An old man sits alongside a bridge, exhausted and covered in dust. Many people are hurrying to cross the bridge with their families and belongings, but he is too tired to proceed. They are villagers who are fleeing from the fighting in the Spanish Civil War.
The narrator, a soldier for the Republican (left-wing) side, spots the old man as he crosses the bridge to see if the enemy, the right-wing Nationalists or Fascists, are advancing behind them. When the narrator returns, most of the other evacuees are gone but the old man is still sitting on the ground. The narrator engages with him, trying to rouse him to keep moving toward safety. The old man says that he came from the town of San Carlos, where he was taking care of animals. The narrator wonders why the old man is telling him this until the man explains that he didn’t want to desert his creatures, so he was the last person to leave his village. He worries about the goats, pigeons, and cat that he has left behind to die. Meanwhile, the narrator worries about the advancing forces who will surely try to kill them both.
When the narrator urges the old man to try to walk until he can catch a truck that could carry him away, the old man can only fall back down, repeating, “I was taking care of animals.” The narrator concludes that he cannot help the old man, and presumably leaves him to die there.