When we first moved here, the village seemed to be home to a surfeit of satanic and unholy animals. Some belonged to neighbours, some were just wild visitors.
Emilio had a half a dozen goats and his lad used to herd them across the unfenced part of our land to graze in the olive grove: an enduring image is that of a sleek black goat poised, watchful, on a rock or stone wall, or up on two legs under an olive tree. ( I am glad to say that despite the ease with which he assumed this vertical posture, I never heard the horned one speak.)
Then there were the chickens that constantly escaped from the coop in Javi’s yard: the iridescent rooster who’d strut atop the henhouse roof and the white hens whose feathers were all that remained in our orchard when the cats got to them before Javi had even realised they were missing.
Javi had sheep, too, who seemed to give birth regularly to deformed offspring – or maybe just weakling lambs – that he claimed ended their brief lives on the barbecue, though I am not so sure there was no accompanying sacrificial chanting .
There were ragged cats of all colours, all sly and acrimonious. One particularly nasty grey nearly frightened me out of my wits one night when he jumped up and stuck his head between the bars of the window: I swear that if the face wasn’t human, the expression of resentment and loathing was.
We had bats nesting in the garage and owls in the pine copse. Frogs sang at night down by the river, and toads and hedgehogs skulked in the ivy. There were snakes and lizards, too, of course, rats and mice and locusts – all seen as often as not in the mouths of the aforementioned cats.
But times change, the urban influence encroaches and the neighbours are older and no longer keep so many animals. Feral cats are short-lived and another generation is mostly domesticated. (We do still find strange blood stains on the verandah in the morning, but I don’t ask and they don’t tell.) I’m now used to the wildlife and don’t notice it as much as when I was recently arrived from the city.
But I do still jump when I trip over the friend in the picture; he lives in the storm drain and only surfaces occasionally and never for very long. Unusually, he stayed long enough the other night to have his picture taken.