Franco Is Dead

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One morning, I was listening to the local radio when the news declared General Franco had died. I didn’t understand the magnitude of the end of a dictatorship, the hopes for democracy and a new King. No, all I was concerned about was the bus driver announcing school would be closed for a week. I was so happy on that cold November morning, walking around, taking in what was going on. The Spaniards were subdued, dressed in black. Flags were at half-mast. It looked like this was a big thing, but I wasn’t going to be deterred. No school meant more fun.

Regrettably soon, school restarted and it was back to lessons. Breaks were at the same time as the Spanish kids and I gradually made some friends. At first we exchanged greetings, but anything beyond a standard reply just rolled into meaningless sounds. Soon enough, I recognised words and even the occasional sentence. These eventually formed meaning and I began to understand conversations. Following this, I tried saying some words and then phrases. Shambling along, I built up my Spanish and chatted with friends to the point of sharing jokes and laughter. My friends tried their English on me and I gave pointers on words and pronunciation, which developed nicely beyond the initial “Hhhallo aye eem Espaneesh”. We helped each other’s language skills and friendships grew.

A game was developed by some of the older English and Spanish boys called the Armada. The school had a large, lower yard with an embankment leading up to a fence on one side. Along the forty-five degree incline, there were a number of trees. The English – all five of us – each manned a tree and the Spanish (often forty strong, depending on how many could be drafted in) would run up the embankment and try to reach the fence. We held the trees, swung around and kicked the Spaniards anywhere possible to stop them: Legs, bodies, heads, wherever. The trick was to connect with the nearest kid, but ensure you were balanced enough not to leave yourself wide open for the others following up. My Spanish friends stayed away from this game, which was just as well because I didn’t want to go against them. It was brutal and fights often broke out.

One hot day, we lined up along the trees and the hordes of Spanish ran at the bank. I was kicking whoever I could reach until the wave of bodies stopped. I noticed two boys on the floor. Arms and legs were flailing about and dust kicked up in clouds. I looked closer and it was Marky fighting the Mayor’s son, who was the most respected boy in school. Marky knew how to handle himself and gave the other kid a good hiding. Relations between the English and Spanish were a bit strained afterwards.

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