Seville, Spain, July 17, 1936
The guitars played the flamenco and the women, in their clinging red dresses, danced, tapping out the rhythm with their shoes and snapping their fingers. The sangria flowed and we ordered tapas after tapas to soak up the alcohol. We did not get drunk, but we glowed. I won her over during those hours. I made her smile and then laugh, shyly at first, but soon full laughs. How could one not fall in love on a night like this in the city of Seville? I was aware the rest of the city was on edge though, as was the rest of the country, and all of Europe.
Speranza expressed surprise when I asked her to go out with me, but I felt the electricity in the air. Three times I asked to take her out. Three times she said no. In the middle of July, the fourth time I asked, she acquiesced, not reluctantly, but maybe a bit resignedly. Boldness thrives in such an atmosphere and my father always told me, The answer is always no until you ask. When he first cast this pearl I asked him for a loan of some pesetas and he replied, Sometimes the answer remains no.
Who was I to approach such a great, rare beauty? Just a lowly wage earner, I worked as apprentice to a successful printer. I had reason to be optimistic. After all, trade unionists had prized control of the country. Steps had been taken to redistribute the wealth. At night, my comrades and I plastered posters on the high stone walls of Alcázar and the Cathedral. We thought we were revolutionaries on the right side of history. We marched in our parades through the city, carrying banners high, raising our fists and our shouts. This seemed our moment, if only we had the courage to match our desire.* How could we know the answer was still no?
Speranza knew somehow. After we left the square the night of the date, she took me by the hand and led me to a warehouse by the Rio Guadaíra. I knew her father owned buildings in the district. I assumed this was one. She unlocked a small office there, put some worn cushions on the floor and made a man of me. And what may have been merely an admiration and lust for her great beauty transformed into something more as we fell asleep in the early hours of July 18. I slept like only the deeply contented sleep.
Speranza woke first and shook me awake too. Listen, she said. At first I didn’t know what I heard and then I realized there was the crackling of rifles and distant explosions and it is by such sounds one learns the ruthlessness of no. She turned on the radio beside the large desk and we listened as a Nationalist general exhorted his soldiers to kill the workers and rape their women. We held each other tight in our fear and I promised to get her home safe.
We hurriedly dressed and tentatively made our way across the town, avoiding the streets where the gunfire centered. We saw barricades built with cobblestones on the main avenues. Sometimes in our fear, we tried to enter buildings and houses along the street, but all the doors were locked. It took us two hours, but finally we got to Speranza’s home. She took me in through the servants’ entrance and I waited in the kitchen as she made her presence known. Before long her father came in and said, I suppose you think I should thank you for getting my daughter home safely, but I do not see it that way, young man.
Two officers of the national army entered the kitchen then, as if on cue, and bound my hands together. They took me outside to their sedan and deposited me beside the old stone walls of Macarena. I saw dozens of prisoners there, also bound. Many soldiers milled about, smoking cigarettes. They taunted us with whispers, You’re next. Some of the prisoners were taken one by one and others in small groups before a man in a Captain’s uniform sitting behind a large table. He had papers before him that he shuffled through. He asked questions and wrote notes and waved the prisoners away. Usually they were led to the wall and executed. Some hours later, I was led before the Captain. He asked my name. I told him. He asked the officers, who had brought me, the charges and they replied I was an anarchist. The Captain, without a moment’s consideration, sentenced me to death. I was quickly led to the wall where three soldiers stood reloading their rifles. An old priest from the Cathedral came by my side and asked me if I would like to confess my sins, I told him, Father, you know me and my family, is there anything you can do for me? He looked me straight in the eye and replied, No.
* WB Yeats
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