El Cero

short stories

Hey Ho

The hotel I was staying in has its reception on the first floor, and next to the reception is a balcony overlooking the street below. I was sitting on the balcony waiting for some change after paying for a few more nights. There was an old Texan guy sitting there too, so I started a conversation with him. I asked him how long he’d been coming to the town. He told me 60 years or so. For me that gave him 70-80 years, and he looked his age. Overweight, red and shuffling around like we all will if we reach that point.

So we talked, and I asked him if the town had changed. He told me it had, he said in the last few years the people had stopped coming. The town was dead. It’s a great shame, he said. It was Easter weekend and I asked him if he’d stay all weekend. He said he wouldn’t as he wanted to go to his local church for the Easter service, and afterward have Easter breakfast with the congregation. It’s a great breakfast he told me. A Christian man, a good Texan.

The hotel manager came over, they’re old friends. They hugged and laughed and then talked about the wild fires tearing their way through the hills on both sides of the border. It was the driest year in living memory, it hadn’t rained in 7 months. There were a lot of dead cattle. The hotel manager asked me if I wanted a coffee, I said I would. The old Texan just asked for a coke. So the manager went off to find a coffee, and the old man told me he used to drink coffee when he was a boy. His parents didn’t mind they used to let him. But one day he said, he was at his friend’s place and his friend’s parents told him, “if you keep on drinking black coffee one day you’re gonna turn black!” And with a great laugh he said he’d never drank coffee since.

Maybe I flinched but we continued to chat, and noticing my accent he asked me where I was from and what I was doing, so I told him. His eyes lit up and became sentimental when I said I was English. Like many Anglos in these ex-colonial countries there seems to be a soft spot for the old people from the old world.

And he asked me if I was going out that night for a few beers. I had other plans but for conversation’s sake I said I might. And he said he knew a great bar down the road. “Buy the girls a drink and they’ll dance with you all night.” He said the only problem was they drank so quick you had to keep on buying them! But he couldn’t remember the name so he asked the cleaning lady who was cleaning around us. However he couldn’t speak Spanish and she didn’t understand English so they came to a stop. So I asked her, I described the place and what the man had said and she said a name. And the old guy said that’s it! She said to me “it’s a dollar-a-dance. Give the girls a dollar and they’ll give you a dance. If you want to bring them back to your room it’s extra.” So I said to the old guy “a dollar-a-dance?” But he said no, “just buy them a drink and they’ll dance with you all night!” And he chuckled away and told me what a great place it was.

The cleaning lady continued to clean around us and she turned to me and said “muchas niñas”. And I replied in confusion “muchas niñas?” And she said yep, he loves to bring the niñas back to his room. Now the meaning of words in Mexico seem to change from person to person and place to place, but strictly speaking niña means a girl, a young girl, a child. And the cleaning lady said to me, “this time he’s brought his wife, but when he doesn’t bring her he loves to take the niñas back to his room. What they could do I have no idea. Talk?” And she went, cleaning off down the hall. The old Texan just chuckled away and continued to tell me what a great place the bar was. Now maybe I’m just sadly naive, but for a few moments I was stuck to my seat. I just sat there thinking ‘fuck’, and thought about life and how much it loves to knock you.

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