Saturday, 5 May 2007

Chapter 86

After a group of locals arrived and congregated at the bar, Harry and Ana moved away and took up seats at a table by the window. Harry was desperate to know what the paper Ana was still holding was all about – wanted to be let in on the ‘joke’.

Ana was serious, now, as she translated it for him. It was a bond, issued by the Republican Government in exile. She explained how, after the Civil War, the defeated Republicans had tried – unsuccessfully – to rally support for their lost cause. Hundreds of these bonds had been issued (many for just a few pesetas), often to poor farmers or factory workers who might have had to go without food for days just to buy them. The exiled Government had hoped – “dreamed” was the word Ana used – that the money raised by the issue of the bonds would finance a new military campaign that would defeat the victorious Francoists. But of course, it wasn’t to be. ‘Events, dear boy, events’ had intervened, with the sweep of the Second World War extinguishing, forever, those same hopes. So the bonds had become worthless.

“Worthless?” Harry asked – worried, now, that his hunch about the value of that bit of paper had been wrong. He’d had a feeling, all along, that it was important. This latest revelation made him tense up a little. Ana noticed.

“Well, if it was really worthless, Harry, they wouldn’t have been looking for it, would they?” Her grin was just the right side of ‘sly’.

“I don’t understand…” Harry said, hoping she’d put him out of his misery.

“Harry,” she said (and he loved the way she said his name, even when she was using it to point out something she thought should be obvious to him), “I know you don’t read the news. But I think even you know that we eventually got democracy in Spain. They let us vote now!”

He realized his mind had been in third gear since he met Ana. He needed to catch up, start thinking a little, maybe. Then, like he’d just put his foot on the accelerator, he thought he might have worked it out…

“The Socialists!” he said.

“Oh, Harry,” Ana said, with a palpable relief. “You got there in the end!”

She explained how, when Spain elected its first socialist government under the new democracy in 1982, a decision was taken to redeem the bonds. It was a “debt of honour”, she told him. “For some families, those few pesetas they sacrificed decades before had grown into quite a windfall.”

Harry was up to speed, now. He wanted to know about this particular bond, the one that Lillian McFry had kept with her medals.

“Harry,” (there it was again – the seductive intonation that had intoxicated him when he met her all those years ago in Paris) “there is a whole office of people somewhere in the Government who have been looking for this one. It’s like a lottery ticket that hasn’t been claimed. Take a look at this, here,” she said, pointing at one line in amongst the dense print.

Harry scrutinized the paper again – realized he’d missed it when he’d looked at it when he’d received it, and kicked himself for not having seen it then. This bond wasn’t for a few pesetas. There, in black and white – so clear he just couldn’t believe he hadn’t spotted it amongst the Spanish text – was the figure of £50,000.

Before he could absorb it fully, or even begin to work out what that amount of money was worth seventy years ago, Ana had a question or two. She wanted to know how Harry had come by the bond, how long he’d had it. Harry told her all about Lillian – or as much as he knew.

Ana was incredulous, once she learned. The idea that such a valuable piece of paper might have been hidden away in a little bungalow in England for all these years – well, it was frankly astounding. And the fact that the woman who had it was still alive was more astounding still.

*

Lillian McFry was still very much alive. Sometimes she wondered ‘how?’ Other times she wondered ‘why?’ What was so special about her that she deserved to live so long, she thought. Just now, as the chill of the evening began to make her bones ache, she was thinking about something else, however. She was contemplating the fact that she might be immortalized by Colin McAllistair, who she had agreed could interview her – for ‘posterity’ – early next week. He’d said he’d like to film her, would bring a video camera, if she didn’t mind. Well, she could get her hair done. Maybe even ask her nurse if she could arrange a trip to town to buy a new outfit. She glanced up at the photograph on her sideboard, taken all those years ago, all those miles away, and thought she had better make an effort. Couldn’t help but smile to herself as she realized that, after all these years, someone wanted to hear her story. She didn’t think Colin McAllistair would be a bad person. She wondered if she might need to stock up on bourbon creams.

1 comment:

the domestic minx said...

Oh they all want a piece of it, don't they, the little buggers!!!

I wish I had it too...I could do with that...