Along the way, Armando tried to recognize the streets he once walked forty years ago, streets that were now paved. Lots of new buildings, and new businesses, and lots of people— Armando could recognize almost nothing. “Everything has changed,” he thought. “Obviously, after forty years… even me.” His hair was now totally white, and he wore a well-trimmed gray-beard.
“Would you please stop here, just for moment? I want to see that school.” Yes, it was the Francisco Sarabia Elementary School, the school where he had studied when he was a boy, the school that he had loved so much. It was the same school, but not the same building. In his memory was the old adobe building with very wide walls, wooden floors, and no air conditioning whatsoeverl. Many memories flooded Armando’s head in an almost cruel way, and he couldn’t hold back a few tears.
At the hotel, Armando requested a room on the top floor, a room with a downtown view. The manager of the hotel called the bellboy to help with Armando’s baggage, and after tipping him, Armando decided to have a long look of the city through the window. In amazement, he studied the many changes in Pearl. Later, after a relaxing shower, he decided to take a walk on the street, the main street where the hotel was located, the street where he and Graciela used to walk holding hands on those warm evenings, and once again, a lot of memories filled his head. Armando strolled from east to west, stopping now and then to look at the new cement brick construction that had replaced old adobe buildings. In his mind, he could see the soft drink shop where he and Graciela used to go for a cold drink, or a snow cone. He could see also “Margarita’s Beauty Shop,” even though the shop was not there anymore. Margarita had died few years ago. In his memory, Armando could also see “Mireles’ Mechanic Shop.” Mireles was a very nice man and a great teller of jokes. Armando could also envision Sr. Rohana’s carlot, with only one car on display. Armando smiled at the memory..
He kept strolling till he reached the square where the church building was. It was a very old building, hundred of years old maybe, with the same façade, with only one tower, and with the same old bell. At the south side of the square, a two story modern building now replaced the old Municipal Presidency building. The old building had covered the entire block. Near the government offices had been the local police station, a municipal jail, a small school, and even a basketball court. As Armando kept walking, now in the opposite direction, on a street caled “La Paz,” a street, which ran parallel to the main street, he reached Centro Viajero Restaurant. He came inside and asked for Don Francisco Aguirre, the owner. The man to whom Armando talked told him that his father had bought the restaurant from Don Francisco before he had died, and since his father had later died as well, he was now the owner. Armando left, feeling kind of sad..
“How many more have died already,” he thought to himself. A few blocks further, on Fourth Street, he saw a sign hanging from the corner: Dr. Humberto Pando, General Medicine. “¡Aha, you are a doctor, uh-huh,” he said loudly. Immediately, as he came in the reception office, a beautiful and nice young girl welcomed him.
“Can I help you, Sr.” she asked, attentively.
Armando hesitated a little, and said: “Well…yea…I’d…like…to see the doctor.”
“Medical advice?” The girl inquired.
“Well…something like that. Just tell him that Armando wants to see him.”
The gracious girl opened the door of the doctor’s office, and said: “Dad, a gentleman by the name Armando wants to see you.”
“Let him in, let’s see who he is.”
Humberto was at his desk, checking documents. Without looking at Armando, he said, “Sit down please. I’ll be with you in a minute.”
Armando hardly could resist the desire of jumping over the desk to hug his good friend, and waited untill Humberto had raised his eyes. It was obvious that he did not recognized him because he asked: “What can I do for you?”
“I just came to collect the ten dollars you owe me.” Armando said looking at Humberto straight in his eyes. Humberto pulled his eyeglasses to the tip of his nose to look him better, and suddenly the memory of that dance came to his mind, and without saying a word, both of them stood up, and strongly hugged each other, not without shedding some tears.
|The cry was heard throughout the plaza
Armando stayed in Pearl for some days, days that they took advantage of, together, in that square that they had liked so much. They talked about a thousand things, remembered youthful memories, laughing, and joking as if they were kids. There was a moment in which Graciela asked Armando: “Did Humberto ever pay you the ten dollars?”
“How did you know about that; did he tell you?”
“No, he didn’t tell me; it was my idea; it was an plan that I made to encourage you to come to me.”
“Maaan, how foolish I was! I should’ve known.”
The last evening they were in the square together, Armando walked her home, wished her a good night, never telling her that he was to leave the next day. That same night Armando called Humberto to say goodbye. Early in the morning, a taxi took him to the bus station but oh! A surprise, Graciela was there.
“Besides… telling you…that I’m leaving…what else…did he tell you?” he asked nervously.
She looked at him for a good moment, but said nothing, and tried, making a big effort, not to cry. The moment was tense; they looked at each other with intensity, no words at all; but for some reason, Armando realized the she knew about his cancer. He made no comments, and kept himself quiet.
Graciela broke the silence; “I a present for you, but don’t open it till you get home, OK? Graciela spoke in very quiet voice. At that moment they heard, over the speaker, that the bus was ready to depart. Graciela tried to give him a farewell hug, but he stopped her with a gesture, turned around and walked a few steps. He then came back and they tenderly hugged each other, fully aware that they will never see one another for the rest of their lives.
At home, Armando opened the present. It was the “Waltz over the Waves” compact disc he had given her, forty year ago, and a short note: “Thanks for giving me back my life, even if it was just for a few days. Armando died not too long after, overcome by cancer.