The Goatherd by Bob Manning
Manolo spat a curse as a renegade stone rolled under his boot, painfully stretching his stride and troublesomely staggering on the rocky terrain, an oversight that could send him cascading into the depths of the ravine that fell away beside the narrow path. He spat another blasphemous profanity and kicked the offending stone into the oblivion below.
“What kind of herdsman loses his grip of the mountain!”,
he bellowed at the top of his voice, his face flushed as an anger raged inside.
He turned a dour tanned face to the throng of beasts that followed. With a click of his tongue the dog turned to face the herd, they stopped in unison, motionless, staring back at him inanely. He cursed each and every one of them. It had not been a good day, much like most.
He resented the responsibility thrust upon him as the only son in a long line of goat herders. Generations of his forefathers had walked these lonely tracks, a heritage of labour chained their memories to his reluctance.
He pulled a pouch of tobacco from his leather satchel. The pitch-black cloud that had seemed to follow him, pressed weightily down on him.
Due to the ill health of his father, Manolo had begrudgingly taken over this endless search for forage, condemned to trudge these all too familiar trails. The welfare of the herd was now on his shoulders, except that all negotiations with purchasers and any important matters were still the domain of his father, they seldom saw eye to eye.
As a young boy he had enjoyed the daily jaunts with his father across the mountains. They would chatter as they ambled along, his father relating stories and histories of the area and its characters, cracking jokes that made him giggle for ages, constantly repeating the punch line. In the heat of midday they would seek the shade of a straggling Carob tree, and grill meat on the embers of a small fire in a shallow in the ground. Then feast on fresh bread, tomatoes and hot hot chilli peppers. His father often gave him a draught of the local 'Costa' wine from the skin that he carried with him, it was harsh and tart and made him light-headed, after which they would fall into a short deep slumber.
Manolo squatted on his haunches to roll the cigarette, the herd would not move until he bade them to follow. A quiet fell upon the mountain, broken only by the occasional snort from a sickly beast and the odd clanking of the bells they wore around their necks. He took a long drag on the cigarette, blew a plume of blue smoke into the breeze and savoured the still moment.
“Times are changing fast” he mused, “and I’m to be left behind with these demented beasts.”
He caught sight of the sea to the south, twinkling to the setting sun.
“That is where life is to be found.”, he exclaimed out loud, startling the hound.
Manolo had been aware for some time of a world of possibilities that existed outside the village. People from strange lands were moving to the coastal town, bringing great fortunes and tales of plenty. The town was vibrant and exciting, late night revelries becoming the norm on almost every day of the week. On the rare occasions that he had been able to sneak a lift to the coast, he had had extraordinary and enlightening nights with travellers from far away places. He yearned that life, he needed it.
One such couple had even moved into a house at the bottom of the village. Foreigners living in the village!
That had been unheard of previously and their coming had caused quite a stir, particularly amongst the older members of the community.
They were a young couple, about his age, but were worldly wise, and that irked him a lot.
Some of the old folk said, that they were 'contrabandistas', smugglers, hiding from the police, whilst others, somewhat unkindly, said that the woman was available to the young men, at a price.
Manolo, however, found the couple to be quite amiable and disarming, he dismissed the old folk's disfavours as anxiety of that which they could not understand.
He suddenly remembered the plan that the younger lads had devised, to cook a chicken at the foreigner's house tonight. He jumped up with a lighter feeling of expectancy and started up the pathway towards the ridge. The herd responded alike, accompanied by the cacophonous clanking of bells that forever followed them, playing the tinkling lament that was the anthem of his herd in-motion, unique and identifying.
He made the ridge and started his decent to the village and the ever watching eyes.
One set of those watching eyes filled him with dread as he knew that the disapproving gaze of his mother was already upon him.
Incarnita stood at the edge of the village where the concrete street gave way to the dust track, she assumed the posture of the impatient mother awaiting the dawdling offspring. Stern-faced she crossed her sun aged arms firmly over the breasts that had once nourished the infant.
Her sigh resonated deep into the core of her being.
Her maternal love had long ago given way to despair as the playful youth grew in to a disaffected, sulphurous young man. The constant bickering with his father drained her, as did the obstinate looks and acrid comments that replaced the once joyful chattering.
That evening around the table, the whole family was quiet and pensive, the air thick with the unsaid, minds dwelt on the unmentionable, only furtive glances were exchanged. Manolo, suspicious that this showed all the signs of another disapproving dispute, quickly cleared his plate. He jumped up and announced that he was off out.
The room exploded with whys, wherefores, retributions and astonished looks, but Manolo shrugged them off, leaving them behind, off to impress the foreigners.
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