The old man introduced himself as Shmuel Eregast, the last Jew of the village. He wiped some crumbs from the table and let the dog lick them from his hand.
'What is it that brings you here?' We clinked our glasses and drank.
'Just passing through,' I replied. 'I am looking for a friend of mine. I know he stayed at that old house in the valley, just down the road.'
'The consul's house, I know it. It's haunted, you know? People call it La Casa Embrujada. What was your friend doing there? Are you hungry?' He looked at me quizzically, his head tilted sideways and his right hand playing with the long, silver and curly white hair of his sidelocks. He didn't wait for an answer, but continued talking. 'They all left some years ago because of the draught, the land brought forth nothing but weeds and bitter herbs. There was no work. They left.'
'And you stayed.'
'Yes..., yes,' his old eyes wandered around the room as if looking for something or someone. 'It was a sad day and I didn't want to leave. Who would guard the synagogue, who would look after the graves of our ancestors? We've been here since time immemorial. I stayed. Are you sure you do not want to eat something?' Old Shmuel stood up and walked with some difficulty to a shelf where he put a few eggs, a loaf of bread, a plate and a salt shaker in a basket. In a tiny sink he poured water from a tin cup over his hands and recited a blessing.
He dried his hands and came back to the table and sat down again. There followed another blessing and then Shmuel Eregast tore the bread and handed me a piece. 'Let's eat,' he said. I tasted it and found it surprisingly fresh.
'My son visits me regularly and brings supplies. As you can see, I want for nothing, so as to be prepared for the time when my friends and family decide to come back.' He cracked an egg on the table top.
'Who's Deborah?' I asked. 'She followed me all the way to the cemetery.'
'Did you dance with her?'
'As a matter of fact I did. Last night. How did you know?'
'Deborah, the consuls wife, loved dancing and singing and she still does whenever she gets an opportunity. She died years ago.'
I wiped my mouth with the back of my hand and took a sip of the wine. I nodded as if it made perfect sense to dance with a woman who had died years ago. Happens everyday.
'Poor old Deborah is locked up in that terrible house,' Shmuel continued. 'She can't leave, unless someone takes her, accompanies her. Someone from this world, that is, not the other. More wine?'
I nodded and he filled up my glass.
'That's why she followed you this morning when you left the house. Deborah can't find peace, you see, because her father, the cantor of our little synagogue, lies buried in a Christian plot. He can't find peace there either and that's why his daughter comes to his grave and recite Kaddish for him.'
'I did not really accompany her, she followed me. I had barely noticed.'
'You brought her as if on the wings of an angel. You did a good deed.'