Tuesday, October 4, 2016

LXXX. Vicente


He sits nearly every day—all day long except for siesta time—on a bamboo stool outside a small store just up the street. It’s one of many little tiendas around here that are in the front room of someone’s house. You can occasionally see—through a door at the back of the small salesroom—a family member or two relaxing, eating or talking in the sala. If no one’s behind the counter or even visible, and after waiting a good minute you cough or clear your throat, a middle-aged lady will emerge from that door, perhaps wiping her hands on an apron.

The sign out front advertises the place as a zapatería—shoe store—and when the roll-up door is open, as it is most days except domingo y lunes, you can see several dozen pairs of shoes on display in a floor-to-ceiling showcase as you walk by. The store also trades in school and office supplies. I bought a notebook for my Spanish class there, as well as signboard and markers for our housewarming party.

Getting back to that guy: He’s an older fellow—about my age—and small, also like me. Always wearing a tidy sombrero, almost always awake. He’s mostly sedentary, moving gingerly and with a cane—several times a day—to and from his place in the sun just outside the store opening. The few passersby who don’t know any different might refer to him—although I have no proof to back this up—as “the guy who’s always sitting outside the shoe store with a flyswatter in his hand.” Those are the things you notice most. Regardless how you describe him, I imagine he knows more than anyone else about what goes on up and down our block of Calle Encarnación Rosas. 

But if you’re not in too much of a hurry as you walk by, and you wave and holler out a friendly, “Buenos días” to this fellow, you’ll see him smile and return your salute in a voice that’s a little creaky but full of good cheer. He’ll raise a hand in your direction and keep it there for a moment, as if he’s the Pope and offering benediction. If you exchange this greeting once or twice, or even more, every day for some period of time, you might get around to introducing yourself, and thereafter the exchange takes on a more personal meaning.

That’s what I did. His name is Vicente, and now he always lets me know he remembers my name, too. Today we also shook hands, as we sometimes do when I go on his side of the street. As I walked away he called out, “Qué le vaya bien”—“May it go well for you”. To which I gave the standard reply, “Igualamente, Vicente”. A good way to start my day in the village.

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