Number 17 is opposite the Café-Bar Isabél, on the village’s main street. A consumptive could spit from the pavement on one side to the other. The Isabél’s plastic tables and chairs occupy this stretch of flagstones as far as the Funeral Director’s new garage door, so no-one would ever try to prove it. My cold coffee sits on one of Mr Cruzcampo’s finest pieces of furniture as the door to number 17 opens. An old man dips his hand in a basin and does spectacles, testicles, wallet and watch before he steps onto the street. His hair is a doubly-improbable red. Once for his age and the second time for where this tiny village is, on the border between Castilla-La Mancha and Andalusia. It’s carrot-red, his hair.
He sees my dog and comes over to speak. When he switches from the local gobble-de-gook to Castilian he tells me he has recognised it as an Ibizan Podenco. Which it is, as a matter of fact. He asks me if I'm a hunter, since it's a hunting breed. I tell him I rescue dogs from dustbins. He shakes his head and goes over to join the group of men the same age, which has assembled round the entrance to the café. The pavement and half the street are now impassable. My guess is that not one of the half-dozen-or-so men are under 65. An hour ago I saw the first young person I’d seen in a week. He was in the passenger seat of a car dragging a trailer-ful of melons to the side of some main road. The driver had the nutshell-wizened face of all the other men in the village.
Red, as I already think of him, looks like a big man in a little town. He doesn’t talk the most out of the group, but the rest look at him while others speak and before they start to say something themselves. Every time. Red has Franco’s nose. Biographers during El Caudillo’s lifetime would have called it aquiline. Bar room philosophers and rebels would have used hooter to describe it, but only out of earshot of the Guardia Civil or the Logs. The Policia Nacional used to have brown uniforms, so they were known as ‘logs’: I often wonder if it has the same connotations as ‘Woodentops’. Anyway, Red’s nose is big, but he looks like he used to be the kind of fellow you wouldn’t mention it to.
I wonder why these old men are still here, in a tiny village nestled in the Sierra del Alcaraz, smoking and chatting through the twilight of their lives. My cold coffee finished, I stand up and prepare to walk my dog back to the campsite. Red gives a brief nod and his friends do the same, a few seconds later. I lift a hand, whether in salute or farewell, I’m not sure myself.