‘Second Chances’ – Short Story

By Nora Vasconcelos

It had been 10 years since I had been here the last time.

The city looked cleaner and bigger. Somehow, more modern, even when all the colonial buildings that mixed the best of the old Spanish and Mexican architecture were still standing around the small central park.

Certainly the main buildings had been cleaned up, and I should say, they looked majestic. New plant stands had been set along the City Hall and some floor to ceiling windows had been added to the office destined to greet tourists.

In the park, things remained the same as I remembered them. A big fountain in the middle of the square, splashing water to all people who walked close by. The tall trees seemed to play with the soft breeze, their branches moving from one side to the other, causing ghostly shadows to reflect on the pavement, giving the whole place an interesting contrast that made dark and sunny areas mix in a unique combination.

My walk across the park took less than ten minutes until I reached one of the galleries that were formed between the space left by the inside buildings and the arches that ran all along the main square, those that people in Puebla called Los Arcos.

Fearing the place wouldn’t be there any more, I walked faster the last steps before reaching it. Lucky for me, it was still open for business.

La cazuela –the cooking pot– was one of the many little restaurants that served locals and tourists some of the best typical dishes for which Puebla was well known around Mexico and in several countries around the world.

The feature dish mole poblano, was often known by foreigners as chicken in chocolate sauce, which I always found a bit funny because, being a Mexican to me chocolate sauce sounded more like a liquid preparation you add to your dessert and not something you have for your main course. And that was the funniest thing, the dish in fact had chicken, or turkey, in it, but the sauce was a thick mixture of several dry chilies and spices with just a small portion of chocolate to make the hot preparation a mild one, quite tasty and not that hot after the concoction was finished.

Anyways, I wasn’t here for the famous mole, nor for the also famous chiles en nogada, the same recipe for poblano chilies stuffed with minced beef and fruits covered with walnut sauce that centuries ago was made for the first time by a group of nouns, a little after Mexico had gained its independence from Spain.

No, my purpose was not the food, although I asked for a table and checked on the menu before ordering today’s meal: arroz con pollo. Some fried rice with tomato sauce and chicken would be all what my stomach could take. My nerves were making me feel uneasy as time passed by inside the place.

Nothing had changed there. The same walls with the old paintings showing some of the passages of the history of Puebla still decorated the restaurant.

Crowded tables with colorful tablecloths in red, white and green were surrounded by hungry people who looked happy to dip their fingers along with their corn tortillas inside the thick mole preparation.

As I waited for my food, my heart started beating faster …Is he still here? I wondered. A decade had passed by since we had seen each other for the last time, and I still remembered him, the same as if it had been yesterday.

At that time, both of us were working at this same restaurant, I was a waitress, he a bartender, and as it often happens when people spend many hours together, we went from polite coworkers to best friends to couple of the year.

But us being engaged lasted less than a week. At that time, I was offered a job in California, working for a fancy food chain, and I took the chance. I knew the timing was terrible for us, but the money I’d earn would help my little brothers and sisters finish school and it’d give my folks a well-deserved rest. They had kept working for several years after their retirement age because their saving weren’t enough to feed five kids and pay for their education.

Besides, Dad’s raw materials store had to close down after a big supermarket had opened on the same street. Then all their dreams of a comfortable life at their old age disappeared. No more dreams for them to see with their own eyes the Mediterranean Sea, and no more dreams of me becoming a college girl soon to be married to a loving man.

California was the answer to all our problems. Or almost all, because secretly, I had been wishing for another gorgeous thing to happen. I knew I was ambitious, but I wished with all my heart that I could keep my new job and my beloved man. He hadn’t been offer a position, although he had applied for it at the same time I had done it.

He promised he’d found a solution but things happened too fast. One day he had looked at me as if I were the most beautiful girl in the world, the only girl in the world he wanted to marry, and the next week he was staring at me silently, with his mouth half open as if words were stuck in his throat, unable to move, unable to say good bye.

We simply stood there, right in front of each other. I had stopped by the restaurant to see him for the last time, wishing deep inside he’d change his mind, wishing he said he’d found a way to go with me, wishing he’d say he’d wait for me. But he didn’t say any of those things.

When I entered the place, carrying my suitcase, he looked at me with his deep hazel eyes and smiled at me as if the sunrise had just appeared on the horizon.

‘I’m leaving,’ I said softly, with all the strength I was able to gather.

We looked at each other for a long second that in our hearts was equal to the eternity. We didn’t speak a word and yet we said I love you to each other with our eyes, speaking in silence, all in that long lingering painful second…

‘Well, I’m leaving,’ I said, wanting so badly he reached for me. But that didn’t happened. He didn’t even say good-bye to me. He just stayed there, looking at me, intensely, as if the world were closing its curtain for the last time …and yet, he said nothing.

I walked away and as I got close to the bus stop I turned my face to see him, at least one more time. And there he was standing in the same position. He hadn’t move, he hadn’t even turned his head away, he was still there looking at me as I was leaving. And then, I left.

Ten years had passed since that day, and here I was again. Back at the same restaurant. Hoping he’d still be here.

The smells coming from the kitchen made me hungry. It was hard to resist all those aromas mixed in amusing combinations. My eyes then toured the place, looking for his familiar face. I knew I hadn’t seen him in so long but his features remained fresh on my mind, exactly the same as the last time we had seen each other.

I looked at the bar, and sighed disappointed when a bartender I didn’t recognized was serving drinks to a group of businessmen.

Probably he isn’t here any more, why should he? I though. My mood was turning as grey as the sky that was getting ready for an early rainfall.

What if he is still here and he doesn’t want to see me? May be he has a family now and he has forgotten all about me… Doubts and more doubts were all over my head. What is the point of me being here…? I wondered.

My arroz con pollo finally arrived, along with some warm tortillas, fresh guacamole made with local avocado and a sampler of different hot sauces.

I thanked the waiter, looked at my food and turned my face to the window.

The city looked truly magnificent. How much I had missed it. All those buildings made with stone blocks, the towers and domes that dominated the architecture of the place, the colours that brought to life old constructions that had been renovated. Everything reminded me of the good old times.

Are there any chances for us? I closed my eyes and sighed again. Deeper this time.

I took my fork and got it into my rice. Then I looked around one more time.

One of the small murals presented an old configuration of the city and a legend placed at the top of it that said: Puebla de los Angeles. Then I thought, if this city has always been so magical as to deserved being called in the old legends as the city that the angels built, would it be enough to make my dreams come true..?

(To be continued next Wednesday on Obinna Udenwe’s Blog: )

croosover artwork OK
* This story is part of The Crossover Mexico-Nigeria Project

Licencia Creative Commons

The Hedge – Short Story

By Nora Vasconcelos

(Part 2)
— — —
[You can read the first part of the story at Obinna Udenwe’s blog]

Confused for what had just happened and ashamed for his own actions, he followed his mum back home.

Life in the neighbourhood would be very different from now on, he thought, while passing by the hedge. What could have caused his neighbour to get so angry? He wondered, feeling sorry for her.

‘And you my son,’ his mum said, ‘don’t ever dare to behave like that again!’

He was sure there would be more problems. His mum would be leaving once all her medical tests were completed and the doctor determined which was the best treatment for her, but in his case, he lived there, and by now, he was sure that all his neighbours had learned about the argument with the girl. It would be a nightmare!

Mum didn’t speak to him the rest of the day. He didn’t really know what to say, so he let her alone. Tomorrow it’d be another day and may be everything would feel different then.

What he didn’t know was that just a few meters away, right behind his house, a series of phone calls had been made at the same time that he was trying to silence his overwhelming guilt.

At first, right after he had left the apartment, following his mum, she had thought she’d call the police and report the incident so he’d be taken to the police station, the least. But later, she thought of something better. Something that would make her anger get some release.

It took her about three hours but she had finally done it. Tomorrow morning, her horrible neighbour and his mum would pay for what they had done to her.

The president of the company she worked for was in good terms with many politicians and businessmen, and all of them found the way to make her wishes come true. After all, she had lived there for a while and she knew that all those powerful people had a particular interest in this area of the city that was growing a lot and had become very profitable.

The new changes, of course, wouldn’t affect her place, which she had decorated with the most expensive things that could be found in the city.

Some other neighbours would be affected, but it was for the greater good, and she deserved some sort of reward after giving her life away due to a job that had demanded of her a 24/7 dedication for years.

With the image of her revenge coming through, she finally fell asleep.

The next morning a strong noise woke her up.

‘What was that?’ She wondered while getting off the bed.

Her headache was terrible and the light that filtered through the window hurt her eyes. The noise seemed stronger than it actually was, at least for a simple knock on the door.

Stumbling around the living room, she managed to get to the door and answered from inside. ‘Who’s it?’

‘It’s me, your neighbour, I’ve come to apologise for what I did to you yesterday…”

‘Go away!’ It was her answer, leaning on the door as if she feared he could force-open it.

‘Please, accept my apology. I know what I did it was terrible, but you must recognise that you insulting my mum was also terrible,’ he said showing real concern in his voice.

‘You’re in so much trouble now, mama’s boy! You won’t even see when reality hits you with what you deserve! And now, go away or I’ll call the police, as I should have done it yesterday. Oh! And say good-bye to your comfortable life, neighbuor!’

Confused …again, and angry …again, he went back to his house.

He could understand that she was angry for what had happened the day before, but what he was completely unable to comprehend was what had caused so much hatred in her. Before yesterday they hadn’t even spoken. Why did she hate him so much? And why did she want to hurt him so badly? He also wondered what she had meant with those threatening words. After all, she had been the one who had initiated the fight when she went to insult his mother over the clothes being dried on the hedge.

With all these thoughts going around his head, he barely noticed all the noise that was coming from his house.

It was only until he had to push some people to get though the side-walk when he realized that there were a couple of black Mercedes and a patrol car parked in front of his place. Those were the exact kind of vehicles that brought people who intended to take care of official business. And the patrol car… ‘Had she finally called the police?’ He said aloud.

‘Son! Son! Come here! Hurry up!’ His mum called him out with an anguished voice.

He had to push some more people away, but he got to his house.

Once there, a big white paper with red and black letters on his door caught his attention.

Paralyzed by the surprise, the whole world around him seemed to disappear, even his mum’s cries.

Eviction notice, he read. And it was all what he managed to absorb in that moment.

‘How did that happen?’ ‘Why?’ He asked not addressing anyone in particular.

While trying to figure it out, two men wearing dark suits gave him some documents still enclosed in several envelopes. ‘Your mother refused to accept them, but you must take them, as the former owner of this property, you have to abide the law. You must empty this property today.’

‘What?’ It was all what he managed to answer.

The construction of a big parking lot and a shopping center was set to start that exact day, right in the area were his house was located, the two men had informed him.

Workers of a moving company had already started taking all the furniture outside and placed everything, small and big, inside of a big truck.

‘You can pick up your stuff at this address, previous payment of the storage fee, of course,’ one of the men said before going back to one of the fancy cars.

His mum reached for him and held onto him, sure that if he didn’t hold her, she would faint.

He hugged his mum tightly. Then he started to look around, as if a magical answer to this mess could be found somewhere on the horizon. Instead, he managed to see the tall and refined silhouette of his neighbour staring among the crowd. ‘How she dare?!’ He said, still holding his mum.

From total confusion to complete control, it took him no more than ten minutes to elaborate a plan to make his situation less complicated.

Gently, he took his mum to an empty bench close by. All those trees and flowers that the new government had been planting around had come along with some urban furniture that proved to be handy in this moment.

‘Calm down, mum. Just wait for me here. I’m going to fix this.’ He reassured her.

She took a deep breath and seemed to believe her son, but tears were still running down her face.

About half an hour later, he returned, placing his cell phone back into his pocket. A strange smile illuminated his face.

‘What happened, my son?’ Did you fix it? Do we still have to move?’ She asked with a hint of hope in her voice.

‘Yes, mum, to both questions. I fixed it, but we still have to move,’ he said, ready to explain to her what was going to happen.

‘We do have to leave the house because all the papers for a new development on this block have been signed. But we won’t be moving so far away, in fact, it’s just a few steps away where we’re going. I’ve arranged for the same company that took our furniture to the storage facility to bring it back tomorrow to our new place. Meanwhile, we’ll stay with a friend of mine who lives close to the hospital, so you won’t miss your doctor’s appointment.’

‘But how? Where?’ she asked.

‘You’ll see mum. I’m sure you’ll like it very much. The new place has all the best things in town and the best part is that we get to keep the hedge. It will be considered part of our property from now on, so nobody will tell us what we can or can’t do with it.’

Still confused, his mum followed him into the taxi he had just hailed.

Back there, behind his former house, the woman who had put him through all this suffering didn’t see this come. All of a sudden two men, wearing dark suits, got out of two black Mercedes that had been followed by a police car. They presented her with official documentation that forced her to leave the house that she had been renting for over two years, as the owner of the property had recently allowed a friend of his to buy the building.

After all — they explained to her–, the owner thought that being in good terms with the man who imported all the thousands of tires he needed every year for his transportation company, the biggest in the country, was a much better business than listening to a handful of local politicians and businessmen with small aspirations focused only in a small part of the town.

(Read the first part of this story here:

* * *

croosover artwork OK
* This story is part of The Crossover Mexico-Nigeria Project

Licencia Creative Commons