Robert Ward
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Una Piedra en el Camino (pg 96)Una Piedra en el Camino (pg 96)

I arrived in Los Arcos that evening to find a crowd gathered on the porch of the refuge. Someone was singing in a voice that swung cleanly from oaky baritone to quivering falsetto. Edging in, I saw the singer, a roly-poly boy-man with cherub’s lips and a round, smooth face. Beside him, leaning back with his eyes closed and his fingers joined, was the man in the wheelchair.

The singer was a remarkable mimic. He did Whitney Houston, Madonna, Michael Jackson, Elvis, all with perfect pitch and inflection, yet without knowing a single word of their songs. He just made their sounds. When he started on Tom Jones, I thought I would help by teaching him the words to “Delilah.” But he was a better Tom without them; the English only hobbled him. While the singer sang, the man in the wheelchair held court, like a king with his jester, teasing the girls in a low, whispery voice. He was a handsome man, his face both smooth and jagged, cut from flint, then polished. His blue eyes had a still, avian intensity. He was dressed in a grey woodsman’s toque and a sleeveless jacket whose pockets looked like they ought to be jammed full of cartridges. I could see him with a rifle in his hand, scrambling over rocks, crouching in the underbrush, taking aim. Somehow this hunter had become a tethered falcon.

After a while, the man in the wheelchair had had enough of pop tunes.

“Come on, Paco,” he said. “Sing a Spanish song.”

“What do you want to hear, Julio?”

The song Julio requested was an old Andalusian lament. The singer stands at the foot of the cross, weeping, waiting for Christ to speak, but Christ says nothing, the implication being that either God doesn’t listen or he doesn’t give a damn. It was Julio’s favourite. He listened with his eyes closed, then clapped gently at the end. “Bravo, Paco, bravo.”

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