From the Author
The plot of Ramona is supposed to be bewildering, and I think it is, as the rug is time and again pulled from beneath the feet of the reader. But I can assure you that when you reach the end, the very end, it all becomes clear, and does work after all. What is really happening here is that different perspectives cast a different light on what we know so that we "unknow" it and then know it again. You will understand when you read the book.
As a recent entrant to the world of writing (i.e. this year, 2002), I have yet to win a major award, so I decided to have a novel within a novel, with the fictitious novelist winning the Nobel Prize for Literature: that way, I argue, I get to win a major award, albeit fictitiously and at second hand as it were. Oh, and theres a film in there too, by the way.
I do not want to say more and destroy the suspense, but my first readers have given me feedback that made it really worthwhile to write the book.
I hope you enjoy Ramona as much as I enjoyed writing it and then reading it.
JJH July 2002.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Ramona did not know where she came from: she knew neither her parents nor her precise age. It was early spring in the square beside the Cathedral of Seville, the air heavy with the soft scent of orange blossom. The little girl sat among the orange trees as if daydreaming in the afternoon sun, when the uniformed police officer approached her. He had seen her earlier, too young to be alone, waiting for her parents in the Cathedral? No, too long a time by now.
She told him her name was Ramona. He guessed she was five or six years old, but she could not say where her parents were, or who was with her. He asked if she was with her older sister, her aunt, her nursemaid, only to elicit the same blank response. When he asked where she came from, she simply said it was a long way away, but she spoke with the timbre of the local Spanish. Fernando was taken with the pretty child. He held her hand as he walked with her around the square, hoping to find the desperate parents. No one. They entered the Cathedral. No one. They walked around the square again. No one. She remained quiet and dreamy, unresponsive to his questions.
Back at the police station with his new charge, this was the report that Fernando was filing, when he learnt that there had been a tragic accident earlier in the afternoon near the Cathedral. A young man and woman had been run down, fatally. They had no identification on them. Was there a connection to the young girl? While photographs were arranged to show to Ramona, Fernando took it upon himself to take her to his home to offer her the comfort of his wife and family, with this dreadful prospect looming before her.
Ramona remained withdrawn, dreamy not sullen. If she knew the man and the woman in the photographs she would not tell, but the police decided they were not the parents. Nor was there any clue to the identity of these two unfortunates. What to do now? Fernandos sister Clara was staying with him for a few days. Sister Clara was the principal of a village school in the Sierra Morena to the north of Seville. She suggested to the officials that she take Ramona up there with her, while the search for Ramonas identity went on. She asked little Ramona, if she would like to come with her into the mountains, and for the first time the little girl smiled as she shook her dark curls and asked if there would be snow.
And the paperwork? Fernando had asked, but they knew the states bureaucracy would be benign to them, even today: their elder brother had been one of the many personal physicians who attended General Franco. The family joke was that with the scale of resources of the Spanish health service devoted to this one client, he should remain as healthy as any president of the United States. By the time Ronald Reagan tested this proposition some years later, absorbing lead bullets into his personal body space, Franco had long since a(de)scended to wherever it is that late dictators go.
Andalusia and Seville were beautiful but poor in those days, long before the World Exposition brought its glitz to the city. Sister Claras little green Seat left the suburbs of Seville, passing vast mounds of the citys waste in open fields. Their journey took them north across the plains of the Quadalquivir River, before they ascended towards the west. Passing the town of Nerva, the green Seat chugged behind great trucks of ore through the bleak terrain of the open cast mines surrounding Rio Tinto, where metals, first zinc and later copper, have been extracted for thousands of years. From there they turned north again, into the western tip of the Sierra Morena near the border with Portugal. The road was narrow and potholed, twisting left and right as it climbed into the hills. They passed through villages, deserted for the Siesta, and eventually reached Sister Claras village. Stone built houses lined the street, their fronts decorated with bright ceramic tiles. Sparsely wooded hills rose around the village, and the afternoon sun filtered through the trees with the welcoming glow of home for Sister Clara, her home and her school.
Claras upbringing in a convent had equipped her for the life of a schoolteacher, but it had not trained her for marriage, and that meant, in rural Spain, sacrificing the opportunity of motherhood. Though she did not know it as they drove into the village, the little girl beside her in the car would take on the role of daughter. The days of search for Ramonas identity became weeks and then months. Finally, with the help of Francos personal physician, little Ramona was officially assigned to the care of Sister Clara, who by this time wished for nothing more than that, the fulfilment of a dream that had grown these past months. As for Ramona, she now had an identity and a home.
The schoolhouse was a white stone building with arched windows that gave onto a courtyard, planted with three orange trees. For the village children this was their playground after school and where they would meet to play at weekends. In the corner of the courtyard Sister Clara had a desk where she would mark work and prepare for the next day, as she supervised the children at play. Often she would gaze wistfully at Ramona. How could it be that this beautiful little girl could be abandoned or lost in the middle of Seville? Who could lose this jewel? How could they lose it? Who could bear to lose it