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The Iberian Horseshoe — A Journey

Part II. South West

How We Captured Toby

Steve Porter
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Mary was feeling productive. Cardboard boxes were used as makeshift canvases. Golden and violet flowers bloomed in the sunlit room. She painted the spectacular gorge of Ronda from where locals were thrown to their deaths during the Civil War. She painted the sumptuous Parador in Arcos and vultures in flight over the hilltop village of Vejer de la Frontera. Another sunny white town began to outgrow its surroundings in our studio.

We needed an animal to complete the scene. Tonto, our cat, was staying with extended family in Scotland. Though he was orange like the sun he would have found it hard to cope with the competition on the paseo Marítimo. Dogs were being shaved in preparation for the long summer. Only their fluffy boots were spared a severe clipping. Big white wolves prowled the pavements with eyes that told of an Arctic past. If you did not have a dog in Cádiz you were nobody. We were fed up with our invisibility and wanted our own novelty to show off.

There was one special character that we had marked down for dognapping. He was a longhaired terrier who always wore a ribbon tied on top of his head in the style of a baby Flintstone. We called him Toby. In the early afternoon, after bread and jam and a glass painting section, Mary would go to the balcony in time to see him pass for his regular walk on the esplanade.

“There goes Toby!”

“What colour of ribbon has he got?”

“He’s having a red day! Toby! Toby!”

Sometimes he would look up and acknowledge his fan club. I always knew that he was smiling even if I could not see his incisors from the eleventh floor.

One day, an opportunity arose to capture the little dog with the widest grin in all Andalusia. I was spreading jam on the daily baguette when I was interrupted from my routine by a knock on the door. Who could it be? Juan was the only person who called and the rent for the month had already been paid. I opened the door to find two firemen standing there.

“¿Está usted bien? ¿Hay algún fuego?”

“No. We’re fine. There’s no fire here.”

They entered the flat and had a look around while we got ready to leave the building. Nothing to worry about, they said, just a routine check, which wouldn’t take long. Mary put her shoes on and grabbed the camera. It wasn’t every day we had drama on Amílcar Barca. We were still eating our bread and jam as we took the long walk down, passing several firemen who were banging on doors and checking passageways. On the street were three fire engines with flashing lights. A large crowd were chatting away excitedly in Andalusian Spanish, hoping to see some smoke and maybe even a resident or two being rescued from the flames. I glanced at my watch. Two o’clock. I recognised the young man in sunglasses and white T-shirt at the crossing. Behind him was a small white terrier. The young man joined the fringes of the crowd and asked what was going on. Toby looked up nonchalantly and assessed the situation for himself. I felt certain of a happy outcome, even though a major tragedy would not have wiped the smile from the dog’s face. He drifted over to the wall and pissed against it. Seizing my chance I moved around the back of the crowd and tempted Toby onto the beach with a piece of jammy baguette.

Mary saw what I was doing and crept round the back of the owner. He was in deep conversation with a man who claimed to have arrived first on the scene.

“You kneel down with him and I’ll take photo of you together,” I said to Mary.

Mary did so and Toby put on his best film star smile for the camera while I captured the moment. Then we changed roles with me hugging Toby and feeding him the rest of the baguette as a reward. He liked to lick the jam off first before munching the bread. I figured that he had a taste for it now and when we wanted his company Mary would just have to send a few smoke signals out from the top floor and I could go down and dangle a jammy breadstick out the front door. Toby would come up and sniff among the white town and the flowers in our studio. He would even be forgiven for taking an occasional piss.

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Copyright ©Steve Porter, 2004
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Date of publicationOctober 2006
Collection RSSGlobal Fiction
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