José was an old man. His head was bald and his skin was wrinkled and tanned from decades of sun. He shuffled along slowly, his back was bent, forcing him to look down, never straight ahead.
His clothes were made of the best quality materials and were well-tailored; but, they no longer fit him. He didn’t stand as tall as he once had. What little was left of his muscles sagged under loose skin. He wore his pants higher so the cuffs wouldn’t drag on the ground. His once-beautiful leather belt reflected his history in the many worn holes no longer used. The extra length flapped against his leg as he walked. But he was proud of his fine clothes, the only things left of a lifetime of finery that he could show off, and he refused to have them altered or purchase new ones. Why should he? He knew he wouldn’t wear them much longer.
Everyone told him to retire to the seaside. The Costa del Sol is perfect, the sun shines 300 days a year. Slightly warmer in the summer, a bit cooler in the winter but perfect weather for an old man. Yes, it was windy but he would get used to that. A small apartment suited him and he arranged for a caregiver to come every day.
It was routine that kept him going. Breakfast was a piece of fruit, a pastry, and a very strong coffee that he brewed himself. By mid-morning a caregiver would arrive. They were rarely the same person and were mostly interchangeable youngish women who liked to talk. For the most part he ignored their chatter and they soon realised this, and saved their breath. They cleaned and tidied his tiny apartment and then took him to lunch. Lunch was always at his favourite outdoor café on the beach. A table, the one exactly in the centre of the outdoor café, was always reserved for him and his caregiver. Even if all the other tables were occupied, his table sat empty, waiting for him.
Lunch was also a routine. It was always the same lentils with Chorizo sausage, fresh bread and olives, and always a glass of beer. After lunch was another beer and a dish of potato chips, both, against his doctor’s advice. José asked his doctor what joy would there be in a few months or even a year of extra life without a few indulgences like beer and potato chips?
The caregivers were mostly silent at lunch, they left the talking to his acquaintances at the café. Some would just wave, or nod their heads in recognition. Some would stand by his table and some would sit. They talked about the weather, even though it rarely varied. They talked about sports, mostly football, and mostly the local club. And they talked about politics. He knew politics, he kept informed, but it raised his blood pressure and so he avoided the topic if he could.
The patrons at the café knew him only as José, an old man who had retired to the area. He never spoke of his life, his accomplishments or his defeats, his dreams or his nightmares. He never spoke of his family. Some said he was incredibly rich; just look at his clothes. Others said he had fallen on hard times and wore only his best to hide the fact. The gossip was thick with speculation. Had he been someone famous? A major businessman? Stock dealer? Flamenco promoter? No one knew and no one really cared. They just enjoyed their gossip. After all, he was just an old man. No one sought his advice, no one asked his opinion. No one cared to know the life lessons he had learned. He was just an old man.
After lunch, he’d walk with his caregiver along the beach, and when the weather was warm enough to bring out the young women in their swimsuits, he’d sit on a bench and dream of his youth. How strong and virile he’d been, how the women loved him, and how he loved them. He thought of his life, his work, and his late wife. He thought of his children who rarely came to see him. They lived too far away, were too busy and always had something more important to do than visit an old man.
He would return home for his afternoon siesta and then he would watch a show or a movie on TV. The caregiver would prepare a small meal for his supper and then leave. He liked to eat his supper earlier, and was usually finished long before the restaurants opened in the evenings at 8:30. Besides, he didn’t like all the hustle and bustle of the beach-goers at night. Drinking and gorging themselves, loud and boisterous. It was too much for him. He always made it an early night and the next day he’d do it all over again.
There was a week of storms on the Mediterranean. The wind and rain kept people indoors. After all, with 300 days of sun to enjoy the outdoors, staying home for a few days here and there didn’t make much difference. The outdoor cafés were suffering a distinct lack of business, and with the cafés empty there was no one to notice when José didn’t come for his mid-day meal. Once the weather broke and the sun shone again, it was business as usual. However, his reserved table sat empty. Day after day, he didn’t come. There was a lot of speculation, but they all realised that no one knew where he lived. No one even knew his full name.
As the days passed and he didn’t return, others were allowed to sit at his table. After a few weeks even the fact that the table was reserved for him was forgotten. After all, why remember? He was just an old man.
© Howard Pell 2020. This work is licensed under a CC BY 4.0 license.