by Anthony Vasko
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It was Wednesday and Juan liked Wednesdays very much. That was the day he got to his little girl.
He woke up on this particular Wednesday the same as all the others. First, he pulled the covers away from his round front side, and then he tucked them underneath the right side of his wife. He kissed her and said, “Buenos Dias, Bella.”
“Buenos Dias, Papi,” she said, eyes still closed, hands still clenching the covers from the inside.
“Sleep, mi amor,” he whispered. “Sleep until you must wake up.”
He got out of the bottom bunk and stood up. Then he leaned over the top bunk and pulled on his friend’s arm. “Ubaldo, despertar, we must go to work.”
Ubaldo rolled away. “Oh Juan, temprano”~it’s too early~
Juan pulled the covers away. “Amigo, it is time to get up. And silencio, my wife is asleep with los angelos.”
Ubaldo stepped down from his bed and followed Juan through the hallway, and into the washroom. As Juan washed himself in the shower, Ubaldo shaved at the sink. Then they switched places. Finally the two me stood next to one another combing their thick black hair in the fogged up mirror. Ubaldo combed his from front to back, and Juan combed his from left to right.
They walked through the small house together, and they hugged and kissed each woman and child as they passed by.
“Buenos Dias, Senora,” Juan said to the eldest woman of the house. “Do you know what day it is?” he said, slipping his left hand through the coat sleeve.
“Miercoles!” she said with a smile. “Besitos, Juan…give to her my kisses.”
“Si, mami. I will.”
Then Juan followed Ubaldo through the front door, and down the street they walked, side by side, as the sun began to rise over the Santa Monica Mountains.
They stopped at a newsstand and Juan bought a copy of the Times. He bought one every day.
“You and your periodico,” Ubaldo said.
“This is how I learn English, amigo. This is how I will start to make a better life por ma familia.”
They showed their passes and boarded the bus. Then they sat down and Juan passed the sports section to Ubaldo so he could read the boxscores of the previous night’s baseball games.
“Oh Los Dodgers…quarto para los nada,” Ubaldo said, poking fun. “Pero Los Angels…tres par los uno. You should root for the Angels, amigo.”
Juan folded back the section in his hand. “I live in Los Angeles, Ubaldo. I do not live in Anaheim.”
When the bus arrived at the corner of Beverly and Fairfax each man grabbed his backpack and stepped onto the sidewalk. They walked past the large studio lot and down an alley, past a parking garage and a series of clothing stores, finally done when they got to the diner at the center of the Farmers Market.
They pushed their belongings underneath a counter, tied aprons around to their backs, and they punched their time cards. Then they went to work.
From eight until noon the two men cooked. Huevos and tostados. Huevos and tocino. Hamburguesas and fritas. Corned beef on rye. Turkey on white and wheat. Los tacos and quesadillas. Meatloaf and mashed potatoes. Gyros. And finally, cream cheese and lox on a bagel.
Every combination of items came into their window, written sloppily by the gringas on little yellow pieces of scrap paper.
Ubaldo would say, “Que?” unable to understand, and Juan would answer him in Spanish. It was the only time of the day he would do so.
Many of the customers were regulars, especially in the morning, as they prepared to go to work in the nearby shops and restaurants and offices. When Juan had a moment he always visited with them.
“Good morning, Senor Daniel,” he said, placing a plate of eggs and toast on the diner top. “How are you today?”
“Ah, same as usual, just a different day.”
“Oh no, Senor, this is the day…the only day we have right now.”
The man cut into his eggs. “Yeah, I guess.”
“You will see, Senor Daniel, you will see. Very good things will come today. I wish you the best.”
Then Juan returned to his cooking station. There was another order to make. When he was done, it was noon, and noon was time for his thirty-minute break. So he punched his time card and walked to the produce stand. He picked out one banana and one orange, and he stepped up to the register.
“Hello, Senora Martha,” he said. “The fruit looks very good today.”
“Thank you, Juan, it does. It’s going to be one dollar and seventy-five cents as usual.”
He handed her six quarters, a dime, and three nickels. “You know what today is?”
She thought for a moment. “It’s Wednesday! How’s she doing?”
“Good, Senora. Very good. I have a feeling this might be the day.”
“I sure hope so.” She placed the two pieces of fruit into a small brown bag. “I will say a prayer for you.”
“Thank you, Senora. God is very good.”
He took his brown bag and carried it to the same bench he sat at every day. As he peeled them and then enjoyed each bite slowly he liked to watch the mothers and young girls walk out of the shop across the street with bags of toys and dolls and pretty dresses and skirts. The smiles on the young girls faces always made him very happy. The way they peeked into their bags, admiring their new possessions always gave him hope.
One day, he thought, that will be me and my little girl.
When the half hour had come and gone, he threw the peels into the bag, and the bag into the garbage can, and he walked back to the diner to finish his shift. At four o’clock he punched his time card and removed his apron. Then he grabbed his backpack, wished Ubaldo goodbye, and he ran to the nearest bus stop. When he caught the 4:10 he had enough time to stop at the church before going to his next job.
Once the bus dropped him off he climbed the steps and pulled on the door, but the door was locked. So he went over to the garden where the statues of the Blessed Mother and Saint Joseph stood. First, he said three Ave Marias while he kneeled before the Blessed Mother. When he was done, he kissed the Blessed Mother’s feet, and he moved over to Saint Joseph. He recited a prayer to Saint Joseph, and again kissed the statue’s feet. “San Jose,” he said, “please make me a good husband and a good father.” Then he stood up and placed his hand on the head of the Infant Child Jesus, rested in the arms of the Blessed Mother. “Maria and Jesus…bring my little girl home with me, por favor. And take my prayers of forgiveness to the Father. Amen.”
He turned and genuflected towards the front door of the church. Then he picked up his backpack and hurried the final three blocks to his next job.
After punching in he slipped his hands into a pair of latex gloves. Then he took the orders and made the sandwiches as he was told. He didn’t like his second job as much as his first. The people were quickly in and out, and they did not know him. They did not ask him about his little girl. They didn’t know, and they didn’t care. But he wished them all a good night, often to no return, and he asked God to bless them, because without them he would have no job.
When it came time for closing he locked the doors and put everything away in the cooler. Then he went into the bathroom and washed his hands and face. Finally, he removed his comb from his back pocket and stroked his hair left to right. I must look good for my little girl, he thought. I must look good when she first sees me.
As he gathered his backpack and jacket the manager came out of the office.
“Here you go, Juan,” he said, handing him an envelope. “I hope the housing goes through this time.”
“Thank you, Senor. Thank you very much.” He tucked it into a pocket on his bag. “It’s Wednesday, Senor. I go see my little girl now.”
“Good luck, Juan. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
He caught the bus on Wilshire and 3rd and he rode it to the stop at 21st. Then he walked the remaining blocks, getting to the hospital at half past eleven. When he entered he went straight to the gift shop. He placed a single white rose on the counter and removed a few crumpled bills that were placed in his tip jar earlier that night.
He carried the rose to the elevator and waited for the ding. Then he went to the fifth floor and signed in.
“Only twenty more minutes Mr. Rios,” the nurse said.
“I know, Senora, but it’s my favorite twenty minutes of the week.”
Finally he was there, with his little girl, and despite the glass wall, the ten feet and the oxygen tank, it was just a father and his daughter.
“Hola Bella,” he said. “You look so beautiful tonight. I came all the way across town to see you. I was hoping you would be awake…that I could finally see your beautiful little eyes.”
He wanted to say more, he wanted to believe, but two years had been a long time. Two years had worn the man down. He cried and cried, brushed his tears aside, and he cried some more. The minutes were ticking away and Thursday was getting very close.
“Mr. Rios,” a nurse said as she entered, “It’s time.”
“Yes Senora. May I have one more minute with her?”
“Yes, but just a minute.”
He knelt down at the window so that he could be no closer, and then he said, “Sleep little angel, sleep. Be strong little angel, be strong. And when you wake up, I will take you home. I love you Bella. I love you with all my heart. Sleep with the angels tonight.”
Then he stood up, kissed the glass, made the Sign of the Cross on the condensation he left with the kiss, and he carried the rose to the nurses’ counter.
“Excuse me, miss,” he said. “Can you give this to Miss Theresa please? Tell her it is from Senor Rios…and please tell her I forgive her.”
“Yes, Mr. Rios. I can do that.”
Then Juan carried his backpack to the elevator and out the front door. He walked to the corner of 21st and Wilshire and waited for the next bus.
Back at the hospital a woman returned from her break. She had spent most of the hour in the chapel, as always, praying for forgiveness, and praying for a miracle.
“Theresa, this is for you.” She was handed the white rose. “Mr. Rios wanted you to have it, and he wanted you to know that he forgives you.”
The woman broke down. Two years had gone by since it happened. Two years and a million thoughts of shame and regret had passed since an infant girl slipped through her arms. She wept and wept, and when she was done, the sound of a buzzer was followed by a series of frantic footsteps.
It was Thursday now and Juan was finally home. He climbed into bed and he untucked his wife. Then he pulled the covers over his round front side and leaned over to kiss his wife. “Buenos noches, Bella. I love you. May you sleep with the angels tonight, and may you wake up next to me.”
He had no telephone. He had no way of knowing. The following Wednesday would be different. He would finally get to meet his little girl.
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