Hotel Damasco by Xavier Alcalá, Chapter VI

by Xavier Alcalá

The wagon departed, with a troop of spare horses behind. The weather was fair and all the spectacle and splendour that his teacher had described unfolded before Manuel: a world of flat topped hills, raw earth and sheets of water, green tints bordering the blue; brown earth once more; until white painted peaks like the ones in the sierras of San Fiz de Lamas rose slowly over the horizon.

The discomfort of the jolting wagon was soothed by these spectacular views contemplated between cigars, from high up on the driver’s seat. It made the dust clouds and beating sun bearable by day, and the wind and cold seemed less harsh under the starry night sky. Manuel felt sure that he was finally going to find his place in the world.

And he was convinced of it when, after more than a hundred leagues, the old wagoner announced that they had arrived at their destination.

The landscape rose and fell under a pale green carpet. To the east the land dropped away, sinking to make room for lakes swarming with pink birds with long legs and long necks. To the west, the low hills endeavoured to imitate in height and form the mighty snow-covered mountains. On some, stunted trees had given in to the wind and stood out like blemishes on the soft skin of the grass.

“Here,” said old Pedro Moreno, hauling on the reins. Then they and the horses rested for a couple of days.

After that, it was all back-breaking labour: timber, iron sheets, stones, mud, glass, wire… A troop of native indians led by their richly attired cacique passed by and they spoke to them because some were castillas, as Pedro Moreno called those who could speak some words of Castilian.
When they understood that the new structure was going to be a store selling gin and rum they went wild, whooping with joy, and the chief, whose name was Traftrif or Trastaf or some such nonsense, ordered some of his braves to stay and help with the construction of the building.

They put their backs into it and soon the job was finished. Varela paid them in gin and one of them decided to stay on as employee along with a couple of dogs.

Before setting out on the return journey, Moreno gave a piece of advice to the civilised man he was leaving amongst barbarians:

“Listen to me, Galician: this lot would kill for a slug of gin. You’ll have to sleep with a gun in your hand!”

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