El Señor de los Cielos
The world of the lottery ticket seller has always been a competitive one. A cut-throat business beset with turf wars, personal grievances and accidental heroes. Nowhere was this more so than in Salobreña, where, after a long, strange struggle for power one man finally triumphed; El Señor de los Cielos, the Lord of the Heavens.
Born Francisco Lopez Garcia in Teruel in 1955, El Señor de los Cielos grew up as a wiry yet athletically gifted child. His love of sport was evident; and by the age of 12 he was seen as one of the leading lights in the burgeoning gymnastic revolution then taking place in north east Spain — a potential heir to the thrown of twice national parallel bars champion Jesús ‘The Cock’ Carmona — a man famed as much for his strutting, arrogant style as he was his serial infidelities.
But in mid 1973 disaster struck in the form of the ‘Great Wind of Aragon’, a torrid, relentless sirocco that swept across the region and led to the ‘Great Thirst of Aragon’ the same year. Many people left the town in search of a cooler, damper life — and chief amongst them in our story was the proprietor of ‘Buenos Leotardos’ — Teruel’s last remaining supplier of hand-sewn leotards and personal blend liniment oils.
With no more costumes available to buy, the 18 year old Francisco packed up his few belongings and did what many of his contemporaries had done before him; head to the bright lights of the ever growing Costa Del Sol and join a itinerant Irish circus company.
Although the exact details now become slightly hazy, Francisco is thought to have spent the next thirty years travelling throughout Europe, coupling his undoubted gymnastic abilities with traditional circus skills to great effect and acclaim.
What we do know for sure is that Francisco’s best friend at this time was a young chimpanzee called Monica. They spent all their time together and could often both be seen wearing matching red fezzes and cycling along the coast on a tiny tandem with an oversized horn. They seemed very happy. But then late in 2002 “something” happened.
The court reports of the time don’t make it exactly clear, but what we do know is that Monica ended up in a social housing project in El Puerto de Santa Maria and Francisco served a three year custodial sentence in a prison with a strict ’no pets’ policy.
On his release he was a broken man. He picked up work where he could, until one spring day word reached him that he had been remembered in the will of a second cousin who had lived, and died, in Salobreña. As is the tradition here, the deceased relative had divided his small property amongst his remaining family. Although saddened by the family bereavement, Francisco was delighted with this news, as it gave him the chance to finally have a place he could call home. Unfortunately for Francisco, his departed cousin was something of a joker, and the part of the house left to him was ‘the outside’.
Despite this incident, he stayed on in Salobreña and spent the next few years doing whatever he could to make ends meet, until a chance encounter with the ex-Mayor changed his life. This former official was an avid fan of Under 18s Gymnastics and still kept an extensive collection of fiercely guarded yet well-thumbed magazines on the subject. He recognised Francisco from the fading photographs and they struck up a close friendship; a close friendship (coupled with the ex-Mayor’s political connections) that enabled Francisco to bypass the rules and regulations and become one of the handful of official lottery ticket sellers in the town.
But it was a big handful. At that time (early 2008) there were more than 30 people doing the exact same job, all of them looking for an angle that might earn them a bigger slice of the pie. A pie that was crumbling at the edges and whose once fragrant topping now bore the anxious whiff of badly mixed concrete and impending financial collapse.
If Francisco were to survive and flourish he needed a unique selling point. Something that would make him stand out from the crowd, something to make him the centre of attention. And then one Saturday morning after a heavy night in Bar Flores it hit him; a three foot long wooden stilt. It fell from a high shelf and connected so hard with his head that he was left dazed and confused for the rest of that day. But within that dream-like, hungover state, Francisco realised that the thing that almost killed him was the same thing that could actually allow him to live. And from that day onwards Francisco was a changed man.
The following Monday he left his house to begin his rounds. It was the same routine as every Monday; only this time he was three foot taller — his prosthetic wooden legs allowing him to tower over the local population with an almost supernatural ease. They say you never forget how to ride a bike, and the same was true of Francisco’s circus skills. He may have been a little rusty but his balance was still there, and with a painted face that resembled the grisly death mask of an over-affectionate clown, he became an instant success.
Growing in confidence Francisco slowly added to the length and decoration of his stilts. He worked the narrow streets hard and harnessed his artificial elevation to its maximum potential; within months he was able to sell lottery tickets to the invalids and shy people who generally inhabit the town’s first and second floor apartments, a previously untapped yet highly lucrative market.
The locals were finally taking notice of Francisco and it wasn’t long before his awe-inspiring height earned him the nickname El Señor de los Cielos; The Lord of the Heavens. Nobody in the town would buy their tickets from anyone else, as buying your ticket from a man who (in stature at least) was a few feet closer to God was obviously good luck. And it’s precisely at this point that the other ticket vendors packed their bags and left for good; as superstition dictates that the only thing luckier than being closer to God was being dead.
Fast-forward to the present day and Francisco now lives a happy life; his past transgressions forgotten, his future and legend assured. To this day, the unmistakable click-clack of his worn, wooden heels can be heard echoing far and wide across the crumbling town. It’s been a long and painful journey from the days of a neatly executed double salto with full twist dismount, but El Senor de los Cielos has triumphed. A local treasure, a national curiosity, a tourist attraction without equal. A man worth looking up to.
Which is just as well if you think about it.
Next week: The Boy who Lives in the Trees.