In Perpetuum ~
Somewhere. I'm somewhere. A new place. An unfamiliar path. Unfamiliar yet welcoming.
Not sure how long I've been walking. The sunrise happened a million years ago. I've passed several people. Some have fed me. Their payment was a quick nod & tired smile.
My steps continue, my mind slightly offbeat. Distracted. Eyes see so much more when fully paying attention. Life moves; things dance & fight. So much energy happening.
Vibrations approach. Rumblings of an engine, a heavy object treading over the first soft layers of earth. A vertical figure stops atop my shadow & I hear, “Pleasant journey, friend.”
I nod, “Likewise.”
He unmounts his mechanical steed & after rummaging through one of the saddlebags, extends a hand.
“Here,” he says.
I accept the small bag adorned with a knot. It reminds me of a samurai.
“Thank you. I don't have anything to offer.”
I see a shrug.
“Anywhere in particular?,” he asks, opening his own baggie to reveal nuts & fruit.
“I’m just walking.”
He nods & looks around as if he had forgotten where he was.
I eat. We eat, in silence briefly, then, “I was told about you. Back there.”
He tilts his head in the direction we had come from. Eyes like a lightning flash consider me.
“&?,” I inquire
“They told me to be careful. That you didn't talk much.”
He laughs & it sounds like sand.
“People are a curious bunch. So fearful. Makes me wonder.”
I wait in suspense to be enlightened. Instead, he puts away his baggie & asks, “What do you think? If I rearrange it, I can take you with me. Or, I can leave you to your path.”
The saddlebags are adjusted back for my convenience before I have a chance to reply.
Green & yellow flanked us: corn fields. In front, silent mountains, like enormous shoulders, gave a sense of comforting, welcoming. But welcome where? My recondite chauffeur remained wordless.
Perhaps better that way, I thought.
Coming upon a trident in the road, we lean towards the left & a short time later, stop in front of a small home consisting of two main buildings, with a 3rd, smaller edifice set slightly back.
There was a sudden ruckus as children appeared. One, a girl, immediately ran up to the bike & waited. I realized in her silence, all the noise had come from her. A boy, older, stood some distance from us, back straight, eyes not quite on us, a soldier awaiting orders.
The girl, in her father(?)’s arms, whispered something to him.
“Ah huh,” he said, his syllables long, his tone exaggerated.
Verging on tears, the boy's face began to crumple with emotion.
“Mistakes are part of life, especially growing up. Learn well to live well.”
Eyes down, the boy nodded.
“You two take the groceries in & welcome our new friend.”
I see the small hand extend out, eyes up, glistening.
“Agustine,” I just barely hear.
I take it, “I am…”
We both turn to see a smile like an ocean in bloom. With my right hand, I take Agustine's, with my left, Araméa's. Her giggle is music, two notes, the first higher than the second. They take a bag each & march towards the house.
“You must be hungry. My wife turns food into miracles.”
He gestures for me to follow.
There are toys strewn about in the living room, but surprisingly not much furniture. Every scent that emanated from the kitchen made me salivate & I couldn't help thinking ‘home.’
“Amelie, this is…”
I looked up after some silence, realizing I was supposed to be filling it.
“Oh, my name is Nimeni.”
Amelie smiled at me from the stove, “I hope you haven't eaten yet. I'm making pupusas.”
She guffawed at my involuntary smile. It was the adult version of her daughter's laugh.
“I'm Roberto, by the way. I found him on the road, so I can only imagine his appetite.”
“You were walking?! Where were you going?.”
Her tone was exactly that of every worried mother.
It was a good question: where was I going?
“He was coming here,” Roberto answered for me, smiling mischievously, “he just didn't know it.”
In the interim, Agustine & Araméa attempt to skulk away.
“Do you expect me to make all the food by myself?”
“But I didn't do anything,” Araméa said in not quite a pout.
“You're going to eat, aren't you?,” Roberto asked.
Anger flattened her face. Then, smiling, the girl retorted, “One day, I'll be smarter than you.”
“You better be,” her father said.
Agustine, silent, began organizing vegetables on the table.
“This isn't a punishment, just so you know,” Amelie said to him. Sorrowful eyes went from mother to father.
“Was it so bad?,” Roberto asked, “the lesson’s on his face.”
Amelie considered her son, who’s big, translucent eyes resembled her own.
“Apologizing again wouldn't hurt.”
I expected him to put a fight, but instead, the boy left. After a moment, Roberto stood & gestured for me to follow him. I shadow him through a mostly barren, brown backyard.
From a distance, the 3rd structure looked small, slightly larger than a typical tool shed. As Roberto opened its door, I was shocked to realize its purpose: it was a bedroom.
Its occupant was an elderly man in dress clothes, white in hair & complexion.
“Alejandro, this is Nimeni,” Roberto said, “he's going to eat with us today.”
A hand extended before me that looked like it was carved out of wood.
“Mucho gusto,” he said, a smile so genuine, the sides of his face collapsed like an accordion.
“Igualmente,” I return, taking his hand, whose grip was twice that of mine.
“Damn,” Roberto said, “I had assumed you didn't know Spanish.”
“I don't very well. I understand it better than I speak it.”
“Es algo que lo entiende,” Alejandro replies.
I felt my face flush. Roberto thankfully diverts the attention.
“& you?,” he says to Agustine, “mission accomplished?”
He answers with a nod.
“He is a good boy,” Alejandro points out, “he meant no harm. He was only following the tradition of all boys.”
I see the look towards Roberto, then I notice the resemblance. It was subtle, something that had to be noticed, but it was there in his eyes & Agustine's nose.
“Well, lunch will be ready soon. I'll send Augustine back for you.”
Alejandro nods & we leave him to his cubicle home.
“Keep helping with the food. Nimeni & I are going to talk a bit.”
I watch as his son disappears into the main house & we continue to what I had thought was another home, but was, in fact, an empty barn. Opening a cupboard, two cups & a bottle of brown liquid appear in Roberto’s hands.
“Sit,” he says, pouring two fingers worth in each glass.
Tilting his towards me, we cheers. Warmth fills me immediately, then a tinge of fire. I swallow hard.
“Been a while?”
I shake my head.
“I was never much of a drinker.”
“So, you're not a drinker. What are you then?”
I saw no humor in his face. I take another sip.
“Is Alejandro your father?,” I avert, hoping he would indulge me an obvious escape.
“Grandfather. My father died a short while ago.”
“I see. What is it that Agustine did?”
“He was upset because Alejandro does not want to come home with us.”
“This is his home?”
“Yes. Since my father's death, he has been stubborn about coming to live with us. My mother died when I was young. We would prefer he not stay here alone.”
“Every time we come to visit, we invite him & every time he insists on staying. My son hit his boiling point & called him a burro.”
I couldn't help but laugh.
“What about you? Do you have family nearby? Is that why you're here?”
“I did. Years ago, but I don't talk to them much anymore.”
I empty my glass.
After some consternation, Roberto sighs & says, “Family is very important. I find it best to move on quickly from arguments & harsh words, especially with family.”
I nod, not wanting to contradict him. I understood & appreciated his sentiment, but not all families were the same.
“Come on,” he says, finishing his drink, “let's go check on lunch.”
When we entered the kitchen, Alejandro was already there & food was being served.
I must have drooled at the sight of the pupusas. The children looked at me with wide grins.
When Abby asked how many, I answered 3, despite desperately wanting more.
“You should eat more than that,” Araméa said, “you're too skinny.”
“Ari,” Roberto half scolded, “eat.”
Araméa smirked at her father, then at me & my immediate thought was, Life will always be recess for you.
We ate peacefully a while until the second interrogation began.
“Are you a local then, Nimeni?,” Amelie asked.
“No, not quite.”
“He had family here, but he's not sure if they still live here.”
I smile coyly.
“They're better off,” Amelie said disdainfully, “nothing but gossips here anyway.”
“They were talking about him already.”
Araméa looked shocked.
“What did you do?,” she not quite whispered to me.
“Apparently, he stole some chickens. If you believe that story. Some said he stole hearts.”
Amelie shot me a comical look of approval.
“Dios mio. I wouldn't have thought you the type. So quiet.”
The group laughed at my expense, all except Alejandro.
Perhaps from embarrassment or honestly plain hunger, I asked for another pupusa. Amelie obliged & the rest of our lunch discussion had the adults arguing with the children about toys & cleanup.
With the food eaten, I was asked to go outside by Roberto. Silently, Alejandro followed. It wasn't until that moment I realized how big he was. Sitting, he appeared a typical, hearty old man.
As he walked semi-besides me, a head taller, his shoulders wore a virile broadness & not the slumped tiredness from earlier. Fading quickly was the pity I initially felt for him.
We returned to the barn, & Alejandro, with a magnificent deftness, began to roll cigarettes. I waited intently on my continuing interrogation. Instead, I received reassuring exhales.
I wondered if they knew that I knew their silence was for my benefit. I had assumed a low profile would have caused suspicion, but not been an outright red flag.
Amelie was right, the people in this town were gossips. Humans the world over were. Suspicious & fearful. It was why I had to keep moving. Movement meant life.
So entranced by the silence & the smoke, that the questions I had been expecting took a moment for my senses to catch up.
Funny, I thought, the inquiries find me in peace.
“What was that?”
“I was asking about your family,” Roberto repeated, “when was it that they lived in the area?”
“Years. I was a boy when we left.”
“& no one's here now?”
I thought about whether to lie or not. If I did, it would make sense that I was here & there would be more questions. If I didn't, there would still be more questions, only harder to answer.
“I was never very close to my family. My father was not around & after my mother died… There wasn't much reason to stay.”
I let the silence finish speaking for me.
“What were you like as a boy?”
The question was so random I had assumed it was Roberto who had asked.
I looked up to see Alejandro’s eyes waiting for an answer.
“I was very active. Always doing things I wasn't supposed to be doing. After my mother died I didn't know how to act.”
I inhaled long, not wanting to remember anymore.
“Both my parents died when I was 6,” Alejandro said, his voice melancholic yet he smiled, “I remember them mostly from pictures my siblings kept. I eventually grew to dislike the pictures when I realized that my memory of them didn't match the images.”
I wanted to understand what he was telling me, but my words were lost.
“Well, I'm not sure where you were heading,” Roberto said, “but you're welcome to come with us.”
“Perhaps you should ask your wife's permission first?,” Alejandro suggested. Roberto nodded, leaving.
He left in a mist of dissipating smoke & growing heat.
The old man rolled two more cigarettes & offered me one. As badly as I wanted to alter the present state of my mind, I left it lit, staring at the slowly diminishing ember.
“Destinations are for people who lack imaginations,” I heard.
I looked at Alejandro expecting his eyes. Instead, his face was blank, away from me as if he had never spoken.
Roberto returned, his children at his heels.
“El jefe has agreed. She said you are to be treated like family, which means, you get room & board, but if you misbehave, lo siento.”
He shook his head, feigning pity & both Araméa & Agustine laughed. Looking at the boy's face, I was suddenly reminded of my childhood.
More than anything, it was why I agreed to go. It could've been a memory I was reliving.
Outside, comforted by the calming breeze, encouraged by the distant valley, I climbed into the back of an ancient station wagon to begin the 3rd journey of my day.
@ellowrites #shortstory #fiction