As summer approaches, fourteen-years-old Juana starts to wonder how many toads she will be able to capture this year from the backyard's pond. The previous one was the best she recalls, with a total amount of seventy-nine and an absolute record of twelve in a very wet and yet sunny afternoon.
Without much time to enjoy her success, her mind takes her to her early childhood, when friends and relatives from near cities would come to spend their holidays. However, this has not been the case for the last three or four years.
This is 1974 in the South of Spain. Franco is about to die and things seem to be opening up on its own. The international isolation (only broken by US military interests) that stroke Spain for many years after the end of WWII seems to have been left behind long ago. Nonetheless, many regions of Spain have never benefit from Progress.
On the contrary, the South and specially the South-East of Spain has not received much public investment for decades and, in addition, severe droughts during more than a decade have worsened the economical situation of the whole region beyond the point of no recovery.
Juana's family has always managed to get by. They have land where they grow several kinds of vegetables, which later try to sell in the weekly street market, and they also have some cattle. Land has become cheaper and cheaper after every drought and Juana's father used to think that buying as many lands as possible would guarantee enough fertile land to be able to continue his business. Things, however, are about to change dramatically.
Land is, in fact, cheap, but not free at all, and the family has to keep asking for more money as the money from sales does not flow in and they barely have enough to pay the interests of the loans.
Juana's best friend had stopped spending summers in the countryside since 1970. She was born in the same street as Juana still lives, but she had later moved to a city located half-way between there and Madrid. Her father was appointed chief of sales, in 1969, of a company which was eagering to expand through Europe after the blockade was being broken into pieces.
He really loved living in a peaceful environment and tried to go to work from there every day, but he soon realized that it was not sustainable since he would arrive later at night every week. At first, he decided to keep the house in that small village, but by the end of 1971 they had already sold it and never came back or bothered to let people know they were alive.
Others followed the same steps during those harsh years. People moved massively and very fast to medium-size cities which were at least two hours away by car, like they had become aware, overnight, that the Apocalypse was coming and the earth they were walking on would start collapsing in that very same place and they would fall into the Hell they had heard about in every Sunday Mass.
Not only were people struggling for survival, but they were also bored of that little place with no possibilities to ever have half of the commodities of modern life. With no more than ten houses with a phone line, no cinema, no library, just a couple of very small convenience stores, and a church, inhabitants could either go to the only bar there was (outside the village but the only one in kilometres) and try to keep their limited social life or get someone with a car to take them to a more civilized city.
At the end of the day, there was only two sides. For many it was either too late or too scary to pack their belongings and try, without guarantees, to make a living elsewhere. For others, though, it was the only way out.
Despite of the desperate situation, Juana's father was not someone who could easily admit defeat. For several months before The Big Decision, he had tried to keep up appearances for the sake and happiness of the whole family, like someone could judge them for closing down a dying business in an economy nobody would dare invest, and specially after having spent all his life savings at times were no new loans were granted.
His son and daughter were way too young to acknowledge anything serious going on in the family, while his wife was playing the role everyone was expecting her to play. She had been well trained to believe whatever her father, or later her husband, said. Actually, she had never left the village she was born and lived in for forty years.
A common belief in that society was that if things were never discussed, problems would never arise and fights would never take place. Therefore, no matter how unhappy everybody was, they would still be able to go out to the street and boast about their happy family.
She never went to school because she was only two when the Civil War started and had to work home helping her mother, from the age of seven until she got married.
One evening, Juana's father gathered the whole family in the living room. Even though he had been preparing a speech for days, everything he was about to say was a lie, and that embarrassing situation made him sweat and shake.
Juana was on the sofa playing comfortably with her favourite doll and Pablo, his brother, was on the floor, on his knees, watching through the big window how some birds were waiting outside for his mother to give them some pieces of bread.
They were not only brother and sister, but they were twins and had always shared a special something. Nothing to do with one hearing the thoughts of the other one, not like that, but they were still able to sort of feel the other's emotions.
When their father said that they were moving to a town near Barcelona in a few weeks, Juana found the announcement of no interest at all. After all, what could be worse than a place with no one to play with, not even his brother who was quite aggressive playing games and would hurt her most of the times; specially after losing although he had set the rules to make sure he would win.
Pablo did react according to his personality. His mother tried to make him behave, at the same time she was still in shock for the unexpected news. Thanks to her years of training justifying her husband's actions, she explained with a calm and sweet tone of voice that his father and she had decided to make this big step to make their lives even better than it had ever been.
In fact, the twins had been happy enough in comparison to other kids they knew. The family business, which didn't buy them any luxury, was able to make enough money during decades to keep them just above the level of poverty that many people were stuck in. For example, Juana received a brand new doll (her only and favourite doll ever) for his tenth birthday, while other girls in the village had to play with their mother's or grandmother’s, or make their own using pieces from old clothes.
After Juana's initial indifference, and just about the same time her brother started to manifest his disagreement with the decision, a sudden chill went down her spine.
Strangely enough, they had never talked about this strange connection, not even to each other, perhaps for fear of being looked upon as a strange kid who spends too much time catching insects and small animals around the house.
Nevertheless, Juana felt that her brother's outrageous behaviour was imminent, which allowed her to turn the head towards him and not miss a single movement.
Pablo and his mother went out to breathe some fresh air, they both needed some. She was trying to keep herself together while trying to come out with something nice to say to his son, as she always did. His father would never care about his problems or try to calm him down, he was just too busy or tired to deal with that.
Meanwhile, the father, given that neither of the people outside the house were really interested in the details, tried to explain Juana the sequence of successes that had pushed him into making this decision.
Juana was not really interested either. She was still trying to understand why her brother was crying like that, in a similar way to the time when their grandmother died. What was she missing? Did he like a girl she didn't know about? Although Pablo was not crying next to her, her brain only paid attention to him. From time to time, she would hear her father's voice on the background.
The father probably knew as well that Juana was not even trying to listen, but, after all, she was always like that. She would never seem worried, bothered or angry for anything. At school, kids never made fun of her, as it was no use, nothing seemed to affect her.
The only problem she had at school was with her teachers. One of them, Mario, was specially obsessed with her. He tried to figure out what, according to him, the underlying problem was. He was convinced that she was able to do much better in subjects like reading or maths. Juana failed very few exams through all her schools years, but Mario still thought that she was too slow when doing some exercises. Unfortunately, he achieved nothing by pushing her into doing things like extra exercises at home. The key factor was that no one would actually help her, so she would do things at her own pace.
Juana's father still felt that he had to develop his speech as he had planned, whatever the circumstances. It was silly, obviously, but this way no one could tell him that he had rushed the family into a fast and insane decision that would presumably change their lives. It was not his problem if someone refused to listen to his explanation.
He told Juana that he had been offered a job as a manager in a company which was about to start exporting different kinds of vegetables and fruits to France and Germany. The excellent way he and his ancestors had driven the business for more than eighty years had finally paid off. One day, a man approached him ,while he was telling off an employee for having arrived late, and told him he had travelled from Barcelona specially to make him a proposal he could not refuse. He would earn more money than ever and they all would live near a city with all the advantages related to it.
The only problem with this fantastic offer was that hi and his whole family were expected to leave immediately and start working in the company the very following Monday.
On a very hot afternoon, on 27th June 1974, the four of them started their journey to Barcelona from a nearby train station. It took them two entire days to get there, as they spent a night in Madrid, since this was the cheapest way to travel.