“AH, the beautiful senora Twead,” said the Mayor.
He lifted my hand and brushed it with his lips. “I am most contented to see you here. And your husband?”
“Er, Joe’s very sorry not to be here, he’s busy tonight.”
“No pasa nada,” he said, and then leaned in close. “You, Veectoria, are a special guest, very special. And I have gifts for you.”
He felt in a pocket and drew out a party political lighter and pen. He pressed them into my hand and closed my fingers around them, one by one.
“Thank you very much,” I said, thoroughly uncomfortable. “Er, please call me Vicky.”
“Ah, Veeky… Such a beautiful name…” He had the Andalucian’s usual problem with the letter ‘v’, so my name sounded more like ‘Beaky’.
“Is that you, Vicky?” shouted a voice.
Never had I been more pleased to hear Judith’s stentorian voice.
“Judith, how lovely to see you here!” I meant it from the bottom of my heart. My relief was palpable.
“Pancho, you old devil!” roared Judith, joining us. “Put Vicky down, and tell me, how’s that lovely wife of yours? And those strapping sons? Lord! How many grandchildren have you got now?”
The Mayor released my hand as though it had become red hot, turned on his heel and melted away.
“Ghastly old sleaze-bag, isn’t he?” said Judith.
“Are you going to vote for Pancho?” I asked, curious.
“Bless you, m’dear! Pancho Pinochet? Of course not! He’s made a bloody pig’s ear of his last term of office. Shan’t be voting for him again.”
“Well, he seems to have a lot of supporters here tonight,” I said, looking around at the milling crowd.
“Good Lord, dear. They’re not here to support Pancho! They’re here for the free food and drink.”
The time had come.
Pancho stepped up onto a wooden box, cleared his throat and launched into his election speech.
I understood very little of the meaning, but the tone and cadence were familiar.
It could have been a political speech delivered anywhere in the world – the same rhetoric, the same repetitions, the same delivery.
I allowed Pancho’s words to wash over me, just picking out a few key words now and then. Did I hear him mention that old promise of a proper sewage disposal plant?
“Beaky? You understand what I am saying?” The Mayor had broken into English and was addressing me over the crowd.
I jumped; appalled that he was singling me out. One hundred heads swivelled in my direction. I nodded frantically, and Pancho continued with his speech, satisfied that I appreciated the finer points of Sewage Management.
I tried to shrink myself, but I was taller than most of the Spanish present.
“Beaky, you agree with my point?” Pancho’s thunderous voice assailed me again. My face glowed crimson.
Again, a hundred pairs of eyes turned and bored into me. Again, I nodded like a piston, willing him to leave me alone.
Judith saved me this time.
In Spanish, she shouted, “Pancho, never mind all that! What about the swimming pool you promised us three years ago? Still waiting, you know!”
The resulting buzz of assent deflected the crowd’s interest away from me for just long enough.
There were four ornamental trees planted in the square, and I slid behind the nearest. The crowd had settled down again, and Pancho re-launched, his voice echoing around the square.
All too soon, I heard him break into English again.
“Beaky? BEAKY?” Alas, there was no escape. “Beaky, it is important to keep the roads into both villages mended, no?” I poked my burning face out from behind the tree and nodded furiously.
Mercifully, the speech ended soon after.
Pancho gathered himself up and delivered his final punch line, a rousing question that I understood and rang in all the listeners’ ears.
“So, would YOU trust the other Party to make these CRUCIAL decisions?”
Silence. Then Uncle Felix’s mule, who was tethered nearby, lifted her head and brayed, perfectly on cue.
The crowd erupted, united in laughter.
Pancho gave up and stepped off his box.
The Smart Ladies took this as a signal and whisked off the covers from plates of tapas laid out on tables.
Politics already forgotten, the villagers surged to the tables, chattering happily among themselves.