“Doña Lupe!” a boy shouts at the door of the house. “You have a call at the corner store.”
“Thank you boy, I’m coming.”
“Who could it be?” my mother wonders as she walks to the door.
Outside in the street the boys are playing spinning top trying to hit a coin on the ground.
“Martin, take out your top,” they tell me.
“I don’t have a top because I end up hitting my feet,” I said. They all laugh.
“Martin, mijo. I’m going to the market. I need you to help me,” shouts my mother when she is back from the store.
‘Yes, I’m coming.”
On the way she tells me about the call.
“Your abuelo is coming to spend a few days with us. Do you remember him?” she asks.
“No, not really,” I answer.
“You were very little when he came the first time. Well, the thing is that your abuelo has been sick and maybe a change of environment will help him feel better. Zacatecas is cold most of the year,” she explains.
The market is crowded. I could hear each of the vendors loudly offering their products,
“Pase güerita! what are you going to take?” My mother chooses vegetables, some fruit and chicken.
“Take the bag of vegetables,” she says to me.
On the way back I ask her, “Mom, why is el abuelo sick?”
“He has problems with his lungs. Your abuelo smoked a lot and he worked in the mine for a long time.”
“What’s wrong with the mine?”
“Well, they say that the dust and gases inside the mine are harmful,” Mom says.
The image of Snow Whites’ seven dwarfs working happily in the mine comes to my mind. They even sing, so maybe the dust doesn’t affect them.
Back at home, my father asks my Mom, “What time is Don José coming?”
“He’ll be here any minute. Toño is bringing him.”
“Well, I’m going to play with the band at the Plaza de Armas. I’ll see them when I get back.”
Before leaving, my father stops at the door and we all run to give him a kiss on the cheek. He looks strong in his military-style uniform. My brother, sisters and I sit down to watch our favorite Sunday TV show.
We hear a car pull up outside and my Mom gets out to see. “Your abuelo is here” she shouts.
We all get up and look out into the hallway. I see my cousin, Toño and with him a short man with a hat and scarf. His face is wrinkled, his skin is lighter than mine and his eyes are a strange green color.
“Greet your abuelo,” says my Mom. We draw a line to get close as my Mom reminds him of everyone’s names.
“And this is Martin.”
“Ah, the sickly one who got lost,” says el abuelo.
“Yes, it’s him” answers my Mom. El abuelo gives me a hug and a kiss on the forehead.
My Mom motions for them to sit at the table.
“Toño, Papa, are you hungry?” asks my Mom.
They both answer, “no, thank you.”
My cousin says, “in two hours I go back to Zacatecas. Tomorrow, I have to work.”
My Mom asks el abuelo about his health, and in a curt manner he says,
“I am ok.” My Mom doesn’t insist.
My father enters the house, “Toño, Don José, how are you? Welcome!”
“I’m fine uncle, thank you,” says Toño.
“I am good, Pancho, thank you. How’s the music going?” says el abuelo.
“Well, I can’t complain,” my father says as he takes off his hat and undoes the big, gold buttons on his jacket.
“Look Pancho, I brought this,” el abuelo opens his suitcase and takes out a violin.
“Do you play the violin?” my father asks with a surprised look.
“I’ve been playing it for some years, but only occasionally.” El abuelo says.
“Well, what a nice surprise,” says my father.
“Pancho, where can I put it so it won’t break?”
“I’ll hang it next to the guitar on the wall.”
After a while my cousin says goodbye. My Mom accompanies him to the door and thanks him.
In the morning my mother shouts, “Paco, Martin, get up so you can take your abuelo for a walk before you go to school.”
“Yes, we’ll be right down,” we answer.
Well, here we go, we head towards the church that is two blocks from the house. El abuelo walks at a slow pace and very quiet. On the way he greets everyone we meet, especially the ladies.
“Hello Martin, who is the handsome gentleman with you? “Asks a neighbor.
“He is el abuelo, José, my mother’s father”.
“Well, my name is Maria, I am a friend and neighbor of your daughter, Lupe.” She reaches for his hand and blinks a lot at him.
“Much pleasure, Doña Maria,” says el abuelo, raising his hat.
“Nice to meet you, Don José. See you around,” she says.
Arriving at the esplanade in front of the church, el abuelo sits down on a bench and tells us to play while he rests, so we start running like crazy.
On our way back, Paco walked ahead of us. I was holding el abuelo’s hand. He says, “So, Martin, do you have a girlfriend?”
“No, abuelo,” I answer.
“I know you are just a boy, but isn’t there a girl you like?”
“Well, yes, I think Coco is pretty and I like to talk to her.” I said.
“Well, that’s a good start.” He looked down at me with a twinkle in his green eyes.
Sometimes my Mom puts a chair outside the house on the sidewalk so he can entertain himself watching people. Neighbors pass by and say hello or stay a moment to talk.
One afternoon when Paco and I arrive home from school, we see neighbors looking in the door of our house. When we enter, we see el abuelo playing the violin.
“Come Paco and dance,” shouts el abuelo. My brother turns and sees me. I shrug my shoulders as my Mom starts clapping and tells Paco to dance for el abuelo. Paco starts moving in a weird and funny way. I am glad I escaped, although despite his embarrassment, I wonder why el abuelo didn’t choose me.
My dad and my older brother come in and see el abuelo playing the violin and Paco dancing. Father takes the trumpet and my older brother the guitar. My Mom joins in with her strong voice. The barrio enjoyed a unique, magical concert.
The next morning, at the table, el abuelo and my mother talk. I sit down to have breakfast while I listen to el abuelo’s sad voice talk about his farm and the plague, many years ago that killed almost all of his animals, including cows, sheep, goats and ducks.
It is as if he only remembered the sad things in his life; like when his mother disinherited him for marrying my grandmother, a woman from a humble family.
“I’m going back to Zacatecas tomorrow,” said el abuelo in a low voice.
“As you wish, Papa, I will see who can take you to Zacatecas.”
“It’s not necessary. Just call Toño and let him know what time I will arrive so he can pick me up at the bus station. I’ll be fine,” replied el abuelo.
El abuelo’s cough wakes me up in the middle of the night. It sounds bad.
In the morning, finishing breakfast, my Mom says, “say goodbye to your abuelo.”
We all line up to give him a kiss on the hand and tell him, “Have a good trip, abuelo”.
“Papa, don’t forget your violin,” says my Mom.
“Mija, leave it hanging there. I won’t need it anymore.” A long silence followed like a tale behind the comet.
My mother kisses his hand with reverence and asks him to let her know when he gets home.
A cab waits outside, my father and my older brother take him to the bus station.
It has been a few months since el abuelo left. When my Mom gets letters from Toño, my cousin, she looks sad.
“Doña Lupe! you have a phone call in the corner store,” a boy shouts at the door.
“I’ll be right there, thank you. Mija, watch the chicken on the stove, I’ll be right back,” she says to my sister.
After a few minutes my mother comes in shouting, “Pancho! Pancho!”
My father appears, “what happened?”
“My Papa just died and I have to go to Zacatecas right now.”
My dad hugs her, “what can I do? “
“Just take me to the bus,” Mom says.
“Girls, I will be out for a few days so you know what to do.”
“Yes, Mom,” they answer.
I check my school homework, put on my uniform and sit down to eat. While I eat, I look at el abuelo’s violin and think that I was lucky to know him.
I leave for school before my brother. Along the way, images come to me of when el abuelo was here; when we would take him for walks, when he would talk to the neighbors, how he would sometimes fall asleep at the table.
I walk and think, why did he choose Paco and not me to dance?
I walk and I can hear his violin with that catchy melody.
I see in my mind el abuelo with his hat and scarf playing the violin and his face with wrinkles and his eyes a strange green color.
The melody keeps playing in my head, suddenly my feet move to the rhythm, and my hands too, my whole body. I find myself dancing in the middle of the street, with music that only exists in my head.
I see him clearly and hear it loudly, then I tell him, “You see, abuelo? I can dance too.” Then he looks at me and smiles.
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