She walked down the street, that old one she knew from long ago. The familiarity about it, that something she felt but didn’t want to accept. The smell of liquor that was so penetrated in the air filled her nostrils and haunted her. A dark room, the sound of flutes and drums leaking in from somewhere far away. A pain she couldn’t or didn’t want to put into words.
The pain of hiding didn’t let her see the beauty of the streets she walked on. The overpopulation of old potted plants that blocked the gates to every apartment. Geraniums pushing their way out through the cracks on the sidewalk. Bikes and balls, Barbies and GI Joes, jump ropes and half-filled plastic pools shouting out signs of the lives of the children who lived there.
She takes her recently dyed her and puts it up into a ponytail. She still can’t believe what it cost her, she’s promised herself that next time she’ll cut her hair short and save herself a few dollars. Not that she needs to, work is good and she has more than enough but she’s not the type to flaunt her money – that’s just the way she was raised. Today, however, there’s another reason why she chose to wear jeans and a t-shirt and her five year old shoes: it’s a tough neighborhood, calling attention to herself would not be smart. She finishes tying her her and begins to focus and remembers why she’s here. Ignacio. The asshole. There really was no other name she could think of for him.
It had been raining the day she met him. The sun struggled to push its way through the clouds and ultimately failed. It was gray outside and the sound of the rain was a nice complement to the music going from the tiny radio on her desk. Just as soon as she had started tapping her fingers to the music, she was interrupted by the ding of the bell that hung on the door.
It was a man, older than her, the age of her father maybe. Except this man was nothing like her father. This man was light skinned and tall, skinny and loud. “Buenas tardes!” he screamed into the office as if they were miles apart. Sandra couldn’t help but scrounge her eyes, not only at the sound of this man’s voice but also at the vaquero hat that almost fell from his head as it hit the door frame when he walked in.
“Buenas tarde,” she responded in a softer than usual voice, trying to send a message. He did’t get it.
“I want to buy a house, they told me you can help me,” he says, still too loud.
“Yes, I’m a realtor,” she tells him, immediately regretting her response. Maybe she should’ve said, “yes, but . . . ” and made something up but Sandra wasn’t the type to think on the spot. She always tried to be the niña viva that her mom always expected her to be but couldn’t. Sandra was a slow thinker, a slow reactor, the type of girl who always blinked two seconds too late. This time was no different, it was too late to turn back.
“How can I help you?” she continues.
“Well, like I said I want to buy a house and someone told me you know about this stuff.”
“Okay, this is how I work . . . ” she starts pulling out papers and brochures. As she was bent over her filing cabinet she couldn’t help but feel something familiar about this man. Something about his voice, his talk, the way he walked into the office, as if he was confident in himself but for all the wrong reasons. Actually, it wasn’t even confidence it was more like an air of ignorant snobbery. From her bent over position, she could see his alligator skin boots, they were pointy but not too much.
“You like them?” her search of both brochures and memories was interrupted by Ignacio’s ego. He had noticed her looking at his boots, although he had no clue about the real reason for her interest. And honestly, neither did she.
“No,” she said, “I mean yes, it’s just that . . . um . . . it reminded me of something. But here, look, I have these papers that are full of information for you.” She went on explaining everything to this man who seemed to know nothing about buying a house. The whole time, in the back of her mind, she’s lost in his features. The way he wrinkled his forehead when he didn’t understand something, the deep creases around his eyes, his dark brown hair and receding hairline and the way he moved his fingers around the table while he talked as if trying to make everything clear for her through an invisible graph on the table. Every little thing about him, she studied but still she couldn’t figure it out. The doubt was still there. She kept wondering if he felt the same about her because he acted as though he was meeting her for the first time. Yes, she dressed differently now that she was a realtor but her features were still the same as always: big dark brown eyes, long thin pointy nose, thin lips, cleft chin and of course the birthmark she eventually stopped covering with her hair. There was no sign that he noticed any of this as they neared the end of their new client-realtor conversation.
“Okay, I’ll wait for your call,” he said standing up and putting his vaquero hat back on. They shook hands and as he turned to walk to the door she noticed that she carried with him the smell of Obsession, a perfume that had always made her uncomfortable. The bell on the door dinged as he walked out and she couldn’t help noticing that the sound of it didn’t match anything about this man.
It has been months since that day, looking back Sandra can’t believe she didn’t know who this man was. But there was no time for that now, she’s here to get things done. The gate is locked when she reaches the apartment building she’s been searching for. Old and rusted, the numbers hardly stand out from the brown of the building. She leans into the gate trying to see if anyone’s around but nothing. Everything’s quiet until she hears someone call, “Ey! Speedy!” She leans in to the gate again, it’s him: black, perfectly creased dickies, white t-shirt, Nikes, a slick back hairdo and a walk that, if it weren’t for his clothes, would make her think he was an athlete. But he’s not, he’s a cholo and he’s now on the other side of the gate.
“Hi my name is Sandra, can we talk?”