It was only when he was standing there, looking in through the window that Satur knew a number could be his salvation. El Gordo, they called it – "The Fat One”. The most lucrative prize of the Spanish Christmas lottery. Everything else had failed in his life.
The process of discovering the number hadn't been a conscious one. It had been a gradual realization over time and due to some very curious circumstances.
He had been sitting in a field on a bright morning in December. He was eating bread and chorizo they'd given him at the restaurant he'd passed in the last village. It wasn't rare to see butterflies in Andalusia at this time of year but three together of three completely different species was a marvel. A tortoiseshell, a cabbage white and a spectacular swallow tail danced around a thistle in ever decreasing circles. They then settled one after the other on the exact same flower and froze into a timeless tranquility. The message was clear and the message was the number 3. At the time, Satur hadn't known the significance of this number but he noted it down with a broken pencil in a little notebook he kept in a plastic bag. Something was changing in his destiny. He felt it in the breeze that finally worried the butterflies into flight again.
The number of the next Fat One could never be known by guessing or calculation. It had to be revealed through a subtle sign from Nature. Indeed, the next number had been just that. A few days later, Satur had been resting by a reservoir. It had been a very dry year with little rainfall and the water level had dropped considerably. In the exact centre of the reservoir a dead tree had been exposed. Its naked blackened branches reached out in all directions as though trying to find the land. Strange dark shapes rested on each branch standing upright and perfectly still. Satur strained his ageing eyes to see more clearly. Each shape was a bird, a cormorant. It wasn't difficult to count them as they were perfectly motionless as if made of wood. 25 exactly. Then, a slight breeze blew and one cormorant flew off flying low across the water. 24. But, no, another immediately flew back and stood on the exact same perch. 25. Satur noted the number in his litle book.
The last number was also created by a certain stillness in time. One morning, Satur had been nearing a peaceful village in the Sierra Morena. He wondered if perhaps he would find something to eat there. He had not eaten since the night before and it was probably now midday. Suddenly, something bright in the grass by the roadside caught his eye. He bent over with difficulty under the weight of the bags on his back and picked it up. A wristwatch. Satur wiped away the dirt that stuck to it with his thumb. The watch had obviously been there for weeks. It now gleamed in the sun with no rust at all. Was it gold? It had stopped, of course. Satur then felt a huge disappointment. One of the hands was missing. It was worthless. But, no. There were two hands. The hour hand was hidden under the minute hand at exactly 12 o'clock. Satur smiled to himself. He could get money for this watch. A gentle breeze then blew towards him from the direction of the villageand he could distinctly hear the sound of the church clock. Satur counted the chimes. …10 …11 …12. 12! Satur looked again at the wristwatch. 12 o'clock. He took out his notebook and wrote it down.
The village was remarkably lively despite its small size. Christmas decorations had been put up along the main street and in the square stood a conical metal Christmas tree with fluttering Christmas cards drawn and coloured by the local primary school children. Piped American Christmas carols drifted through the cold December air. Satur had long ago learned to repress any sensation of excitement or nostalgia about Christmas and the smells of candyfloss and hot buñuelos from the village street stalls just made him feel hungrier.
It was then he saw it. Why he was looking in the first place must have been destiny. There was no other reason Satur should have read the numbers of the Christmas lottery tickets in the local lottery administration window.
Satur stared hard at the number. Then he took out his little book and checked the numbers he had written: 3 – 25 – 12. Then he knew all would be well again. He had to buy this lottery ticket and, of course, he would win the Fat One. His life as a vagabond would be over and he could be happy once more. He approached the lottery administration window and offered the gold watch he had found to a young man who frowned at him suspiciously through the glass.
“Will you take this watch for one ticket? Ticket number 32512?”, asked Satur timidly.
The man took the watch and turned it over in his hands examining it carefully. Then he looked up and nodded.
“Ok,” said the man. “It's a deal!”
The cemetery worker stamped out his cigarette.
“Where does this one go, then?” he asked a second cemetery worker. He was pointing to the coffin lying on the ground.
“No idea!” said the second worker. “He didn't even get a service. It's just been left here. He was a vagabond, I think. Nobody knew him. He didn't have a penny. Died of malnutrition, they say. The Sisters of the Cross paid for the burial.”
“So, he'll have to go into the cheap ones, then,” said the first worker. “Over there at the back.” He pulled out a little book from his pocket and consulted the list of burial niche numbers. “Errm. let's put him in number 32512.”
“Come on, then,” said the second worker rubbing his large round stomach. “Let's get it over with. I'm starving!”