My neighbor’s walls explode with begonias. He stacks them up his walls in simple plastic pots–white, pink, purple. Each morning, he tends them, trimming a bit and watering them. On his second level, under a green-cloth shade, his grapes, pregnant and ponderous grow in comfortable vines. I expect he will come over with an offering soon, each grape the size of a golf ball, meaty and succulent.
He has a dog named Pancho, who is fat and feeble, hobbling like an old man despite being only five years old. He putters around his patio, then down the street to have a chin-wag with his other canine friends.
My neighbor’s name is Alfonso, and he sells wine out of his garage. He has ten large oak barrels with taps. Each is for a distinct blend of sherry. You enter his store, ask for a copa, and if you desire, he will sell you more in an empty plastic bottle. It’s better if you bring your own bottle, but he will supply one. You can also buy lentils or garbanzos, and often he has meat or caracoles on the stovetop.
His clients have one common factor—old age. These are men of suspenders and caps, of loud voices and arguments about nothing. These are the men who lived through Franco and poverty, and now they sit on plastic chairs and talk until the sky melts into darkness.
His wife is named Carmen. She hurts a lot, with arthritis, and is often in bed. She kisses my boys on the head when she can.
Two weeks ago, I saw the funeral truck, but didn’t make the connection until later. Carmen had passed, and the Spanish bury their loved ones within a day or two.
Just like that.
I asked a friend if I should bring flowers or food, and she shook her head vigorously and told me what to do.
About a week later, I crossed the street, and said, “Lo siento, mucho.” I kissed him on each cheek, and watched him quickly blink away the wave.
“Gracias, hija,” he said. And he turned and sat with his friends, as Pancho rested against his feet.