Monica opened her eyes, but at first she couldn’t get her bearings. An AC unit quietly hummed in the corner – and someone was whistling outside – rather well in fact. From the light peeking through the raw cotton curtains, she could tell the day was well underway. M–m-m-m-m-m, she breathed in the familiar aroma of freshly-brewed coffee.
Fully awake now, she slid from the high four-poster bed and wiggled her feet into a pair of flip-flops. She tied the sash of her robe, and hoped Peter would not take offence at her walking around the house without first getting dressed for the day. But she just couldn’t take time, the promise of caffeine was too powerful to resist,
Shutting her bedroom door behind her, she crossed a courtyard where small brownish birds splashed in a fountain. They flew away as she approached, but by the time she reached the arch leading to the kitchen, they had returned to their morning ritual. She couldn’t see anyone, but a thermal carafe sitting on the blue and white Talavera tiled counter looked like what she wanted, more than anything in the world. She picked it up, and as she poured, she heard Peter call, “I’m in the pool Monica, come on outside.”
“Buenos días,” she answered, as she took her first sip of the rich, dark brew.
Peter looked so pleased with himself, standing chest-deep in the water, drinking a big glass of orange juice. “Could there be a better way to start the day,” he asked.
She agreed that this was about as good as it gets. Just 16 hours ago, Raymundo – the driver Peter contracted for airport pickup – brought them to this spectacular home. He carried their bags inside, and assured them he was on call 24-7, in case they needed anything at all. Monica was not used to so much attention. Giddy from the heat and novelty – she unpacked her clothing and accessories – then joined Peter for margaritas on the upper terrace. While watching the sun set, she could feel the tension of years slither out of her body, and evaporate like water on the hot terracotta tiles.
She felt like a young girl again.
At “Alberto’s”, a restaurant they chose by fluke, they’d enjoyed a Lebanese meal – truly authentic Baba Ghanoush, lamb kababs – and of course, a couple more Mexican margaritas. “So far, Merida has surpassed my expectations,” she said – And I hope my liver will survive – she thought to herself.
Alberto, their host, had so many stories and so much history to share. Eliabeth Taylor and Richard Burton had dined at his table – and of course – Graham Greene. “He was a prince,” said Alberto, “but he seemed sad all the time, actually more than sad; I don’t remember how you say this in English.”
“Do you mean he was melancholy?”
“Yes exactly,” Alberto winked. Monica figured that would have been true – could the whiskey priest in “The Power and the Glory” – have been imagined by a content writer?
As the evening wore on, Alberto’s stories got more florid and effusive – No, no, no – Monica hadn’t spent such an entertaining evening in decades. And it looked to her as though last night had been Peter’s first one ever.
“You know what?” Peter looked at her appraisingly. “I have to confess that even though I admired you for coming along on this trip, I worried that I’d have to look after you. I wondered if you could handle stairs and uneven walkways. But you are as fit as a woman half your age.”
There it was again. Why do younger people patronize their elders? OK, some of her friends had definitely given up on life, but she had not. Monica felt she should not have to prove herself to Peter or anyone else. “Well I worried too,” she confessed, “I worried that you wouldn’t be able to keep up with me. But I can see you’re going to be just fine.” She stood up and unfastened her cotton robe. She snuck a look at Peter’s face, filled with embarrassment and confusion. This is fun, she thought as it slipped from her shoulders. She could not help but laugh out loud at the way his face flooded with relief.
“Whoa Nellie!” Peter said, “Nice bathing suit! For a few seconds I thought you were about to go skinny dipping.”
Monica teased him. “Don’t worry,” she said, “Aunt Augusta was a model of propriety; although she had a wild streak, she disciplined herself. She was sedate, and I am too. Do you have plans for today?”
“Actually, I thought I’d explore one of the cenotes I’ve read about; do you want to come along?”
“I’ve been doing some reading too,” Monica said as she held up a book she found on a shelf in her bedroom. “There is a group of English-speaking women here who crochet hats for kids with cancer. I think I’ll check it out.”