Santa Cruz

It was a hot afternoon, a scorcher. Summer had reached its peak and the sky was the bluest it could have ever been. The hour hand had struck twelve. The sun sat directly on top of the town of Santa Cruz. In a small restaurant, seated in a table situated outside under the red awning, were Pablo and Caesar. A waitress just brought them food. Pablo had roasted chicken with beans, potato salad on the side, and a glass of lemonade. Caesar had none.

“Amelia’s been nagging me for days now to lose weight,” said Caesar, rubbing his potbelly.

Pablo laughed. He ate a piece of chicken followed by some potatoes. “Best chicken in town, I’m telling you. You are depriving yourself, my friend.”

Caesar watched him eat – a slice of chicken, potatoes, beans, a slice of chicken, potatoes, and beans. Pablo never broke the cycle. Finally he said, “You are torturing me.”

“Ah, but I am a good friend. Here, you can have some of the chicken.”

Caesar sighed and smiled. He shook his head. “Amelia will have my head if she finds out.”

Ice clinked in their sweating glasses. From somewhere inside the restaurant a man asked for his bill. The streets were empty of cars.

“How’s your little project going?” Asked Caesar.

Pablo shrugged. He grabbed his lemonade and took a drink. The crown of his head had already gone bald. Beads of sweat rested on top of them. He scratched this bald spot. “I don’t think I’ll be able to finish it.”

“Why? I have seen your work, the ones you’ve let me read at least. They are good.”

“And I haven’t added anything since. I just can’t think of anything to write.”

“Ah, it will come,” said Caesar, waving a hand.

Pablo finished his lunch in silence. The hour hand had reached one. He paid for the meal and left. They walked down the street of San Juan. A kalesa passed them by, a little girl no more than eight smiled at Pablo. The old man smiled back and waved goodbye.

“I think,” Caesar said as he wiped his forehead with a checkered handkerchief. “Amelia has it right that I lose weight. I grow tired easily nowadays. Let’s have a seat somewhere.”

Pablo pointed to a green, wooden bench shaded by a tree. They sat down and Caesar breathed a sigh of relief.

“We are getting old, my friend,” Caesar said.

“That we are,” Pablo replied.

Right across the street, facing them, was a row of colorful houses converted into a variety of shops. One sold ice-cream, another one sold trinkets and postcards for tourists, while another was a small cafe. Most were empty that afternoon and so the street was quiet. A wind passed by ruffling the leaves above them.

“You should finish your book,” Caesar said. “You’ve always wanted to be a writer.”

“I don’t even know what it’s supposed to be about.” Pablo watched a man seated inside the cafe. The man was typing something in his laptop. A brown mug sat on the table in front of him. Pablo guessed it had coffee inside.

“Well, let’s see, I remember reading about a man. He was, what was his name was? He was…”

“Carlos,” Pablo said, smiling, wrinkles formed beside his eyes.

“Yes! Carlos. He just moved into a new town, knows no one. A mystery man.”

“Yes, yes that’s right.”

“And you don’t know what happens to him next? Why he moved into that town? What happened to him before?”

Pablo shook his head. The young man in the cafe had just closed his laptop. He was now drinking his coffee, staring out the glass window. Pablo did not know his name. He must be from the city here to visit a relative.

“Well, why don’t you write about this town eh? You will think of something. You’ve always been the smart one.” Caesar closed his eyes, head leaned back a bit.

“I hope so,” Pablo said. A girl had just entered the cafe. A beautiful girl wearing a yellow dress and a hat. She walked to the cashier to order her drink. Ah, but what is this? Pablo thought. The young man was staring at the girl, recognition on his face. Recognition and…something else…fear. Fear and love. He stood up. He walked over to the girl and the girl sees him. She turned to him. He said something to her. The girl was now crying. She quickly walked out of the cafe. The young man was about to follow her, stopped, walked back to the table and grabbed his laptop, then he ran outside. Pablo watched them turn the corner and disappear.

“He was in love,” Pablo said.

“Hmm?” Caesar opened an eye.

“Carlos. He loved a girl but lost her. So he went somewhere to forget.”

“Ah, see? I told you you’ll think of something.”

“Come,” Pablo said standing up. “I think I’ll have some ice cream. I suddenly craved for pistachio.”

“Will you be treating me then?”

“Amelia will have your head.”

“Good point.”

Caesar stood up and both men crossed the empty street.

The ice cream shop was manned by a freckled girl. Her hair was cut very short like a boy’s but it suited her perfectly. She handed the old man his ice cream. Two scoops of pistachio ice cream sat on top of a caramel cone. Pablo paid for it. They then stepped back out into the embrace of the summer heat.

“Have I told you that Maria just won their school’s science contest? Matthew told me the story.”

“She’s a bright girl, your granddaughter. Probably got it from her grandma.” Pablo laughed.

“Ah, I won’t argue with that. Always had a tough time in school. You remember that one time in fourth grade?”

Pablo laughed harder this time. “I do!”

“I was seated by the window beside the mango tree.”

“And that time you forgot you had a quiz.”

“I knew if I fail that I’d fail the class.”

“Luckily for you, I remembered.”

“I was surprised to find you up on that tree.”

“I kept signaling you the answers. I nearly fell!”

“And I passed.”

Pablo bit into his cone, crumbs fell on the sidewalk. Caesar hummed a very old song. The hour had just turned two. They passed by a park. The fountain shaped like a cherub taking a piss was turned off.

They reached a small hill and started climbing it. Grass, the color of summer green, grew at knee length. Wisps of cloud floated in the sky. Caesar was already trying to catch his breath. Pablo wiped the sweat from his forehead, the nape of his neck, and on top of his bald head.

When they had reached the top they sat down on the grass. The grass here had been cut short. A trail of ants marched to somewhere beside Pablo.

“I do not know why you had me placed here,” Caesar said. “I’m still trying to catch my breath.”

“Exercise will be good for you, old friend. The view is nice as well.”

“Promise me, you’ll finish your story.”

Pablo watched the clouds above. He wondered where they were headed. He wondered if it was a nice place, their destination.

“Pablo.”

“I promise,” Pablo said.

“We only get to live once. We only get to dream once. Wouldn’t it be nice to die, to wake up from this life, having completed a dream? You will wake up telling me about all of it over roasted chicken and ice cream.”

A dog barked. The wind blew. Grass rustled. The hour hand turned four.

Pablo was alone.

He placed a hand on the tombstone and pushed himself up to his feet. He patted it and smiled. “I promise.”

He started walking back down.