Adios & Farewell, Amigo Mio
By Landon Hollander
He was there every day, at the main bus stop, in his plastic chair, newspaper on lap, reading glasses perched at the end of his nose, or chatting with passerby and chums. Wearing one of his Amigos de La Cruz T shirts. Because of his almost emaciated stature, most people would think him a street person perhaps needing food, maybe homeless, certainly jobless, no? He was Hector, last name not known, and his job was to “pace” the buses, ATM and Compostela, so that they weren’t on top of one another. He kept a clipboard and logged arrivals and departures.
Each day, usually later in the afternoon, he would cross in front of the taxi stand to the Rosticeria and buy some chicken, and later he would cross the highway and buy cigarettes and a Coke at Max’s tienda.
When the long day was done, usually around 8:30 or 9:00 in the evening he would once again cross the highway and walk up the lateral, turn left and head up Calle Monte Calvario. About half way up the first block he would be enthusiastically greeted by two scruffy dogs who he called Bolita and Cachorra, the former a tad on the chunky side with a Border Collie relative somewhere in the distant gene pool, the latter forever the puppy by title, a classic tan, thin Mexican “criollo” -street dog. With the two dogs running happy, bouncy circles around him, Hector would fluidly dip his upper body and slide through the opening between the chest and waist high strands of barbed wire that encircle the vacant lot, of which he was the caretaker.
He would stroll around the wood shack to the back extension that served as his home and emerge with a sack of dog food and two bowls. The dogs would receive their much anticipated dinner with joy and love, licking his face when he bent to serve the dishes. And he would grumble at them to cut it out, damned mongrels, but then he would scratch their bellies and everyone was happy.
Now he would wander back to his room and a light would go on and, recently, a newly procured TV could be heard for an hour or so. Then lights out and silence, for a while. In the quiet neighborhood, the sound of passing trucks down on the highway and the occasional barking of ten scattered dogs were the only sounds to be heard. Until the coughing started.
Each day, he would emerge, invariably shirtless, and his fly-weight boxer’s body would once again amaze. “Buenos dias, Hector!” I would shout across the street always to be met with, “Buenos Dias, Landon!” usually followed with a comment on the ever changing weather or the absence of water from the faucets that fed directly from the street, no tinaco here.
Hector would gladly be the force that kept our bougainvillas from overtaking the universe, and he would be the one who, when informed that we would be going to Guadalajara or back to the States, would make the forked finger pointing at his eyes and back in my direction: “I’ll be watching out for you, my friend.”
On Thursday June 30th, Hector returned home as always, but before entering through the barbed wire, he walked over to inform me that he was going to Tepic, where his family lived, because he was sick and needed to see a doctor. I asked if it was serious and he refused the notion; no, but I need to go there. He then walked further down our street to inform Ruben & Adela, who were his friends.
The following evening I received a text:
Te encargo los perros. (I charge you with the dogs/Take care of the dogs.)
Two nights later, this message:
From: Hector family
Hi, just too tell you about my Uncle Hector he died today at 4 a.m. of morning
Ok. Last night around 9:30, I was out front loading some things into my car, and down the street from further up the hill where they hang with Nacho & Henry, two other neighbor dogs came trotting beside Bolita and Cachorra. Side by side, staring straight ahead down the hill, the street. They stopped, still side by side, and sat, watching and waiting.
Tonight we will gather with our neighbors and discuss their joint adoption. We will miss Hector every day and every night for the simple, real man he was, his selfless joy and friendship. Each time I glance across the street, each time I pet his dogs and each time I pass the bus stop, I will think fondly of my humble amigo and fight back the tears.