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Story

The Escape

By  Leyles Rubio León
Illustrated by Henry González
Selection and Compilation: Carolina Fonseca

The tour guide’s monologue drones on nearby. It’s annoying and the same as all the others: “They have always been here in Puerta del Sol, albeit in different locations. Until 1986, they were located on the east side, in the vicinity of Calle de Alcalá and Carrera de San Jerónimo. That year they were moved to the upper reaches of Vía del Carmen when Mayor Enrique Tierno Galván championed the remodeling and refurbishment of the plaza. They were moved back to their original site in 2009, when Ruiz-Gallardón oversaw a full-scale renovation of the plaza.”

“Why don’t we leave?” asks the Bear. “I’m tired of having been in one place for so long.”

“I don’t understand why you want to run away when we’re fine here,” responds the Strawberry Tree.

“We’ve been stuck here for who knows how long, suffering this cold every winter and this heat every summer. Don’t you envy all these people who come and go, who are here in Madrid one minute and in another part of the world the next?”

“I like things placid. That’s just the way I am.”

“Don’t be such a stick in the mud. You can dream, be different. Imagine if we could be nomadic sculptures, not limited to one point on this urban landscape; we could roam the city.”

“You’re saying we should split, just like that,” he says, not noticing that both of them have adopted the words of other generations.

They see her there every day at the same time, smiling ruefully: “The work by sculptor Antonio Navarro Santafé was unveiled in 1967. It was commissioned by the Department of Culture of the City of Madrid. The figures are made of stone and bronze. They weigh nearly twenty tons and stand some 13 feet tall. They rest on a square, tiered granite pedestal.”

“Where could we go? What would our lives be like without any responsibilities?” asks Strawberry Tree.

“We would go with the flow, and when we come to a place we like, we find some kind of gig to earn a living.”

“Such as…? My only experience is as a statue.”

“Well…the most common job is pizza delivery for the chain pizzerias. Those companies just want someone who’s willing to work a lot for very little, and if possible, doesn’t arrive more than half an hour late.

“You’re crazy! We can’t do that.”

“Or, better yet, we could sign up for one of those cruises and see other lands. With all the languages we’ve learned just by listening, I’m sure they would hire us immediately.”

“What nonsense!”

The polyglot group milled around, not realizing they were hearing the same spiel: “The strawberry tree began to appear on the city’s coat-of-arms in the 13th century after a battle for influence between the Madrid Town Council and the Church. The Town Council was granted control of the forests, while the Church was given possession of the pastures. At first, the bear was shown with a tower, which was later replaced with the enormous plant that was common on the outskirts of the city during medieval times.”

“And once we’ve chosen the place, where would we live? With whom?”

“With whomever we want! Modern young people are caring and helpful. Many share apartments. They wouldn’t mind letting us sleep on the sofa or in the hallway for a few days. But there’s one thing: you have to accept their dogs. Keeping dogs is very popular now. We have to find a way to stop the animals from marking their territory on you.”

“That’s even worse! You’re discouraging me. I don’t want a job, I don’t want any responsibility, I don’t want money, I don’t want to go anywhere. I’m not like you: I can’t even hunt for my own food.”

“Or we could live alone for a while, give ourselves time to figure out what to do. Our lives have no meaning right now!”

“It’s ok with me. I’m fine like this. I don’t need to get away or leave my place. Why don’t you go away by yourself?”

“I wouldn’t go without you.”

“Another bear like you would come along.”

The guide is relieved to have nearly finished with the spiel: “It shows the main heraldic symbols of the city and of Spain; the Strawberry Tree is taller than the Bear and the Bear rests its paws on the trunk, seemingly about to chomp on one of the fruits.”

“Don’t you get bored hearing the same thing day after day?”

“In fact I do. But I don’t want to leave civilization. If I had my way, I’d keep everything as it is,” answers the Tree.

“You would meet more people, but people you want to see. You could spend time in beachside capital cities. Or far away from the tourist traps. Have you thought about how long it has been since wild creatures roamed the world freely?”

“No! No!” rustled the branches.

“What’s the matter with you?”

“I’m trying to be realistic.”

“Didn’t you once say that you want to live a different life? Well, you would.”

Just for an instant, silence vanquishes the din of the multitude of people.

“We’ll be on the news. They’ll come looking for us. We should leave a message, don’t you think?” continues the Bear.

“Mmm.”

“I can’t think of anything else. Sometimes, you just have to take a leap of faith. Do you remember when a teary tourist told us that both the longest and shortest journeys begin with a single step?”

The guide notes: “It was decided to make the Bear look like it was eating the leaves, since it was believed that the leaves were effective against the plague. As you can see, they are one of the icons of the capital. Now is a good time to take photos, since we’ll be going to the Plaza Mayor soon.”

“People think I’m trying to eat you. The truth is that I’m telling you about our escape plan,” says the Bear. I’ll set it in motion. No later than early morning.”

“Reconsider. I wouldn’t be surprised if they take us off the pedestal soon and move us to another plaza. That might be enough for you.”

“We’re leaving today…”

“And do you have any frigging idea of how to take the first step?”