Authors: Alli Sinclair
âBut you love carnations,' Charlotte replied. Abuela's love for the
national flower of Spain had never made sense as she avoided anything to do with her birth country. Perhaps she was finally seeing the error of her ways.
âI hate them now. They signify death and I am not ready to be wheeled out yet.' An impatient tapping of fingernails against a hard surface echoed down the phone line. âWhen your brother comes in with that soup, I'll make him get rid of these ghastly flowers. They're death-bringers.'
âSteve needs to chuck them. Make sure he does.' Since the heart issue that had caused her to fall and break her hip, the happy, round Abuela she'd grown up with had morphed into a thin, frail woman who'd lost her independence and patience. It pained Charlotte to witness the demise of the woman she'd always loved and admired.
âHow's that painting of yours going?'
âI have a job to do here. When would I have time to paint?' She grimaced, wishing Abuela would let up on the whole Charlotte-ditching-art thing.
âWhen are you going to listen to my wise words and ignore your father?'
âChildren are supposed to obey their parents, aren't they?' Charlotte's lips twitched into a smile. âAnd shouldn't you be siding with your own child, i.e. my father?'
âYou're twenty-seven, not seven. Quit that ridiculous job and devote time to the one thing you were put on this earth to do.'
âIt's not that easy.' Just before she'd left for Spain, Charlotte had been subjected to yet another tirade from her father, Ian, about hippie artists and how they should get off their arses and get real jobs. She'd stood there clad in her designer two-piece suit and silk blouse, clutching the work phone that never left her side as she bit her lip and wished she had the guts to stand up to him. Instead, she'd endured his diatribe, which had been sparked when Charlotte gave her mother a handpainted scarf she'd bought at the local artists' market.
Abuela cleared her throat. âIt is easy, Charlotte. Tell your father to pull his head in and let you follow your heart.'
âMy heart isn't in painting any more.' Since university, how many times had she sat at her easel and stared at a blank canvas? The desire that once drove her had vanished and the talent she'd once possessed had flown into the ether. Staring out the window of her hotel room, she concentrated on
the bright blue, clear sky. âI'm afraid I don't have a lot of news.'
âJust because I am old and my heart could stop working at any moment, don't think I can't tell when you're changing the subject.'
Charlotte cringed as she pictured the expression of disgust Abuela would be sporting. Pushing on regardless, she said, âI've made some contacts, but it's moving slowly.'
âYou must â¦' Abuela's sentence fell away.
âGet answers. I know, Abuela. I promise you, I'll do everything in my power.' Charlotte glanced at the clock beside the bedside table. âShit!'
âCharlotte â¦' Her grandmother might be frail and thousands of kilometres away but she could still guilt Charlotte over her choice of words.
âSorry, I have to run, but I'll send Steve a text as soon as I have news. Besides, isn't it past your bedtime over there?'
âI've had too much sleep lately.'
âDoctor Charlotte says sleep helps you heal. Sorry, but I really have to go. Love you loads.'
âLove you too, dear.' The phone clicked, then a continuous beep signified the end of their conversation. Charlotte smiled, happy the last few words sounded like the Abuela of her childhood, but the relief didn't last long as reality slapped her in the face. Abuela's heart attack had hit hard and fast, not only did it knock her to the ground and smash her hip but it knocked her confidence and shocked everyone. With her independence ripped away, Abuela now lived with the fear that next time, she might not be so lucky. It gutted Charlotte to know Abuela had spent her life doing all the right thingsâexercise, eating well, getting enough sleep, and only having the odd tippleâyet she ended up with a dodgy heart. Abuela's poor heart was a ticking bomb being cocooned in prayers that a miracle would arrive.
A lump formed in her throat and she fought back tears. Trying to avoid sinking into a downward spiral of helplessness about Abuela's condition, Charlotte concentrated on checking her lipstick in the mirror, then grabbed her bag and dashed out the door of her hotel room. She flew down the stairs and across the foyer, out the front door and to the edge of the sidewalk. Preferring a fold-out map over technology, she hustled down the narrow alleyways and arrived at Plaza Nueva, the heart of old Granada.
Charlotte studied the pavement beneath her feet, unable to comprehend the incredible engineering from centuries ago that had gone into building an entire plaza over the River Darro.
Glancing around, she took in the teenagers hanging near the fountain and the couples and families dining at the numerous cafÃ©s. With no Mateo in sight, she sat and leant against a sun-drenched wall, soaking up the warmth of the early evening.
Visions of dancing and echoes of music from the night before played in her mind. She'd seen flamenco in movies and on television, but nothing compared to witnessing a live performance in the heart of flamenco country. Mateo and the jealous dancer both possessed a captivating magic and Charlotte wondered whether she would fall in love with flamenco if she spent enough time in Granada. What would Abuela think if her granddaughter took a step onto the dark side of flamenco? Charlotte shook her head. There was no time for dabbling, even though it might help her get a better understanding of her grandmother's history.
The view from this quiet part of the plaza afforded the chance to take in the spectacular Alhambra, the Moorish citadel and palace, sitting high on the tree-covered hill. Oranges and yellows danced against the pale stonework, the shadows of early evening casting vibrant lines against the magnificent architecture. Charlotte's imagination had run rife as she'd walked the narrow streets of neighbouring AlbaicÃn that morning, listening to the many trickling fountains and trying to imagine what it would have been like in medieval times when the city was first settled. Her impression of Granada, so far, was that it was a potpourri of cultures that had arrived centuries ago and never left. Their presence had left an indelible mark both inside and outside the city walls, with remnants of their myriad ethnicities visible in the city's architecture, its music, dance, food, fabrics, and on the faces of the people who call Granada home. No wonder the architectural gems like the Alhambra and AlbaicÃn had made it onto the World Heritage List. Had Abuela ever sat in this plaza in her younger days and appreciated the beauty of this place, as Charlotte did now? When Abuela looked back on her days in Spain, did she miss it? Even just a teensy bit?
The long shadows now snuck into the corners of the buildings, wrapping around the doorways and hugging the ancient walls. Her fingers itched to pull out the small sketchbook and pencils she always kept in her
bag for those âjust in case' moments, but she refrained, refusing to give in to her desire. What was the point? She'd only end up with a jumble of lines that didn't look anything like what she was once capable of. That talent had disappeared and she wished she'd never experienced it.
âI see Australians are like the English.'
Charlotte glanced up, but the setting sun shone in her eyes, casting a bright haze around Mateo's strapping silhouette. âWhat's that supposed to mean?'
âYou are on time.'
âI am guessing the Spanish think clocks are optional?'
He laughed and reached for her hand, helping her up. His smooth skin and immaculate nails surprised her. She'd always thought guitarists had calluses. âWere you at the manicurist?'
âPardon?' He glanced at his hands. âOh! Flamenco guitarists must maintain immaculate nails. We spend many hours filing them to the perfect length so we can perform. If the nail is filed at the wrong angle or length, even by a millimetre, then our playing will not be good.'
Charlotte looked at her own chipped mess that she hadn't bothered keeping neat since arriving in Spain. Putting her hands behind her back, she asked, âAre manicured nails really that crucial?'
âOf course! I use superglue and silk to keep them perfect for my playing.' He cupped his hand next to his mouth and in a stage whisper, said, âNo one wants to be responsible for a singer feeling like a victim, or have an irate dancer, because of misplaced playing from poorly maintained nails.'
âThere appears to be a lot more to flamenco than meets the eye.'
âYes, there is and I can bash your ears all the day with my thoughts on the subject but this is not going to solve your dilemma, no?'
âFirst, we get coffee.' He gestured towards a cafÃ© and they strolled across the plaza. They sat and outside on white metal chairs. A blue-and-white-striped umbrella shaded them from the remnants of the hot sun while Mateo ordered two coffees and the waiter promptly returned with the goods.
She sipped her coffee, surprised the aromatic flavours rivalled those at her favourite cafÃ© back home.
âThank you for offering to help me out, Mateo.'
âI have not made the offer to help yet. I must listen to more of your story then I will decide. So tell me, Charlotte Kavanagh, why do you believe the GimÃ©nez clan can assist?'
She reached in her handbag, pulled out a colour copy of Abuela's painting and handed it over. âI have the original back in my room. It's not that big, but it's too precious to lug around the city.'
Mateo unrolled the paper and studied it with the same intensity as when he'd played guitar. His eyebrows furrowed, a small crease formed just above nose, and he bit his lip, just like she did when concentrating. âWhere did this come from?'
âIt's my grandmother's. Professor Fonseca believes it's the work of a
named Syeria Mesa Flores GimÃ©nez.'
âIt will be impossible to find information about this artist.' He rolled up the copy and handed it back.
do not speak the name of the person who has died or about their historyâever.'
âSo there are no records of relations who have lived or died in their clan?' Charlotte felt the beginnings of a roadblock being stacked in front of her, brick by brick.
âThere are some records, but it would not have been written by the
and it will only be the view of an outsider.'
Drawing her brows together, Charlotte asked, âSo if this artist is famous enough to be remembered almost one hundred years after she created this painting why don't people know more about her?'
âThe life of a
is complicated. It is not in their culture to own things and this is why many clans are nomadicâbecause they do not want to become attached, including to the past. This is why their songs are about
knowing the past,
knowing who their ancestors are,
knowing where they have come from. It is believed that
have ties with ancient India and they migrated from there centuries ago. There are no official records of this, of course, but scientists have found genetic evidence to say this is so.'
âWow. That's impressive.'
âIt is.' Mateo sipped his coffee, then tapped rhythmically on the table with his fingers. âI have been close friends with
for many years, but
I still do not feel that I have a full understanding of their culture. Unless you are born into a clan you will never know every nuance of their life and customs.'
âSo if you weren't born into their clan and they're so closed off from outsiders then how did you get involved with them? Why do they trust you?'
Charlotte, is something I do not talk about. Much like the
, there are things in my life I do not wish to discuss.'
Sensing they had encroached on dangerous territory, she changed the topic. âCan I ask you something?'
âYou have already asked many questions, why should you stop?' His eyes held a cheeky glint.
âWhy didn't you tell me you who you were when we first met last night? It can't be just because you thought I might be a groupie or looking for an extra-special Spanish experience.' Mateo couldn't be that egotistical, could he? And if he'd thought she wanted to sleep with him to create a Spanish holiday memory, then how many times had he been approached? And how many women had he taken up on that offer? Exactly what kind of man was she dealing with here?
Mateo gave a small laugh. âYou are very perceptive. I wanted to understand if I could trust you.'
âAnd do you?'
âWhen I asked about your grandmother, you chose not to tell me because you did not want to betray the trust of your
. Trust is important for me but more important for
Mateo finished his coffee and waved at the waiter for two more. They promptly arrived at the table and Charlotte stared at the caffeine fix wondering how many walls she'd bounce off after downing this one.
âTell me, why are you in Spain finding out about the painting and not your
âShe's very old and â¦' Charlotte took a deep breath then concentrated on the immaculately pressed tablecloth, âwe don't know how long we'll have her with us.'
âI am very sorry to hear this.'
Charlotte still couldn't get her head around nearly losing Abuela. Unfortunately, the law of nature dictated that time would ravage the body and mind and her grandmother had already had the privilege of more than
nine decades on this earth. No amount of wishing or denial would change the fact that serious health problems would arise. It was hard to accept as, up until now, all Abuela had ever suffered was a bad head cold. âAlthough she is as tough as old boots.'