His father had had great plans for him. Tomás showed promise, as he was bright and friendly. The father was keen on showing his son the world. He brought him along on his business trips, as he expanded his trade across the neighbouring town. The boy was able with horses. They pulled their wares in a wagon, father and son walking alongside Suerte when climbing hills to lessen the load. They took such road trips as frequently as possible, enjoying each other’s company, the boy growing into a fine fellow. His father had hopes that he would become a doctor, marry, and that he would welcome his parents into his home where they could live out the rest of their lives surrounded by grandchildren. They often talked about this dream, adding details as they went along. The father had put aside money for Tomás to study abroad. Tomás had been accepted in a good school, and his parents had thrown a party to celebrate his new life. Family and friends were there. A mustachioed Tomás was beset by slender girls with jet-black hair. He was rumoured to be on the cusp of greatness.
His father was in his study, on the second floor of the house, overlooking the party. The coroner determined that a person or persons unknown had pushed him into the window and he had fallen to his death, drink in hand. Tomás felt responsible for his father’s demise. After the funeral, his mother was adamant that he carry out his father’s wishes. He was exiled to medical school, but his heart lay back home. Better for him to have stayed home and taken over his father’s business. But that was not his destiny. Alone on foreign soul, he was laughed at for his proud mustache and mascada, which he wore without fail. Tomás got into fights and was knocked out cold after he had had one too many. When he came to, he found he had developed a stutter. He retired into muteness. Though a diligent student, he found his mind wandering back to that fateful evening where his pre-ordained life had dissolved into chaos.
Tomás was close to his pathology professor. He stared at the cadavers without emotion, and did not flinch when called upon to move them. He was a sturdy no-nonsense lad. To make a little money on the side, he started helping the man who wheeled the corpses in, right down to the man who procured them. As his fellow students were cramming for exams or out partying all night, Tomás had other reasons to be bleary-eyed in the morning. His side gig was taking over his life. His grades were falling, and no one was surprised when he dropped out of school. The “Mexican” never fitted in; he was moody and reserved. Esmeralda was the only one whose eyes still looked out for the dashing silhouette of his countryman, who cut a fine figure with his mustache and soft eyes. She knew of his speech affliction and subsequent muteness but was still surprised when he failed to appear at school.
Though she never saw him, she did not give up on him. There were rumours that he had become a desperado, but she dismissed them as she had dismissed the other unflattering stories about him. The stories became larger than life. He was said to be mounting wild bucking stallions and turning them into docile creatures. More troubling were the ones about him riding a large white horse in the cemetery, their ghostly silhouettes blended into one, a real-life don Quixote peopling her dreams. Esmeralda took to strolling the cemetery grounds in the hope of catching a glimpse of him. She did not admit as much to herself, choosing to believe the quiet surroundings were a welcome break from her busy life. One evening, she found herself far from the gate as night was falling. She had wandered off in a section she did not know well and had lost her bearings. Seeing a freshly dug grave and movement around it, she decided to ask for direction. It was dusk and getting spooky. As she approached, she did not hear the sound of voices, just a soft, methodical swishing. Earth being moved or removed. She hid behind a large headstone, crowned with the larger-than-life statue of an angel. The angel comforted her as the man left in the dark, his job done. She could not muster up the courage to run after him, but decided to follow him from afar.
Before she got out of her hiding place, she heard a soft neighing behind her. Looming in the dark, a white horseman with a magnificent mustache was surveying the scene. She stood transfixed as Tomás walked past the headstone and towards the freshly dug earth. He dismounted and tied his mount to a tree. He changed into dirty coveralls, covered his mouth with his mascada, then disappeared in the hole. The man before had indeed removed the earth. She heard scraping noises, then a heaving. She could not see but dared not move. A sickeningly sweet smell filled her nostrils. She heard a soft thud, a muttering like a prayer. A dark silhouette was now filling the hole with practiced strokes. Once filled, he placed a single rose on the dirt, signed himself and picked up a bag. He got out of his dirty clothes and headed for the horse. She sneezed. He froze and slowly turned towards the headstone. “W-w-w-who goes the-the-the-there?” Foolishly, she answered “Knock-knock.”
He finished securing the bag. The coverall was gone, he was all in white again. He mounted the horse and headed her way. She stayed under the protection of the marble angel. He looked at her, and she melted under the kindness of his eyes. He extended a hand and she gave her his. He kissed it and dismounted. “Señorita,” he said then looked at the mare. She accepted his offer and saddled the horse. She was light. He walked beside the horse down a narrow path through dense woods. She was not afraid until they came to a stop in the darkest part of the woods. “Espérame,” he commanded. She waited, the warmth of the docile mare seeping through her clothes. She heard him talking, stuttering in English, his voice tense and unhappy. She heard rustling and a disagreement. She realized she’d been praying under her breath, something she hadn’t done in years. He came back, and took the reins again. The bag was gone from the saddle.
She tried “Toc toc…” “¿Quién es?” “Juan…” “¿Juan quién? ” ”Juan, two, three…” He grimaced a smile, tried again and laughed. They had come to a low wall. She climbed off the mare and onto the wall. He nimbly jumped up the wall and down the other side, holding out his arms. She descended onto his body and they briefly embraced. She was on the sidewalk. Further down were streetlamps. She oriented herself and turned back. “¿Hasta luego?” He bowed deeply and nodded. He disappeared into the darkness of the cemetery as she headed towards town, praying an altogether different prayer.