prelude to a meeting

At first I thought I’d taken a wrong turn.

The rice fields I’d been accustomed to seeing were all gone. In their place stood rows of houses, most of them medium-sized bungalows, some modest two-storey structures. A few of the buildings were half-done, some were unpainted, and a number made me shudder—painted in strange combinations of orange and green, or in what Jane would call resort-shower-room blue and pink. This would crack her up.

Just as I felt ready to turn back I passed by a run-down school with a faded sign at the gate: Mario Delgado Elementary School. Ah, yes. I drove on a couple more miles until I got to the once-familiar curve. There was a view of rice paddies from there, though they were quite far off.

I pulled over in front of the fifth house from the curve. Most of the surrounding houses seemed to have undergone a variety of makeovers in the last years: an additional floor, an iron gate, paint job, cultivated garden, and then some. But this house…

I was in the middle of shaking my head slowly when the front door flew open.

“Hey Ray, is that you? Come in! Did you ring the bell? Have you been standing there long? It’s so hot out there, come, come!” Manny motioned at me enthusiastically as he walked to the gate, beer bottle in one hand.

“Hey buddy.”

Drinking before noon. Nice. I had to remind myself that this guy’s a saint. Maybe there’s a special occasion or something.

He seemed to notice me glance at his bottle, and shrugged. “Saturday, eh?”

“Right.” I hoped I sounded approving.

I followed him to the door, but he stopped suddenly and turned to face me again.

“Lisa’s prepping lunch, but it’ll be a while so you have time. Mel’s been pacing up and down her room all morning.”

“Thanks for the heads up. Let’s do this. I’ll say hi to Lisa first.”

We went inside and I walked straight to the kitchen, which smelled of boiling meat. Lisa looked up from her chopping board where she was mincing garlic. I smiled in spite of myself. She always loved her garlic, put them in every single thing she cooked.

“Hey, how are you?”

I was a bit surprised at her pleasant tone. “Good, good! I hardly recognized the neighborhood.”

“Well it’s been a while since you came here, Ray.”

I realized she looked old. There were so many lines on her face, and her voice was tired.

“Well here I am now.” I paused a bit as her weary eyes stared at me, eyebrows raised. “Thank you, Lis. Thank you for asking…allowing me to come and talk to her.”

“She’s upstairs. We had a good talk last night about this. She also feels it’s about time.”

“I should get going then.”

“Yeah, please, go. This is way overdue. Go and talk to your daughter.”

I smiled my thanks and headed slowly back to the living room, where Manny was watching an old movie. Then even more slowly, up the stairs, to the farthest door to the right. I’d presented to international clients and dealt with the toughest people in the business world, but I had never heard my chest beat like this.

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