Story no. 3 in the Valentine's Day Series
Old man Diego lived in the foothills of a rugged mountain range. The inhabitants of the nearby village knew him to be mean and miserly. What they did not know were the circumstances under which he had found himself all those years ago, before he came from far to live in the little stone house at the foot of the mountain. No one knew how his loved ones had been taken from him and were murdered by the regime. From that grim day on, old man Diego distanced himself from the world and what is more, from his heart. A heart scarred with grief, a heart that slowly forgot how it felt to be kindled by love.
Until one day, when a young goatherd named Amistad lost his way in the foothills near Diego’s retreat. It happened in an early spring storm. The wind lashed out relentlessly at Amistad’s face, filling him with the icy cold of winter’s death throws. It did not take long before he lost sight of his herd and his trusty dog through the driving sleet in the dusk. Anxiety turned into fear as Amistad floundered between the rocks and shrubs. Little did he know that the more he struggled to find his way, the further he strayed from his herd and the warmth of home.
At that same moment, Diego impatiently beckoned his dog Chico to return home. The old hermit shouted and shouted, but the dog was nowhere to be found. Suddenly, he heard barking at a stone’s throw to the right. Diego frowned with agitation and ran towards the barking sound he knew to be Chico’s. What he saw when he came to the dog, startled him. There, huddled against an enormous boulder, sat a boy with his arms wrapped around him for warmth. The frightened boy looked up and Diego shuddered from the helpless expression on the boy’s bleak face. This he had not bargained for. What was he to do? He rejected the thought of taking the goatherd home with him, but could not help but feel empathy. Somewhere deep inside he knew he could not leave him out here in the freezing cold to die. So, cursing under his breath, he stooped and picked Amistad up in his arms. Moments later the boy fainted from exhaustion.
By the fire, wrapped in sheepskins, Amistad slowly opened his eyes. As his cheeks started to glow, he wiggled his toes and realised how close he had been to death. Diego mumbled inaudibly but was surprised when a hint of joy glistened his heart.
“Mama...,” murmured Amistad as he tossed his head.
Diego recognized the signs of fever. He knelt beside him and dabbed his forehead with a moist cloth to ease the heat that surged through Amistad’s veins. It helped, and before long Amistad fell asleep.
However, throughout the night the fever continued to plague him. Diego kept guard by the boy’s side while he tossed and turned, raved and whimpered and fought for his life. Into the small hours Diego caught himself nodding off. In between he drifted off into contemplation. He remembered moments in his own childhood when he too had struggled with illness, and his mother had stayed by his side throughout the night. Now tears filled his eyes as he was overcome by a feeling of paternal love. The grief he had felt from the loss of his own sons returned to haunt him and knock at the doors of his heart.
The next morning, Diego awoke from a deep dream-filled sleep, as the first rays of sunlight found their way through the small opening in the wall he called his window. A faint smile appeared on his sleepy face when he looked aside to see Amistad open his eyes. The boy smiled radiantly.
“Thank you...,” he said.
Again Diego’s eyes filled with tears, only this time because of love. He too smiled as his heart felt as if it would burst from the surge of warmth inside. Amistad is the Spanish word for friendship, and it was friendship that, after all those years, had opened old man Diego’s heart to love once more.
Inti Illimani – Dolencias (ailments)
‘Shepherd’s Place’ by Yarik Mishin on Freeimages.com
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