La Tata is ninety and has a very full, straight set of knashers. Her lips stretch over them, as if she is trying to keep them in. She speaks in her low gravely voice to eight week old Blanca. Blanca looks back at her, smiling over my shoulder. When La Tata first saw her at one week old, she clasped her hands together mumbled benedictions and then waved her hand in a vague sign of the cross over the pram. She had told me then of how the mystery of life transfixed her -how could a child come from our bellies?
La Tata speaks of the wonderful things that Blanca will see and of the little that she knows, of the smartness of her big sister and most of all, that she is Andaluza, a Sevillana, and not to forget it. She told Clara the same when she was born. I think she finds the idea that part of them is not, and that they could disappear off to that very foreign, distant land and forget their roots, of great concern. Soon the chatter from over my shoulder ceases and I turn to see that La Tata has fallen asleep, her head tilted forward and her hands, that have washed and ironed countless amounts of clothes for three generations and soothed many crying babies are clasped together in the lap of her dark green wool skirt. Blanca looks on in a wide eyed baby stare. The telly blares in front of us with some midday South American soap opera.
Blanca hears sirens. She watches her mobile turn in the top of her pram. Innocent little bugs and butterflies swirl and bob around above her as we rattle through the cobbled streets. We pass a spray painted sign calling for Andalusians to rise up and strike. We heard from a friend, whose brother is a policeman, that they’re receiving special riot training. He may be just talking it up, but people are certainly getting angry. Laws are passed every day to cut spending, increase taxes, increase costs, reduce salaries…there are two million people out of the almost five million unemployed who receive no benefit and depend on their families. 350,000 people have lost their jobs since January. Corruption is everywhere among the rich who remain rich and even richer -we all know how untouchable they are. People are getting very angry.
Blanca is looking at the branches above us, thick with new spring leaves and blossoms. The vacant lot is full of children raising dust with their running games, climbing in the ancient fig, swinging on the swings and jumping along the old car tyres laid on the ground. I’ve never seen the place so full of people. People are sitting under the trees having afternoon tea, celebrating birthdays, studying or…a distinct smell wafts over my way… sharing a joint. Various raised garden plots have gardeners there weeding, planting, cutting back or harvesting. A man is pushing a wheelbarrow of dirt to continue caking the old children’s playhouse with a mixture of mud and straw. He’s creating a series of sculptures made of raw recycled materials. A giant snake’s head is forming at the end of the tyres, made of sticks, branches and straw, bent in to shape with eyes made of glass jars that used to contain olives. It kind of reminds me of the playground by the river in Wanganui, only this is all formed from the earth on which it stands. Next Saturday there will be a party here to celebrate eight years since the community gardens started.
Blanca is looking over my shoulder at the rain falling outside. It’s much needed. Extremadura is in a drought and the summer hasn’t arrived yet. Tomorrow my parents arrive, so I want to finish this postcard even if I have to type with one hand and hold her with the other. It’s been two years since I was home and this will be the first time that Blanca will meet her New Zealand Grandparents. She has faced the computer and wobbled her head at some pixelated people as her sister Clara has given the screen sloppy kisses, one for Nan, one for Poppa.
Finally Blanca looks at me.
It always takes a while to register
She looks at the outline of my face,
Then finds my eyes,
And cracks a smile.