‘Bonjour mes chers amis.’
‘El Presidente’ smiles as he raises his hand to the stiff royal wave which gave him his nickname. He’s a tall, skinny man who never leaves the house without a suit and tie, refuses to speak anything but French, and greats everyone as long-lost friends, even those just visiting the village for a few hours.
Today is Church day, and he glances across the sparsely spread regulars of Café Deportivo before turning the corner toward the stairs and disappearing out of sight.
We all manage to mumble a courteous ‘Bon dia’ in return, but as soon as he’s gone, Javier, sitting at the opposite side in the shades, shakes his head with a laugh. ‘His real name is Marcel Dupont’, he says to anyone willing to listen, ‘And he’s a Marseille hybrid who’s never set foot in a prison.’
Maribel sticks her head out over the counter and waves her kitchen towel over Javier’s head. ‘You’re a coward, Javi’, she says, ‘Say it to his face if it’s so important to you?’
‘It’s not important.’
‘Then close your mouth.’
Maribel disappears back inside, and a smile spreads across the tables while Javier’s pinkish-red face turns dark.
Javier is old, with a lifetime of luck but no fortune, and as he continues his charade of reading the newspaper, his fingers tremble slightly with each turning of a page.
Marcel Dupont is a Marseille ex-pat who claims to have spent five years in one of Franco’s infamous ‘Hotels’ due to “un amour illégal”. Some believe him, Javier doesn’t, but nobody really knows. The rule regarding whatever happened during ‘El reinado del Caudillo’ is simple. If you weren’t there, you don’t ask. Instead, you politely nod as if everything is true — until it isn’t.
Javier may be a coward. It’s even possible this trait helped him avoid ‘hotel visits’ during the hard years. But it’s equally feasible that he’s one of those thrown in the basement from which few stepped out alive. Which certainly would explain both his looks and his manners.
The truth is — there is no truth.