A touching account of friendship and betrayal in Moorish Spain, WALK ON, BRIGHT BOY evokes the pleasures and purposes of walking as a way of engaging with life. Marrying a coming-of-age tale with Gothic horror, it is at once an adventure story, a celebration of the power of dreams, magic and illusion, and an uplifting fable about the joys of living, even in the shadow of death. Both timely and timeless, it can be read as an allegory of contemporary political expediencies and as a parable of personal enlightenment.
Charles gives an overview of the book:
My parents did not intend that I should learn letters, still less that I end my days confined and awaiting the pleasure of the Holy Spanish Inquisition. The confinement is perhaps a consequence of the letters, but I do not regret the learning that has brought me to this pass. Without words I would at best have become the factor for a monastery, laying it hard on tenants and counting the tithe on my tally stick, would in my own sense have been a man without language or favour. As regards my present situation, it is like the Moor said, no one throws stones on a tree without fruit.
The Moor was our acequero. My people knew nothing of the mountain, so one moor in each village was made to remain in order to maintain the acequias and show the Christian settlers how to irrigate the land. It was a thankless task, to be a stranger in one's own land, ensuring those who had taken it from you succeeded in replacing you, but the Moor was not a bitter man and whatever sorrow pricked his heart it was never painted on his face. Walking the acequias, clearing the channels of rocks, shoring up the embankment, crawling along cliff faces where the canal was carved into the rock, he was as bright and sparkling as the water he brought to our crops, and we children loved him for it, for we needed his tricks and tales as our parents had needed his knowledge of irrigation when they arrived.
I still remember the terror of being a child. I do not mean the fear caused by incomprehension or ignorance, nor the dread of being punished or beaten, but the terror of being taken. Children disappeared, you see. Every once in a while, one would go missing. And though the villagers searched the riverbeds and the wells and the caves and the bottom of the tajos, nothing was ever found. They just disappeared. And until my ninth year, this tax on youth was endured with the stoicism of despair. As the Inquisitor knew too well, a people who have been displaced want confidence in their tenure and, if whole populations could be moved by potentates, a mere child might be spirited away like chaff on the wind.
Then a baby died. On the whole, that is what babies did. I'm not talking about the disappeared, but the newborn, whose grasp on life was even more tenuous. Only the occasional child made it past the age of three. Infancy was so hazardous, survival itself might have been reckoned suspect, the achievement of adulthood virtual confirmation of some occult mischief. But in this instance, having lost three children in as many years, one among the disappeared but two months earlier, the distraught mother claimed witchcraft. And once the cry was out, everyone was thinking the year's poor crop, the scolding wife, the beating husband, the indolent son, the unkind father, the rats in the corn, the cold, the heat, the floods, the drought...in short, the miserable lot of a benighted people was not that, not what it was, not normal in a disrupted community transplanted to a place not of its own making, but something that might be blamed on an external agent, and so resolved if only the agent were identified. People love to ascribe blame. It makes life so much easier. And if they could have witches in the town, why not in the country, where the cross was so much thinner on the ground. Not literally, of course. Literally it was everywhere, daubed on the walls and along the paths, proclaiming our fragile victory. But figuratively, ours was barely a Christian land and the painted crosses faded fast in that harsh climate.
Our priest was a poor illiterate man, scraping a precarious subsistence from the soil like the rest of us. And with hindsight, I realize he knew nothing of the liturgy, but had learned a miscellany of Latin phrases which he scattered about his services more or less at random, filling the gaps with a Mumbo-Jumbo of his own making. If he represented God in the aldea, doubtless the Devil was having a very gay time of it indeed. So when the cry of witchcraft was raised, he was helpless and outside authority was required, someone with the wherewithal to assign blame and mete out punishment.
Charles Davis was born and educated, and has travelled and worked. He now lives and writes. That has always seemed to me to be enough biography for any writer, but being an avid reader, too, I appreciate that curiosity demands a bit more, so . . . .