I was just balancing on one of the coffee tables, as you do, wobbling somewhat and trying to support the weight of a light fitting too far above my head, when I glanced out of the sitting room window. Prowling about outside was an elderly Spanish gentleman, wearing the elderly Spanish gentleman uniform of long, grey trousers, whitish shirt and a buttoned-up cardigan.
As the work on the house got nearer to completion, we had had a few visits from ESGs, all of whom claimed to be related to previous occupants of our house. This is not as suspicious as it sounds – in a small village, everyone is related to everyone.
I took the opportunity to leave Geoff doing electrical man stuff, and clambered down from my precarious perch.
“Won’t be a minute,” I trilled gaily, glad of the excuse to give my aching arms a break.
Outside, the ESG was nearly at the front door, doddering slightly as he tried to look around him and walk at the same time.
“Buenas tardes, senor!” I greeted the ESG and asked if he was well.
He looked a little taken aback that I had addressed him in Spanish, albeit fairly bad Spanish.
“Are you the new owner? I used to live here fifty years ago.”
I confirmed that I was indeed the new owner, and invited him to come and have a look around. We have lived here long enough for me to know that the rural Spanish are very curious about what we extranjeros are up to, but that they do not normally visit each other’s houses, and rarely accept an invitation to come inside. This visitor was the exception that proved the rule.
It turned out that he no longer lives in the village, but has moved to another one, about fifteen minutes away. He still has family here, and I presume they had tipped him off that something was happening, and that new people had taken up residence.
“That vine,” he said, pointing to the giant that grows outside the front door “when I planted it, it was as thick as this finger.” It was hard to imagine the gnarled great thing, as thick as my arm, ever being such a small twig. He waved at the top area of the garden and explained that it had all been vegetables and vines out there. If I understood him correctly, where the dog pound is, now stocked with mature orange trees, was once also covered in vines, and he replaced them with oranges.
He shuffled into the hall. Ah yes, the bedrooms were there (where we now have the office and the kitchen) and this was the living room. I suspect the sitting room is the least changed part of the house, although the doorway into the horrible old bathroom is now closed off.
Walking through to the courtyard and the shed, he looked about with interest. I put that roof on. I built that. The beams that are now bug-eaten and impressively aged would have been fresh timbers back then. It was most odd seeing our house through his eyes – almost like time travelling.
We came back in and I showed him what we have done with the other old barn. It is now a self-contained guest room, with a little sink and microwave, its own shower and toilet, which double up as our downstairs cloakroom. This used to be my donkey’s room. We had chickens and pigs as well in here. I decided that I would have to find a photograph of an elderly Spanish gentleman with his donkey and frame it to hang in the bathroom.
“I sold this to the lady you bought from. How much did you pay her for it?” I have stopped being taken aback by such questions. They don’t mind asking a lady her age either. We discussed the falling prices here, and established that we had paid about a third less than she paid for it, but about fifty percent more than was declared on the purchase documents we had seen, and about twenty percent less than she told us it had cost her. As we had sold our previous house at a huge loss, we did not feel guilty about the price we paid for this, especially as it turned out that she sold the rights to irrigation water separately, and we now have the headache of trying to sort that out before everything dies.
“Would you like to see upstairs?” I was not sure he would manage the stairs, but he chuckled and said poco a poco as he slowly made his way to see what was going on above.
When we bought the house, the upstairs was one large area, with a rough concrete floor, windows hanging off their hinges at the front and a metal reja in a single unglazed window at the back. Daylight could clearly be seen through huge cracks in the walls, and house martins had obviously been nesting under the roof beams for years. We now have three bedrooms and two bathrooms up there, the beams have been treated and stained, and the ceilings have been plastered in a rustic fashion and painted white.
He gazed about, taking in the sunny yellow walls and pretty blue windows in our bedroom. Aiee aiee. I built this first floor and did all the roof myself. We went into the back bedroom with the tiny fireplace. My wife had her kitchen here. I could not imagine how the shell we had first seen would accommodate any sort of kitchen, but reminded myself that this would have been a poor Andalucian farmhouse in Fanco’s Spain. Not only would he and his wife have lived here, but children would have played outside, perhaps making dens in the olive grove down by the acequia at the bottom of the land. I hoped he felt that these foreign newcomers had restored the place sympathetically, and that he could sense my appreciation of his handiwork.
I accompanied him back to the front door. He pointed across the valley to a group of houses. My son lives in that house there. I was not sure which house he was pointing to, but told him he was very welcome to come by any time he is visiting his son. I do not know whether he will come again, or what he thought of the changes here, but I was so glad that he had come to see us. Having heard a little of the history of the place makes me feel more connected to its past, and gives me an even greater sense of having found my true home here.
“I’m eighty-four,” he announced proudly, a propos of nothing. (Yes, they do that here as well.) “My name is Baltazar. One of the three wise men, you know. I am delighted to have met you.”
“Igualmente encantada,” I told him, “Me too!”