Authors: Ruta Sepetys
, Julia. It’s just for a few hours.”
“Rafa, I told you, no!” Julia shakes her head at her brother. Why is he so impossible?
“Just ask Luis. He’ll understand. A
can’t go into the ring without a suit of lights.”
?” Julia looks to the corner where a savage young man in rags is fast asleep across two broken chairs. He is barefoot, his face and arms covered with grime. Loud snores reverberate from his unhinged mouth.
“That miserable orphan is not a bullfighter. He’s a gravedigger.”
“Well, for now we’re gravediggers. And for now I work at the slaughterhouse. But believe me, that man is a matador, Julia. He was the bravest of all at the boys’ home. Do you know what they called him in Barcelona? They called him
. ‘Escape.’ Each time he ran, the directors would drag him back and punish him. But he would escape again. He helped me find courage. He’s the reason I made it out and found my way back. He protected me. If I’d been alone in those fields, I’d never have survived.”
“Stop being dramatic,” says Julia, wringing a wet diaper over a wooden pail.
“It’s not dramatic. It’s true.” Rafa’s voice drops in volume. “We were all so hungry, but Fuga vomited his food in resistance. He would rather starve than be fed by the hand that beat him. All the boys, we idolized him. We chanted his name under our breath, encouraging him. His fearlessness kept our spirits alive. And then one day I found myself locked in detention with him. I will never forget his first words
to me. He looked across that dirt hole, and do you know what he said?” Rafa pauses. “
Voy a ser torero
. ‘I’m going to be a bullfighter.’ He has been fighting his whole life. He is not infected like so many. He doesn’t carry the disease of fear.”
“It’s easy to be fearless when you have nothing to lose,” says Julia.
Rafa throws his hands in the air. “He has everything to lose. He has been given an opportunity. That is so rare. Do you know what he’s been fighting with? He has no red cape. He uses a blanket that he soaked with rusty bricks, and even so, I have seen him bewitch fifteen-hundred-pound bulls in a willow field. And now, after much pleading, Father Fernández has sent me to a man with connections. He is giving Fuga a chance.”
Julia pauses. “If he wins, will there be money?” She thinks of her handwritten ledger and the sum needed to move the family.
“He may get a handful of grapes.”
“A handful of grapes?”
“But, Julia, he will earn honor and the chance to fight again. This is a beginning. He must look like a
, not a peasant. To rent a suit of lights would cost over five hundred
. Every day you are surrounded by dozens of suits in the shop. Please, just ask Luis. Let us borrow an old suit. Just for a few hours.”
“Where is this bullfight?”
“Near Talavera de la Reina.”
“Rafa, that’s over a hundred kilometers from Madrid. How will you get there?”
“I’m not worried about that. We’ll walk from Vallecas if we have to.”
And he will. Julia knows that. Although energetic and sunny in public, Rafa is brooding. He is the bull. He watches, quietly gathers pieces, and puts things together. But many pieces are still missing. The Crows carry pieces of her brother in their pocket. And he is desperate to win them back.
“I’ll think about it,” she says. “But if I speak to Luis, you have to do something for me.”
“You have to speak to Ana.”
, there’s nothing to say to Ana. She’s the smartest of us all.”
“Rafa, she’ll listen to you. That hotel is an American business. Male and female employees work together without chaperones. She’s constantly looking at American magazines. She’s a gorgeous young woman surrounded by a fairy tale. That makes her vulnerable again.”
“What happened last year was not her fault,” says Rafa.
He’s right, but could they have protected her somehow?
“Trouble follows our sister wherever she goes,” says Julia. “She’s been so quiet lately. I’m worried she’s hiding something.”
Ripples of snoring cut through their conversation. The baby begins to cry. Julia turns away from her brother before he can state the obvious.
Of course Ana’s hiding something. This is Franco’s Spain. They’re all hiding something.
Ana points to a tiny, elegant shop.
. Curved windows set in polished oak arch from the sides of a tall glass door. Tucked within clouds of purple tissue behind the display glass are bonbons, boiled sweets, and jellied candies. A little girl in faded clothes stands outside, admiring the candy. Daniel snaps a picture behind her.
“You must come in,” says Ana. “It’s something very special.”
Inside, the miniature shop smells of sugar. The shelves are lined with glass jars of purple sweets. Ana points to a crystal bowl on the counter with lavender-petal candies.
“Try one,” she insists, popping one into her own mouth. She then selects two small boxes. She asks the clerk to wrap them and put them on the hotel account.
Daniel takes one of the small violet candies. “It looks like a purple clover.” After a moment he grimaces.
“What do you think?” she asks.
“My mom will love it,” he replies.
“But you don’t.”
He shakes his head. “It’s like eating a flower.”
Ana smiles as the portrait materializes. Daniel’s jeans and boots, everything about him, clashes with the lavender interior of the shop. “May I take a picture,
“Sure. It’d be fun to have another pair of eyes.” Daniel gives her the camera along with instructions, while the girl outside watches from behind the glass.
Ana looks through the viewfinder. “Okay, say, ‘Texas boys like violet candy.’”
“Wait, what?” Daniel laughs.
And at that moment, when his smile is wide and eyes uncomfortably shy, Ana snaps the picture. “We have to hurry. Miguel will be closing the camera shop soon,” she says, moving toward the door.
But Daniel is at the register, buying a candied chestnut wrapped in gold foil. “We’ll give it to the little girl outside,” he says, motioning to the window. “Do you think she’ll like it?”
Ana nods slowly.
Of course she’ll like it. Any girl would like it.
The camera shop is the size of a long closet. Room for one and cramped with two; a wooden counter divides the small space. Between rows of shelves that hold film and accessories hangs a black curtain. The acrid and wet metallic scent of photo-developing fluid exhales from the back of the shop.
“That smell, I love it,” says Daniel.
Miguel emerges from behind the curtain wearing a timeworn Panama hat. His darkroom hours give him a youthful complexion for a man in his late fifties, but his hair and eyebrows have tones of a black-and-white photo.
He greets Ana with a broad smile. “I was just about to close.”
“I’m sorry, Miguel. I have a guest from the hotel. He speaks Spanish, so we won’t be long.”
Miguel gives a wave of his hand, indicating that he doesn’t mind. His eyes shift to Daniel’s camera. “
That’s a serious camera for a young man. Do you know how to use it?”
“You’ll have to be the judge, sir.” Daniel removes a roll of film from his bag and winds a second from the camera.
“I’ve only seen a couple of these new Nikons. Both with American journalists. They told me they paid over three hundred U.S. dollars for that camera. I hope it’s worth it.”
The familiar pang of sadness thuds within Ana’s heart. Three hundred American dollars? That’s eighteen thousand
. Eighteen thousand
is more than the average Spaniard earns in five years. The cost of Daniel’s camera could move her entire family of five from their leaky hut in Vallecas to a decent apartment in Lavapiés, closer to the city center. The cost of the camera could eliminate the debts and threats that strangle her life. She thinks of the note she swallowed in the hotel basement. A shiver trills up her spine.
“Yeah, it’s probably too nice for me,” says Daniel. “It was a gift for my graduation. But really, my old camera was swell.” He removes a portfolio from his bag. “I took these with my old camera.”
Miguel slowly turns the pages of the album.
“¡Ave María Purísima!”
He points to a picture.
,” says Daniel. “There was a tornado in Dallas last April. It obliterated sixteen miles and hundreds of homes.”
Ana stares at the massive, twisting tornado. It’s positively demonic, unholy. And he was in front of it. “Weren’t you terrified?” she breathes.
“I didn’t have time to think about it. I really wanted the shot,” says Daniel.
Miguel continues to page through. He stops on a photo of dozens of men in cowboy hats. They stand in the dark, one light overhead, hands raised in the air. Fatigue and sunburn line their weathered faces.
Ana peers at the photograph. “Who are they?”
,” says Daniel, “manual laborers from Mexico working in Texas. At the end of the day they’re inspected and searched, to make sure they haven’t stolen anything.”
Miguel pauses, absorbing the image in front of him. “
,” he says quietly. Daniel nods in agreement. Rough.
“This is Texas?” asks Ana.
“Not all of it. Just part of it.” Daniel flips the portfolio forward several pages. “This is also Texas.”
Ana stares at the black-and-white photos. A parched landscape dotted with oil rigs, bathed in a sunset of fire. The photo is so evocative she can imagine the colors. He turns the page. A lavish garden party. Carpets of thick grass surround a swimming pool that sparkles like a suit of lights. Groups of glamorous people cocktail and make merry against the backdrop of a massive estate.
Miguel points to a young woman lying by the pool in a bikini. “She would be reprimanded in Spain.”
“My mother claims some should be reprimanded for wearing them in America,” says Daniel, laughing.
Ana eyes the picture. The woman looks beautiful, relaxed. There is nothing offensive about a bikini, but of course she could never say that aloud.
Miguel picks up the rolls of film that Daniel has set on the counter. “What’s your name, Americano?”
Miguel reaches over the counter to shake hands. “I’m Miguel Mendoza. You have a clear eye, Daniel. You see many angles.”
. I had a great teacher at school. Those photos were part of a contest I entered. So maybe it’s not fair. I’m showing my best work.”
“Who knows,” says Miguel, holding up the two rolls of film. “Maybe this is your best work. They’ll be ready in a day or two.”
Their words are muffled noise to Ana. She stares at the photo of the Texas garden party, absorbing every detail. Tables of endless food. Cardigan sweaters, strings of pearls, the nice teeth, glowing faces, the vibrancy of freedom. Young girls and boys stand around a phonograph, holding record albums. Women are smoking. Dozens of
carefree people—happy instead of lonely—oblivious to the camera. And then she sees it. In the corner of the frame, a beautiful girl with beckoning eyes stares straight into the lens. She looks like a movie star. She’s blowing a kiss to the photographer.
“I should return to the hotel,” says Ana. “I have to mend your mother’s blouse.”
“Sure,” says Daniel, sliding the portfolio into his bag. They bid goodbye to Miguel.
Ana rushes through the street, back to the Metro station. Daniel jogs to catch up. “Sorry about that,” he says. “I’m taking too much of your time. I’m sure you have a lot of work to do.”
Ana shakes her head. “My work is helping your family,
. The hotel has assigned me to you. And besides, I really like your pictures.” Ana’s steps slow. She turns on the sidewalk, looking up at Daniel. “May I ask you a favor,
?” She pauses, gathering strength. “The picture you took this morning in the elevator. Please don’t give my picture to anyone.”
His eyes are upon her as the hot breeze lifts her thick hair. “No, I would never share your photo without your permission. I’ll give it to you.”
Ana exhales relief. They resume their steps toward the Metro. After several yards, Daniel volleys back. “Ana, can I ask
. What is it?”
“Don’t call me ‘
.’ Call me Daniel.”
She pauses, waiting on the reluctant words as they rise to the surface. “I’m sorry, that’s impossible,
Ana looks away, confident that concealing her face will conceal her truths.