The Townspeople

Hicardo is the driver. He is happy, as he says, “to make drive.” You can imagine him, leathery skin, navy pinstripe blazer, slicked back curls, smiling, jutting his nose over the wheel, a kid on a cart. He’s happy always to do this driving, zooming around making rights from far left lanes, pointing at the horse statues, speaking to foreign passengers, like the couple he is dropping off, about the discovery of this place, how they came on horseback, how the natives were found, how this land presented itself to them. “Cavaleiros,” he shouts. His passengers thinks he is calling out the horses, as they duck into a tunnel under the park, and head to their rental.

Danielle is the Señorita that works the front desk of the Doctor’s building. “Unmarried,” she clarifies, while pointing to “Priscilla,” while saying, “Señora, married.” and winking at the Doctor, past the couple checking into their rented room. These are the passengers from Hicardo’s car. Hicardo sits outside chatting with a doorman named Ugo, his white teeth shining as he smacks the lanky boy’s shoulder with a cackle that makes the couple turn and awkwardly wave. He’s waiting for the Doctor, but they tell themselves he must talk to everyone here.

The Doctor is greeted with great warmth from HIcardo. She puts a busy finger up and says, “Um momento, ‘Cardo.” She skitters across the street to the cafe.The regulars bustle in and out in waves. The old man, Señor Flormá, taps his cane in the corner, his hat hung low over his brow, his jacket too heavy for this warmth. Raul, the barista, foams milk behind the corner. Margarita plays dominoes with her daughter. Ooga, behind the counter with Raul smiles brightly at the Doctor who orders a cafe for herself, pauses, and orders a second for Hicardo.

Leonardo is down the way, fumbling his big thumbs over colorful buttons at the phone store’s printer. The Doctor visits him here to refresh her card, she has Hicardo wait for this errand. He fumbles the whole way through the Doctor’s order, his brow sweating as he fidgets, his white shirt hanging over his waistband like a lab coat. There is never enough time for Leonardo. He always feels like another customer is waiting. Though there often is, they are not putting the pressure on Leonardo the way Leonardo puts the pressure on Leonardo.

The Doctor is looking for a school for her daughter. Hicardo drives her to and from. His cost is less than the time it would take her to go by almost any other mode. Plus, his company is a delight when she feels like paying attention. He waits for her outside every building she visits,. She watches Hicardo in the reflection of a screen above the scanner as Leonardo sweats behind the desk. He thumbs his way over a single piece of paper smoothing the barcode which is split from where he tore the SIM card out - he’s trying to repair the code to scan it. She leaves the phone store with a fresh chip, sees the couple up on a balcony in her building, looking out at a city they’ve probably never seen before. She wonders how they see it.

The Doctor thinks of Italy, of the coast where she once lived, about the day she arrived back here, and bought an apartment in that building, after many years away, about swept away favelas that have spawned skyscrapers in their place, about now living atop those old shacks. She sees twins in a double stroller, under matched red awnings, clawing at the air around them. The babies here are babies. Babies are babies everywhere, she thinks. Both their faces look like the mushy faces of so many other babies, like the faces that come in and out of her office opening their mouths to her candy-coated throat cultures. And yet her hand meets her chest as the twins pass, grateful to see the town still growing. She smiles at the lady pushing them, but she does not see the Doctor’s admiring glance.

The Doctor could be anyone, an average passerby. The man in the phone store that she knows is Leonardo could merely be a shadow, a blur, a body past the glass and the flat screen televisions. She thinks as she looks up at this couple, the road and the street signs and the many motorcycles going past the odd shaped cars do not exist, are all invisible, unless you see them too.

For them the story might be a dozen other people, on another road, in another place, opening the town up slowly, allowing its secrets to unfold, welcoming them into its story. Or maybe what they see and know is a tale in a book that she will never open, that she heard something about and then purchased to read, though it sits on a shelf in the building there at the far edge of the street where she lives, collecting dust. She’ll pull something off the shelf when she is home, open up to a place she’s never been, imagine herself and her husband and their daughter on a balcony someplace, looking out at the townspeople.