Yusef Elías remained in charge of the store and Manuel Varela travelled to town in the wagon, sitting beside the reporter. The road seemed never-ending to Manuel, despite having such good company. Acuña was like an encyclopaedia: he knew everything about the history of his family and the circumstances that had obliged him to emigrate. He talked about Spain and Galicia just as Héctor spoke of his own country and region, with a self-assuredness that made it seem as if he had invented those lands himself, and all the people that lived in them.
When they began to descend the final slope on their journey, with the sea beyond, Manuel felt an almost irresistible need to get a horse and ride, ride furiously…
As they came into the outskirts of the town, he asked the carter to make a detour and drop him in front of the Damasco. When they arrived, he gathered his things and jumped down ignoring Acuña’s proposal to relive the journey and “look over my notes together.”
Ibrahim was in the hallway, sunken-eyed, age beginning to show in the wrinkles on his neck.
He greeted Varela with the amount of warmth that would be appropriate had they seen each other only yesterday, not over half a year ago. Varela gulped with suspicion.
Ibrahim told him that the hotel was full. Manuel’s suspicion grew.
“Where’s Paulina?” he burst out.
“She left”, answered the owner of the Hotel Damasco.
“What d’you mean, she’s gone?”
“She’s gone. She went back to Spain…”
There was a pause filled only by the buzzing of flies. It didn’t last long. It was Varela who broke the silence:
“Did you give her back her husband’s money?”
“Yes, all of it. I gave her more than I owed her.”
Fear rang through the Turk’s answer: a guilty conscience, maybe.
Manuel Varela picked up his luggage.
Stopping in the doorway, he turned to say what he’d wanted to for so long:
“You goddamned Moorish sonofabitch!”