By Jose Recio
It’s the year 2010, and Lucas Parra can’t wait to be there! He’s returning to his old town in Spain, where he was born and raised. His parents immigrated to America when he was a teen and settled in California.
On the train, after landing in Madrid, Lucas occupies a window seat and takes in the early morning view. It’s the end of summer, and the plains appear bereft of crops. Now and then, a flock of birds crosses the sky, and a lonely village shows in the distance. When the train enters the station of Lucas’ destination, he gets off and takes a taxi to the hotel he has booked.
“Welcome, Mr. Parra,” a young male receptionist greets him—his name carved on the tag pinned to his lapel: Armando. His stylish haircut, up-curved mustache, and gold buttons of his jacket match the hotel’s atmosphere, a two-story building with a touch of Italian taste.
A porter leads him to his room. He unpacks and hangs his clothes in the closet. A blue turtleneck sweater brings the memory of Patricia, his wife, also an immigrant from Spain. They had met after they graduated from college. She died of cancer, six months ago, and he misses her terribly. Lucas gets the last pair of socks out of his suitcase and pushes the luggage rack into a corner. He takes a shower and changes into fresh clothes, and around noon, he steps out of the hotel.
He strolls along a broad avenue lined with office and apartment buildings, with little gardens along the side. The sound of bells coming from an old church squeezed between two apartment buildings calls his attention. As he looks up to the turret, it begins to pour, and a raindrop splashes on his eye. Lucas wears a brown leather jacket and shoes but carries no umbrella; he hurries down the street. He wishes Patricia walked by his side, but she is gone forever, and he must carry on the plans they had made before she died. They had agreed to move to Spain. ‘It’ll be great,’ she had said.
In his haste, his feet slide on the slippery pavement, and he’s propelled forward until he crashes into a young man in a yellow poncho who sweeps pools of water with a wicker broom.
“Hey, Old Man, watch your step!” the sweeper voices. “At your age, a fall means a broken hip. I’ve seen it happen when it rains.”
“Sorry!” Lucas slows down.
Old man. The phrase touches a sore point. When Lucas announced his decision to retire, the director of the corporation of nursing homes, where he worked for decades, used the same phrase: ‘You’ve contributed to the excellence of this institution, Lucas. Now that you’re an old man, you might consider moving here,’ he had said. ‘Thank you,’ Lucas replied. For the time being, though, I have other plans.’
Rushing in the rain, Lucas feels optimistic. He can’t hide the crow’s feet around his eyes and his gray hair, but he feels healthy, and his mind works fine. His vision is not great anymore, but the crashing into the sweeper was an accident. Why bring up this crap about his being an old man? As he walks down the street, he tilts his head to avoid the raindrops that wet and fog his glasses. Soaked from head to toe, he reaches the Central Plaza when the clock from the City Hall strikes twelve. Coincidently, the rain stops, sunlight break through the clouds. Lucas finds himself in an urban space, surrounded by offices, boutiques, and restaurants. He navigates his way to one of the terraces and occupies a table next to a young man—a plate with a sandwich and a cup of coffee lay on his table, and he reads a newspaper, which he moves aside to glance at the newly arrived.
“I did not expect rain,” Lucas says. With his fingertips, he brushes his wet hair.
“It’s been cloudy all morning,” the man says.
Lucas shakes raindrops off the lapels of his jacket. “You are right.”
“You aren’t from here, are you?” The man folds his newspaper and leaves it on the table.
“Why do you—”
The waiter approaches Lucas. “What would you like to have?”
“A ham sandwich, black coffee, and a glass of water, please,” Lucas says.
He turns back to the conversation. “Why do you ask?”
“The way you talk.”
“I have lived abroad for a long time.”
“I guessed so,” his neighbor says and takes a bite of his sandwich.
“What do you mean?”
“That you’re a returnee.”
Lucas remains silent.
“They all come back,” the man says. “Some of them hope to do great things here. It’s funny. I’m looking for work myself. That’s why I got this paper. Not many jobs available around here.”
The waiter brings the order, and Lucas waits until he´s gone before he talks again.
“Tough!” he then says.
“Very! Let me introduced myself. I’m Marco, an unemployed business administrator.”
“Lucas Parra, a retired accountant.”
“Well, Old Man, welcome back.” Marco picks up his paper.
Lucas eats his sandwich, sips coffee, and watches the activity on the plaza. He imagines Patricia and him strolling around and getting acquainted with local people. After a while, he feels sleepy, and guesses it might be due to jet lag. He calls for the waiter, pays the bill, smiles to Marco, and leaves straight to his hotel to rest.
The next day, and for the next couple of weeks, Lucas journeys through town on foot. He goes from one office to anothertoformalizehis status in Spain. At some point during his journey, he comes across a city park in which he used to play as a child. Sadly, it’s missing the enchantment it once had, for he notices fewer birds in the trees and ducks on the pond, and more people around. From this park, he and his pals used to walk along the edges of farmland to the river. Lucas feels nostalgic and decides to stroll down there.
Three youngsters are fishing. Fish-catching nets, bamboo rods, and fishing kits lay on the ground. Lucas observes them. He wishes he were a grandfather, but his only son Oscar and his wife Sue are childless. They moved to Hong Kong soon after they married. Lucas saw them last at Patricia’s funeral. Sue didn’t look healthy. They struggle to make ends meet, but they have never accepted help. Lucas walks to the edge of the water.
“Hey! Boys, any luck?”
“We just got here,” says one of the boys.
“What do you use as bait?”
A second boy turns to him. “We use artificial lure-flies, of course.”
“I see. When I was your age, my friends and I used to dig right at the riverbank to find the worms.”
“We live in a different world now, Old Man,” the third boy, taller and stronger than the other two, shouts.
Lucas stands still. Does this boy think I am less of a person because I am a senior? He moves away. A real estate agent expects him at his downtown office in an hour. Patricia had planned to lease a flat until they sold their house. A warm autumn sun spreads throughout the countryside, and he hates taking a bus or taxi; he walks.
The realtor, a tall man in his forties, wearing a gray jacket and blue tie and speaking with an Argentinean accent, suggests walking to see a flat he thinks will comply with Lucas requirements.
The flat forms part of a three-story building, located in a quiet area, and it has two bedrooms, two baths, and a dining and living area with French windows facing a park.
“In tip-top condition,” the realtor emphasizes.
“Beautiful,” Lucas stands in front of the French window and looks out. “What are the leasing terms?”
“Before signing the contract, the corporation that owns the building expects the future tenant to provide a deposit.”
“A deposit?” Lucas scratches his head and turns to face his interlocutor.
“I beg your pardon, Mr. Parra, but that’s the requirement, along with paying the realtor’s fee, the community fees, a two months lease, and—”
“Really? I have never heard of such a string of obligations.”
“The building is a historical landmark.”
Lucas swallows and turns to look out the window again. He becomes more interested in a willow tree he sees in the park than the flat. He looks for a pond nearby; willow trees love water.
“Something less pretentious,” he says, still looking out.
“I should have advised you—”
“It is not your fault,” Lucas interrupts, turning to face the realtor. “I am a widower. I am trying to follow my late wife’s wishes. She never said we ought to live in a historic building,” he adds with a smile.
“I certainly can show you other properties, Mr. Parra, but, may I say, you being a respectable old man, I would suggest—”
“A nursing home!” Lucas heads towards the door.
“A living community for seniors, sir.”
“I will think about it. Thanks for showing me this apartment anyway. Now I must go.”
Outside, a late afternoon sun lends a purple hue to the streets; from afar, dense clouds approach the city. Lucas heads toward his hotel. He wishes he were settled in town. He has placed a call to a company that is looking for a part-time financial advisor. When he arrives at the hotel, Armando hands him a piece of paper with a message. Lucas reads Mr. Miranda would like to see you at 11:00, and he guesses it’s about the job. He eats dinner at the hotel restaurant and then goes up to his room.
The next morning Lucas goes to meet Mr. Miranda—the address is half a mile away from the hotel. It smells of rain. On this occasion, though, Lucas carries an umbrella. When he arrives, he sees a three-story historic building. Another landmark! He rings the bell. A female secretary in a dark blue skirt and jacket opens the door.
“Please, Mr. Parra, come on in. Mr. Miranda will receive you shortly.”
In the antechamber, Lucas deposits his umbrella in the stand by the door and takes a seat. He grabs an issue of Forbes magazine from a coffee-table and leafs through, but after a few pages, the secretary comes back. “Mr. Miranda will see you now,” she says and escorts him to the office. Lucas had expected a luxurious setting. The place, while spacious and well lit, looks humbly furnished, however. After shaking hands, Mr. Miranda sits at his desk and gestures Lucas to sit across from him. Fifteen minutes into the interview, Lucas has spelled out his credentials.
“Your background in accounting fits our expectations,” Mr. Miranda says. “However, this position requires extensive traveling both national and international.”
Lucas reacts like a puppy does to his master’s command. “I have no problem with traveling.”
“It’s the level of resilience needed that worries me,” Mr. Miranda says.
Lucas glances at the family pictures spread on the desk, shifting from one to another, trying to disguise his disappointment. “The level of resilience?”
“Please, don’t get me wrong, Mr. Parra. Age in itself is not, of course, a factor—”
“What is it, then?” Lucas lifts his chin and stares at his interviewer quizzically.
“It’s the reality that matters.”
Dejected, Lucas leans back on his chair. Mr. Miranda has hurt his pride like his former employer, the street sweeper, Marco, the boys at the river, and the realtor did. He feels as if he is going to explode. Suddenly, he pounds on the desk, knocking over some of the framed pictures.
“I get it!” he says. I mean, reality,” he adds.
Mr. Miranda raises his eyes. “Well,” he says, “I’ll let you know the outcome of this interview as soon as possible.”
They shake hands again. Lucas feels strangely at ease. Mr. Miranda phones his secretary to let her know that Mr. Parra is leaving. Lucas walks out of the main office and goes to pick up his umbrella. He sees a young man sitting on the chair he had occupied before.
“Marco?” he calls.
“Yes, and you’re—”
“Sure. How are you?”
“I feel strangely at ease! Listen, Marco. Coincidently, we have applied for the same job. I don’t think I’ll get it, but if you do, please call me (Lucas tells him the name of his hotel), and we’ll celebrate together.”
Outside, it’s raining. Lucas walks under his umbrella to the hotel. He reflects on the many changes he has witnessed in his life: the vinyl records replaced by the CDs, the typewriter by the PC. . . Seamlessly, we go from one to another reality. Distractedly, he comes across the street-sweeper he had encountered before, wearing a yellow poncho and sweeping the pools of water away from the sidewalk.
“Hey! Old Man,” the sweeper shouts. “Good to see you again. I see you’ve learned how to protect yourself from the heavy rain.”
“That is the reality, Young Man,” Lucas replies and keeps on walking.
When he arrives at the hotel, Armando greets him.
“Hello, Mr. Parra. You’ve got another message.” With a smile, he tears the top page from a hotel notebook and passes it to him.
Lucas grabs the piece of paper and holds it between two fingers. He takes a look at the young man with his curved mustache and his uniform with gold buttons like a character from past times.
“I wonder, Armando,” he says. “After you get off work, do you find it hard to shift to your other daily realities?”
“It isn’t. I switch really fast.”
“You mean you get in and out your roles like some tourists hop on and off a bus?”
“Well, I never thought of it that way, but, yes, pretty much so.”
Lucas smiles and walks away. When he gets to his room, he holds the paper with the message in between the lips while he fishes for the keycard in his pockets and then opens the door. Inside, he walks to the window and looking out he reflects on his experiences of the last few weeks. For Mr. Miranda, age dictates the level of endurance a person can display at work; for Marco, the chances of finding employment; for the realtor, the setting where one should live, for—a jet crossing the sky, leaving a trail of white smoke, cuts short his musings. He grabs the piece of paper held between his lips and reads the message: I got the job. We’ll be celebrating at the Grand Hotel lounge, downtown, this evening after six. Please join. Marco.
At 6:15 pm Lucas steps into the Grand Hotel lounge and spots Marco in the bar, standing at the counter and surrounded by half-a-dozen friends—all men. He makes his way to Marco, past dark Italian-leather couches placed on a red carpet, and joins the group.
“This is my friend Lucas, the retired accountant,” Marco says, introducing him to the others.
Lucas likes that Marco refers to him as my friend. He smiles widely. Someone hands him a glass of Bourbon-on-the-rocks, and he raises his glass towards Marco, gesturing a toast. “Ah!” he exclaims after taking a sip. Marco keeps ordering drinks and appetizers for all, and they chat about jobs and women—small talk. Lucas smiles and listens.
“I’m also an accountant,” someone whispers in his ear. “Ruben’s the name.”
Lucas turns to make eye contact: a short, slim man in his mid-forties, with sallow
skin. “You are the first colleague I have met in this country,” he says. Ruben smiles, and Lucas opens up to befriend all of these men.
After the party, Lucas returns to his hotel, feeling a little tipsy and very elated. He enters his room and switches on all the lights. He paces the floor as if looking for something he is missing. It’s ten o’clock. Should he go to sleep? Take a shower? Watch a movie? Have another drink? He throws a look at the mini-bar. No! He sits on the edge of the bed and gets a couple of business cards out of the breast pocket of his shirt, reaches for the phone and dials the number printed on one of them.
The voice sounds strange, disengaged.
“Sorry, I’ve got company.”
“Oh! I just wanted to thank you again—”
The conversation ends. Oh, well! He wishes he could share the welcoming experience he has had at Marco’s party with Patricia. He goes back to pacing the room until, fatigued, he begins to undress. In his pajamas, he sits up on the bed. Before going to sleep, he dials the number on the other card.
Lucas recognizes this voice.
“Hello, Ruben, it’s Lucas. Hope I’m not intruding. I know it’s late and—”
“Don’t worry, Lucas, my wife and I go to bed late. What’s up?”
Lucas feels at ease. “I wanted to thank you—”
“Oh! No need. It’s been a pleasure. If we can help in any way. After all, I know you’ve just landed in this country—”
“Yes, a little over a month ago.”
Lucas repositions the pillows behind his back and leans on them.
“Do you live alone?”
Lucas crosses his feet together. “My wife died six months ago.” He senses how lonely he feels.
“If I may ask, why are you here?”
Lucas perceives no reproach, and he succinctly tells Ruben his story.
“That’s amazing. What’s your next step?”
“I don’t know. I’m staying in a hotel. I would like—”
“I see. Well, I work for a private firm that owns a residential living complex for seniors. Perhaps you—”
“Interesting, a real estate agent advised that I should take a look at that type of dwellings.”
“Listen, I’ll talk to the administrator, a woman. Everybody knows her by her first name, Maria. She’ll give you a call, and you can check it out. What do you say?”
“It would be great.”
“We’ll talk again. Good night.”
“Good night, Ruben, and thank you.”
Lucas receives Maria’s call, and although a bit skeptical, he sets off to visit the senior living complex on an exceptionally bright autumn morning. When he arrives, he notices the wrought-iron gate that leads to the interior courtyard is ajar and decides to go in and take a peek. A rounded water fountain in the center of the yard with a statue of The Fallen Angel in the middle and a choir of water-jets around it captivates him. Sparrows bathe in the fountain and then extend their wings in the sun. Landscaped plots of different sizes and shapes, carefully cared for, spread throughout the entire yard. He imagines roses, pansies, and camellias coloring the little gardens in the spring.
“Sir, can I help you?” a male voice asks.
Lucas turns to him. He is a gardener.
“I have an appointment with the administrator.”
“It’s this way, sir.” The gardener leads him.
At the administration office, Lucas meets Maria: short-cut, black-amber hair, black eyes, and shiny teeth matching her white dress. He hadn’t anticipated her being a lady of color and such a pleasant appearance, a young-looking senior.
“Please sit down,” she says and points to a pair of armchairs set around a coffee table, in the middle of the room.
“A beautiful fountain,” he says and points to the courtyard. “I can imagine how colorful the flowers might be in the spring.”
“They have a lovely fragrance, too. But please, allow me to inform you briefly about our facility.”
The property, rectangular in shape, covers one acre of real estate, with three blocks of buildings, each harboring ten living units, facing the central yard on one side and the street on the other, and a white, solid wall, with the wrought-iron gate, providing the forth side of the rectangle.
“Would you like to see the available units?” Maria asks.
“I suppose Ruben has mentioned to you that I am a widower—”
“He has. I’m sorry about your wife, Mr. Parra. Ruben also said you are a returnee?”
Lucas draws a brief smile. “Yes, I am an old man returning to my old country.”
He feels relaxed. Maria is accommodating, and the office aesthetics pleasing. A vase with white lilies sits on her desk, a tea set on the coffee table, and landscape pictures hang on the walls.
“Someone from my office will give you a tour before our real estate agent shows you the available units. I hope you like our facility.” She gets up, goes to her desk, and makes a phone call; then, she comes back to Lucas. “Arrangements made. Please, don’t hesitate to ask any question, any time,” she says.
A woman from PR guides Lucas through several activity areas of the building and gives him a brief explanation regarding their features and use until the loudspeaker calls his name. They return to the administration office where he meets the real estate agent, a young, red-haired man with freckles who introduces himself as Angel.
“Angel as in The Fallen Angel?”Lucas tries to be funny.
The real agent, a soft-spoken and friendly man, smiles. He shows three furnished apartments to Lucas, each one equipped for comfort. Lucas likes what he sees, and back in the administrator’s office, he signs a one-year lease. When he leaves the complex in the afternoon, he strolls through the streets, enjoying the city’s atmosphere, until he feels hungry. He stops for dinner at a restaurant serving local food, and later, he walks to his hotel.
Lying on his bed, Lucas wishes he could communicate with Patricia. In his imagination, he evokes her voice.
“It’s so wonderful to hear your voice, Patricia,” he speaks aloud. “I miss you so much.”
I hope you’re well.
“Yes, I am.”
How is Oscar?
“He is well, but his wife continues having flare-ups of her illness.”
They are going to need your help.
“I’ll be ready. Listen, Patricia, I have lots of things to share with you—”
Lucas stops talking; he’s weeping. He realizes the futility of his endeavor: Patricia is gone, and he is alone facing life. He takes his glasses off and goes to sleep.
Lucas wakes up in the morning feeling pressure as if he ought to dispatch some urgent matter. The move! That’s what he tried to tell Patricia last night. He takes a shower, gets dressed, and goes to the senior living complex. When he arrives, he sees that the gate to the yard is again unlatched. He pushes it open and enters.
“Sir—?” somebody calls. The gardener stands a few yards away, watering the plants. “Do you need any help?”
“You showed me the way to the administration. Remember?”
“Yes, sir, I do.”
“Thank you, though.”
Inside the building, Lucas stops at the reception office and asks to see Maria. The receptionist dials the extension number.
“She’ll be available in ten minutes,” she says.
Lucas sits and waits until the receptionist says the administrator is ready to see him. In the office, Maria invites him to take a seat. Lucas tries to describe his needs but hesitates.
“Perhaps you might make a list?” she says and passes a pad of paper to him.
Lucas makes a list.
“I’ve got a suggestion,” Maria says. “Some residents would be happy to help you.”
A week later, he finds himself sitting on the couch in the living room of his new home, sipping coffee and looking out the glass door to the courtyard. In the fountain, the water jets shoot up and fall synchronously. He feels lucky.
Approaching winter, Lucas goes on enjoying his outings in town. He delights in hearing the crunch of fresh snow under the soles of his shoes and seeing the bell towers covered with a white cape. But in December, though, he feels lonely. He calls Maria.
Lucas remains silent.
“This is Lucas,” he finally says.
“Is there a problem?”
“No. I don’t know how to put it. I wish I knew more people around here?”
“Throw a party!”
Maria explains that a team of volunteers from the complex love to organize welcome parties for new tenants. Lucas mood brightens.
A couple of days later, Maria guides Lucas around a recreational room, making their way around the tables and chairs set for the occasion, and introduces him to other residents in the complex. He worries he won’t remember everybody’s name and strives to retain some details from the new faces he encounters. After he has met a few people, he asks Maria whether she minds if they sit down for a while. They occupy a table on which they find some appetizers and wine. They serve themselves some slices of cold meat and a glass of rosé, and they chat. Lucas learns that Maria divorced ten years ago and has no children. From Lucas, Maria hears about Patricia and Oscar and Sue. He, Lucas, can’t understand why they remain aloof. While they chat, they also glance around, and Lucas spots Ruben and his wife Iris, sitting at a table. Lucas excuses himself and goes to greet them. A minute later, he is back with his friends. They all engage in conversation. Iris tells him that she volunteers as an events coordinator at the complex. She needs someone to help with the accounting of fundraisers and expenses. Would Lucas be interested? Other people stop at their table and join the conversation. Lucas enjoys his time thoroughly.
When the party ends, Lucas feels gratified. Slowly, he walks to his apartment through the courtyard and briefly stops near the fountain to let the breeze refresh him. It’s time to go home.
Following the open-house party, Lucas receives phone calls and thank you cards. Maria invites him to a Christmas Party at her home, and Iris encourages him to volunteer his expertise as an accountant to help with the setting of forthcoming events. These demonstrations of affection are reassuring that he has chosen the right community. Today, though, in the mailbox there is only one letter. It’s from Oscar. Lucas takes it, steps inside, and puts it on the kitchen table while he pours some coffee for himself. Then, he sits and stares at the envelope like a greyhound at a still rabbit. He takes a sip of coffee, then grabs the letter opener and tears the envelope open. After the second sentence, he stops reading: Sue has died. Suddenly, buzz upsets his ears. His hands are shaking, but he manages to keep on reading. Sue died in the hospital after she had a severe flare-up of a blood illness. Oscar writes of his profound sense of loss. He feels isolated in Hong-Kong (Sue’s family lives in Beijing) and longs to return to California. He pleads with his father to also return home; he needs him. Lucas finishes reading the letter and tosses it onto the table like a heavy piece of lead. The buzzing in his ears gets louder, and he can’t think straight. He gets up, grabs his coat from the closet, and goes out.
On the streets, he roams through the city park of his childhood, the river, and the Central Plaza. There, he enters the terrace of the restaurant where he had met Marco on his first day in town. But Marco has a job, so he walks away and returns home. He takes his coat and shoes off and lies on the bed looking at the ceiling, thinking of Patricia until he falls asleep.
In the morning, Lucas wakes up feeling at ease. He is convinced Patricia spoke to him during his sleep. He gets dressed and goes to the administration office.
“Maria, I must return to California.”
Taken aback, the administrator stares at him.
“Is that so?” she asks.
They are standing in the middle of the office, facing each other. Maria invites Lucas to sit down. He declines.
“Sue, Oscar’s wife, died,” he says. My son is going back to California. He needs me. I promised Patricia I would be ready for him if he called for help.”
““I’m sorry.” A pause follows. “To break the lease contract is going to take some time, though,” Maria adds.
“I know the process.”
“Perhaps you ought to leave some money in the bank to pay the monthly fee in case the reality in your life pushes you to come back?”
Lucas reflects on Maria’s advice.
“I might,” he says. “Circumstances mark an individual’s destiny, like the wind guides the weather vane.”
Maria nods. She moves closer to him, and they hug each other in an emotional goodbye.
About the Author:
Jose L Recio was born and raised in Spain. He studied medicine in Spain and later left for California on a Scholarship. He currently lives with his wife, Deborah, in Los Angeles. While in practice, he published several papers in specialized journals. Over the last few years, interest in creative writing keeps him busy. Having grown to become bicultural, he writes both in Spanish and English, and sometimes he translates his texts.