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Not a great deal of introduction is necessary for Spain’s premier postwar novelist and Nobel prize-winner Camilo José Cela, who died just this year. He was a controversial and crusty figure, so the following little moral fable will perhaps come as a surprise and even a delight for those who only saw Cela as domineering, arrogant and in many aspects vulgar (for example, he was famous for recounting on television how, as a boy, he had played at squirting water from his anus). This nice little story is taken from a cosy little collection entitled Cuentos para leer después del baño (‘Stories to read after bath-time’), which I found mouldering in a local public library and have unfortunately been unable to locate since. A couple of its stories, however, appear in the later collection Esas nubes que pasan, which is well worth a look. Incidentally, the countryside where Chindo and Josep mostly do their roaming is the hinterland of Catalunya.

V. Stevenson August 2002.

Camilo José Cela

The Little Parable of "Chindo" the Guide-dog.

"Chindo" is a little dog of base blood and noble sentiments. Bob-tailed, flop-eared, short at the shoulder and dull of coat, Chindo has no pedigree. A welcoming, sentimental, happy-go-lucky and loving dog, Chindo is mischievous by necessity, free and friendly like the grey sparrows in the city. Chindo has the same air as poor children do, between happy and unknowing; the air of children who wander aimlessly, looking down at the ground in search of the coin that someone must surely have dropped.

Chindo, like all the Lord's creatures, lives on what heaven provides, which is sometimes a crust of bread, or a scrap of meat, or from time to time some forgotten remains of sausage, and always, praise be, a smile that only Chindo can see.

Chindo, with clear conscience and youthful optimism, is a dog who knows the ways of the blind. He is versed in the difficult arts of the guide-dog, a loyal companion through misfortune and obscurity, through the shadows and the resigned, directionless, ceaseless tramping.

Chindo's first master, when he was a pup, was a bearded, eyeless singer named Josep. A great walker and a great talker, he hailed, so he said, from the Soley Avall farm, on the banks of the Ter in San Juan de las Abadesas, up where the river was still just a trickle.

Josep, with his bearing of a fallen sea-captain, had spent his life up around Ampurdán and La Cerdaña, singing away in his wild baritone voice a roving song that began with the words:

Should you like to wander long,

then some day for your pleasure,

journey far and at your leisure

from Ribes to Camprodon,

go on thro' Caralps and Nuria,

thro' Nou Crens, thro' Ull de Ter

and Setcases, the first town

you come to on the plain.

At Josep's side, Chindo roamed a world of mountains and of tumbling waters that plunge down the boulders with a roar like the Devil in a briar patch, chill as the hands of dead maidens. Without leaving his blind, vagabond master's side, Chindo felt the sun and the rain, he learned the song of the lark and the tiny wagtail, he became wise in the arts of poetry and navigation, and spent his whole youth in happiness.

But there came a day - a day just like those in sad stories - when Josep, who was already very old, fell asleep, never more to awaken. It was at the fountain of San Gil, the one below the hill.

Chindo howled with the sorrow of a dog with no blind master to care for, and the hills threw back his cold and inconsolable lament. Some men came the next morning and took away Josep's body on the back of a gentle, ash-grey donkey while Chindo, unnoticed by all, sat out in the open and cried his loneliness. Their story - the eternal story of the two friends, Josep and Chindo - lay behind and before him like the open sea, a wide and mysterious road.

How long did Chindo the dog wander, alone, from La Seo to Figueras, without a master to serve, nor friend to listen to, nor blind man to lead across bridges like an angel? Chindo measured the passing seasons by the trees and saw how he aged - eleven years already! - yet God still had not provided him with the companionship he sought.

He tried living amongst men with eyes in their faces, but he soon realised that men with eyes in their faces looked with a sinister, sideways glance, and their souls peered out uneasily. He tried the wandering life, roaming like a loafing, unprincipled dog, through the little plazas and alleyways of the large towns - towns with a magistrate, two pharmacists and seven butchers - and saw as he went how, in these large towns, a hundred dogs fought tooth and nail over charity's well-picked bone. He tried taking to the hills, like a highwayman of olden times, like a José María el Tempranillo on foot and in canine guise, but on the first evening the hills wrapped him in their fear and sent him back among the farmhouses with the fright clinging to his back like an unforgettable caress.

Comfortless and with a gnawing hunger, Chindo sat by the side of the road and waited for the bustle of the world to carry him where it might. Tired as he was, he fell asleep at the foot of a hawthorn covered in little berries so bright and red they looked like glass beads.

Down a blue-painted path came three little blind girls, heads adorned with the pale flowers of the pear tree. One was called María, the second was Nuria and the third Montserrat. As it was summer and the sun's breath warmed the air, the little blind girls wore silken Sunday-best dresses, and sang songs in bright, tinkling little voices.

As soon as he saw them approaching, Chindo tried to awaken, so as to tell them:

"Gentle mistresses, do you not wish me to go with you and show you where there is a step, or a river's edge, or where lies the flower that shall adorn your brows? My name is Chindo; I am without employ, and in exhange for my arts ask nothing more than a little conversation".

Were he to speak, Chindo would have spoken like a medieval poet. But he felt a sudden chill. The three little blind girls who were coming down the blue-painted path gradually faded behind a cloud which enveloped the whole land.

Chindo no longer felt cold. He felt as if he were flying, light as thistle-down, and he heard a friend's voice singing:

Should you like to wander long

then some day for your pleasure...

Chindo, the little dog of base blood and noble sentiments, lay dead at the foot of the hawthorn with the little berries so bright and red they seemed made of glass.

Someone, somewhere, heard the immaculate trumpets of the youngest angels being winded throughout the heavens.

Translation © V. Stevenson 1999, 2002

From Cuentos de leer después del baño, by Camilo José Cela, Editorial La Gaya Ciencia, Madrid, 1974.