Flipper lay sleeping on the Renault’s front seat, beside me, after a
frantic greeting in Vicente’s clinic. He slept as if we had never
been separated and he had never been sick. He was back on his feet
again, literally. Agile as ever, he had even been able to run to
me when Vicente opened his cage door and with a great leap he had jumped
into my arms and both of us were crying. I reached over and ran my
hand over his rough, grey coat. I felt his small, muscled body
heave a great sigh of contentment as I did so, and I had the distinct
impression that we both felt that things had at last returned to normal.
was on my way to San Carlos, up in the north-eastern part of the island
where an appointment with the local teacher had been arranged for me.
I was to meet him at the local school at recess time, when I would be
able to see the local boys at play in the local schoolyard. And
there I would be able to choose the boy whom I thought would do best for
the main character in the photo book I was to write and photograph about
his life in Ibiza. It was to be designed to be read by American
kids like him. That is, if he would have me.
There would be a lot of work and a lot of time that would have to be
devoted to the project and I had to be as certain as one could be, that
the elected protagonist would not opt out half way through the course,
thus nullifying all the work already invested. Working with
children was always a bit of a gamble because they could not be counted
upon to understand the larger importance of the project to which they
had committed themselves. They were far more prone than adults to
act on impulse and emotion, far more volatile and inherently egocentric
in their outlook. It behoved me, therefore, to select a boy as
carefully as I could, who promised to be steady, who was attractive in
his style and appearance, and who also was at least intuitively oriented
toward ignoring the camera, a talent only slightly related to acting,
but one which, if lacking, would nullify even the greatest photography.
Given all these prerequisites there was then the question of how to
decide how genuinely motivated the youngster would be, if he was
motivated at all. If he jumped at the opportunity too quickly,
there was a good chance his enthusiasm was of the short lifetime
variety. If he turned down the chance to star in an only faintly
understood literary project designed to play before an audience of
foreign children, well, that was it. I would have to find another
candidate. But, if I was lucky, and he was the kind of boy who
would think about it for a day or two before making his decision, and if
that decision was positive, I would be on safer ground. Finally,
having found the fellow, I would then have to speak with his family and
make sure of their cooperation as well as his. That would include
parents, grand parents, siblings, cousins, uncles and aunts, and
sometimes even friends. Unless all these ingredients were present
the cake wouldn’t bake.
had found that one of the most convincing arguments I could muster in
favour of my project was fast asleep beside me. Flipper so easily
wormed his way into the hearts of little boys, as well as into the
hearts of their families, that reasoned discussion was quite often
supererogatory. Flipper was, in fact, a kind of secret weapon.
The realization that he would have Flipper’s companionship for the long
time that the making of the book would take, was usually a convincing
enough argument in itself to my elected boy, to encourage him to make an
affirmative decision. But there were surprises, of course.
Sometimes the boy I chose was afraid of dogs, even little ones. So
you see, choosing a boy successfully was a complicated project in
itself. And I approached it with great care.
About two kilometres from San Carlos I had an accident with the Renault
of a kind which was verifiably soul destroying. We were chugging
along the narrow asphalt roadway at a fair clip, as pot holes would
permit. There was a magnificent valley view opening up on my left.
It was bathed in the blessed sunlight of Ibiza. On my right was
the sheer face of a low, solid, red-rock embankment which was what was
left of the ledge through which the road had been cut. You can see
that cut still. It is perhaps two hundred meters long and about
two and a half to three meters high. About half way along its length,
and immediately before my front wheels, a full grown sheep suddenly fell
or leaped from the top of this embankment. It was impossible
to avoid it or to stop and I ran it down and killed it. I had been
entirely unaware of the sheep being above me as I drove along, of
course, and its instantaneous materialization in front of me gave me
absolutely no chance to stop in time. Whether the sheep had been
frightened by the car’s approach and jumped in panic or whether it had
simply lost its footing and fell, still remains an unanswered question.
But whatever was the cause of the accident, it left me shaking and
depressed. To make matters worse, it was not instant death. The animal
suffered horribly for some time before it died, its legs jerking
spasmodically and feeble cries coming from it like pathetic accusations.
I suffered with it. Terribly. But there was nothing I could
do. If I had had a gun I would have shot it and put it out of its
misery. But short of using a tire iron on it, the which I could
not bring myself to do, there was nothing for it but to wait it out
until death ended its misery.
There I was on the road, alone and quite fragile, with a dead sheep on
my hands. There was blood all over the front of the car. And
I was a stranger in a land I hardly knew. Did I owe an indemnity?
Was I responsible? Given the circumstances, I guessed I was not.
But what to do? What to say? My quest for a proper boy for
my book had taken on a most unlooked for and unpleasant coloration.
then good luck found Harold. I heard motor noise.
Incredibly, another car was approaching. Very rare, indeed.
In 1965 for two cars to approach San Carlos almost at the same time was
nothing short of miraculous. What was even more miraculous, as it
turned out, was that the driver of the oncoming car was a young lady,
the daughter of the proprietor of a popular and well known place called
Anita’s Bar. Which is still there, on the square of the village,
just opposite the church. She pulled up behind me and immediately
ran ‘round to the front of my car.
“What a pity!” she exclaimed, in English! Then she looked at me
carefully and saw my deep distress. She came to me quickly and
took my hand in hers.
cannot blame yourself,” she said. “This happens sometimes because
the farmer will not put up a proper fence up there” and she pointed to
the top of the embankment. “There is much talk about it.”
felt renewed. I felt as if there was someone on my side. In
a lonely stretch of country road I had killed a sheep and was now being
told by a local girl who miraculously spoke good English that I was not
to be held guilty of any misdoing... Then she saw Flipper.
“He’s wonderful!” she exclaimed! Her enthusiasm knew no bounds.
She would have him in her arms. She would kiss his head. He kissed
her nose. She laughed with gleeful delight. She asked me his name,
his lineage, his age and about his health. Soon she knew all about
him. In the end, I explained my mission to her carefully and she
showed great interest in the whole idea. But until she had to let
go of him in order to get into her car, she held Flipper possessively in
her arms as if he was a child. And all the while, the dead sheep
lay on the road, silent yet accusatory.
“Come,” she said, “I’ll take you to the school. And then I’ll get
a bag and come back for it. There’s nothing as good as fresh,
Together we went on to where she parked before a square building which
was as wide as it was high and as long as it was wide. It is still
standing there, just before you reach San Carlos itself. And it
still is a country school house. And it still has the same
playground area in which I saw perhaps thirty boys leaping and playing
about as we drew up before it.
stood there and marvelled. The accident had delayed my arrival
fortuitously. It had delayed me so that I had missed being formally
introduced to the boys while they were still in their classroom.
The built-in strain, and the behavioural artificiality it produced, had
been entirely avoided. The boys were in their natural environment,
behaving themselves in their natural ways, and entirely unaware of me
and my pending project. All I had to do was to look carefully at
each one of them for a moment or two to get a quick but true idea of
each individual boy’s style and appearance. It didn’t take long to
find my “Juanito”! for that is what he was to be called in my book.
And it didn’t take long for Catalina, for that was the name of my
roadside rescuer, to announce that she would be my translator. She
never thought to ask me if I would have her. It was the way she
was, and I rather admired her for it.