The small Citroën takes the narrow curves in stride as matchstick eucalyptus trees zip by. Every so often a break in the foliage reveals a channel of the estuary where it cuts into the green stone-hedged fields.
We pass an oxcart filled with fresh hay, the old man staring straight ahead from his wooden seat. “How much horsepower does an oxcart have?” I ask my sister-in-law in Spanish. She laughs: “Ningún—none—only ox power.”
Up ahead we pass through the tiny village of O Pedra, “The Rock.” My sister-in-law tells me the local joke about the necessity of the novia to pass through O Pedra before reaching Cariño—tenderness—our final destination.
We enter the narrow winding cobblestone streets of the port of Cariño and weave our way up the inclines past the fountain in the small plaza. Up above, at the cemetery, the vista opens up. From here you can look down on the red-tiled roofs of the town past the ancient stone wharf across the bay to the Isle of San Vincente and the large expanse of white beach beyond. Off to the left, away to the northeast, the jagged coastline stretches all the way to the punta of Estaca de Bares, the northern most point of Spain.
It is a clear day, and the blue sky is filled with puffy white clouds driven by the wind across the Cabo Ortegal. At our back, the Serra da Capelada rise steeply from the sea. On the other side of the bay, behind the long stretch of white sand beach, lies the Serra da Faladoira range. All of the mountains are draped in green except for the outcroppings of bleached grey rock at the peaks.
We stop at the cemetery to place a bouquet of flowers from the nuptial mass at the grave of my father-in-law. The vase is top heavy and keeps falling forward off the narrow lip of white-washed concrete. The graveyard mason offers a small piece of brick to balance the base.
We return to the car and continue up the unpaved road to the oddly shaped three-story yellow house whose footprint resembles a trapezoid.
An old mastiff barks and strains at his chain near the back entrance. Next to him two emaciated cats mew a lament. Chickens cluck inside a wire pen, scratching the ground. My sister-in-law calls out, but no one answers.
We push open the heavy mahogany door and step into the coolness of the marble corridor. A few steps down the hallway lead us to the open door of the bedroom. My sister-in-law raps on the lintel: “Se puede?”
Inside an old man sits upright in a chair by the window next to the bed. He smiles when we enter. His hair is combed straight back, revealing ruddy cheeks and bright eyes that sparkle like sea glass on the beach in the morning sun.
“Hola, tío!” my sister-in-law greets him. “A ver, si conoces a este hombre?” She says this in reference to me. Four summers have come and gone since last he saw me.
He stares at my face and smiles. His eyes continue to sparkle, but there is no recognition.
“Soy el marido de tu sobrina,” I tell him. “I am the husband of your niece.”
Suddenly the scales fall from his eyes. “Si, si; le conozco. Ahora le reconozco.”
“Que tal?” I ask him. “How are things with you?”
“Regular,” he says. Then he adds: “Con los 90 años que tengo.”
“Uncle, you aren’t 90 years old. You are only 86.”
“Am I? I must have made a mistake.”
“He likes to watch the football on TV,” my sister-in-law says. “He was watching when Spain won the World Cup this month.”
El tío Nayo nods his head. “Jugaban bien,” he says. “They played well.”
I notice the catheter than exits from his trousers to the bag at the side of his chair. “Y esto?”
“La próstata,” he says. “El riñón.”
“He has a marcapasos as well,” my sister-in-law says. “The last time I took him to the residencia for a checkup, they found that his pacemaker hadn’t been working for four months!”
“Amazing,” I say. “Some hearts are smarter than machines.”
“They said that he had a heart attack at some point in the past. But when we asked him, he couldn’t recall any episode of chest pain.”
El tío Nayo nods his head. “E verdad,” he says.
“Do you get outside these days?” I ask him.
“No, hombre. Me quedo aquí en mi habitación.” He turns his head to look out of the window. We look out over the red-tiled roofs and the fishing boats in the port across the bay to the mountains beyond.
“Aquí se puede vivir como un rey,” I tell him. “Here you can live like a king.”
El tío Nayo turns his gaze to the window and looks out at the vista below with misty glistening eyes.