Then They Came For Me

Tonight I’m wound tighter than a watchspring
‘Cos when the skies are clear, the threat of rain is always here with you
Everything you say is a call to arms
With all that’s gone before my motives never felt so pure.

Can one moment change the world?

If I commit this act will the world change for the better, or for the worse?

The sun on my face feels hotter than it has ever felt before. I can feel my face burning but I can only stand up straight and face forward.

The time is near.

The instructions were clear. The President will say a certain phrase and then I shoot him.

The message was sent to my phone last night. I didn’t think about what I had to do, I could only think of Valentina and that night in Cambrils last winter.

I think back to stroking her dark hair, matted with blood. She was dying, I could see that as clear as I can see the lectern the President will speak from in a few minutes.

“‘We carry a new world here, in our hearts,’” she looked up at me and laughed bitterly as she said it, “I’m sorry,”

Despite being a soldier, I was not prepared for this. The first war casualties I had seen. My girlfriend, her mother and her father.

At university we used to talk about politics all the time. The disastrous reconquista of Gibraltar in ‘19 jolted me into signing up for the army after my graduation. She told me I was crazy to join up and I was aiding the forces of fascism.

We were in bed one summer morning, the cool breeze washing over us in bed in her apartment in Lavapiés. I said I was signing up  for  my country, our country. All she could say is:

“Their country is not my country,”

“You separatists all say that, but what does it mean? Are we not the same people inside?”

“I don’t mean me and you,” she responded angrily, sitting up in bed, her eyes burning like a rabid animal, “Can’t you see what happened to Spain? The papers are shut down for criticising the government, They lied about what happened in Seville. They lied about the peace treaty,”

“Europe is crumbling, we have to be strong,”

“It’s always the same in Europe,” Valentina laid back down into my arms, “the demagogues, the dictators. They all come out and people lap up their poison. What will happen when the Catalans claim our independence, will you shoot me?”

“Don’t be silly, they will vote no, look at Scotland and the war in Northern Ireland. We need stability and then we can start moving forward,”

Valentina didn’t say anything.

The Catalans did vote for independence and the slide towards war began.

The President said the vote was unconstitutional. The politicians were locked in talks. The European Union got involved so the President broke all ties with the remaining eleven member states. The President had left the European Union when he abolished the monarchy and declared war on Britain.

He thought Britain would be weak with all their strife in the regions but he made a huge miscalculation. The British levelled Ceuta and Melilla within hours and the Portuguese and French backed them. As the coalition moved into Spain, the Basques welcomed the French in to Bilbao and the British and Portuguese began the bombardment of Seville.

The President sued for peace and as part of the terms of peace he guaranteed any region in Spain could hold a vote on independence. The war had lasted four days but it was a humiliation for the President.

The expected announcement from the Basques regarding an independence vote never materialised and Eta didn’t restart their terrorism. It looked like they were going to allow the Catalans to go first, as they would be backed by Europe. The French said they would support Catalan independence but no one thought they would cross the Pyrenees again.

The President told us that any independence vote would need to be agreed by him before it became law. The press were forced to repeat his claims that any secession would be illegal.

And that’s when the secret killings began.

My unit was tasked with surveillance of targets across Catalonia, the Basque Country and Galicia. “Accidents were arranged” for high profile separatists.

Word spread and mass demonstrations sprang up across the nation. In Madrid they reckoned half a million protested but the media mentioned nothing about it. Troops were brought in to the major cities to maintain order and martial law declared.

About six months ago I went on leave to visit my soon-to-be in-laws and my world changed for ever.

Now here I am at the Presidential Palace, formerly the Royal Palace. I always loved the view over the Casa de Campo, but today I can’t even face looking at it or I know I will cry.

Here he comes. The President exits the palace surrounded by his Guard and walks towards the Plaza de la Armeria where he will give a speech demanding that the Catalan parliament backs away from its threat to declare independence tomorrow following a 64% “yes” for independence two weeks ago.

The President is short but in good shape, a real barrel-chested man. I have met him a few times and he is humourless but strangely charismatic. His intense stare is quite honestly the chilling thing I have witnessed.

We are from the same hometown of Jaén. The olive oil capital of the world, some people say. He confiscated the castle on the hill from the state-run hotel chain  and converted it into his main home, away from the dangers of Madrid.  The Wolf’s Lair, the other soldiers called it, in dark homage to Hitler’s Bavarian retreat.

Everyone in the barracks was nervous this morning. They can feel war is coming. The Gibraltar fiasco cost but a few handfuls of military casualties but full-scale war in Spain again just like 85 years ago would be brutal.

However this is a war that the majority of Spain do not want. The fanáticos have taken over all the arms of state and the heavy weaponry has been moved to strategic cities. According to the rumours shelling of the Barcelona, Tarragona and Girona will begin immediately after a declaration tomorrow. Depending on what happens next Valencia and Bilbao will be attacked.

The President is on the microphone now and beginning his address. A heavy silence  and the faint aroma of oil drift across the square – the smell of impending battle.

A battle that I hope to finish. A battle that he started against me one night in Catalonia.

I was visiting Valentina’s family at their family home in the seaside village of Cambrils. We had finished a lovely fish dinner when her mother, Pamela,  asked if I could run to the shop to buy a bottle or two of wine. I kissed Valentina on the cheek and left. Oh, to have said something to her then knowing what happened next.

I visited the shop, bought some wine and engaged in small talk at the counter with the young, female girl on the counter. I headed back down the tree-lined Avenida Adelaida with the bottles and some Haribo for Valentina. I arrived back and saw the front door was open. I didn’t think I left it open.

I walked into the hallway and saw Pamela lying face first on the floor, a halo of blood around her head. I shouted Valentina’s name and heard no response. I pissed myself, I admit it. I ran to the living room and her dad was sat in his chair with a bullet hole shot clean through his skull, it looked like a macabre bindi.

I looked around for Valentina and saw her on the floor of the kitchen. She was sat up against the cupboards. Blood was pouring out of her stomach and I almost collapsed on top of her in shock.  I held her in my arms while she said her final words.

“Don’t be sorry, oh my Valentina. Please no…”

She was right. She was right about everything.I had to get out of there or I would be next. If they knew i was here they would kill me. I could not allow that. I would kill them first.

After the massacre of the Delcamp family I contacted the Catalan independence leaders. They informed me that Valentina’s father Josep was an active member of the movement which was why he was targeted.  I started to provide information to them and it all led up to today and my one shot at saving this land.

The army had not found out about my relationship with Valentina and they thought I was an obedient soldier, a loyal Presidential man, especially being a Jiennense too like him too.

The Catalans had obtained a copy of his speech and sent it to me by email last night. The President, and myself, are  near the moment of no return.

The baking sun and the knowledge that I will soon be killed in a few seconds is making me woozy. Will I hold my nerve and assassinate the President live on television?

I think back to the times Valentina and I would sit out at the Temple of Debod drinking cans of Mahou and talk for hours. All for this fascist, bullshitting warmonger to destroy it for me and millions of others like us. My resolve hardens and I hear the President speaking…

“…and I say to the minority government of Catalonia, the people of Spain will not tolerate this any longer. They will not let this pass any longer. They will not stand idly by any longer. The time has come for the President of Spain to do his duty and unify the  land of Ferdinand and Isabella once again…”

I am just fifteen feet away from the President to his left as part of the Presidential Guard. I put my hand on my pistol and walk towards him.

“…and I say, no, no, no! There is no power in this majestic  land of Cortés, Velázquez and Cervantes that can stop me now. What the…”

The President looks round at me. He looks like a man who knows his time has come. Sheer incomprehension on his face.

¡Por la paz!” I shout. For the peace. I shoot the President three times in the chest. He crumples to the floor.

I drop to my knees and await my fate. I hear shouting and motion and mayhem but all I think about is Valentina and that Durruti quote. I feel a gun against the back of my skull.

Llevamos un mundo nuevo en nuestros corazones,” I whisper to her.

by Martin O’Brien based on Marblehead Johnson – The Bluetones

 

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