He has the face of a beggar; begs with her eyes. His hazel-colored eyes, restless, fearful, follow the movements of the one from whom they expect something, like the eyes of the wise monkey at whom they throw candy, and who, devouring some, hopes and lusts for others. That face is not repugnant, although it reveals moral misery, little dressing, no neatness, because it expresses all this, and more, in a classic way, with features and drawing of the purest artistic realism: it is our Smoothie, who is called that, a poor man by Velázquez. It seems a model made on purpose by Nature to represent the beggar by trade, tanned by the sun of the loafers in the porches of the churches, on the edge of the roads. Their misery is peasant; He does not speak of hunger or lack of light and air, but of bad food and bad weather; He is not pale, but terrified, It does not show profiles of bones, but folds of soft, flabby flesh. Just as his eyes move, imploring alms and stalking the prey, his mouth chews incessantly, with a movement of the lips that seems to hide the absence of teeth. And yet, yes, he has teeth, black, but strong. He hides them as one who hides his weapons. It is a disgraceful carnivore. When he is left alone or among people from whom nothing can wait, that impatience of his gestures turns into an expression of humble melancholy without picaresque dignity, without ceasing to be sad; There is no honesty in that expression, but there is something that deserves forgiveness, not for the low and villainous, but for the painful. Anyone, when contemplating him at such moments, remembers Gil Blas, Don Pablos, Maese Pedro, Patricio Rigüelta; but like the latter, all those characters with a village tinge that makes this mix something worthy of the picaresque eclogue, if there were such a genre.
Zalamero has been a deputy in a portion of legislatures; he knows Madrid by heart, inside and out; enter all kinds of circles no matter how high they are; he makes his clothes with a notable tailor, and yet he walks through the streets as if down a lane in his remote and poor village.
Zalamero’s pants have knee pads on the same afternoon of the day they are released. By an instinct of taste, which he does not realize, he always dresses in brown, and in winter the cloth of his suits is always hairy. The pockets of his jacket, in which he puts his big hands very often, look like saddlebags.
It is not known why, Zalamero always brings crumbs in those deep and dirty pockets, and the worst thing is that, distracted, he takes them between his tobacco-stained fingers and puts them in his mouth.
With such manners and figure, he brushes against the most embattled characters, and they all make him much case. “It is a bird of account”, they all say.
“Smoothie, smart boy,” repeat the more leashed ministers. Fascinates requesting. The least observant sees in him something symbolic; he is a personification of the genius of the race in what is most miserable, in servile laziness, begging and cazurra. “I am a friar,” says the same Zalamero—; a modern friar. I am of the order of parliamentary mendicants. ” Always with his bag on his shoulder, he goes from ministry to ministry asking for pieces of bread to exchange in his village for influence, for votes. He has distributed more jobs of twelve thousand reales below, than a whole family of those whose father is the head of a party or of a fraction of a party. There is no stale bread for him; it is the result of everything; in any combination he is content with the worst; the worst, but with salary. His employees go to the Canary Islands, to the Philippines; they almost always run them through water; but they come back, and they usually come back with a covered kidney and grateful.
“What career have you followed, Senor Zalamero?” The ladies ask him.
And he answers smiling:
“Ma’am, I have always been a simple public man.”
“Ah!” Were you born a deputy?
“Deputy, no, ma’am; but candidate I think so.
“And have you made many speeches in Congress?”
—No, ma’am: because I don’t like to talk about politics.
Indeed; Zalamero, who follows any conversation with pleasure and interest, yawns when it comes to politics, remains sad, with the face of melancholic misery that characterizes him, and falls silent while looking suspiciously at the preopinant.
He does not believe that any man of talent has what are called political ideas, and to speak to Zalamero about monarchy or republic, democracy, individual rights, etc., etc., is to give him proof of being stupid or of treating him with little confidence. Political ideas, creeds, as he says, have been invented for idiots and for newspapers and deputies to have something to say. Not that he flaunts political skepticism. Do not; that wouldn’t count. He belongs to a party like everyone else; But it is one thing to follow the humor of the sovereign people, to play a role in the comedy in which everyone admits theirs, so as not to go out of tune, and another thing is that between distinguished people, of good society, they talk about the ideas in which they do not believe no one.
Smoothie, in the bosom of confidence, declares that he has become a public man … out of laziness, out of sheer inertia. “By letting me, by letting me go, he says, I have been made a deputy. I never liked working; I always had to seek the company of the lazy people, of those who are in the public square, in the cafe, whipping the streets at hours when busy men are nowhere to be found. What was to do? I became fond of public affairs: I found myself involved in the businesses of the lazy, the unemployed, in elections. I was a voter and vote hunter, like someone who is a player. When i knew I quite voted for myself. The progress of my science consisted in looking higher and higher for influence. I have reached this synthesis: everything is done with money, but above. The higher up and the more money, the better. He who is not rich does not stop managing money for that; There is for this the third party of the great shameful contracts. The money of others, in comings and goings that I planned, has served me as if it were mine. ”
While many characters are throwing the bofes to secure a district, and today they leave here, tomorrow through the hills of Úbeda, Zalamero has his election guaranteed forever in the quiet electoral garden that he cultivates, fertilizing his lands with all the manure he finds in the roads, in garbage dumps, where there is compost of any kind.
Although he treats duchesses, great men, illustrious heroes, famous millionaires, courtiers and diplomats, deep down, Zalamero despises them all, and is only happy and only speaks with sincerity when he is going to tour the district, and in a tavern, or under the trees of a pumarada, before the landscape that their eyes have seen since childhood, drains the jug of cider or the glass of wine, yawns without concealment, stretches out their arms, and in the light of the moon, with the poetic suggestion of the silver rays that incite confidences, he exclaims with his tender and hoarse voice of a classic beggar, addressing one of his intimate villagers, agents, electors, his creatures.
“… And later, God willing, as others have arrived, I can become a minister … and since I am not ambitious, I swear to God that I am happy with the thirty thousand reales of unemployment; yes, the thirty thousand … here, in this land of my parents, in the village, under these trees, with you …
And Zalamero is truly touched and sighs because he has spoken with his heart. Deep down, it is like the water carrier who gathers ochavos and dreams of the land. Zalamero, the palatial man of the parliamentary system, the poor man of the Court of Miracles … of the conference hall: the representative mendicant does not dream of grandeur, he does not want to put the country in his fist, impose a creed.
To be a minister for eight days, to stay with thirty thousand … and to the village. He is as Cincinnatus as a Smoothie can be. It does not want to be burdensome to the country. “If they had given me a career, today would be something. But what should a man like me aspire to if not to be a dismissed minister when old age no longer allows him to work … the district? “