanted castles and maids to be rescued. Simple, old-fashioned and charming.
Except for the stories of Don Luis.
Here are tales with fire in their belly, grim and cautionary. How a young boy is transformed…but into what, you will have to wait and see.
I’ve met Don Luis, you see. So I know. In fact, we’ve all met him, at some stage in our lives. And what did we do when we laid eyes on him, even from afar? Did we ignore him, or give him just a moment’s thought? How many of us stopped to ask ourselves what we would do if we were like him? How many of us even cared?
Let us find out; and in the telling, perhaps we might just discover a little bit more about ourselves. We will certainly discover a lot more about Don Luis…
The morning began much as any other, but many remembered this day as the last one of normality before death came to visit the silent streets. From afar, the old clock chimed out the hour as it always did, the peel of its bell cutting through the still air, shattering the quiet, but only briefly. Locals said the mechanism had come from Germany, or Italy. Nobody knew for certain and nobody really cared so long as it worked.
Luis Sanchez stepped out into the bright sunshine and took in a breath. Another beautiful day. For a moment, the sun shone within him and he hoped today might be a good day. His mood, however, soon changed. Thoughts turned to his mother lying in bed dying, his tiny sister Constanza sitting on the damp earthen floor, playing with the little wooden doll Luis had fashioned for her out of an old twig. The images brought a sad, resigned smile to his lips. If only he could do more for them. If only he were older, bigger, stronger, able to find a descent, full-time job and bring in more money. He sighed, shoulders dropping, and resigned himself to the fact that right now, the only thing he could ever do was go to Señor Garcia’s bakery to pick up the bread for the early-morning deliveries, and get through. What followed soon afterwards would be worse, and he knew that. The trek to school to face the baying of the children from the village. Home by two, sweeping out the house, making the meals, reading Constanza a story before bed. Always the constant round of monotony and despair.
The sunshine inside faded, despite the heat still burning his face. The day would be neither good nor indifferent, merely the same as every other.
Señor Garcia welcomed Luis with his usual growl. Already the bread lay on the table, bundled up for the various customers whose orders never changed. Luis knew them all by now, so no need for the list. Señor Garcia marvelled at this revelation when Luis first appeared at his doorstep not so many mornings ago, his eager face peering around the door entrance.
“I can help you with your deliveries, Señor Garcia,” Luis had said, flashing his best smile.
Garcia paused from kneading the bread and frowned. “Why would I want you to do that?”
Luis stepped inside, waved his hand over the flour, water, waiting masses of soft, sticky dough. “Because you’re a busy man and I’ve been watching you working hard, making your bread. After it’s baked, you have to rush out and get the deliveries done before your next batch of bread burns. I could help.”
“With the deliveries?” Garcia shook his head. “I’d have to pay you.”
Luis had shrugged. “Yes, but maybe the money you give me would not be as much as the money lost from all that wasted bread, burnt whilst you rush around. ”
Garcia thought about the reasonableness of this. He turned down the corners of his mouth, and appeared unconvinced. “You’d have to remember all the customers, where they lived. It would take months. I’ve been doing this for half a lifetime and I still manage to get some of them mixed up. I’d lose too much money. I’m sorry.” He picked up a large handful of dough and slapped it down on the worktop, kneading it with those thick, strong fingers of his.
“I’ll write them down,” said Luis, stepping closer, wafting his hand through the great cloud of flour pluming up around the baker’s hands. The baker had stopped, mouth open, stunned. Luis smiled when he saw the look of total incredulity on Garcia’s face. “Yes, I can read and write, Señor Garcia.”
Garcia put his hands on his hips and shook his head slowly. For the first and only time that Luis remembered, the man smiled. “Well, if the good Lord has seen fit to bless you with such a gift, then I don’t see how I can deny you! You can start tomorrow, at six.”
And so, every morning for the past three months, Luis had done just that. This morning was no different.
Without a word, he gathered up the bundles of bread as Garcia worked away at more dough. Luis stepped out into the street to begin his rounds.
Despite the early hour, the Sun beat down with relentless intensity. Summertime in the village was often unbearable. Riodelgado sat in a little valley, surrounded by the steep sides of the mountains, the heat funnelling downwards, hugging the streets, never managing to escape. The residents cooked in this natural oven and they grumbled and groaned constantly. No one liked the heat. They retreated into their dark, cramped homes, like so many tiny, nervous animals escaping from the danger of predators. They waited for the cool of the night to arrive before venturing outside again, to sit and talk. And talk. Constant talking.
Luis sauntered through the streets, placing a bundle of bread inside each customer’s open door. Not everyone ordered bread; some did not have the money, others made their own. Times, however, were hard, the lack of rain turning the ground iron-hard, crops unable to flourish. Coupled with this, news of the War filtered through every now and then, causing fear and concern amongst the villagers, numbing appetites. Recently things were not going well for the Spanish. Once, many years before Luis had been born, stories weretold of Spain defeating the heretics in the far north. But then the Swedes came, followed by the French who joined with these Protestant upstarts to oppose the Imperialist cause. The forces of Spain soon became hard-pressed. Luis, when he heard the news from a one-eyed itinerant tradesman called Pablo, didn’t believe the man’s words at first. “But France is of the true religion,” he’d blurted out.
Pablo had frowned, a gesture which made his single eye look quite terrifying. “How do you know anything about France?”
“I read it. “
“You read it…?” Pablo had shaken his head. “What is the world coming to when a mere child can read…”
“It’s true though, Señor Pablo. How can the Catholic French fight alongside the Swedes, who are Protestants?”
Pablo shook his head again, much more sadly this time. They sat by the dried riverbed, under the shade of the orange trees, not far from the tiny bridge. When he spoke again, Pablo’s voice sounded resigned, almost sad. “Like everything else in this mad world, it’s a mystery. Protestants fighting alongside Catholics, against other Catholics! Death is everywhere. I see so many horrors in my travels, and I hear tales of so many dreadful, inhuman things done to others. Things done in the name of religion, in the name of God.” He shook his head. “We are in the end-of-days young Master Luis, the end-of-days.”
Nevertheless, despite the War spreading, the tiny village of Riodelgado remained untouched by the scourges in the north. No soldiers ever came and the village carried on the way it always had, boiling in the summer, freezing in the brief winter.
A village like a hundred others in the mountains of Andalucía.
Until, one day, a soldier did come.
I hope you enjoyed this first instalment of ‘The Stories of Don Luis’ and will call again soon for the next part.
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Thanks for reading.