My name is Juan Tomas Guerrero. I am the proprietor of the only hardware store in Perula, Jalisco, Mexico. We sell everything from wheelbarrows to paint. I have five men working for me and if you ever need anything in the way of hardware, we have all of the best brands.
I’m not a story teller, but a story needed to be told about what has been happening in our town for the past year. It sort of starts with the death of a man that none of us knew and works backwards.
First, I should tell you a little about our town, Perula. It is a fishing village on the Pacific coast, about 95 Kilometers south of Puerto Vallarta. We get a few tourists and there are some hotels here. Most of the tourists are people from Guadalajara. The plaza needs paint and I’d gladly donate enough to paint the gazebo and the curb around it, but no one wants to paint it. There are a couple of lunch counters. We even have a disco. Occasionally, we get a gringo tourist or two, but they don’t stay long and hardly any come back. We don’t have what they want, I guess. I’ve told people that we ought to figure out what they want so they come and spend their money here. Everyone gets on the band wagon for awhile, but then life catches up to us and we turn our attention back to other things. We’re all busy trying to make ends meet and survive. There doesn’t seem to be time to do anything extra and we don’t really like the gringos anyway, we just want their money.
Well, we had a gringo tourist here, but he was more than a tourist. He stayed for almost a year. He never actually left, if you want the truth. He’s buried over by the churchyard. He can’t be in the churchyard, because he committed suicide. Took a bunch of pills. It goes against God to kill yourself, everyone knows that, but he was in a lot of pain and was going to die anyway. He had the cancer and no one to take care of him, except Bebe, the widow he rented a room from.
So anyway, the Gringo showed up in January, after Christmas in a pickup. It was a big pickup, pretty nice, but older a diesel. I bought it from him a month ago. I got a great deal on it. He said he didn’t care about the import penalty. Now I know why. He was skinny by then and his face was swollen and he looked tired and drawn. I guess it was the cancer.
When he showed up after a few days, he took a room with Bebe, the widow over by the beach. She has a little run down building in the back yard away from the chickens. It has a little bathroom, I guess and an outdoor kitchen under the trees. I’d see him walking around town, trying the little restaurants that don’t serve any gringo food. Maria over at the economico said he brought his own coffee with him and a little plastic cone and would order just boiling hot water and a glass of milk. He made his own coffee at the table, called it café tipo gringo. Gringo style. He ate good at first, whatever she put in front of him, didn’t complain, was very polite and friendly. He seemed happy when I saw him around. He even came in here once and bought a little plane. He said he wanted to fix a couple of doors over at Bebe’s for her. Imagine paying rent and fixing things for free.
He didn’t know anyone here, didn’t come with anyone and he didn’t try to interfere in anyone’s lives. Patricio, the schoolmaster said that he showed up over at the school with boxes of supplies. He banged on the gate with a rock until one of the teachers came out and asked what he wanted. His Spanish was not very good back then, but it got better. Even at the end he didn’t seem to understand a lot of what he was told.
Every few nights he’d show up over at the hotel and have a pina colada. He sat on the patio and watched the sun go down into the Pacific. It’s a pretty nice little hotel, mostly empty except for Santa Semana, and Christmas. Juan Flores is the waiter. They sort of became friends. I guess that’s how he found out about people and their troubles. That little Guttierez boy with the harelip and Angelica Luna, the seamstress.
Carlos Guttierez’s boy is smart as a whip and pretty good looking, but his lip had that big split in it and he didn’t talk right. Never would have found a woman and the doctor wanted more money to fix it than even I could afford. One day the doctor came to me and said, “You tell Carlos Guttierez that someone paid to have his boy’s lip fixed and I want to do it next Tuesday.” That doctor thinks he’s a big man driving around in his shiny new Nissan. He could’ve just told Carlos himself but he didn’t want to drive down to Barrio Santa Cruz and get his car dirty, I guess. He did a good job, the boys lip looks good and he’s smiling. You can tell he’s happy with it, always looking in the shop windows at himself. He’ll probably be full of himself with the girls in a few years.
Nobody figured out who paid it. Padre said it wasn’t the church. It was funny because the church seemed to have some extra money there for awhile. The sacristy got painted and Padre had the roof patched so the water didn’t drip in when it rained. Sanchez’s fixed his car too. Got it running again. It needed a starter motor. Padre said that a bunch of money had turned up three different times with a note that just said, “A gift for the church”.
The gringo liked to fish. He bought a little aluminum boat with a motor and would take off early in the morning just before dawn. Sometimes he’d take one of the kids hanging around at the marina and they’d go out for hours and come back with some yellow fin tuna. He’d either let the kid take it home or give it to a woman in Barrio Angel where the poor people live in metal shacks. The woman has two little girls and no husband. The no good bastard just left her one day. It was probably a good thing because he was always drunk and I think he beat her, but I know the mother hardly eats anything because she saves whatever there is for her girls.