La tienda, al pie del Castillo de Jaén y de camino a las barriadas en la montaña donde éste se erige, tenía una clientela bastante variopinta. Había niños en la Magdalena que llevaban amuletos para evitar el mal de ojo de los gitanos que pasaban de camino a las cuevas. La tienda de Severiano era parada obligatoria para estos. Allí los vi lloriquearle, echarle bendiciones y quién sabe si alguna que otra maldición, pero lo dudo; mi padre cedía al "fiao". En su libretita apuntaba el nombre o los motes (la del cojo, el mariquita, las gemelas) y una cifra tras otra; ni fechas, ni direcciones, ni firmas de deudores.
El último día, cuando sólo quedaba el mostrador--porque era fijo--mi padre se metió la libretita en el bolsillo de la chaqueta, me abrochó la rebeca para tapar las manchas del vestido y con entusiasmo me dijo que íbamos a "recoger dinero". Fue este uno de los días más esperanzadores de mi vida.
Calle abajo íbamos en dirección a una nueva barriada para familias pobres. Sería mediodía, el sol pegaba fuerte pero cogimos un atajo por los olivares... Recuerdo observar con preocupación que no llevábamos bolsas para el dinero. El, hablaba y hablaba; me imagino que hacíamos planes.
Llegamos al "barrio de la guita" y entramos en varios pisos (eran edificios de tres plantas). La atención se centraba en mi: "cuanto ha crecido la niña", "pobrecita, sin madre" que si los ojos, los carrillos... Finalmente salíamos con patatillas fritas, galletas Cuétara y hasta un conejo!... pero ni una gorda.
Mi padre no se desanimaba. De vuelta a casa subimos la cuesta que llevaba a las cuevas... A ver si había más suerte con los gitanos!
Después de varios tramos de escaleras en dirección al castillo llegamos a una explanada donde había un portón enorme. Alguien importante tenía que vivir allí, pensé. Abrieron el portón y apareció un pueblecito en fiestas: niños por todas partes, gallinas, cerdos, burros, grupos alrededor del fuego...guitarras. Algo se celebraba. Recibieron a mi padre con algarabía y lo sentaron a la mesa. Todo un banquete al que mi padre aportó el conejo.
A las tantas de la noche nos despidieron con la misma alegría con que nos habían recibido. Partíamos de allí, yo soñolienta y los pies molidos; mi padre--más alegre que unas pascuas--les aseguraba volver a final de mes con su libreta.
Este es el último recuerdo que tengo de él en su intento de mantener a la familia unida:mi hermano él y yo. También sería por entonces cuando abandoné mi afán de demostrarle que no necesitábamos a otra mujer en casa.
Pasaron años en que apenas lo vi, pero en nuestros encuentros siempre hubo un elemento mágico; un puñado de días especiales que han durado hasta hoy.
Days of Magic with My Father
I knew my father well, better than I understood him at certain moments of our brief life together. When my mother died we were finished as a family. The errant life was about to begin, and the list of family and friends with whom I grew up was, and still is, a long one. I saw little of my father. That’s just the way things worked out, and because of that my memories of him are vivid and intense... I chose to keep the best of them.
My father was generous; he gave to others things he didn’t even have. He was a good listener and an even better talker, and he went very quickly from giving advice to doing favors. He lived that way for a few years, losing everything under the weight of my mother’s illness and the death of my grandfather—his father in law—who had been the one to always get him out of trouble. .
On the ground floor of the house we had a food store where I see myself opening and closing the little drawers with spices, thread, buttons... a bit of everything. The most precious dress I have ever had was made by my mother with the cloth from the sacks the sugar used to come in. The money drawer, under the center of the counter, was always open. At a time when you could go to heaven by paying for the baptism of little Chinese children, I must have earned a very nice patch of paradise with a view of the Mediterranean. I baptized dozens of them. Every morning, as I left for school, I would go to the cash drawer and take enough to save a couple of infidels from the flames of hell. My father must certainly have noticed. He probably pretended he didn’t... the same as me, when, for a while, after I made my First Communion, I used to go to Mass and my father would tell me, in a serious tone, “No, no, I went already. At seven in the morning.”
The store, at the foot of the hill where the ancient Castle was, and on the way to the neighborhoods on that hill, had a colorful clientele. There were children from the neighborhood who wore amulets to ward off the evil eye of the gypsies who passed by on their way to their caves. For them, Severiano’s store was a required stopping place. I saw them whimper to him, bless him, and probably cast a curse on him too, though I doubt it, for my father didn’t think twice about giving them things on credit. In his little book he would write the name, or the nickname—The Lame Guy, The Fairy, The Twins—and one number after another. No dates, no addresses, no signatures of the people who owed him money.
The last day, when only the counter was left—because it was fastened in place— my father put the notebook in the pocket of his jacket, buttoned my sweater over the spots on my dress, and told me enthusiastically that we were going to go and “collect money.” It was one of the most hopeful days of my life.
We went down the street in the direction of a new housing development for poor families. It was probably around noon and the sun was beating down on us, but we took a shortcut through the olive groves. I remember observing, with some worry, that we hadn’t brought bags for the money. My father talked and talked. I imagine we were making plans.
We got to the neighbrhood and went into different apartment buildings (they all had three floors). All eyes were suddenly on me: “The girl has really grown,” “Poor little thing, with no mother!” and my eyes, and pretty cheeks... We finally left with potato chips, cookies, even a rabbit... but not a penny.
My father wasn’t discouraged. Back at home we climbed the hill that led to the caves. Maybe we would have better luck with the gypsies!
Climbing the endless steps to the Castle, we reached an esplanade where there was a huge door. Someone important had to live there, I thought. It opened onto a little village and a party was going on: children everywhere, hens, pigs, burros, people around a fire... guitars. They were celebrating something. They received my father with much noise and bustle and sat him down at the table. A real banquet, to which my father contributed the rabbit.
In the late hours they sent us off with the same happiness they had shown when we arrived. We went away, me very sleepy, with aching feet, and my father—tipsier than a top—assuring them he would return at the end of the month with his notebook.
This is the last memory I have of him in his efforts to keep the family together—my brother, him, and me. It was probably then when I gave up trying to prove to him that we didn’t really need another woman in the house.
Years went by and I scarcely saw him, but there was always an element of magic in our encounters, a handful of special days that have lasted into the present.