Every other year, since 2001, we visited my Grandparents for Christmas. The wintery spruce in our lounge at home would be exchanged for a potted olive tree that, Gran, in some vague attempt at festivity, would limply adorned with tinsel.
Every year, we ate platefuls of seafood paella on the beachfront, drank cervezas, and the sheer meteorological improbability of snow, in Southern Spain, would bring me down. That was until my granddad introduced me to the Caganer.
After a particularly dragging Christmas Eve at Pepe’s bar, drinking and eating jamón, Granddad ushered me towards a building across the square. He’d been on the brandy since before his siesta.
‘If you’re going to pull a coin from somewhere, then I don’t want to know,’ I said. He chuckled. He knew I could be a bitch sometimes.
As we passed, the Tobacconist’s kiosk glistened under its hat of fluorescent lights. We stopped in front of a house. Its large front window was illuminated: strings of ornate fairy lights framed a nativity scene. Green velvet was draped over a cardboard hillside. There were Shepherds, and kings with gold-leaf crowns, and real hay in the manger.
‘It’s pretty,’ I said.
It took me a good ten minutes to find him. Tucked away behind a market stall, far away from Mary, Joseph the baby. He was crouched down the corner taking a crap- his trousers at his ankles- a thick spiral of brown dropping from his butt.
‘Magnificent, isn’t it?’ Granddad said. ‘He’s a Caganer.’
This man so brazen and free that he would happily swat down and defecate in the middle of Bethlehem wasn’t, Granddad explained, a one off. There were hundreds of these ‘secret poopers’ hidden in nativities throughout the Mediterranean.
I began to laugh. This new awareness filled me up and felt something like waking from sleep. Granddad wrapped his arm around my shoulders and squeezed.
‘These tiny guys are the world’s great levellers,’ he said. ‘Everybody on this earth needs to shit. Never forgot that.’
Keely O’Shaughnessy is a fiction writer with Cerebral Palsy. She is Managing Editor at Flash Fiction Magazine. Her short fiction has appeared in both anthologies, and literary magazines, and her most recent publications include, Solstice Shorts Festival 2020 and 50-Word Stories. You can find her on Twitter @KeelyO_writer.